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U.S. General Killed in Afghanistan; Second Ebola Virus Patient Back in U.S.; Truce Holds Between Israel and Hamas

Aired August 5, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A shocking attack in Afghanistan leaves a U.S. general dead, 15 troops injured. The shooter reportedly wearing an Afghan military uniform.

Also right now, mission accomplished. That's what the Israeli military tweeted today after pulling its ground forces out of Gaza. So far, a three-day cease-fire, at least the first several hours, seems to be holding.

And right now, a second American diagnosed with Ebola has arrived at an Atlanta hospital. Meantime, a major airline is suspending flights to parts of West Africa because of, quote, "health concerns."

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We start with this morning's attack in Afghanistan. We just learned from the Pentagon that the gunman is believed to be an Afghan soldier.

Let's get straight to our White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, update us, what we know right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we can tell you right now, as the Pentagon and White House briefings are underway simultaneously, this is obviously the major topic coming up that the president has been briefed on. This attack at this military training academy in Afghanistan and the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, just a few moments ago, confirmed to reporters what we already know in that a U.S. general was killed in this attack, and that the assailant, at this point, is believed to be an Afghan soldier. Kirby added that this happened as this general, this U.S. general, was visiting this training academy outside of Kabul, the capital in Afghanistan.

And then, along with this general who was killed, some 15 other both coalition forces and Afghan forces members were injured, including a German brigadier general. And, Wolf, we should point out, and you know this, that these kinds of attacks, these green on blue attacks, or insider attacks as they're called, are not that unusual. There are -- there have been dozens over the last several years and 61 coalition forces were killed in 2012. Only a few this year, including this U.S. general. And so, they have been on the decline but they're not unusual.

In the meantime, we should point out that over at the Pentagon briefing earlier in the last hour, Rear Admiral John Kirby was asked whether or not this might get in the way of the trust that is being developed between U.S. force -- coalition forces and those Afghan forces that are being trained to take over the combat mission in Afghanistan. And the Pentagon press secretary said that that was not going to be a problem. And, at this point, they're still moving forward with Pentagon and U.S. plans to hand over that combat operation to those Afghan forces.

And, Wolf, all of this comes at a very critical time for the U.S. As you know, earlier this year, President Obama announced his transition plan for Afghanistan, his plan to leave a residual force in that country next year of roughly 10,000 U.S. service members. That will dwindle down to nothing in 2016 when the president says the U.S. will completely withdraw from Afghanistan.

But all of that, Wolf, hinges on a bilateral security agreement being signed by the next president of Afghanistan. And as you know, that election has been in some turmoil in recent weeks. Now, there's an election audit underway. I talked to a senior administration official earlier this morning who said that they're confident that that bilateral security agreement will be signed by the next president of Afghanistan.

But the White House has warned repeatedly -- Jay Carney, the former press secretary, said to me in one briefing that if the U.S. does not have the bilateral security agreement, that there will be a total U.S. pullout by the end of the year. So, this attack on this U.S. general, that has left this U.S. general dead -- by the way, the highest ranking member of the U.S. military killed in the war in Afghanistan since 911 that this, obviously, is going to raise all sorts of questions as to whether or not this residual force plan being put forward by the White House is the right plan moving forward.

There are going to be some, obviously, arguing up on Capitol Hill that more forces are needed and that this incident may highlight that need as we move forward. But we'll have to wait and see what happens. This White House briefing is going on right now. We'll let you know if word comes out of that briefing from White House Press Secretary, Josh Ernest, in the minutes ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the Pentagon not identifying the general who was killed in Afghanistan, pending notification of next of kin. All right, we'll get back to you. Jim Acosta at the White House.

So, what does today's attack tell us about the conditions in Afghanistan? Right now, Nathan Hodge is joining us on the line. He's a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." He's in Kabul right now. Nathan, what do you know about what exactly happened today? You're closer to the scene than we are.

NATHAN HODGE, REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL" (via telephone): This attack occurred at a facility that could probably be best described as sort of the Afghan west point. What's happening right now is the transition where U.S. and coalition forces are in the process of basically exiting the country by the end of the year, at least combat troops slated to end by -- exit by the end of the year. And this training has taken place so that Afghan -- future Afghan officers will be able to capably run and provide security forces to fend off the Taliban threat that continues to be quite persistent in opposing the government here.

So, this shooting took place in what's usually considered to be a relatively secure facility where Afghan officers are trained under international supervision. But what we understand happened today was that the attacker, armed with a light machine gun, opened fire mid-day here during what the military calls a key leader engagement. And that's a meeting between coalition military officers and their Afghan counterparts.

So, this underscores a long-standing vulnerability which is what the military calls the danger of the green on blue attack.


BLITZER: You probably -- you probably remember, Nathan -- yes, you probably remember, Nathan, I certainly do, a few years ago, very different circumstances, a very different operation. But the U.S. embassy CIA station chief, other high-ranking CIA officials and other Americans, were killed when a double agent, if you will, came into what was supposed to be a secure area and basically killed all those people. This is a very different kind of operation though, right?

HODGE: That's right. And those kind of attacks were more frequent when coalition forces were accompanying Afghan troops on the ground in joint patrol. But, yes, you're correct. There were incidents where there were high-level infiltrators, if you want to call them that, who also -- who managed to get into Afghan forces so that they could stage these kind of attacks.

Today, though, is most unusual because of the rank of the people who were under attack. In addition to the American general, a German general was wounded and several senior Afghan officials were also injured in the attack as well.

BLITZER: Do we know who killed the shooter?

HODGE: We don't. But Afghan defense officials tell us that the attacker was killed at the scene.

BLITZER: Yes, we knew that. One quick question, Nathan, before I let you go. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, stepping down. They had an election. Two finalists. They are both fighting each other bitterly right now. They're both accusing the other of fraud in these elections. What's the latest on that front? The whole situation in Afghanistan looks so tenuous right now.

HODGE: Right. It was, in fact, this weekend, Afghanistan was supposed to have had an inauguration to -- for president Karzai's successor. Now, that, obviously, didn't happen. The two contenders, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, former finance minister Androv Gauny (ph), are basically still fighting it out over the results of an election that is currently being audited with international supervision. It still may take weeks for all of those ballot boxes to be reviewed so that they can cast out fraudulent votes or votes that are suspected of fraud. So, it will be weeks while this very tenuous transition is underway. BLITZER: Yes, and there's still a whole lot of U.S. troops in

Afghanistan right now. Nathan, do you know how many American troops are still there as we speak?

HODGE: The current level, I don't know. But it's down from a peak of -- well, there were over 100,000 coalition troops here during the height of the surge. Right now, those numbers have shrunk quite dramatically. And if, in fact, there is a residual source, it would be just shy of about 10,000 U.S. troops. And that would be an advisory mission chiefly but would probably also include some kind of special operation component to conduct counter-terror missions. But much, much smaller than was what was here at the height of the U.S. --


HODGE: -- military involvement.

BLITZER: And if you can't trust your supposed allies to protect you, then it -- whatever American troops are still there, they all could be in harm's way, even when they think they're in a safe secure area. Nathan Hodge of "The Wall Street Journal." Thanks, Nathan, very much.

Other news we're following. Just over 12 hours and counting, that's how long the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has been in effect. So far, it appears to be holding. The challenge now is to turn it into a long-term deal. Here are some of the latest developments. Israel says it has pulled its ground troops from Gaza during the 72- hour humanitarian cease-fire. The Israeli military says troops are now in defensive positions outside of Gaza all in Israel. The truce gives the people of Gaza a chance to do some everyday activities like buying food, stocking up on supplies. Officials from the U.S. and the U.N. also hope it will lead to negotiations to result in a more lasting peace.

Egypt, under the new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, brokered the cease-fire deal, as well says it will now send a delegation to Egypt if the truce holds.

Senior Hamas official already in Cairo told CNN, and I'm quoting, "We are waiting on the Israelis to show up." Both Israel and Hamas are keeping a wary eye on one another, even with the cease-fire in place. Hamas fired a barrage of rockets and Israel launched air strikes just before the truce went into effect. One rocket fired from Gaza apparently landed in the west bank but there were no reports of injuries.

We're going to continue to watch what's going on. We'll check in with Jake Tapper. He's in Jerusalem. That will be coming up shortly here on CNN.

Meanwhile, a second American infected with the Ebola virus is back in the United States and is in a hospital in Atlanta. The latest on her condition, more on the experimental drug that may have saved her life. All that and a lot more, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL REAK) BLITZER: Let's go to Jerusalem right now. CNN's Jake Tapper is reporting from Israel this week. Jake, tell us how this cease-fire seems to be working out. What, 12 hours, no violations as far as we can tell. What are you hearing? What are you seeing over there?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it started obviously at 8:00 a.m. local, just after -- a couple hours after sunrise. You can see, Wolf, we made it to sunset so almost one day has passed with the cease-fire still being held. The indications seem to be, from all accounts, that both Hamas and Israel and, of course, the other Palestinian players that are part of the cease-fire, want it to last. And so far, it has.

The next step, of course, will be for Israel to send a delegation to Cairo to talk about not only the cease-fire but the next steps, lifting the, for want of a better term, blockade on Gaza, as well as what Israel wants in Gaza which is the demilitarization of Gaza. So, obviously, those details remain to be worked out. But as of now, so far, so good -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, 12 hours is pretty good, especially compared to all the other cease-fires, none of which lasted very long at all.

TAPPER: Right.

BLITZER: So we'll continue to watch that.

Let me switch to Afghanistan right now. You wrote a major book on the subject. You've been there several times. Give us some thoughts on what happens today because these attacks by - in this particular case, according to the Pentagon, an Afghan soldier opening fire on U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan killing an American general and wounding a lot of other military troops, U.S. and international partners. What's going on there? Because it's still a very dangerous situation, even as U.S. troops are trying to get out of there.

TAPPER: That's right, it's very volatile. Obviously, it's a horrific situation and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this incident. One thing that people should keep in mind is that this is something -- the U.S. military can be criticized for many things -- but this is something that the U.S. military has taken seriously. There was a peak of these events, as I think Jim Acosta mentioned. In 2012, there were 61 deaths, U.S. or coalition troops killed by Afghans in the so-called green on blue events. And then the U.S. military really started cracking down. They even had individuals who were assigned to keep a watch over Afghan troops when they worked with American troops or coalition troops. They were called "guardian angels."

It's not the case that every time there's one of these incidents it was definitely Taliban, somebody who was planted in there to carry out, for want of a better term, an assassination or massacre of U.S. troops. Sometimes it's other events. Sometimes it can be somebody who has a mental breakdown. Sometimes it can be an Afghan who had death in his family because of the war in Afghanistan. It really depends. I think in 2012, when there was this peak of green on blue deaths, I think it was estimated that roughly half of them were Taliban infiltrations and the others were other events. We have to see, of course, what the details are of this event. But it is something that the U.S. military has taken seriously, but obviously they can't prevent all of them.


BLITZER: Yes, and let's not forget, as of the end of May, there was still some 30,000, 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, supposed to go under 10,000 by the end of this year. So I'm sure they are watching their fellow Afghan troops very, very closely right now, especially in the aftermath of what has happened today.

Jake Tapper, thanks very much.

To our viewers, don't miss a special edition of "The Lead" with Jake Tapper. That will air today, 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Jake's in Jerusalem. He'll have all the latest developments on that, plus all the other major news of the day as well. We'll be watching, 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still ahead, up next, we're going to bring you up to date on the condition of a second Ebola patient now evacuated to the United States. And the latest concerns on the spread of the virus outside of West Africa.


BLITZER: A second American infected with the Ebola virus is now back in the United States. Nancy Writebol was evacuated from Liberia, flown to Atlanta, arriving just a little while ago. She joins Dr. Kent Brantly, who's already being treated at a highly specialized unit at Emory University Hospital. That's where we're joined by our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, you know that hospital well. You do surgery there. Tell us what we know about her condition, the transport, how did it go?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we hear that the transport went well. Sort of as expected. No surprises. We know that before she left Liberia, she obviously needed to be medically stable enough to make the 6,000 mile journey from Monrovia to Atlanta. So that was obviously a good sign.

Unlike Dr. Brantly, you'll remember, Wolf, who walked off the ambulance, she was on a gurney. She was being transported that way. Did not look to have a breathing machine or ventilator or anything like that with her. And she's going to be taken up, my guess is, to the isolation unit. And there they're going to start doing their assessments, if you will. See how she's doing overall in terms of her health, but also check specific organ functions, heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, to see how she - you know, how much the -- of an impact this viral infection has had on her body.

At some point, I know, the family has been here. They want to see her. We understand that may happen soon as well. They may even give a little bit of a briefing, the family might, around 2:00. I don't know if they'll have already seen their mother by that point, but I think that that's sort of the plan.

So we'll get some better idea on her overall condition, Wolf, shortly. But you remember, she also got two doses of that experimental therapy that we've been talking about. We know the first dose did not have as profound an impact on her as it did on Dr. Brantly, but the second dose seemed to have more of an impact on her and she's scheduled for a third dose on Wednesday here now, Wolf, in the United States.

BLITZER: We've got - we were calling it top secret therapy, experimental therapy. It's really -- hasn't gone through all the tests normally you would use. But this is an emergency situation. That's why they're doing it, right?

GUPTA: It had never been used in a human before, Wolf. And typically the process with these things, as you well know, is that you go through a clinical trial process. You test it to see if it is safe. You test to see if it is effective. And then you figure out if you can, you know, make this something that's offered to the masses, or to at least large numbers of people. That process did not happen with this particular medication known as ZMapp.

So it was given. It was a bit of a gamble at the time. Dr. Brantly was the first to receive it. And according to reports, people who took care of him, the response was really dramatic. He was very sick, Wolf, at the time. In fact, he had called his wife, had a conversation with her. He thought he was going to die. At some point, he asked to be given the medication. And by reports, within a short time, within 20 minutes to an hour or so, he started to have some impact from this. I can tell you, he went from being in grave condition to being able to shower the next morning before he got on that prearranged jet med evacuation. So, you know, it's always hard to tell with these things when it's just a couple of patients, but at least so far it seems to have had some real impact.

BLITZER: Certainly does. All right, we'll stay in very close touch with you.

And very quickly, Sanjay, any update on that patient in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City who had some symptoms, some gastrointestinal problems, some fever after coming back from West Africa? We were supposed to get the results maybe today, maybe tomorrow. Any update on that?

GUPTA: We have not gotten the test results back yet, Wolf. But it's worth pointing out that the Department of Health, they weighed in on this as well. After reviewing the situation, really sort of deemed him to be very low risk. Even though he did have fever, he did have abdominal pain, he was in West Africa, that alone is not going to, you know, say that you have Ebola. It really is coming in contact with sick patients who have Ebola before they really get concerned. And as you well know, Wolf, from all your travel, there's lots of different things that can give you a little bit of stomach upset and fever after you travel like that.

BLITZER: I certainly do. All of us who have traveled a lot, we sometimes come home, we don't feel so great, but that's life in the fast lane. All right, Sanjay, stay safe over there at Emory University Hospital. We'll be in close touch with you.

GUPTA: We will.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta, always helping us appreciate what's going on.

Up next, I'll get the Palestinian perspective on the cease-fire that's underway in Gaza, now more than 12 hours. A member of the Palestinian parliament standing by to join us live.

And later, we'll also get the Israeli government's post-cease-fire plan. Where do U.S./Israeli relations also stand? And speak with Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel. That's coming up as well.