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Obama: No Boots On The Ground In Iraq; U.S. Warplanes Target ISIS Fighters; WHO: Ebola Is A Public Health Emergency; Pope Francis Sending Envoy to Iraq; Bodies Still Missing in Flight Investigation

Aired August 9, 2014 - 08:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: All righty. Just 30 seconds from 8:00 now.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: And it's coming up on you.

PAUL: Yes, it is. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. This is NEW DAY Saturday.

PAUL: And we want to start with you in Iraq, because some remarkable new video we want to share with you of the first U.S. air strikes targeting ISIS militants now.

BLACKWELL: We've got the images now from the U.S. military, from FA- 18 fighter jets honing in on an ISIS artillery unit and then you see here, and wait for it here, it's the explosion, there it is.

PAUL: There you go. Those were the 500-pound laser-guided bombs, let loose on the terror group that now has thousands of Iraqis running to get out.

BLACKWELL: The attacks took place near Erbil, that's the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. You see there in orange on the top of the screen. It's also a home base for U.S. military and diplomatic personnel. Meantime, west of Erbil, over Mount Sinjar, U.S. military planes have now dropped more food and more water there.

PAUL: These are the aid packages. I want to show you this new video coming in. They were being prepped for members of the Yazidi minority who are trapped in the mountains by ISIS militants who, by the way, demand that they either convert to radical Islam or they die.

BLACKWELL: This night vision video, it shows the palettes dropping off a cargo plane. Australia's prime minister said this morning that his nation may also contribute aircraft to this U.S.-aide mission.

PAUL: I want to show you aerial views that we are getting in as well. Those bundles gliding down on parachutes. We are also learning today from British news reports that a British cargo plane is heading now to Iraq to deliver humanitarian help as well. All of this coming as the United Nations is trying to create a humanitarian corridor as they call it to help Iraqis get out of there.

BLACKWELL: For the Iraqis, trying to thwart the violence, you can see is growing more desperate. PAUL: I know senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, joins us now from Erbil. Ivan what are Iraqis there saying specifically this morning about the new developments of the U.S. air strikes?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that they have been a huge morale boost for the leadership of the Kurdistan region and for their fighting forces. A number of Kurdish military, Peshmerga officials that we talked to are telling us that the frontlines around this Kurdish city.

It's basically the capital of the Kurdistan region with the population of more than 1 million people, that the frontlines around here, which are very close by, only about 30 miles away, have been pretty quiet basically since President Obama issued his threat that he would use air power to protect this city if ISIS advanced here.

That has given the Peshmerga who have suffered significant casualties over the course of the last week and the entire Peshmerga units of this Kurdish fighters have dissolved in the past week. It has given them time to regroup.

I spoke with the governor of this city yesterday who was touring some of the places where some of the more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians have come to. The governor is a Sunni Kurd. He is a Muslim. He was working with a Christian archbishop to try to provide some assistance to this flood of humanity.

He was just telling me how fragile this Kurdish safe haven is right now and how threatened it is from the ISIS militants. Take a listen.


WATSON: How far away are the ISIS militants right now from Erbil?

GOVERNOR NAWZAD HADI, ERBIL, IRAQ: Some may be about 30 kilometers.

WATSON: That is very close.

HADI: Yes.

WATSON: And how is the battle going right now on that side?

HADI: Of course, there are forces fighting against them. They will try to step them. It is very important. The weapons they take from the Iraqi military in Mosul. Their weapons are not like the weapons. It is very important to attack them by the air.


WATSON: Christi and Victor, the Kurdish leadership delighted and pleased and relieved that the U.S. has started attacking ISIS because they are clearly overwhelmed. They cannot fight. The fight on the long front lines with ISIS and deal with the crisis of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees at the same time.

BLACKWELL: All right, Ivan Watson, relieve and thankful that the U.S. airstrikes have begun there. Thank you so much. Despite the air strikes in Iraq, President Obama says there will be not been any American boots, no troops on the ground.

PAUL: CNN's Erin McPike joins us live from Washington. What did the president say recently, Erin, here?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi and Victor, we got the remarks from President Obama's weekly address and in that address, he seeks to rationalize the case he's making for taking these two actions. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children who fled to that mountain were starving and dying of thirst. The food and water we air dropped will help them survive.

I've also approved targeted American airstrikes to help Iraqi forces break the siege and rescue these families. Earlier this week, one anguished Iraqi in this area cried to the world, there is no one coming to help. Today, America is helping.


PAUL: And President Obama goes on to say that he wants to continue with a broader strategy in Iraq to stop it as a safe haven for terrorists. We also heard from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest yesterday and in his briefing, he said there is no specific date laid out yet for the end of the mission.

So in other words, we don't know how long it could last or what it will look like. He also said that there is a growing concern about the military threat that the so-called Islamic state poses and they are taking steps to try to counteract that.

However, the reactions from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill have been swift and strong and they don't break down neatly along party lines. The number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, said he thinks that Iraq has descended into chaos. There is really nothing that the United States can do.

On top of that, House Speaker John Boehner, of course, the top Republican opponent to President Obama also said he is dismayed by the absence of a long-term strategy. He thinks President Obama needs to put one in place as far as Iraq is concerned -- Christi and victor.

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

BLACKWELL: Let's talk more about the U.S. military strategy in Iraq and the context of what we just heard Erin report for us. Joining us is Douglas Olivant. He is a senior national security fellow with the New America Foundation. He is also the former director of the National Security Council.

PAUL: Also joined by the Colonel Robert McGinnis, currently serving as the senior strategist for the U.S. Army in the Pentagon. Thank you both so much for being with us.

Lieutenant Colonel McGinnis, one told vice news, we will rise the ISIS threat?

LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): It is a serious threat, Christi. The Khalif, as he calls himself, was one of our arch enemies when we were on the ground in Iraq. An al Qaeda guy that morphed into something worse. He has ambitions in the Middle East. Their social media is very clear. They are very anti-American, very anti-west.

And very anti-anything that is not Islamic. We have to take the threat very seriously in terms of how he has been effective at recruiting people from outside of Iraq and Syria to come to the fight.

Including young boys, as we have seen in videos here recently. It is a very serious threat. We need to destroy as best as we can the threat before it morphs elsewhere.

BLACKWELL: You know, we have been talking, Christi and I, have been talking about al Qaeda and the differences between al Qaeda and ISIS. It makes me think, that was back to 2008. I'm sure you will remember this hearing. When David Petraeus came before the committee and Senator Obama, Senator Clinton and Senator McCain were there asking about al Qaeda there in Iraq.

Senator Obama then asks is the goal here to just make sure that al Qaeda is not able to launch strikes from Iraq? Because it seems maybe and I'm paraphrasing here, impossible that you will completely eliminate them. So asked in the context of ISIS, is the goal here to completely eliminate ISIS? Is that possible or is it to marginalize them so that they cannot strike the U.S.?

DOUGLAS OLLIVANT, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: In the short-term, there is no way we can hope to eliminate them in a very real way. So in the short-term, all we hope to do is military attack and in the longer term, we can hope that this gets defeated internal to Iraq. They are very clear. They do want to come after the west.

Their first priority is what they call the near enemy going after the regimes of Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. But after that their aims are pretty clear. They intend to keep moving.

PAUL: OK so, Colonel McGinnis, the question as they edge closer to Erbil, and we are getting word that they are getting closer to Erbil. We have those refugees so to speak, they are holdup in churches and there are several military and diplomatic personnel there.

When will it be time if at all to evacuate those Americans because what happens if an American is killed in this? Does that just bring us into a whole new ball game here?

MAGINNIS: Of course, it does. Yes, we do have an operation cell. We have a consulate there. We have a lot of ex-patriots that came from this country. The reality is we can help Peshmerga, which is essentially a pretty good ground force and destroying the artillery and mortar, destroying them when they mass -- keep in mind, arterial lines of movement.

They can quickly move people from one location and overwhelm an enemy. But Peshmerga has put up pretty good defenses. They don't have the air cover. With the air cover, we make a major difference here and so I think working closely with them.

And they get the logistics they need out of Baghdad and elsewhere, they have a reasonably good chance of fending off ISIS. But only fending them off in their own area. It is elsewhere that we need to be concerned as well.

BLACKWELL: Douglas, how many ISIS fighters are we talking here? Are the numbers increasing or decreasing? There was a time when there were other Sunni groups that were joining ISIS. Is that still happening and what are the numbers right now?

OLLIVANT: The bottom line is we really don't know. I think we are projecting around 5,000 to 10,000 fighters, but we think they are getting a flood. Because of their success, they are now the big game in the Jihadi world. We have all kinds of fighters flocking there.

They have a lot of experience. They have been fighting in Syria. They have we know some Chechen and Bosnian very senior veterans who are training their new recruits. We've seen the results. They are fighting very well against the Iraqi army.

Let's be frank. The Peshmerga did not do much better than the Iraqi army did until they backed up into the mountains. So much more defensible terrain and now they have U.S. air strikes helping them there. So ISIS has proved itself to be very, very potent against every other force in the region.

BLACKWELL: All right, Douglas Ollivant and Colonel Robert Maginnis, thank you both for helping us this this morning.

PAUL: Thank you, Gentlemen.

Gaza, meanwhile, the other story we are watching today. Once again, a bloody war zone this morning after a three-day cease-fire ends. We are headed there live with you.

BLACKWELL: And for the first time since touching down in America, one of the two Americans infected with the deadly Ebola virus is talking about his condition.


BLACKWELL: More death and destruction in Gaza in the wake of the crumbling of those peace talks again. In just a day since the short- lived truce came to an end, a reported ten Palestinians have been killed.

PAUL: And as we speak, Palestinian officials say they are digging to retrieve the bodies of at least three people who died when an Israeli air strike hit a mosque. They say two others were killed in a separate strike as well. Now the Israeli military went after 30 targets in Gaza today. Five rockets were fired meanwhile from Gaza into Israel. Let's go now to Gaza. CNN's John Vause is monitoring the developments on the ground.

John, rockets were fired from Gaza, but do we know who is taking responsibility for that at this point?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christi and Victor, right now, we are up to six rockets, which have now been fired from Gaza into Israel. Islamic Jihad claiming responsibility for most of that rocket fire. Hamas, though, which is never shy in claiming responsibility when they fire rockets into Israel.

So far has not claimed any responsibility since that cease-fire ended more than 24 hours ago. Look at the death toll today. Five people so far killed. Three at the mosque. Two others who are riding on the motorcycle. Indication from the Israelis that it was a targeted strike on militants.

Not entirely sure where they were from, which group. Whether it was a Hamas or some other militant group. On Friday, when that cease-fire ended, another five people were killed.

Yes, ten people dead so far since that cease-fire ended. Compared to the death toll that we saw in the run up to the cease-fire, each day, more than 100 people were being killed and in sometimes in just in one area alone in Rafah, in the southern part of Gaza.

More than 100 people were killed the day the first cease-fire unravelled. When we look at the death toll, it is a lot lower than it has been in the past. Also, the Israelis are keeping up with their military offensive. It does seem to be deescalating.

They do continue to hit targets. There are regular air strikes here, which we have heard and felt. Certainly nothing compared to what it was before that cease-fire went into effect earlier this week. Same can be said for the number of rockets, which are fired from Gaza into Israel -- Christi and Vic.

BLACKWELL: John, you know, we heard from Mark Regev, the spokesperson for Prime Minister Netanyahu. There are no talks while they are still being hit with rockets. But are any signs from either side there are movements about, just not in front of the curtain?

VAUSE: Look, there is a lot of reporting on the Palestinian side. A lot of talk on the Palestinian side that maybe once the Jewish Sabbath comes to an end at sundown today, they could resume the negotiations and receive an answer to end the economic blockade of Gaza to reopen the borders. That just seems to be one sided at this point.

There is no confirmation, in fact, outright denial from the Israelis that they are heading back to Cairo. They have no intention. That is odd given the fact we seem to be witnessing some kind of de-escalation of the Israeli offensive over Gaza as well as the amount of rocket fire coming out of Gaza.

PAUL: All right. John Vause, you and the team stay safe there. Thank you so much.

Now thousands of families as we have been talking about it in Gaza have seen the homes destroyed or damaged since this fighting began. To find out how you can help those people who are impacted by this crisis, just go to It's all there for you.

BLACKWELL: Growing stronger every day. That's how one of two Americans infected with the deadly Ebola virus describes his recovery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. We have the latest on his condition as health officials declare Ebola an international emergency.


BLACKWELL: In his first public statement since coming back to the U.S., Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted the Ebola virus while working in West Africa, he says he is, "receiving the very best care possible" and that is a quote and another quote, "getting stronger every day."

PAUL: He is one of two Americans remember infected with Ebola, both patients being treated here in Atlanta at Emory University Hospital.

BLACKWELL: The World Health Organization now calling it an international health emergency. It is blamed for the deaths of nearly 1,000 people. You can see here it is hitting West Africa hard.

PAUL: Dr. William Schaffner from Vanderbilt University Medical Center is joining us now. He is one of the country's leading experts on infectious diseases. We know that these two patients at Emory have been getting an experimental treatment of sort because there is no cure. How much of that do you think can be contributed of that experimental treatment can be contributed to what seems to be a stronger health for them?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, VANDERBILT MEDICAL CENTER: Well, Christi and victor, we are gratified that Kent Brantly is doing better. How much the experimental treatment has contributed to their good progress we just don't know? You know, they were the first people whoever received this medication.

We have no clinical trials to tell us what kind of contribution it would make. We hope it is making a contribution because we certainly need specific treatment for this illness.

BLACKWELL: You know, Emory University Hospital where these two patients have been taken here is here in Atlanta. CNN World Headquarters here in Atlanta as well. We have the benefit of listening to the local news and local radio stations. People asked what does this mean for me. Is it possible I can get it? What is the threat to Americans?

SCHAFFNER: Well, fortunately, victor, there is really no threat. This is a confined infection. These people are being well taken care of in an infection control circumstances at Emory. This is not an infection that will sneak out of the hospital and get out into the general population. Also, if there are people from West Africa going to Vanderbilt or Dubuque, Iowa, or anywhere, we all have the infection control capacity to manage these people and take very good care of them, safely.

PAUL: With the WHO calling this an international health emergency, how do you contain and control in Africa where it continues to spread?

SCHAFFNER: Well, the WHO, the CDC, and others are putting more personnel and more resources in helping those ministries of health do the routine public health and clinical things that are important.

We need to find all the cases, get them into good medical care and contact tracing. Put people who are in contact in isolation and not let this disease spread. We have to interrupt the transmission of this virus.

BLACKWELL: Let's put this into context. We talked a lot about Ebola and the death count. We rarely talk about the death count from things like influenza or H1N1. Let's put this numbers up, the swine flu, the CDC estimates between 8,000 and 18,000 Americans died from the -- worldwide rather, died worldwide from that.

The CDC says during that same period, there were more than 18,000 confirmed deaths around the world. You know, thousands from the flu. Help us understand is it possible that this is being overhyped?

SCHAFFNER: Well, it is new and different and psychologists tell us, we human beings, when there is something new, mysterious threatening and over which we have no control that raises our anxiety. As opposed to influenza, which is more vastly serious and a much more regular threat to us. It is familiar. There are things we can do.

We can get vaccinated and wash our hands and avoid people who are coughing and sneezing. We have a sense of control of our exposure. This is the mysterious and when individuals feel they don't have a lot of control that raises the anxiety. We like to be reassuring.

PAUL: Well, speaking of the flu, I've heard some rumblings that perhaps there is a pretty nasty flu ahead. A strain of it for this winter. This season coming up. What do you know about what we would need to do or what we need to prepare ourselves for with this newest flu strain that may be touching a lot of average Americans?

SCHAFFNER: Actually, Christi, so far, the experts looking into the crystal balls have predicted last year's flu strains are going to be the dominant flu strains this year. Everyone should get vaccinated. CDC's recommendation, if you are older than 6 months of age in the United States, get vaccinated. Get your family protected.

PAUL: All right. Dr. William Schaffner, we appreciate it. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, doctor.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you. PAUL: The other big story we are watching is the U.S. air strikes. They are continuing in Iraq. The obvious question is how we will this work?

BLACKWELL: Our political experts weigh in on the consequences of military action against radical extremists. Stay with us for that.


PAUL: Just about the bottom of the hour's here on a Saturday morning. Welcome back. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you. Let's start this half with five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

Up first, a game changer ruling -- that's what it's being called. A U.S. federal judge has decided against the NCAA, writing that the collegiate governing body violated anti-trust laws by agreeing with member schools not to pay athletes although the player's names and images are used to generate revenues. This could mean basketball and football players could start getting paid for college sports.

Number two -- a historic day. Michael Sam played his first professional football game becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL. The St. Louis Rams rookie was put in during the last five minutes of the game against the New Orleans Saints. Did a solid job as the defensive end, got a tackle and put pressure on the Saints quarterback.

Number three, Delta named as the top airline by travel blog Airfare Watchdog. The site says the carrier got top marks for fewest canceled flights and mishandled bags and most on-time arrivals. It's a big move up from last year when Delta was ranked sixth.

PAUL: Number four, California Governor Jerry Brown has denied parole to a former Charles Manson associate, Bruce Davis, who you see here serving a life sentence for two murders he committed in 1969. Charles Manson became a cult figure after his group went on the gruesome killing spree back in the 60s. No Manson family member, as they were called, has ever been freed solely for good behavior.

Number five, the death of Ronald Reagan's former press secretary James Brady has been ruled a homicide. Brady died this week at age 73. A medical examiner says it was due to wounds he sustained in 1981 when he was shot during an assassination attempt on President Reagan. The shooter, John Hinckley, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

PAUL: All right. Now let's get to the crisis in Iraq. President Obama says the decision to act now against radical Islamic extremists and conduct these airstrikes is all part of an effort to stop the terrorist group ISIS from ransacking the country.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action. That is my responsibility as commander in chief. When many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action.


BLACKWELL: Well, tens of thousands of religious minorities have already been given an ultimatum by ISIS fighters. Convert to their version of Islam or die.

PAUL: In danger? Women and children such as some of those you're going to see here and some of those you see right there. They have been forced to escape to the mountains to avoid execution.

BLACKWELL: But will U.S. air strikes work and what could be the political consequences here at home?

Let's talk more with CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona. We are also joined by Republican strategist and radio host Ben Ferguson. Ben and Maria, thank you very much.



PAUL: Good morning. Good to see you.

BLACKWELL: So the first question here, we heard from the President, Maria, that he says -- and I wrote it down -- "When many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out and we have the capacity to do something, we will take action. That is our responsibility as Americans." Where was that dedication to responsibility in Syria two or three years ago?

CARDONA: I think the big distinction the President has been making ever since he announced these actions in Iraq is two things. Number one, where existed the unique ability to do something right then and there and that is exactly what we have now. Number two, a mandate to do something -- the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people have asked for our help. I think those two things are really distinguished what the President is doing now as opposed any other place in the where we would love to do something immediately.

We don't like to see genocide anywhere. But I think the American people are a war-weary nation and they understand that we can't possibly be the global police at all times even though our hearts want us to. We have to be very methodical about this. We have to be very measured, but we have to be bold when we can. That is exactly what this president is doing.

PAUL: Gloria Borger wrote, "We are all clear on what the President won't do. We're still not sure about what he will do and maybe neither does he." How much confidence do you have in the President right now -- Ben?

FERGUSON: Not a lot. And the reason why is he always seems to be leading from behind on foreign policy issues. I mean we knew exactly how brutal ISIS was because they were doing the same things they were doing now in Syria. They have been doing the same things they are doing now that we are responding to two and a half months ago in Iraq. We saw them taking our military -- you know, pieces of equipment we left behind and using them to then go in and slaughter people.

And so the issue is if you are ISIS, are you afraid of the United States of America? The answer is based on their actions, no because we've already said what we won't do. And I think that's one of the terrible mistakes we're seeing. You see the President come out in his radio address saying we're not going to go to war. We're not going to troops on the ground. He is telling them all of the options of what we're not going to do. You never tell your enemy that. We will have air strikes, but only under these circumstances.

I don't want the President to give our playbook to this terrorist organization which has now become the most well-funded and everyone sees how successful they've been in the jihadi world so they're coming to their aid to help.

American has to be bold. We can't lead from behind. And when we do, it costs innocent people their lives like they are in Iraq right now with this genocide of anyone who refuses to become an Islamic extremist.

PAUL: Maria -- you're shaking your head.

CARDONA: Yes. Yes. Well, first of all I think what the President is doing is very bold.

Number two, let's keep this in mind. What is going on in Iraq will not be solved militarily by the United States no matter how much the Republican neo-cons want it to be. When we had 150,000 troops in Iraq, this was not solved. When we had 100,000, this was not solved. This will not be solved until a political solution is embraced in Iraq by the government creating a diverse and multiple government that includes all of the sectors of society.

That has started to happen. Part of the President's strategy is to make sure that the United States is ready to support those efforts and at the same time to make sure when American lives are in danger and when sectors of society are at the brink of being murdered and genocide. Then that is when the President will act like he is doing now.

It is what the American people want. They don't want troops on the ground. They don't want an extended military engagement.

PAUL: Ok, ok.

FERGUSON: Let me say this.

PAUL: They don't want troops on the ground, but one of the ISIS fighters told Vice News, we will raise the flag of Allah at the White House.

CARDONA: Well, of course, they're going to say that.

PAUL: Has the administration though -- and then, of course, you have President Obama back in January told the "New Yorker", if the JV Team puts on Lakers' uniforms, that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant -- referring to ISIS.