Return to Transcripts main page


United States Launching Second Round of Air Strikes in Iraq; Israel and Palestinian Resume Hostilities; All Precautions Taken for Equipping Plane for Ebola Patients; New U.S. Airstrikes In Iraq

Aired August 8, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: America takes aim for the second time. A new round of air strikes in Iraq, but will it be enough to keep the terrorist group, ISIS, from slaughtering tens of thousands of refugees.

Who are the people that ISIS are trying to murder and why are they trying to do it? We have a special report about the Yazidis in Iraq. That's coming up.

And crisis in the Middle East as well, the cease-fire ends in violence. We are going to take you live to Gaza tonight for the very latest. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield in for Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news, America is once again attacking the enemy in Iraq. A second round of U.S. air strikes against the terror group, ISIS.

The United States military is defending the city of Erbil where American military advisors and diplomatic personnel are on the ground and in danger. The United States thought Erbil would be safe and they positioned the advisors there to assist in the fight against ISIS.

But now that ruthless terror group is just 19 miles from the city according to the governor there. ISIS fighters would like nothing more than to kill Americans and they said as much to vice media. Here's a look at the ISIS press officer, Abu Mossa.


ABU MOSA, ISIS PRESS OFFICER (through translator): I say to America that the Islamic caliphate has been established and we will not stop. Don't be cowards and attack with drones. Instead send your soldiers the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing. We will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.


BANFIELD: And you heard right, the flag flying over the White House. As for how long the United States is going to continue this campaign against them remains unclear.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has not laid out a specific end date. We're going to sort of take this approach in which those kinds of decisions are evaluated regularly and are driven by the security situation on the ground.


BANFIELD: And this has all happened so quickly. ISIS making its key advances throughout June and July, and they now control the country's largest dam. And if they breach it there are a half million people in its path all the way to Baghdad.

So far ISIS has slaughtered thousands of Iraqis in the most brutal of ways, telling many convert to Islam or die. Not one of the men in this video survived. Their onslaught has created a humanitarian crisis as well. Thousands of people are now trapped on a mountain ridge.

They are Iraqi Yazidis, a religious minority with no food or water. The U.S. has been dropping provisions, but many of these people have no way out. Tens of thousands of other Iraqis have been driven from their homes and we'll have much more on that coming up, a firsthand look at it.

But right now, we want to get you to the latest on the U.S. air strikes just within the last few hours. I want to go straight to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. So what's the net effect? What do we know about the air strikes this round two, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ashleigh, in less than 24 hours we have had two rounds of air strikes. Earlier today, a round against an ISIS artillery position outside of Erbil and then later today, we have had two additional strikes, one against a convoy of vehicles and a mortar position and another one against another mortar position.

These were carried out by both, one by a drone armed with hellfire missiles and one again by U.S. FA-18 aircraft, U.S. Navy aircraft flying off the deck of the George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf.

There is now a combat air patrol essentially over Iraq at all times in this area. Looking at the picture, looking at ISIS positions and striking when they are getting too close to Erbil and threatening that city.

The U.S. making the case that it will defend Erbil. It will not let it fall. Mosul has fallen. Other major cities in Iraq have fallen to ISIS. They will not let this city fall. They say, in large part, because U.S. personnel are there and they want them to be able to stay there and do their job.

Also, you know, we have not seen air strikes in the other crucial area. That mountain top where those tens of thousands of people are stranded. We are told if ISIS moves on them we are likely to see additional air strikes in that area. How did ISIS get to this point? You know, they are fighting like an army. They are heavily armed. They have a strategy. They move. They take territory. They hold territory. All the kind of thing that perhaps years ago, al Qaeda aspired to, but was never able to achieve.

BANFIELD: Heavily armed with American theft products as well. So many of our own supplies to the Iraqi army. Barbara Starr, thank you for that. I want to go straight to Ivan Watson, who is in Erbil live tonight where thousands are fearing for their lives and where the sound of those U.S. air strikes is so close they can almost certainly be heard.

Ivan, give us a report from the ground. How do things look now there?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Kurdish leadership was very jittery. The city was very jittery on Wednesday night, Thursday after the ISIS advanced to positions within 35 miles of where I'm standing now.

But senior Kurdish officials tell me that last night was much calmer and throughout the day was quieter. They didn't face the expected assault from ISIS militants that they were really waiting for and that that has given the Kurdish Peshmerga time to regroup and to reorganize their defenses.

A top official in the Kurdistan regional government says that more than at least 150 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters died within the last six days alone, at least 500 also wounded.

So the Kurdish Peshmerga have been bloodied by the ISIS militants certainly within the last couple of days and that is what has caused the Peshmerga to pull back and what has triggered this real wave of humanity, more than a half million displaced Iraqis who have flooded in to the Kurdish safe haven now.

BANFIELD: Among those half million who have fled there because they thought it was a safe haven. I think the Americans thought as much as well positioning the military advisers there. Can you report on both of those fronts, the Americans and all of those refugees?

WATSON: I haven't got a look at the U.S. military or diplomatic presence on the ground here. But I've certainly seen this -- enormous flood of displaced Iraqis and it's pretty emotional to see, Ashleigh.

Because all of these people kind of left in a matter of hours Wednesday night as the Kurdish Peshmerga were pushed out of towns and villages and members of the mosaic of ethnic and religious minority who have lived for thousands of years in Northern Iraq sent running by any means possible.

And of course, there is a sizable Christian contingent here. More than 100,000 Christians are on the run. I saw people sleeping in the pews of churches outside in the shadow of a church in community recreation centers in unfinished apartment buildings and office buildings. Really trying to find anywhere possible to put their families. There are efforts to give these people water and give them food. But what is really sad to see, frankly, is that these people know they probably will not be able to go back home any time in the near future.

They have been suddenly made homeless and there is no hope of any real place to go. This is a major humanitarian crisis unfolding as we speak here.

BANFIELD: And just the fear with ISIS so incredibly close. Please, you and your crew be careful. Ivan Watson reporting live for us tonight from Erbil, Iraq.

And joining me now, Douglas Ollivant, served in both Bush and Obama administrations as the director for Iraq at the National Security Council and I'm also joined by Lieutenant General David Deptula. He served 34 years in the U.S. Air Force and was the planner for "Operation Desert Storm" in Iraq back in 1981.

Douglas, I'd like to begin with you, if I can, these air strikes as we hear round one and later today round two. Is this really -- is this really something that can really change the metric on the ground?

DOUGLAS OLLIVANT, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR IRAQ, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I think it certainly can. While I hesitate to speak about air power with the general here, air power is good at attacking forces on the offense. If you are hiding in your hole or next to your house or in a building, air power has limitations.

But if you are picking up and moving down a road, any pilot can see you from the air and that's the environment in which air power really excels. When the president says that we're going to keep ISIS from moving into Erbil and moving into Baghdad where the American presences are, I think that's a check he can cash.

BANFIELD: Douglas, you think it can stop them in their tracks. General Deptula, do you think that air strikes can actually repel ISIS or maybe even wipe them out if this becomes a broader campaign?

LT. GEN. DAVID DEPTULA, U.S. AIR FORCE (RETIRED): Well, the short answer to your question is yes. Air power can have a very significant effect relative to the current situation. It is very interesting how similar the current activity that's unfolding in Northern Iraq is parallel to what went on in April of 1991.

For your audience that can't remember or recall, you had a similar kind of assault on the Kurds and the tribes in the region. But at the time it was conducted by Saddam's forces. Today it's being conducted by ISIS.

The reaction was the United Nations passed U.N. Security Council Resolution 688, which was the beginning of operation provide comfort and the use of a no-fly zone. At that time, there were 700,000 Iraqi refugees and the application of that no-fly zone in conjunction with the efforts of the Kurds on the ground relieved the situation. So the application of air can really make a difference. BANFIELD: Let me ask you, Douglas, if you think this mission, which I think a lot of people see as three-fold, save the Americans, number one, who are positioned there in Erbil with 19 miles between them and ISIS.

Number two, save the Yazidis, tens of thousands of them who may starve in the mountains and possibly crush ISIS. I'm not sure if that's part of the mission or not. But it certainly might seem to be a wise decision. Can it be done without boots on the ground and I'm suggesting American boots because so far the Iraqis have been worthless.

OLLIVANT: I don't think account be done in terms of pushing back ISIS gains. If ISIS continues to push to Erbil or Baghdad, the United States Air Force has a hunting license to destroy them in detail and they will excel at that. But when we talk about pushing them out of Mosul or Fallujah, then will require boots on the ground. I don't think anyone thinks that Americans will do that again.

BANFIELD: General Deptula, in terms of crushing ISIS if that is the broader mission at some point, some of the congressmen here in the United States have said go all the way into Syria where they also are waging a campaign. Is that wise to start opening up that broad of a front?

DEPTULA: Let me answer that question in the context of we're now beginning to jump into operational level and tactical level issues and you really can't answer those questions in the absence of a coherent, strategic objective. Once those are laid out we can look at what we want to accomplish through the use of force.

Let me take a little bit different tact in using an example of the opening phases of "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan where what the United States brought to that equation was air power. We used air power in conjunction with indigenous force boots on the ground at that point.

The northern alliance and we were able to accomplish our critical U.S. national security objectives within three months. We installed a regime friendly to the United States. By the end of 2001, similar kinds of outcomes can occur by using that kind of model.

Bringing what's unique to the United States in this situation, effective, massive air power in conjunction with the Kurdish Peshmerga on the ground. It's been proven to be very successful in the past and we can do it again in the future.

But we can't just limit ourselves to pinprick tit-for-tat strikes. ISIS is pure evil. It needs to be eliminated and we can begin where we're at right now while conducting humanitarian operations and protecting the Kurds.

BANFIELD: It certainly looks like the beginnings are there. How far it will go is anyone's guess. At this General Deptula and Doug Ollivant, thank you for your time tonight. OUTFRONT next, tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees are literally running for their lives tonight. Who are the Yazidis and why does ISIS want to exterminate them?

Plus, just how dangerous is ISIS? We have video that shows how horrific the atrocities are that this group has carried out and continues to carry out at this moment.

And the largest Ebola outbreak in history is getting worse. We will give you a look into a special medical plane that is used to bring Americans with Ebola back to get care inside the United States.


BANFIELD: Breaking news tonight, U.S. fighter jets in the air and launching new air strikes in Iraq. Their target? Militants belonging to ISIS or the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria. A brutal group that has forced thousands of Iraqis have had to flee for their life.

The Yazidis are facing a slow and painful death. At one point, at least 40,000 were stranded on a mountainside with little food and water. Kids have been literally dying of thirst. Some have managed to escape. But the majority are waiting for humanitarian drops from American was planes just to survive.

Paula Hancocks is OUTFRONT with more on the Yazidis. Who are they? And why ISIS wants them dead?


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Yazidis have been targeted for centuries. In 2007, hundreds were killed in massive truck bombs in Northern Iraq, al Qaeda was blamed. Tens of thousands fear starvation as they hide in the mountains, this time running from ISIS.

The Yazidis are ethnic Kurds. They are considered a sect that draws from Christianity, Islam and an ancient Persian faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe in one God as everybody believe and the seven angels.

HANCOCKS: Translated as the peacock angel. They believe they were derived from Adam but not Eve. This is their most sacred site. They are expected to make at least one pilgrimage here during their lifetime.

Iraq has an overwhelming Muslim majority, 99 percent at last count, 0.8 percent are Christian. Only a tiny fraction on Yazidi with at least 500,000 that considered one of the smallest minorities in the country.

MIZRA BARAKAT, YAZIDI TRANSLATOR: They are very peaceful and friendly.

HANCOCKS: Several hundred Yazidis live in Lincoln, Nebraska. This amateur footage shows them protesting this week outside government offices calling for action in Iraq. The same call outside the White House.

LAILA KHOUDEIDA, YAZIDI: Yazidi women are being raped and kidnapped and imprisoned. It's terrible what is happening to our people.

HANCOCKS: A Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament pleads for help. Warning of genocide. A people scattered and on the run, but they are fast running out of places to hide. Paula Hancocks, CNN, Atlanta.


BANFIELD: And OUTFRONT tonight, military analyst, Colonel Rick Francona, who has spent time in Iraq and around this area. We are also joined by Jacob Silverberg, a former photographer for the "Associated Press," who has been to the Sinjar Mountains where the Yazidis are right now struggling to survive.

Jacob, you have been there and on those mountain tops. You know the terrain. Does it seem as though that the viewholic area is the least bit capable of supporting tens of thousands of refugees?

JACOB SILBERBERG, FORMER PHOTOGRAPHER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": The mount that I remember was barren, rocky and scarcely populated, maybe some tumbleweeds, but not a forest. At the time, many lived at the base of the mountain. The mountain itself had terrace farming and poor Yazidis, but it didn't seem capable of playing host to a large number of people.

BANFIELD: Colonel Francona, let's drill down on where it is we are look here. As we look at the map this is a large country, but as you move northward you can see where we are in relation to Baghdad. We are going to try to show overhead where the Yazidis are located. So walk me through what we're seeing. Where they are in relation to this.

COLONEL RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is in the north western corner of the country close to the Syrian border. This is a 15-mile long mountain ridge called Sinjar Mountain. You can see how barren it is. And there are craggy peaks and it's rocky. You have peaks and valleys, which makes it difficult to drop supplies.

BANFIELD: The U.N. request for a humanitarian corridor. I don't understand how you would effectuate this with air coverage.

FRANCONA: This is 50 miles to anywhere friendly. The Syrian border is to the west, but that is all controlled by ISIS. ISIS surrounds the entire mountain. Erbil is that way about 70 miles, 50 miles to the nearest Kurdish area. You are talking about having to fight your way in and fight your way out or come to an agreement with ISIS, which I honestly don't think is viabile.

BANFIELD: They are at the bottom of donkey trails waiting for these people to come down to execute them. They are dependent on what the Americans are doing right now, they are positioned to obviously. FRANCONA: The problem is you can literally keep dropping supplies indefinitely. The problem is can they survive up there? It's hot during the day. At night there's no shelter. You can't -- it's difficult to drop enough. We could probably do it. But you can't do that forever. You have to get the people off the mountain. Where do you take them? How do you get them down?

The air drops present a challenge. If you don't get them where the people have access to them then it's just a waste. If you put them too close to where ISIS is, ISIS shoots them as they get their supplies.

BANFIELD: When those C-130s fly over there they have to fly low and slow to drop the pallets.

FRANCONA: They are trying to stay just above shoulder fired missile range, which for safety right at 17,000, 18,000 feet, which is a little high, but you can still effect what you're trying to do.

BANFIELD: You don't think they have tanks?

FRANCONA: Not at that altitude. But did ISIS get their hands on something more power like the BUK system. If they got something from the Syrians. Is can move things quickly. That's why you have these fa-18s flying with them. They are outfitted with the warning gear. They will react immediately.

BANFIELD: And this is now a constant combat air patrol. And one quick question to Jacob. I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan are more hardy than I. But what about this? Do you sense that the people you knew, the friendly people you described, the Yazidis, can they weather this?

SILBERBERG: Well, I think that when I was there, there were Yazidis living on the mountain but also in villages at the base of the mountain. Those on the mountains can continue to live there. I worry about their ability to play host to the more urban Yazidis who live down below and their ability to live outside their villages and for the farms to support and sustain everyone.

BANFIELD: Jacob Silberberg and Colonel Francona, thank you both for your insight into this terribly tragic circumstance that we find ourselves in.

Still OUTFRONT, just how violent is ISIS? We have video that proves its reputation as one of the most brutal terror groups on the planet.

And the largest Ebola outbreak in history gets even worse. We hear from one of the Americans right now being treated in isolation for Ebola here in the United States.


BANFIELD: More now of our breaking news, the United States launching a second round of air strikes in Iraq and hitting the militant group ISIS. Specifically, a convoy of seven vehicles and a mortar position as well. Earlier today the Americans struck an artillery position with 500-pound laser-guided bombs. The Islamic terrorists have forced tens of thousands of people to flee after slaughtering anyone who opposes them. The militants recently released a propaganda video showing their vicious acts. And I have to warn our viewers before we show this to you that this is extremely graphic. It is extremely disturbing to watch. I'm talking about the brutal execution of countless Christians and minority groups, men who are literally being marched to their death.

And from a bloody execution site their bodies are being pushed into a river. Others shot in a line one by one, defenseless. There's a lot more of these images that we simply cannot air them because they are just so horrifying. Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is following the developments with ISIS. And he is out front for us tonight. I'm going to get to the brutality of what ISIS has been up to in a moment, but first, I want you to touch on the air strikes if you can. Jim, specifically, the United States strategy acting now as opposed to acting earlier when this first got underway, this ISIS onslaught. Can you walk me through this?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: For sure. Well, even as ISIS has gained all this territory first in Syria and now into Iraq, the administration's position has been that this is an Iraqi problem. It's their challenge to be met and that position, frankly, stays the same. What has changed is that two things, one you have these Yazidi people under threat here in Sinjar stuck up on a mountain, in effect, surrounded. They dropped the aid and now they have been doing air strikes in preparation for a humanitarian corridor to get them to safer ground in Kurdish controlled areas.

Basically, the administration could not stomach the idea understandably of some 40,000 people being potentially massacred here. That's one justification. The second one is this, in Erbil you have a large U.S. presence, both military advisers and hundreds of diplomats as well. And look at this. This is where the U.S. Consulate is in Erbil. It is only 25 - 20, 25 miles from the border here, areas where ISIS fighters are now shelling into the city here. That got too close for comfort for the administration, air strikes now to try to push those ISIS forces back and protect the Kurdish controlled areas in Erbil. That remains the mission now, as far as responding to this broader threat, the administration says it's up to the Iraqis with a more unified government to push back. But frankly, Ashleigh, that's something that the Iraqi military and the Kurdish military up here in the north has not been able to do.

BANFIELD: Let's talk about ISIS strategy now. This is not like the richest army in the world, and yet they are so terrifyingly fearsome. I'm wondering if that's their strategy. It's almost like Genghis Khan, a kind of violence and evil that they are meeting out on their victims. Is that how they are getting their business done?

SCIUTTO: Well, you know what, Ashleigh, they may not be the richest army, but they arguably are the richest terrorist group. They have got tens of millions of dollars, they have something that no other terrorist group in the world has, all of this territory, right in a crucial part of the world, a base of operations to train fighters. This is a great worry of U.S. intelligence officials that they are being trained and they are great deal.

And you and I have talked about this before, Ashleigh, foreign fighters here, more than 1000 Europeans, Westerners, more than 100 Americans, the fear is they're being trained here to be sent home to carry out attacks. This is something that al Qaeda never had in Afghanistan, this much territory, that much money, that much of an unchallenged base for operations not just in the region, but also potentially in Europe and the American homeland. We really - when I speak to intelligence officials we really have never seen something as dangerous as this.

BANFIELD: Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto doing the work for us from Washington, thank you, sir. And joining me now is CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, who is a former FBI and CIA official. Phil, in terms of what's happening right now with these air strikes and the mission that seems obvious for one, the Americans are there, the 40,000 potential victims of a slaughter are there. But then there's the notion that ISIS just keeps getting worse. Is this a strategy that the Americans should effectuate right now? Wipe them out while they are relatively contained?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I don't think they can wipe them out with a kind of activity we are seeing now. What we're doing now is to defend a bit of territory between, for example, ISIS and the Kurds. In the past we talked about the threat of ISIS to Baghdad. The question over time, though, is going to revolve around a couple of issues, number one is the durability of our operations. These guys are very committed. If you look at the history of insurgency, people who are motivated by religion like ISIS, are much more durable than people who are motivated by politics or economics.

The second issue, though, is when we - whether we transition from trying to defend the Kurds or the Yazidis, for example, to whether we try to decapitate ISIS. That's a very different question. For example, do you want to go after the leadership of the organization? Right now we're just on day one or day two of an operation that if we're serious could go on for weeks or months.

BANFIELD: I still don't see necessarily what makes them so different philosophically from other terror groups. Yes, they are brutal, but other terror groups like al Qaeda have had the religious philosophy. They've had the political agenda as well. Hamas, Hezbollah, the list goes on. Why are they so able to recruit?

MUDD: To my mind there are a couple differences that I see between them and some other groups I would have followed in places like North Africa, the Horn of Africa. For one, they're a tremendous magnate right in the heartland of the Arab world. Somalia, for example, which had tremendous Islamic extremist problems a few years ago, was not viewed as in the heartland of the Arab world. That's the Horn of Africa. So, for a European, for example, or someone from a city in the United States who is motivated by radical Islam this is in the heartland. Number two, the tremendous from the eyes of a potential recruit, the

tremendous success of this organization isn't limited to a small geographic space in Iraq. You are talking about an organization that's erased a border between Syria and Iraq and announced itself according to its leader a few weeks ago, remember, Baghdadi speaking in that masque, that has announced that it is restoring the caliphate that was destroyed a century ago. This is a tremendous magnet for people who are energized to join a group like this. A lot different than we are seeing elsewhere in the Islamic world.

BANFIELD: It's just so mystifying when you see that bloody ruthless propaganda video that anybody could be motivated by religion to want to be a part of it but it's happening. Phil Mudd, good to see you, thank you sir.

Out front next, a fresh round of U.S. air strikes in Iraq just in the last few hours, and focusing on targets in Kurdistan. Why is it so crucial that this region of Iraq does not fall into terrorist hands? And then the Mideast ceasefire. Yes, it is over and that's the picture. Violence once again in Gaza and once again we are live there where the shelling has resumed.


BANFIELD: Breaking news. A new round of U.S. air strikes in Iraq. American war planes attacking targets in Kurdistan belonging to the terror group ISIS. This is an area that has long been considered Iraq's safest and the Kurds are a crucial ally to the United States. That is why as Richard Roth reports, it is so important that the United States does not allow Kurdistan to fall into the hands of the militants.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: America's air strikes in Iraq highlights the importance of Washington's relationship with the Kurds.

JOE REEDER, FORMER U.S. ARMY SECRETARY: The Kurds are the very best friends we have in the Middle East. They've always been there, second only to Israel. We have no better friends there.


ROTH: Now the friends are facing their toughest enemies in two decades in the form of ISIS, also known as the Islamic state, the extremists who are terrorizing their way through Iraq.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We can and should support moderate forces who can bring stability to Iraq.

ROTH: Over the years, the United States has been a strong ally to the Kurds and their President Massoud Barzani.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATES: I'm very grateful to President Barzani for a generous welcome. It's very good to see you again. ROTH: The Kurds don't have their own country, but do have autonomy

from Baghdad in the region called Kurdistan, the most stable part of Iraq. As the rest of the country has deteriorated along sectarian lines. The Kurdish fighters have a good reputation, but ammunition is running low. If the Kurds fall it could lead to a domino effect.