Return to Transcripts main page


NATO Commander Discusses Fight against ISIS; British Lawmakers Debate Airstrikes in Syria; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired December 2, 2015 - 14:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: Britain votes on airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and America sends in a special

expeditionary force. NATO's Supreme Allied Commander tells me it will take all of that to defeat ISIS.


GEN. PHILIP BREEDLOVE, SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, NATO: And it will take a dedicated effort, not only from the air but effort on the ground to make it



AMANPOUR (voice-over): Plus: British Foreign Secretary and International Rescue Committee president David Miliband reminds us it is Assad who is

responsible for most refugees fleeing that country.



to face the facts. But the facts seem to me to be overwhelming, not just about the tragedy of Syria but about the responsibility for it.



AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

ISIS is plotting to kill us so we must act now. Galvanized by the attacks in Paris, the British prime minister, David Cameron, made that case to

lawmakers today, as he proposed airstrikes in Syria. In a 10.5-debate in a rowdy House of Commons, Cameron said U.K. action would make a difference.


DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: Eight hundred people, including families and children, have been radicalized to such an extent

that they've traveled to this so-called caliphate. The House should be under no illusion: these terrorists are plotting to kill us and to

radicalize our children right now.

And let's be clear, Mr. Speaker, inaction does not amount to a strategy for our security or for the Syrian people. But inaction is a choice. I

believe it's the wrong choice.


AMANPOUR: And on the other side of the Atlantic, the United States is gearing up its fight against ISIS, sending a special unit of crack ground

forces to Syria.

And into the mix steps the Syrian president Assad, again insisting that his forces should also be part of the anti-ISIS coalition. He spoke to Czech



BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: -- trying to destroy terrorism from the air, we cannot -- it's, first, impossible.

The Americans have been trying this in Afghanistan for how long?

More than 12 or 13 years.

Did they achieve anything?

Nothing. The terrorism is still strong enough against that. So you cannot.

You need cooperation from within that country, any power. The major power is Syria and the Syrian army and, of course, the government.


AMANPOUR: No dice, says the U.S.-led coalition. They won't allow regime forces to take part as long as Assad remains in command. Earlier, NATO

Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove told me that defeating is will require a beefed-up effort, not only from the air but also on the

ground. He joined me to talk about that from NATO headquarters in Brussels.


AMANPOUR: General Breedlove, welcome back to our program.


AMANPOUR: I'm talking to you on a day where the British Parliament is voting to conduct airstrikes against targets in Syria.

What difference will a few more bombers make on the situation in Syria right now?

BREEDLOVE: I think, Christiane, as you know, the campaign is focused on a discrete set of targets. And the more that we can generate targets -- and

as you have heard, some of these aircraft that are -- that are being provided or possibly provided are reconnaissance aircraft.

Those, coupled with what you've heard about, some of the changes in our special operations forces should be able to bring more good and discrete

targets to the table for our bombers to hit. And so, yes, we will need additional capacity.

AMANPOUR: The United States' Defense Secretary Ash Carter seems to -- and these are my words -- to have committed to a kind of a U-turn. He told

Congress that the United States is sending a, quote, "specialized expeditionary targeting force" to Syria.

Here's what he said and we'll talk about it on the outside.


ASH CARTER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: These special operators will, over time, be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence and

capture ISIL leaders. This force will also be in a position to conduct unilateral operations into Syria.


AMANPOUR: And, General Breedlove, Secretary Carter also said this would just be a start; if necessary, more ground forces could go.

BREEDLOVE: As you heard, he said they will collect intelligence. In the past, because we haven't had people on the ground there to spot our

missions, we're reliant on overhead ISR and --


BREEDLOVE: -- those kinds of targets are more limited than when you're able to put eyes on and develop target folders or target capabilities.

So obviously Secretary Carter has described a broader mission for this force. But part of that force is gathering that intel that should enable

much better our targeting process.

AMANPOUR: Over and over again, we now hear, certainly from the French defense minister, from the British prime minister, from more and more

people, that ISIS must be defeated.

How long do you give a ramped-up air campaign?

And how long do you give this process?

BREEDLOVE: We are putting pressure on daish in many avenues now.

And frankly, I believe that's why some of these exterior attacks you begin to see in countries outside of the Iraq and Syria area, because as they

begin to take losses, they divert attention by these spectacular attacks outside of the -- of the battle area, where they are trying to build and

hold this caliphate.

So I think this is a long thing, a long-term thing and not a short-term thing. And we need to be thinking about that.

And it will take a dedicated effort, not only from the air but effort on the ground to make it happen.

AMANPOUR: What is NATO doing to try to lower the tensions and ensure that there's no more conflict in the air between NATO forces and Russia?

BREEDLOVE: Well, as you know, I'm just here in Brussels at the end of our foreign ministerial meetings. And we talked about these very subjects.

And of course there was a complete show of solidarity with our ally, Turkey, and about the sovereignty of their airspace and their ability to

defend their sovereign airspace.

But we also talked about we need to deescalate the situation along that border. No one needs a conflict there or increased tensions there.

We all have a requirement to get after daish or ISIL, however you want to call them, in this area. And that will best be done if we don't have

increased tensions in the area.

So we are all working towards deescalating the concerns and reaffirming that safety procedure regimen that we've put in place with the Russians in

the airspace.

AMANPOUR: To the best of your military knowledge and assessment, is Russia stepping up its attacks on ISIS?

Or is it still attacking groups that are opposed to Assad?

BREEDLOVE: Well, since the unfortunate shootdown of the Russian airliner, yes, we have seen Russia shift its targeting a bit. But let's be


The preponderance, the great preponderance of their targets remain those forces that are opposing Assad, the moderate opposition. Some of the

sorties are going against daish or ISIL but still the vast majority are against those forces which oppose the Assad regime.

AMANPOUR: You just said that you obviously are at this meeting of foreign ministers. Obviously, Secretary Kerry has been there and he has said today

that our aim is not necessarily regime change in Syria; it is Assad change.

In other words, we do want to get rid of Assad but not necessarily the rest of the government or at least not now.

What is your view on that in terms of a game-changer on the battlefield?

Because obviously a lot of the opposition aren't going to like some of the Assad ministers, who will apparently remain in power under this


BREEDLOVE: Christiane, I can't speak for those individual groups on the ground.

But I think we all understand that Mr. Assad has caused the vast majority of this migration problem, starting with the barrel bombing of his own

people, chlorine bombing of his own people, putting mass migration in the picture as a weapon to get people on the move and out of his country.

And so I think that what we need to do is, for sure, change the root of that problem and then we can begin to address if there are other concerns

beyond that.

AMANPOUR: You said as a weapon to push people out.

Are you suggesting he's doing it deliberately?

And if so, why?

BREEDLOVE: Christiane, I would put the question right back to you. A barrel bomb, completely indiscriminate, unguidable, no idea where it's

going to hit on the ground, you drop a barrel bomb into the middle of a city.

What other conclusion can you draw?

AMANPOUR: Let me go back to the tensions with Russia. NATO has extended an invitation today to Montenegro to join the NATO alliance. Russia is

angry about it; it's saying, yet again, here goes NATO, pushing into our frontiers, into our back yard and it's just going to cause more tension

between us all.

What is your response to that?

And do you really need that tension right now?

Why that invitation right now?

BREEDLOVE: Remember, Christiane, that we don't go out seeking people and asking them to come be a part of NATO. Nations --


BREEDLOVE: -- come to us and ask to be a part of NATO. And we absolutely support every nation's individual right to seek its own individual destiny,

its own individual attachments to the exterior world.

And so we have been working, as you know, with Montenegro for some time now. This is not a new thing. And they have come a long way towards those

things that we ask of a nation, to become a part of our alliance. And the timing is right.

I don't think that we should allow Russia a veto over who wants to become a part of our alliance.

AMANPOUR: What is your biggest concern or the biggest issue on your mind right now?

BREEDLOVE: In NATO we talked about two things, a strategic challenge to the east and that is a revanchist Russia, a Russia that now has put force

back on the table and uses forces to change internationally recognized boundaries.

They have invaded the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and they continue to occupy it. They have invaded the eastern part of Ukraine, the Donbas, and

their forces are still in there, enabling the rebels.

To the south, we see a much more multifaceted challenge, this challenge of ungoverned spaces, of unresponsive governments. And what that ends up in,

in migrant flows, flows of criminality, terrorism and foreign fighters in and out of these areas and what that spills over with into our nations.

So you asked me for one thing; in my day-to-day job as the Supreme Allied Commander-Europe, I'm focused on these two strategic challenges, one to the

east and one to the south.

AMANPOUR: And further to the south, there are reports of ISIS and top leadership falling back to Libya and using potentially that if Syria gets

too hot or Iraq gets too hot.

BREEDLOVE: So we've seen this pattern before, haven't we, Christiane?

As we put pressure on Al Qaeda, it's squeezed into other places. And now, because we are having successes against daish in the Eastern Syrian and

Western Iraqi areas, they will then seek other areas of least resistance to go do their business.

And so this is a broad campaign that we will have to enter and we'll have to be able to put pressure on them eventually in those spaces as well.

AMANPOUR: General Philip Breedlove, thank you so much.

BREEDLOVE: Thank you. It's great talking to you again, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: Now as Britain and Germany step up the fight against ISIS, after a break, the former British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, gives me his

take on what it'll mean for refugees. That's next.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

A serious, solemn and morally challenging decision; as the debate rages in Britain's Parliament, that is the view of the loudest dissenting voice and

that is the opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn.


JEREMY CORBYN, BRITISH OPPOSITION LEADER: It's impossible, I think, Mr. Speaker, to avoid the conclusion that the prime minister understands that

public opinion is moving increasingly against what I believe to be an ill- thought-out rush to war.


AMANPOUR: While the parliamentary vote takes place in Britain, the situation on the ground --


AMANPOUR: -- in Syria is becoming increasingly grave. Someone who knows both sides of the story, the plight of refugees and the political

pressures, is David Miliband, former U.K. foreign secretary, who is also now president of the International Rescue Committee.

He joined me earlier from Washington.


AMANPOUR: David Miliband, welcome back to our program.

MILIBAND: Thanks, Christiane. It's good to be with you.

AMANPOUR: Well, it just so happens that we're talking as the British Parliament is debating potential bombing raids against ISIS targets in


A lot of people are asking what will that do to the civilian population, the kind of people who you are worried about?

Will it create more refugees?

What is your opinion, your assessment of whether these strikes should go ahead and the effect?

MILIBAND: Well, I think that all the humanitarian experience built up over decades is that the only answer to questions of the impact of military

intervention on the humanitarian situation is it depends. It depends on how it's done. And that's why we say that the debate has to be about

details, not just about slogans.

The International Rescue Committee has 2,000 staff inside Syria. So obviously I'm not going to say for or against, express a personal view for

or against military action.

What I know is that the crisis of Syria needs to be addressed, both at source and at symptom, because, of course, right across Europe, the

symptoms of a failed diplomatic strategy is of an escalating military confrontation, of being felt right across the continent.

AMANPOUR: You said you weren't going to express a personal opinion.

I mean, if you were in Parliament, how would you vote?

MILIBAND: Well, I'm obviously not going to address that because I have responsibilities for the 2,000 staff right across Syria, who are working

for the IRC.

What I can testify is that the people we're serving, the hundreds of thousands of Syrians in besieged communities, the millions who've been

uprooted from their homes, they face the double terror. They face the threat of barrel bombing from Assad and they face the terror of ISIS and,

in some cases, other armed opposition groups.

AMANPOUR: And you just mentioned barrel bombs. You probably just heard General Philip Breedlove; he talked about Assad's barrel bombs that have

been the biggest problem for civilians inside Syria and the biggest force pushing refugees out, people who've become refugees, who, then, you have to

care for.

Assad today totally denied any responsibility; he gave an interview to Czech television and he just said it's everybody's fault except mine.

What would you say to those comments as we look very closely at the fate of the civilians in Syria right now?

MILIBAND: The evidence independently gathered is that certainly the majority and, in some months, 80 percent of the civilian casualties are the

result of government-led, i.e., President Assad's forces-led attacks.

And right across the country, there's no doubt that significant barrel bombs have been dropped. It's been independently verified, though I

understand that President Assad has denied it in previous interviews as well.

For the civilians that we are meeting, though, both who are fleeing the country and ending up in the neighboring states but also, frankly, those

arriving in Greece, who are coming straight from Syria to Greece, they testify to the barrel bombs.

And the fog of war is always educed as a reason not to face the facts. But the facts seem to me to be overwhelming, not just about the tragedy of

Syria but about the responsibility for it.

AMANPOUR: You just talked about Greece and you have recently visited Lesbos in Greece, which is one of the main sort of stepping-off points when

people come across on boats.

And you've written also that people don't understand that actually the majority of refugees are not in camps; they are all over the world,

particularly at the front line nations in cities.

How difficult is it for Greece, for Turkey to look after these refugees?

What's happening?

MILIBAND: Well, it's a great point that you make, Christiane. I mean, just to give you the graphic situation on the island of Lesbos, it's an

island of 90,000 people; it's a tourist haven.

At various points when we first deployed teams there, a humanitarian emergency team in June, there were 200 refugees arriving. The top number

that we've had now is at 6,000 or 7,000 a week arriving.

And the numbers are still very high, 5,000 or 6,000 a week, despite the winter conditions, the threat of hypothermia, the increased number of boats

that are tipping into the Aegean Sea.

And right across the world about 60 percent of refugees are in urban areas. And so the challenge for humanitarian organizations is to deliver services

in a wholly different way that reaches those in need but also doesn't alienate the local host population. And obviously that's a major challenge

right across Europe at the moment.

AMANPOUR: And as we're just looking at these incredible pictures on our huge screens here in the studio, I might say that it does seem that the

world is getting a little bit meaner towards refugees, not kinder, particularly in the post-Paris disaster.

Greece itself was kind of implicated because at least two, maybe more of the terrorists --


AMANPOUR: -- infiltrated and used that refugee route to get to Paris. You have -- you can see what's going on in the United States Congress, where

they have paused their humanitarian resettlement.

I mean, what do you say to that?

MILIBAND: I say very clearly that the refugees are the victims of terrorism and torture, not the perpetrators of it. And it's very

important, just for the benefit of your viewers, the House of Representatives has passed a bill but it is not yet law; obviously it goes

to the Senate in the United States.

The bill would essentially end the refugee resettlement problem from Syria and from Iraq, a program which, for those of us on the humanitarian side of

the argument, say has been far too minimal; only 2,200 Syrians have arrived in the United States right across the five years of the conflict.

And the most important thing to remember is that these traumatized families who are arriving are the most vulnerable, identified by the U.N. as such.

They desperately need support.

Of course refugee resettlement in rich countries doesn't provide the quote- unquote "answer" to the war in Syria but it's got to be part of the response.

AMANPOUR: And of course it's not just the United States; in Britain, I mean, there hasn't been hardly any Syrian refugees except maybe, the prime

minister says, 1,000 by Christmas. France also hasn't taken in very many. Angela Merkel is having to sort of be careful and turn off the spigot to

some degree.

Just for our American viewers, how tough is the vetting process?

Because everybody's terrified that terrorists are going to come in amidst the refugees.

How rigorous is the vetting process for these refugees?

MILIBAND: The situation in the U.S. is quite different from that in Europe. It's tougher to get to America as a refugee than under any other


The process takes 18-24 months; it involves 12-15 different government agencies, including intelligence agencies. There are biometric tests.

There are personal interviews. It's the most vulnerable people who get nominated for this program.

And I think you're right to say that Germany is showing humanitarian leadership.

But it's striking; here on the North American continent, the new Canadian government has agreed to take 25,000 refugees this year. The president of

the U.S., Barack Obama, has said he'll take 10,000 this year.

But the central message that I would give to an American audience is that, right across this country, there is testimony to the success of refugee

resettlement, including in Syrian American communities in major cities here.

Refugees are big net contributors to the U.S., from Albert Einstein to Madeleine Albright to Sergey Brin. This is a country that has thrived not

just from immigration but also from refugees.

And of course it's right to have effective security screening. And successive secretaries of state for homeland security in this country,

alongside 20 other national security leaders today, have published a letter, expressing confidence in the security vetting system.

And that must be the right basis on which to continue the program and, frankly, in the view of people like me, expand the program.

AMANPOUR: David Miliband, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

MILIBAND: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And as the British parliamentary debate raged, a fevered online debate was under way when a Twitter user compared Saudi Arabia's record on

human rights to that of ISIS. The government, of course, reportedly threatened to sue and that caused an Internet feeding frenzy of mocking

users under #SueMeSaudi.

After a break, a legal case that's stranger than the silver screen. Imagine a world where "Lord of the Rings" gets into the ring with the

president of Turkey. We'll have that next.





AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine a trial that's a turn-up for the books. In Turkey, a court case has descended, if not into farce, then into

literary debate over J.R.R. Tolkien's classic "Lord of the Rings."

It all began when this meme compared Gollum to Erdogan. That's President Tayyip Erdogan. It was spotted on a Turkish doctor's Facebook page, which

is unfortunate for the doctor, Bilgin Ciftci, because, in Turkey, it's illegal to insult the president.

Indeed, the doctor lost his job and was put on trial, where he is now taking a novel approach to his legal defense. He and his lawyer argue that

Gollum is a hero, not a bad guy.

The judge admitted that he had only seen parts of the film and so now a panel is being brought to analyze Gollum's moral fiber, comprising two

academics, two behavioral scientists and one cinema expert.

Come to think of it, the case does sound like a farce. But the denouement could be very sobering indeed. Dr. Ciftci could face a stiff prison

sentence if he's found guilty.

And this year more than 100 people have been indicted on charges of insulting the president. Journalists are judged even more harshly. Right

now two, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul are under arrest for exposing corruption. If convicted, they could face life imprisonment.

That's it for our program tonight from Paris. Remember, you can now also listen to our show as a podcast or you can always see all our interviews

online at and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.