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U.S., France And U.K. Strike Syria's Chemical Weapons Program; U.S. B-1 Bombers Used In Strikes In Syria; Syrian Government: Strikes Threaten International Peace; Exclusive: FBI Seized Recordings Between Trump's Lawyer And Stormy Daniels' Former Lawyer; Trump On Syria Strike: "Mission Accomplished" Aired 8-9a ET
Aired April 14, 2018 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Always so grateful to have your company. I'm Christi Paul.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. The breaking news this morning, the United States launches a military attack against Syria and promises to keep up the pressure.
PAUL: Want to show you some of the new video that we are getting in. Our first look at some of the damage that's been done there in Syria. This is in Damascus after American, French and British war ships and planes targets sites connected to Syria's chemical weapons program overnight. The strikes in response to a suspected chemical attack that killed dozens of innocent Syrians last week.
BLACKWELL: Next hour we expect to hear from top security officials at a Pentagon briefing. We will bring that to you live.
Plus, the U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency meeting in three hours from now at 11:00 a.m. Eastern and a NATO meeting is scheduled for this afternoon.
We have a team of correspondents covering the latest developments from the Pentagon to London to Northern Syria. We will take you there in just a moment. But first, we start with a look at how the military strikes happened. Watch.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): Video from Syria shows the missiles in the sky after President Trump announced coordinated strikes.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.
BLACKWELL: U.S. allies, Britain and France, were also part of the strikes on what are said to be chemical weapons facilities.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The combined American, British, and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power, military, economic, and diplomatic. BLACKWELL: U.S. officials said they hit three targets including a biological warfare research center near Damascus and two sites near homes. One a sarin gas production facility. The other a storage site and command post.
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We did everything we could in our intelligence assessment, in our planning to minimize to the maximum degree possible any chance of civilian casualties.
BLACKWELL: Cruise missiles were among the weapons used, and British tornado jets, U.S. B-1 bombers, and warships also part of the strike.
GENERAL JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: We did have some initial surface-to-air missile activity from the Syrian regime. That's the only retaliatory action that we're aware of at this time.
BLACKWELL: The strikes come less than a week after a suspected chemical weapons attack on Syria's rebel-held town of Douma. Graphic footage shot by rescuers and activists show victims including children dead and injured. CNN has not been able to verify the authenticity of the images independently.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children trashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man, they are crimes of a monster instead.
BLACKWELL: Russia, which supports the government of Bashar al-Assad and has troops in Syria, said of the strikes, "we warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London, and Paris." And President Trump had this direct message to Russia's President Putin --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace.
BLACKWELL: Let's go to Syria now, and CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. Nick, we're seeing first of some of the early video now of damages there just near Damascus. What are you learning about the damage and the propaganda at least response from Assad and the regime?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Much of which we're hearing now from the Syrian regime suggests that last night, while, of course, there was significant fireworks over the skies of Damascus, something people are far from used to seeing, that it really, this morning, was no real change from normal life.
Yes, videos showing damage to the research facility which we know was targeted around Damascus and there's also suggestions that damage was done to three civilians injured near homes where two of the other facilities targeted were as well. But much of the images being sent out show normal life again. Bashar al-Assad releasing an extraordinary video of him just strolling into the reception of it seems like his office across a clean marble floor looking like he didn't lose an hour of sleep last night.
That can't really be true but we're seeing perhaps Syria trying to suggest last night was a successful repulsion of U.S., U.K. and French military aggression in their words. Now the suggestion from the Russians and the Syrians, too, is that the Syrian air defense is, obviously, boosted by Russian technology.
You might say Russian air defenses took out 70 of 110 or so missiles launched towards Syria. If that was the case, it would be extraordinarily successful for any system. Terrific sales tactic by the kremlin. They did refer to surface to air missiles being used but not really, frankly, to that extent.
But, still, we're seeing a lesser level of anger from frankly Iran and Russia that many thought could be the case. This is something everybody wants to see pass them by -- Victor.
PAUL: All righty. Nick Paton Walsh, we appreciate the insight there. Thank you so much.
Now at the top of the hour, the Pentagon is holding a briefing on the U.S.-led military strikes in Syria. CNN's Barbara Starr has been working her sources at the Pentagon. We'll bring that to you live when it happens. But Barbara, what are you hearing about what we expect to hear from them in the next hour?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What we do expect to hear is more of that battlefield detail all through the night. They've been collecting the battle damage assessment intelligence in terms of each target looking through imagery and other sources to see what damage was inflicted.
Did they reach their target? Did they cause the damage on those targets that they intended to cause? It begins to quickly raise the question of what comes next. You heard the president there say that he is holding the door open to a sustained response, but it might not be military.
There might be other things that the U.S. would decide to do. Now Defense Secretary Mattis expanded on this point a little bit more last night at a late-night press conference here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: But right now, this is a one-time shot and I believe that it sent a very strong message to dissuade him to deter him from doing this again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: So, that's what they're going to be looking for. Indications that Assad has gotten the message. It may be a very open question as to whether he has. Now Secretary Mattis saying that essentially, they are done. We are being told done for now.
There are no immediate plans for additional strikes. They want to see what the reaction is. They want to see how the Russians react to all of this. Whether Assad continues to move any of his chemical capability around. And it would be no surprise that the U.S. military always holds up open the options for more action. Back to you, guys.
BLACKWELL: All right. Barbara Starr for us there at the Pentagon. Barbara, thanks so much.
Now let's bring in CNN chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. Christiane, I want to talk about something that Barbara mentioned there. What is next? Let's listen to a portion of what the president said last night.
All right. So, we don't have it. He said, "The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power, military, economic and diplomatic. We're prepares to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."
Now the U.S., the world has had all those levers up to this point. What still realistically is in their collective arsenals that would be more persuasive than anything up to this point?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Victor, this is really the key question. Does this, as General Mattis, the secretary of defense outlined, this is a one shot only. They continue to say this current wave is over, and the ball is back in Assad the court.
But the ball really is also in Iran and mostly Russia's court. Will these nations who back Assad and upon whom Assad depends 100 percent for his survival. Will these nations tell him enough is enough?
Russia is a signatory to all these international laws about chemical weapons. It is a violation of international law, the use of chemical weapons, biological weapons and all weapons of mass destruction.
So, what the west is trying to do is draw a line under the use of that. Stop allowing Bashar Assad as he's been doing for the last seven years to normalize the use of chemical weapons. And it's true he's been doing it and there's only been now two responses, both under the administration of President Trump who is trying to re-establish, along with his allies this red line so it isn't crossed again.
So, they're going to have to see if they can come up with a credible set of economic and political measures going forward. It's very difficult. But many who I have spoken to, former secretaries of state, former intelligence officials and all those who have been at this kind of table before say that you have to use all tools in the toolbox.
It cannot just be military and it, obviously, cannot just be diplomatic without the credible backing of military force. So, all of this has to be brought to bear. The question is, is there any appetite to do it?
And we'll see really what Russia's diplomatic response is going forward. As of yet, you know this is a proportionate response to what happened in Douma. Not an excessive response and President Putin has called it an act of aggression, but he didn't say it's an act of war against Russia.
[08:10:09] So, let's see what happens in the Security Council and whether any kind of political process can be salvaged from this rubble.
PAUL: And that's what I wanted to ask you about was this U.N. Security Council, this emergency meeting happening at 11:00 today. We know that Russia called for that tonight, or overnight, saying they wanted them to discuss this, quote, "aggressive action of the U.S. and its allies." What do you suspect the U.N. will or can do in this particular instance, Christiane?
AMANPOUR: Well, the U.N. itself as a body can't do anything. The U.N. is the sum of its constituent parts and most importantly, the five permanent members of the Security Council -- there are two camps. There's the pro-stopping Assad camp and the pro-backing Assad camp.
So, it is very, very difficult to get through this. That's what's happened over the last seven years of this war. The Russians have provided Assad with all the political cover, including obstructing any kind of, you know, politics and other sort of ultimatums to Assad.
And they have provided the political cover to Iran, which has provided the military shield for Assad, along with Hezbollah and other militias. Of course, Russia now subsequently is on the ground and in the air there as well.
So, to an extent, Iran and Russia control the playing field much more than the U.S. has up until now. There are U.S. forces there. They are in the north. They're not involved in a war against president Assad but a war against ISIS.
Now there's been this U.S.-led, along with Britain and France, air response proportionate. We wait to see whether Assad is going to have the chutzpah to do it again and we'll see whether that brings the response that General Mattis and President Trump and President Macron of France said it would, if Russia -- if Syria does this again.
But remember, Russia is also under a lot of pressure because of the whole evidence that it was a Russian military grade Novichok nerve agent that poisoned the Skripal father and daughter here in England. So right now, there's this kind of -- it feels like this line is being drawn to start pushing back against Russia.
BLACKWELL: All right. Christiane Amanpour with us from London. Christiane, thank you so much. We, of course, are getting reaction in from around the world. A statement from China. Their ministry of foreign affairs saying, "We oppose the use of force in international relations." Opposing the strikes that happened overnight. We'll, of course, as we get more in, we will bring that to you. PAUL: Including reaction from a U.S. lawmaker asking, did Congress need to authorize this action? We have details just ahead.
BLACKWELL: Plus, after searching cell phones and safety deposit boxes and office and hotel room, more details on the key evidence the FBI seized from President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen.
PAUL: A source tells CNN the FBI now has recordings of President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen apparently taped his conversations with a lawyer for two women who say they had affairs with the president. All of this is unfolding.
Meanwhile a source says Cohen got a call from the president yesterday. A White House spokesman says Cohen is still the president's personal attorney. Even though he's under criminal investigation.
According to a warrant, Cohen is being visit gated for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance issues. So far Cohen has admitted no wrong doing. He has not been charged, we should point out.
CNN White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins with us now. Kaitlan, what are you hearing this morning about the possibility that Cohen will continue on as the president's personal attorney?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, just yesterday, the White House is saying he is still representing the president, of course. But that brings all of this into question now that we've learned when those FBI agents did raid not only Michael Cohen's house, office and hotel room that they did obtain these audio recordings with Keith Davidson.
Now you might be wondering who is Keith Davidson. He's this attorney who previously represented Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Of course, Stormy Daniels is the porn star paid $130,000 to keep quiet about her affair with Donald Trump, as well as Karen McDougal, the former "Playboy" playmate who also says that she had an affair with the president.
Now, of course, the question here is, why was Michael Cohen recording these conversations with another attorney? We're told that's a standard practice of his. Something he did not just with Keith Davidson but also other people as well. One thing I should note is that Keith Davidson no longer represents either of these women.
But we do know that that search warrant those FBI agents used when they did go into Michael Cohen's house, hotel and office was they were looking for information relating to that payment to Stormy Daniels, something Michael Cohen has admitted he did make that payment to her, but he says the president was unaware of it.
And also, what efforts they used to keep Karen McDougal, the other woman, silent about her alleged affair with the president. The way the White House ties into all of this is the White House is saying that Michael Cohen does represent the president and, of course, as my colleague, Gloria Borger, reported yesterday, Michael Cohen and the president spoke just yesterday because the president called him to check in.
Now we're waiting to see what's on these audio recordings, what investigators are going to learn from all of this and what Michael Cohen's role was with these two women.
PAUL: All right. Kaitlan Collins, grateful to see you this morning. Thank you.
BLACKWELL: Dozens of missiles strike three targets in Syria as the U.S. and its allies hit the country to try to take out its chemical weapons store. Details on the military strategy ahead.
PAUL: Also, British Prime Minister Theresa May says the strike on Syria is not aimed at regime change. We'll talk about that with Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. Stay close.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad.
[08:25:08] To Iran and to Russia, the nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Cohen had tapes. We don't yet know what is on them, but this is only getting worse for the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Michael Cohen flips, he knows all the secrets, he knows all the dirt, this may open up a wide universe of illegal conduct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKWELL: Welcome back. We've got more on our breaking news coverage this morning.
PAUL: The president is tweeting right now talking about Syria. Want to read what he's saying, "A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine military. Could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished."
Of course, he is talking about the U.S., U.K. and France just pounding Syria with missiles overnight, targeting three sites associated with the research and storage of chemical weapons. BLACKWELL: Of course, we'll talk about those last two words, mission accomplished in that tweet in just a moment. The U.N. Security Council meets in just a few hours and a NATO meeting is scheduled for this afternoon.
Two defense officials tell CNN at least three U.S. ships participated in the air strikes, although the U.S. and its allies would not say how many missiles they used. The president had this message for Syria's allies. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT TRUMP: To Iran and to Russia, I ask, what kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children? The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: Now Russia called the attack, quote, "an act of aggression against a sovereign state" and warned that such action will not be left without consequences. Major General James "Spider" Marks explains where these strikes originated and the movements of allied troops in that area.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Most of the strikes probably came from this location here where both the French and the U.S. are located because of the proximity to targets within Syria and the closure time on those targets. The U.S. has presence in Turkey. The Brits are in Cyprus. The U.S. always maintains presence in the Mediterranean.
We also know now that the U.S. is transiting up through the Red Sea. It doesn't have to go through the Suez and join the forces here in the Med. That could get crowded but could stay in the red sea to go north or south and get back into the Indian Ocean.
And we also have forces that are down here. This is where the strikes came from. I think what's important to realize here as well is that Russian forces in Syria are co-located in many locations where Syrian forces are.
What we see here, this indicates that Russian forces are here. It's also a location of where Syrian forces are. So, you have strike packages that might be going into locations like this or in Damascus where you have proximity. You need to have standoff. We do not want to go to war with Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: Thank you to Spider Marks for that. CNN military analyst, Colonel Cedric Leighton with us now. Colonel, thank you for being here. I want to get back to what the president just tweeted saying "It could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished." Do you agree? Was the mission accomplished last night?
COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Christi, good morning. We don't really know right now whether the mission was accomplished or not. I think the president's tweet is an early indication that what we call the battle damage assessment, or BDA, has been quite good and quite positive for the U.S. and its allies.
But what we'll really have to see is not only what targets were struck but what the after effects are. Will the Syrians actually do what we want them to do and that's not use chemical weapons. It's too early to say whether that part of the mission has been accomplished.
PAUL: What we're seeing on the right-hand part of the screen is some of the damage, the newest video that's been coming in from Syria, so we can see exactly what was done. At least in this part of Damascus is what we're looking at here.
But here's a question for you, Colonel. If you target, as we know we're targeted here, research and development facilities and stockpiles or facilities where they believe stockpiles of chemical weapons were stored, do you not risk dispersing that chemical weapon into the air and causing more damage? How do you balance -- how do you balance that?
LEIGHTON: That's very difficult, Christie. It's a great question. What you have to do is kind of figure out where these chemical weapons are and also in what state they are being stored in. So, some chemicals when they don't have a fuse associated with them when they are not weaponized, they can actually be destroyed or disposed of quite safely. So depending on the exact type of chemical and we're probably talking about sarin in this particular case, it is possible to get rid of stockpiles without having them actually pose a danger to the surrounding area.
But it is risky, and it is certainly possible that the types of precursors that are used can actually serve to actually create a big problem for the neighboring community. So that becomes this real serious issue and one of the things you look at is wind direction, wind speed, things of that nature at the time of the strike so that potentially you mitigate those kinds of effects.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We know that they -- that the allies, U.S. and its allies here, were working very closely to make sure that there was no Russia presence in any of the targeted zones. President Trump just tweeting now again saying, "So proud of our great military which will soon be, after the spending of billions of fully approved dollars, the finest that our country has ever had. There won't be anything or anyone even close."
With Russia now saying that this was an aggressive action, what do you expect in terms of a response from them? And what the president is saying there, that our military, obviously, fully equipped to handle whatever come what may. Do you have confidence in that and in any plan moving forward of dealing with Syria?
LEIGHTON: Well, I think the U.S. Military, of course, is an excellent military force, and it is certainly better prepared than it has been in some time. However, there are still some significant gaps because of budget shortfalls in the past, in the recent past.
As far as the response from Russia is concerned, Putin can decide to do one of two things. He can either decide to allow the kind of action that we've taken and respond to it in a way that we deem positive, or he can double down. And I'm afraid he's going to try to double down at least initially. So what we have to do is we have to make sure that our military not only has the right kind of budgetary process associated with it, the right kind of money but that it can also respond and, quite frankly, the response that we need to have is one that needs to be now.
It needs to be capable at a moment's notice. The budgetary issues that the president talks about are budgetary issues that will take a long time to resolve. So you're talking about readiness issues, training issues, things like that. But we are in a far better posture than we were, say, you know, a few years ago. And that, that does make a difference. And I think potential adversaries should take note of that.
PAUL: All right. Colonel Leighton, thank you so much for sharing your expertise as always.
LEIGHTON: You bet, Christi. Absolutely.
PAUL: Thank you.
So up next, we are talking live with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria. We're going to get his thoughts. Stay close.
[08:37:47] BLACKWELL: Let's bring in Ambassador Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria.
Mr. Ambassador, good morning to you.
RYAN CROCKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ, PAKISTAN AND SYRIA: Good morning.
BLACKWELL: I want to start with the president just tweeted out just about 15 minutes ago. This was his tweet about the air strikes yesterday. And I want to focus on just the last two words here where the president tweets out, "Mission accomplished." Of course, for a lot of people that's reminiscent of when former president George W. Bush stood in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier during the Iraq war saying -- under that banner that read "mission accomplished" and of course some of the deadliest years of the Iraq war followed that affirmation, that assertion.
From your perspective, was mission accomplished considering that something like this happened just a year ago where there was a chemical attack and then a limited military response and here we are one year later? Was the mission accomplished? CROCKER: Well, clearly, he could have had a better choice of words.
It depends on how you define the mission. If the mission was to put missiles on a select group of targets, I guess we did that. If we're talking about where the whole Syrian conflict is going, not only is it not mission accomplished, we haven't even begun a mission. We have no strategy in Syria.
BLACKWELL: So let's talk about the mission in two separate conversations. First, limited to the chemical weapons. Based on what we know about the strikes the U.S., French and British executed last night, do you see that what happened last night, at least significantly makes it less likely that the world won't be in this place with the same chronology next April with a chemical attack, a limited military strike, as we are this April, as the U.S. and the world was last April?
CROCKER: I have no idea what damage we did to his chemical weapon facilities and production units. Even if we did knock them out, those are not, as I understand it, very hard to replicate. So it really comes down, I think, to a question of what are the Russians and the Iranians prepared to do? If they are going to encourage or even tolerate the rebuilding of chemical stores, then, yes, that's exactly where we're going to be and we may not need to wait until next April to get there.
[08:40:08] BLACKWELL: So, I mean, and tell me if I'm putting this in the wrong phrase here, in the wrong framing. As long as Russia and Iran are fully committed to Assad and Syria, and the U.S. and the rest of the world are fully committed to staying out of a hot war there or directly confronting Assad or Putin, nothing is going to change?
CROCKER: Again, they have got the forces on the ground. They are prepared to use them in support of their ally. We cannot seem to get to the point of even developing a strategy for Syria. So I don't see Russia and Iran changing any time soon. I wish I could say I saw something in this strike last night that would indicate that we are getting serious about dealing with the issue.
Look, it's not a military problem. It's a political problem. And by the way, I don't think it was lost on anybody in the region that we paired up with the British and the French just about at the 100th year anniversary of Britain and France dividing up the Middle East between them. So here come the old colonialists, here come the new colonialists. We'll (INAUDIBLE) from that, too.
BLACKWELL: Let's talk about that political solution which, as the years go on, seems less likely. The president last night said that the U.S. is prepared to sustain the response to using both military and economic, also diplomatic levers of power to stop at least the prohibited chemical agents use. The use of that word sustained. Are you convinced that the U.S., that the global community will sustain those three levers of power? And what could be persuasive? What could get Assad or convince Assad to stop using these chemical weapons?
CROCKER: Again, it will depend probably more on Assad's allies than it does on Assad himself. We've actually created a problem for ourselves. When we launch strikes against chemical weapon capabilities and only chemical weapon capabilities, we are in effect saying, hey, you know what? Mr. Assad, you can kill your people from sunrise to sunset, you know. We don't care. Have at it. Go whack them, just as they did, of course, in Aleppo. Tremendous loss of civilian life and indeed in the whole East Ghouta region.
So effectively that's what we're saying. Kill them any way you want, just don't use chemical weapons to do it. If --
BLACKWELL: And we know -- continue your thought. I'm sorry.
CROCKER: Yes. And again, if that's what this is shaping into, a sustained U.S./British/French effort solely against chemical weapons, it might have been better that we didn't even start.
BLACKWELL: All right. Ambassador Crocker, thank you so much for being with us.
CROCKER: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: Quick break. We'll be back.
[08:47:31] PAUL: Forty-seven minutes past the hour. And there are civilians caught in the middle of the Syrian air strike. We've been talking about this morning. Some of the civilians have nowhere to go.
BLACKWELL: Now the U.S. at one point accepted tens of thousands of them but so far this year, 11.
Arwa Damon joins us from a refugee camp in northern Syria.
Arwa, give us just an idea of how these attacks affect the people there.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me first start off by describing the attacks that actually caused people to flee to these refugee camps. Everyone is living here in these tents right now is from the Ghouta-Douma area, and that is where of course the alleged chemical strike took place.
We've been spending the better part of the day with this family. This is Umm Nour, the two girls, the twins, and they have brought some of their stuff with them. The kids' bags still have a very acrid smell with them and what Umm Nour is going to show us here right now is what her daughter did when they were leaving. And as they were leaving, this is how traumatized children are. As they were leaving, she took her dolls and hid them inside this box and then told the doll, speaking to the doll, said, you're going to suffocate in here maybe but at least you might be safe from the bombings.
We were talking to Umm Nour about those air strikes that took place, those U.S., UK and French air strikes that took place. And she was telling us that she does not want to see more civilian casualties. She does not want there to necessarily be a violent military end to all of this but there has to be some sort of a political solution. This has to end.
They were all underground when the regime, the alleged regime chemical attack took place. And she was telling us about how -- they were trying to come up when the bombing happened and she could barely breathe. She was trying to get up the stairs. She could feel -- she felt her entire nerves basically released and they were trying to hold cold, wet pieces of cloth. They tried to go up to the upper levels and then when they reached the upper levels trying to escape this chemical strike, there was an air strike that happened.
So they were forced back underground. And this is just a smidgeon of what it is that these families have all been going through.
[08:50:04] And that is exactly why they don't want to just see limited air strikes. She wants to see a political solution. But at the end of the day, it's not just chemical attacks that are killing and destroying people's lives here. It's all of the other bombings that are taking place.
PAUL: Arwa, I know you're talking to that family specifically there. Where do these people want to go?
DAMON: Well, in an ideal world, you know, they would go back home. They would go back to the lives that they had before. But where can they actually realistically go? This is going to end up being their life for who knows exactly how long. No one can answer that and what so many of these parents are so worried about is where are the children going to go to school?
These two twins, they're 7 years old. All they've known is war. They haven't had a chance to have a proper education. In fact when they first came to this camp, their mother was telling us that they began -- for the ants here, they began actually digging a little trench for the ants. That's how they were playing a game so the ants could stay safe from potential bombing. And that is going to be the next big crisis that this region, this country is going to have to deal with.
There are so many people living in these refugee camps throughout this entire province throughout Idlib Province that don't have the option of going back home because their homes have been completely destroyed. Talk to anybody here, and they will tell you that when you refer back to Ghouta, to Douma, what happened to them there is beyond words. The nightmare that they've lived. The fact that there are no buildings standing. The fact that you can't even recognize streets that you used to have anymore.
We were talking to an elderly lady who was here. And she lost her son and three of her grandchildren. And she was telling us that the only thing she wishes she could have back is those moments when the entire family was all alive and still together, and they were having their Friday lunches. And it is heartbreaking to be talking to these people, and when you ask them what their thoughts are about the reaction from the outside world, they feel as if they have repeatedly been betrayed. They feel as if these strikes are limited and that they're not really
about trying to save them or trying to end the suffering of the Syrian population. That they are more just another move in this broader, global, sickening game of chess that's going on, and they truly feel as if there's no one standing by them and no one who really wants to protect them.
BLACKWELL: And Arwa, quickly, the numbers we discussed at the top of this segment that previously thousands of Syrian refugees were allowed to come here to the U.S. and in the first quarter thus far this year, just 11 Syrian refugees let into this country. That's got to be heartbreaking for a lot of people who are hoping that this would be their refuge.
DAMON: Yes, it would be if they were aware of those numbers, although, frankly, I don't think many of them would actually be surprised by it. There has long, long been a sense amongst the Syrian refugee population, whether it's those who are internally displaced within their own country or those who are in neighboring countries trying to begin to build their lives that the rest of the world doesn't care about them.
That doors are being shut repeatedly in their face whether it's Europe or the United States. They have long felt as if America actually isn't going to come to save them. And there is this complete and total sense of despair because fundamentally, many of them actually do want to believe that if America truly wanted to, it could save them. It could have ended all of this years ago. But there is that ongoing sense that everything is being shut in their faces. That they have no other option. That they truly are being left to try to fend for themselves and some of the most inconceivable, inhumane circumstances.
And that is incredibly difficult for anyone to go through, never mind for people who have already been through so much to have to begin to try to comprehend and understand.
PAUL: And Arwa, we saw a boy, I think, there go by. Was he holding -- what was he holding? Could you tell? Was there a toy gun?
DAMON: Yes, I think he had -- no, no, I think it was toy guns, but -- he's right here. His name is Hamed. I'm asking him why he's playing with guns. Hasn't he had enough of war?
[08:55:09] He's playing with his friends. Yes, he's playing war with guns, and I think, you know, that's -- it's not a game for these children. For them, war is very, very, very real but at the same time, and this goes back to maybe your other question about where can they go. You know, Umm Nour is saying right now, people have forgotten this concept of children's rights. And when a child doesn't have an alternative reality, an alternative narrative, when they don't have an opportunity to go to school, to go to learn, when all they know is this violent way of life then what sort of chance do they have at a future?
What sort of chance do they actually have to integrate into society and to begin to believe that the world can actually be a better place than the one that they know?
BLACKWELL: Arwa, we see just as much as your photographer can show us here with this camera angle, but how large, how expansive is this camp?
DAMON: Sorry, could you repeat that question please?
BLACKWELL: How large is this camp?
DAMON: There are probably a few thousand families here, and this is just one of the camps that has been set up to try to receive those who were forcibly evacuated from Ghouta and Douma. There is a second camp that is significantly larger than this one. And if we were to somehow be able to drive through this entire countryside that we're in in Aleppo and in Idlib, you actually just see camp after camp after camp. It's endless. And that again goes back to this whole issue of what happens to these families? What happens to these children?
The nightmare scenario is that these camps somehow become much more permanent. That this then becomes their reality. That then they are not able to go back home. They're not able to actually have a viable and real future in their own country. When you ask some of them why they stayed in these areas under siege for so long, some will tell you that it's because when you've lost so much in your life, when you've lost so many people that you love, you somehow just want to cling to whatever it is that is remotely familiar and that's why some of them don't leave. Others don't leave because they don't have the means or they have elderly living with them and, yes, a fair number of those families who are here are the families of people that were fighting against the regime.
Every single person that we've been talking to today has lost someone who they love. We have spoken to people who were impacted by the 2013 chemical bombing who then were wounded in other bombings that happened afterwards, who then were affected by this most recent chemical bombing, and who then were wounded again afterwards before they were able to be evacuated.
And I think the other most striking thing, though, is -- and just to leave you with this thought, is that despite everything that these people have gone through, every family we spoke to that invited us to have tea because that is what this culture here is all about and that is the humanity that they are holding on to.
PAUL: Strong people and resilient people and yet so sad to see particularly.
Arwa, thank you so much for bringing us the images and the vision there of how these people are living, how these children and what they're living with.
BLACKWELL: Yes. We often talk about the deaths, the hundreds of thousands at some point many organizations stopped counting. But we also need to remember the survivors there across Syria.
Arwa, again, thank you. We're just moments away from an update from the Pentagon. That will
come at the top of the hour. We will bring that to you live, of course.
PAUL: Also, the U.N. Security Council holding an emergency meeting at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. And a NATO meeting scheduled for this afternoon.
"SMERCONISH" is with you now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
We have breaking news this morning. We're standing by for a Pentagon briefing on the air strikes on Syria. The United States, UK and France assessing the success of the coordinated raid targeting sites associated with the Syrian regime's chemical weapons program.
The U.S. and its allies blame Syria for an apparent chemical attack on Douma just over a week ago. President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May said such action could not go unchallenged. The president tweeting this morning, quote, "A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine military. Could not have had a better result. Mission accomplished."
As we wait for the briefing, let's bring in CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh for the latest.
Nick, any casualties in the attacks?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At this point, the U.S. are clear they had no losses themselves and the Syrian regime have said that three people were injured as part of falling debris from an intercepted missile.