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Afghan War Hero Gets Medal Of Honor; U.S. Considers Strikes On Syria; Kerry Makes Statement On Syria

Aired August 26, 2013 - 14:30   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Long after this war is over, these families will still need our love and support for all the years to come. And I would ask the Camp Keating families to stand and be recognized, please.

Finally, as we honor Ty's courage on the battlefield, I want to recognize his courage in the other battle he has fought. Ty has spoken openly, with honesty and extraordinary eloquence, about his struggle with post-traumatic stress, the flashbacks, the nightmares, the anxiety, and the heartache that makes it sometimes almost impossible to get through a day.

And he's urged us to remember another soldier from Camp Keating who suffered, too, who eventually lost his own life back home and who we remember today for his service in Afghanistan that day, Private Ed Faulkner Jr. At first, like a lot of troops, Ty resisted seeking help. But with the support of the Army, the encouragement of his commanders, and most importantly, the love of Shannon and the kids, Ty got help.

The pain of that day, I think Ty understands and we can only imagine, may never fully go away. But Ty stands before us as a loving husband, a devoted father, an exemplary soldier who even redeployed to Afghanistan. So now he wants to help other troops in their own recovery and it is absolutely critical for us to work with brave young men like Ty to put an end to any stigma that keeps more folks from seeking help.

So let me say it as clearly as I can, to any of our troops or veterans who are watching and struggling. Look at this man. Look at this soldier. Look at this warrior. He's as tough as they come. If he can find the courage and the strength to not only seek help, but also to speak out about it, to take care of himself and to stay strong, then so can you.

So can you, and as you summon that strength, our nation needs to keep summoning the commitment and the resources to make sure we're there when you reach out because nobody should ever suffer alone. And no one should ever die waiting for the mental health care that they need. That's unacceptable. And all of us have to do better than we're doing. As Ty knows, part of the healing is facing the sources of pain.

As we prepare for the reading of the citation, I'll ask you, Ty, to never forget the difference that you've made on that day. Because you helped turn back that attack, soldiers are alive today like your battle buddy in that Humvee, Brad Larson, who told us, I owe Ty my life. Because you urged -- you've had the urge to serve others at whatever cost, so many army families could welcome home their own sons.

And because of you, Stephan's mother, Vanessa, who joins us again today, is able to say Ty brought Stephan to safety which in the end gave him many more hours on this earth. Stephan felt at peace. She added in the words that speak for all of us, I'm grateful to Ty more than words can describe. That's something. God bless you. Ty Carter and the soldiers of the black knight troop, God bless all our men and women in uniform. God bless the United States of America. With that, I would like to have the citation read.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States of America, authorized by act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Specialist Ty M. Carter, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity. Specialist Ty M. Carter distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a scout with Bravo Troop, Third Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy in Kamdesh District, Afghanistan, on October 3rd, 2009.

On that morning, Specialist Carter and his comrades awakened to an attack of an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of combat Outpost Keating. Employing concentrated fire from rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire. Specialist Carter reinforced a forward battle position, ran twice through a 100-meter gauntlet of enemy fire to resupply ammunition and voluntarily remain there to defend the isolated position.

Armed with only an M-4 Carbing rifle, Specialist Carter placed accurate, deadly fire on the enemy, beating back the assault force and preventing the position from being overrun over the course of several hours. With complete disregard for his own safety and in spite of his own wounds, he ran through a hail of enemy rocket propelled grenade and machine gunfire to rescue a critically wounded comrade who had been pinned down in an exposed position.

Specialist Carter rendered life extending first aid and carried the soldier to cover. On his own initiative, Specialist Carter again maneuvered through enemy fire to check on a fallen soldier and recovered the squad's radio which allowed them to coordinate their evacuation with fellow soldiers. With teammates providing covering fire, Specialist Carter assisted in moving the wounded soldier 100 meters through withering enemy fire to the aid station and before returning to the fight.

Specialist Carter's heroic actions and tactical skill were critical to the defense of combat Outpost Keating, preventing the enemy from capturing the position and saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. Specialist Ty M. Carter's extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping president highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, Third Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, Fourth Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division and the United States Army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us pray. God who rules the world from everlasting to everlasting, speak to our hearts when our courage fails, our sight grows dim, when our bodies may grow weary. The valor we have honored today, keep us resolute and steadfast to things that cannot be shaken. Abounding in hope and knowing that our labor is not in vain. Keep in our faith in your eternal purpose, renew in us that love, which never fails lift up our eyes to behold beyond the things which are seen in temporal, the things which are unseen and eternal. We may be steadfast and loyal always. Of this we pray in your holy name, Amen.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody. I hope you all enjoy the reception. I want to not only thank Ty, but once again thank his extraordinary family, thank his unit, and thank you all of you for us being able to acknowledge the extraordinary sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make every single day and Ty's representative of exactly the kind of people and the quality of people who are serving us. We are grateful to them. God bless you all. God bless America. Thank you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ty Carter receiving the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Freedom from the president of the United States, the commander in chief, a very moving ceremony, indeed.

Nick Paton Walsh, our special correspondent, was in Afghanistan in 2009 when all of this was going on. You were there at that outpost not very much before that tragic incident occurred, Nick. Remind our viewers what was going on in Afghanistan around that time.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was the lead up to important elections that were supposed to put Hamid Karzai back into power with a decent mandate. There was much concern about that time. I remember being in this valley, which is kind of far up northeast Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, very hard to even get to. The helicopters we were flown in on had to look out the window, the pilots, to make sure their blades didn't actually hit the sides of the cliffs as they landed in this extraordinarily steep valley.

When you got there you saw this remarkable scene where effectively the base of being -- a ring of burnt out shells of former soviet armored personnel carriers. Soviets having fought a long and nasty war in Afghanistan way before the Americans even went there. So it was almost like they had taken shelter inside the carcasses of that soviet presence there. The hills constantly lined with rubble and any vantage point you could possibly imagine for the Taliban.

When we were there we went through about a 45-minute fire fight. A patroller went out from the base on the way back in. They took some fire, landing very close to myself and my cameraman. Then the Americans simply did what they could which was to light up much of that valley with the impressive fire power they had. But the abiding sentiment I got from speaking to soldiers there was I kept asking them the same question. Why are you guys actually here?

There was much discussion after that base was overrun, the weeks after I was there, why particularly tactically they'd chosen to put a base and sustain it in such an exposed position. I think many people after the extraordinary acts of bravely you've just heard outlined there by Barack Obama, commander in chief, looked into exactly why they'd chosen this position. The logic was, apparently, that it had been put there by a civilian reconstruction team and then fortified to be a military base and then had been decided that to leave would be a propaganda victory for the Taliban.

So they stuck it out. But the men I was with enduring remarkable conditions there where they never quite knew when attacks were going to start again. They even put barbed wire up some of the hillsides because they were concerned the Taliban may crawl down towards their camp. Soldiers were, I heard from soldiers there, afghan soldiers, in fact, shot while going to the bathroom there, a real sense of a base under siege there. But the men continually enduring those conditions and sticking it out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The 33 years old, Ty Carter receiving the Medal of Honor from the president of the United States. Nick Paton Walsh, stand by. We're going to discuss what's going on in Syria in a few moments as well. We'll take a quick break.

We're waiting to hear from the Secretary of State John Kerry. He's about to walk into the State Department briefing room. You see the reporters. They are there. They're getting ready to hear from the secretary of state on what's going on as far as Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.


BLITZER: For several days now the president of the United States has been meeting with top national security advisers after reports that the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad used chemical weapons against its own people, killing hundreds of individuals, men, women and children not far from the Syrian capital of Damascus. Now we're about to hear from the Secretary of State John Kerry. He's getting ready to go into the State Department briefing room and tell us the latest on what's going on.

Elise Labott, our foreign affairs reporter. She is on the scene for us. Elise, you're getting some information about what we may hear from the secretary of state?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. You've been hearing all weekend State Department and administration, White House officials, saying anonymously that the White House has no doubt that chemical weapons were used by the regime in Syria. It looks like Secretary Kerry will come out and very definitely say that the U.S. believes chemical weapons were used by President Bashar Al- Assad's regime and that the U.S. is talking with its allies about an appropriate response.

As you know, use of chemical weapons is a war crime against international law and I can tell you, Wolf, my sources telling me that the U.S. is working with its allies on some kind of legal justification for any military action that might take place. We know that President Obama has the meeting with his advisers. He hasn't met any decisions about what kind of action the U.S. would take, but it does look like the U.S. and its allies are preparing some kind of response.

We're told that if you look who President Obama and Secretary Kerry have been talking to over the weekend, the British, the French, Turkey, Canada, some of the allies in the Gulf like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. It looks as if the U.S. is putting together some kind of coalition of the willing and a coalition that might be gearing up towards some response and then would get into issues of legal justification. Would the U.S. go through NATO? Would the U.S. seek another U.N. Security Council resolution?

The Russians have vetoed several of them already, but there is some feeling in the State Department and other corners of the administration that in an effort to seek some kind of legal justification, which everybody feel they need for some type of action, you might want to try to go to the U.N. one more time. If you can't, you could have some kind of coalition strike with some type of NATO support. These are the type of things, Wolf, that the administration is discussing with its allies right now.

BLITZER: Standby for a moment because we want to hear what the secretary of state has to say and presumably he will be walking into that briefing room momentarily. Nick Paton Walsh has spent a lot of time in the region including inside Syria itself. It seems to be, Nick, that the Obama administration, the president of the United States as commander in chief, he will make the final decision, of course, three options in front of him.

One option, condemn it, use more words, but not take any military action. The second option, some limited military strike, let's say Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the Mediterranean either from warships or submarines or something even more robust as far as military action is concerned. Give us your assessment about what's going on because this is clearly a very, very delicate moment.

WALSH: Well, I think it's clear that the Obama administration feels it has to do something, but the price tag will, of course, influence them and it may make it impossible for them to agree on a no-fly zone, one of the more robust options. That's being said at about a billion dollars a month. They are unlikely to go for that.

Anything weaker like a naval blockade or some sort of elaborate sanctions, plan, that may not send the message that clear the Obama administration wants to send, which is no one can use chemical weapons with impunity. Bear in mind, there's a larger issue here regionally. The U.S. has to be clear that it's willing to intervene in the Middle East because it needs to show Iran in the longer term that it will enforce its own red line there about Iran trying to get hold of a nuclear weapon or develop one itself.

So I think the briefings being given at the moment seems to suggest that some sort of missile or air strike from outside of Syrian territory is the most likely option. That could be limited, that could be over in a matter of hours. It could strike air fields. It could take out key military and governmental or intelligence targets in that country.

Wolf, you've got to bear in mind, people have to assess what the impact of that will be across the region. You have Turkey, its own problems, many Syrian refugees. Bombs ripping through on one occasion its southern cities. We have Jordan reeling from hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, its economy already having problems, too. Anxious to not be further drawn in, trying to close its border, insulate itself from the damage.

Iraq, thousands dying each month from a conflict, which mirrors what's happening inside Syria and then of course, finally, Lebanon, I think most concerns about what could potentially happen there. A country which has many say teetering on the potential renewed sectarian conflict after that substantial bombing of last week in the northern city of Tripoli.

A real factor here is the Lebanese militants and political faction Hezbollah. They've been open how they're fighting inside Syria at this particular point. Were the United States to introduce itself to this conflict, you may see them take some kind of action -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A tough decision for the president of the United States especially since unlike in Libya, the U.N. Security Council has not authorized the use of military force to deal with the crisis in Syria. Nick, standby. Elise, standby as well. When we come back we expect to hear from the Secretary of State John Kerry.


BLITZER: All right, the secretary of state is now at the State Department.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: -- have been reviewing the situation in Syria. Today, I want to provide an update on our efforts as we consider our response to the use of chemical weapons. What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.

By any standard, it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable. The meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict in Syria itself and that conflict has already brought so much terrible suffering. This is about the large scale, indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all. A conviction shared, even by countries that agree on little else.

There is a clear reason that the world has banned entirely the use of chemical weapons. There is a reason the international community has set a clear standard and why many countries have taken major steps to eradicate these weapons. There is a reason why president Obama has made it such a priority to stop the proliferation of these weapons and lock them down where they do exist.

There is a reason why President Obama has made clear to the Assad regime that this international norm cannot be violated without consequences and there is a reason why no matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again.

Last night, after speaking with foreign ministers from around the world about the gravity of this situation, I went back and I watched the videos, the videos that anybody can watch in the social media. And I watched them one more gut wrenching time. It is really hard to express in words the human suffering that they lay out before us.

As a father, I can't get the image out of my head of a man who held up his dead child, wailing, while chaos swirled around him, the images of entire families dead in their beds without a drop of blood or even a visible wound, bodies contorting in spasms, human suffering that we can never ignore or forget, anyone who could claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass.

What is before us today is real and it is compelling. So I also want to underscore that while investigators are gathering additional evidence on the ground, our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscience, and guided by common sense. The reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground like "Doctors Without Borders" and the Syria Human Rights Commission, these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us is real that chemical weapons were used in Syria.

Moreover, we know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons. We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets. We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place. And with our own eyes, we have all of us become witnesses. We have additional information about this attack and that information is being compiled and reviewed together with our partners, and we will provide that information in the days ahead.

Our sense of basic humanity is offended not only by this cowardly crime, but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up. At every turn, the Syrian regime has failed to cooperate with the U.N. investigation. Using it only to stall and to stymie the important effort to bring to light what happened in Damascus in the dead of night. And as Ban Ki- Moon said last week, the U.N. investigation will not determine who used these chemical weapons only whether such weapons were used. A judgment that is already clear to the world.

I spoke on Thursday with the Syrian foreign minister. I made it very clear to him that if the regime, as he argued, had nothing to hide, then their response should be immediate, immediate transparency, immediate access. Not shelling. Their response needed to be unrestricted and immediate access. Failure to permit that, I told him, would tell its own story. Instead, for five days, the Syrian regime refused to allow the U.N. investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them.

Instead, it attacked the area further. Shelling it and systemically destroying evidence. That is not the behavior of a government that has nothing to hide. That is not the action of a regime eager to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons. In fact, the regime's belated decision to allow access is too late, and it's too late to be credible. Today's reports of an attack on the U.N. investigators, together with the continued shelling of these very neighborhoods, only further weakens the regime's credibility.

At President Obama's direction, I've spent many hours over the last few days on the phone with foreign ministers and other leaders. The administration is actively consulting with members of Congress, and we will continue to have these conversations in the days ahead. President Obama has also been in close touch with leaders of our key allies, and the president will be making an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons. Make no mistake.

President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny. Thank you.