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Iraq Summons Top U.S. Diplomat In Protest Over Airstrikes; Biden: Retaliatory Strikes "Will Continue at Times and Places of Our Choosing; CentCom: U.S. Conducts New Airstrikes in Yemen, Shoots Down Multiple Houthi Drones. Aired 11-11:15a ET

Aired February 03, 2024 - 11:00   ET



LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, "NEW YORK TIMES": That Elmo, basically wrote a tweet on X saying, "How is everyone doing?" Elmo wants to know.

And there have been 206 million views of this tweet, and what it unleashed was this absolutely just heartbreaking outpouring of grief and pain to the point where it forced Elmo to then have to write another tweet to say, hey, there's some mental health resources out there for everybody.

And I think it just shows, like, our isolation, our pain, and how we look to these characters for solace.

I mean just, to me, it was a heartbreaking sort of opening into our psyche.

CHRIS WALLACE, CNN HOST: No, it was amazing how people responded to it.

Gang, thank you all for being here. Thank you for spending part of your day with us.

We'll see you right back here next week.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thank you so much for joining us.

New today, Iraq is now summoning a top U.S. diplomatic official in protest of a barrage of punishing U.S. air strikes in the Middle East. The U.S. says those strikes hit 85 targets linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds force and affiliated militia groups in Iraq and Syria.

The strikes a response to a drone attack in Jordan which killed three American soldiers on Sunday.

Iraq is claiming the explosions that just happened involving the U.S. killing 16 people, including civilians.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the strikes are just the beginning of the U.S. response.

Iran says the U.S. Has made a strategic mistake, while Iraq and Syria say the U.S. actions could inflame more conflict in the region.

CNN has teams around the globe covering all of these developments. Let's go first to CNN's Ben Wedeman in Jordan.

Ben, these strikes were sudden, devastating. How are officials on the ground? How are those in Iraq reacting?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll start with Syria, where of course they've said, the Syrian officials have said that there have been civilian, as well as military casualties in what's described as significant devastation in several spots in the eastern part of the country, where it's known that Iranian advisers, as well as Iranian-backed militias have been operating.

Now, as far as Iraq is concerned, let's keep in mind there are about 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq at the moment. The Iraqis have come out and condemned the U.S. strikes, saying that they're unacceptable, they're a violation of national sovereignty. And we've heard the same thing from the Iranian government as well.

Now, the Iraqi foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. charge d'affaires in Baghdad, there is no ambassador at the moment, to file an official protest.

But beyond those countries that are aligned or close to Iran, the reaction across the Arab world has been fairly muted to these strikes, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Ok, ben. Let's go to Kevin Liptak now who's traveling with President Biden in Wilmington. So Kevin, the U.S. says, you know, this is just part of its military response. The president said he had made a decision not long ago. And we also understand it would be in phases.

What more are you hearing from the White House?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. Really all American officials from the president on down saying this was just the first salvo in their response. Even before these attacks began we had heard from officials that this would be a multi-phased process, lasting weeks, perhaps even months.

And in his statement last night President Biden saying that this was not the end of the American reprisal, saying our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing. And I think it's notable, he said times and places -- plural.

The president goes on to say the United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world, but let all those who might seek to do us harm know this, if you harm an American, we will respond.

Now, the next phase of this isn't exactly clear. American officials are understandably reticent about describing in great detail what might happen next, and certainly they will be looking at how these strikes proceeded, the assessment on the ground, as they calibrate their response going forward. There are a number of other factors that would contribute to the

timing, including the weather. And it was interesting listening to American officials last night describe the central role that the weather played in the timing of this response, because there had been this gap of several days between when the president said he had decided on a response and when we saw it begin.


LIPTAK: Officials said they were looking for a clear day so they were able to better see the targets and avoid any unintended casualties.

But this really does move into a new phase, Biden and his administration's response to this growing conflict in the region. He is trying to strike a balance here, trying to deter these groups, trying to degrade their capabilities, while also preventing a wider war from breaking out in the region.

And remember, Fredricka, he is also trying to secure this major breakthrough agreement that would secure the release of hostages in Gaza in exchange for a prolonged pause in the fighting.

None of these things is happening in a vacuum and certainly President Biden watching this very closely going forward.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you, Kevin.

Back to you, Ben. We're also getting details about several new U.S. strikes in Yemen, U.S. CentCom says it targeted multiple Houthi drones preparing to attack ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden on Friday.

What is the latest on that.

WEDEMAN: These were really targets of opportunity, of drones being launched at shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. They're not sort of along the same lines as the kind of strikes we saw overnight in Syria and Iraq.

There's a U.S. carrier group operating in the area, they used F-18s to shoot some of those drones down, fired by the Houthis, according to the Pentagon.

And this is really what has been going on almost on a daily basis now for many, many weeks. And, of course, the Houthis, their rationale for targeting navigation in the Red Sea and the gulf of Aden is that they believe they are helping the people of Hamas by preventing ships from reaching Israel, as Israel pursues its war in Gaza, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there for now, gentlemen. Ben Wedeman, Kevin Liptak, thanks to both of you. We'll see you next hour.

All right. Let's get more analysis now on all of this. Joining me right now is CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Good to see you, Colonel. So what do you believe the message is that the U.S. Is sending with these strikes? COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Fredricka, I

think the message has several components to it, but one of them is that we're telling the Iranians that their proxies are entities that they're actually responsible for.

So we're sending a message saying that these proxies have behaved badly and that their conduct was unacceptable when they killed those three American soldiers. And as a result, we're going after not only the proxies, but also, as far as we can tell, elements of Iranian intelligence and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as it's deployed into Syria and Iraq.

So it will be interesting to see what the battle damage assessment actually is, you know, how successful the attacks actually were. But the message to Iran is one where, what we're trying to send is we can use weapons that at the moment have only been used outside of Iran, but those weapons are also capable of going into Iran should we feel the need to do so.

WHITFIELD: So many analysts such as yourself prior to these strikes had said after those three U.S. soldiers were killed, that the U.S. Has to go at it very hard to respond to what happened.

So how, at this juncture, does the U.S. retaliate without engaging in an all-out war in that region?

LEIGHTON: Yes, it really has to be a calibrated series of responses, Fredricka. And what you're seeing right now is in essence the beginning phase of that response.

It was a very hard-hitting attack, it might be the beginning of what I would call a mini air campaign, where you go in and you have a set of targets, basically have a target list that you go after.

And it's done by importance, the kinds of things that you think are part of their command structure, their logistical structure. And if you note that when you look at where the strikes actually occurred, they're basically along the Euphrates River Valley both in Syria and in Iraq. And that is where there is a high concentration of these militias and of course, the advisers from Iran that are helping those militias.

So that's the first phase. And as things move forward, sometimes these targets are going to be re-struck, but they're going to be done in a way that's methodical and systemic, with the idea of keeping these people in check.

WHITFIELD: We're also learning that Jordan is participating in this U.S. operation on Iran-backed targets. What does that tell you about Jordan's, you know, reported involvement, and might there be other neighbors who would also be assisting?


LEIGHTON: Yes. That's going to be a questionable thing, whether or not other neighbors will assist Jordan and the U.S. in this. But the attack on Tower 22 occurred on Jordanian territory, in Jordan itself, and as a result of that, the kingdom of Jordan feels it's important to protect their sovereignty and make that happen. And so that's the basic idea here.

The other nations I don't think are going to do that.

WHITFIELD: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much.

And of course we'll have more on this breaking news at the top of the hour. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

"AMANPOUR" is next.