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U.S. Airstrikes Resume in Syria; U.S. and Arab Partners Strike ISIS Oil Facilities; Bill Clinton on War Against ISIS

Aired September 24, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. New air strikes happening this hour. The United States and its allies hitting more ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. I'll speak live with the Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, about the new phase in the U.S.-led air campaign.

Tough talk from the president of the United States at the United Nations.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There can be no reasoning, no negotiation with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.


BLITZER: President Obama urges world leaders to join the battle to destroy ISIS and pushes them to cut off the flow of foreign fighters.

Hostage beheaded. ISIS allies in Algeria murder a French tourist, calling it a message of blood to France, which has joined the U.S.-led air strikes. Are Americans in danger overseas?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. U.S. and coalition aircraft right now, they are carrying out fresh strikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, even as the Jihadists vow revenge from the rubble of earlier strikes.

Just a short while ago, under strong pressure from President Obama, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution to stop the flow of money and foreign fighters to ISIS. That follows tough talk to the General Assembly.

The president of the United States calling on world leaders to join the war against a Jihadist group, but that hasn't stopped ISIS allies from beheading a French hostage, calling it a message of blood for the French government, which has joined the fight against ISIS. The Netherlands now says it, too, will participate in the U.S.-led

military campaign, contributing F-16 fighters. And Britain's prime minister takes the rare step of recalling Parliament to consider possible air strikes.

Our correspondents, our analysts, our newsmakers, they're all standing by with full coverage this hour.

Let's begin with the breaking news. U.S. airstrikes are resuming in Syria. U.S. and coalition aircraft, they are carrying out more attacks on ISIS targets. Let's get the very latest from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this hour, warplanes are back in the air over eastern Syria. U.S. and coalition aircraft this time, they are going straight after s pile of money. They are attacking right now about a dozen targets in remote areas in eastern Syria, portable, modular, small oil refineries.

This is part of ISIS's earning power, its revenue stream. They smuggle oil. They refine the oil in these remote locations and then sell it, making themselves about $2 million a day to finance their operations.

The U.S. and the coalition now bombing about a dozen targets in this area, according to a senior U.S. official.

This is an effort, Wolf, to go straight after ISIS's revenue stream. They have robbed banks. They have stolen money. They have stolen oil revenue by refining this oil and smuggling it illegally.

If the U.S. can cut off some of ISIS's cash flow, the hope is that will help. They will run out of money eventually. They won't be able to pay their fighters. They won't be able to finance their operations. There may be a long way to go on that goal, but tonight, this is the beginning of that effort, that part of the campaign to go after their cash flow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're trying to make it as difficult as possible for these ISIS terrorists, but they do already have a lot of money. Yesterday a Jordanian minister said they already have $1 billion stored up, money that they've stolen from banks, largely in Iraq and Mosul, particularly.

Do we know which Arab air forces are with the U.S. in this new round of air strikes, Barbara?

STARR: Wolf, the initial word that we are getting is that at least some aircraft from the United Arab Emirates and possibly other Arab nations also participating. Look for them to be dropping precision- guided munitions. They want to hit these refineries very precisely. They know there will be oil fires as a result of this, but they're going to work to try and limit any environmental damage to the desert. They think that these refineries are essentially small enough that

they can, with the precision-guided munition, essentially obliterate them. They may burn for a bit.

But the calculation is that ISIS refines about 300 to 500 barrels of oil a day. That's a really small amount, relatively speaking, in the oil market, so it's not, you know -- this is not going to be oil fires burning across the desert, as we've seen in years past. They hope to really limit this.

But again, as you point out, Wolf, ISIS has a lot of cash flow. This is a beginning effort to go after an economic set of targets with military firepower -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Clearly, Barbara, we're going to get an update from the Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's going to join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM shortly. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Under strong pressure from President Obama, the U.N. Security Council has just taken strong action to stop the flow of money and foreign fighters to ISIS. That comes as the president is using some very tough language in addressing world leaders about the terror threat.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's here with me at the United Nations.

The president was very tough today at the General Assembly.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. These airstrikes are a reminder that the U.S. is at war right now with a number of coalition partners, and the president, in effect today, at the U.N. General Assembly making the case for war and asking the world to join in, if not by joining military action by taking other steps, stopping the flow of foreign fighters to Syria, stopping the financing and even more broadly, fighting the ideology at home. He said that this needs to be a global effort, and in fact, he described a conflict that goes far beyond ISIS.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Speaking to leaders from the 193 countries assembled at the U.N., President Obama delivered an ambitious call to action to the world.

OBAMA: We can renew the international system that has enabled so much progress or we can allow ourselves to be pulled back by an undertow of instability.

SCIUTTO: For the president, the sources of that fear extend from ISIS and al Qaeda to Russian aggression in Ukraine. To the outbreak of Ebola. But little more than a day after he took the U.S. and its coalition partners to war against ISIS in Syria, the president identified the central challenge as the cancer of violent extremism.

OBAMA: There can be no reasoning, no negotiation with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.

SCIUTTO: Military action, however, is only part of his solution. He demanded that Muslims themselves stand up to the root causes of terrorism.

OBAMA: It is time for the world, especially in Muslim communities, to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al Qaeda and ISIL.

SCIUTTO: Together, it is a new and more aggressive foreign policy for a president until now defined by his decisions to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and avoid military action in others including, until now, in Syria.

This was President Obama at the G-20 last year in Russia.

OBAMA: I was elected to end wars, not start them.

SCIUTTO: And this was Mr. Obama today.

OBAMA: Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they're increasingly alone.


SCIUTTO: After addressing the General Assembly, the president chaired a very special meeting of the U.N. Security Council. He made a point of saying this is only the sixth time in the U.N.'s history when all the heads of state of those countries on the U.N. Security Council came to meet, and there they passed unanimously a very strong resolution barring terror financing, the flow of fighters. It's a legally binding document, Wolf.

Of course, the question now is do the nations who signed on to this in all 193 nations here are obligated to follow these requirements do they follow through?

BLITZER: Let's see if they do. That would be significant if, in fact, they do. It is, as you point out, unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council. So it is legally binding.

A very disturbing development in Nigeria. A group tied to ISIS goes ahead, kidnaps a French tourist, says because France is assisting the United States in launching air strikes against ISIS in Iraq, they are now going to behead this French tourist, and in fact, they do precisely that.

SCIUTTO: It's very sad yet another family has to know that their husband, brother, friend was killed in this way.

But it also shows something we've been talking about for some time. You know, this question, is ISIS just a threat in Syria or is it a threat outside Syria?

Today you have proof it's a threat outside Syria. A group pledging allegiance, in effect, to ISIS. Another beheading, this time in Algeria; still in the region. But the worry is, of course, that this could happen anywhere now, that sympathizers, lone wolves even here in the U.S. can be radicalized to take steps like this.

We saw in Australia last week a group attempted to do just that, carry out beheadings on the streets of Australia. A real concern of U.S. intelligence officials and in fact, the president. That's why he's making this call to arms today. Is it that group's cancer, in effect, spreads overseas.

BLITZER: And the worry that U.S. officials have, and it's clearly a worry -- I've spoken to some -- is that not only a French tourist but American who are someplace could be captured and beheaded, as well, to try to make a point.

SCIUTTO: That's absolutely right. And this is the sad fact. That the countries that are now involved in this fight, the U.S. included, and of course, British. We saw British people die. We saw a French man die today that they will be prime targets, because ISIS is a group that's is very in tune to sending the most terrorizing message possible. And the U.S., its western partners, its coalition partners, frankly, in the region, they are the prime targets.

BLITZER: Yes. So there's clearly some revenge going on right now. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper now. Joining us, two of our CNN military analysts, retired U.S. Air Force intelligence officer Rick Francona; and on the phone, retired U.S. Army General Mark Hertling.

General Hertling, what do you make of this? The current air strikes that are going right now, you heard Barbara Starr at the Pentagon say they're going after oilfields, if you will, refineries where ISIS has taken over those oilfields, and they're trying to export oil to the black market. They're making maybe a million or $2 million a day. How painful, potentially, could this be for ISIS in Syria?

GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST (via phone): Well, it's a great report by Barbara, Wolf, and this is a problem, as I said earlier, that we experienced in northern Iraq in the earlier part of this war, where al Qaeda was getting a hold of those fuel tankers full of trunks and using the funding from that to fund their operation.

Any kind of strategic targeting is going to go after leadership, communication, funding mechanisms. And so I think by striking these oilfields, you are taking a significant amount of the economy away from the organization that's trying to establish a state and use that money also for hiring fighters and enticing jihadists. So I think it's a good, strategic target, and it's well done.

BLITZER: And Colonel Francona, it looks like the U.S. and its Arab allies, who are involved in these air strikes, they clearly are seeing this one step at a time, but they're clearly in it for the long haul.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, this is part of an overall plan. Rather than going after everything you could the first night, they're taking it methodically.

And one of the targets they hit on the first night is tied to this, and that was the finance center that controls all the financing mechanisms. So now you're taking out the front end of that system.

This is also a good target set, because limits the amount of civilian casualties and collateral damage that we're going to have because of this Markada (ph) oilfield that Barbara pointed out is actually northeast of their resort. It's out in the middle of the desert, so we're not going to incur a lot of civilian casualties out there. And it will probably have the desired effect of cutting off some financing to ISIS. It also might starve some of their internal resupply of fuel.

So this is a good target set, and it's something we do routinely is go after POL and financing.

BLITZER: Tell us, Colonel, about this F-22 raptor, if it's still fighter, the newest one, the newest Air Force has. What can it do that an F-15 or an F-16, for example, can't do?

FRANCONA: It can go under -- it's invisible to radar, Wolf. It has stealth technology as part of the most stealth aircraft in the world right now. It does give up a little bit of bomb load to be stealthy. But it's virtually undetectable by anything the Syrians have by way of radar. So if the Syrians were going engage, they would never see this aircraft.

And it's primarily designed as an air-to-air security fighter, but it does retain an air-to-ground capability. So it can go in undetected and put precision-guided munitions into -- into a heavily defended area.

This is its first use in combat, and I think that it was meant to pave the way. I talked to one of the F-22 squadrons yesterday, and they said they actually led the way in to make sure there was no air defenses that the following fighters had to deal with, because the F- 15s, the F-16s would be visible on radar.

BLITZER: Well, that raises this question, General Hertling. The allies, whether the UAE or Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Jordan, any of the countries assisting the U.S., they don't have these stealth fighters. They have the F-15s. They have the F-16s. How vulnerable are they? Let's say the Syrian military wanted to engage with them. How good is their anti-aircraft missile system, for example?

HERTLING: They also have, Wolf, different blocks of aircraft. What I'm about to get to is these fighters and bombers are going in in what's called a strike package. So there are certain aircraft that have certain mission. The F-15s, F-16s are going in, perhaps being led by the 22s, the Raptors and also some Wild Weasels and some other jammers that actually take out or blind any air defense radar or any system.

So you're talking about not only a very complex operation in terms of multiple airplanes, but you're also looking at different countries to provide their advantage in the sky.

So the United States is probably providing reconnaissance planes and targeters, as well as jammers, while the other countries are falling in behind them and taking advantage of their strike capabilities.

BLITZER: Colonel Francona, what do you know about the Syrian anti- aircraft system. For example, I know we all know they're largely Russian supplied. How good are they if they want to really engage and try to stop what's going on?

FRANCONA: On paper it looks like a wonderful system; totally integrated and relatively modern equipment, but in reality it has been degraded over the years for lack of attention. It's not been used. The Israelis penetrate it at will.

But look at the location of where they are. Almost everything, 90 percent of the Syrian air defense radars, missiles, AAA is all focused around Damascus and Aleppo and that corridor in between.

The targets we're striking today are out in eastern Syria, very, very lightly defended, because they never thought they were going to have to fight a war out there. So although it is, I would call it, a less restrictive environment, there still is a possibility that you could be hit with some heavy AAA or a mobile missile system. And as the general said, we are taking the full package in there. You can see some of the aircraft taking off from the carrier where the -- the FA- Growler, FA-18 Growler. So we are taking the full range of suppression aircraft in there, because the last thing we want to do is lose a pilot over Syria.

BLITZER: Yes. And normally in a situation like this, before the U.S. were to engage in air assaults, air strikes, the first thing they would do is go in there and strike the anti-aircraft systems, the radar systems, all the AAA batteries or whatever they have to destroy those, but they haven't done that as far as we know, as far as the Syrian capabilities are concerned. A They hey don't necessarily believe the Syrians will engage in that, but we'll see what happens. They have to worry presumably about those worst-case scenarios.

Jim Sciutto, he's been watching what's going on here at the United Nations. I think the fact that the president managed to get these five Arab countries onboard propelled this U.N. Security Council special session to unanimous -- helped propel the president, gave him some political momentum to get all 15 members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, the permanent members, onboard. There were no abstentions, no vetoes.

SCIUTTO: It took some -- some pretty clever diplomatic work to get that done, in light of, particularly with Russia, all that's going on with the U.S. and Russia now in terms of the military aggression in eastern Ukraine.

Remember, the president in his speech today had some very strong words for Russia, fitting them into this larger conflict he described of an international set of norms that is being violated by countries like Russia and, of course, including ISIS that the world have to stand up to.

So to get Russia onboard, that's a big deal. Although it is interesting, though: Russia faces problems from Islamic extremism, as well, in the Caucus (ph). We saw that with threats running up to the Sochi Olympics.

But also China, a country that in the past the U.S. has had disagreements with on U.N. resolutions, they're facing it in western China and Xinjiang.

So ISIS, in many ways, is the great unifier: internationally but also in the region. And that's why he's been able to get these five Sunni nations onboard to attack with military air strikes. Another Arab nation alongside the U.S., it's a pretty remarkable coalition.

BLITZER: Yes, this is impressive diplomacy here at the United Nations today, but in the meantime even as we speak, the air strikes continue in Syria and Iraq.

Much more on the information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll have the latest on the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria, an update in just a moment.

Also, as President Obama calls for help in the fight against ISIS, will Egypt, a close U.S. ally, respond? I'll speak live with Egypt's foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry. He'll be here with me at the United Nations.

And new air strikes are being carried out against targets in Syria. We'll get the very latest from the Pentagon press secretary. The top spokesman at the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Kirby, he's getting ready to update us live.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get right on the breaking news. A new round of U.S. and allied air strikes against ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria going on right now. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us with a closer look at targets that are being used right now.

What do we know, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Wolf. We know that these are out here beyond where some of the other things have been. We're seeing a lot of strikes in here and here these days, but right now what we're talking about is focused in this eastern part of Syria right over here in some of the oil areas.

As we understand it, they are not hitting any of the big facilities. For example, Raqqah out here is one of the cities in that general area, about a quarter million people. If you move in there, you can see there are some big oil facilities in that town. This is not what the target is. The target now is further out.

One of the areas we're hearing about is called Markada. You can see big, open land; not a lot going on here. Smaller, portable-type refineries that can be hit out here. This is open territory.

And Wolf, if you look at this, this is precisely what military planes like this would be great at hitting, because they can strike them with precision bombs and have very little risk of an environmental disaster or a human disaster by hitting anybody else nearby, as compared to Raqqah, which we just saw a moment ago, Wolf, where there are many more houses and things close by.

So that's what they're going after right now in this extreme eastern part of Syria -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A new round of U.S. and allied air strikes going on as we speak. Tom Foreman, stand by. I want to bring in the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's joining us now live from the Pentagon.

Admiral, thanks very much for joining us. First of all, update us on this new round of U.S. and Arab allied air strikes. What's going on?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: These strikes just ended moments ago, Wolf. It was against 12 targets in eastern Syria. These 12 targets were what we call modular oil refineries. So they're oil refineries, not oilfields, but actual refineries. They were struck with precision-guided munitions over the course of about an hour and a half this afternoon by both U.S. and coalition aircraft. In fact, there were more coalition aircraft in the skies on these particular missions than there were U.S. flights.

BLITZER: Which coalition partners participated?

KIRBY: Saudi Arabia participated, as did the United Arab Emirates.

BLITZER: And they dropped more bombs, precision missiles or whatever, than the U.S. did? Is that what you're saying, Admiral?

KIRBY: Well, we're still working on -- I don't have an exact number of actual munitions dropped. I can tell you they were all precision- guided munitions. But what I am saying is that the majority of the aircraft on these missions were actually coalition aircraft and not U.S.

BLITZER: So these 12 targets, tell us why they were selected.

KIRBY: These are -- these are oil refineries, as I said. Modular oil refineries. And they account for roughly, on average, about the $2 million a day of revenue for ISIL. So, they're an important revenue stream for these guys.

They are in a remote part of eastern Syria, so we know that we were -- we were not -- there wasn't a big risk of causing any collateral damage or civilian casualties. These are oil refineries. And I will tell you that one of the things that we really focused on

was the infrastructure around the refineries itself. You know, they're berthing (ph) and their communications equipment and the methods of control over the refinery's business that we were really trying to get at.

We're going to do a battle damage assessment throughout the night, and hopefully tomorrow morning we'll have a much better sense of how well we did. Again, these strikes are just now ended. The aircraft are all safely back on deck. But that's only happened in the last 20 minutes.

BLITZER: And so I take it, all U.S., Saudi, UAE aircraft left safely. There was no problem as far as that was concerned, right?

KIRBY: That is right, Wolf. All the aircraft, all the pilots have returned safe and sound.

BLITZER: My other guess is this is only just the beginning. ISIS can anticipate a whole lot more. Is that right?

KIRBY: Absolutely, Wolf. We're going to keep the pressure on them. We said that yesterday. This is the beginning of a long effort. The United States military is poised and ready to contribute to that effort for as long as it takes. There will be more. There will be more.

BLITZER: Do you have a complete bomb damage assessment from the first couple of rounds of U.S. and coalition air strikes?

KIRBY: We do, Wolf. We've completed the assessment, the analysis of the first night's strikes. And what I can tell you is that we're very, very confident that we not only hit what we were aiming at, but that we caused the kind of damage we wanted to cause.

And I think you saw in a briefing yesterday and some buildings, we just wanted to hit communications gear on the roof or maybe just one side of the building. So, we were very, very precise. Very lethal, very targeted, and we're very comfortable that these strikes were successful and executed very professionally.

BLITZER: Do you know if you killed the al Nusra leader, the man known as the Turk?

KIRBY: We do not know that, Wolf. We cannot confirm any particular leadership that might have been killed in any of these strikes. In fact, you know, we've been asked well, how many ISIL fighters did you kill? We don't know that yet, either.

But the goal really was to get at ISIL's capabilities of sustaining, training, equipping, financing itself. These are strategic-level targets that we were going after. And again, all indications that we have, and we've done the analysis, is that these strikes were very successful.

BLITZER: On the first night, we know those Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched against the separate round of targets, the Khorasan group targets, a separate terrorist organization, as you know. There have been reports that you targeted the leader of the Khorasan, this man, Muhsin al-Fadhli. Do you know if he was killed?

KIRBY: We don't know that, Wolf. We can't confirm the fate of Mr. Fadhli. But we were honest about the fact that one of the things you go after when you go after groups like this is their ability to command and control and to lead themselves. And certainly, if you're a leader of an organization like this, you're fair game.

BLITZER: That -- that imminent threat from the Khorasan group, that imminent threat no longer exists. Is that right?

KIRBY: Well, again, we're still doing a full - we're still trying to take a look at that particular set of strikes. We do believe that we severely disrupted and degraded their ability to plot and to plan there near Aleppo. But I'm not prepared right now to say that the threat the Khorasan group poses, either in this particular case or any other has been completely eliminated.

BLITZER: Can you tell us where the U.S. aircraft in these latest air strikes, where they originated from? Are they carrier-based? Are they coming from air bases in the region?

KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the aircraft that participated in today's strikes were land-based aircraft, and they came from bases in the region, Wolf. I'm really not going go into any more detail than that.

BLITZER: But as far as you know, Turkey, a NATO ally, is not yet allowing the U.S. to stage aircraft to launch strikes in Syria or Iraq. Is that right?

KIRBY: Well again, without getting into the specifics of partner nation contributions -- and we know Turkey is going to be a partner in this. They've said that. And they'll have to speak for the way in which they're going to participate. We are getting great regional cooperation. We're very pleased for that, very grateful for that.

And as I said at the outset, that cooperation isn't just in terms of basing. It's in terms of flying. It's in terms of dropping bombs. And the majority of the aircraft, as I said, that flew today's operations were from coalition partners.

BLITZER: Yes. As you said, from the U.S. perspective, the Saudis and the Emirates, the UAE, they both came through on this second round of major air strikes against these ISIS targets in Syria.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the spokesman for the Pentagon. Thanks very much, Admiral, for joining us.

KIRBY: Great to be with you, Wolf, as always.

BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to stay in close touch with you.

Coming up, we'll have more of the breaking news. The U.S. a fresh round of air strikes in Syria. We're getting new information. Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, new U.S.-Saudi, United Arab Emirates air strikes in Syria right now. The U.S. and its Arab allies pounding away at oil refineries controlled by ISIS.

U.S. officials say the targets are where those ISIS oil refineries that were generating between $1 million and $2 million a day for is and its terrorist organizations. Egypt, which has a powerful military, is a very close U.S. ally in the Middle East. Where does it stand as the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is concerned? Let's get some answers.

Joining us now, the foreign minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry. Minister, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to these latest airstrikes against these oil refineries on eastern Syria that were providing $1 million to $2 million a day in revenue on the black market for ISIS. What do you think about that?

SHOUKRY: Well, it's a necessary step to stem the flow of cash to these radical organizations. It's the funding that provides them the arms and provides them the capacity to achieve what they have achieved militarily. So, it's an important, positive addition. It's unfortunate, of course. This is money that the Syrian people have lost. But it's a necessary step.

BLITZER: Are you with the U.S. and its five Arab coalition partners? Is Egypt with the U.S. on this?

SHOUKRY: Oh, definitely. We are with the U.S. with a variety of other nations other than the basic -- those who are basically undertaking military activity.

But this is a broad coalition which we formed initially when we met in Jeddah and then in Paris and concert once a year here at the Security Council. So we are fully committed to this fight against terrorism. We have been fighting terrorism for some time now and have always advocated that we need an international approach and solidarity and a common effort to totally eradicate this unwarranted and barbaric form of terrorism and activity.

BLITZER: Will you get involved militarily in addition to the political support you're providing the United States, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, these other Arab countries?

SHOUKRY: I think it's important for various members of the coalition to have various roles, and these roles are being formulated as we go. It's still in the initial phases of the coalition's activity. But at this stage, we are concentrating on the political, concentrating on utilizing our religious institutions to impact the ability of these organizations to recruit new fighters. And of course, to cut off the funding and to provide information.

We have a very close cooperation in the information and intelligence fields with the United States and other European partners, and I think this is an important role.

Our military's doctrine has always been a defensive one, one to protect the Egyptian territory and people. And we will develop our strategy in cooperation with our other partners as this battle develops.

BLITZER: Does ISIS pose a threat to Egypt?

SHOUKRY: Of course. These organizations, whether they're called ISIS, whether they're called anything else, we have an ongoing battle in the Sinai with similar terrorist organizations and radical groups, as is the case in Libya, as is the case in Nigeria or in Somalia. They might call themselves different things, but they have the same, basic ideology. The basic desire to destroy the nation state concept and to this idea of rejecting anyone else's ideas.

BLITZER: So when the president of the United States said today before the United Nations General Assembly, the only language understood by killers like this is the language of force, you agree with President Obama?

SHOUKRY: We agree that they must be met by force as long as they use terrorism and they use force. It's the only way to eradicate them.

And we need to also apply ourselves to the political dimension related to the environment in which they have been able to gain ground and impact their ideological base and showing that Islam has nothing to do with what they are doing or perpetrating.

On the contrary, Islam, like any religion, whether it is Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion, is a religion of tolerance and acceptance.

BLITZER: As you know, there was a severe rift, a rift of a break in the longstanding, very close U.S.-Egyptian military-to-military relationship after the removal of the former president. How is that relationship? Has it bounced back? Is the relationship strong today, or are there still problems?

SHOUKRY: Let me tell you, there was never a rift with the relationship...

BLITZER: They started withholding some military equipment.

SHOUKRY: Even though Egypt never in any way impacted its military cooperation with the United States. We continue to provide all of the cooperation, all of the assistance in terms of our cooperation. And we never took any actions.

BLITZER: But the U.S. took some actions. SHOUKRY: Well, you'd have to ask the U.S. about that. Egypt, we've never...

BLITZER: But has all that stopped, though? Are you back to normal, in other words?

SHOUKRY: We are on the way to being back to normal. The issues related to some suspension of military aid, I hope, will be resolved. But again, I have to stress that Egypt has continued to actively engage the United States at military to military. And even on the political level, and we are interested to maintain our strong cooperation with the United States.

BLITZER: You're the foreign minister of Egypt. Does the Obama administration -- when you meet with top administration officials, whether the secretary of state, John Kerry, or others, do they keep raising the issues, the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood, the arrest of some journalists? Are those still thorns in the U.S.-Egyptian relationship?

SHOUKRY: I don't -- I think the U.S. has recognized that the Egyptian people have undertaken and established their will, and that Egypt has been on a road to democratization, a new constitution, a referendum on of which a presidential election that was fair and free and internationally monitored. So that, I think, is not an issue any longer, and that the state to state relationship is well in its ability to deal with all of the dimensions of the relationship.

That doesn't mean that the United States doesn't trace issues related to its opinion, as a friend. And we take that in terms of the friendship that exists between us. And we are also in a position to clarify to the United States where we might feel that the U.S. position does not conform to what is actually happening in Egypt.

BLITZER: Egypt, the largest of all of the Arab countries. A critical player in the region. Foreign Minister, thanks very much for joining with us.

SHOUKRY: Happy to be with you.

BLITZER: All right, we'll continue our conversations down the road.

Up next, we'll have more on the breaking news, the latest U.S.-led air strikes taking place right now in Syria.


BLITZER: As new U.S. and Arab coalition airstrikes hit oil refineries in Syria, oil refineries controlled by ISIS, the U.N. Security Council has approved a tough new measure to cut off the flow of funds and fighters to ISIS. All this comes after tough talk from President Obama to the United Nations General Assembly today urging world leaders to join the campaign against ISIS.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, he the very latest -- Jim. JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've been

told that we should not expect to hear from the president later on this evening about this latest round of airstrikes. He is at an event right now. A U.N.-related event on open government but he's not expected to talk about this in terms of what's happening militarily in the battle against ISIS right now.

But, clearly, from what you are hearing the president talked about earlier today with respect to taking the fight to ISIS, you heard the president basically warn those ISIS fighters to clear out of the battlefield and then at one part during his speech, Wolf, he talked about going after the financing of this terror group and clearly, I think, Wolf, that these airstrikes hitting these oilfields in eastern Syria is going after their financing, it's been estimated that ISIS controls about 50 percent of the oil reserves in Syria right now. Something like 50,000 barrels a day.

And so if the U.S. and this coalition is going to defeat ISIS militarily they're going to have to go after the money as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta who's at the United Nations, traveling with the president as well.

Jim, thanks very much.

We're watching the breaking news. The new U.S.-Emirates and Saudi airstrikes in Syria that have just wrapped up, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, he weighs in today on the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The former president, Bill Clinton, is backing the U.S.-led war on ISIS. Listen to what he told CNN's Erin Burnett. She was the host of a panel today at the Clinton Global Initiative right here in New York City.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR, OUTFRONT: "The New York Times," in a large full-page op-ed, has now said that the strikes in Syria are a, quote, "bad decision." Are they right?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: They say it's a bad decision. No, I don't think so. I don't think they are right. I think that success is not guaranteed. I think what ISIS is trying to do was to sucker us into putting a lot of soldiers on the ground, so they could shift the blame from themselves to us for all the violence in the area.

And what we learned repeatedly is that when the Sunni tribal leaders who are not militant and not twisting Islam for their political objectives are willing to fight, they can reclaim their country. And we should help them do it. But it's not a fight we can win for them. So I personally believe the way they thought this through and planned it and limited our involvement avoids ISIS achieving their objective of getting us to suckering us into their fight and increases the chances that the tribal leaders will prevail.


BLITZER: You can watch the full interview with the former president of the United States, Erin Burnett, her sit-down with Bill Clinton for a CNN special town hall tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

We'll be right back.