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Obama: No Timetable for Airstrikes In Iraq; Officials: ISIS Recruiting on the Rise; U.S. Warns Russia Not to Intervene in Ukraine

Aired August 10, 2014 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a bright hello and welcome to you. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Here are five things you need to know for your new day.

PAUL: Number one, you have to know about new air strikes and air drops in Iraq. The U.S. hitting ISIS militants four times yesterday. The group that's taken over several cities in Iraq is also responsible for forcing tens of thousands of Yazidis to hide in the mountains near Sinjar. On the humanitarian side, the U.S. and the British air force have both dropped food and water to those stranded refugees.

BLACKWELL: Number two, just days after peace talks failed, Hamas and Israel are at it again. Hamas is now threatening Israel with an ultimatum. Come to the table and negotiate or prepare for more attacks. Israel is refusing to drop while under fire.

PAUL: Number three, 48 people are dead in Iran following a plane crash at the Tehran Airport earlier today. Local reports say the passenger plane crashed shortly after take-off killing everyone on board and severely burning several people who were on the ground. Five rescue workers have been taken to the hospital.

BLACKWELL: Number four, NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart, is under investigation for a deadly crash during a dirt track race in upstate New York. Sheriff's officials say the driver was walking on the track when he was hit. Officials say Stewart is fully cooperate with the ongoing crash investigation.

PAUL: Number five, police are investigating the death of a Missouri teen after he was shot and killed by police yesterday. Witnesses say 18-year-old Mike Brown was unarmed when he was stopped by a cop car and told to walk on the sidewalk.

There was apparently a heated exchange and Brown was reportedly shot even after he showed his hands to the officer. Investigators are expected to release more details about that case later today.

BLACKWELL: The strikes against ISIS militants have drawn the U.S. back into the conflict in Iraq. This is happening despite President Obama's campaign promise that he would end the war there. PAUL: The president says he will not put boots on the ground. But he's not saying how long the U.S. will continue to give Iraq military help from the skies. CNN's Erin McPike has details for us this morning. Good morning, Erin.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a lengthy exchange with the press on Saturday morning, President Obama made clear that the current situation in Iraq will be a long-term challenge.


MCPIKE (voice-over): As the first family begins its Martha's Vineyard vacation, President Obama is refusing to set a timetable for how long U.S. military action in Iraq will need to continue.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I don't think we'll solve this problem in weeks. I think this is going to take some time.

MCPIKE: U.S. air strikes destroyed some ISIS arms and equipment hoping to stop the militants advance on the Northern Iraqi city of Erbil. The U.S. also has dropped food and water to aid thousands of a minority group stranded on Mt. Sinjar.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The next step which is going to be complicated logistically is, how do we give safe passage for people down from the mountain?

MCPIKE: The broader problem -- how to contain or destroy the mounting terrorist threat from ISIS, complicating the issue, concerns from some Democrats such as Congressman Keith Ellison.

"I am wary of mission creep and the possibility of being further embroiled in a situation that has no military solution, he said, urging the president to seek congressional organization if military operations continue.

And others like House Speaker John Boehner approving the president's current actions, but accusing him of lacking a long-term strategy for handling the terrorist threat in the region.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: There is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and, I think, the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq.

MCPIKE: The president insists that he won't send American troops to battle on the ground in Iraq again and says a solution will only come when Iraq forms a government that shares power with minority groups.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is going to be a long term project.

MCPIKE: But with no end in sight, could this cost American taxpayers more in the future?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We'll have to evaluate what happens over time. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE: Now both the admission that ISIS presents a larger threat than the U.S. government and the Iraqi government originally anticipated and that there is no timetable here could provide ample fodder for his critics in the coming weeks -- Christi and Victor.

PAUL: All right, Erin Mcpike, thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: As President Obama pushes for this long-term solution to the crisis, ISIS, it's building up its forces. Iraqi officials tell CNN recruiting by militant fighters is on the rise. Of course, their target is young Sunni men between the ages of 16 and 25.

PAUL: And they aren't the only ones. Women have also become a target group with online recruiting videos trying to get them to marry into the network.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk more about this with terrorism expert, Sajjan Gohel. He is the director for international security for the Asia- Pacific Foundation. It's good to have you with us this morning.

PAUL: Thank you, sir.

BLACKWELL: So I wonder, you know, in the discussion of other terror groups that the U.S. and the international community have fought in the past. You have the Taliban in which they offered schools and education and resources. Is ISIS that type of group? It appears that they are just going and using -- just brow beating and killing people into their ranks.

SAJJAN GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT: Keep in mind that the Taliban controlled large groups and they had a medieval structure for the country. Women were not allowed to take jobs. There were public amputations. There were executions of women. Ethnic minorities were being persecuted and most importantly the Taliban gave sanctuary to al Qaeda.

In the case of ISIS, there are those similarities, but you have a group that has been deemed by al Qaeda to be more extreme, to be more radical. And certainly what is more disturbing is that they are actually controlling huge suede of territory in Iraq and Syria and operating effectively as a government.

This has made the job all the more complicated because you have a terrorist group that's effectively a state government, de facto in many parts of Iraq and Syria.

PAUL: Sajjan, you just said they're acting effectively as a government. We have heard some people when talking about ISIS, some experts say they are good at fighting. They aren't particularly good at politics and administration in that regard.

How strong do you think they are when you say they are acting as a government? Do you mean they are just acting as -- leading a territory right now out of fear or is there some sort of structure to an administration for this group?

GOHEL: The group is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He's an individual who has now self-proclaimed himself to be the amir, the leader, the ruler of this swath of territory. They've changed its name to call it Islamic State to try and give the pretense that it's an organization with a religious aspect that is effectively creating a caliphate, an Islamic superstate.

Now the question of whether they govern effectively or not, it's more a question of they have the power, the support from a large number of individuals. Also foreign fighters and they have the finance.

They have been able to procure money illegally that they've taken from banks in Iraq. They get donations from the Persian Gulf, from places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They are gaining ground.

In many ways we've sleepwalked into this problem. When ISIS first took Fallujah it was ignored. It spread to other places such as Mosul, Baqubah and continues to grow and expand its tentacles across Iraq and Syria.

The airstrikes may try and confine the operational space, but it's a much harder job than dealing with say, al Qaeda in Pakistan. When you are confining them to villages. In the case of Iraq, you are trying to confine them into towns and cities, which makes that job all the more complicated.

BLACKWELL: We sleepwalked into this problem. And, you know, we read that the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, there had been meetings several times about the threat from ISIS and there had been discussions across the Arab world.

Let me ask you this. When we talk about these new recruits, how many of them are coming from the western world? I know that, obviously, there are many there in the Lavant. But from the rest of the world, from the U.K, even from the U.S.?

GOHEL: This figure is growing and increasing by the day. We are talking about thousands of recruits from Europe, from Britain, from Continental Europe, from Canada, from the United States. Increasingly, they are being drawn to go fight there.

They see this as their sort of Afghan Jihad that we witnessed in the 1980s. This is their opportunity to carry out an act of religious obligation. The scholars, the ideologues are using new media. Twitter, YouTube, to issue their messages, to show the campaigns, to recruit people.

Those that die are portrayed as martyrs. It creates an illustration of fighting for one's religious beliefs. There are very powerful ideological and visual messages that are being illustrated and especially through media. This is growing.

The foreign fighters are a big major concern. What's a worry for all of us is the potential blowback if they survive the campaign in Iraq and Syria and they come back to the U.K. or Continental Europe or even the United States. What are their obligations going to be?

What will be their agenda? Will they settle back to a normal life or will carry that ideological doctrine with them and potential carry out attacks against the society? There are a number of ramifications here.

Iraq and Syria, what happens in the future will impact on the west directly. Unfortunately, mission creep that's being mentioned is something we're going to have to take very seriously because this is a long-term problem.

PAUL: Sajjan Gohel, thank you so much for enlightening us this morning. Appreciate your time.

BLACKWELL: Secretary of State John Kerry is sending a warning to Russia about Ukraine. We're going to have more on what he told his Russian counterpart at a phone conversation. It's coming up in just a moment.


BLACKWELL: Secretary of State John Kerry has some strong words for Russia. He's warning his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, not to intervene in Ukraine under the pretext of humanitarian help.

PAUL: Look at that. Kerry's message coming as a pro-Russian rebel leader in Donetsk says they are ready for a humanitarian cease-fire to bring aid to civilians, but they would, quote, "fight to the death to protect their territory."

CNN's Will Ripley is live from Kiev. Will, what can you tell us about the situation there this morning?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know, Christi, is that for the people who are caught in the middle of all of this, the people of Eastern Ukraine, their conditions continue to deteriorate by the hour.

Another night of heavy fighting. Donetsk is now surrounded by the Ukrainian military, a circle that we're told is getting tighter and tighter creating tension in that city where they have limited utilities. Public transportation still running in Donetsk.

People somewhat able to have some semblance of a normal life during the daytime hours until things get very dangerous in the evening. Farther to the east, closer to the border with Russia in the other rebel-held territory, Luhansk in the surrounding area, we're conditions are now critical for the people living there.

More than a week now without power, without running water. Not even their cell phones are working. So they have no communications and the food is running out. Supplies are running out. There's limited health care workers so people who are getting injured in this constant violence don't have very many options when it comes to getting medical treatment. So obviously, the world is now turning its eyes on Eastern Ukraine realizing that if there's not some way to get help to the people there, this is a situation that could continue to get worse as the days go on without the possibility.

And you talk about a possible cease-fire that was mentioned, but there's a lot of things that would need to happen. The rebels say the Ukrainian military would need to move out of the area and begin diplomatic negotiations as it was two governments sitting at the same table. That's not something leaders in Kiev anticipate happening any time soon -- Christi.

BLACKWELL: Will, this situation is desperate enough. We also have to remember that this is a crime scene on several layers and facets there, but we're talking specifically about MH-17. Bodies still in the fields there and evidence. How is this impacting even the potential to get back to start to do the work of that investigation and bringing those victims home?

RIPLEY: You are right, George. Just today, it was announced that the MH-17 search was suspended because it's too dangerous to get into this area because where the plane's wreckage is and where the remains of some of the passengers are still located, it's right in the heart, right in the center of all this intense fighting happening right now.

At one time the unarmed investigation team was literally 150 meters away from gunfire that was happening. They had to move out of there. It's just not safe. They haven't been able to search some of the areas where the plane is and where some of the passengers' remains are believed to be.

They are sitting there caught in the middle of this. Just like the people living in this area, the wreckage as well. Nobody can do anything until this violence stops. And it looks like there's still a lot of work that needs to be done before that will happen.

BLACKWELL: All right, Will Ripley for us in Kiev. Thank you, Will.

PAUL: Thank you, Will. The U.S. dropping bombs and food in Iraq. It's trying to help Yazidi refugees who are just trying to survive and get away from ISIS. We'll take a look at their desperate situation. What we've learned this morning. Stay close.


BLACKWELL: Food and water are now getting through to some of the tens of thousands stranded on Iraq's Sinjar Mountain.

PAUL: But the pictures of what they are going through are so heart breaking and they are so jolting when you see them. Ivan Watson is showing us the desperate situation of those trapped as forces on the ground try so hard to help them escape.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Desperation on a mountain top. Kurdish civilians, some clearly wounded, baking in the August sun. This little girl crying, I lost my sister and brother. Where is my mother? With every passing day, Kurdish officials say more people die here of dehydration and exposure to the extreme August heat.

Kurdish officials say tens of thousands of people from the Yazidi religious minority fled to this mountain ridge to escape is militants who recently captured the nearby town of Sinjar. ISIS have the Yazidis surrounded. The trapped people relying on air drops of vital water and food delivered by the U.S. and Iraqi Air Forces.

Kurdish TV released this footage of a helicopter delivering assistance to the same area. A lucky few make it on board the flight to safety. Their faces pretty much say it all. Not far away, is militants have been celebrating their latest advances. Showing off their control of the Mosul Dam, a strategic piece of Iraqi infrastructure.

If it breaks, it could flood all the way down to the capital of Baghdad. Further east, U.S. air strikes appear to have slowed the ISIS advance. Bombing suspected is positions just west of the Zaub River just 20 minutes-drive away from Erbil. Kurdish officials relieved and thankful for the U.S. intervention.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER: We are most grateful and express our gratitude and deep, deep appreciation for President Obama and the U.S. administration and for the courageous U.S. army and airmen who are now patrolling the skies of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan.

WATSON: U.S. air power has given the Kurdish administration in Erbil the opportunity to bolster its defenses around this fragile sanctuary in the north where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled to escape the ISIS advance. Ivan Watson, CNN, Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.


PAUL: So hard to watch some of that.

BLACKWELL: And we know there's food and water en route, but clearly not quickly enough. As these bombs drop out of the sky from American war planes over Iraq, American veterans who fought there, we're going to hear from them. They're going to voice their opinions that's next.


BLACKWELL: These air strikes in Iraq, they mark the first air mission in the country since 2011. For veterans of the war who actually fought there, the deteriorating situation there has sparked some complicated emotions and reactions.

PAUL: CNN's Alexandra Field actually sat down with a group of them. And they were not hesitant at all to give their reactions on this latest conflict.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORESPONDENT (voice-over): A seven-year mission in Iraq 4,424 U.S. troops gone. Two years after withdrawal, a new mission.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I authorize two operations in Iraq. Targeted air strikes to protect our American personnel and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians.

FIELD: All summer, Americans who served there have been watching the violence in Iraq erupt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all agree the Iraqis deserve peace.

FIELD: We sat down with some of them back in June when the U.S. took its first step to quell the violence, sending in military advisers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think any intervention needs to be extremely limited in scope.

FIELD (on camera): What do you all want to hear the president saying right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to hear President Obama acknowledge that America has a moral obligation to that country.

FIELD (voice-over): Two months later, the U.S. launches air strikes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the United States is a bit slow in reacting to the situation in Iraq.

FIELD: Andrew Bartholemew served there in 2009 with the Marine Corps. He says the U.S. has a commitment to maintain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very much a humanitarian crisis, not just a military crisis. If we have the ability to do so, we may be the only power with the ability to do so, we're obligated to intervene.

FIELD: The White House is making assurances that this intervention won't look like the last one.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It will not involve American troops returning to Iraq in a combat role.

FIELD: Ross Caputi, an Iraq war vet believes he never should have been on the ground. Today he says he can't support military action from the air.

ROSS CAPUTI, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: I think that as Americans we need to first come to terms with what we've done during the occupation to Iraq because I think it's our misunderstanding of the past that's skewing our understanding of what's going on in Iraq today. So I think we need to educate ourselves on that level before we make further decisions about any future course of action in Iraq.

FIELD: Alexandra Field, CNN, New York.