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New Audio Released from Egyptair Cockpit; U.S. Official: Taliban Leader Likely Killed in Drone Strike. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired May 21, 2016 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the "CNN NEWSROOM," I'm Jim Sciutto, coming to you live today from Washington, and coming up this hour, what one aviation expert calls the scandal at the heart of the Egyptair crash.
Search teams looking for the wreckage crippled by technology that dates back to the 1960s. More on that question later, but, first, a major development in the search for Egyptair Flight 804.
We now have the first images of debris from that missing jet. Mangled seats. You can see them there. Suitcases, shoes, even an unwrapped life vest. CNN can now also play for you the first audio transmissions from inside the cockpit, the pilot speaking to air traffic control in Switzerland. This is not long before the plane went down. Let's have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Hello, hello Egyptair 804 flight level 370, squawk number 7624 --
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Egypt Air 804 Radar Contact.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Thank you so much. Good night.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Egypt air 804 contract Padova 1-2-0 decimal 7-2-5, good night.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: Padova Control Egypt Air 804, thank you so much, good day. Good night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Sounds of what started, of course, such a routine flight. The focus now shifting to the plane's ECARS system, this is an electronic communication system that sends signals to the ground about how the aircraft is functioning.
Well, just minutes after entering Egyptian airspace at a cruising altitude of some 37,000 feet, flight 804 started firing off several warning signals in quick succession indicating that something was very long.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFED MALE: The smoke detector went off. Also at the same time, the forward lavatory smoke detector went off, and then here is the key, the flight director system, the FMS, went completely dead, and the aircraft seized transmitting signals on the transponder.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Well, Egyptian officials are now focusing on terror as the likely cause of the crash, but as of yet, no terror group claimed responsibility. That is unusual.
I do want to begin with that first audio release from the Egyptair flight who at the time, a cheerful pilot relaying simple, routine information to air traffic control. Let's talk about this with our panel, we have seen an aviation safety analyst and former FAA safety inspector, David Soucie, former CIA operative, Bob Baer, also a CNN intelligence and security analyst and Boeing 777 commercial airline pilot, Les Abend. He's a contributing editor of "Flying" magazine.
Les, if I could begin with you. This is really the first hard information beyond those small pieces of wreckage of what was happening in that plane as it began to disappear as it began to crash to the earth and then disappear from radar. You hear those signals there. You have smoke detected in the lavatory, at the front of the plane. You have smoke detected in the avionics bay just below the cockpit. A signal that a window was open in the cockpit. When you see signals delivered of the period of several minutes, three minutes, how do you interpret that?
LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, Jim, the way I interpret it is the standpoint that this airplane was shutting itself down. How it was shutting itself down or what caused it to shut down is hard to say at this point. But going back to that sliding window being open, I have a little difficulty with that because with the differential pressure between the inside air and outside air, open any exit albeit a sliding window.
You might be able to unlatch the latch, but that gives me a little pause for consideration there. But beyond that, I'm just looking at a simple basis, could that window have started its own fire because of the internal guts of it, (INAUDIBLE) just a grid of electrical wires running through there to keep the window heated, very possible.
Dave Soucie can address that. We sort of disagree a little bit on that, but I think it's very simple from the standpoint that electronics bay basically something happened, an incendiary device or something in the electronics bay created a fire situation causing smoke and shut off all the flight control systems that are electronic to this airplane.
SCIUTTO: David, you got a lot of experience in this space, too. Tell me your interpretation.
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, first of all, Jim, it's important to clarify that the warning that came from the ACAR system did not indicate that the window had been open, what it showed was that window had failed. That could be a number of different things, not necessarily it was open. In fact, right after that was another indication that the solid or the stationary window had failed as well.
It doesn't necessarily mean it was open, but the order in which these things happened is a little askew because of the fact that when the ACAR sends out a report, it's a batch report. So when you look at the actual report itself, the minutes go from 26 to 27 to 28, but then they go back to 26 because it's a batch, so it's the order in which this actually happened was that the window sent a signal failure first, the sliding window, and anti-ice system failed subsequent to that, the window failed, and then the back window, and then the smoke in the lab, and then the smoke in the lower areas. So the order in which these occur mean a great deal to me as to what started and what finished this event.
SCIUTTO: Bob, Egyptian authorities were very quick, unusually quick in this case, to point to terrorism as the likely cause for the loss of this plane, really within hours of when it went down. That's unusual.
We've seen a little bit more circumspection from the French and others saying we have not ruled out any potential cause here. You look at this ACARs data coming from the plane, does that move you closer to or further away from terrorism as the cause?
ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, just by my formation, I'd say it looks more like terrorism to me, but I'm not exactly objective on this. But I do look at is that Egyptians had three security people on the plane. They were searching cleaning crew, according to unconfirmed reports, you have both problems at Charles de Gaulle and Cairo airport.
So you start to mount these things up and the quickness of the fire and just also the possibility of putting a small explosive in the cockpit, I - I'm not capable of know of interpreting ACAR data, but these are two countries that are under attack, France and Egypt, and also, this plane, a couple years ago, marked with graffiti, according to unconfirmed reports, promising to bring it down.
There's no significance Egyptians put into that, but, clearly, the Egyptians probably have information that we don't, and when they said terrorism so early on, that's unusual for the Egyptians, so I put a lot of weight in the statement.
SCIUTTO: Bob, you're saying you've seen information that this plane had grafitti on it, specific plane, had graffiti on it, just how long ago that it's going to be brought down?
BAER: It was a while ago. It had to do with the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptians according to this press reports, it sort of dismissed it as, you know, people just descending the regime. They didn't think it was a specific threat. It probably wasn't. But you just add up all the suspicion of terrorism, and it's an angle that we really have to look into, and, again, going back to the Egyptians, the fact that they said so early suggests to me they had some sort of indication they're being attacked on one of their airplanes. That's speculation. Again, we got to have that black box.
SCIUTTO: No question. These are questions we're going to be exploring over the next hours and days. David Soucie, Bob Baer, Les Abend, I know we're going to be relying on you to help with that. Thanks very much.
The crash of Egyptair flight 804 and the prevailing theory that a bomb might have brought it down raising new questions about airport security, not just in Paris, but across the world.
Renee Marsh is CNN's aviation correspondent. She has been digging into the security at the Paris airport, Charles de Gaulle, where the plane departed from.
RENEE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The potential that a bomb brought down Egyptair flight 804 has led investigators to question whether a device may have been planted on the plane while parked at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: If it happened at Charles de Gaulle where they have had some very terrible, recent terrorist attacks, and they were on heightened alert, it certainly can happen any where.
MMARSH: The airport was already on high alert with armed soldiers on patrol following three terror attacks in Paris over the last year and a half. But now the airport says it will ramp up efforts even more, including adding 30 intelligence officers.
PIERRE HENRI BRANDET, SPOKESMAN, FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTRY (through translator): This was the not on the assumption there was a failure, it's a way to continue to make sure our citizens are safe.
MARSH: 86,000 people who work at Charles de Gaulle Airport have what's called "red badges," giving them access to secure areas, that includes mechanics, cleaning crews, food service workers, and baggage handlers. Since January of last year, 85 workers had their security clearance revoked for allegedly having ties to extremists and 600 have been denied secure access for having criminal records.
French officials assure all airport workers with security clearances are under continued review.
UNIDENTIFED MALE: If looking back, we identify that somebody did bring a bomb on to this airplane, but that there's no threat, no risk looking at this person's background, you would never expect the person to do that, then you get to the point as to what could you have done?
MARSH: Before flight 804 arrived in Paris, it made multiple stops in countries known to have weaker airport security including Eratria in Tunisia. But a sweep of the plane was done before departing Paris.
Concerns over airport security came under sharp focus after a series of recent incidents. Terrorists detonated two bombs in Brussels airport in March. A bomb was also smuggled on board a Russian passenger plane at Egypt's (INAUDIBLE) Airport last October. And a bomb built into a laptop got through x-ray machines at Mogadishu airport in Somalia earlier this year.
SCIUTTO: Renee Marsh, thanks very much.
And coming up weather now a concern in the search for the wreckage of the Egyptair jet. From choppy seas to a potential storm on the way. We're going to take a look at what investigators are up against, both above and below the sea's surface.
Plus, antiquated technology adds to the problems that crews will have in locating the plane, but is there a solution? I'll talk to one expert about what he calls "deplorable failure."
SCIUTTO: Crews are now scouring the eastern Mediterranean in search for Egyptair flight 804. So far, only small amounts of debris have been found, but now the majority will likely now be at the bottom of the sea.
CNN's meteorologist Allison Chinchar has more on the task at hand and how weather conditions are going to impact that operation.
ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Jim, weather conditions are already beginning to deteriorate across much of the area where the crash site is believed to be, but that's not only going to impact the above portion of the search, but also underwater.
So let's take a closer look at what we have to deal with here. Now, underneath me, you can see this is where the crash site is believed to be, where they have already begun to pick up some of the debris. Now, as of now, we are starting to see the beginning waves of the next system begin to make their way in, bringing showers and some thunderstorms.
That first begins to hinder the above area search. The ones that would be done from the helicopters. It makes their visibility very poor when trying to look down, and, again, help the search and rescue effort, but it's not just above. We also have to be concerned about the search that's taking place underwater. That's where the winds come in. Notice all of the winds beginning to pick back up over the next couple of days.
Think of it like this, the white caps that you typically see on top of the ocean or the sea, those will become more frequent as the winds begin to pick back up and the sea becomes quite choppy. In turn, that makes visibility underwater very poor, which hinders them trying to find the stuff that would be located under the surface of the sea.
So for a lot of the boats that are out there going searching, the average depth that they are looking at for the search area is between 8,000 and 11,000 feet. Now, one perk is that the pinger that's located can still work at depths up to 20,000 feet, but the weather conditions are not going to make it very easy.
In addition to the clouds, the showers, the thunderstorms, and the winds, it's not just a short term impact. Jim, we are expecting not just one day, but multiple days of bad weather to, unfortunately, hinder the search and rescue efforts.
SCIUTTO: Allison Chincar, incredible challenges there.
To talk more about the search and why finding important clues like the flight data and cockpit voice recorders is proving so difficult, I'm joined now by Clive Irving. He's the author of "Jumbo, the Making of the 747," and he's also a contributor for the "Daily Beast."
Clive, I want to quote a new article that you wrote for the "Daily Beast" about this. You said, "if you can watch Netflix on an international flight, why won't jets stream precious data so it doesn't sink to the bottom of the sea in the event of a crash. Once again, we are witnessing the deplorable failure to equip modern jets with equally modern emergency technology."
You know, it's interesting. We talked a lot about this with Mh370 two years ago now. Why so little and such antiquated data comes from these planes, I mean, you raised a question I did not think about. You know, you can conceivably stream all the data that's sitting on that flight data recorder just in a second, I imagine, or a minute, from the plane rather than just recording it on an old piece of tape. Is it a cost issue? Is that why it doesn't happen?
CLIVE IRVING, CONTRIBUTOR "DAILY BEAST": I felt very angry when I wrote the piece. Because if I had any hair, my hair would have been on fire. I witnessed this now for, since the crash of Air France 447 in the south Atlantic in 2009, and we do have the technology to do this, and when you think about it basically, go wind yourself back to what we're actually involved in doing now, we're assuming that the essential information for this crash lies at the bottom of the ocean, the flight data recorder.
What a crazy idea it is to actually leave a situation, where you have to go diving down maybe for months, sometimes for years, to find information when the same information that is stored in that flight data recorder, the same parameters, the same essential picture of the health of the plane and what was going wrong with it could be streamed live so you would actually have the same information instantly available that's already in the flight recorder, and you wouldn't be involved in this very torturous and very painful kind of session. That's one issue that I raise. SCIUTTO: So why not now? Planes - so much attention is certainly paid
to technological advances for the reasons of safety, but also even for comfort. I think in half the planes I get on now or more, they got wifi, as you say, you can - you got loads of movies and entertainment, et cetera, why not invest with something that strikes me as fairly simple of streaming the flight data?
IRVING: It costs millions of dollars to refit the cabins of these planes because they are doing frequently to upgrade the entertainment system and introduce beds and more sumptuous fittings, stuff like that, but the number varies according to what I have heard above, what it costs to fit these streaming devices, and there should be a priority to first of all to those planes which fly long distances over oceans because that's where the greatest need occurs.
I've heard numbers like $50,000 to $100,000 per plane. When you think of the utility of that, saving millions and millions of do1lars that have now - it's cost $180 million so far to look for flight 370, the Malaysian plane and they still have not found it after more than two years. Then there's the question of these strange pinging device on the flight data recorder.
The flight data recorder is a 1960s idea but it's being considerably upgraded since then, there are very sophisticated flight data recorders now but the pinger, itself, the goes down with flight data recorder on which we depend to locate not just the recorder itself, but it's actually acting as the way we locate the main part of a wreck, which in a case like the Egyptian crash, becomes essential to find to exactly explain what happened.
That pinger runs out after 30 days. The battery only runs for 30 days, and you have to be under a mile range to even pick it up, and the sea conditions, you saw what the sea conditions are like in the Mediterranean, can greatly distort the signals so it can give you a complete misreading of where the thing is.
In the case of Airfrance 447, it took two years to find the wreck, and now we're going to embark to a familiar case of the deadline, the ticking clock syndrome where people are saying we got 28 days, 27 days, 26 days to find it. It's really absurd.
SCIUTTO: It is. Listen, the reason you need that data is to discover what brought the planes down so you can prevent it from happening again. So this urgency.
IRVING: Yes. You've got to know what happened and whether it can happen again. That's the essential thing.
SCIUTTO: No question. Let me ask you this, we do have this ACARs data that came out from the plane, very simple, old school, frankly, when you read the messages about a sliding window sensor, a fixed window sensor, a smoke in the lavatory, smoke in the avionics bay. You know a lot about planes when you look at this, what does that tell you? IRVING: Well, I'd hate to read too much into it, but I think the
significant thing here is that there was no may day call from the pilots. I think we should remember that. I think the indications of an explosion, some kind of instant detonation of the flight control of the plane, means that the pilots had no chance to send a may day call. Because under normal smoke and fire conditions, the first thing the pilots do is to put on their smoke masks, and they have within those masks a microphone so they can send a may day message, and the positioning of this, where this fire or explosion, whatever it was originated is very significant.
It's behind a very thin bulk head either in the left hand toilet behind where the pilot sits or in the gally alongside, and a carefully designed bomb wouldn't have to be very powerful to penetrate that bulk head. Also, it's right above where the main avionics systems are, so the one thing I think I feel sure about on the scant of information from ACARS is that it happened very, very quickly, and so quickly that the pilots were unable to send any distress - in fact, the pilots may have been killed or in some way disabled almost instantly themselves. So what happens happened after they were already out of action.
SCIUTTO: Clive Irving, thanks very much for joining us today.
The crash of Egyptair has some questioning airport security here in the United States. Coming up, we're going to take a look at changes already being made to U.S. airports. We're also going to get a live report from La Guardia Airport in New York. That's right after this.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: We have this breaking news. Just in to CNN. A U.S. air strike targeted the leader of the Taliban, (INAUDIBLE) in a remote area near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pentagon says that Mansour was actively involved in planning attacks against facilities in Kabul and across Afghanistan, presenting a threat to Afghan civilians and security forces, our personnel, the statement says and coalition partners.
I want to bring in now Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, long time intelligence officer in the U.S. military. Mansour, a leader of the Taliba he, of course, the successor to (INAUDIBLE) Omar that our viewers have been particularly familiar with. He was the leader of the Taliban during the time of 9/11. The Pentagon in their statement blaming Mulah Omar rather since his assumption of the leadership, blaming (INAUDIBLE) for the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians as well as many coalition personnel. From what you know, Bob, rather, Rick, tell me how important he was to the Taliban as a whole.
LT. COL., RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, he was the new leadership and, actually, the Taliban was on a resurgence under him. We saw a large increase and a number of operations (INAUDIBLE) operations and the resilience of this organization to come back.
After they had suffered heavily at the hands of the U.S. military, they have really been resurging, especially down in that area along the Pakistani border. This will be a big blow, but, you know, we've had this conversation before, Jim, that every time we lose one of these leaders, another leader steps up to take his place. But that leader generally is not as capable as the one who just left. Mulah Mansour was different because he actually was more capable than Mulah Omar.
SCIUTTO: This statistic really is striking to me and I imagine to our viewers as well. Tens of thousands of deaths of Afghan civilians in a series of attacks over months and years including many of the attacks we've seen in Kabul, horrible attacks on soft targets in Kabul. When you compare that to what ISIS has been blamed for, really, a fraction of that, at least in that part of the country, that part of the world, Afghanistan, Pakistan, but tens of thousands, place the Taliban, which I think many people forget about, relate its significance to the significan of a group of ISIS today. Is the Taliban still a more significant threat and problem?
FRANCONA: Well, the Taliban remains a large threat to Afghanistan, but we don't see them going into large exterritorial things. Of course, they have a relationship with ISIS, so if you're going to talk ISIS, the larger organization, Taliban, could be considered part of that but if you just look at the Taliban and its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they're a threat to that region and those countries, whereas ISIS looks to be a much more international threat.
We see ISIS expanding from their power bases in Iraq and Syria into Libya, into Yemen, into Africa, a much more fluid and much more expanding operations, so two different real threats. They are both threats, they're both dangerous, but I would put the Taliban as a regional threat. I would put ISIS as a more regional and international threat.
SCIUTTO: Rick Francona, stay there. I also want to bring in CNN intelligence and security analyst, Bob Baer, long time CIA operative in the Middle East.
[16:30:03] When you look at this, Bob, what strikes me is over the course of the last several months, there's been several successful U.S. drone strikes, not just in Afghan and Pakistan, but Iraq and Syria against ISIS targets, in Yemen against al Qaeda targets and Somalia as well, some real successes from an intelligence standpoint. What's that tell you? Is U.S. intelligence getting better on the ground in these countries?
BAER: Well, we've been at this for years. We're good at intercepting phone calls, analyzing metadata, and if they go up in the air with a telephone, it's -- you'll get it eventually. The problem is with all these organizations, the Islamic State or the Taliban is they are able to regenerate their leadership. And there are some leaders, for instance, in the Taliban, that are more dangerous than Mullah Mansour and that would be the Haqqani Network. These people, I hate to admit this, were trained by the CIA in the
'80s, and they don't get on the phone and they don't spike, and they've carrying out a lot of the suicide bombings in Afghanistan, and they remain a very big threat. The problem is, you really can't hit them with drones because most of the leadership is in Pakistan, in Peshawar specifically, and there's too much collateral damage to go after the Haqqanis.
SCIUTTO: And we have, and we've seen brutal attacks on children, et cetera, even getting worse than they were in the past. For the sake of our viewers, and you made this point, Rick. The Taliban is essentially a regional threat. Its goals there in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but, of course, as our viewers remember, it provided sanctuary to al Qaeda before 9/11. It has relationships with ISIS, and how key is that, the Taliban in terms of perhaps a protector or home based for groups that have aspirations to attack Americans abroad as well?
LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, we've seen it in the past and seeing it again. I want to piggyback on a point Bob made and you brought up was the threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it's Pakistan that provides that haven for them, and although we are conducting operations with the Pakistanis in Pakistan, all those operations have to be approved by the Pakistanis. So, we're not able to go after what we call the U.S. list. We have to go after the Pakistan U.S. list.
So, that political sanctuary still is intact for the Taliban, so they are able to use that to their advantage, so I think it's probably going to be still a problem, but when we're able to score successes like this, and, of course, we're going after the people using telephones and things like that that we can actually find, but this is a major event, but as Bob said, and I think we need to remember, these guys are very resilient. We've been at this for a long time because they are resilient and have the capability to continue on in, you know, after facing these kinds of losses.
SCIUTTO: Bob Baer, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, thanks very much. For our viewers, I just want to repeat the breaking news. We've just learned this from the Pentagon, that the U.S. has targeted Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in a remote area of the Afghanistan- Pakistan border.
I should be clear here that the Pentagon says they are still assessing the results of this strike, which is to say they have not confirmed that he's, indeed, dead, but they say that they have conducted a strike, and he was the target. This is a story we're going to continue to follow throughout the afternoon. We'll be right back after this break.
[16:36:57] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. And we have new details regarding breaking news story, news of the U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and that targeted this man, he is the leader of the Taliban, and w, are learning now from a U.S. official that the U.S. believes that he was likely killed in this strike, so more details, it took place at 6:00 eastern time, U.S. time this morning, and a second adult male traveling with him was also likely killed.
I should say the U.S. says it's still assessing the results, but that is its initial assessment, that Mullah Mansour, the leader of the Taliban, was killed in the strike, and for our viewers' sake who might remember Mullah Omar, he was the long time leader of the Taliban, including during the time when the Taliban provided shelter to al Qaeda during the attacks of 9/11, it was this man who replaced him.
And during his leadership of the Taliban, the U.S. says the Taliban is responsible for attacks that killed some tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and security forces as well as numerous U.S. and coalition forces.
I want to bring back in, again, Bob Baer and Rick Francona. Bob Baer, longtime CIA operative in the Middle East, Rick Francona, longtime military intelligence officer.
Bob, if I could begin with you. You've been in the CIA when a number of leaders of terrorist groups like this have been killed. How important is it when a leader is taken out when we know, as rick noted earlier, that those leaders are quickly replaced?
BAER: You know, at the end of the day, we are facing a political problem in the Middle East, and you need political solutions. Yes, we are getting very good, Jim, at drone strikes and getting the right people, we're cutting back on the collateral damage, but Mullah Mansour will quickly be replaced, and there will be new military leaders, as long as there's not a political solution in Afghanistan and as long as the Pakistanis continue to support the Taliban, it's going to be with us for a long time.
But you have to look at it from the administration's point of view, is simply you cannot let a hostile government set up in Kabul and launch attacks in the United States, whether directly involved or simply providing a rear base. You can't do that politically in the United States, and until at least people come to terms that they can't support international terrorism, we're going to have to hit them over and over again.
SCIUTTO: Rick, there's been a lot of don't going back to whether over the course of time President Obama reduced the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. In fact, it was meant to go down quickly, and last year, he in effect put a pause on reductions, keeping something like 10,000 U.S. forces there. Officially, they don't have a combat mission, but in fact, there's not a combat operations there, particularly against high value targets.
In your view, is the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan sufficient today to fight the threats from the Taliban and other groups? [16:40:02] FRANCONA: Well, we're seeing resurgence of the Taliban
directly due to the constant withdraw of American forces. We have stopped that. The new U.S. commander in Afghanistan has been able to convince the president that we need to keep troops at least this level.
But he would like more. He'd like to go up to 40,000 again and actually take this people on. It's going to be a problem, though. I don't think the administration wants to hear that.
SCIUTTO: Yes, hard to see that decision is made in the final months of President Obama's administration.
I also want to bring in CNN contributor Tim Lister. He's live at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
Tim, the Taliban, of course, a long relationship with al Qaeda going back to the months and years leading up to 9/11. What's the Taliban's relationship with ISIS?
TIM LISTER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not very good, to be honest with you, Jim. In fact, the al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has pledged his loyalty, his oath of allegiance to the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan, what the Taliban likes to call itself.
So, very much al Qaeda in Taliban camp, and, of course, ISIS has been trying to muscle in on the territory. They're trying to establish presence in parts of Afghanistan. So, ISIS will be perfectly happy to see the leader of the Taliban targeted or perhaps killed, but it wouldn't make the general disarray in Afghanistan go away overnight by any stretch of the imagination. They've been targeting regional capitals, you can say their presence across Afghanistan is perhaps stronger now than it has been in recent years, at a time when we see a withdrawn of U.S. military forces as well.
So, an essential strike. What may happened, of course, as happened with the succession when Mansour took over, there was a good deal of dissension within Taliban as to who should become the new leader, and that would not be bad for the United States to see the Taliban, which has got internal divisions, start fighting amongst themselves as to who should succeed Mansour, Jim.
SCIUTTO: It might be comforting to the viewers to know there's infighting among these groups, but I suppose the downside, Bob Baer, is that this competition you see, whether it be between ISIS, al Qaeda or ISIS and the Taliban -- I mean, we know it's led to something of a competition, right, to show relevance by carrying out acts of violation.
BAER: Exactly. And this is a very difficult group to get inside of. Mullah Mansour's succession to Mullah Omar took a couple years to be announced. I mean, there was infighting before. The problem is was he the spiritual leader of the Taliban or was he the military commander?
Frankly, we just don't know. It's very difficult to get sources inside these groups and their politics, they do not discuss over the phone. Again, I go back and, you know, the things are getting worse in Afghanistan.
They are on the offensive. We're going to see a summer offensive. They are going to try to overrun some towns, and the government in Kabul is simply not capable, as Rick was saying, of taking this movement on, and, you know, we could send more U.S. troops, but for how long? Ten years, 20? There's no answer to that question.
SCIUTTO: Rick, you look at this, and I spoke to U.S. intelligence officials, and they constantly speak about just the constant surveillance capability that the U.S. has over war zones, certainly like Iraq and Syria where ISIS is, but also on that key Afghanistan- Pakistan border.
We're talking about drones, we're talking about satellite coverage, planes, and other forms of surveillance. I mean, are we seeing, in effect, the results of that, benefit of that, they pick up these guys when they're moving around and carry out a strike like this?
FRANCONA: You know, I think a lot of that is overplayed, Jim. We do have a lot of coverage and platforms up there at any begin moment, great capability, but this is very, very difficult terrain. It's easy to hide. It's easy to just go where the satellites can't see you.
So, it's very, very difficult, and so you have to have more than just the airborne assets doing this, and you have to have, eventually, human assets on the ground either to observe or to infiltrate, and both of those are very, very difficult to do. And I would say, in the case of the Taliban, not impossible because it's such a close knit group.
SCIUTTO: If --
FRANCONA: It's not as good as it should be.
SCIUTTO: If you're joining us now, just for the sake of the viewers, I want to recap the breaking news story that the U.S. military telling CNN that a drone strike was carried out in the Afghan-Pakistan border region targeting the leader of the Taliban. He is Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, and a U.S. official telling CNN that the U.S. belies he was, quote, "likely killed" in this strike along with another man who was traveling with him. They are still assessing the results, but that is their initial assessment, likely killed in the strike, the leader of the Taliban here.
I mean, Rick, you speak to the difficulty of carrying out strikes like this successfully.
[16:45:00] So, Bob, how has the U.S. managed to be so successful, not just in this area, Afghanistan and Pakistan, we've seen other significant strikes against ISIS and Syria, and not to mention Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, but Syria, place described as a U.S. intelligence black hole, but they've been able to get significant leaders this as well.
How is the U.S. managing that success, a strange of successes?
BAER: Because these people, Jim, don't have encrypted communications. You know, we have data analytics can track the people down, amazing algorithms show where they are, position them, and even when they are on the move, U.S. intelligence can now track telegram and these encrypted apps, even WhatsApp, and the rest of it.
So, we are staying ahead of them technologically, and the one people we can't get to are the ones, of course, who figured out pick up a cell phone. Don't ever get on a land line, and stay out of the view of satellites. And, you know, we are holding them back with our technology, but these people, as rick said, are true believers and closely knit.
When I was in the CIA, I tried to get inside these Islamic group, I'm here to tell you, it's very, very difficult, if not impossible because of their beliefs.
SCIUTTO: Hold that thought, Bob. I believe you said the U.S. found a way to break encrypted communications. I want to hear about that, because that's something that U.S. officials have talked about an enormous amount of time.
Bob Baer, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, Tim Lister, please stay with us. Please stay with us as well, our viewers here. We're going to continue to cover this breaking news story. The U.S. likely killing says the Pentagon, the leader of the Taliban in a drone strike.
We're going to have more on this right after this break.
[16:51:55] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: We are back with breaking news. U.S. officials telling CNN that a drone strike targeting the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour, likely killed him. Pentagon says that Mansour was actively involved in planning attacks against facilities in Kabul and across Afghanistan, not just against Afghan security forces, but also U.S. and coalition forces. In fact, U.S. blames him for the death of tens of Afghans, Afghan security forces, and many coalition troops as well.
I want to bring in CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He is on the phone from Beirut, in Lebanon.
Nick, you know the Taliban well, you know this region well. The U.S. says he's behind the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Talk to us about the violence that the Taliban carried out under his leadership.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, technically, Mullah Mansour has been in charge of the Taliban for a relatively small period of time. But that came after the eventual recognition that Mullah Omar, who have been in charge of the Taliban for the entirety of the U.S. presence within Afghanistan had, in fact, died in 2012. There was a leadership struggle, and then Mullah Mansour took the reins, which I must confess internal dissent there.
What we've seen in the last year a lot of violence at the behest of Mullah Mansour to try to consolidate his position. They believe he's closer linked with al Qaeda. His main deputy is a man considered to be one of the main facilitator of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and moved to significantly speed up Taliban operations in Afghanistan, those two radical moves aimed at trying to consolidate the position as being a man able to advance Taliban on the battlefield. So much of the U.S. is slow to withdrawal itself from Afghanistan have been trying to be about encouraging peace talks and political settlements.
That failed. The Taliban clearly were not disturbed, and I think much of the messaging we're getting now from the Pentagon about the death of Mullah Mansour is the hope that perhaps if he is out of the way, and there's (INAUDIBLE) saying he's likely killed, that may enable some moderate movement to step forward.
That's a huge question. Big question now is of course he is dead. What we've been hearing from one U.S. official speaking to my colleagues in Washington, he was the target of the strike likely killed, but it occurred 6:00 your time, Jim, and a second male killed was also killed. This happened on the afghan-Pakistan border region, a very hard area for U.S. forces to access.
Obviously, Jim, as you know, in circumstances like this, there's a lot that have to be done finally prove to person they think have killed have been Mullah Mansour, that may involve physical evidence being taken from the scene, if it was successful, anyone related to U.S. intelligence in some way, that itself is a complicated task. But you have to bear in mind, too, the messaging of this does.
For years, we believed Mullah Omar was in charge of the Taliban, and now there is potentially doubts over the world being of Mullah Mansour, and that will potentially damage his ability to lead. T
[16:55:09] They are fractured insurgency that is the Taliban. They are, I have to say, doing pretty good on the battlefield now against Afghan security forces, causing 5,000 casualties in total last year, a record number there, and a lot of Afghans have been killed too. But we have to see whether or not this announcement is going to change what happened in the weeks ahead in Afghanistan, so -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Nick Paton Walsh joining us there from Beirut.
Recapping our top story now, the U.S. says that a drone strike conducted in the remote area, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, killed has this man that you're seeing on the screen there now, the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour. He replaced Mullah Omar, who was the leader of the Taliban at the time of the 9/11 attacks. This is a story we're going to be sticking with throughout the
afternoon. Please stay with us. There will be more details after this break.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. I'd like to welcome our international viewers from around the world as well.
And we have breaking news, on a U.S. operation targeting the leader of the Taliban. U.S. officials telling CNN a drone strike aimed at Mullah Mansour has likely killed him. That strike taking place early this morning, U.S. time. The Pentagon says that Mansour was actively involved with planning attacks facilities in Kabul and across Afghanistan.