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Battling ISIS; NFL Outrage; Interview With Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; Report: 2nd Peterson Child Abuse Incident; NASA Returns to Human Space Flight

Aired September 16, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news in the escalating war against is. The U.S. launches new airstrikes as terrorist forces are moving closer and closer to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. America's top general now says U.S. ground troops may eventually be needed as well.

Plus, the ISIS endgame, new warnings of a doomsday battle and a terrifying scenario. Will ISIS join forces with al Qaeda and other militants to create a monstrous terrorist group?

And another NFL outrage. There are new revelations that Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson was accused of child abuse before involving another one of his young sons.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news this hour. President Obama is on his way to Florida for an ISIS war briefing by commanders just hours after America's top general seemed to contradict the commander in chief.

The Joint Chiefs chairman, General Martin Dempsey, telling Congress he might recommend sending ground forces into combat against ISIS if -- if the air campaign fails, despite the president's promise of no boots on the ground. Right now, the U.S. is escalating airstrikes against ISIS with five new attacks within the past 24 hours, including some targeting ISIS forces closing in on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

We have a leading United States senator standing by. There you see him, Senator Bernie Sanders, along with our correspondents and analysts, with new information about the ISIS threat and the U.S. battle plan.

First, let's get the very latest from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the office of General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, just a few minutes ago put out a statement attempting to clarify what General Dempsey said earlier today. It really was, however, the very same, precise case that he made

before the Senate Armed Services Committee for those who listened closely. He made a very narrow case that, in some instances, he might go back to President Obama and recommend some use of ground troops inside Iraq.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Will you please leave the room now? We're asking you nicely.

STARR (voice-over): Anti-war protesters in full force at a Senate hearing on the military plan to attack ISIS.

LEVIN: Please remove this gentleman.

STARR: A plan that is entering a new phase.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: I believe we can destroy ISIL in Iraq, restore the Iraq-Syria border, and disrupt ISIL in Syria.

STARR: U.S. drones flying over Syria are gathering detailed intelligence on the location of ISIS weapons, troops and supplies, also the location of ISIS commanders, targets if the U.S. can find them.

On the Iraq side of the border, the first offensive airstrikes now conducted southwest of Baghdad, U.S. warplanes bombing ISIS positions, for the first time acting to protect Iraqi ground troops under attack. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs says he might recommend U.S. ground troops in Iraq as combat advisers or to call in airstrikes, one example, if local forces try to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS, a complex operation.

DEMPSEY: It could very well be part of that particular mission to provide close combat advising or accompanying for that mission.

STARR: An extraordinary admission, given President Obama has said no ground troops in a combat role.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I appreciate that you said that you have not ruled this out.

DEMPSEY: I have not, in terms of recommendations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Has the president ruled it out?

DEMPSEY: Well, at this point, his stated policy is that we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat. So, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Including operators in (INAUDIBLE) and embedded on the ground?

DEMPSEY: That's correct, but he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis. STARR: But does the U.S. military plan need to expand even


BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You are not going to defeat ISIS without forces on the ground that go to the source of ISIS, support and recruiting and logistics and training.

DEMPSEY: Partners in the region have very capable special operating forces.

STARR: General Dempsey Making the case again, the ultimate task, make sure the U.S. is not alone.

DEMPSEY: I think it's our last best chance to convince regional governments that if they don't solve their internal problems, we can't do it for them and they better get serious about it.


STARR: General Dempsey's comments obviously getting a lot of attention across Washington. You know, it is a distinction that the military makes about exactly what is combat. But for many Americans, and, look, for many troops, if you are standing in a war zone and the bullets are coming towards you, that's combat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he said this new war against ISIS could go on for years and years. It's generational, a sobering thought from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Barbara, thanks very much.

Now let's go to the front lines in the war against ISIS. The Iraqi Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, they have been advancing in a fierce battle against ISIS fighters.

CNN's Anna Coren is joining us now live from Irbil in Northern Iraq.

But I know, Anna, you spent some time with those Kurdish fighters.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. We spent the day on the front lines with the Peshmerga,the Kurdish forces, who, of course, are the boots on the ground, fighting ISIS here in Northern Iraq.

Wolf, we witnessed some intense fighting between the Peshmerga and those ISIS militants as they tried to root out these Islamic extremists from a critical area. Take a look.


COREN (voice-over): As the first rays of light stream through the clouds, the roar of U.S. fighter jets could be heard right across these desolate plains. This was a signal for the Peshmerga to launch their new offensive

against ISIS. The mission, to reclaim the township of Hassan Sham and the surrounding area, which includes a strategic bridge blown up by ISIS a month ago. The bridge connects the highway running from Irbil, Kurdistan's capital, to the city of Mosul, an ISIS stronghold just 30 kilometers away.

(on camera): Well, for more than a hour, two U.S. fighter jets, which can you hear now, have been circling, launching airstrikes on enemy targets, also providing that critical cover for these ground forces to advance towards the bridge.

(voice-over): For the man in charge of these troops and this operation, Dr. Rowsch Shaways, he is the one communicating and coordinating with the Americans, advising them on ISIS targets.

(on camera): What are you wanting them to hit when you give the orders to strike?


DR. ROWSCH SHAWAYS, PESHMERGA COMMANDER: Position where they are fighting very strongly which will be very difficult for our Peshmerga to get in.

COREN (voice-over): And so far, the partnership is working well, although the Kurdish forces have made no secret of the fact they would like to see an intensification of the U.S. air campaign. After hours of strikes, artillery and mortar attacks, the horizon was filled with columns of rising black smoke.

But some ISIS militants refused to retreat, one packing an oil tanker with explosives, driving it toward the Peshmerga front line. Luckily, it was taken out with an RPG, resulting in this explosion. By late in the day, the Peshmerga had suffered at least half-a-dozen deaths, but they had taken back control of the bridge.

(on camera): Well, up until this morning, this was the ISIS front line. But after an intensive ground operation by the Peshmerga, they have managed to clear out Hassan Sham and the surrounding villages of militants. The focus now is this highway. It runs all the way to Mosul. An operation is currently under way to carefully and slowly remove what the Peshmerga say are barrels filled with explosives and IEDs laid alongside the road.

(voice-over): As the engineering unit began detonating the explosives, soldiers showed us some ISIS handiwork.

(on camera): Now, this is what ISIS is laying alongside the road. It's a very primitive pressure plate, but if you step on it, it will set off an explosive.

(voice-over): A deadly device that will, no doubt, litter the road all the way to Mosul, a future battle these forces know won't be easily won.


COREN: Now, Wolf, we spoke to Kurdish President Barzani yesterday and I asked him how does he feel about the prospect of foreign forces on the ground in the future? And he told me he has not requested it, but would certainly welcome it because he believes it would make a far more effective fighting force on the ground here against ISIS -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anna Coren, be careful over there. Thanks very much. Excellent report.

Let's get some more now.

We're joined by Senator Bernie Sanders.

He's an independent United States senator from Vermont, a possible 2016 presidential candidate.

Senator, thanks -- thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: We'll talk politics a bit later.

Are you with the president as far as his ISIS strategy in Iraq and Syria has unfolded?

SANDERS: I tell you, Wolf, I've got a lot of concerns. I think this is an enormously complicated issue. I do not agree with those critics of the president who say he was waiting too long.

You know, Bush and Cheney had a strategy for Iraq and they were forceful and they were bold and they committed the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States.

So on an issue this complicated, we've got to think it through.

ISIS clearly is a brutal, dangerous organization. We all agree that it has got to be defeated. Here is my concern. My concern is that the United States gets involved in a quagmire, in a never-ending war, that it is the United States of America, our soldiers, our taxpayers who are defending the royal family of Saudi Arabia, who are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Now, if this is such a crisis to the region, why are -- the Saudis have a big air force, you know?

They've got a lot of F-16s.

Why aren't they involved?

Why isn't Kuwait?

You remember Kuwait?

We kind of forget Kuwait. We went to war to put the Kuwaiti government back.

Where are they?

Where are all the billionaires in Qatar?

So we need -- if these guys in the region think that ISIS is such a great threat, they've got to put some skin in the game. I don't see that yet.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't see the Saudi Arabian Air Force with -- for example, which has a lot of U.S.-made F-15s and F-16s. I don't see them launching any airstrikes against ISIS.

SANDERS: That's right. Because they -- they're very happy to have us do their work. So I think they have got to get their hands a little bit dirty in this conflict.

BLITZER: You voted against going to war in 2003 agreed Saddam Hussein. And you say that's the biggest foreign policy disaster in U.S. history.

SANDERS: Well, I...

BLITZER: Some people...


BLITZER: -- might say the Vietnam War was a big foreign policy...

SANDERS: Well, we could argue...

BLITZER: -- disaster, as well.

SANDERS: -- that was another one. But, clearly, what my point was, you can't criticize the president for trying to think this one through. Bush and Cheney were forceful, they were direct, and it turned out to be a major blunder, of which we are suffering today.

BLITZER: The president wants you to vote for half a billion dollars, as early as the next few days, to fund Syrian -- moderate Syrian rebels opposed to the Bashar al-Assad regime for training and arming them.


BLITZER: Will you vote yea or nay?

SANDERS: Well, here's my problem. My problem is in a CR, so I vote against it, you vote...


BLITZER: -- it's a stopgap continuing resolution...

SANDERS: -- so it becomes are you voting for Ebola, money for... BLITZER: Let's say it were a separate half a billion -- $500

billion funding appropriation.

SANDERS: I'll work -- I'm looking at this issue really hard. At this point, I'm leaning no.

BLITZER: You're leaning to vote against it?


BLITZER: What about authorizing a formal vote that would give the president authorization to go to war against ISIS?

SANDERS: Everything is in the language. You can't talk in a general sense here. I support, have and do support the president using airstrikes. I think he has the right to do it. I think that they are -- work. I support that.

But I am very, very nervous about two things -- ground troops getting caught -- our young people getting caught up in a war. I'm chairman of the Veterans Committee. I have seen what the war in Iraq has done to hundreds of thousands of young people and I worry about that.

And second of all, I don't know why the taxpayers of Vermont have got to defend the royal family of Saudi Arabia, which is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

BLITZER: Yes, they -- they're trying to put together a coalition but they're looking to the United States and a lot of people like you are saying why does the United States always need to do the work.

SANDERS: That's right. Not to mention, you know, you -- I'm sure you have reported the U.K. is concerned about terrorism there. You know, I mean they have a good...


BLITZER: But you agree, ISIS poses a threat...

SANDERS: Oh, they are a total threat.

BLITZER: -- to the United States.

Are you worried about ISIS terrorists...

SANDERS: Not just coming here...

BLITZER: -- coming here to the United States?

SANDERS: I'm worried about everything. They are a threat to Europe, to the United States, to the region. They've got to be stopped. But it cannot be just the United States alone.

BLITZER: So a -- and you don't feel that the coalition that Secretary Kerry is talking about, 40 nations involved, you don't think that's good enough?

SANDERS: I read some of the language and it's not particularly strong at this point. And I know it's difficult. Kerry is trying. The president is trying. But I need stronger language.

BLITZER: Here's a political question -- do you want to be president of the United States?

SANDERS: Do I want to be president?

I think anyone who wants to be president is a little bit crazy, to tell you the truth. I don't wake up in the morning saying I want to be president.

But what I do believe is at a time when the middle class in this country is disappearing, when you have more people living in poverty than ever before and where you have more wealth and income inequality than we've had since 1929, where you have a billionaire class not only controlling our economy, but because of Citizens United, now being able to put hundreds of millions of dollars into elections, you've got climate change out there, you've got huge issues. We need candidates to stand up for the working class and the middle class of this country so the billionaires don't get it all.

BLITZER: So will you right now for president of the United States?

SANDERS: I am thinking about it. I was just in Iowa. We had some great meetings the other day. I am thinking about it.

But for my politics, we need, you know, we -- you're going to the Koch brothers and other billionaires spending a fortune. We would have to put together an extraordinarily good organization. I don't know at this point if we can. So it's something that I am thinking about.

BLITZER: You're an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

If you run, will you run for the Democratic nomination or will you run as a third party independent candidate?

And there have been some, Ross Perot, as all of us remember.


BLITZER: Which avenue do you prefer?

SANDERS: Well, if I had Ross's billions, I might run -- that might be an easy answer. Putting together a 50 state independent political infrastructure is not easy. There are advantages running for independent because there's a lot of anger at the Republican Party, which has become extremely right, at the Democratic Party, which has not been seen as strong as it should be, defending working class people.

So there's a lot to be said about that. On the other hand, it's tough putting together an independent

political structure to 50 states. And if you run in the Democratic primary, you're in the debates, etc. Etc.

So the answer is I don't know yet and that is something I'm talking to a whole lot of people about.

BLITZER: If you run for the Democratic presidential nomination, could you beat Hillary Clinton?

SANDERS: Look, I don't know that I could and I don't know that I couldn't. But this is what I do know. I know that this country faces enormous problems. I know that at a time when we have seen a huge increase in productivity, tens of millions of workers in this country are working longer hours for lower wages. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty. Ninety-five percent of all new income since the Wall Street crash, you know where that's gone, Wolf?

It's gone to the top 1 percent.

That is not what America is supposed to be about.

So I think we need a movement around this country so that we create a situation where government represents the middle class and working class and not just the billionaires.

BLITZER: One final question, if you run, when will you decide?

SANDERS: I've got time on that. But certainly -- certainly not before the November elections.

BLITZER: Not before the midterms, but shortly thereafter?

That's when Hillary Clinton is expected to announce?

SANDERS: Well, Hillary will do her thing and I'll do mine. I'm not sure when.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens.

Senator, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

SANDERS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont.

Still ahead, fears of a terror super group -- a new call for ISIS and al Qaeda to join forces against their common enemies.

And are President Obama and his war team on the same page? We will talk about the muddled message and the political fallout we're hearing today. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The Islamist militant group ISIS is stepping up its recruitment and propaganda efforts with a slick new online magazine.

CNN's Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM looking into it for us.

What are you finding, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this magazine is called "Dabiq." It's polished, sophisticated, designed to appeal to young jihadists.

Tonight, a U.S. official told me this is part of ISIS' strategic messaging campaign to militants in the English-speaking world.


TODD (voice-over): The ISIS endgame, apocalyptic battles between them and the rest of the world. In the mind of ISIS, President Obama and John McCain are crusaders who will -- quote -- "bring about the complete collapse of the modern American empire."

ISIS has published this vision in a slick online magazine called "Dabiq," named for the town in Northern Syria where the last Muslim caliphate flourished in the 16th century.

SETH JONES, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: The Islamic State uses a sophisticated propaganda campaign. They have got images here of fighters with explosions and intermixed, we have got important phrases here. It burns the crusader armies with images of American soldiers.

TODD: Another person portrayed by "Dabiq" as a crusader, Douglas Ollivant, an Iraq combat veteran and key adviser on the 2007 troop surge, who appears regularly on CNN. Under the heading "In the Words of the Enemy," "Dabiq" cites an article Ollivant wrote about ISIS' growing strength.

LT. COL. DOUGLAS OLLIVANT (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL STAFF: Well, you have to be perversely honored that someone is reading you. But at the same time, you're being incorporated into their propaganda. We take them seriously, write about them seriously. And, perversely, they then twist this to their potential recruits to say, look, American analysts take us seriously.

TODD: "Dabiq" differs from another terrorist glossy, "Inspire." that magazine, from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has manuals on how to make bombs and get them on to planes.

JONES: This is very different. This is encouraging people to come, to recruit, and to join the army in Iraq and Syria and fight.

TODD: "Dabiq" has plenty of violent images to lure jihadists, the mutilated bodies of Muslims wounded and killed by Western forces and their allies, but also of ISIS' own victims. In its most recent issue, the final section is dedicated to the beheading of James Foley, defending his murder as retribution for western military campaigns in the Middle East. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another prominent feature in that latest issue of the magazine is this section on the philosophies of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Analysts say that's designed to set him up as the overall leader of jihadists worldwide, ahead of the likes of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, let's just delve a little bit into this indication, this recruiting technique that they're using with this magazine. Is it working or not working?

TODD: One U.S. counterterrorism official told me they don't think it's getting much traction. But remember you're combining this with all the videos they put out, the tweets, the other messages that they get out to all the young jihadists around the world through social media, Wolf.

Cumulatively, that does have an effect. We saw the numbers that ISIS has. But we have been reporting since last Friday about how they're increasing in numbers with thousands of new foreign fighters.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank. He's the co-author of a brand-new book entitled "Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA." We're also joined by our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, who has a documentary based on the book "Agent Storm" that will air on CNN later tonight.

First question, Paul. How effective are these magazines as recruitment tools?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I think they're really quite effective. They're not just putting this out in English. They're also translating it into French, and German and all sorts of other languages.

And European officials have told me there's been a surge in the number of European militants going off to Syria and Iraq to join the group since this group declared a caliphate back in June -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There's a report, Nic, out there today that al Qaeda, the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, as it's called, and al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb, that's in North Africa, issued a joint statement condemning the U.S.-led military alliance in Iraq and Syria, also urging the warring factions there to unite in the face of a common enemy.

What would it mean if all these various al Qaeda splinter groups were to unite and work together? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It would

mean that they would present a potentially more deadly and increased threat capability to the United States and to Europe.

Take, for example, in Yemen. You have al Qaeda's top bomb maker. He makes sophisticated bombs. He snuck some of them onto aircraft in the past. The underpants bombs was just one of those. He is making more sophisticated bombs since then. So imagine you team him up with a North African operative who then sneaks into Europe, because they're moving people across the Mediterranean into Europe with refugees coming from North Africa.

And you have -- you know, you have essentially somebody with the skills, perhaps the equipment who can perpetrate an attack. That's just one small defined example. But if they work together, any organization, al Qaeda or anyone, that unites and works together becomes more effective. It shares ideas more.

They have made this statement publicly now. But, Wolf, we know from counterterrorism experts that they have been very aware that communications between these different al Qaeda groups has been growing. And that represents a seriously increased threat.

BLITZER: It's a very serious threat, indeed.

Paul, as you know, ISIS started off as al Qaeda in Iraq, split off. Now there's a split between core al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri's organization, terror group, and ISIS. What's the possibility that these two terror groups could get back together?

CRUICKSHANK: There's been a lot of infighting between these groups, but one of the unintended consequences of these U.S. airstrikes in Iraq may actually be to create more unity again between al Qaeda and ISIS.

These two al Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and Yemen are calling for exactly that, and they're calling for ISIS and al Qaeda to patch up their differences, work together and focus on targeting the United States. That's a pretty frightening prospect if it comes to pass, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, both of you have a major documentary that will air later tonight on CNN, and it's entitled "CNN SPECIAL REPORT: Double Agent Inside Al Qaeda for the CIA." It airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Let me play a little clip from this amazing documentary.


ROBERTSON: Morton Storm, for half a decade, he says he moved back and forth between two worlds and two identities, when one misplaced sentence could have cost him his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know what angle he is playing.

ROBERTSON: Traveling between atheism, hard-line Islam, English and Arabic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In one minute, he is 007 and on the other side he is now part of the militant circle.

ROBERTSON: Between being an agent for Western intelligence and a sworn member of al Qaeda, Storm says he was a double agent, so trusted by al Qaeda terror leaders he even fixed one up with a European blonde European wife, a unique powerful weapon in the war on terror who says he got results.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been responsible of 30 kills.

ROBERTSON: Thirty terrorists killed?

ROBERTSON: In a race against time, trying to bring down the most dangerous terrorists before they can launch their next attack, double agent inside al Qaeda for the CIA.


BLITZER: That's tonight.

Nic, tell us how this documentary came about.

ROBERTSON: Well, Paul and I reached out to Morton Storm when he came out of sort of being an agent and contacted a Danish newspaper. They began publishing some of his accounts. They had been through a lot of the accumulated hotel receipts and other items that he had kept from his spying days to sort of verify his story.

We reached out to him on Facebook, we contacted him. A few months later, we met him at an undisclosed location in Europe and began discussing exactly what we're delivering today, telling his story. He wanted his story to come out, the world to know it. He thought that it was important. there are a huge number of very, very interesting details, not just the spycraft. The competition for his services by the British and American intelligence agencies.

He was so valuable to them, because he knew so many senior al Qaeda figures, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's an amazing documentary. And I'm glad it will air tonight, premiere 9:00 p.m. Eastern there here on CNN. It's based on the book "Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA" by Morton Storm, together with our own Paul Cruickshank and our CNN producer Tim Lister.

You guys have done an amazing job. The book is fabulous. The documentary is powerful. We look forward to seeing it later tonight, guys. Thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, as U.S. forces step up the fight against ISIS, are U.S. members of Congress afraid to support another war?

And Rihanna vs. the NFL -- new action and reaction to the widening scandal involving pro football and domestic violence. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Nic, tell us how this documentary came about.

ROBERTSON: Well, Paul and I reached out to Morten Storm when he came out of sort of being an agent and contacted a Danish newspaper. They began publishing some of his accounts. They'd been through a lot of the accumulated hotel receipts and other items that he'd kept from his spying days to sort of verify his story.

We reached out to him on Facebook; we contacted him. A few months later, we met him at an undisclosed location in Europe and began discussing exactly what we're delivering today, telling his story. He wanted his -- he wanted his story to come out, the world to know it. He thought that it was important. There are a huge number of very, very interesting details, not just the spy craft. The competition for his services by the British and American intelligence agencies. He was so valuable to them, because he knew so many senior al Qaeda figures, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's an amazing documentary. And I'm glad it will air tonight, premiere 9 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. It's based on the book "Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA" by Morten Storm, together with our own Paul Cruickshank, and our CNN producer Tim Lister.

You guys have done an amazing job. The book is fabulous. The documentary is powerful. We look forward to seeing it later tonight, guys. Thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, as U.S. forces step up the fight against ISIS, are members of Congress afraid to support another war?

And Rihanna versus the NFL. New action and reaction to the widening scandal involving pro football and domestic violence.


BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of President Obama. He's touching down in Florida. He's planning to meet with the U.S. military Central Command commanders to talk about ISIS. That meeting tomorrow.

The terror group's fighters are bragging that they shot down a Syrian fighter jet that was attacking them earlier today. They're now showing off pieces of the plane.

This as the top U.S. military general reveals to Congress that ground troops may eventually be need to fight ISIS, despite President Obama's promise of no combat boots on the ground.

Let's talk a little bit more about all of these issues, the ISIS threat, the U.S. response. Joining us, "CROSSFIRE" host, S.E. Cupp; our CNN political commentator, the former White House press secretary, Jay Carney; and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. Are you surprised that there seems to be a little muddling of the

message coming today from General Dempsey, as opposed to...?

JAY CARNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That never would have happened if I were there. No, I think when you're the chairman of the joint chiefs and a military man and you're asked a question about...

BLITZER: He wasn't asked a question. This was in his opening prepared statement.

CARNEY: Fair point. Of course, it stands to reason you can imagine a contingency that might develop that would lead you to make that recommendation to the commander in chief.

The president is the commander in chief. The president has made clear that it is his policy that he won't send troops into combat on the ground again in Iraq.

I think in this case, I'm going with the commander in chief. You know, war is a complicated piece of business. Things could change. But I don't expect President Obama to...

BLITZER: If we're -- hold on one second. I want to get your thoughts on this, because I did hear for the first time, almost for the first time, from General Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs, that the U.S. mission was to destroy ISIS in Iraq but to degrade ISIS in Syria.

The president, as you remember, repeatedly said the U.S. mission is to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS. He wasn't differentiating between Syria and Iraq?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't think you can differentiate. I think that the easier mission because of the complications with the civil war in Syria is ISIS in Iraq. But as the president made clear when he spoke, I think, and I thought surprisingly forthcoming about the fact that we can expect some strikes in Syria, which is something that he had resisted for a long time, as you know. So I think that the war will occur, our efforts and our coalition efforts will occur in both theaters, the easier passage in Iraq.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is all about parsing words to a degree, Wolf, on this question of combat. How do you define combat? If you're a military adviser and you're on the ground, you're -- it's a dangerous situation.

It's not as if, "OK, I'm not on the front line there and, therefore, my life isn't in danger." Your life is in danger. And I think we're going to be struggling with this. They're going to be struggling with it in Congress, if they ever get around to voting and -- and, you know, this is an issue that the White House is trying to kind of walk this fine line with the boots on the ground. Well, what are boots on the ground? Advisers are on the ground.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": How silly we must look to our allies and to our enemies, quibbling over what boots on the ground means. Is General Dempsey right? Is President Obama right? Is Joe Biden right? Is John Kerry right? And all because the president seems far more committed to a political talking point than he does to a clear military strategy.

I can't believe that this is scaring anyone overseas, that we're having this debate so publicly. The president has the authority to say, "I don't know how -- how serious or deep this mission will go, but the mission is to destroy ISIS and leave the rest of everything on the table." Instead, he's boxed himself in.

BLITZER: You think so?

CARNEY: No, I don't. I understand that there is a desire by some to commit the United States to an open-ended war, to open the possibility of another land invasion of Iraq. There's no appetite in the United States for that.

And more than that, more than the unpopularity of that, we've been through that. We saw what it wrought. And in many ways we are here today because of the decisions made to invade Iraq more than a decade ago.

CUPP: I think, Jay, the president is also fond of false choices. And that was just one that you laid out. No one is talking about an open-ended war into perpetuity. We're talking about putting things on the table, not taking things off the table so that the president isn't in this very silly, semantic argument, having to defend a position that others around him, in his own circle, are now -- are now contradicting.

BORGER: But I think that this is a question, basically, of credibility. What you tell the American people about the mission. How you define it. Originally, humanitarian mission, protecting our personnel in Baghdad. Then there seemed to be kind of a mission creep now to destroy ISIS. What does that mean?

Members of Congress don't -- I mean, this isn't just the president. This is also members of Congress who want to know exactly what they're authorizing again, if they ever get around to voting.

BLITZER: I guess it's a little bit unique right now. He may have some more support, the president, from Republicans than some of his liberal Democrats.

CARNEY: I don't doubt that.

BLITZER: That's what Bernie Sanders is saying: look, he doesn't like what he's doing.

CARNEY: Politics now works, that there is the circle -- where the extremes come together at a point where I think there are -- there is a wing in the Republican Party that is reluctant to do this.

BLITZER: The isolationists.

CARNEY: Smaller than the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that's reluctant to involve itself in another war. But I think, look, a president does need to put some parameters on what his policy is and not just say to America, "You know what? We're now going to war again. I can't really tell you what that will mean in terms of our commitment." You can say, as he did, that we want to dismantle and disrupt...

BLITZER: Hold on a second. What's wrong with the president being totally transparent as much as possible with the American people, with Congress, in saying here's what we're going to do. Here's what we're not going to do.

BORGER: It's not transparent. It's neither honest nor realistic. As Gloria pointed out, we do have boots on the ground. And if the president is actually committed to destroying ISIS, we will need more boots on the ground. It's putting himself in an unnecessary box, and you're right. The American people don't want to think that we're going to be in a long, protracted land war in Iraq. But he doesn't need to put unnecessary things off the table.

BLITZER: All right. Very quickly, last word and we've got to go.

BORGER: The problem is that intelligence estimates about the danger of ISIS to our -- as an existential threat to the United States really differ. I mean, you know, you can talk to one intelligence expert who says yes, you know, it's endangering our national security. The president didn't go there. You talked to somebody else who said it could develop into a danger to our national security. Until we figure out what that...

CUPP: Put everything on the table.

BLITZER: We've got to go. All right. S.E., thanks very much for coming in. Gloria, Jay, thanks to you, as well.

Just ahead, an NFL star charged with child abuse. Now a report of a second alleged incident. Details of a twist in the Adrian Peterson scandal.

Plus, a major announcement by NASA. The space agency wants to start doing something it hasn't done for several years.


BLITZER: New developments in the scandal surrounding the NFL's Adrian Peterson, who's currently facing a felony child abuse charge.

Now, CNN affiliate KHOU is reporting that Peterson allegedly abused another son, citing its sources, the station says the mother of that 4-year-old boy filed a complaint with Child Protective Services, but no charges were ever filed. CNN hasn't been able to confirm KHOU's story, but Peterson is vehemently denying the report through his attorney.

Let's get some more now. Joining us, CNN's Rachel Nichols, she's the host of "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS." Also joining us, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, and our CNN anchor Don Lemon.

Rachel, explain what's happening here. How is all of this playing out over at the NFL?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN HOST, UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS: Well, there's certainly some concern. Look, Adrian Peterson was deactivated for this past weekend's games. Then on Monday, the Vikings came out and said they were reinstating him and going to, quote, "let his due process and this case play out." It will probably play out through the course of the entire season. He's not expected to go to any sort of trial on this until later in the year, possibly next year.

Well, that drew a pretty strong reaction, especially after that second report. Well, yes, child services did not, in the end, have a finding of child abuse against Peterson. Peterson's lawyer is correct. The mother was concerned enough, and there was an injury to the child that she did call child services and they did think it was warranted to launch the investigation.

So, the fact that that even happened is yet another concern. And it's not just fans that are taking notice. You had several sponsors of the Vikings make statements. Radisson said it was suspending its sponsorship with the team. Visa and Anheuser-Busch have issued strong condemnation, saying that the NFL hasn't done enough in this situation.

You've also had the governor of Minnesota weigh in, saying that he thinks that the Vikings should put Peterson back on some sort of deactivation or suspension. You also have Senator Al Franken weigh in and say the same thing.

BLITZER: While legally speaking, Jeffrey, where does this play out?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, under Texas law, a charge of child abuse, there is a defense if the conduct is reasonable by the standards of the community. So, the question will be, if these reports are true -- as far as we know, they are -- that Peterson used this switch and injured his 4-year-old son.

If this case goes to trial, and it probably will not, it will probably end in some sort of plea bargain. But if it were to go to trial, the jury would have to decide, is that sort of treatment of a 4-year-old reasonable according to the standards of the community. Clearly, spanking would not be a crime. But this use of a switch, at least the prosecutors and the grand jury thought this was a crime.

BLITZER: Switch.

TOOBIN: And that was the issue.

BLITZER: Switch being like a branch or something like that?


BLITZER: Don, how do you think this is all playing out?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hmm. Well, I have to say that when I was a kid, I would have to go and get the switch off the tree. And if I brought back a switch that wasn't big enough, then my grandmother or my dad or my mom would go get a bigger one.

Now, listen, I'm not condoning what Adrian Peterson is alleged of doing, but, you know, people do discipline their children. When I saw the pictures, I thought if he did, indeed, do that -- or did that, I should say, excuse me, then he should be punished. That was beyond the pale.

But people do punish their kids and corporal punishment happens in this country. It happened almost every single day for me as a kid in Catholic school. And a lot of people see that as sort of a parent's right to discipline their children. But we must look at it in context and must look at those pictures and figure out if Adrian Peterson did go overboard and abuse that child.

BLITZER: Those pictures you saw the pictures, I saw the pictures. They are pretty awful when you look at that little boy and the injures that clearly were suffered.

Rachel, Rihanna -- there's the pictures right there Rihanna -- Rachel, Rihanna now has a series of tweets criticizing CBS which pulled her from the opening of Thursday night football.

She put on a statement. CNN, you pulled my song last week. Now, you want to slide --


BLITZER: CBS, you pulled my song and now you want to slide it back into this Thursday. No, F-U, you are all sad for penalizing me for this.

In response, CBS said they are moving in another direction.

How does this impact all of this?

NICHOLS: Well, look, obviously this is one very complex side of a complex issue with domestic violence. I don't think Rihanna is being punished for being a victim of domestic violence but I think her reaction after her highly publicized incident with domestic violence when she was beaten by Chris Brown and it was -- a lot of graphics photos afterward, some of the things that she said in the press, the decision to go back and have a relationship with him, a lot of domestic violence advocates of healing domestic violence in this country said they didn't make her a great role model for young girls and women who maybe suffering from that themselves.

Now, that's a controversial position to take. You may or may not agree with it. But it is a position that they have taken and that she has taken -- and you can understand CBS saying, you know what, the fact that there is controversy surrounding Rihanna and this issue means we don't want to put her front and center on NFL broadcast right now. She obviously was insulted by that, but that's where we are.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see you Friday night, Rachel Nichols, the anchor of "UNGUARDED". And, Don, we'll see you later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, "CNN

TONIGHT." I'm sure you're going to be following up on this story and all of the major news of the day.

Jeffrey, we'll see you here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.

Guys, thanks very much.

Take a look at this. These are live pictures coming in from the International Space Station. Coming up, we have details of NASA's big announcement today about how U.S. crews will be getting to and from space.


BLITZER: NASA today announced it will resume launching astronauts into space from the United States, something it hasn't done since the end of the space shuttle program three years ago. And it's paying Boeing and SpaceX almost $7 billion to do it.

Let's get more from our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien is joining us.

Miles, explain what this move means for the future of the U.S. space program?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the bottom line thing to take away from this is NASA made an important step toward launching U.S. rockets from U.S. soil carrying U.S. astronauts. Something we haven't done since the last shuttle flight in 2011. We've been paying $70 million per seat for a ride on Soyuz rockets to get U.S. astronauts on the International Space Station.

So, this move had Boeing and SpaceX develop rockets in a different way to carry U.S. astronauts and others to the space station is an important step. What's different this time, Wolf, is that instead of kind of owning the rockets, lock, stock and barrel as they did in the old days, these companies, Boeing and Space X, will develop, build the rockets, own them, and more or less lease them to NASA.

So, it's a different way of contracting and in theory, much cheaper for the taxpayer.

BLITZER: Is it a move also designed with political ramifications to distance the U.S. a bit from Russia?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's interesting. Obviously, at the highest altitude, if you will, those are concerns. The people I talked to at the engineering, at the policy level in the space world say it really hasn't been much of a blip.

So -- but, yes, it is important for a lot of reasons, that the U.S. can maintain this capability. The fact that this gap is going to rock on for six years, post-shuttle before this launches, and that's the soonest date, 2017, is -- I think a bit of a national embarrassment.

But the fact is that's where we are right now. NASA is making the steps. And the fact that this is being done this way, with the commercial entities stepping up to the plate and involving themselves in a little more risk, and contracting it a different way and presumably doing it cheaper is a very good thing because it might open the doors to a whole new industry in space.

BLITZER: We all know what Boeing is. Tell our viewers what Space X is.

O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, NASA kind of hedged their bets on this one. Boeing, of course, involved in every launch since the beginning of NASA, one way or another, Boeing or its previous companies.

Space X is owned by Elon Musk who is the PayPal multimillionaire, who has parlayed his fortune into building rockets. He owns the Tesla electric car company. He owns Solar City. He is into a lot of future-thinking ideas.

Space X has been very successful, sending cargo to the International Space Station, the rocket that they have developed, the Dragon on top of the Falcon 9 rocket has proven to be reliable. So, he has always thought about putting human beings aboard and he is part of this game now.

BLITZER: All right. Miles O'Brien, no one knows the space business as well as he does. Thanks, Miles, very, very much.

And remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. You can tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitroom.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.