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U.S. General Killed in Afghanistan; Truce in Gaza; Interview with Israeli Defense Forces Spokesman; Russian Troops Ready for Battle

Aired August 5, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Fifteen hours and counting. Can this cease- fire between Israelis and Palestinians hold?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. It's now the longest truce in nearly a month of fighting. Is it the start of something lasting, or is it just a temporary reprieve before the rockets and missiles start flying once again?

Also, a U.S. general now the highest ranking American to be killed on the battlefield since the Vietnam War, the attacker believed to be one of the very Afghans the U.S. is training to take over security in that country.

And the second American infected with Ebola is back on U.S. soil today. Can she fight off the virus that has killed more than half of those unlucky enough to catch it in this worst ever outbreak?

Hello, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD coming to you live today from Jerusalem, where a cease-fire between Israelis and Palestinians has now passed the 15-hour mark, the longest pause in hostilities that we have seen in nearly a full month since it all began.

Under this agreement, the cease-fire is it supposed to last three days to let both sides give not killing each other a chance. As the truce took hold, Israel with drew its ground troops from Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces declared mission accomplished, announcing they had dismantled the network of tunnels that Hamas is accused of using to sneak into Israel and stage attacks.

Hamas, of course, the militant Palestinian group labeled terrorists by the U.S. government., controls Gaza. Some of the 200,000 Palestinians who have been displaced in all this are now returning to the rubble where their homes used to stand in Gaza to see if they can salvage anything.

Each hour that passes adds to the hope that this time the cease-fire will take hold, but as we have seen so many other times, all it takes is one itchy trigger finger and the situation could slide right back to the horror where it was.

The toll is incredible. More than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed in this conflict, according to officials in Gaza. The United Nations estimates about 70 percent of them were civilians, but Israel claims that about 900 of those whom they killed were militants. According to the Israelis, 64 of their soldiers and three Israeli civilians have been killed.

I want to get right to our Martin Savidge standing by live in Gaza City.

Martin, do people in Gaza think that this cease-fire has legs? What's the mood there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the mood is dramatically different from 24 hours ago. Good evening to you, Jake, here from Gaza City, and it's really a city almost transformed.

They have discovered they have a nightlife. There are people on the streets. There's still traffic out there. Stores were open very late. Very different nightlife from 24 hours ago when it was rockets going off and artillery coming in. But the big question now, will this last?


SAVIDGE (voice-over): For the first time in weeks, fishermen in Gaza tend to their nets, a sign of optimism this cease-fire might actually work. But they don't take their boats beyond the break wall in case it doesn't.

When it comes to peace, Palestinians have learned to hedge their bets. At U.N. schools and shelters, some begin leaving. To go where isn't clear. Others were more pragmatic, thinking it best to wait and see.

"They said there was a truce before and we left," says this man. "But five minutes after we got home, the airstrikes started."

At Gaza City's main market, it's busy and the food and goods surprisingly plentiful, but the end of the violence has not brought an end to the long-term problems here.

(on camera): Most conflict zones, cash is king. Credit cards don't work too well here. And when you need cash, you go to the ATM. And they're lucky. This one works. Unfortunately, most people haven't been paid in months. So, there's no money for them to withdraw.

(voice-over): There is no shortage of opinions about the war and the talks to end it. This man says: "The cease-fire is the right decision. No one needs war," while this woman believes: "Hamas will negotiate concessions from Israel. I am expecting a victory from the resistance. We will win this war," she says. "We are preparing the festivities."

In the wasteland that was Shaja'ia, no one is planning celebrations. This area was pounded relentlessly by Israeli airstrikes and artillery for days. In Beit Hanoun, it's the same story. No homes, no schools, no mosques. Nothing is left of what used to be.

"I was shocked," he says. "I was imagining everything, except the sight I saw."

Here in the ruins, residents are realizing a cease-fire was the easy part. The hard part is what comes next.


SAVIDGE: Now, the estimations are for the damage here, it's anywhere from $4 billion to $6 billion, at least according to the U.N. and some Palestinian authorities, and that it could take not just years, but maybe even decades, to recover what was essentially four weeks of war, Jake.

TAPPER: Martin Savidge in Gaza City, thank you so much.

Now let's turn to Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner. He is spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

Lieutenant Colonel, thanks for being here.

I want to get to the crisis in Gaza in a second. But, first, I have to ask you, there are reports that there's been an arrest made in the kidnapping of those three Israeli teenagers, the kidnapping and killing of them that in many ways started this whole war. Is that true?

LTC. PETER LERNER, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: I was -- I have read it and heard about it just beforehand. It wasn't something that the military carried out but indeed, I know that and can confirm an individual has been arrested in connection with this.

I don't know to what level of involvement he has in the incident, but, indeed, I have heard that this is true. It came out of the legal system and this is one of -- somebody that's been involved in it clearly.

TAPPER: Do you have a name of the individual or no?


TAPPER: Not yet. OK.

Let's talk about the body count in Gaza, because that is something that has shocked and horrified many people, including supporters of Israel.

First of all, the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, says that of the 1,800 that the Gazans say were killed, about 900 of them you say were militants. How are you computing that? I know the United States in its drone operations considers any combat age male killed to have been a militant. Is that how you're doing it, or do you have proof that these individuals were actively engaged in fighting Israel?

LERNER: Our method as far as this is concerned is based on two components, first of all, those we struck from the air with our air force, and, second, the reports of the troops coming out in the last 24 hours just before the cease-fire this morning reporting their type of actions.

That's why it's a round figure. It's an assessment. It's not an accurate figure. So, we might see that together with intelligence and the civil administration components. When that comes together, we will see a much more in-depth analysis. But that is a preliminary assessment of the reports coming out and the indication we have from our forces.

TAPPER: Now, your numbers differ significantly from the United Nations' numbers how many of the 1,800 were actually engaged in combat against Israel. But even if your numbers are right, that's still 900 or so innocent civilians, with under 70 Israelis killed, including mostly Israeli soldiers.

Can you understand why so many people around the world, including supporters of Israel, find that number horrifying and unacceptable and think that maybe Israel was excessive in its use of force?

LERNER: Well, Jake, we do not target civilians intentionally.

TAPPER: But you hit them.

LERNER: The situation is such that, when you are operating, when we're operating on the ground, it's a war down there.

You know, 900 terrorists killed in combat with us means that there was a battle going on, on the ground. You have seen the footage from the places where the battles have taken place where you pointed out to the destruction. That is because where they were hiding.

So, indeed, there is a huge amount of impact on the civilian population, on the civilian environment. It's not something we want to. And at the end of the day, there is a war going on there. We went to great extent to try and warn the people to -- you know, urge them to leave the areas. But, unfortunately, some of them stayed. Some of them were told to stay and this is a reality.

We didn't want to go to Gaza. We didn't -- we just didn't want to. Every time we'd urged for cease-fire, every time we tried to de- escalate the situation, Hamas aggravated the situation. We had no choice. We don't want the rockets on Israel. We did not want those tunnels.

TAPPER: There's a lot you said there that others would dispute.

But I do want to move forward and ask questions about the cease-fire. Yesterday in Jerusalem, there were two attacks that police called terrorist attacks. There was another stabbing near a settlement. These types of lone wolf attacks is what police think that they are, not put out there, not encouraged by Hamas, would they violate a cease-fire, or does it have to be something that Hamas or Islamic Jihad actually does?

LERNER: We're at a standoff basically in Gaza with Hamas down there.

The atmosphere terrorist attacks that have taken place and you described over the last few days in and around the area of Jerusalem and so on, there's I would say a vague linkage perhaps indeed with the atmosphere, indeed, somebody that sympathizes and wants to do something. But I wouldn't connect that to the situation on the ground in Gaza.

We have forces there that are intending to protect the border to prevent more infiltration, perhaps if somebody tries to come up out of the ground in one of the tunnels that we did not know about. There's a possibility there still is a tunnel or two we don't know about. So that is what we are on the standoff for Gaza. We have to...


TAPPER: So, looking more at things directly linked to Hamas.


LERNER: ... specifically to Hamas, look forward to the next two days to see it is extended.

Again, we are extremely happy that the situation is now calmer. We're extremely happy that those tunnels are no longer a threat to us.

TAPPER: Let's -- well, I have to go. But we will hope to have you back. I want to ask more about the tunnels at a later date.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, thank you so much.

LERNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next on THE LEAD: A terror attack leaves a U.S. general dead, the highest ranking U.S. service member to be killed on the battlefield since Vietnam. And the alleged killer is a trusted Afghan soldier who had gone through a rigorous screening process, we're told. So how did he do it?

Plus, Russian troops building up along the Ukrainian border ready to move at a moment's notice. Just what is Vladimir Putin planning?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, live from Jerusalem. We'll have more on how the cease-fire in Gaza is holding up in just a moment.

But first, some other very important world news. An American general was killed and 15 coalition troops wounded in an ambush at an Afghan training facility. This is the highest ranking U.S. military death since the war began. The attack happened at a camp --

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're having problems with Jake's satellite. But he was talking about the fact the shooter is believed to be someone who troops had little reason to find suspicious because he was one of them.

Our Jim Sciutto reports that attacks by Afghan troops on U.S. troops, so-called "green on blue incidents" are unfortunately nothing new. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It was a brazen attack killing the most senior U.S. officer since 9/11. It began with a routine trip to Afghanistan's premier training facility for Afghan military officers.

A delegation of senior American and coalition officers was visiting the Marshal Fahim National Defense University outside Kabul when disaster struck. An Afghan soldier opened fire with a Russian-made light machine gun, a U.S. general was killed. Fifteen coalition soldiers, including eight Americans were injured, some seriously. Forces responded killing the shooter.

Pentagon officials tell CNN the shooter was an Afghan soldier who had been with his unit for some time, and had completed a rigorous seven- step vetting process to ensure he was not a Taliban fighter.

(on camera): We're months away from the U.S. handing over security responsibility for Afghanistan to Afghan forces like these. Does this undermine your confidence in their ability to take over that role?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The Afghan national security forces continue to perform at a very strong level of competence and confidence and warfare capability. They have had a good year securing not one but two national elections.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): So-called "green on blue" attacks when Afghan soldiers attack their coalition partners have been an ongoing and grave problem for the U.S. and coalition forces. After peaking in 2012, coalition death interests such attacks dipped last year in, part due to new security measure. But today's attack made clear the risk remains.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: As we turn more and more of the security responsibilities for these installations over to Afghan troops, I think the risk will rise because since we don't control who the Afghans assign to these duties, it is very easy for the Taliban to infiltrate these people. As we draw down our force, the chances for this to happen increases, not decreases.

SCIUTTO (on camera): I also asked Admiral Kirby whether attacks like this have eroded the trust between U.S. soldiers and their Afghan partners. He said actually, in his words, it's getting better and better. The numbers support that to some degree, green on blue attacks peaked in 2012 and they have come down significantly since then. But Kirby also made the point the measures they've taken to reduce the risk, they only mitigate the risk, they don't eliminate it. And, Jake, as you and I both know very well, Afghanistan is still very much a battlefield.


TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

And thanks also to Dana Bash for picking up when the satellite went down there.

These so-called "green on blue" attacks have been on the decline in recent years. Still, there their serious concerns whether these attacks undermine Afghanistan's ability to secure itself, once the remaining U.S. combat forces withdraw at the end of the year.

Let's bring in former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Peter Tomsen. He's also author of the book, "The Wars of Afghanistan."

Mr. Ambassador, good to see you. I know the numbers are down since 2012 when 61 coalition troops were killed by Afghan troops. Why do you think these "green on blue" incidents remain such a problem in Afghanistan? Is there do you think a larger significance of this tragedy?

PETER TOMSEN, FORMER U.S. ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: I don't think so. I think it's like a suicide attack. It's hard to ascertain in a guerrilla war who is the enemy and who is not. These types of attacks have come down. This is the fourth this year.

In a guerrilla war, I faced a similar situation when I was in President Karzai's motorcade and I was in the vehicle in front of him in September 2002, when a security guard of the Kandahar governor stepped forward and started shooting into our cars. The Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, they look for these types of turncoats and sometimes there's already on the job when they go to their families in the tribe or the clan, and they talk them into turning this soldier against the coalition.

So, most of these attackers are killed in the process of the attack. So, it's hard to interrogate them afterwards. But I think there's a lot of cases where the ultimate motivation comes from the strategic objective of the Taliban to mount these types of attacks.

TAPPER: Do you think that this attack undermines the ability in any way or at least the United States confidence in the ability of Afghans to take control of their own security 100 percent in the next few months?

TOMSEN: I think that the latter is a bigger danger than the former. I think the Afghans are determined now and they're very proud of what they've done since taking over all combat operations in all 34 provinces last year with our support, we have to give them vital support which has to continue, air support, logistics support, intelligence support.

But from our side, that's part of the objective of the Taliban and the -- their supporters in Pakistan, their enablers. And that is to lower the support for Afghanistan and for standing up in Afghan state and helping it to survive in the United States.

TAPPER: Ambassador Tomsen, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

Coming up, predicting Vladimir Putin's next move is like trying to figure out what to do if a Russian chess master follows up Petrov's defense with Bodin Kasarinski's (ph) gambit, am I right? So, why are his troops building along the Ukrainian border? We'll try to figure that out and go live to the warzone, next.

And the second American with Ebola arrives in Atlanta for treatment. But unlike her colleague, she was not able to walk into the hospital on her own. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta has details on her condition, coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper, live in Jerusalem.

And as I speak, Israeli and Palestinian forces are still for now thankfully holding their fire, but the situation remains fragile to say the least and the clock is ticking on this 72-hour agreement. We've got much more on the crisis to come on THE LEAD.

But meanwhile, there is other world news and I want to cover such as no break in the violence in eastern Ukraine. And now, word coming that Russia is ramping up war games on their side of the border with 17 battalions. That's about 20,000 troops ready for action, according to NATO.

Let's go now to our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh in Donetsk.

Nick, is this a show of force or something more nefarious?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've seen shows of force by the Kremlin's forces for the last few weeks or so. The real question is, is this mobilization of 20,000 up from 12,000 in just one week, is this about trying to intimidate the Ukrainian army, making fast advances where I am in Donetsk, trying to slow their pace or are they genuinely contemplating some sort of intervention. NATO officials saying to me, special forces, logistics, anti-aircraft artillery, everything they need to seriously interfere in what's happening in eastern Ukraine.

Western sanctions it seems have slowed the Kremlin's ambitions to be involved in eastern Ukraine on the ground. But we are into a real key phase, Jake, with the war. I'm standing in Donetsk, deathly silence this time of night.

But two dead as the Ukrainian army has been advancing just behind me here into the edges of the city itself proper. They're coming closer and closer we hear from the local city council. We've heard occasional small arms fire around here.

The separatists themselves certainly thinning out. Many wondering are they going to vanish into the night or waiting for the military of Ukraine to come in so they can ambush them on the way into the city center -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, right, that's the big question. I guess the follow-up is, how fast could the Russian troops pour across the border if that command was given?

WALSH: A matter of hours we understand. I mean, that's why they're positioned with, they are. That's why they're the kind of units they are to give them maximum ability according to NATO.

Now, bear in mind, I said western sanctions seemed to have slowed Russia's desire for that. There's a lot of domestic public opinion egging them on. In many ways, the Kremlin's own propaganda machine on television is hard for the Kremlin to outstrip, in terms of them trying to be hard line in the map. They have a problem of their own creation there.

But certainly losing this fight in eastern Ukraine would be a remarkable humiliation for Moscow and Vladimir Putin's whole adventure in this part of his key neighbor. The issue really is here, are they willing to take the international flack for intervening or will they see the separatist militants who increasingly appeal loudly for assistance from Russia who they ally themselves to entirely, are they actually going to let them going to go to the wall against the Ukrainian army -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you. Stay up.

Coming up on THE LEAD, we've seen the Iron Dome blow them up, but how does Hamas set up and launch those rockets so quickly? We'll show you the incredible video from inside a residential area in Gaza. That's coming up next.