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Assad Launches Offensive with Russia's Help; Cutting Off Supply Lines to ISIS; Afghanistan at a Crossroads; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 8, 2015 - 14:00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Tonight: as Russian airstrikes show no letup in Syria, we ask will Iraq be the next country to

ask for Moscow's help? My exclusive interview with the Iraqi ambassador in Washington coming up.

Also ahead: what can ISIS propaganda videos like this one tell us about their military supply chain? We'll explore.

Also: Afghanistan at a crossroads after the battle for control of Kunduz. There are fears that the Taliban is back on the front. But are

those fears warranted?




HOLMES: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes, sitting in for Christiane today.

Bashar al-Assad on the attack and backed by Russia, stronger than ever, it seems. The Syrian president launching a wide-scale offensive

against his opponents in the west of the country, attempting to take back critical territory near the coast.

Moscow continues to claim it is helping in the fight against ISIS and announced that missiles launched from the Caspian Sea have knocked out ISIS

command centers and training camps.

But not all those missiles have landed on their intended targets, it appears. U.S. officials tell CNN at least two crashed short in Iran. And

separately a U.S. official reveals that Russian fighter jets had two close encounters with American drones flying over Syria.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is gravely concerned about this escalating conflict and is preparing for the worst.


JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective offense since the end of the Cold

War. We have stood up the very high redness joint task force and we have stepped up our exercises.


HOLMES: Bashar al-Assad betting on Russia to restore order in Syria and preserve him as leader.

But what about next door in Iraq, which is also of course being ripped apart by terror?

How does Iraq view Russia's actions?

Joining me now in an exclusive interview from Washington is Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S.

Ambassador, thanks so much for your time. The world is watching Russia bomb inside Syria and using Iraqi airspace to do it, by the way.

Do you, as some in Iraq have suggested, favor Russian strikes on ISIS inside your country, inside Iraq?

LUKMAN FAILY, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: We have not had that detailed discussion. At this moment we think we need support of all

countries in this important fight. We have an existential threat of ISIS. They are committing atrocities and we certainly have international

cooperation with our coalition partners and are seeking support elsewhere.

HOLMES: You don't rule it out, you don't rule out Russian warplanes bombing ISIS in your country?

FAILY: At this moment, as you know, Iraq is in a desperate situation. It requires support from all; Russia, other countries have their own threat

in relation to ISIS and they also have a stake. We would like to seek support from all in our fight to cleanse our country from ISIS.

HOLMES: OK. We'll take that as a possible.

Now your country announced an intelligence sharing agreement, of course, as we know, with Russia, Iran and Syria at the end of September.

Just have a quick listen, if you will, Ambassador, to what Iran's president told our Christiane Amanpour about that at the time. Have a



HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Russia has decided to undertake a much more serious level of operations and combat

against the terrorists in Syria. And during the last meeting, he did announce that some countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Russia must form a semi -

- a quasi-coalition in order to assist in this fight against daish or ISIS and other groups resembling it.


HOLMES: So, Ambassador, what does this semi-, quasi-coalition look like?

Does it go any further than just intelligence sharing?

FAILY: At this moment it's primarily low-level intelligence sharing. We have our partnership with the coalition, which is the international

coalition ran the United States, 60-plus countries. We are seeking to strengthen that.

But at the same time we think that Russia and other countries can complement the fight we have against ISIS because of the danger and because

our own capabilities are limited. This is the ongoing discussion.


FAILY: We are not ruling out anything but, at the same time, we are saying we are very clear of what's international situation is. We have

good understanding of the job politics and we will only be seeking support in areas which we think it's important and urgent.

HOLMES: You're obviously talking with U.S. officials about overall strategy in your role as ambassador, including that intelligence sharing

with Iran and Russia.

How do you reassure those U.S. officials that the U.S. isn't being kept out of the loop?

FAILY: Certainly not. The ongoing partnership we have with the United States is on daily issues, training, ammunitions and so on, support,

airstrikes and everything else.

So, to us, the United States and the coalitions are the primary partners. But as we said, we need help, we have, we think, various

firewalls in place to make sure that the intelligence sharing is at low levels and anything comes into Iraq and doesn't go out.

We are very cautious and we are very careful as to what sharing we can do with others by what source comes through. So to that effect, we are

very, what you might call considerate of everybody's needs but, at the same time, Iraqi needs is paramount for us.

HOLMES: Your prime minister recently said that you, Iraq, haven't received the level of support from the U.S. that you were hoping for. He

said you were expecting, for example, massive air power but it hasn't come.

Does Iraq still have faith in the American government's ability to help Iraq get back on its feet?

Or are you, in a literal sense, looking elsewhere?

FAILY: We're not looking elsewhere. However, if others are providing -- offering help, we will seriously consider that.

As you may know -- you talked about me being in Washington -- there has been discussions within the American circles, talking about 75 percent

of the various payloads not being discharged. This is allied planes.

So we know there are various rules of engagement. We appreciate that but, at the same time, we think that overall there has to be a higher sense

of urgency because of the situation in Iraq and because we cannot coexist one extra day with ISIS. They are committing atrocities, they are

terrorist organizations and, as you know, we have to cleanse Iraq from them.

HOLMES: What's Iraq's capability?

It wasn't all that long ago there was talk that there might be an offensive to retake Mosul, for example, which is in ISIS' hands.

What is the Iraqi capability to fight back?

I mean, Anbar province still in --


FAILY: We already, as you know, as we talk now, we already have an offense in relation to taking back Ramadi. We're certainly surrounding it.

We're working very hard on that. We're taking casualties every day. We are determined to get rid of ISIS in big cities in the very near future.

Certainly this year we are focusing on Anbar. And we know in Baiji, as you know, there's working going on all the time.

We are very cautious of that, that we don't want to pay any more bloods, Iraqi bloods but, at the same time, if support is provided from

others, we will certainly think twice before saying no.

HOLMES: You mentioned urgency, a sense of urgency before.

Very quickly, do you think that the U.S. has that sense of urgency when it comes to ISIS in Iraq?

Are you happy with what you are getting?

FAILY: As you know, because of the situation of Iraq and ISIS, we always need more. We always want support -- further support to accelerate

the rate of getting rid of ISIS because of atrocities they commit.

We also know we are very clear as to what is the global geopolitics of the situation. U.S. had engagement in Iraq before. We understand the

situation in D.C. and politics as well.

However, what we're saying is this is a global phenomenon, requires a global focus and a sense of urgency in relation to Iraq. Atrocities should

no longer be tolerated; support should be provided by all and to whomever is providing that support, we will seriously consider that.

HOLMES: We have to leave it there. Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S., appreciate your time today, Mr. Ambassador.

FAILY: Thank you, sir.

HOLMES: Well, it is just over a week since Russia started pounding targets in Syria while the U.S.-led coalition, of course, has been carrying

out airstrikes there and in Iraq for more than a year now.

Yet ISIS insists it has shown resilience in the face of international attempts to degrade and destroy the group and seems to be pretty well armed

and certainly funded.

It's known that ISIS gets its money from things like oil, kidnapping, religious taxes, among other things.

But how does it manage to get its hands on all those weapons and ammunition?

Let's discuss that with Afzal Ashraf, a consultant fellow at the Royal United Services --


HOLMES: -- Institute's International Diplomacy Unit. He is live for us out of London.

And good to see you, Mr. Ashraf. To the outsider, you have this group, of course, ISIS, in a very specific geographical area, yet it is far

from isolated in many ways.

How are they selling oil?

How are they getting weapons and ammunition in?


those questions very accurately. There are a lot of people who comment on this, write about it. But I'm a little bit skeptical about the

authenticity and accuracy of their sources.

But what we do know and what people are saying -- and I think with some reasonable reliability -- is that ISIS or daish has accumulated

weapons aggressively through conquering them; when it attacked the Iraqi army, it captured a huge amount of weaponry.

In Syria, it's attacked Syrian bases, government bases. Some of them have had huge armories so they've got weapons that way.

Of course ISIS or daish is unusual in that it is one of the few insurgency groups that has carried out what I call mugging operations. So

it's attacked fellow insurgent groups -- Jabhat al-Nusra and many others -- and captured their people, their weapons and some of their money, too.

HOLMES: In a general sense, how big and, I suppose, critically how accessible is the world's private sector arms industry?

Those who are willing to sell if the price is right, not necessarily just looking at this conflict, but conflicts around the world. Somebody's

making an awful lot of money.

ASHRAF: Well, they do. And it's amazing whether it's in deepest, darkest Africa or anywhere; for some reason, the one group of people that

can get there and manage to sell to people, sometimes who don't even have enough money to buy food, are the arms industry people. So they're there

of course.

And I'm pretty certain that some of their weapons are being bought by daish. I can only guess at that. I don't think we have any real evidence

but I would not at all be surprised. In fact, I would be surprised if they're not buying arms from private arms dealers.

HOLMES: And then many people would agree with you, that somebody is doing business with ISIS when it comes to weapons. And we know somebody is

doing weapons with them when it comes to oil, the illegal oil, distributed using these smuggling networks.

And in the words of one analyst I read, under the very noses of not just Turkish but Kurdish, Jordanian authorities.

Why has that not stopped?

We're talking about the wealthiest terror group in the world. And they can just ship oil across borders, get paid for it in either money or,

who knows, guns or refined petroleum.

How is that not stopped?

ASHRAF: Well, it's not stopped for the same reason that the oil trade across these borders, smuggling has continue -- it's existed for quite some

time. When I was in Iraq some 10 years or more ago, we had what we called rat runs. And these were smuggling runs. And amongst the things smuggled

through those routes was oil.

So what daish has done in most case, I think -- and I don't have exact evidence of this, but I believe that they have taken over some of those

smuggling routes and those smuggling routes are facilitated, to some degree, through corruption in the various governments involved, through

various other means that have meant that at the various border agencies have not either seen what's going on or have turned a blind eye to what's

going on.

So I don't think this is something new that daish has created; rather they have exploited smuggling routes.

HOLMES: And then, your expertise is in the diplomacy field as well. One imagines, to that very point, this couldn't happen without other

countries, if not actively helping, certainly turning a blind eye.

Turkey says it's part of the air campaign now against ISIS but Turkey wants Bashar al-Assad to go as well. And so, in some ways, interests

overlap when it comes to ISIS and the same when it comes to Gulf nations, if not governments then certainly powerful and wealthy individuals

sympathize with some of the aims of ISIS.

Where does the international community come in and use leverage on these governments to stop this sort of allowance, if you like?

ASHRAF: Well, this issue of smuggling of oil and weapons is a very small part of the bigger strategy that should be in place to deal with

daish. This will only constrain daish. It will not defeat daish, even if such a strategy, such a consensus --


ASHRAF: -- existed. This is one of the reasons why, four years on, Bashar al-Assad is still in place and daish is continuing to grow because

the international community -- and just about everybody in the international community involved regionally and beyond is looking at this

issue through the lens of national interests, geopolitics.

And so we haven't had a consensus and this is one of the reasons why Russia has come in recently with its own very national interest, which

coincides with the national interests of Iran and Israel and Turkey, in some ways.

And this conflicts with those countries in many ways. So what we have here is a very confused, complex situation. And so to hope for a consensus

or any active suppression of weapons and oil flows, I think, is too optimistic in the absence of a wider political and military strategy.

HOLMES: Yes, a checkerboard of competing interests.

Afzal Ashraf, consultant fellow at the Royal United Services Institute's International Diplomacy Unit, fascinating discussion. Thanks

so much.

ASHRAF: Pleasure. Thank you.

HOLMES: After a break, from Iraq to Syria to Afghanistan -- but before we move on, let's take a look back.


HOLMES (voice-over): It was 14 years ago this week that the U.S. offensive, Operation Enduring Freedom, began in Afghanistan, aiming, of

course, to find Osama bin Laden, crush Al Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power along the way.

Now all these years later, is the Taliban growing stronger once again?

We're going to discuss this when we come back.




HOLMES: Welcome back to the program, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes, in for Christiane.

Well, it's a critical moment for Afghanistan. Those words today from America's top general in that country with fighting in Kunduz and nearly a

year after international forces stopped combat operations. Have a listen.



redeployment, the Afghan security forces and insurgents have both accepted that this fighting season could be pivotal.

There was no winter lull and, since February, the fighting has been nearly continuous. An upsurge in the insurgent violence in Northern

Helmand and Kunduz shows that Afghanistan is at a critical moment in their history.


HOLMES: And the numbers bear that out. Have a look at this.


HOLMES (voice-over): Afghan civilian deaths have been on the rise. And while in 13 years of conflict, nearly 3,500 troops from international

security missions were killed; in a single 10-month period last year more than 4,500 Afghan troops were killed.

Ahmed Rashid has written extensively about Afghanistan and the Taliban. He joins us now via Skype from Lahore in Pakistan.

And thanks for doing so. On paper, there were 7,000 government forces stationed in Kunduz and they were essentially routed by a few hundred


What's going to be the broader impact of the fall of Kunduz, even if it is retaken?

What does it represent?


AHMED RASHID, AUTHOR: First of all, the Taliban have been working very hard to take a lot of territory in Northern Afghanistan and they've

been helped for the first time by Central Asian militants, militants from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan,

Kyrgyzstan and also by Chinese Muslim militants from Xinjiang (ph) province as well as Chechens, Arabs and Pakistanis.

So it's a very -- it's a large multinational forum that the Taliban have put together in Northern Afghanistan. And the aim of these Central

Asian groups is they want to establish a base in Northern and Northeastern Afghanistan so that they can penetrate and start terrorist acts inside

Central Asia, their own homeland.

Now that is the real crisis, I think, that this -- Kunduz is a strategic and very critical city and the area around it is agriculturally

rich and self-sustaining. And if the Taliban do manage to push out the Afghan army from this area, I think there will be -- we will start seeing

the spread of terrorism in Central Asia itself.

HOLMES: And there are some who want that area and more to be another caliphate, if you like.

I'm curious; as far as the U.S. is concerned, if 14 years and goodness knows how many billions of U.S. dollars can't train up the Afghan military

and, importantly, its leadership, to hold Kunduz, why would more years and perhaps more U.S. troops and more money change that dynamic?

Isn't the problem one of governance?

RASHID: I think there are several problems. I think -- you know, the Afghan army has been fighting much better than, for example, the Iraqi

army. And the Afghan army has been holding back the Taliban for the last nine months and fighting without an air force. There's very limited use of

the air force by the Afghans and the Americans use their aircraft very sparingly.

So the Taliban are free to travel across the country, replenish their supplies without the fear of being bombed at all. That's the first thing.

The second thing is that the Afghan army is very large; it has a lot of troops. Probably a lot of them are not well trained but the leadership

crisis is even more severe. We've had reports of Kunduz, they're up to 10 generals in Kunduz, generals of the police, of the army, of the

paramilitary units, the village militia unit.

And there's no one in charge, it seems. There's no one general in charge. So leadership has been a critical issue; many senior officers,

there's a lot of corruption. And they're sending people from the wrong ethnic group into the wrong region.

So I think the real crisis is leadership inside the army.

And the third factor is governance. I mean, there's no question that President Ashraf Ghani has had a very tough time performing for the last

one year.

HOLMES: And certainly Afghan special forces have received a lot of praise for their performance and certainly Afghan regulars are dying in

their thousands. But it is one of the management, the officers, the corruption, the ineptitude of those perhaps who are giving the orders.

I wanted to ask you one final question and that is the issue of bringing the Taliban to the table, involved in the political process.

That's problematic, of course, given the rifts within the Taliban as well as the rank and file is, as you point out, the disparate groups involved.

But is a political solution involving the Taliban possible?

RASHID: Well, it was possible until the attack on Kunduz because there had been a round of talks between the Kabul government and the

Taliban in Pakistan that was monitored also by the Chinese and Americans.

And there was the announcement that there would quickly be a second round of talks. And two or three incidents -- but first was the release of

the news that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban, had died two years ago and that his name was being used by the current leadership to

carry out orders; whereas the leader himself was dead.

And that created enormous rifts within the Taliban and a much more complicated division than just between hardliners and those who want peace


And so I think now what this attack on Kunduz represents partly is an assertion of the new leadership under Mullah Mansoor, that the Taliban are

once again united.

But, in fact, they're not. They are fragmented. And if there's a lull in the fighting, we will see the fragmentation emerge once again.

HOLMES: Fascinating. Always good to speak with you, Ahmed Rashid there, joins us from Lahore in Pakistan.


HALPERIN: After a break being some much-needed good news after the last half hour. Imagining a recovery that the world has been waiting for.

Ebola making an exit from countries it has hit the hardest. We'll be right back.




HOLMES: Finally tonight, imagine a world free from Ebola. For the first time since the calamitous outbreak began, there's three countries at

the heart of it: Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, have had no new Ebola cases for more than a week.

It's been a long road to get there. This time last year Ebola was at its peak, dominating the airwaves with these sorts of images of suffering

as the speed and devastation of this virus established as the worst case of the illness in history; 11,000 people were killed as it ran its course.

But as the relief efforts surged, stories of survival began breaking through, schools started reopening and eventually even goodbye parties were

thrown for the ill as they left hospitals. Now the countries hurt most by Ebola can breathe just a little easier as hope rises that the scourge may

finally be over.

And that is our program for tonight. Remember you can always see our interviews online at Thanks for watching and good-bye from