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U.S. Advisers Heading to Iraq; Israel Says Cease-Fire Violated; Clinton: Looking Forward to Hugging It Out

Aired August 13, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The White House sending so-called military advisers into Iraq and admitting ground troops could be next.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. These refugees are enduring horrors, trapped on a mountain. Oh, and they need a rescue. Few would dispute that, but should it be an American rescue? And how close would a mission like that bring U.S. troops into direct combat once again in Iraq?

Also, sirens sounding again, as Israel says Palestinian militants launched at least one rocket into Israel, even though one hour is supposedly left in the cease-fire with Hamas. Does that squash any remaining crumb of hope of extending this truce?

And the buried lead. Unlike most travelers, the daughter of an American tourist was actually trying to lose her suitcase because, police say, she had her mom's body stuffed inside.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the world lead -- 129 more of what the U.S. military calls advisers have arrived in Iraq to assess options for rescuing tens of thousands of Yazidis and other refugees who have been trapped for days on end atop Iraq's Mount Sinjar by ISIS jihadists below.

ISIS now tells CNN they killed a large number of Yazidi men when they stormed the city of Sinjar below and they're now holding at least 100 Yazidi women and children captive in Mosul. Military advisers may be how the White House refers to it, the personnel that they ordered into Iraq, though assuredly these advisers are not armed with mere memo pads.

I suppose you can call them advisers. You can call them camouflage enthusiasts if you want, but what they really are, are American troops, more of them in Iraq right now. They're not in a stated combat role, as the White House is quick to remind you, but now the real question is, will President Obama order U.S. troops, those there and others, to carry out a mission to rescue the Yazidis and other refugees?

And 10,000 to 20,000 of them are stuck on the mountain, according to Kurdish officials. This is video of an aid drop from an Iraqi helicopter. If the Yazidis and other refugees come down from the mountain, they would assuredly be walking right into a genocide at the hands of ISIS.

If the president green lights an American role in the rescue, what form will that take?

CNN has already reported that an air evacuation is being considered, but today the president's deputy national security adviser admitted that the White House is also considering, considering ground troops to help, ground troops, not combat troops, the White House says.

But if ground troops, combat troops, American troops once there are then forced to engage ISIS fighters on the ground, as seems quite possible, isn't that by definition combat?

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are the Yazidi evacuation options the U.S. is considering here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, right now, the Pentagon is looking at two options. Whether you do it by land or by air, the question may be how deeply President Obama wants to get involved in Iraq.


STARR (voice-over): Iraqi helicopters continue to drop aid and rescue at least some people, amid the blistering heat, thousands more desperate every day. The U.S. military now working on a plan to get them out. There may be as many as 20,000 Yazidi Iraqis still here.

Initial options could be ready for the president to consider within 48 hours, according to one defense official, but no one can yet say how soon a rescue operation could begin.

BEN RHODES, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president's one limiting factor that he's communicated repeatedly in public and to the military is, we don't want to be reintroducing U.S. forces into a combat role on the ground.

STARR: There are two basic military options, rescue by land or air. An escape over land would involve a long, dangerous drive to the Syrian border or other areas in Northern Iraq.

Security could be a nightmare. Many of the Yazidis may not be strong enough to make the journey. A U.S. official says the initial focus is on an air evacuation. It may be the quickest and the U.S. has enough V-22s and helicopters to do the job, though it could take weeks.

But either option has crucial obstacles. The U.S. will have to continue airstrikes against nearby ISIS targets to keep them at bay. The U.S. will also have to provide security all the way from the mountaintop to any refugee camp location willing to take the Yazidis.

And that, U.S. officials say, will mean U.S. troops will be on the ground, but the military insists those troops will only be in a humanitarian role. REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The president's been

very clear. There is not going to be boots on the ground in a combat role. That's very, very clear direction, but what he also told us to do was to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis there in Northern Iraq and on and around Mount Sinjar.


STARR: Now, anything will require, of course, President Obama's approval. And the U.S. has made it clear it wants other countries to join in. It wants the Iraqis and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to join in on any rescue mission.

But if they're going do this, it certainly looks like the U.S. presence will only grow -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Thousands of Yazidis actually have been rescued, according to Iraqi officials, but any safety they find, well, that is all relative. Where are they supposed to go? ISIS is hunting them, running the Yazidis out of their homes and out of their villages.

Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, is in Zakho, Iraq.

Ivan, bring this down to us from a personal level. What are these individual Yazidis facing?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm hearing anecdotally about a litany of alleged atrocities carried out by the ISIS militants, first when they swept into the town of Sinjar, which had a significant Yazidi population.

It's impossible to confirm these accusations, but the survivors that I have talked to, one of them described seeing a neighbor having his head chopped off with a knife. Others describe seeing ISIS gunmen opening fire on civilians as they were fleeing.

And many, many people have described the Yazidis and allied Arab tribesmen gathering up large numbers of civilians, taking them hostage and taking them away as far as the city of Mosul to a prison there, a large number of captives missing.

The subsequent steps of human suffering that have been imposed on these people are also horrifying. As people fled up to Mount Sinjar, there, one by one, families have told about seeing people die as a result of dehydration and lack of food and exposure to the elements.

And what is continuing to claim lives is the long march that they have to make, those who choose to escape the mountain on foot, to neighboring Syria, walking 10 to 15 hours. That's truly heartbreaking, because you hear about people who talk about how they had to leave their loved ones behind, either because they died on that long march or because they couldn't walk any further and the rest of the family had to continue moving on. So they would leave a loved one perhaps in a spot of shade and then keep going toward the Syrian border to safety. So we're still trying to wrap our heads around the scale of suffering and death caused by the ISIS ethnic and sectarian cleansing of parts of Northern Iraq, Jack.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, it's so horrific. Thank you so much. Stay safe.

Let's bring in Ali Khedery, a contributor to Politico magazine who served as special assistant to five American ambassadors in Iraq. He is now chairman and chief executive of Dragoman Partners.

Ali, thanks for joining us.

You have written this open letter to President Obama with a lot of advice about his Middle Eastern policy, but getting more specific, what should President Obama be doing right here right now about ISIS?

ALI KHEDERY, POLITICO: First, we're assuming that a national unity government will be formed in Baghdad under prime minister-designate Abadi and that Maliki is going to go down peacefully.

Frankly, that is yet to be determined. The second thing that needs to happen is after Abadi forms a cabinet, which needs to be truly inclusive, he needs a new way of doing business in Iraq. And I think we, as the United States government, have to be very clear with the Iraqis without again not only new faces, but a new way of doing business, that the Sunni insurgency will continue and that ISIS will get stronger and stronger.

The root solution of Iraq's problems and of ISIS' creation is grounded in politics. And it's really grounded in the failure of both Maliki's government in Baghdad and of Assad's genocidal campaign in Syria. That is what has created ISIS, an entity that did not exist three years ago.

TAPPER: Where is the Arab League? Why are they not willing to put any soldiers on the ground to fight these individuals, other than obviously the Kurdish fighters and the Iraqi military?

KHEDERY: It's a great question.

And the answer is extremely sensitive. The issue is that for our regional Arab allies and our Turkish allies, if they were to send boots on the ground into Iraq, what that would mean is that it is the start of a regional war. And if you start a regional war, you never know where it's going to end.

And so while the Iranians, for example, have already sent in for years now some of their senior officers to wage a covert campaign against both the United States military and Iraqi forces -- in fact, Iran killed just about as many Americans as al Qaeda did in Iraq -- if the Arab countries send in forces now, you could see a destabilization in the entire region. TAPPER: Ali, one of the things you write in your Politico op-ed is

that you think there needs to be a Middle East czar to take on head on the threat of transnational jihad.

Do you think the Obama administration doesn't take the threat of Islamists seriously enough?

KHEDERY: I know they don't take the threat of transnational jihad seriously enough, as demonstrated by President Obama's assessment of ISIS only a few months ago, calling them the J.V. team, when in reality ISIS represents in fact the most virulent form of transnational jihad the planet has ever seen.

These folks are not Muslims. They are animals, frankly. They are a group that is so vicious and so bloodthirsty and such a death cult that even core al Qaeda leadership, bin Laden's successors, namely, have disavowed them. And so by referring to them as the J.V. team, by sitting back and watching them rise over three years despite the genocide in Syria, by watching Maliki's sectarian policies create an environment where ISIS could again come into Iraq, and then by doing nothing about it for months now, despite repeated warnings from the American intelligence community, what's happened now is the cancer has metastasized and we have a major problem on our hands, a problem that threatens regional stability and thus threatens global stability.

And that's why I'm calling for a modern-day General Dwight Eisenhower. Just as General Eisenhower was the supreme allied commander in Europe after Hitler made a mess of Europe, I'm calling for a modern-day Ike to prevent the Middle East from descending into chaos and for frankly potentially creating a third world war, not because of a country's invasion of its neighbors, but because transnational jihad has really become a global problem that's an existential threat to the world as we know it.

And I'm telling you right now, Jake, I consumed a lot of CIA and NSA products over the years. I obviously don't anymore being outside of government, but you don't need access to CIA and NSA products to know that they are coming and that another 9/11 is imminent unless we act decisively and quickly and do it right now with our allies, both in the region and around the world.

TAPPER: A stark warning from Ali Khedery.

Thank you so much, sir.

When we come back, code red sirens heard in Israel, as Israel claims a rocket, at least one, is fired from Gaza minutes before the end of the cease-fire. Will Israel retaliate? We will go live to the region next.

Plus, police again defending the officer who shot an unarmed 18-year- old in Missouri. They say he was injured in an altercation with the teen, but does that match up to what the witnesses saw?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Some more breaking news in world news. Israel claiming that militants in Palestine or rather in the Palestinian territory of Gaza broke the cease-fire just two hours before it was set to expire, two hours.

The Israel Defense Forces say one rocket landed in an area of Hof Ashkelon with no injuries and they tweeted out what looks like a ready-made graphic, "We cease, Hamas fires."

But a Hamas spokesman in a text to CNN denies that the group itself launched any rockets towards Israel. They accuse Israel of breaking the cease-fire by firing on fishermen near the Gaza border.

We were expecting the Palestinian delegation in Cairo to hold a press conference a short time ago, but that has been delayed. So, the big question is, of course, is this latest round of quiet over? And if so, for how long?

Fred Pleitgen is in Gaza City. John Vause is reporting from Jerusalem.

Let's start with Fred.

What are you seeing in Gaza right now? Any airstrikes, explosions, any kind of retaliation from Israel?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. Well, it's certainly a fluid and tense situation in Gaza right now. I can tell you that, I would say, about an hour and a half to two hours from now as you just described, we were here at our location in central Gaza when we did hear something that did sound like an outgoing rocket and it was only a couple of minutes later that the Israeli Defense Forces said that yes, indeed a rocket landed on their territory.

Now, there have been conflicting reports as to how many rockets were actually fired. Some were saying two to three. However, the Israel Defense Force at this point only confirming one rocket had been fired.

To us at this point, it seems as though there has been any retaliatory strike by the Israelis yet. There were some reports again saying that there were some possible explosions in northern Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces saying they have no reports of that nor would they confirm that there are military operations going on.

Nevertheless, the people here are bracing for what might come next. Only about two and a half hours ago, the streets down here in Gaza city were absolutely really bustling with life. There were people around. There were cars in the street, there were people walking around with their children.

Right now, the streets down there are dead. Of course, in part would have to do with the fact that the cease-fire expires in about 45 minutes anyway. However, it doesn't seem as though people here are very hopeful that the cease-fire might hold, that there might be some sort of extension of the truce. So, certainly, it's looking quite bleak for them at this point in time

as to what the next couple of hours will bring. Will there be additional rockets fired from Gaza or could there be some sort of retaliatory action from the Israelis? It seems as though at this point in time, there is a fairly quiet atmosphere here. But as I said it's very, very tense and you can feel people are brace for example what might come, Jake.

TAPPER: John in Jerusalem -- what are you hearing? Any more sirens? What's going on there?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, all very quiet after this initial sort of burst of sirens and warnings around the southern part of Israel. It's important to note the IDF insisting just one rocket has been fired. A source here in Israel has told me that there will be no statement coming from the Israeli side before the cease-fire is officially set to end in 40 minutes from now, and we're also waiting for that Israeli response.

Again, another source telling me that they are just keeping a close eye on Gaza to see what happens next and when I asked specifically about this one rocket, is it a deal breaker? I was told, "One rocket is probably something which we can live with", adding, "it doesn't make a lot of sense right now."

So, clearly, I think the situation we're in is if there is further rocket fire coming out of Gaza, then you can expect something from the Israelis, providing that there's no more rockets, I think the Israelis will hold their fire, if you like, and we're now in the situation that, yes, the cease-fire has been violated, it doesn't necessarily mean that it has collapsed, Jake.

TAPPER: And what are the Israelis saying, John, about the possibility of that Egyptian proposal where the crossings would be opened and there be more fishing permitted, but other than that, no one else would get their demands and no demilitarization and no other lifting of the blockade?

VAUSE: Yes, look, the Israelis have been unusually silent on everything that's been happening in Cairo, and they loosened up the border crossings a little bit. But there was this Egyptian proposal accepting an extension of the current cease-fire and then maybe in a couple of weeks, everyone comes back and talked about the much more difficult issues. All of that now seems to be on hold depending on what happens over the next couple of hours.

One thing to note, though, you were here last week, Jake, when that last cease-fire ended and that happened at 8:01 local time, the Palestinians begun firing rockets out of Gaza, accusing Israelis of violating the cease-fire because of their hard position which they maintained in Cairo, essentially saying they weren't negotiating in good faith. Maybe we're in another similar situation there. We will have to wait for another 40 minutes or so to find out.

TAPPER: All right. John Vause in Jerusalem, Fred Pleitgen in Gaza -- both of you, please stay safe. Thank you. Coming up: Hillary Clinton, just moments ago, was asked about her

meeting tonight with President Obama. What did she say she's looking forward to doing? Here's a hint: they'll be getting really close.

Plus, an American found dead in Bali. Her body stuffed into a suitcase and left in a taxi. Why police think her own teenage daughter might be involved.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The politics lead now, the book tour to rival all book tours continues on Martha's Vineyard right now. There, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is signing copies of her latest autobiography, "Hard Choices", at the bunch of Grapes Bookstore. It's turning out to be a big week on the island and tonight will be the main event, of course.

Clinton just told reporters she, quote, "absolutely" looks forward to hugging it out with the president at a party tonight hosted by their mutual friend, Vernon Jordan. Hug it out, a phrase made famous for its sleek and sincerity by fictional agent Ari Gold on HBO's "Entourage".


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in it together?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you're right. I'm kidding. You want to hug it out?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's hug it out.


TAPPER: This anticipated Clinton-Obama embrace is somehow one of the biggest stories in politics.

So, why does anyone care about the pat on the back between two self- described pals? Well, because just a few days ago, she used the word "failure" in her summation of the president's foreign policy in Syria, though now, Clinton describes the disagreements as, quote, "the same that any partners and friends might have."

Of course, the presumed 2016 candidate, Clinton, is still attempting a difficult political feat, embracing the president from whom she worked while distancing herself from some of his less seemingly successful policy decisions. You know, hate the sin, love the sinner.

Let's check in with Maggie Haberman, CNN political analyst and senior political reporter for "Politico", who joins me now.

Maggie, you say making peace is one thing, but keeping that peace will be another. What are senior Democrats you're talking to telling you about this rift?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Basically, this was inevitable. You sort of knew this was going to happen. It had to happen. Hillary Clinton had to get some political independence from Barack Obama whose numbers are not great. I do think if his poll numbers were better, this would be in a different situation.

But she is also much more hawkish than he is. She always has been. This was a hallmark of the 2008 presidential primary that they fought very aggressively. He was seen as much more dovish. And so, this is sort of a difference in their world views.

But most Democrats do not believe that this sort of happy medium can continue forever. She will have other spots where she is going to want to separate from him.

She did back away from not the meat of what she said, not the substance of what she said, but she made clear, I don't want this to be seen as a fight and I think she will stick to that as long as she can.

TAPPER: She made a phone call yesterday to her ex-boss, President Obama, to attempt to patch things up, at least that's what we're told by her aides who alerted those of us in the media emphasizing that the -- in her interview with "The Atlantic's" Jeffrey Goldberg, quote, nothing she said was an attempt to attack him, his policies or his leadership.

But, Maggie, obviously, she was attacking his leadership.

HABERMAN: Right. She certainly was -- she certainly was being critical. She was -- and beyond the Syria point, where she described the decision not to intervene early to aid rebels early on in their conflict there as a failure, which was very pointed, we knew that she disagreed with him on Syria.