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U.S. Troops in Syria Kill Top ISIS Commander; 8-9a ET

Aired May 16, 2015 - 08:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, the FBI now investigating the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia. Plus new details regarding the engineer's schedule the day of that crash.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a death sentence for the Boston marathon bomber, but could an automatic appeal keep Dzhokhar Tsarnaev alive for years or even decades?

BLACKWELL: And it's a story we've been following very closely here on NEW DAY, new help for mothers looking for their babies who may have been stolen during the 1950s and '60s. The St. Louis City Council is now calling for the release of all records from a St. Louis hospital.

We're starting with breaking news this morning. Good morning to you here in the U.S. and our viewers joining us from around the world. A U.S. Special Forces operation took place in Syria today.

PAUL: Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is on the phone with us. Barbara, what do you know this morning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Good morning, Christi and Victor. This is a stunning U.S. special operations raid deep into Syria, deep into ISIS territory, overnight, a number of U.S. special operation forces conducted a helicopter raid into Eastern Syria to capture a man named Abu Sayyaf.

He was and he was killed in the raid. He was a senior ISIS leader, who was not just known as having ISIS' oil and gas operations where they get so much of their funding from, but believed to be directly and increasingly involved in ISIS command and control operations.

This information is coming to us at CNN from sources familiar with what happened on the ground in Eastern Syria overnight, all the U.S. troops returned safely, we are told. What happened is they flew by helicopter into this area in Eastern Syria.

They went to a residence where they say, where, obviously, they knew he was. A firefight ensued. He fought back. Abu Sayyaf was killed at that point, but they were able to capture his wife, an Iraqi woman named Um Sayyaf.

She too is believed to be very heavily involved in ISIS operations and human trafficking. So there is a lot of concern as to what she may know about the human trafficking and various human operations that ISIS engages in.

They also captured a good deal of, obviously, belongings, information, intelligence from this operation and they hope to interrogate her now and go through everything they got as they often do when they conduct these raids.

They scoop up everything they can find and getting some more valuable intelligence about what ISIS is up to. But, behind all of that, I think you can't really overstate how unusual this is for U.S. troops to go by helicopter, to go deep into Syria to be involved in a firefight like this and to be able to get out, everybody got out, we are told.

The only similar operation that took place was several months ago. That was that failed operation to try to recover some U.S. hostages. President Obama signing off on that as he would have with this one because, clearly, the administration believing it was worth the risk.

So, again, U.S. special operation forces, we are talking some of the most elite U.S. forces in the U.S. military engaging in this helicopter raid overnight deep into Syria.

One top ISIS leader killed and his wife also heavily involved in ISIS operations captured, undergoing interrogation back in Iraq --Christi, Victor.

PAUL: Barbara, have you heard anything regarding any intel on hostages that they may be looking for, as well, if they had gotten that deep into Syrian territory?

STARR: Yes, the sources who were familiar with this, with what did happen on the ground overnight say that they did also capture and free what we are being told is Yazidi woman, who was being held by them.

The Yazidis, of course, a minority sect in that region that had suffered so terribly at the hands of ISIS, probably too soon to say what she may know, but they are, obviously, going to talk to her and find out what she knows, what she has seen, what she may be able to tell them.

[08:05:03] This is very delicate business because if the wife, Um Sayyaf, was involved in human trafficking operations as they clearly believe she was, the issue will be when they interrogate her, does she in fact know anything about any of the western hostages, U.S. hostages or any of the hostages that ISIS has captured over the months, treated so brutally and even killed. So, they're going to want to find out everything this woman may know.

BLACKWELL: I wonder if there has been any indication of the notification or the cooperation of the Syrian government here. We know they, too, have been fighting ISIS. Were they notified before this? Do we know yet?

STARR: To be candid, we don't know that yet. I think it would be very doubtful that they would get any notification. What I should mention in these types of U.S. commando operations what happens is the U.S. will also send up what they call air cover.

There will be fighter jets overhead. There will be reconnaissance assets and there will be jamming of communication. So they would have had aircraft overhead to keep an eye out if there were any Syrian regime forces in the area.

Possibly, but doubtful, because this particular area of Eastern Syria, it is very much held by ISIS, not some place the regime would have, would have been in very recently.

But you basically point, there were additional, this notion of it was the commanders on the ground that went in conducted the operation, but there were additional U.S. assets as there always are overhead, keeping watch, able to make sure that as and if the U.S. troops came under fire, they could support them by any other means, dropping bombs, engaging in ground fire.

Those U.S. special operations forces would have had a lot of back up to be able to conduct their mission and get out. But I think the other thing behind the scenes here, again, is, what is right in front of us face that no one is saying to send U.S. special operation forces this deep into Syria on this kind of risky mission, the intelligence, where did it come from?

How did the U.S. know that this ISIS leader would be at that point, at that exact point in time that he would be at that location? Because when the U.S. troops took off in their helicopters they would have had intelligence that he was right there. The U.S. had some sort of specific intelligence realtime intelligence

about what is going on in certain places in Syria because they went in knowing he'd be there. The bigger question is, how did they know?

PAUL: All right, Barbara Starr, stay with us. Spider Marks is joining us now. What is your reaction to this, first of all?

MAJ. GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, what it tells you is the United States Special Operations Command is always in a state of combat, ready to conduct operations like this. I mean, it takes place behind the scenes, but it's diligent, detailed work that goes on, which is, as Barbara described so very well, the constant search for the right pieces of intelligence.

And ensuring that it is confirmable and other means of intelligence that will wrap around it and then it's the confluence of all of this. You have a picture and then you determine whether it's late in intelligence, whether it's timely and then you make a go, no go decision.

That's what special ops guys do all the time, 24/7. They're never off duty. I think that's the most comforting thing for us.

BLACKWELL: The breaking news again from CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, U.S. special operations forces conducting this raid deep into Syria overnight and captured Abu Sayyaf.

I want to come to you, Spider. This man was in charge of ISIS' oil and gas operations, obviously, a major income stream, a revenue stream for ISIS. We've talking all morning about ISIS potentially being on the defensive now. The value specifically of this kill, put some punctuation on it for us.

MARKS: What it tells us is that the United States and its coalition partners, this could not have taken place without some cooperation from some other entities.

[08:10:08] Clearly the operation was staged out of Iraq. We have to assume that and that there was cooperation by other parties in order to get this intelligence. There probably were sources that were on the ground that had to do the human intelligence conformation.

So what you want to do with an organization like ISIS is you want to take the initiative and the momentum out of their hands. Right now, they choose the time and the place where they want to engage.

I mean, you take what took place today and you juxtapose that with what's going on in Ramadi, in Iraq and you realize ISIS has chosen the momentum and has the momentum and chose on the place of engagement in Iraq and Ramadi and keeps the ISF, Iraqi Security Forces on their heels.

But the United States reserves the right, in this particular instance, to go after a known target, confirmable intelligence and then kill the guy, capture his wife, who is also involved in the organization.

So now we're into some very deep interrogations to try to figure out what she knows and how that can be used very, very quickly. You want to put ISIS on its heels.

PAUL: That's what I wanted to ask you, General. How likely is it that this wife will talk, that Um Sayyaf will talk, and try to give any information to an intelligence to the U.S. about other hostages and operations itself?

MARKS: Well, you have to assume that the interrogation that was taking place was going to be done professionally. It's going to be done quickly. They're going to have to get her into a position where she feels vulnerable and that she has no other alternative but to talk.

This will not be, this needs to be a very serious, very focused interrogation because of her proximity to her husband, her former husband and her knowledge of activities of ISIS. This is a great intelligence find for the United States.

They made this happen and we want to be able to put ISIS on its heels. But bear in mind, this is a long-term engagement. One strike like this doesn't alter the playing, you know, the deck of the cards too significantly unless you can extract that intelligence from her.

BLACKWELL: All right. We've got Nick Payton Walsh joining us from Beirut. Nick, we talked a bit about Abu Sayyaf and the leader of the oil and gas resource that ISIS has overtaken. Tell us the value, the U.S. being able to pull this off in Syria sending Special Forces in overnight, not just the air strikes that have been going on, but going to this level of operation to get this leader.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): In truth, it does leave me some degree puzzled because Abu Sayyaf in terms of what we're hearing about him has a key role in how ISIS functioned and energy assets and how he makes money.

He is not somebody you would normally recognize in the top four or five leaders and a substantial risk of the Pentagon being willing to absorb in order to make this operation.

Something frankly that if you're adequately aware of the person's whereabouts, you could easily accomplish with the drone strikes and seizing his wife and adequately a reason I would imagine to put dozens of potentially best Special Forces troops at risk so far deep inside ISIS held territory.

So I'll leave you with a number of potential questions. Is this, I very much doubt it, done to counter the ISIS of their advance in Ramadi, that's pretty much discountable. They simply wouldn't put American lives at risk for that (inaudible) information play.

Is this the beginning of a new series of operations potentially whenever we see more moments when the U.S. is willing to put its assets on the ground to take out key ISIS leadership or more plausible option was there somebody perhaps, slightly more significant, they had heard, who was supposed to be there, who turned wasn't?

Was there, for example, an American citizen? We're not aware of any ISIS' hands at this time, but many things do happen. It leaves a lot of questions for me, frankly, rather than being an obvious decision to strike at a target like that.

Not really high profile enough and far inside ISIS territory. I wonder if Barbara is with us on the phone here. Barbara, are you there?

PAUL: Barbara Starr, Barbara Starr is still with us. You are, Barbara, aren't you?

STARR: Yes, hi, again.

PAUL: Barbara, I think Nick had a question for you.

WALSH: I was fascinated hearing your reporting. Is there any indication from anybody that this was the man they were after or whether they thought, perhaps, the familiar names? We've seen them on the wanted list.

Endless reports he has been injured, unverified by your sources and others we have spoken to, too. There is obviously (inaudible), the spokesperson, Kaduli (ph) who has been anointed after the big number two operation and be out of the picture.

Many more significant names that you might think a raid of this quite substantial risk would be aimed at trying to kill or capture.

[08:15:06] I am just wondering, Barbara, if you had any indication of anyone else potentially who was in their crosshairs who just turned out not to be there?

STARR: At the moment, there is no indication that you've pointed to the exact question which is and President Obama would have been the one to sign off on an operation like this. He would know all about it. Why would the president go for this type of risk?

One of the things that, again, our sources familiar with what happened on the ground overnight in Syria are telling us is this man increasingly, the belief is, was involved in ISIS command and control.

If you start with the proposition that Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi, the top leader, not necessarily, we don't know if he's hurt, but certainly he is in deep, deep hiding knowing the U.S. is trying to come after him.

He may not be able to be, we are told, in total day-to-day command, delegating some authority. This guy, we are told, had been increasingly taking role in command and control. The U.S. clearly had kept his name out of the spotlight, not putting him on any most wanted list.

Suddenly telling us he's the one that they were going after. The issue with his wife and human trafficking and hostages, that is a very sensitive issue that, indeed, they are going to interrogate her about. They want to know everything she knows. What does she know? What does she know about any of it? A few

moments ago secretary of defense we're getting this in just now, Ash Carter, put out a statement saying and let me just quote a little bit.

The secretary of defense saying, quoting, "Last night at the direction of the commander-in-chief, President Obama, order special operation forces to conduct an operation in Eastern Syria going on, quoting, to capture an ISIS senior leader known as Abu Sayyaf and his wife, Um Sayyaf.

Abu Sayyaf was involved in ISIL military operations and helps direct the terrorist organizations elicit oil, gas and financial operations." The statement goes on to say, "acknowledging Abu Sayyaf was killed during this fire fight."

The wife was captured and the secretary of defense saying this wife is suspected of, quoting, "She played an important role in ISIS terrorist activities and may have been complicit in what appears to be to be a young woman rescued last night."

There is, again, some additional language thanking the troops. But this is a name that is not immediately familiar to many people who have been following ISIS. He was, however, someone we now know U.S. special operation forces, U.S. intelligence had been tracking very closely and clearly they felt it was worth the risk to go into Syria and get them.

BLACKWELL: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We'll have more on this breaking news. The U.S. Special Forces going into Syria killing this top ISIS commander, capturing his wife, now interrogating her.

We have with us Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, who is breaking this news first on CNN this morning, Nick Paton Walsh on the phone with us from Beirut and also Major General Spider Marks here with us for analysis. Quick break here on NEW DAY. More in just a moment.



PAUL: What is being described as a stunning operation, thank you so much for being with us. I want to get you updated on our breaking news here about how U.S. Special Forces conducted an operation deep into Eastern Syria overnight and they have killed a senior leader of ISIS and captured his wife.

His wife who is believed to be in part, part of the operation of the human trafficking that ISIS has really shocked the world with over the last year.

We have with us Major General Spider Marks, Barbara Starr, Pentagon reporter, Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut, and General Mark Hertling with us.

BLACKWELL: I want to read for you a portion of a statement that we just received from the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on this operation in Syria.

And it starts out this, I'm going to read just a portion, "Last night at the direction of the commander-in-chief, I ordered U.S. Special Forces or special operations forces to conduct an operation in Eastern Syria to capture an ISIS senior leader known as Abu Sayyaf and his wife, Um Sayyaf.

Abu Sayyaf was involved in ISIL's military operation and helped direct the terrorist organization's illicit oil, gas and financial operations, as well.

He was killed and during the course of the operation when he engaged U.S. forces. The U.S. forces captured Um Sayyaf, who we suspect is a member of ISIL, played an important role in ISIL'S terrorist activities and may have been complicit in what appears to have been the enslavement of a young Yazidi woman rescued last night."

Straight out to Barbara Starr, Barbara, we have reported here, and you have reported so many of the air strikes, the drone strikes that have killed senior ISIS leaders.

This was an operation to capture the senior leader and Nick brings up the point of was he worth the risk to U.S. special forces to go in and capture Abu Sayyaf and his wife, Um Sayyaf? STARR: Well, you know, this is the question that when the president signs off on an operation, he asks his commanders and I think we now know very much that the president did sign off on it because the statement from the secretary of defense begins with the words, at the direction of the commander-in-chief.

So, we know the president signed off on this and the president would have been briefed by the Pentagon, by the CIA, by the intelligence community on what their goals were. Why they thought it was worth the risk of U.S. military lives to go into Syria.

Not just go for a drone strike, but go in and capture him on the ground certainly with the anticipation that the U.S. forces would wind up getting into a firefight in this part of Syria.

They were going right into, you know, ISIS territory. This was going to be very much a contested area. They would have had to assume going in. So, why would it have been so important? Why don't we know about this man?

Why isn't he one of the big names that everybody is talking about? We are led to believe that they had been following his activities for some time. That they increasingly believed that he had become involved in operational matters of ISIS.

Not just the oil and gas though that was significant and combining that with his wife's alleged activities and human trafficking. This was clearly, by all accounts, an intelligence target that they were going after.

They wanted to get them, they wanted to get all their belongings that they could scoop up and mind all of that through interrogation and looking at what they captured to get as much intelligence as they could.

[08:25:10] Her activities in what is being called human trafficking and potential hostage operations, something the U.S. is going to want to know everything this woman knows about it. Not a household name.

That's very clear. Not a household name. But very much a very high- value target inside the Pentagon, inside the CIA, somebody that everybody thought was worth going after to get.

BLACKWELL: Barbara, we just received a statement from the White House on this operation, actually a statement by NSC spokesperson, Bernadette Neehan (ph) on the counter ISIL operation in Syria. Much of the statement reiterates what we heard in the statement from the secretary of defense, Ash Carter.

But here's a portion that stands out. "The president authorized this operation upon the unanimous recommendation of his national security team and as soon as we had developed sufficient intelligence and we're confident the mission could be carried out successfully and consistent with the requirements for undertaking such operations.

The operation was conducted with the full consent of Iraqi authorities and like our existing air strikes against ISIL in Syria consistent with the domestic and international law."

So, it's something that the entire national security team was onboard with. I want to come to you, Major General Spider Marks, if we still have you.

MARKS: Still here, Victor.

BLACKWELL: OK, still with us and you say that this is like taking out the CFO, taking out the money guy.

MARKS: Yes. He's the money guy, based on what we know his portfolio held. That's an important move and like any other CFO, the CFO probably exerts a little more control than just exclusively over the checkbook.

But in this particular case, if the discussion is between drone strike and what took place, which is the insertion of special ops individuals on the ground and try to extract him.

In this case, we got his wife. There must have been a cd, a collateral damage type of a discussion where the drone strike might have had an enhanced probability of collateral damage against civilians and others that might have been in the proximity of where this location was.

And, so, in order to be that much more precise, you enhance the risk by putting soldiers on the ground, individuals on the ground. But you do it with all the levels of risk mitigation put in place.

So, you reach a certain threshold and the president makes the determination based on his National Security Council's input. That entire team said, let's do this. Based on what they knew in terms of the intelligence, the target, the distance and all the factors involved and they made the determination.

So, I think it's a significant strike, obviously, but there is much more to be done. You have to exploit now the intelligence that this, that this individual's wife has.

PAUL: But there's no under estimating the fact that this came directly from the president. He commanded this operation. We want to go straight to Sunlen Serfaty who is at the White House. Sunlen, what are you hearing about this, this morning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi, you're absolutely right. According to the National Security Council spokeswoman, who just released a lengthy statement on this raid. They did confirm that this raid was ordered that direction of President Obama.

And in the statement they say that the president authorized the operation with unanimous recommendation of his national security team. They say as soon as they developed significant intelligence and were confident the mission could be carried out they say successfully and consistent with requirements for undertaking such an operation. Now in this statement from the National Security Council, they call Abu Sayyaf a senior ISIL leader, one that oversaw their elicit oil and gas operations by ISIS.

They also say that he was involved with the group's military operations underscoring what CNN's Barbara Starr has been reporting all this morning.

Also they say about his wife, the one that was captured in this raid, NSC calls her someone who played an important role in ISIS terrorist activities, according to the statement from NSE and may have been complicit in the slavement of young woman that was rescued last night.

Now in this statement from the National Security Council, they say that the president is grateful for the brave U.S. personnel who carried out this complex mission." And they underscore that that mission was done with Iraqi authorities and thank Iraqi authorities for their support in the mission -- Christi, Victor.

PAUL: All right, Sunlen, thank you.

I want to go to Nick Paton Walsh now who's in Beirut. Nick let's talk a little bit about Umm Sayyaf, the wife who has captured here and who it is believed had very strong ties and operational, operational dealings when it comes to human trafficking. That's something we have been reporting on for a good year now. I think that's part of what has really captured the nation's attention as well and the world's attention to how horrific that situation is. How might her capture fracture that operation?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very hard to tell in all honesty, at this stage. I mean the ISIS are not traditionally an organization who bring their wives into the equation when it comes to plotting operations. It may well be that she has knowledge. It may well be that she is an exception and deeply involved in her husband's activities.

Both their names, Abu Sayyaf, means the "father of Sayyaf" and Umm Sayyaf, I believe that I'm correct means the "mother of Sayyaf". So we don't have a great amount of detail as to precisely who they are at this stage apart from what the Pentagon is telling us which is that Abu Sayyaf is deeply involved in the oil elements, the Islamic state's business, deeply profitable.

But then I go back to a point we were making a few minutes ago. This is an extraordinary high-resource, high-risk operation for Barack Obama to have signed off on personally. I cannot see that it would have been put into play had they not felt there was a very senior recognizable ISIS figure potentially at the place they were going to hit or maybe a hostage at some description who they needed to rescue.

It's obviously great that this Yazidi woman has been freed from slavery and is being taken away. And also Umm Sayyaf. It's always questionable exactly what level of voluntary nature people in ISIS' company necessarily particularly when they're female. It's also good that potentially, she's out of the ISIS area, as well. But we are in a complex moment here because Abu Sayyaf is not a household name. This is an operation of extraordinary risk. Dozens of the top end U.S. special operators flown deep inside ISIS-held territory, potentially from a route, yes but they're also in areas where the Syrian regime does have a faint presence too. So it's very complicated, indeed.

And one that at this stage, if their initial result expected was the detention or death of Abu Sayyaf -- he seems to be a relatively minor target. Yes, ISIS leadership is a black box. It is very hard to know exactly who is pulling the strings at what. Yes, there are public figures who appear on social media. Abu Bakr el-Baghdadi whose been their main leader, he's rarely in public himself. So it's entirely possible that Abu Sayyaf is a key player in terms of U.S. intelligence decision-making, but I'm still struggling to work out quite.

If you will look at the history of the bin Laden raid, how much the U.S. agonized over whether they should bomb the compound where they believed he was or risk inside Pakistani territory -- comparatively risky, frankly, sending them to ISIS territory with the special force they sent in with that. This seems to me to be an extraordinarily high-stakes mission at this stage.

I'm sure more information will come to light in the days ahead as to potentially what else may have been on the table here when these forces were sent in or potentially it may mark a new era of American boots on the ground more pro-actively inside Syria. I highly doubt that.

This is a very complex specific target. And it seems to have been -- according to information we are hearing from eyewitnesses around there preceded by potential bombings. So it may well be that there was softening up in the area ahead of any particular attack in a military sense. But stock moment certainly and one in which it seems the highest levels of he Pentagon have been involved and that's a very rare occurrence when it comes to Syria.

We hear reports of Special Forces advising people inside Syria and being in the mix generally, but nothing like this level of incursion, this level of risk, the seniority of authorization to send these men into harm's way, for what at this stage is not a target which when you hear his name, it makes you go, ok, I understand why that happened. It's complex one to quite comprehend immediately.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right. So high-risk, high-resource, and I want to take that sentiment from Nick and hand it over to the General Mark Hertling and add this to it. What we know about ISIS is that there is often a deputy who will step up and take the position of head of the oil and gas fields and that income revenue -- that income source. So, it doesn't surprise you that the coalition, the U.S., would invest so much in getting this one person and -- well, the couple, indeed.

GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Not at all, Victor. We're talking high-risk, high-resources, yes. But we're also seeing potentially high payback. I understand that there's a lot of folks saying, hey, we've never heard of this guy. I would suggest, let me take you into a room at special operations command headquarters or any operational headquarters. They are going to have a network diagram on their walls or on their computer. And in each area of that network diagram there are individuals that affect a various line of operation and there are seven strategic lines of operation in the President's strategy to defeat ISIS.

Finance is one of those areas. So, if you get, as my good friend Spider Marks says, if you get the CFO of an organization, not easily replaceable. Very different from an operational commander who is the battlefield guy, who knows how to fight, who's got the charismatic leadership.

[08:35:07] But if you get the individual who is running the dollars, who is running the money, who knows how the systems operate and who knows where the cash is flowing, that's a key Achilles' heel for ISIS. You're talking about the way they pay their fighters, the way they run their government.

I mean I could suggest, you know, we don't know who Abu Sayyaf is -- most Americans don't know who the main cabinet officials in the United States government that runs the treasury or commerce either. So these are the guys that may be working in the shadows but who actually really run the organization under the control of the operational commander there.

BLACKWELL: But let's separate the decision to go after Abu Sayyaf and the decision to go after him in this way. I mean when we learned from the joint task force that there six air strikes in Syria over a 24- hour period, specifically talking about this time period. This could have been a drone strike. This could have been an air strike but to send Special Forces down and we know that Abu Sayyaf fought back against these special forces, this could have been a tragedy.

Let's talk about that portion of the decision to go after --

HERTLING: Again, I go back to what you said before, Victor. It's the high payoff for a high risk -- and that's what special operation forces do. These are the quiet professionals and some of those other bombings may have been different targets or multiple targets. But this is a guy you want and to include his wife. I mean there are linkages and again I go back to that link diagram that Spider could talk more about since he is the intelligence expert on our team and he has done many of these things before in combat.

When you pull one thread, especially on a high-level guy and his wife who could be running, who could be running the operation to, you know, as we've seen in the news recently, so many recruitment efforts of women and people coming across the Turkish border, you not only get the operational requirements for the CFO, the money laundering and the money exchange, but you could get a key information source on how you recruit people. Boy, I mean that's huge.

PAUL: Yes, General Hertling, talking about that. That is something we've talked about. You know you can try to get at them all we want. You said earlier, General Hertling, you can't kill your way out of this because the recruitment of ISIS is so strong. If they're going to gain some intelligence into that -- you're right, this is high risk. But we may have -- possibly the U.S. may have high reward here.

Again, if you're just joining us, just to get you updated here: a stunning U.S. raid deep into Syrian territory. A senior leader of ISIS has been killed. The wife of that senior leader has been captured. A Yazidi woman has been freed and about a dozen ISIS fighters were killed in this raid. This was very significant, it was very sophisticated, it was very surprising. We're going to have more right after the break.


[08:40:42] BLACKWELL: And we welcome back our viewers in the U.S. and joining us from around the world.

Moving forward on the breaking news this morning that U.S. Special Forces overnight in Syria conducted a raid that ended with the death of a senior ISIS leader Abu Sayyaf, they captured his wife Umm Sayyaf, a Yazidi woman who had been held she has now been freed. Umm Sayyaf is being interrogated by Special Forces. And we know also that 12 ISIS fighters were killed in this raid.

We now have Peter Bergen joining us as part of this conversation.

PAUL: Yes. He's CNN national security analyst. Peter, first of all, your reaction to this raid because everybody it seems to have -- everybody we've talked to it is in their words, stunning.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, it's happened before but with a slightly different outcome. I mean on July 4th of last year U.S. Special Operations also went into Syria trying to rescue the American hostages who were held near Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in Syria. The intelligence was not, you know, it was basically, the hostages have been moved before the raid took place.

So, this is not unprecedented. And if we go back to the George W. Bush and I'm sure Spider Marks and General Hertling will remember this we also saw U.S. Special Operations going into Syria to attack members of al Qaeda and Iraq who, of course, is the parent organization of ISIS.

So yes, this is certainly kind of unusual, but it's not unprecedented.

BLACKWELL: What do you envision is the impact on the ability for ISIS to continue to fund operations on the organizational plan for ISIS? Often there is a deputy who is ready to step in and take over. Do you think this will have some major impact?

BERGEN: I think, Victor, the answer there is what the special operators take out in the course of the raid. I mean, taking out the guy who runs the effectively the most important financing stream, of course, is not insignificant. But what is really significant is the records of the computer records and all the materials he would have with him as the head of this financing arm, if indeed, that is the case that he really is that important. And I think being able to piece together with documents, which is why you have a special operations raid, not a bombing mission. The point of this operation is to gather the intelligence that exists. There might have been some fear of collateral damage. Clearly, there was a civilian that was in the building, the Yazidi hostage. But more importantly is what you pick up on the raid.

We know from the bin Laden raid, thousands, if not tens of thousands of documents were picked up and some of them have been publicly released. So, it's the intelligence haul at the site that I think accounts in part for the fact that you have boots on the ground.

PAUL: Peter, in a short term and real quickly here, will a move like this embolden ISIS, do you think? Or will it break or fracture some parts of it?

BERGEN: I think they are going to be, Christi, more kind of cognizant of the fact that being a lot more careful about the way they organize themselves because of air strikes. They're not going around Syria in armored columns visible from the air as they have once. So, I think it kind of increases their risk reward calculation in the sense that, you know, this is unusual. It's not unprecedented. And they're going to be looking over their shoulder in a slightly different way today and forward.

BLACKWELL: In the control room, do we have Barbara back with us? Not yet, ok. So, let me come to you with this, Peter. Should we expect more of this, do you believe?

BERGEN: Well, you know, we've had a good discussion of the risk inherent in these operations and the President is not surprising that the President signed off. He would sign off on any kind of operation like this that involves special operators on the ground. So, I don't think we're going -- this is not going to be routine, but we've already seen two in the past year or so. So yes, I'm sure this won't be the last.

[08:45:03] BLACKWELL: All right, Peter Bergen joining us, CNN national security analyst. We're going to take a quick break.

But again the breaking news this morning that U.S. Special Operation forces conducted an operation in Syria that captured the wife of Abu Sayyaf, Umm Sayyaf. She's being interrogated; Abu Sayyaf was killed. He was in charge of ISIS' oil and gas fields, obviously a revenue stream for the organization.

There was a Yazidi woman who was held. She has been taken now and is with the U.S. forces. And 12 ISIS fighters were killed in this operation.

Peter Bergen reminds us that what we have not heard about, all the intelligence, the papers, the computers, all that information about the organizational strength of ISIS has likely been taken, as well, and could lead to more operations.

We'll talk more about this in just a moment -- again, the breaking news here on CNN. Stay with us.


PAUL: Welcome back.

Want to get you updated on some of the breaking news that we're following right now. It's been described as stunning, characterized as very unusual. This raid deep in eastern Syria into ISIS territory via helicopter, thanks to a U.S. Operations Special Forces.

And they have killed one of the senior is leaders, Abu Sayyaf. He was believed to be directly involved in the control and operation of the oil and gas, obviously, fields and their financial operations with ISIS. As well as capturing his wife, Umm Sayyaf who is believed to be in control or at least involved in the human trafficking element that we have so often talked about here and around the world over the last year in conjunction with ISIS. They have freed a Yazidi woman who was being held hostage. And about a dozen ISIS fighters were killed.

We have with us Major General Spider Marks, Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut, General Mark Hertling with us and Sunlen Serfaty who is at the White House. And Sunlen we want to start with you.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Let's start with what we're hearing from the National Security Council. A statement released relating to the decision to execute this operation.

[08:49:52] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Victor. The National Security Council just releasing a rather lengthy statement in which they called this mission complex and confirmed that President Obama signed off himself on this mission the decision to make this raid overnight. And they say that decision was made in unanimous consent, recommendation from his national security team here at the White House. And they say as soon as there was sufficient intelligence developed and once they were confident that the mission could be carried out successfully.

But again, the national security council saying that it was a complex mission. They call Abu Sayyaf one of -- a senior ISIS leader in a statement noting that he oversaw the oil and gas operations. And also included in this statement specific reference to Umm, his wife, that was captured in this raid saying that she also played an important role in terrorist activities by ISIS.

Now this statement by the NSC also confirms that the wife, Umm, is being held and detained in Iraq right now where presumably she will be interrogated, potentially to gain more valuable intelligence about what ISIS is up to.

Now, I should say earlier this week in a newspaper interview, President Obama talked about the campaign against ISIS in Syria. He said "We will remain relentless in our campaign to degrade ISIL safe haven within Syria as part of our broader campaign to destroy ISIL."

And lastly, the national security spokeswoman saying in a statement that President Obama thanks the brave personnel who carried out this mission -- Christi, Victor.

PAUL: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, live for us in Beirut. Nick, you know, it's interesting when you look at the timing of things. We have this raid that has just come out that has just happened. But also then this morning the expeditious delivering, we're told, from Vice President Biden who told this to al-Abadi, prime minister there in Iraq, expediting weapons to Iraq so they can try to hold on to Ramadi which we understand is in flux and is in danger of falling to ISIS right now.

When you look at how the U.S. is really putting both feet forward in this right now, Nick, what does that say to you?

WALSH: Well, I mean certainly, the half fall in Ramadi is still contested right now. Ramadi would have been an enormous blow to the move against ISIS in Iraq, a sure sign that the Iraqi government was not able to fulfill its promise in targeting Anbar Province of which Ramadi is the capital next in its campaign against the extremist group.

And that expeditious delivery of extra ammunitions and weaponry, well it's all about answering the question you often hear from Iraqi Security Forces, which is where are our weapons, where are our supplies. Now that often -- some say because they've simply chosen to abandon their positions rather than fight and it's be used as an excuse.

But there is something here, really, in terms of U.S. positioning. This certainly is a raid which is stark in the risk the U.S. was willing to accept. We still have to try and I think work out quite why that level of risk was being entertained. It may be, that Abu Sayyaf turns out to be a mastermind of the finances of ISIS. That could explain potentially this level of risk.

But it also too, does throw the U.S. into the narrative here when ISIS are gaining territory in Ramadi again and it looks like the Baghdad government's campaign is somewhat losing steam. Here we have the United States very stridently intervening against the key extremist figure like Abu Sayyaf and his wife, Umm Sayyaf.

I should point Abu Sayyaf and Umm Sayyaf meaning the father of Sayyaf and the mother of Sayyaf respectively. We know that these are parents of a child called Sayyaf but we don't know at this stage much about them. And of course, a real name should at some point come out of the White House or the Pentagon for Abu Sayyaf.

But bear in mind, too, that Barack Obama has just played host to a number of senior figures from Gulf allies -- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, other's who've come to the White House to hear security assurances from the White House to talk about how -- the White House rapprochement over a nuclear deal with Iran. It doesn't mean necessarily abandoning the Gulf allies. The Gulf allies deeply upset of the notion of Washington and Iran getting closer together.

And here we have this very strident military move investing resources and individuals in the region to hit a particular target. That, perhaps, would answer those who say the U.S. simply is asleep at the wheel, not militarily involved right now on the ground inside Syria, Iraq and this particular fight. Perhaps that's the same -- I still go back to the original point. There must have been a very specific target -- perhaps it was Abu Sayyaf -- to warrant this level of risk.

These operations have been about rescuing hostages, of being about a specific thing which the American public can severely understand where the operation could go wrong. At this stage, the White House putting out information about who Abu Sayyaf was. And I think that tells you something about either how well in the shadows he was as a key ISIS mastermind or perhaps there was an ISIS mastermind they're after who didn't turn out to be there.

BLACKWELL: Nick Paton Walsh for us in Beirut.

[08:54:53] Ash Carter, the secretary of defense, also pointing out in addition to his involvement, his leadership of the oil and gas fields and the financial operations that Abu Sayyaf was involved in ISIS' military operations, as well.

We're going to get to our generals, General Mark Hertling and General James Spider Marks in just a moment to talk more about the operation.

But, again, looking forward on the breaking news this morning of this operation conducted by U.S. special operation forces overnight in Syria killing Abu Sayyaf, capturing his wife Umm Sayyaf, taken to Iraq and now will be interrogated. Quick break -- we'll be back.


PAUL: We want to get right back to our breaking news here about this raid in Syria. I want to get to General Mark Hertling. First and foremost, General Hertling, we were talking about the oil reserves and the money involved in this and how this kill, this senior leader who was in charge of all of that has been killed now. What kind of money are we talking about when we talk about these oil fields?

HERTLING: We're talking hundreds of millions, Christi. Your question to Peter Bergen was a fascinating one which was, how does this affect things? It's not only the killing of the individual who could be potentially a key player in the oil resources, but now all the guys who deal with him. The ones that are taking his phone calls are all saying, holy smokes. If they find intelligence at the scene, if they have his computer, they know who I am now. So a lot of the connections are going to dry up. And Spider can probably talk about that.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about that because a lot of what we heard from Peter Bergen with that -- the documents, the computers -- that's the real value here.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS: Absolutely, Victor. What we have now is a target list, if you will, as Mark described where all the revenue is coming from. All of those folks that are engaged in these revenue- producing activities with ISIS are looking over their shoulder and they need to be because we've already demonstrated the capability that this is an important target.

BLACKWELL: Yes. All right, Generals, thank you so much for helping us understand the implications of this breaking news.

Our coverage continues now. We're going to send it to Michael Smerconish. We'll be back here at 10:00 Eastern.

PAUL: We'll see you then.