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ISIS Claims Deadly Twin Bombings in Beirut; U.S. Troops Direct Airstrikes in Anti-ISIS Offensive in Sinjar. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 12, 2015 - 17:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Suicide massacre. ISIS claims it carried out twin bombings in the Middle East capital, leaving dozens of people dead, hundreds wounded. And the terror group issues a chilling new threat against Russia. Is it launching a new global jihad?
Striking back. U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq calling in airstrikes as Kurdish allies launch a major offensive to take back a strategic town from ISIS. Could this be a turning point? I'll ask a former NATO supreme allied commander.
U.S. terror arrest. An alleged ISIS sympathizer in Ohio is accused of soliciting the murder of U.S. military personnel, posting their names, their addresses and their photos online.
And power purge. A key member of North Korea's inner circle seems to be missing. Is Kim Jong-un once again turning on those closest to him in a move to consolidate his control over the communist state?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. New signs that ISIS is extending its reach. The terror group is now claiming responsibility for a pair of suicide bombings which killed at least 41 people, wounded 200 others in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut. The area's a stronghold of Lebanon's Hezbollah, which is backing the Syrian regime in that bloody civil war next door.
As Russia does its part to prop up the Syrian regime, ISIS releases a chilling new video, threatening to also attack Russia very soon and warning that the blood will spill like an ocean.
And a major offensive underway against ISIS right now in Iraq. The Pentagon says U.S. troops, they are now on the ground, directing airstrikes in support of Kurdish forces trying to take back the town of Sinjar. That's where ISIS massacred thousands of men and boys from the area's Yazidi minority and sold girls and women into slavery. I'll speak about all of this and more with the former NATO supreme
allied commander, retired General Wesley Clark. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's begin with that bloody twin bombing in Beirut today, where dozens of people were killed in a massacre now being claimed by ISIS.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is tracking the latest developments for us.
Jim, what are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was the deadliest attack in Lebanon in two years and could have been worse. We're hearing of one, perhaps two additional bombers who weren't able to successfully detonate their explosives.
This is a harsh defeat for security of Hezbollah. It had stepped up that security after attacks in recent months, security that failed here.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The explosions struck during the height of rush hour on an open market just south of Beirut, coordinated, powerful and deadly.
First, one suicide blast draws a crowd of onlookers. Then a second blast strikes that crowd, maximizing casualties.
This man said he was praying when the blast blew a door right over his head. The victims carried by bystanders over rubble from damaged buildings and rushed to nearby hospitals.
TAMARA QIBLAWI, JOURNALIST (via phone): As the twin suicide bombing went off the area is mostly empty, it's been cordoned off by the army. Otherwise, there's a lot of shattered glass on the street, a lot of blood. And it's really just a scene of chaos and carnage.
SCIUTTO: Within hours, ISIS claimed responsibility. This neighborhood is a stronghold of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, ISIS's sworn enemy there.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: ISIL doesn't think of itself as having borders. Let's remember while you say "ISIS," I say "ISIL," they say "I.S.," "the Islamic State," and they see themselves as trying to establish a caliphate, which means an Islamic government covering all the areas where Muslims live today in the world. And so Lebanon is just going to be seen as another battlefield.
SCIUTTO: We know that ISIS has operatives inside Lebanon and has attempted other operations before, including kidnappings across the border from Syria. These attacks, of course, come on the same day of a renewed offensive against ISIS in Iraq involving Kurdish and U.S. forces. And some degree, Wolf, you can see this almost as an expansion of that Syria war.
Of course, Syria got the Assad regime versus ISIS, backed up by Hezbollah, the Assad regime. Here you have in Lebanon, Hezbollah, Assad's backer versus ISIS across the border inside Lebanon.
BLITZER: ISIS clearly expanding not only in Iraq and Syria but now in Lebanon, in Sinai, in Egypt, in Libya. It's all over the place right now.
[17:05:11] SCIUTTO: Expanding the war and their terror attacks.
BLITZER: They certainly are. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.
I want to bring in our terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. He's been working his sources, has new information on how this awful attack in Beirut was carried out. Paul, what have you learned?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, this comes just in from a Lebanese security source that says one of the four suicide bombers was taken alive and has begun talking, saying that he was part of a four-man ISIS cell, dispatched from Syria to Lebanon to carry out this attack, saying that he arrived in Lebanon two days ago, that this cell comprised of two Palestinian nationals, two Lebanese nationals. The person they have in custody being a Lebanese national from Tripoli in the north of Lebanon, which has been a hotbed of Islamic militancy.
And the Lebanese security services at this point believe that this was an ISIS cell dispatched to Lebanon by the senior leadership of the group in Syria to carry out this deadly attack.
It could have been a lot worse. There was one other suicide bomber who was killed in the initial blast from the first two suicide bombings before he managed to detonate his suicide vest. So this could have been at least twice as bad. Obviously, a terrible casualty count today in Lebanon, Wolf.
BLITZER: Awful situation, this war clearly now expanding from neighboring Syria into Lebanon. Stand by, we're going to get back to you, Paul.
But I want to get to that other major breaking story that we're following. The big offensive in northern Iraq right now where U.S. troops, they are on the ground. They are on the ground playing a key role as thousands of Kurdish fighters try to drive ISIS out of the town of Sinjar, which sits on a key ISIS supply route.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. You have news on the U.S. role in this new Kurdish-led military offensive. What are you learning?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is extraordinary. There are now, as we speak, a number of U.S. Special Operations forces on Sinjar Mountain. Boots on the ground. There's no way around it. They are on Sinjar Mountain, and they are helping the local Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, who are in that battle to get their city back they are helping them call in airstrikes.
The Pentagon very much standing on formality, saying that the U.S. troops are now calling in the strikes themselves. But they are standing right next to the Peshmerga fighters with their binoculars looking out, looking for targets and helping the Peshmerga call in U.S. airstrikes to defeat ISIS.
We are told this has only happened once before. Last month in a battle near Kirkuk. This is an expansion of the typical job that the U.S. troops are doing there as trainers and as advisers. No way around it.
So why are they doing it in Sinjar? Why is Sinjar so important to Americans beyond the horror that is certainly has inflicted on people there, because of the geography. It sits on a highway right between Raqqah, ISIS's capital over in Syria, and Mosul, ISIS's big grip on Mosul in Iraq.
What they want to do, what the U.S. wants to do is break ISIS's grip by cutting the highway where all these cities sit and cutting that supply line from Raqqah in Syria over to Mosul. It's what they hope to achieve. It is why they are there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Critical battle under way right now. All right. Thanks very much for that, Barbara.
I want to go to our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's right near the front lines of this fight to retake Sinjar. Nick, tell us what you've been seeing where you are.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A concerted push from 9 p.m. yesterday, Wolf, in the evening. Beginning really in the early hours of the morning. We were with the Peshmerga, large numbers of them backed by U.S. planes in the air as they moved around to the west of the city, aiming themselves at that key supply route. Here's what we saw.
WALSH (voice-over): The sun broke bringing with it a vast trail of Peshmerga pushing for a new dawn of their own against ISIS. Crawling around the back of Mt. Sinjar. Their advance long expected and aimed here at Sinjar's western flank.
ISIS beaten back by dozens of coalition airstrikes, barely a local vehicle left standing. They've asked for new weapons, but used what they had facing booby-traps all around. Their mortars and continued airstrikes had one key target: the highway that runs through Sinjar.
By just afternoon they took it, starving ISIS's east of supplies from Syria.
[17:10:03] (on camera): ISIS are just 500 meters potentially in that direction, but also down this road, where also lies Raqqah, the caliphate's self-declared capital.
This is why this road is so vital to the Peshmerga and the coalition. They need to seize it to keep it, to separate the ISIS part of Iraq and their part of Syria.
(voice-over): ISIS weren't giving up the town, though, without burning it first.
Once home to thousands of Yazidis they persecuted, it's being retaken by Kurds. Some suspicious of the other local group, the Sunni Arabs there.
"The local Arabs here are all with ISIS," this local commander says.
Throughout the day one mushroom cloud after another, ISIS car bombs. Some beaten back by a new Peshmerga weapon from the west, the Milan missile, which stops the suicide bombers in their tracks.
This is what one did to an ISIS car, melting this pistol flat. Sinjar's urban sprawl, too, could be flattened if ISIS choose to fight in it.
The first day's bravado taking the Kurds far, but not to victory.
WALSH: Wolf, look at the bigger picture here. Washington very keen to see some sort of success story emerge from their anti-ISIS operation here. And this perhaps a test case. Can they get the Peshmerga to rally in sufficient number? We saw the answer to that today was yes. Can they put the right number of airstrikes in to let them hold the new ground they take? That seems to be the case when it comes to Route 47, that vital supply line we saw today.
But really, can they harness these kind of tactics for the real challenge ahead, the fight for Mosul and maybe the fight for Raqqah? They're a pipe dream, frankly, months off from now, but success in Sinjar, which we still haven't definitively seen yet -- they've still got to fight for that urban sprawl in the days ahead -- that could be a very welcome signal -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. That battle clearly not over yet. We'll see how long it takes. Nick, please be careful over there. Nick Paton Walsh on the ground for us in Iraq.
Joining us now is the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark.
General, I want to get your reaction first to the breaking news. These four suicide bombers -- two Lebanese, two Palestinian -- you heard Paul Cruickshank break the news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. They're telling interrogators they were dispatched from Syria by ISIS to carry out this suicide bombing in Beirut in this Shiite area.
When you hear that kind of expansion of the ISIS activity, it's chilling, because they're really going after targets well beyond Iraq and Syria right now.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (GEN.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: That's right. ISIS is a geostrategic force. To us they look like terrorists, but to them what they're fighting is Iran and Iran's allies, Hezbollah, and Shia militancy.
BLITZER: But they're also fighting the Russians, if you believe their claim that they were the ones who brought down that Russian airliner with 224 people onboard. ISIS says they did it.
CLARK: Yes. And they did bring down a Russian airliner, but they also struck at President Sisi in Egypt, because that was a strategic blow against Egypt's economy. It cuts off their tourism dollar flow.
BLITZER: So what is the real goal of ISIS right now? They've got their own problems in Sinjar, as we just heard from Nick Paton Walsh. They've got a battle under there with the Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters, U.S. Special Operations forces. They're on the ground. They're helping coordinate U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS. But ISIS is moving in all sorts of directions even as that fight goes on.
CLARK: That's right. ISIS is consolidating its grip on the territories it has. It's going to try to prove its ability to hold Sinjar, I would presume. It's working against the Egyptians in Sinai. It's also working against the Egyptians through its forces in Libya.
And so this is a cancer on the Middle East, but it's a geostrategic cancer, not a religious cancer. It's simply using Sunni nationalism or Sunni ideology to recruit a bunch of zealots, including a lot of hapless young men and women who don't know any better to fight Iran's expansionism.
BLITZER: General Clark, I need you to stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We're getting indications the Russians, they're about to retaliate against ISIS. We'll have much more right after this.
[17:19:12] BLITZER: Our breaking news. ISIS says it carried out deadly twin bombings in Beirut. And according to a source, a captured attacker says he and three others were sent by ISIS to Lebanon from Syria.
We're back with retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander.
In the past two days, General, two key members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including the chairman, Richard Burr, they both told me that they expect Russia to retaliate against ISIS for the downing of that Metrojet plane with 224 people onboard. And to do it within the next day or two. What do you think the Russian response will be?
CLARK: Well, I think if they direct some of their air power against ISIS targets, that would be helpful. And I think that's the easiest response for them to make. The question is do they have the intelligence to get the right targets?
BLITZER: James Risch, one of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he didn't rule out the possibility -- and I want your assessment -- that the Russians could even attack, launch airstrikes against ISIS targets in Sinai, which of course, is Egypt. You think that's realistic the Russians might consider doing that?
[17:20:19] CLARK: Well, if they -- there has been some communication between the Russians and the Egyptians. There have been some military talks, I'm told, at relatively high levels on -- in general.
So they may have channels of communication to be able to do this. But I'd like to see the Russians go in Syria and, instead of attacking the Free Syrian Army, to put their weight of their combat power against the ISIS headquarters around Raqqah.
BLITZER: Would you like to see greater cooperation, military cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. Intelligence cooperation, for example, in deciding which ISIS targets to hit?
CLARK: Well, that's a tough question, because you've got to protect sources and methods here. Remember at the top level of the Russian government or the U.S. government don't share the same objectives.
Russia wants to expand its footprint in the Middle East and keep Assad there, although they're at some point going to accept a settlement and push him aside.
The United States says he's got to leave. Russia's supporting Iran. The United States is supporting Saudi Arabia, and they're at opposite ends of the pole in the Vienna talks.
So it's a complicated agenda, but could there be more collaboration? There could be. But got to be very careful on the intelligence sharing.
BLITZER: You're the former NATO supreme allied commander. Here's a question. Why is NATO invisible in this war against ISIS right now? NATO is involved in Afghanistan, but it's clearly invisible in this war. Why?
CLARK: I think there's a lot of discussion behind the scenes as to what and how NATO should work. NATO's in the process of strengthening its positions in eastern Europe in response to the scare that Russia drove into the hearts of the East Europeans with its actions in Ukraine.
At the same time, NATO nations are worried about the refugees that are coming out of the Middle East through Turkey.
Now, I think it would be a logical thing that, if we could get a cease-fire established, and that's one of the things that's been talked about at the Vienna talks, that maybe NATO could put a monitoring force on the ground in that area after a cease-fire to help provide the assurance, let the Free Syrian Army and its political leadership come in and set something up. I think those options -- those discussions are under way behind the
scenes, but they're moving slowly. And they may not result in any NATO activity.
BLITZER: General Clark, thanks for joining us.
CLARK: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, an exclusive talk with the U.S. general who's been coordinating this international fight against ISIS. It's a stark warning about the global war on terror.
And later, an ominous change in the elite inner circle around North Korea's dangerous leader, Kim Jong-un.
[17:27:41] BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. ISIS now claiming responsibility for deadly twin bombings in Beirut and threatening bloody attacks against Russia, even as a major offensive is under way right now against the terror group in northern Iraq.
In a CNN exclusive, our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, sat down with the outgoing U.S. point man for the coalition fighting ISIS. Elise is with us right now. This terror group clearly extending its global reach right now.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, you know a year ago President Obama tapped the U.S., one of the most U.S. distinguished public servants, a former top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan for a challenging new mission to build a coalition to defeat ISIS.
Back then the enemy was contained to Iraq and Syria. Now ISIS has morphed into the world's most preeminent global terror organization. And as he prepares to leave the battle, General John Allen says the lessons learned will be key if the U.S. ever wants to finish the job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The far left...
LABOTT (voice-over): A stark warning about repeating mistakes of the past.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN (RET.), U.S. ENVOY TO ANTI-ISIS COALITION: We're fighting with a radicalization in an environment where people can be easily radicalized, become extremists and ultimately join a terrorist group. If we don't get to the left of those symptoms and try to solve these underlying circumstances, working collaboratively with those who are in the region, who best understand the region, then we're going to be condemned to fight forever.
LABOTT: Today, the fight against ISIS returned to where it began, Sinjar Mountain. A year into the campaign against ISIS, the Kurds are now emerging as
the U.S. most reliable partners in Iraq and Syria. But airstrikes by key allies like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan have all but stopped.
(on camera): If the Arab nations are not willing to be part of this military coalition, why should the U.S. be holding the bag here?
ALLEN: We should not measure the contribution to the Arab nation solely on whether they're flying missions over Syria. The Saudis, for example, have been very aggressive in providing support on the humanitarian level.
In fact, they've given one of the largest single humanitarian contributions to help the people of Iraq and Syria early along in the crisis. The Emiratis have been similarly generous, as have the...
LABOTT: But you want to defeat this group.
ALLEN: There's Arab leadership within the coalition. I'd be careful about measuring the success based solely on numbers of airstrikes in Syria.
LABOTT (voice-over): When he took the job a year ago, Allen says the situation in Iraq and Syria was dire.
ALLEN: A year later we find Daesh shrunken significantly. We find that there has been about 14,000 or so Iraqis that have been trained. We have partners on the ground in Syria. We have the capacity to work much more closely with Turkey. So in that space of a year we've seen real evolution.
I think the one area where obviously very attentive now is the expansion of Daesh beyond the region. And we're watching that very closely as well.
LABOTT: Allen says lone wolf attacks worldwide and the growth of ISIS affiliates throughout the region shows ISIS' global reach is on the rise.
ALLEN: We want to address each part of it. Bear down hard on the center. Bear down hard on the core with the coalition. Work regionally, bilaterally or multilaterally against the individual provinces. And then understand the network in the context of where there are vulnerabilities in a network that can be taken down to either collapse the network or corrupt the network.
LABOTT (on camera): Which ones right now are you looking at that concern you the most?
ALLEN: Well, we're going to watch very closely the one in Libya. We're attentive to the organization in the Sinai. Clearly the one in the North Caucasus is going to be a problem that the Russians are going to have to deal with for some period of time.
LABOTT (voice-over): The downing of a Russian commercial airliner by ISIS' Sinai affiliate a potential game changer. Moscow now in ISIS crosshairs over its intervention in Syria.
(On camera): Has Russian intervention made ISIS stronger?
ALLEN: It certainly hasn't hurt ISIS in my mind.
LABOTT (voice-over): The U.S. recently abandoned a $500 million effort to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight ISIS after only a handful of fighters made it to the battlefield.
(On camera): Why did they fail?
ALLEN: When you want individuals to concentrate on Daesh who on a day-to-day basis or moment-to-moment are worrying about whether the regime is going to blow up their neighborhood or the future of the Assad regime, that's a difficult challenge and a difficult choice to put before them.
LABOTT (voice-over): A new strategy to rely on Kurds and other Syrian groups, Allen says, is starting to bear fruit. But with President Obama now sending in special forces to Syria, U.S. involvement only seems to be deepening.
(On camera): When you first took this job, when we first sat down, you said this conflict is going to be long. It's going to be years. How many more people are going to occupy this chair, do you think, before the job is done?
ALLEN: My hope is maybe one?
LABOTT: Is that realistic?
ALLEN: No, I think we're going to be at this for some time. And whether we need someone that fulfills my duties or not remains to be determined. But I still -- as I said that day a long time ago when you and I sat down for the first time, I still believe this is going to be a long conflict.
LABOTT: After 45 years on the front lines, General Allen says what he'll miss most is the people working with the troops and the U.S. diplomats who risk their lives to keep America safe. For now he'll be at the Brookings Institution in Washington, but he did tell me he would come off the bench if he gets the call from the president. I don't think we've seen the last of him, Wolf. A remarkable public servant.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks very much, Elise, for that report.
Coming up, the war against global terrorism hits home right here in the United States. Get this, a U.S. man has now been accused of spreading terrorist propaganda trying to recruit people to kill members of the U.S. military right here in the United States.
Also, an ominous sign that another member of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's inner circle has fallen from grace.
[17:38:11] BLITZER: Following the breaking news. A new case of alleged domestic terrorism. Federal authorities arrested an Ohio man today accusing him of spreading ISIS propaganda, exposing personal information about members of the U.S. military and urging people to murder those members of the U.S. military.
Our justice reporter Evan Perez is joining us. He's got details.
Very disturbing case, Evan. What have you learned?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, exactly. You know, we've seen dozens of these cases but this one is very novel. This Akron, Ohio, man, Terrence McNeil, is charged with soliciting the murder of U.S. military members. And what he did was simply re-post files on Tumblr that had been published by -- on the Internet by ISIS. One file read, "Target United States military." It included pictures and names and addresses of U.S. military members. And it included a photograph with a knife and a gun. And it said -- a text that said, "Kill them wherever you find them."
Now we took a look at his Facebook and Tumblr accounts and they contain plenty of posts expressing support for ISIS and attacks in Iraq and Syria. And others are simply cheering terror attacks even here at home. One of those posts says, "I can't wait for another 9/11, Boston bombing or Sandy Hook." And another says, "Somebody should park a car bomb in front of a church, school or mall."
Now none of those posts actually break the law. But posting those ISIS files with military members' personal data went too far. And the Justice Department says that crossed a line into soliciting murder. Now some civil libertarians think that the Justice Department is going too far in trying to criminalize speech online -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This is, though, part of a larger effort by the U.S. to try to shut down ISIS' U.S. online recruitment efforts, right?
PEREZ: That's right. That's right. Back in August the U.S. military killed the ISIS' most prominent recruiter and propagandist online, Junaid Hussain, Wolf.
[17:40:05] And then last month the Justice Department working with Malaysian authorities -- Malaysian authorities arrested Ardit Ferizi. He's a Malaysian based blogger who's the one that actually stole all this information allegedly, the information that this gentleman today was posting -- is charged with posting, Wolf. He stole the personal information of this U.S. military members and put it -- and sent it over to the ISIS hackers.
And so what we're watching for now is what effect this has on ISIS recruitment. We've been told by U.S. officials that since the death of Junaid Hussain in August, the number of Americans traveling overseas to try to join ISIS has gone way down.
BLITZER: Evan Perez, very disturbing story indeed. Thanks very much.
Joining us now, our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, our counterterrorist and analyst Phil Mudd, he's a former CIA official, and retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling. He's a CNN military analyst.
Phil, you just heard Evan's very disturbing report. So are U.S. military members in danger right now?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think absolutely. I don't know how you would make an argument another way. Let's do the arithmetic here. We've already seen ISIS inspired attacks on the military in the United States. And ISIS has talked about the military being a legitimate target. In their eyes a far more legitimate target than a civilian who doesn't carry a weapon and won't be deployed overseas. Add that to two other pieces of this arithmetic, Wolf.
Now the number of people in the United States who have information about their lives posted on Facebook and who wear a uniform. And finally, the number of ISIS sympathizers in the United States, the FBI has talked about hundreds going overseas. You've got to assume that behind that is thousands of people in the United States who are sympathizers.
If you think one or two of them won't look at this and take the message that says, just find somebody on Facebook and attack them, I don't know how you do that math.
BLITZER: So, General Hertling, how should members of the U.S. military respond to these threats?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Wolf, I'll give you the normal party line is we have forced protection measures. We constantly brief our soldiers and our military members on how to take care of themselves. But the real fact of the matter is we are at total war. We have been in a total war for a long time. And there are very little front line deviations between what we face every day and what we face in combat. There's very little differences.
And we have to be ready for these kinds of attacks. I think the combination of what the intelligence communities are doing along with the Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA and the military is just trying our very best to make sure we thwart these kinds of attacks when you're not in the front line of the battlefield.
BLITZER: General Hertling, moving on to what's going on in Iraq right now. Kurdish fighters launched the military offensive to try to take back that strategically important city of Sinjar from ISIS control. U.S. air power is there, U.S. Military Special Operations Forces apparently helping to coordinate some of those airstrikes.
Would more U.S. troops be needed, though, if this military offensive against ISIS in Sinjar is going to be successful?
HERTLING: Potentially, yes, Wolf. And we've said this from the very beginning and I know all the military commanders have said when other forces in the area, when the indigenous forces step up and when the government is not sectarian and they start applying forces across the board, then we will step up with them. We've seen a gradual increases in that. It's not mission creep, it's just, hey, they have done these things, we will help them. We've said that from the very beginning.
So, yes, I think as either the Peshmerga or the Iraqi Security Forces improve and continue on with different attacks in areas, we may see more U.S. forces involved certainly.
BLITZER: Phil, how long could this offensive last?
MUDD: I think longer than we want to be comfortable with. Americans watching this are going to have hope here looking at 7500 Kurdish forces having success against ISIS. That hope, though, is not a plan.
Let me give you the reason why I would be discouraged about anticipating a short timeframe here. Fight against Kobani, the success we'll fight earlier this year, that's four months to fight for one city in Iraq. Number two, when did the fight first start accelerating against ISIS? That's summer of 2014. More than a year ago. Third and final number, what's the average duration of an insurgency like this? You're going to measure that in 10 or 20 years.
So anybody looking at this saying, hey, this gives me hope that we can roll this up against ISIS because they represent an ideology that's so corrupt, I would say step back. This is months for the city, years for the counterinsurgency.
BLITZER: Peter, ISIS now claiming responsibility for the twin bombings in Beirut today, killing and injuring hundreds of people, brutal suicide massacre. Any reason to doubt ISIS when they say they did it?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think so. I mean, the targets set it was in southern Beirut in an area with a lot of Shia. And ISIS is a, you know, anti-Shia organization. That is, you know, in the absence of anybody else coming forward, I think we have to take this claim of responsibility as just that.
[17:45:04] BLITZER: So basically this is payback as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Hezbollah Shia group which supports Bashar al-Assad's regime in Damascus backed by Iran as well because they're fighting against ISIS in Syria. ISIS now moves in from Syria, moves into Beirut and blows up the Shia neighborhood.
BERGEN: Yes. And Hezbollah and ISIS are two of the most effective groups fighting in Syria. They're fighting each other.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Phil, what can be done to stop this if anything?
MUDD: Not much. I think the bottom line whether you're talking about a bombing in Beirut, which is not that far obviously from Syria, a recruitment of kids in the United States is we can talk about preventive measures, for example how you improve border security in Lebanon, or how you pick up people on Tumblr in the United States who are posting photos or comments about the fight. But until you eliminate the magnet of safe haven, that is until a kid
in the United States or ISIS bombers going into Syria from Lebanon don't have a space that they can call a state, I think you're going to have people drawn to the fight because they believe this is not just a local fight. This is a fight where ISIS represents Sunnis against Hezbollah who are Shia and against Iran who are Shia. This is a Sunni-Shia fight, not just an ISIS-Bashar al-Assad fight.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, Peter Bergen, Mark Hertling, guys, thanks very much.
Coming up, another top official in Kim Jong-Un's inner circle drops from sight. Is the unpredictable North Korean leader consolidating his power, or is he running scared?
[17:51:01] BLITZER: Tonight we're following an ominous change within the elite ranks of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's inner circle.
CNN's Brian Todd has been working his sources. So, Brian, what could this mean?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it appears Kim Jong-Un is displaying once again his ruthlessness and again purging likely a party leader who's been very close to him.
The move is so significant that a South Korean official was publicly saying they're looking into it. A U.S. official tells us tonight Kim is solidifying his position as a unitary leader. Analysts call it a sign of his brutality and a bone-chilling signal to those around him.
TODD (voice-over): An ominous sign that Kim Jong-Un may have eliminated another person from his inner circle. Choe Ryong-Hae considered one of Kim's closest confidante, a right hand man, was not seen recently among names of officials planning for the funeral of a top military leader and reportedly did not show up for the funeral itself.
BALBINA HWANG, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: It tells us that he has likely been purged or at a minimum sidelined from the top elites. This would be a very significant event. And unless he's on his death bed, he would attend this kind of a funeral.
TODD: Why was Choe apparently purged? Experts say it could have been incompetence, betrayal or possibly an internal dispute with others in Kim's circle over shady business deals.
HWANG: The North Korean regime is essentially now a kleptocracy. And the easiest way for most Americans to understand this is to think of it as "The Sopranos" drama, where families representing different cliques are vying for power.
TODD: The Yonhap news agency citing South Korean intelligence says Choe Ryong-Hae has been sent to the Kim Il-Sung higher party school in east Pyongyang where analysts say officials who run afoul of Kim undergo brutal psychological conditioning and interrogation. The North Koreans call it re-education.
VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's not a country club. It is almost certainly a very grueling process where there is both physical and mental abuse and strains.
TODD: Experts say Choe may not have been executed because he's a so- called princeling, the son of a revolutionary hero who fought with Kim's grandfather, Kim Il-Sung against the Japanese. But Kim Jong-Un doesn't shy away from killing legendary figures. He executed his powerful uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, who he suspected of betrayal. He reportedly had a defense minister killed with an anti- aircraft gun.
South Korean officials say he's executed more than 70 top officials since taking power four years ago.
CHA: I think what we're seeing is a very protracted power consolidation process in which the leadership is acting in very ruthless ways, very draconian, not subtle ways in order to try to gain leadership within the system.
TODD: But analysts say Kim's ruthless purges could actually backfire on him. They say it could be that no one close to Kim actually feels safe but no matter how loyal they are, they could be betrayed. It raises questions how experts say about how secure Kim himself is within his own circle, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, could this purged official actually come back, this Choe?
TODD: He could. He has done it before, Wolf. We're told that Choe Ryong-Hae once had a top position in North Korea's military. He was once almost just about the second most powerful person in all of North Korea. He was demoted then he disappeared last year then came back in another position. He is survived because his father was such a close ally of the country's founder. Even Kim Jong's uncle, Jang Song- Thaek, did not have that lineage to protect him, and as we know, the uncle was executed.
BLITZER: And there's no sign at all based on everything we're seeing that Kim Jong-Un is giving up any of his power?
TODD: No, not all. If anything, Wolf, he's consolidating it just like his father and his grandfather did before him. The difference is he's killing more people along the way.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much.
Coming up, U.S. troops, ground troops, they are there in Iraq calling in airstrikes as Kurdish allies launch a major military offense to try to take back a strategic town from ISIS but ISIS is unleashing its furry at new targets. [17:55:06] And pilots and planes there put at risk as lasers are aimed
at 20 commercial aircraft in just one night.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Terror and chaos, dozens are dead in a pair of suicide bombings in a capital city. ISIS says it's to blame and now the terrorists are threatening an even bigger target vowing that blood will spill in Russia.
America strikes back. The United States is now engaged in a major new military offensive against ISIS with war planes in the air and Special Operations Forces on the ground. Tonight the president's ISIS war envoy fears the U.S. may be condemned to fight the terror group forever.