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Crisis in Iraq: Terrorists Slaughtering Soldiers; New Investigation into Bergdahl Launched; Three Teens Kidnapped by Terrorists in West Bank; San Antonio Spurs Win Fifth Title in 16 Years; US First Game in World Cup Tonight

Aired June 16, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Crisis in Iraq. Terrorists slaughtering Iraqi soldiers in the streets. Cities left devastated and divided. This morning, the U.S. evacuating its embassy as the violence escalates. We are live in Baghdad with the latest.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: How did the Taliban capture Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl? This morning, a new investigation launched to figure out why the now-freed soldier left his post in Afghanistan nearly five years ago. This, as we learn new information about the five Taliban terrorists traded for his return.

BERMAN: Three teens kidnapped by terrorists in the West Bank. One victim, an American. And this morning, the desperate search to find these young men. We're live in Israel with what's happening this morning.

A lot going on this morning. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, it's June 16, it is 5:00 a.m. on the nose in the East. Let's start with ISI militants gaining ground, tightening their grip on northern Iraq. The used a deadly assault to take the city of Tal Afar as they march closer to Baghdad. Now, the group's brutal tactics were put on full display. Chilling photos posted to the Internet appeared to show ISIS executions of Iraqi security forces.

Now the U.S. is evacuating some of its staff and bringing in extra security. Reports overnight say a few hundred militants have been killed. But will that enough to slow the rapidly deteriorating situation. We want to get to Nic Robertson. He is live in Baghdad this morning. Nic, what can you tell us is happening there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well the government is launching air strikes against ISIS targets. The administrative defense here released video shot by helicopters of helicopters firing on buildings on the ground.

What's interesting about that is you don't see people around those buildings; you don't see casualties. The government has not yet shown or proven it's killed as many or any ISIS fighters as it claims at the moment. ISIS, on the other hand, bypassed over the weekend a line in the sand drawn about two hours' drive north of Baghdad. They bypassed it and took a town just three-quarters an hour away from Baghdad. They also took that town in the north.

But this latest -- these latest images that have been released by ISIS that purport show them, and they claim, and that indicate a large number of Iraqi soldiers in civilian clothes being lined up, walked away, laying down in a field. It looks like a shallow grave. And then gunmen, clearly ISIS gunmen from the flags they're carrying, shoot these men at close range. This sort of brutal sectarian murder is what's going to flame the tensions here.

So while the United States is relocating some of their staff to safer areas in Iraq and outside of the country, bringing in extra security, the indications here on the ground are ISIS, whatever the Iraqi government says, is on the move and is still capable of taking towns, Christine.

ROMANS: You know, Nic, the American embassy there is the largest embassy in the world, American facility in the world. What can you tell us about what the Americans are doing, what the American presence is in Iraq right now?

ROBERTSON: Well, there are contractors in the country. Many of those have left. The advice has been to leave. Certainly, there will be -- there will be projects that would have been ongoing in the country that can no longer safely, or reasonably safely, be continued so the staff become unnecessary in the current situation.

But of course some have been moved to Basra in the south. That's a Shia dominated area; it's relatively stable. And the north, some are moved to the Kurdish area. In the north, that's relatively stable so that's a safe location. So many of the staff are still in country. But the State Department says there will be enough staff in Baghdad to fulfill national security requirements.

Now, not all embassies have drawn down on staff. But, certainly, in the area where the embassies are, it is a very, very secure area with multiple rings of security before you even get to that very, very secure and fortified U.S. embassy. It is a very safe location in the city. I would venture, one, if not the safest. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Nic Robertson. Thanks for that, Nic.

BERMAN: That's such a rapidly deteriorating situation right now. The U.S. may find its an unlikely ally in the fight to slow ISIS. Direct talks are set to begin this week with Iran, which has been a close ally of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Despite testy relations with Iran, one prominent Republican says it is time the U.S. brought them into the discussion.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: They are in this. They are already on the ground. We need to put a red line with Iran. You can help stabilize. Well, you sit down and talk with them. Why did we deal with Stalin? Because he was not as bad as Hitler. The

Iranians can provide some assets to make sure Baghdad doesn't fall. We need to coordinate with the Iranians, and the Turks need to get in the game and get the Sunni Arabs back in the game, form a new government without Maliki.


BERMAN: It's very complicated, but the talks are not without precedence. (AUDIO GAP) negotiator had extensive talks with the Bush administration after September 11. That was about removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.

ROMANS: Meantime, Pakistan's wasting no more time dealing with the Taliban. The military launching a major operation against the militants of their base along the Afghan border. Pakistani fighter jets targeted hideouts in North Waziristan Sunday, killing more than 100 militants. Pakistani Taliban responded telling foreign companies to leave Pakistan immediately, and an equally damaging response, they say, is in store.

Breaking overnight, Russia set to cut its supply of gas to Ukraine. The two countries failed to reach a deal last night and Russia's state-run gas company says Ukraine owes $4.5 billion. This latest disagreement comes days after pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane. That killed 49 people.

BERMAN: A two-star army general appointed to investigate circumstances behind Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance: how and why he left base in Afghanistan and then got captured five years ago. Those circumstances still unclear. He was freed two weeks ago as part of a Taliban prisoner exchange. A senior defense official declined to name the general before the formal announcement.

ROMANS: A Pentagon prosecutor says convictions would have been unlikely for the Taliban members freed in the Bergdahl swap. Brigadier General Mark Martin cited a study showing the military would likely fail to convict roughly 200 Guantanamo Bay detainees. Without convictions, they would have been released when the detention center closes. Lawmakers have slammed this prisoner swap, saying it puts U.S. troops at risk.

BERMAN: Vice President Joe Biden will visit Central America this week for talks on how to keep children from heading to the U.S. illegally. He will sit down with leaders from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to emphasize that the United States just doesn't have the resources to help some 60,000 children who migrate to the United States each year. The Vice President will also make stops in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, also Brazil, where he will watch the United States play in the World Cup. Their first game is tonight.

ROMANS: Berman is ready.

All right, hundreds of thousands of people who enrolled in Obamacare could have their subsidies revoked over eligibility issues. The Obama administration is contacting enrollees to ask for documents. They want to verify income, citizenship and health coverage from employers. The 8 million people who signed up, data for 2 million people doesn't match government records.

BERMAN: We have new details this morning about a failed U.S. effort to find a way to capture Edward Snowden. The "Washington Post" reports that constant meetings were held while the NSA leaker was holed up in a Moscow airport last year. But, really, outside of asking the Russians for help and hoping Snowden made a mistake, there was no viable solution reached. The hope was Snowden would try to fly somewhere else, then have an ally order the plane down in their air space.

ROMANS: Interesting.

All right, time for an early start on your money. European shares lower right now; Asian stocks ended the day mostly down. Futures in the U.S. pointing lower this morning. Markets have been shaken by the escalating violence in Iraq. That's driving stocks down and oil prices up. Oil prices are up about 4 percent since the start of the month. Crude oil is now more than $107 a barrel; that's the highest since September last year.

So far, oil exports in Iraq have been mostly unaffected, but there are growing fears that supply could take it hit as the world demand spikes the center. As you can see from this map, we made you this map, Berman, attacks by insurgents already shut off exports from oil fields earlier this year. Exports in the south, that's the heart of the country's oil industry, that's what people are so worried about. If those take a hit, we could see prices skyrocket. It's interesting -- AAA yesterday sent out a press release saying drivers, motorists of the U.S. should brace themselves for up to ten cents a gallon for gasoline because of all this.

BERMAN: Yes, the markets do not like what's happening right now.

All right, let's talk about the NBA basketball champions, the San Antonio Spurs with their fifth title in 16 years. They knocked off Lebron James and the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. They did it in five games. They made it look easy, folks. The final score was 104-87. Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who is really now one of the emerging stars in the league, with the series MVP. Look at Tim Duncan there right in the middle. Seventeen seasons in the NBA, five championships. Truly an amazing player and an amazing team. We'll have much more on this victory coming up in the Bleacher Report.

ROMANS: How many times did you say amazing?

BERMAN: They really just crushed the Heat. They made the Heat look like amateurs and the Heat have won two titles in a row. Very, very impressive.

Happening now, a desperate search to find three teenagers kidnapped by terrorists. We're live with the very latest this morning.

ROMANS: Breaking news overnight, a fast-moving wildfire forcing hundreds to evacuate their homes. This morning, those flames are spreading.

BERMAN: We've got some serious chaotic storms tearing through the Midwest and there could be more on the way. Indra Petersons tracking what is heading your way this Monday morning. That's right after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Israelis banding together this morning in hopes of bringing home three teenagers who officials say were abducted as they walked home from school last week, including one who has American citizenship. In a rare English address, hoping to rally global support, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the blame squarely at the feet of Hamas. A mother of one the missing teens now making a passionate personal plea as more Palestinians are taken into custody. Israelis are rounding up many Palestinians.

Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem with more. Ben, we understand that the prime minister just spoke with the Palestinian leader this morning.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that 's correct, John. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had a phone conversation just a little while ago with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in which he stressed that Mahmoud Abbas should do everything he can to help find these three teenagers and also to catch the kidnappers. Shortly after that, the Palestinian president's office issued a statement condemning the kidnapping of the three teenagers and calling on all sides to show restraint.

In the meantime, overnight, we are told that around 40 Palestinians were detained for questioning as part of this massive search that's going on, not here in the southern West Bank. Also in Ramallah, there were clashes when Palestinians objected to an Israeli teen that went into that Palestinian town.

What we also understand is that more details, John, are emerging about the kidnapping itself that happened on Thursday night. According to reports in the Israeli media, at 10:22, one of those three teenagers called the police, said we are being kidnapped. But, apparently, communications broke down and the army was not alerted to the kidnapping until 5:00 a.m. That means that the kidnappers had six hours and 38 minutes to make their getaway.

And this is a very small country. You can get to any border in this country -- north, south, east and west -- in well less than six hours. So, there's a lot of anger at the moment at the Israeli police for bungling already the search for the teenagers. John?

BERMAN: The prime minister has been public saying that he knows it was Hamas that was behind this. And he's been making these addresses in English on the world really knows his feelings. What is the motivation here, Ben, do you think?

WEDEMAN: Well, we haven't until now, John, actually seen rock hard proof that Hamas was behind it. And even there's reports in the Israeli media that some members of Israeli intelligence are not altogether convinced this was a kidnapping that was coordinated or ordered by the highest levels of Hamas' military wing.

Keep in mind, however, that the Israelis are very unhappy about the unity pact that has been made between Fatah, the main Palestinian faction in the West Bank, and Hamas, which is in power in Gaza. And certainly they are stressing that this deal was a mistake, the deal between Hamas and Fatah, and this is the result. John?

BERMAN: All right, Ben Wedeman for us in Jerusalem. Ben, thanks so much for being with us.

ROMANS: Tributes are pouring in this morning for radio legend Casey Kasem. The creator of "American Top 40" died Sunday. He was 82 years old. Kasem hosted the weekly countdown show for four decades. He had been in failing health and was recently the subject of a bitter court battle pitting three of his children against his second wife. Ryan Seacrest, who took over at the "Top 40" from Kasem a decade ago, says he's dedicating next week's episode to the radio icon.

BERMAN: Officials say a Phoenix priest attacked in an attack at a church that left a fellow priest dead is expected to make a full recovery. Police say 56-year-old Father Joseph Terra was severely beaten during the robbery last week. 28-year-old Father Kenneth Walker was shot to death during the incident. His funeral is set for today. No arrests have been made.

ROMANS: Happening today, a public service for Jared Padgett. He is the Oregon teen police shot and killed a fellow student, wounded a teacher, before killing himself last week. And now Padgett's father trying to make amends. Michael Padgett sent a letter to the family of 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman. The hand-delivered letter reportedly apologizes for his son's actions. Police say the suspect took the guns used in the shooting from his family home.

BERMAN: A fast moving wildfire threatening 1,000 homes in central California. Want you to look at these pictures. Look at the flames, look at the smoke in and around the Sequoia National Forest. Police roamed nearby streets urging residents to get out, to evacuate. Crews have that fire about 10 percent contained now; they're trying to have it under control before even hotter, drier weather arrives.

ROMANS: And meantime residents are cleaning up after powerful storms that rocked western Missouri. This is the damage in Raytown; it's a suburb of Kansas City. Heavy rain, winds, knocked down trees and power lines.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Woke me up out of a dead sleep. Just looked out the window, I heard a loud crash after I heard the winds. Looked outside and didn't see the tree that's normally there. I looked out when it got a little bit lighter and seeing that it had fallen next to my truck. I looked up the street and a larger tree had fallen. Our power flickered and went out.


ROMANS: At one point, about 20,000 customers were without power.

BERMAN: More trouble on the way with more violent stormed headed to the Plains and Midwest. Indra Petersons is here to tell us what's on tap for this Monday.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, could be a little bit tricky this Monday. What we are looking at right now is kind of the country split in half. You have the pattern of the ridge over in the east and out west, you're looking at a low. What does this mean? It means 14 million of you, today, will have the threat for severe weather. There is a chance we could heighten this risk as we go through the afternoon.

As far as the focus area, we are talking about places like Minneapolis, Madison, Des Moines, even back in through Omaha. Especially as we go through the afternoon again, we get that daytime heating, we see those thunderstorms fire up. We will have that threat even for tornadoes.

Again, the other side of it being all that moisture. Remember all tha thumidity we saw last week? We are going to see that filling back in. And of course as that low slides across, that's going to fire up some of these thunderstorms. So heavier where you have more of that flight risk region and then kind of some scattered showers really pushing all the way into the eastern half of the country.

So although it's not the main focus of the day, either way, over the next several days, we had a beautiful weekend in the northeast, not really the case. It's going to be hot; it's going to be muggy. Temperatures will be going up. And round after round of scattered showers kind of on the lighter side, some thunderstorms out there, could be heavier over the next several days. That's the big picture. Temperature wise, this is what we are all going to be talking about.


PETERSONS: They are going way up. And this is our starting point. By the end of the week, we are talking mid-90s and upper 90s here out toward New York City. Hot and humid. yes.

ROMANS: All right, thanks Indra.

BERMAN: Turning on the oven.

All right, speaking of the Heat, yes, they didn't do it. Not at all. They're going home with nothing. The Spurs going home with everything. Their fifth NBA title. How did they do it? Joe Carter explains their amazing play in the Bleacher Report, next.


BERMAN: So for the fifth time in 16 years, the San Antonio Spurs are the NBA champs. They beat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, and they did it in dominating fashion.

ROMANS: Berman keeps saying amazing, amazing, amazing. Is he right, Joe?

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes, yes. It's remarkable, really, it is. When you look at the fact that the Spurs just -- I mean just because they are a small market team, we don't talk about them as much. But it's remarkable. I mean, if this team as based in L.A. or New York or Chicago, they would be definitely identified as an incredible dynasty.

But you can't ignore the fact that this was supposed to be one of the most competitive series, considering the fact last year it was so competitive. It was going to be a rematch of the ages. But it wasn't even close. The Spurs got this one done in five games. They won all four games by double digits. When you add up those wins, it actually goes down as the largest margin of victory in the history of the NBA finals.

So sort of boring to watch, if you're the average fan. And what can you say but remarkable. Coach Popovich did it again with these guys. Five titles in 16 years as John Berman said, and Tim Duncan, who's been the driving force behind all five of those titles, is the first player to win a title in three different decades.


TIM DUNCAN, SAN ANTONIO SPURS PLAYER: It's amazing to think about having done this five times. And for the stretch and the span between them, to still be in a situation where we can win or I can win another championship has been an amazing blessing.


CARTER: Five titles and two cute kids. The finals loss is certainly going to make for interesting summer in South Beach. The future of the Big Three is up in the air -- Lebron, Dwayne and Bosh can all opt out of their contracts and leave Miami, if they so choose.

Well, trending this morning on, Martin Kaymer routs the filed at the U.S. Open. He won a second career major by eight strokes Sunday. And it was really a formality round for him because he had played so well during the first two days of the tournament. He shot back-to-back 65s on Thursday and Friday. Kaymer's win on Fathers' Day comes on the heels of his win at the Players Championship, which happened to be on Mothers' Day.

Well, history is made yesterday in Brazil during the France-Honduras match. A FIFA used the controversial goal line technology to confirm a goal by France in the 49th minute. This is the first time the new technology was used in an international match to confirm a goal in the game. The technology is very similar to what's used in professional tennis to identify whether the ball is in or out.

And, guys, I know John is geeked up for this. Team USA plays later today. They play Ghana in their first World Cup match at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. It's game time. And, considering their group, John, I think we both can agree on this, today is a must win for the U.S. men. BERMAN: Must win. This is one of the biggest games in U.S. soccer

history. I recommend everyone watch and cheer on this team tonight. Joe Carter, great to see you. Thanks so much. This has been one of the most entertaining World Cups really I've ever seen.

ROMANS: What time is that game?

BERMAN: That game's at 6:00 tonight. Which means it will run slightly past our bedtime. So I will be tired tomorrow morning. But hopefully happy and tired.

ROMANS: All right, happening now, Iraq in crisis. Terrorists slaughtering soldiers in the streets; the United States now evacuating its embassy and finding an unlikely ally to stop complete chaos from erupting. We've got live team coverage of the situation in Iraq right after the break.