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The Situation Room

Urgent Warning About ISIS Terror Attacks; U.S. Aircraft Launch New Strikes in Iraq; U.K. Raises Terror Threat Level to 'Severe'; Interview with Rep. Peter King

Aired August 29, 2014 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, breaking news -- new terror warnings. Britain raises its threat level to severe, saying an attack by Islamist extremists is highly likely.

What's the U.S. doing about the danger?

And hitting back at ISIS -- U.S. airstrikes slow the jihadists' advance in Iraq. But as the atrocities mount in Syria, why doesn't President Obama have a plan for action there?

And Ukraine's street battles -- pro-Russian rebels may now be getting help from up to 5,000 Russian troops. But Russia says the U.S. and its allies are imagining things.

Wolf Blitzer is on assignment.

I'm Brianna Keilar.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: There are new worries about ISIS terror attacks far from the Middle East battlefields. Britain today raised its terror threat level to severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. That came with a chilling warning from Prime Minister David Cameron.

But American officials are not raising the threat level in this country, even as President Obama takes heat for not having a strategy to deal with ISIS atrocities in Syria.

Our correspondents and guests are standing by with full coverage.

We begin with CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, HOST: Brianna, right now, the Obama administration says it's not following Britain's lead in guarding against a terrorist attack, saying there is no imminent ISIS threat to the US.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): One day after President Obama admitted he doesn't have a strategy for hitting ISIS in Syria, there's a new sense of urgency in Britain.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We will always take whatever action is necessary to keep the British people safe here at home.

ACOSTA: British Prime Minister David Cameron cited the dangers posed by ISIS for his nation's decision to raise its terror level to severe, which means an attack on its homeland is highly likely. The killing of American journalist, James Foley, Cameron said, may just be the beginning.

CAMERON: It was clear evidence, not that any more was needed, that this is not some foreign conflict thousands of miles from home that we can hope to ignore.

ACOSTA: By contrast, the White House is downplaying the threat in the US.

JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The most detailed intelligence assessment that I can offer from here is that there is no evidence or indication right now that ISIL is actively plotting to attack the United States homeland.

ACOSTA: But both governments share the concern that jihadis can travel from the U.S. and the West to ISIS battlefields and back again with ease. Britain believes 500 of its citizens are fighting with ISIS, while the U.S. has identified roughly a dozen. Both countries are stepping up airport security and taking a harder look at the passports of Western ISIS radicals.

As for striking ISIS on its own turf in Syria, the White House is still trying to explain the president's candid rationale for why he isn't ready for such a mission.


ACOSTA: The president's aides say it's because the military is still developing Syria options. But the Pentagon insisted it's prepared.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: I think that anybody who has any knowledge of the United States military knows that we're ready.

ACOSTA: Asked whether there's a debate over hitting ISIS in Syria...

(on camera): Is the president on the same page as his cabinet when it comes to dealing with ISIS?

EARNEST: Well, I think the more important observation, Jim, is that the cabinet is on the same page as the commander-in-chief. I am fully confident that that's the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the Pentagon on the same page as the White House in terms of the threat posed by ISIS?


Next question?


ACOSTA: Now, don't be surprised if the president gets some work done on ISIS tomorrow morning. The president was supposed to spend much of this weekend doing some fundraising and attending a wedding up in New York. But earlier today, Brianna, the White House announced that they are changing the president's schedule. He's coming back tonight and spending part of tomorrow morning here at the White House. That might mean some more work on ISIS is yet to come -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, we'll be waiting.

Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

The concern in Britain is much greater than it is in the U.S. right now. As the threat level was raised to severe, Prime Minister David Cameron warned that ISIS poses a terror danger to Britain that's greater and than ever. Hundreds of Britons have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with Islamist groups. The big concern is what happens when they return home.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is live from London with that -- Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this threat level is the highest it's been in Britain now for the last three years, in fact. And that is causing a lot of raised eyebrows here.

What that threat level means is that a terror attack could be highly likely, although Mr. Cameron did admit that there was no specific intelligence about any imminent threat. But he did certainly raise very great concerns about the capability of ISIS, particularly that of British jihadis, as they return from the battlefield.

Listen to what he had to say.


CAMERON: What we're facing in Iraq now with ISIL is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban were prepared to play host to al Qaeda, a terrorist organization. With ISIL, we are facing a terrorist organization not being hosted in a country, but actually seeking to establish and then violently expand its own terrorist state.


PENHAUL: Now, Prime Minister Cameron said that come next week, he will be announcing to parliament some of his suggestions of how to clamp down on the threat of radical Islam, both abroad, but also in Britain. Among the suggestions he's going to make is perhaps withdrawing the passports of Britons returning from Syria and Iraq, and also putting travel bans on Britons intending to travel to those conflict zones.

But he did say that we've got to get ready for what he described as "a generational fight." He said that the fight to remove the threat from radical Islam could take years or even decades -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, he really set up some expectations this will take some time.

Karl Penhaul in London, thank you.

As Britain warns that ISIS fighters may return to their home country to launch terror attacks, U.S. aircraft have launched fresh airstrikes at ISIS targets in Iraq.

CNN's Anna Coren is live for us from the Iraqi city of Erbil -- and, Anna, you're there in Northern Iraq, where the Kurds are battling ISIS.

What reaction are you getting to Prime Minister Cameron's strong statement today?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Brianna, they welcome it. There is no doubt about it. For weeks, they have been telling us, this is not just our war, it's not just Syria's war, this is a war that involves the entire world.

So they welcome Prime Minister Cameron raising the terror alert. Obviously, the case is those foreign fighters -- and they believe that they are in the thousands -- who have come here to Iraq, to Syria, to fight this jihadist cause.

It's a warped sense of Islam. It's sheer brutality. But certainly as far as these young disaffected Muslim men are concerned, they have a sense of belonging by joining ISIS and what it represents.

I mean, in the past few days, Brianna, we have seen these executions in Syria, also here in Iraq, in Mosul. That's just literally up the road, you know, Iraq's second largest city, where Peshmerga soldiers have been captured and one of them executed on video.

So this is unfolding. And officials here are just pleased that the world is now paying attention.

KEILAR: And Kurds in Northern Iraq there, Anna, are taking on ISIS.

How is the fight there playing out on the ground today?

COREN: Definitely. The real strategic place at the moment for this mission to try and hit ISIS hard is around Mosul Dam. We were up there last week, when the Kurdish forces managed to take it back from ISIS, who claimed it earlier in the month.

But it's interesting, we would have thought they would have pushed through the surrounding areas. They haven't been able to. ISIS is digging in.

So those U.S. airstrikes that you mentioned have really focused on that area. There's been about 110 to date. And they are helping the Peshmerga move into these areas, advance to a certain extent. But ISIS laying plenty of land mines, IEDs. They are booby trapping houses and buildings. So this is what is slowing them down.

But from the Kurdish military officials that I've spoken to, Brianna, they are saying they need the U.S. air offensive to expand and intensify if they are going to cripple ISIS, certainly here in Iraq.

KEILAR: Anna Coren in Erbil, thank you.

President Obama is taking a lot of heat for saying there is no strategy yet for dealing with ISIS in Syria.

Are there military options?

Let's turn now to CNN Pentagon correspondent,

Barbara Starr.

What's the Pentagon saying -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, on this day, when, of course, the U.K. raised its terror level, actually took action, the Pentagon, part of -- you know, as part of the Obama administration, is still struggling, obviously, to explain exactly what's going on in Washington. If the president says there is no strategy yet to deal with ISIS in Syria, what is the Pentagon doing about military options?

They acknowledged today what we all know -- they've been working on military options for months. They have military options.

So what is holding everything up?

That's a question I put to the Pentagon press secretary.


KIRBY: Planning is iterative process, Barb. It's not like, you know, the question is, that it assumes this is some sort of binary thing, where, you know, we get an order to do it and here's the binder and, oops, there you go, and it's on your -- you know, we've got it -- we've got to turn it into you on your due date. It's an iterative process, because the situation on the ground constantly changes. It's very fluid.


STARR: The reality is, of course, the Pentagon, again, has been working on military options for months and months and they have been discussing them with the White House.

Do you call that a strategy, do you call that an option, do you call that a plan?

Whatever you call it, if the president was to make a decision to go ahead, the Pentagon is very clear that it would be ready to go. They would have to collect some last minute intelligence on ISIS targets in Syria.

Where are the ISIS troops?

Where are the ISIS leadership targets?

Where are the training camps?

Exactly where they are, but they would be ready to go with military action. What it takes now, of course, is a decision to proceed, authorization from the president -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara, these kinds of decisions require a lot of internal deliberation between the president and his cabinet.

Are you getting the sense -- we saw Secretary Hagel, we saw the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, they sort of had, I guess you could say, a forward-leaning posture when we heard from them last week and they were talking about sort of the options and how they saw this threat of ISIS in Syria.

And then you got the sense yesterday that the president was tapping the brakes and trying to let people know, OK, this isn't imminent that we would be taking on ISIS in Syria.

Are you getting the sense that maybe there is some disagreement or there's not consensus yet on what to do?

STARR: You know, it's interesting, nobody, of course, in the Pentagon wants to go on the record disagreeing with the commander-in-chief in the slightest way.

But, yes, let's be candid. If you talk to people privately, I think there are military officials of very significant rank in the Pentagon who are scratching their heads a little bit. You had Secretary Hagel saying this is more -- you know, a terrorist threat like we have never seen. You have the chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying, if you're going to deal with ISIS, you are going to have to deal with them in Syria, military or not, you are going to have to deal with them in Syria. The border is nonexistent. So you have a lot of people talking about this and you have the

president saying not just yet.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

And next, Britain raising its alert level due to concerns about the ISIS terror threat.

Why isn't the U.S. doing the same?

I'll be speaking with Republican Congressman Peter King.

And, also, Western sources say Russia now has up to 5,000 troops in Ukraine. Russia says the West is imagining things.


KEILAR: Our breaking news. Britain raises its terror threat level to severe, signifying that an attack is highly likely. Prime Minister David Cameron ties the threat to ISIS and other extremist groups, warning that foreign fighters could come home to wreak havoc.

Here in the U.S., no increase in the threat level as President Obama takes continued criticism for not coming up with a plan to deal with ISIS in Syria.




KEILAR: And joining me now is Congressman Peter King from New York who sits on the homeland security committee. Thanks, sir, for being with us.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: The U.K. has increased its terror threat. Do you think the U.S. should do the same?

KING: First of all, there is a real terror threat to the world from ISIS and to the U.S. But I don't see any need to raise the threat level right now, because I can tell you all about law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies are doing all that they can. They're aware of the danger of ISIS.

What I think should be done is that the president should address the American people the way David Cameron addressed the British people and let the country know how serious this threat is.

But the intelligence people know it. The law enforcement people know it. The homeland security people know it. But the president seems like he's unable to confront that reality.

KEILAR: Do lawmakers know it, I guess, is the question, Congressman? Last year about this time, he was asking Congress essentially for support for strikes against Syria. There was no way in the end that he was going to get it. He ended up moving back on what appeared to be a plan to go forward with that.

Would he get the support that he would need from Congress to do this? And if not, what does he need to do to shore up that support?

KING: Yes. Well let me say unequivocally, I would have supported the president last year. I said I would and I would support him this year if he does come and ask for authorization or says he wants some type of vote of approval. I would certainly do it. I think a lot of it is up to him to provide the leadership. Let me

just say, I don't think he has to come to Congress. As commander in chief, he would have the power to launch air strikes against ISIS both in Iraq and Syria. I believe he has that constitutional power as commander in chief.

If he wants to go the route of Congress, he should make sure he has the votes lined up. He should work with the leadership in both parties, get started right away. And to do that, he has to convince the American people, because up till now, he talks about the war in Iraq being over, al Qaeda being decimated and as recently as last year, he was talking about us being back at a pre-9/11 terror level.

So if he does want the Congress to support -- I think we should. Don't get me wrong. If he asks for the authorization, but it's up to the president to go to the American people. He's the one with the bully pulpit. He's the one who can show the leadership to convince the American people so they can then put pressure on Congress.

But there's no excuses. If Congress doesn't to it, it's their fault. But the president as commander in chief has the ultimate responsibility. I'm not here to assign blame. I'm just saying he should take whatever action is necessary.

KEILAR: Well, if you were to go ahead without Congress, you say that's fine. There are a number of members of Congress who certainly do not agree with you on that.

KING: Yes, I realize that. And again, that's partly their responsibility. It's also partly the responsibility of the president who spent the last three years telling us the war in Iraq was over and saying that we were back to pre-9/11 levels.

So it's a combination of Congress in many cases not doing its job and the president, most importantly, not showing the leadership. So there's enough blame to go around.

But this issue is too important for partisan games. I would do whatever I have to do to get the support for the president. I'm not saying I can sway a lot of votes. But I certainly would and many others would, I know that.

KEILAR: If the U.S. goes in and there are air strikes against ISIS in Syria, is it possible that a side effect of that is essentially propping up the Assad regime?

KING: That could be a short-term effect. This is also part of the president not having any overall strategic plan for Syria or for Iraq or for ISIS. He's had more than a year to get ready for it.

But that is not reason enough not to carry out the attack. The reason I say that is ISIS is more of a direct threat to us right now than Assad is in Syria. Tilled hope Assad is not buoyed by this. Having said that, to me, the overall goal of destroying and annihilating ISIS has to come first. And if there's a secondary effect is a short-term benefit for Assad, I don't appreciate that. But I would take that as a price to pay to destroy ISIS.

KEILAR: So you would take that. And you wrote in a recent op-ed in "The New York Daily News." You said, quote, "ISIS is stronger than al Qaeda was in Afghanistan in 2001."

Do you believe that ISIS has the capacity that al Qaeda did have in 2001, having carried out 9/11?

KING: I think it has more capacity. It has over $2 billion. It has thousands of potential.

KEILAR: More capacity to carry out you a wide-scale attack on the homeland on the U.S. homeland?

KING: Yes, yes, I do. The reason I say that is that thousands of European fighters who can come into the United States, because they're European citizens without getting a visa. There's over 100 Americans who are fighting with radical terrorist groups in Iraq who can come back to the U.S. on a U.S. passport. And there's about 500 Canadians, all people who have the ability to come to the United States.

Al Qaeda never had that many people with that type of access. We do know ISIS does want to attack the United States. Just three years ago, their forerunner, al Qaeda in Iraq, attempted to attack Fort Knox. So there's no doubt they want to attack us. They have more money. They have more personnel, and have the worse of the worst working for them.

KEILAR: Do you think that the U.S. threat level, then -- let me ask you again -- should be increased if that's -- that's your assessment? Do you think the U.S. threat level should be increased?

KING: I don't think it matters so much what the threat level is. The reason I say that is that, it's all hands on deck anyway. For instance, here in New York, the NYPD is always at the top threat level if you will.

Right now, I can assure you that the FBI, all of the intelligence and homeland security and law enforcement agencies at the federal level, they've already, going back months, have set up special procedures where they're monitoring ISIS, doing all that they can do.

So again -- again, if the president wants to raise the threat level, if the homeland security secretary wants to, I would support it, but I don't see the need for it.

What we really need is presidential leadership here. That's more important than a threat level. Because I can assure you all those who know about the nature of these threats are doing all they possibly can right now.


KING: But it can't just be us playing defense over here. That's why we need strong action taken overseas. And only the president can authorize that. KEILAR: Before I let you go, Congressman, earlier today, you were

criticizing what President Obama said yesterday. Admittedly many Democrats feel he was inartful in his phrasing yesterday about not having a strategy ready for Syria.

You also, though, criticized the president's wardrobe, his choice of suit, of a light-colored suit. Do you think that was fair to do that?

KING: Yes, because it was the context of the president coming out. The world and the country have been waiting for a week for what he's going to say about Syria, what he's going to say about ISIS. And he comes out yes, with the new suit on.

But what bothered me was he began by not even talking about Syria. He said he wanted to talk about the issue that most Americans are concerned about, and that's the fact that the economic numbers for the second quarter have been adjusted. And to me that was an insult to the memory of Jim Foley, who was killed.

KEILAR: Why did you take issue with the suit?

KING: Because you know the image makers in the White House. Here's a president coming out at such a serious moment where he should be addressing the country on such a serious matter, and he looked like he was on his way to a party at the Hamptons, which would have been fine if he addressed the issue at hand. But instead he started talking about the economy, saying that was more important than Syria.

And I just thought it detracted from the seriousness of the moment. It's different, for instance, than David Cameron, the way he addressed the British people today. To me, it did not show the seriousness of purpose that you need from a commander in chief at such a serious time like this.

KEILAR: Even when we've seen other former presidents -- President Clinton, President Reagan, I believe, addressing the nation in similar attire?

KING: At a moment like this, when the whole country is waiting to see and the whole world is waiting to see, to me, he could have worn whatever he wanted if he addressed the issue head-on. But not to start talking about the economy to me just detracted from the seriousness of the moment. And I thought the suit was a metaphor for his lack of seriousness.

KEILAR: Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. Congressman Peter King.

KING: Thank you.

KEILAR: Thank you.

And coming up, the women of ISIS. How they are helping carry out a brutal reign of terror. And sources say there are now up to 5,000 Russian troops in Ukraine. So is that an invasion or not?



KEILAR: We're following breaking news in yet another international crisis.

Amid explosions and gunfire in the streets of a key eastern Ukrainian city, a major rail station went up in flames as Ukrainian forces battled pro-Russian separatists, ominously a British government source says Russia has moved up to 5,000 troops in formed units into Ukrainian territory.

CNN's Diana Magnay is in eastern Ukraine -- Diana.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. Well, the -- the rebels control around 100 kilometers of the Russian- Ukrainian border. So it is easy to move in fighters and weapons as we've been seeing consistently throughout this crisis. And now, as this is UK source says 4,000 to 5,000 Russian troops, well, we're not in that part of the sort of rebel-held area where there is heavy fighting going on there and it's difficult to tell.

I'm in the town of Mariupol which is much further south near the Sea of Azov and it was here that this town of Novoazovsk captured by pro- Russian forces two days ago, prompting fears that a southern front would be opened.

KEILAR: And it appears that we are having some technical difficulty with the signal that we're getting there from Diana Magnay. We'll try to reestablish that. But in the meantime I want to bring in now Ambassador Daniel Baer. He's on the phone with us. He's in Vienna, Austria. He's the U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Ambassador, thanks for being with us. And we're hearing what's going on there on the ground but we're also hearing words to describe it. We're hearing incursion. That's what so many people are using. We're not hearing the word invasion. But in your opinion, is Russia invading Ukraine?

AMB. DANIEL BAER, ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPE: Well, I think as the president said last night, this is a continuation of a month-long effort by the Kremlin to cause violence, destruction, devastation in eastern Ukraine and in the last 48 hours or so, we've seen a significant escalation of that, including evidence that there are Russian forces inside of Ukraine that are participating in this.

And so we've seen this escalation last 48 hours and it is -- the president spoke last night and said the world is united in responding to this and sending a message to the Kremlin that this is unacceptable.

KEILAR: You say it's an -- escalation. Pardon me there. What is sort of the reticence to use the word invasion? BAER: Well, I think we're focused on what the facts are on the ground

and the facts are on ground that there have been -- there has been a month-long effort. Russia has supported this effort with fighters. They have supported this effort with heavy artillery, with weapons. There has been enormous human cost not only on the Ukrainians but obviously on the victims of MH-17, all of their loved ones and increasingly there's a human cost being paid in Russia because of the sanctions, because the Russian government is cutting the people off from a future that they deserve.

You know, I think there are different words being used to describe what's happening but the fact is that as President Obama said last night, there are new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine that make it plain to the world to see what is going on here. And you know, there have been many who have been reticent to acknowledge the extent of the Kremlin's role. I think there's no longer any room for debate on the extent of the Kremlin's role.

KEILAR: Vladimir Putin made really what sounded like an ominous threat today. He was reminding us of Russia's nuclear arsenal saying, quote, "It's better not to mess with Russia." You hear those words. How concerned should we be with them?

BAER: Well, I mean, I think there's a great -- there's a great many, unfortunately, actions that the Russian government has taken over recent months that are cause for great concern. The international system is a rules-based system. It requires that responsible actors, international actors that want to command respect live by the rules. And part of what we've seen obviously has been enormous consequences on the territory of Ukraine but what we're really seeing is a crisis with Russia.

And Russia is making a choice or making a series of choices that send an ominous sign about the future of Russia. And the degree with which Russia wants to participate in the international system. This is something that obviously the rest of the world is united in sending a message saying, you know, there needs to be a rules-based system. That's what international commerce depends on, that's what international security depends on.

And President Putin and the Kremlin are making a series of choices that fly in the face of that international order.

KEILAR: So you're looking for international support here, international pressure on Russia. That's why I want to get back to, you're calling it an effort. You're sort of saying, it is what it is. What Russia is doing in Ukraine. But at the same time, calling it an effort instead of an invasion. Is that in a way sort of a rhetorical way that reduces the imperative on the U.S. and others to intervene and do something here?

BAER: I don't think so at all. We've been walking in march step, in lockstep with our European partners, our international partners, for months now in escalating the costs to Russia as it escalates its negative actions, its destructive actions in Ukraine. We've been very clear that Russia's hand has been behind the destruction and violence in eastern Ukraine for several months. And as the president said last night, we have new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine.

I mean, those are the facts. There are different words being used to describe them but those are the facts. There are Russian forces inside Ukraine participating obviously Russia has been playing a significant role.


BAER: This would not be happening without Russia and that has been true for months. We've been seeing an escalation this week and that is what the world is now challenged to respond to.

KEILAR: Ambassador Baer, thanks so much for being with us. And you know, I also want to talk about this with General Wesley Clark. Ukraine sure to be on the agenda when President Obama heads to NATO. He's going to go to the NATO summit next week.

I want to ask you, General Clark, when we look at this sort of this alliance and we're wondering if there's really any realistic options that will make Russian President Vladimir Putin pay attention, sanctions don't seem to be working. Is there anything that can be done to reign in Putin?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, certainly. I mean, sanctions are useful because sanctions help bring the alliance together politically because each nation has to face its own domestic constituencies and it has to pay the price of those sanctions. So they shouldn't be -- they shouldn't be diminished as an important response. They're good for NATO. They're not going to change Putin.

He wants Ukraine. He wants -- he'll take part of it now. But he'll want all of it later. I think the issue for NATO is whether NATO is going to be able to actually help Ukraine or whether NATO is going to simply say, gee, it's too bad about Ukraine but we'll put more forces forward in case it happens to a NATO member state.

I hope that we will take these steps to help Ukraine. They need military assistance, they need intelligence information, they need to know that they're backed up by their neighbors who are also democracies and want freedom.

This is 45 million people who are fighting for freedom and democracy against Vladimir Putin. They're not fighting against Russia.


CLARK: He is manipulating the people in Russia. So -- but this is Putin's dream. You know, in 1935, when Adolph Hitler took Nazi Germany and reoccupied the Rhineland and then he began to be build up forces, there were lots of people in Europe who had said, you know, we need to stop this but there were leaders who were afraid to face it.

KEILAR: And certainly some --

CLARK: As he went step by step -- KEILAR: -- people are looking at that and saying this may be

happening again all over again. Well, you say, OK, Ukraine may go, but we'll be ready when the next -- when the next nation is threatened.

I really want to get your perspective on the president's trip. He's going to Estonia next week. That's before the NATO summit in Wales. He's in the region. What message does he need to send?

CLARK: Well, he needs to give them a message that the United States and NATO are firmly in support and will fight to defend the sovereignty of all NATO nations. But he actually needs to do more than that in my view. He needs to help NATO formulate a strategy to help Ukraine. Because Ukraine itself with 45 million people is larger than any of these NATO member states in eastern Europe.

And so the time to stop Putin and get him to change his view of the world and all the bad things that the ambassador is talking about, the time to stop him is now, not after he's digested all or part of Ukraine.

KEILAR: All right. General Clark, thank you so much for your perspective on this. And we'll be much watching the president's summit with you and hopefully have you back next week.

Now still ahead, we will look at how ISIS is attracting female fighters to join its reign of terror. \


KEILAR: Well, it isn't breaking news if you're a woman but here in the United States, sexism is alive and well and that's even in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol. Now a female U.S. senator is calling out her male chauvinist colleagues.

Here's CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Chubby. Porky. Hot. Honey Badger. These are all words actually used by male members of Congress to address their colleague, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, to her face. The New York Democrat reveals this in "Off the Sidelines," a new book about what it's like to be a 47-year-old woman in politics in 2014.

Gillibrand is one of only a few women in history to give birth while in Congress. She talked to me about that several years ago right after her youngest son was born.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: There's a lot more interest in younger women beginning to look at public service earlier. And when we look at public service earlier, it means we have children while we're serving. It's good for the Congress.

BASH: She's open about struggling with weight gain after two pregnancies. As she was shedding pounds -- she lost 50 -- a male senator came up behind her, squeezed her waist and said, don't lose too much weight. I like my girls chubby.

Gillibrand makes headlines fighting for women's rights against sexual assault in the military, yet she says male colleagues didn't realize their comments were crass because they're older, in their 60s and up, but 74-year-old House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi who came to Congress when few females served is appalled.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: It's absolutely ridiculous. It's disrespectful. Here's Senator Gillibrand is one of the great leaders in our country.

BASH: There are now 20 women in the Senate, an all-time high but it's still only 20 percent of the Senate and women make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population.

Barbara Mikulski is the longest serving female senator in history. When she first came only 28 years ago, women weren't even allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor. Bathrooms were limited.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: There's this place called the Senate gym. The locker room. That just couldn't accommodate me.

BASH: The good news is women can now exercise in the congressional gym. The bad news is, it's apparently a forum for inappropriate comments like when a colleague told Gillibrand, good thing you're working out because you wouldn't want to get porky, but she reports she gave as well as she got, responding, thanks A-hole.

Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.


KEILAR: All right. And in the next hour of the SITUATION ROOM, U.S. and European worries that ISIS fighters are back at several locations in Europe. We will speak with a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan.

But next, we'll look at how ISIS is attracting female fighters to join its reign of terror.


KEILAR: As ISIS tightens its brutal grip on vast stretches of Iraq and Syria, women are playing an active role in its reign of terror.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into that.

This is pretty surprising, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure is, Brianna. Tonight, new information on how these ISIS fighters are using women at checkpoints, in house raids, using them to intimidate other women. It's a way of terrorizing local populations in the cities occupied by ISIS and it appears at least some women who work with this group don't have much choice in the matter.


TODD (voice-over): The terrorists of ISIS, dressed in black, armed with Kalashnikovs and now some have observed them wearing hijabs and burqas. Human rights observers and analysts say women have joined the ranks of ISIS. We're told there's at least one group of women called the al-Khansaa' Brigade which operates in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.

LOUAY AL-MOKDAD, FORMER SPOKESMAN, FREE SYRIAN ARMY: If your daughter will serve in al-Khansaa' Brigade, that's something will protect you, will protect your family.

TODD: Louay Al-Mokdad is a former spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group which is a rival to ISIS. He says friends of his have had female relatives pushed into ISIS. CNN could not independently verify his accounts. Observers from the U.N. and Amnesty International tells CNN ISIS uses women primarily in a policing role, patrolling the streets, cracking down on other women who aren't wearing conservative enough clothing.

According to reports female ISIS militants also help at checkpoints where their male comrades are not allowed to touch women coming through.

NIMMI GOWRINATHAN, U.N. GENDER EXPERT: They're very useful because they will be able to check any woman coming through and be able to detect any sort of enemy combatant coming through the checkpoint.

TODD: Including men trying to sneak through checkpoints dressed as women. Al-Mokdad says ISIS women also go on house raids.

AL-MOKDAD: They need to women to search inside the woman's clothes, inside the woman -- inside the bedrooms and they -- even they do a body check for the women.

TODD: A U.S. intelligence official tells CNN ISIS has demonstrated a, quote, "diabolical flexibility in pursuing its goals and is open to using women tactically to advance them."

Does that include fighting on the front lines?

CHARLIE COOPER, QUILLIAM FOUNDATION: Females do not fight for ISIS. There is no theological legitimation for a lady to be allowed to take up arms against men on a battlefield within ISIS's very, very austere extremist interpretation of Islam.

TODD: Why would a woman join this brutal group? Experts who follow the region say personal security and small salaries are factors.

GOWRINATHAN: Particularly when the alternative is to be displaced to Turkey or elsewhere and have to work as a prostitute to get money for your family, women join because they have relatives in the movement, they have networks within their communities who are a part of that movement. Women join because they've been raped. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And there seems to be little if any empowerment of women in all of this. Despite the lure of security, money and responsibility, one activist says ISIS created these female brigades to terrorize women -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Brian Todd, thank you so much.

And coming up, growing concerns about the possibility that ISIS fighters are back and forming terrorists cells at several locations in Europe.

And are you ready for delivery by drone? Some of the biggest names on the Internet are working on it and they're further along with it than you may think.


KEILAR: Happening now, new terror alert. Britain raises its threat level warning than an attack by ISIS is highly likely. Will the U.S. do the same?

And strategy backfire. Critics are pouncing after the president admitted he doesn't have a plan yet for attacking ISIS in Syria. This hour the growing pressure to expand U.S. airstrikes.