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U.S. Considers Air Strikes in Iraq; Report Says Ebola Possibly Spreads to Fifth Country

Aired August 7, 2014 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- crises around the world.

Iraq air strikes -- one of the military options no being considered by the Obama administration for helping desperate Christians and other minorities in Iraq who are fleeing a murderous onslaught by ISIS terrorists.

Threats from Gaza -- with the truce set to expire in just a few hours, Hamas is warning its fingers are on the trigger, with rockets aimed at Tel Aviv.

And Ebola spreading -- another country reports a possible victim of the deadly virus. I'll speak live this hour with the director of the CDC, now on its highest level of alert.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to breaking news.

The Obama administration is now weighing its military options, including -- including air strikes, as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Christians and other minorities, flee the brutal onslaught by the group known as ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State. They left their homes fearing slaughter, now many of them are actually facing starvation.

Our correspondents and guests are standing by with full coverage this hour.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

He's got the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, HOST: Wolf, the White House is deeply concerned about this humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding in Northern Iraq. Those ISIS militants have chased some 40,000 members of Iraq's ethnic minority Yazidi religion. And right now, the White House is weighing what to do. Our Jim Sciutto has been reporting and our Elise Labott have been reporting that the U.S. is considering possible air strikes and humanitarian air drops of supplies to those people in those mountains -- the Mount Sinjar area of Northern Iraq.

But in the meantime, we can tell you, it has been develops very tight- lipped here at the White House. They have been behind closed doors, the president with his advisers all day long.

We just saw the chairman of the Joint Chiefs -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, just leaving the White House in the last several minutes. We have video of that to show you.

And then earlier today, one of the few glimpses we've had of the president outside of a bill signing that he had regarding the VA, the president engaged in what looked like a very animated discussion with White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough. Unclear what they were talking about, but obviously, if this type of action is on the table, that would certainly lend itself to some pretty tense discussions.

But, Wolf. I was in the White House Briefing Room earlier today trying to pin down the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, as to whether or not these air strikes are on the table. They are just not saying one way or the other, which way the president is leaning in terms of what he might do.

What they have said is that any military action the president might take would be limited in scope and that there would be no boots on the ground in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I'm not -- I'm not in a position to provide you a tactical assessment of the situation on the ground. What I can do is I can give you insight into the president's thinking in general about the kinds of principles that would apply to contemplated military action.

That would include no combat boots being put on the ground in Iraq. The president has been clear about that and that principle continues to hold.

The president has also been clear that any sort of military action that would be taken in Iraq would be very limited in scope and very specific to addressing a core American objective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And so what was clear in these exchanges that happened throughout that briefing, Wolf, is that the White House is not ruling out air strikes. They're not taking them off the table.

And unlike what happened in June, Wolf, when we heard the president get very close to taking military action against those ISIS targets -- at the time, they were concerned about Baghdad falling. Those fears eased and so the president pulled back. This time around, the White House is saying that there is a humanitarian component in all of this, that they may not just be able to turn their -- turn away from and that it may be possible to respond to that humanitarian crisis with some sort of military action.

The other thing, the other key component in all of this, we heard some rumblings about this in the Briefing Room, as well. One of the key prerogatives for the president all along, one of the key things he's been insisting on is that the Iraqis start to form a more unified government. Josh Earnest saying in that briefing earlier today that they're seeing signs of that. That's another indication that perhaps this White House is moving closer to taking some sort of military action in Iraq, or at least that some of the conditions the president has set are starting to be met -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

So what kind of military force could the United States actually bring to bear in Iraq?

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent.

Barbara Starr.

What are you learning over there -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let me follow up on what Jim was saying in that discussion with Josh Earnest at the White House. You just saw Earnest say a U.S. core objective.

What we are learning here at the Pentagon tonight is that the Pentagon now is extremely worried about several dozen U.S. military advisers that are in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil. These are folks that have been up there for several weeks now, working on this assessment of Iraqi forces. There are other teams down in Baghdad, but these military troops are up in Erbil. And this is an ISIS area stronghold.

The worry tonight that we are hearing is the concern that ISIS could make a move against them. A core objective, a true red line to the president, any president of the United States, is to protect U.S. military troops in the field. If ISIS was to move on these troops, on this site in Erbil, where they are conducting this assessment, we are hearing that that would be the reason that the U.S. would then engage in air strikes.

That's piece number one of what is unfolding tonight.

Going back into Iraq for the first time in two and a half days to protect the small number of U.S. troops on ground in Erbil if -- if, in the coming hours, ISIS advances on them.

The second piece of this -- and it's not totally separate -- is humanitarian air drops for those tens of thousands of people trapped in those mountains in Northern Iraq. They are desperate, as we know now, for food, water, any kind of help, any kind of supplies, because ISIS has driven them into the mountains and is murdering them. And they are dying from hunger and thirst.

The U.S. military tonight looking at the possibility, in the coming hours, of humanitarian air drops over that area. These would be pallets of food, water, other supplies dropped out of the back of U.S. military transport aircraft. But still, a very difficult situation. There is concern ISIS is in those mountains and that ISIS could have the weapons to attack those people and attack U.S. aircraft.

BLITZER: Barbara, why not...

STARR: It could be a long night.

BLITZER: -- why not just pull out those Americans from Erbil right away?

STARR: Well, I think that any of these things are possible. I want to echo what Jim Acosta just said. Everyone tonight is being extremely tight-lipped. We are asking all of those questions. And right now, people are being very tight-lipped about what is transpiring.

We're getting the broad picture of their concerns. Very interesting that they're saying that they are very concerned about these American military personnel in Erbil. They are not saying at the moment, for obvious reasons, what they plan to do about it in the coming hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara.

Barbara, stand by.

I want to go to the region right now.

Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, he's on the ground in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, that's clearly trying to cope with a desperate flood of refugees, a lot of Iraqi Christians and other minorities, but also a lot of Shiites who are scared right now that they're going to be killed by these ISIS terrorists.

What's the latest there -- Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean the United Nations estimates that some 200,000 Iraqis, mostly from these diverse religious and ethnic minorities, have fled north toward the Kurdistan region, basically for safety.

The -- I'm very interested to hear that Barbara is mentioning that the U.S. leadership is not talking very much right now. The senior Kurdish leadership also has gone quite quiet in the last couple of hours. They're not responding to questions about what exactly is going on.

There has been a significant amount of fear here, Wolf, since Wednesday night, when the ISIS militants advanced to taking control of a town called Guerre (ph). It's about 35 miles to the southwest of where I'm standing right now, just to give you a sense of just the close proximity of some of these ISIS militants.

And that created fear that rippled through this city last night. It triggered a run on supermarkets, for example, for diapers, for milk and sent some people, some Kurds packing.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation here deteriorating as tens of thousands of Iraqis from the Christian minority, from the Yazidi minority, from the Shiite minority, fled toward this way. And there is nobody really to meet them. They are sleeping tonight, in some cases, under the stars, in parking lots, in unfinished construction sites, the results of the incredible construction boom that Erbil has enjoyed during 10 years of relative stability that is now being shaken by the advance of the ISIS militants just within the last 48 hours -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's no sign, I take it, of any Iraqi military there, some of the forces the U.S. trained and spent hundreds of billions of dollars literally trying to get an Iraqi military in place. There's no sign that the central government in Baghdad has come to the aid of these minorities the Christians, the Yazidis, the others, is that right?

WATSON: Actually, senior Kurdish officials have told me that the Iraqi Air Force was operating yesterday, Wednesday, pounding -- bombing some suspected ISIS targets about 50 miles to the west of where I'm standing. But the Kurdish leadership say that the Iraqi Air Force's capabilities are limited because one of their biggest priorities is protecting Baghdad right now, not just the Kurdish region to the north.

The Kurdish leaders are also saying that they're seeing ISIS using former weapons that had been captured, such as armored vehicles that had been captured from the Iraqi Army when it folded here in the north two months ago, that they're using them now against the Kurdish Peshmerga. And that's why the Kurdish militia had to pull back from some of these towns and villages that they retreated from last night, that that pushed them back and that the Kurdish Peshmerga don't have good enough weapons, basically, to counter this heavy weaponry.

That's why some of the top Kurdish officials have been openly calling for the U.S. or NATO to intervene using air strikes and/or providing weapons and ammunition to their hard-pressed militias here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson in Erbil.

Be careful over there.

We'll stay in close touch with you.

So how could a U.S. military involvement play out if, in fact, it happens?

How risky would that be?

Let's dig a little bit deeper with CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling -- General, you spent a lot of time in Iraq.

What's your sense, U.S. air strikes, humanitarian air drops?

This is a disaster that's unfolding and the central Iraqi government is MIA, missing in action.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, first of all, geography is important when we're talking about this crisis. Sinjar, which is to the west of Mosul, people keep talking about the mountains near Sinjar. It isn't really a mountain, it's a rocky hill. And it is surrounded by is ISIS territory.

What the Yazidis have done, one of many cultural religious groups, they've left their towns and gone to the top of the mountains. They are surrounded. This is Bastogne, if you revert back to World War II history.

It is going to be very difficult to support them with equipment, with food, because you just can't drop it on the top of a rocky mountain that's surrounded by ISIS fighters. They have gone there for refuge.

When you look at the other side, more to the west, you're talking about the advances of ISIS into the Kurdish region. I'm more confident in the Peshmerga in terms of holding and defending places like Erbil and Dahuk.

But still, ISIS certainly has gained a whole bunch of military capability in the last several weeks, as we've been watching Hamas and Israel and the Ukraine issue.

So this is -- this is a crisis. It certainly is. And I think air strikes probably has been bantered around quite a bit in Washington, but I'm sure General Dempsey has offered quite a few options beyond air strikes to the president. And we're going to see, probably real soon, what some of those options might be.

BLITZER: Well, what -- besides air strikes, and the president has ruled out boots on the ground, ground forces, as far as saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, other minorities, Shiites who are endangered by these ISIS terrorist right now, who are well armed. They've got a lot of U.S. weaponry that they stole from the Iraqi military, weaponry the U.S. military left behind, what else can the U.S. do, if there's going to be no boots on the ground and you say air strikes have limited capability?

HERTLING: Well, I think air strikes by themselves have limited capabilities in this area. But I think certainly the reinforcement of the Peshmerga would be an option. They seem to be increasingly outgunned by some of the equipment that's been taken from the Iraqi Army, as you reported.

But I think the Peshmerga are terrific fighters. They will stand and defend, and, in fact, advance into these areas, if given the right equipment.

They have supported Yazidis in the past. They have supported the Turkmen, Chaldeans, the Assyrians, all the religious groups up there. The Kurdish government has been very good in this regard.

But I think, frankly, right now, they've been fighting so hard for the last several months against ISIS that they're running out of equipment and resupply. And that's -- that's certainly probably one of the options General Dempsey has provided the president.

BLITZER: Because the Kurdish Peshmerga, they're great fighters. Unfortunately, they are very lightly armed. They have not been armed...

HERTLING: They are.

BLITZER: -- with sophisticated weaponry, in part, because the Turks don't like the Kurds very much and Turkey is a NATO ally. So this gets a little bit complicated.

General Hertling, I want you to stand by, because this is a critical moment right now.

Should the U.S. intervene to help these hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, so many of them Christians, other minorities?

Should the U.S. deal with the ISIS terrorists directly?

Joining us now is Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: She's the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on The Middle East.

You want the U.S., Congresswoman, to start air strikes against the ISIS terrorists?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Absolutely. The Iraqis have been begging for this for three months now. This is an administration that is disinterested, aloof, distant. They make leading from behind sound like a -- a dynamic military strategy.

We hoped that we would be leading from behind. We're dragging from behind.

We have Christians who are being wiped out because they will not convert to -- to Islam. And the -- the picture is very clear, we could have a positive effect in this humanitarian crisis, not that one issue, not that one thing that we do will make a difference, but put together -- limited air strikes, drones, these humanitarian air drops -- all of this could help, not just this ancient religious community, but what about the Christians?

You know, there -- they're going to be slaughtered. And we've seen evidence of this.

ISIS will not rest until they establish this caliphate and they rule throughout the Middle East. This -- this could very well destabilize our partner, our ally, Jordan, and all of the neighboring areas.

So the U.S. has a national security interest at stake. I hope that the president acts. If he wants to come to Congress and ask for -- for support, he should do so. I think that he will get it.

But if he pictures this as a humanitarian crisis, then I say, where was he in Syria?

Many of us were supporting the president when he said we were going to do limited air strikes in Syria and then he pulled the rug from under us and said, nope, we're not going to do anything.

Well, now we've got ISIL taking over in Iraq. It's time for the U.S. to stand up and use our military might...

BLITZER: All right...

ROS-LEHTINEN: -- in -- in as limited way to help this humanitarian crisis.

BLITZER: Are you with the president when he says no boots -- U.S. boots on the ground?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I think that the American public is very strong about that. We have pull -- we -- we pulled out of Iraq in a very bad way and I hope we don't do that in Afghanistan. I hope that we learned the lessons of just pulling out and -- and leaving this void of leadership. So we can't afford to do that in Afghanistan. Let's learn the lessons from Iraq.

No boots on the ground, but there is so much more that we can do, Wolf. We're seeing this crisis unfold. They've been begging for us to get involved and this aloof administration is nowhere to be found.

We have been hearing about how this imminent air strikes is -- is going to happen any moment now. You could dust off our talking points from our Foreign Affairs Committee hearings from months ago and that's what the administration has been (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: All right, Congresswoman, one...

ROS-LEHTINEN: -- well, let's do it.

BLITZER: -- one quick question.

Where is the Iraqi military?

For a decade, the U.S. trained several hundred thousand Iraqi forces, helped them build an army, an air force.

Where are they?

Because they are doing nothing and so much of the military hardware the U.S. left behind is now in the hands of ISIS. This whole government of Nouri al-Maliki, that military, they ran away as soon as a few ISIS terrorists threatened them. ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, there's no doubt about it. We left a lot of military hardware there, and not to mention millions of dollars that is also there now to be used by ISIL.

We have this failed leader in Maliki. We need to find a way to constitutionally get rid of him and have a better government, where -- where they're -- where the people will respond.

They are -- they are waiting for that -- that sound of -- of a -- of a certain trumpet. And al-Maliki is in cahoots with Iran and a lot of our bad actors and is not helping the Iraqis defend themselves adequately...

BLITZER: Yes.

ROS-LEHTINEN: -- from ISIL.

But at least on this, on this topic, he's been begging us for help.

BLITZER: This is certainly not what President Bush envisaged when he ordered troops to go into Iraq in March of 2003 and get rid of Saddam Hussein.

This is certainly not what President Obama envisaged at the end of 2012, when he fully withdrew...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Right.

BLITZER: -- all U.S. forces from Iraq, although a lot of people always believed this was inevitable, given the tensions that have been going on for hundreds of years...

ROS-LEHTINEN: No.

BLITZER: -- between all of ethnic groups in Iraq.

Congresswoman, we'll continue this conversation...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: -- down the road.

And let's hope the same scenario doesn't play out in Afghanistan, although everyone -- a lot of experts think it almost certainly will, no matter when the U.S. completely pulls out of Afghanistan. So much blood and treasure spent and lost in those countries.

Just ahead, much more on the crisis in Iraq, as the United States considers air strikes against ISIS terrorists. We're now threatening tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians and other minorities.

And Ebola alert -- can the deadly virus be stopped?

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll get the very latest on the outbreak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing to watch the breaking news, as the U.S. now considering air strikes in Iraq.

But we're also watching other breaking news in the Ebola outbreak -- the possible spread of the deadly virus to a fifth country, Benin. The health minister there is now quoted as saying a Nigerian citizen is hospitalized in Benin with a suspected case of Ebola. And U.S. health officials are stepping up their response to what the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls -- and I'm quoting now -- "the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history."

I'll speak with the CDC director in just a moment, along with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

But first, our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining us -- Elizabeth, what's the latest on the Ebola outbreak right now?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was a hearing on Capitol Hill today, amidst questions of why this outbreak has gone on for so long and why so many people have died.

In the meantime, two American patients are recovering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN (voice-over): Today, the husband of one of the two American Ebola patients shared had his thoughts on his wife's battle.

DAVID WHITEBOLE, HUSBAND OF EBOLA VICTIM: I'm grateful and happy that she's in a place that enables her to receive the best care possible and that will give her every opportunity to get better and to recover.

COHEN: To hear the CDC tell it, it nothing works to treat Ebola.

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: We've reviewed the evidence of the treatments out there and don't find any treatment that's had proven effectiveness against Ebola disease.

COHEN: But what about the experimental drug given to Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol that likely saved their lives?

They got the drug when African patients didn't.

Many critics now asking, why did the two Americans receive the serum when hundreds have already died in West Africa and many more are at risk?

Currently, there's very little of the drug to give.

DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN, NYU MEDICAL CENTER: The world's supply of that drug, I imagine, would fit in a tea cup. COHEN: But that, of course, is fixable. They could, with time, make more.

The ethical problems are much thornier.

CAPLAN: Look, we've had two people who got it, but you want to wait a couple of weeks to see that they don't get terrible side effects, their livers aren't destroyed, they don't die all of a sudden of some unexpected consequence. You also want to make sure you do a little more safety studies so you know what dose to give.

COHEN: Dr. Peter Piot, who helped discover the virus, and two other Ebola experts, say patients in Africa should get a chance to take the drug. Writing in "The Wall Street Journal," they said, "It is highly likely that if Ebola were now spreading in Western countries, public health authorities would give at risk patients access to experimental drugs. The African countries where the current outbreaks of Ebola are occurring should have the same opportunity."

That's unlikely to happen any time soon. Asked if he'd consider sending the drug to Africa when it becomes available, President Obama had this to say.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we've got to let the science guide us. And, you know, I don't think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful.

COHEN: Getting all that information could take a long time, as Africans continue to die of Ebola.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COHEN: Next week, the World Health Organization will convene an ethical review. They'll be asking who should get this drug, or should anyone be getting it, knowing -- considering that we know so little about the side effects -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen reporting.

Thanks very much.

We're joined now by the CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden.

I know you just came from Capitol Hill, Dr. Frieden.

Thanks very much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A bottom line question first.

How concerned should Americans be right now about this Ebola spread?

FRIEDEN: If we're concerned about the world, we should be very concerned about Africa. It is not a significant risk to the U.S., but there are some things that need to be done, especially by health care workers.

BLITZER: The U.S., thanks to you, the CDC, has now gone on the highest state of alert, Level 1.

What does that mean?

FRIEDEN: That's what we do internal to CDC. That doesn't mean that other people should be concerned. But that means that we are surging. We're putting more than 50 disease control specialists into the region in the coming days and weeks to help these countries and the World Health Organization turn this around.

But it is going to be a long, hard fight.

BLITZER: Let's say someone who has the disease, Ebola, gets on a plane, flies from West Africa to Europe, without any symptoms, flies to the United States, and all of a sudden, develops symptoms.

How contagious would that be?

How many more people could, in turn, be infected?

FRIEDEN: Well, first off, it's important to remember that Ebola does not spread from people who don't have symptoms. And second, that it only spreads through bodily fluid contact.

And what we see in Africa are two main engines of spread.

First, in health care settings. So doctors, nurses, people who care for people even at home may become ill because they get exposed to bodily fluids.

And second is during the burial ceremonies, which in some African countries involve washing the body and other things that are very high risk. That's what's driving the Ebola outbreaks.

BLITZER: Dr. Frieden, I want you to stand by.

Dr. Gupta -- Sanjay Gupta is going to join us in a moment.

I want to take a quick break.

Much more on what's -- what's going on.

We're following the Ebola scare -- and it's a huge scare right now.

We're also watching another breaking story. The White House right now considering military options, including air strikes in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people are endangered right now, especially Iraqi Christians, other minorities, Shiites. ISIS terrorists are on the move.

Stand by. News right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, let's get some more of the breaking news right now. The alarming spread of the Ebola virus and the dramatic U.S. response. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention now on its highest level of alert. Once again, the CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden is here with me. He testified before Congress today about the Ebola spread, the outbreak. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us from Atlanta as well.

I know, Sanjay, you have a question for Dr. Frieden, so go ahead.

DOCTOR SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me ask you just off top, I was curious about we say that the patients don't start to become infectious spreading the virus till they are sick. We see that on the Web site and everywhere. I wanted to get a little bit more detail on that. I mean, you know what sick means, obviously. But how sick are we talking about? We know you can't be a carrier of Ebola, but could you be sick spreading the virus and still be able to move around, get on a plane, these sorts of things?

DOCTOR THOMAS FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: Well, what we really know is that when you begin to get sick and when have you fever, that's when you begin to shed the virus. And it's only by exchange of body fluids that we will see spread of Ebola. That's why health care workers are at such risk. If you see the situation of the patient who went to Liberia, he got sick on the plane. So far we don't know of anyone on the plane who may have gotten sick but multiple health care workers in Lagos got infected. Already at least one has died. And those health care workers did not diagnose improperly, did not use any infection control and that is why we're so concerned about Lagos in particular because they need to really scale up their effort to treat people effectively because whatever we find out about this experimental treatment, the fact is that basic supportive care, fluid management, are supportive care, antibiotics for other infections that patients may get, that can drastically improve outcomes and save patients' lives.

BLITZER: These drugs out there, there's that one zmapp, the drug experimental drug that was given to these two Americans were brought to Emory University hospital seems to have helped although we don't know the long-term impact. There's another drug Techmira (ph) that the FDA is now put on given up changed this whole status. Are these drugs merely a promising -- I mean, are they really something that's going to cure people of this disease?

FRIEDEN: There are few things to know. We hope there will be drugs available. Right now we have no idea whether these drugs help, hurt or make no difference. And whatever happens to these two patients we're not likely to know anymore because the natural history of Ebola is that many patients recover. And so there's no way to know whether that recovery will have been if they do recover which we hope they do from these drugs or the natural history of the disease.

But the most important thing to understand is we can stop Ebola with our current tools. Core basic simple tried and true public health interventions of finding patients, isolating them, finding contacts, tracking them, infection control and hospitals, improving burial practices. When we do these things Ebola goes away. But it's going to be a long, hard fight.

BLITZER: But Sanjay has another question. But before I let him ask the question, that kind of fine medical treatment exists in the United States but not necessarily in all parts of Africa.

FRIEDEN: Absolutely. And one of the things that we're working hard to scale up with these countries are isolation wards where patients can get good supportive care because that we know will take a difference.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Sanjay.

GUPTA: DR. Frieden, you're sending more CDC workers I understand to West Africa over the next couple of weeks. You know, these health care workers, they go to and from, they're a real interface. They are coming in contact with sick patients on the ground in West Africa, that puts them at high risk. When they come back to the United States and there may be hundreds of these health care workers over next several months what, are we to -- how are they to be treated when they get back? I mean they've been taking care of sick patients with Ebola. What will happen to them when they return to the United States?

FRIEDEN: Well, most of the CDC staff who go don't have direct patient care work. They'll work on organizing the outbreak response, making sure that we're operating effectively. And we are releasing guidelines that will help the U.S. government, the state department, the defense department, ourselves manage situations that may arise if people get symptoms or if people have been exposed because there are tricky situations.

This is an unprecedented problem. It's the largest most complicated the first time we've had multiple countries involved, the most urban outbreak, the first time it's been in West Africa and the first time we've had to deal with it in the U.S. because of that, we're going step by step and doing whatever we can to keep the workers safe and to keep Americans safe.

BLITZER: Dr. Frieden, go ahead, quickly, Sanjay. We're almost out of time.

GUPTA: OK. Because we've had health care workers return before from Ebola outbreaks. I'm just curious, was there no guidance in the past? I mean, are they to take their temperature if they had a fever, would they be put into isolation? Because they seem like they could be a real concern here in terms of going back and forth to Africa and coming in contact with sick patients.

FRIEDEN: The best way we can protect our workers, the best way to protect Americans is to stop the outbreak at the source in Africa. That's going to make the biggest difference. For the individual situations of what we do with individuals we look at that on a case by case basis based on protocols and principles. But the bottom line is that Ebola is a scary disease and we need to use that fear to make sure health care worker do infection control, to make sure that we surge and stop the outbreak to make sure that doctors can on the front lines in this country ask people about travel and I hope that that fear doesn't outweigh our compassion.

BLITZER: Dr. Frieden, thanks very much for joining us. I know you've got a lot going on. We're counting on you and your team of excellent public health officials at the CDC to help us get through this. Thanks very much for joining you is.

FRIEDEN: Thanks very much.

BLITZER: And Sanjay, you are going to be back with us in the next hour. We've got more to discuss. Thanks to both of you.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, secretary of state John Kerry goes off to Afghanistan to address one crisis as other crises erupt in Iraq. In Gaza, in Ukraine, in Libya, and elsewhere, stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The breaking news, the United States now considering air strikes to protect refugees, hundreds of thousands of them, in Iraq from ISIS terrorists. Let's bring in David Ignatius, the columnist for the "Washington Post."

You're all over this story, David. What are you hearing, first of all, because the deliberations inside the Pentagon, the White House, are intense right now. They've got to make a quick decision.

DAVID IGNATIUS, WASHINGTON POST: Wolf, I'm hearing that there's a decision that the Kurds really have been unable to hold their positions in this mountainous area that ISIS is pushing through their lines toward the Mosul dam trapping the refugees on these mountain tops, that humanitarian air drops, drops of assistance to the people who are stranded are almost certain and could come very quickly. That there was active discussion today of air strikes that the United States would coordinate which would hit ISIS targets perhaps not in this immediate area but in other areas where they're advancing

BLITZER: In other words, U.S. jet fighters are drones coming in from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf or from Incirlik, the NATO air bases in turkey, going in and dropping bombs?

IGNATIUS: The U.S. has a lot of platforms that are available over the last few weeks. The U.S. has been preparing militarily for the possibility of direct action against ISIS. The administration had hoped that they would be able to broker a anew Iraqi government to push out prime minister al-Maliki seen as a polarizing figure and get a new government that the U.S. could have actively support. That hasn't happened in time. The Christmas is upon them. And I think they're having to take emergency decisions today.

BLITZER: And see what the president decides. Remember when they were discussing air strikes in Syria, didn't happen. We'll see if the air strikes in Iraq happen right now.

I want to continue this many conversation. Let me take a quick break. We have much more to discuss. David Ignatius is here. We're working the stories. Will the U.S. begin air strikes in Iraq? Stay with us.

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BLITZER: We're back with David Ignatius. You know, a lot of people believed critics of the administration that the intelligence community, the White House, the Pentagon, they misunderstood what ISIS is all about. That there was not a good appreciation of their strength and capability. You say?

IGNATIUS: I think there was some intelligence failure. I think it's more of a policy failure. Our intelligence agencies were aware in February, March, April of the growing ISIS threat. At that time it was in western Iraq. What they've seen and what really should concern people is that ISIS moves very strategically. They went right up to the gates of Baghdad and then stopped knowing that this was the wrong time to pick that fight. They had instead moved in a direction. I don't think the U.S. expected towards these Kurdish mountainous areas, towards the Mosul dam, towards strategic targets that were not the ones that we were expecting. It's a sign they are very clever planners, and they have very good operational security.

BLITZER: The president back in January, President Obama gave an interview to "the New Yorker" magazine. He was speaking about Al Qaeda's, you know, organization, if you will. ISIS, these terrorists in Syria and Iraq and he seemed to down play how dangerous they were when he said the analogy we use around here sometimes and I think is accurate is that if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant, junior varsity. That was the quote that the president said then. Seems to be haunting him now.

IGNATIUS: It should haunt him. I think there was a tendency of the administration going all the way up to the top to think of the Al Qaeda problem basically had been solved when they had taken out core Al Qaeda, when they killed Osama bin Laden, there was an insufficient understanding that these new offshoots were in their way as dangerous as what the United States had faced a decade ago. And many did underestimate Mosul and Syria and Iraq. No question about it.

BLITZER: Think about this minority ethnic group, the Yazidis, 40,000 of them, men, women and children, they are now on top of this mountain. They don't have food, they don't have water. Many of them are going to starve or die very, very soon. And ISIS is surrounding them. They are not going up the mountain. But they are going to die pretty soon. That clock is ticking. You heard about it today. How much time does the U.S., the international community, what's called that central government of Baghdad which seems to be useless. How much time do they have to save these 40,000 Iraqis.

IGNATIUS: I would say, Wolf, as we speak tonight, it's a matter of hours, you know, 24 hours, 48 hours at most. These people really are in desperate conditions. I think that's what really came through the administration today, it led to urgent crisis meetings. They realized they had to do something. Another point is beyond the humanitarian suffering of the people in the mountain tops, the Kurdish fighters the U.S. have been counting on to keep the extremists back are just outgunned. I mean, they have been chased out of their positions along a 600 mile frontier with this Islamic state.

BLITZER: David Ignatius, thanks for coming in. Good work today.

Coming up more on the breaking news, possible U.S. military action in Iraq. Yes, you heard it correctly in Iraq.

Plus the latest on the Ebola emergency. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be back with us shortly.

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BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. U.S. air strikes is under consideration right now as brutal Islamic fighters advanced in Iraq attacking and killing Christians and other religious minorities.