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U.S. Conducts Airstrikes Against Isis In Syria, Iraq; New U.S. Terror Alert After Strikes In Syria; Feds Warns of Lone Wolf Terror Threats In U.S.; Airstrikes Disrupt Imminent Plot Targeting Planes

Aired September 23, 2014 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good evening again from the United Nations where there is breaking news tonight in history in the making tomorrow. That's when President Obama will become the first American President to chair the meeting at the U.N. Security Council.

He'll do it as a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. He's presiding over a major new war. When the U.N. was founded just after the World War II, the aim was to keep the peace but also enforce global security.

Tonight, with the direct military help of five other member countries, the United States, a founding member of the U.N. is doing just that in those five countries are making history as well.

Sunni countries for the first time taking military action against its Sunni extremist threat. A lot of coverage tonight including fresh airstrikes and a new warning about possible terror reprisal attacks here inside of the United States.

Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto begins the hour for us.

So there is this first round of airstrikes, what more do we know about this coalition?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the coalition is big in the region and this is one of the President's goals going in. He wanted to have regional buy-in and he got it. You have five countries -- Sunni countries as we've talked about before, many of them bordering Syria, many of them under direct threat from ISIS taking part. And not just taking part in support roles or -- but directly with strike aircraft dropping bombs on ISIS targets and they're making assurances now that they're going to be in it for the long haul just as the U.S. is.

COOPER: In terms of the next steps though -- I mean, how many targets are there actually?

SCIUTTO: Great question. That was a great question, because -- look at it already, this time last night -- and we keep in mind it's past 4:00 in the morning, Syria time, these strikes taking place overnight.

This time, last night there were multiple strikes underway. It's quiet so far. I'm told by U.S. officials that tonight is the night of bomb damage assessment. They're looking to see what success those strikes have last night. And that's important at this stage but you also saw at the end of that first wave of strikes, some very small targets being taken out. A truck there, a convoy of two here -- that speaks volumes about what could be the next steps because as big as ISIS is in Syria and that's their safe haven.

It is a fairly scattered group and it's a group that can scatter when it has a campaign like this underway.

COOPER: It's also a group which doesn't need a, you know, a command and control center with a bank of computers to operate them. They can do it with cell phones, they can do it with radios, they...

SCIUTTO: That's right.

COOPER: ... they're relatively mobile and quite adaptive.

SCIUTTO: Command and control is important but they don't behave like an army. I mean, they do take territory like an army but they don't need those big centers like an army does. They can move around and that's going to be a challenge going forward for this campaign which is exactly they're using under pressure.

COOPER: Half a million dollar cruise missiles to take out a vehicle.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. And that's very interesting as you came to those targets just at the end of yesterday's strikes. If you're seeing that now this early in that campaign, where does it say about where it's going?

COOPER: And Jim, stick around. I also want to bring our Justice Correspondent Pamela Brown for more on the terror alert here in the United States.

So what do we know about this Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've learned that DHS and the FBI, Anderson have sent a bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the county asking them to stay on heightened alert and to remain vigilant against lone-wolf attacks in the U.S. in the wake of the strike in Syria.

This bulletin says that in the initial assessment that the strikes did successfully disrupt after plotting by al-Qaeda operatives in Syria as well as ISIS but as a result there's a concern that that could contribute to homegrown violent extremism here at home. Lone-wolfs have long been a concern by Intelligence officials, and now the concern is that they will be emboldened by these strikes.

So, the bulletin is calling on law enforcement to scrutinize social media, to look for any alarming behavior by individuals calling for violence in reaction to the military action.

COOPER: And we should point out (inaudible) but if you're confused, this is not talking about people who have extremist fighting overseas in Syria or in Iraq. This is people who may never have traveled overseas. This is people who are here already.

BROWN: And not only that Anderson, this could be people who don't have any concrete ties to terrorist groups. These could be people who were just sympathizers.

COOPER: Sort of like the Fort Hood shooter...

BROWN: But even the Fort Hood had concrete ties. I think he was...

COOPER: He had tried to reach out (inaudible)....

BROWN: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Think about the plot that we saw in Australia just last week. You know, those were not folks who returned from fighting in Syria. They were folks radicalized online. And they took this call to arms from ISIS and attempted to act on it.

BROWN: Right.

COOPER: In a very violent way.

BROWN: And then this is also in the wake of the calls by ISIS that a radio message, calling for lone-wolf attacks in the U.S. So you have that coupled with the strikes overnight, the concern is that individuals could be self-radicalized and attack the Homeland.

COOPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks and Jim Sciutto -- very much.

About 100 yards behind me in the Sculpture Garden here, there's a statue called Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares. When the U.N. was founded just after the Second World War, the aim was to prevent a Third World War, militant Islamist groups with global ambitions, and easy global access weren't yet on the radar, whoever is using force in limited ways to prevent larger disasters clearly was which is why over the years, members of the organization, they're building behind, they have done nearly as much war making as peace keeping. Jim Acosta reports some of the modern Presidents including the current one.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For President Obama, it's the war on terrorism 2.0.

Meeting with his own coalition of the willing of Arab partners during meetings of the United Nations, Mr. Obama warned this new fight won't be over soon.

BARACK OBAMA, CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENT: Because of the -- almost unprecedented effort of this coalition, I think we now have an opportunity to send a very quick message that the world is united.

ACOSTA: And the battle is only the beginning as the U.S. and its partners are not only taking on ISIS but in al-Qaeda linked group, the President never mention in the speech to the nation earlier this month.

A period of secrecy, administration official say they used to size up Khorasan for a potential strike.

OBAMA: We also took strikes to disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al-Qaeda operatives in Syria who are known as the Khorasan Group.

ACOSTA: It's also a new day for the President who once won a Nobel Peace Price after building his political career promising to get U.S. out of what he called "dumb wars", a vow he reiterated almost one year ago.

OBAMA: I was elected to end wars, not to start them. I spent the last 4 and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people.

ACOSTA: Now, Mr. Obama is playing terrorist whack-a-mole considering the country he is targeted as President. One fellow Democrat complained too much power have been yielded to the Commander-In-Chief.

SEN. TIM KAINE, (D) VIRGINIA: If Congress allows the President to begin this campaign against ISIL and as he said go on offense against ISIL without Congress authorizing it, we will have created a horrible President.

ACOSTA: The strikes have set a tough new tongue for the President's trip to the U.N. It was up to as U.N. Ambassadors Samantha Power to notify Syria that the strikes were coming.

The uncertain aftermath hanging in the air when the President visited Bill Clinton.

BILL CLINTON, 42ND U.S. PRESIDENT: As he strives to stop bad things from happening around the world, the rest of us are supposed to do more to make good things happen.


COOPER: And Jim Acosta joins me now. So what should we anticipated from the President tomorrow here at the U.N.?

ACOSTA: Well, I'd say this is going to be a big speech that we should expect the President to address this general unease that the world is feeling right now about these dangers posed by these relatively new terrorist groups, ISIS and Khorasan and that the President is going to emphasize the need for building these coalitions.

You know, earlier today Anderson when he was meeting with those Arab nations representatives, a question was tossed at him. "How do you feel about being a war time President now?" And he said -- he didn't really say anything -- he said thank you and he smiled.

So, obviously, this is a new question for him that he'll have to address at some point. But the other thing is, he'll going to be doing tomorrow Anderson, is he's going to be chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council...

COOPER: This never happened for a sitting President.

ACOSTA: Only a second time and he's done it, and it has not happened with other Presidents up until President Obama and he's going to be on this threat posed by foreign fighters that are, you know, growing up here in the United States and in the West and then go -- get trained down in the Middle East and then come back and potentially pose a threat to Americans here at home.

And while the President, as we're talking about a coalition to address that challenge, make no mistake, the coalition that he's building here in New York is a coalition to go to war, and we're going to hear more about that from the President tomorrow.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

A quick reminder, make sure you sets your DVRs. You can watch our program whenever you want.

Just ahead tonight in this hour, much more on the breaking news. Tonight, the new U.S. terror alert warning a possible lone-wolf attacks here in American soil. And whether the airstrikes in Syria disrupted, what officials say was an imminent attack targeting planes. We'll be right back.


COOPER: And welcome back, we are coming to you the live tonight from the United Nations where President Obama will be speaking tomorrow and also chairing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. The second time President Obama has done that.

Breaking news tonight, continuing airstrikes and targets in Syria, a new warning to U.S. Law Enforcement about potential lone-wolf reprisal attacks on the U.S. soil, Plus U.S. officials saying that the airstrikes have disrupted what they say was an imminent plot by al- Qaeda offshore group called Khorasan, a plot potentially targeting airliners. For more on the group, here's our Deb Feyerick.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What makes the Khorasan terrorists in Syria so dangerous to the United States is they have one objective, carry out a major terror attack in Europe or America. Multiple sources tell CNN the group had the materials and was operational.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE JR., PENTAGON DIRECTOR OF OPERATION: Intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. Homeland.

FEYERICK: An intelligence source says the Khorasan potential plots include clothing dipped in explosive material or explosives contained in non-nonmetallic devices like toothpaste tubes. PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: You could possibly get some of these types of devices, bombs through airport security, and they could be quite catastrophic on an airliner.

FEYERICK: A U.S. official told CNN the plot could involve a concealed bomb on a plane. If there's no information, terrorist had chosen the final target prior to U.S. strikes on their compound.

CRUICKSHANK: It's far from clear whether the plot has been neutralized. They may have been able to take out training facilities, but if they've not taken out the key leaders, the bomb makers and the operatives that they were trying to recruit, then it's possible they could even accelerate this plot.

FEYERICK: Terror experts describe Khorasan as the new al-Qaeda central, a small hardcore group of veteran operatives. Many who have fought in Afghanistan or Chechnya, their leader Muhsin al-Fadhli was part of the 9/11 planning and knew the hijackers and the plot to fly planes into buildings. His bodyguard in Syria was recently captured and interrogated by the Assad regime. A source is saying the Khorasan cell was focused on external operations.

MAYVILLE: We do not target individual leaders. We did however target command and control.

FEYERICK: Experts say Khorasan bomb makers may have been trained by al-Qaeda master bomb builder Ibrahim al-Asiri, responsible for both the underwear bomb and the explosive printer cartridge.

The group also had the delivery system in the form of western recruits with European and American passports.

OBAMA: We will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.

FEYERICK: A U.S. official telling CNN the planned attack was "Much further along then anyone was comfortable with."

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


COOPER: It should show -- just pointing out the American shown there with that passport which he actually burned, he was fight for al-Nusra Front, and ended up blowing himself up in a suicide attack inside Syria.

For our news, joining me now, National Security Analyst Fran Townsend, also Peter Bergen. Fran is Former George W. Bush Homeland Security Advisor, and Peter was a first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden, also with us, Former CIA and FBI Official Philip Mudd.

So, Fran, what do you make of the threat posed by group Khorasan, because many considerate it in terms of a direct threat to the U.S., I mean people today seemed to be -- and the government seemed to be talking about it as a more dangerous group in some ways, in the short- term than ISIS.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL ANALYST: Well, I think the better comparison Anderson, is to al-Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula, right? You know, they got capability and you know they've got the intent. And they really are focused on attacks against the West U.S. and Western interest outside the United States and attacking the Homeland.

And so, and they've got real capability. It's not clear whether the U.S. government believes that the Khorasan group was actually formally trained by al-Asiri the bomb maker in Yemen or not. But clearly, they were far enough along with these sort of innovative bombing techniques. And they were concerned that they would lose track either of the fighters or of the capability and not get sufficient warning to be able to disrupt an attack against our interest either at home or around the world.

And also, not clear about the way Anderson, how many people are in that group. But we -- we assume based on what we're hearing -- you're talking by dozens not, you know, single digits.

COOPER: Well, that's actually was the question I was going to ask you, because I've been trying to get an answer from U.S. Officials on that all day about how big a group is this and nobody will actually say. Peter Bergen, do you have a sense of the size of this group? Because the fact that nobody is saying anything it may (inaudible) small?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: And it's my -- my intuition is, it is not large but, you know, as Fran -- I mean it's interesting, you know, ISIS' parent organization was al-Qaeda in Iraq, you know, they have never tried to attack an American target since 2005 when they blew up three American hotels in Amman, Jordan.

So ISIS historically as a group has does not have the capability to do anti-American attacks. And not even really much of an intention perhaps until recently. So the fact is, Khorasan which is basically an outgrowth of al-Qaeda central is planning these things is a part of, you know, al-Qaeda's long-term plan, to attack American targets and aviation and Fran is absolutely right, it's very similar to al- Qaeda and Arabian Peninsula.

These are essentially branches of al-Qaeda central which is always not America in its main target site.

COOPER: Philip, when a Senior U.S. Officials uses the word imminent to describe the threat posed by Khorasan, what does that actually tell you? I mean I knew you said that word is not be used lightly because they say it's imminent, but then the reporting we were getting was that they, you know, no knowledge of an actual target or the actual timeframe.

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: Well, if you're setting it CIA and you're giving talking points of the director of CIA or more important the President of United States. When you're giving them intelligence that leads to the use of force and an announcement by the President of the United States and American people and use that word imminent, that suggest to me that we had intimate knowledge of what was going on in ISIS and in this Khorasan group, enough knowledge to understand that a plot was maybe a week out, a month out, two months out.

You do not tee up the President of United States to talk to the American people about imminent plots and to strike targets in Syria without significant knowledge of what's going on Khorasan, you just don't do it.

COOPER: Peter, what do you make of this the U.S. officials now warning local authorities really essentially to beyond to look out for lone-wolf attacks, you know, again the -- Former Homeland Security, I talked to Lisa Monaco in our last hour said this wasn't based on any specific intelligence about a pending attack, but it just seems to be a sensible precaution to take.

BERGEN: I think it is a sensible precaution and just last week we had a Yemeni- American who's alleged in Rochester, New York who is alleged to be kind of inspired by ISIS and was planning some kind of half- baked plot, perhaps attack American soldiers. So, you know, he's a complete lone-wolf, he didn't have any ties, formal ties to ISIS.

So we've seen examples of this already and it seems only prudent, I think that send that kind of message around given the fact that this has already happened essentially or, you know, a plot has been stopped, that it is this kind category.

TOWNSEND: Anderson, everything we've known about...

COOPER: Go ahead.

TOWNSEND: ... every one of these plots whether it's the computer cartridge, but all the al-Asiri information that we've gotten, we've gotten through the systems in help of the Saudi intelligence service. And so, one has got -- when they're talking about an imminent threat, the people who got the greatest penetration into al-Asiri and his bomb-making network, are the Saudis frankly that's because he tried to blow up the minister of interior.

They've put themselves, devoted themselves to developing real assets against them. So I suspect, some of the information that we're relying on, in terms of the imminence of the Khorasan threat is coming from either the Saudis or other friendly intelligence services.

COOPER: Philip, in terms of the timeline on these targets and bombings I mean, I know you make the point that it's one thing the strike fixed targets like buildings it's much tougher to track down a small group or an individual bomb maker, the leaders of these small groups and it's going to take a long time potentially.

MUDD: Let's get a sense of timeframe here. We're talking about this bomb maker al-Asiri from Yemen. The December bombing, attempted bombing over Detroit, the airline bombing, the underwear bombing, that's now nearly five years ago and we still haven't gotten this guy. Al-Zawahiri has been on the ground post 9/11, that's now 13 years. So, you know, 12, 14, 24, 48 hours after we start talking about bombings in Syria.

We cannot be talking about the significance of these bombings without stepping back and saying, "Look, the kind of targets we want are successful operatives who have evaded us for now a decade or more in Zawahiri's case". If we think we're going to degrade them over the course of 24 hours, that's nuts. We're going to be in this for a year, two years, five years because the kinds of operatives we're facing have proven that with good operational security, they can evade us.

This is not about buildings, it's about people. We're going to be out this for a long time to find those people.

COOPER: And I mean, I talked to Admiral Kirby earlier and we're going to play a little bit more on that later on in this hour. He's saying, you know, it's going to be 18-months the least to identify, to vet, to that to train some 5,000 so-called moderate Syrian rebels. It's going to take perhaps that long to try to get a new government in Syria to revamp -- the new government of Iraq to revamp the Iraqi military and get them able to stand and fight, and get a new officer core in there.

So again, we're talking about an open-ended conflict here. Fran, appreciate it, Peter Bergen and Philip Mudd.

For more on the story and others of course, you can go to Just ahead in this hour we're going to talk more about some of the big questions. Questions as Philip Mudd just said about. How long the operation may last, whether it's going to work? Our military experts weight in next.


COOPER: Well, it's difficult to say this early on how long the current military campaign will last, and no one is saying it's going to be quick. There's bad and there's even bigger question, will it work? And how would we know that it has? A short time ago, I spoke with Pentagon Spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby about the challenges of fighting ISIS.


REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We've seen them adapt inside Iraq as we have put pressure on them from the air. And just as importantly as Iraqi security forces have put pressure on ISIL on the ground. They changed their tactics. They changed the way they communicate. They changed the way that they command and control their forces there. We fully expect that they will react in similar ways or in other ways inside Syria. We're anticipating that. We're an adoptive enemy too. We watch, we learn, we changed, and I can assure that you we'll do that.


COOPER: Joining me now is Retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling who is Commander of U.S. forces in Iraq from 2007 through 2009 and back with a CNN Military Analyst and Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

General Hertling, you know, Admiral Kirby talks about the U.S. adopting to the evolving tactics of ISIS, beyond airstrikes though what do you expect to see? Because without ground troops and I'm not talking about U.S. ground troop but some sort of ground force that's able to operate and take advantage of whatever the U.S. is able to do from the air. How does ISIS actually get defeated?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, John brought up the point that both sides you know, fight and this is a history of warfare Anderson. Both sides have to adapt. The one that adapts faster is the one that's going to win and that's what I think we're doing. We have 14 years of war in this, right? You know, I remember -- watching your program tonight. When I went to Iraq in 2007 I got some very good advice from my commander in Europe, I said, I've got--ready to take my division over.

He said, "Mark you're not going to be able to kill your way out of this. You're going to have to fight hard but there's got to be diplomatic and economic efforts involved in this too". And I think that's where the value is, as some of the things we're seeing on the ground right now. This isn't just the military leading the way. The coalition force is a Muslim force. They realize that they have to fight this enemy as much as anyone from the west has to do. And, there's a lot of diplomatic and economic efforts going to this.

We have to strangle ISIS from all aspects -- economic, diplomatic, informational and militarily.

COOPER: What General Hertling got raised as the question, I mean, is the Iraqi government, a new prime minister, the new president, besides the words that they're saying which all sound promising, are they really able to do that political work? Are they able to reach out to the Sunni group to get them away from ISIS? Because, as we know under al-Malaki, the former prime minister they were not.

HERTLING: There are indicators that they can Anderson, but the question is -- and you're asking the right question, will they? And even if they can and they would like to, it's still going to take time. You're talking about reestablishing trust with hundreds of Sunni tribal shakes, all of the provinces in the northern part of Iraq and the western part of Iraq, that took us -- I mean we made some efforts at that over 18-month period of time when I was in northern Iraq and we saw some growth but that's been lost over the last four years and it has to be overcome by this new government.

It is not going to happen in days, weeks, months, or even years. It's going to take a long time.

COOPER: Right, I mean -- and Colonel Francona said -- point, you know, cable news loves things to happen very quickly in a 24-hour news cycle but we're talking about something which -- potentially we're talking about years here and a lot of very hard work. The hard work really begins not just tomorrow and the next day but months for now.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah. And although we've started this air campaign in Syria I think the point that you make is very good. There's no ground forces on the horizon yet and if we're talking an 18-month window before we're able to get these proxy ground forces in there, the free Syrian army that we're going to train in Saudi Arabia, I think we're in for a really, really long and disappointing air campaign because we will run out of viable targets that you can strike without boots on the ground.

At some point, once this shifts from fixed targets, from buildings, from hardened facilities, from large targets that we can actually strike without having people on the ground then what do you do? You start this war of attrition and you started dropping a lot of expensive ordinance to take out a Toyota and we found out to be ineffective everywhere else.

So at some point we've got to move this to the next phase. Now, I think we can do that very well in Iraq. I think we're on the right path in Iraq. The general brings up a great point with the new inclusive government but it's going to take a lot of time. We're trying to buy that time and space right now with these air attacks.

Iraq -- I really have cautiously optimistic about Iraq. Syria I worry about because we could do a lot of damage from the air but we can't fix this from the air. And as the General said, you can't kill your way out of this. There's got to be a long-term solution and right now, we're just pushing this down that road in Syria.

COOPER: ... there's so many moving parts of this, so many moving pieces -- go ahead.

HERTLING: You know, what I'd say is you bring up a very good point because right now, we're seeing the effects of big explosions and great video game-type action but there's a long slog in front of us and I think it will take ground forces and it will take time. An Iraqi counterpart once told me, "You know, General, you have the watch but we have the time".

This is a century-old struggle between various aspects of the Islamic faith and various cultures over there. We have to adjust to them. Slightly, we can't put them on our timeline and it's not going to be fast.

FRANCONA: And Syria is not static. There are things happening there all the time and so what is the Assad government going to do in the mean time, is he going to take advantage of what we're doing to ISIS? There's a whole lot of things that could happen there that we haven't foreseen.

COOPER: Right. There's a whole lot of players here with a whole, you know, bunch of different motivations and ideas and are all going to be reacting in ways and in some ways we can predict. Colonel Francona, I appreciate you being on again. General Hertling as well, thanks for your insight as always.

Just ahead tonight, Iraq's prime minister sat down for an exclusive interview with Christiane Amanpour. This is going to be really interesting. His

reaction to the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria, we've been talking so much tonight about the need for him to reach out to Sunni groups, is he really willing and able to do that? We'll hear from him next.


COOPER: There's a new U.S. terror alert and in effect warning about potential lone-wolf reprisal attacks in U.S. soil. No less significant and perhaps more or so the terrorist groups al-Nusra says their leader was killed on the strikes in Syria. Earlier today, the United States justified the American-led airstrikes in Syria in a letters to the U.N. Secretary General.

And in the letter U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said the strikes were launched in defense of Iraq and were therefore legal. She pointed out that Iraqi asked for help in fighting ISIS. Now, earlier today, Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sat down for an exclusive interview with Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

The Prime Minister heads the newly form government in Iraq. They obviously talked about the airstrikes in Syria. Christiane joins me now. I'm fascinated to hear because I missed the first interview. I've heard with this guy.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHO, " AMANPOUR ": It is the first one and particularly it's massively important because he's the person really on who mold this best (ph).

COOPER: It all depends on his abilities.

AMANPOUR: It really does, because if there isn't a political solution in Iraq, all of this is for naught. Interesting they used the word defense the United States because that's what everybody is starting to say. This is about defending ourselves or people against ISIS. So I asked him was he pleased with the strikes that have gone into Syria and also the Arabs that have joined the coalition.


HAIDER AL-ABADI, PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: I'm happy they have seen the dangers which we have been seeing for the last three years. I mean we have one in the last three years. This is a danger. This is a blood game. This is going to an end in the bloodbath, if nobody stops it nobody were listening. They thought everybody was immune from this danger and only Iraq can see they were on the spot of this danger. But now, I think we're happy.

I personally, I'm happy that everybody is seeing this danger so that they are going to do something about it.

AMANPOUR: You're going to be meeting with President Obama one-on-one, what would you tell him?

AL-ABADI: Well, I think we need to complete support. I mean, although the United States has supported us all along strictly thereof. But we need more complete support on the ground. AMANPOUR: Do you mean ground forces?

AL-ABADI: No. I mean air cover on the ground. I have to see that effect on the ground. We won't see the United States and the coalition, they've got their own vision. We have our own. If our armed forces haven't receive the support they are expecting, because if I'm having that -- if our armed forces are going to have an offensive in certain area, they would expect any air cover to support them.


COOPER: You know, its amazing hear him saying that the United States needs to do more here, I mean, they have a military of 250,000 personnel. It's crazy that they are not able to have...

AMANPOUR: Right. Which sets (ph) the...

COOPER: Right, they're not able to fight ISIS which turn in 250,000 people is insane.

AMANPOUR: That was setup by the United States.

COOPER: Right. And -- and funded for years and years trained, equip...

AMANPOUR: So the bottom line is -- and I put that to him, do you not feel this personal pressure now that it rest on your shoulders to give your forces something to fight for? Because clearly they didn't think they had anything to fight for. So they run away from ISIS and would rather join ISIS than Maliki at that time, divisive government.

So I put that to him, and he said he's trying his best. He understands that he has to bring the Sunnis back, and he believes he feels, he said to me, that he's made good progress. But as we know, Sunnis have not yet back, flooding back to the government and show of confidence.

They still need to be persuaded. So that -- he really does have a huge job to do that and he did accept that he understood that Maliki had made a lot of mistake.

COOPER: Particularly because, I mean, if you're a Sunni sitting, you know, part of a Sunni tribe sitting in Iraq and you see this government, this government which are now being propped up by Shia militias and the army of which Shia militias are working in hand and glove with, there's going to be -- I mean, that plays into the distress of all this Sunni groups have.

AMANPOUR: That's absolutely right and I asked him that too and he said that he wants to see an end to all militias, Sunni Malaysians, Shia Malaysians which are pushing back ISIS but which are also committing...

COOPER: I want (inaudible) for my birthday. I'm not going to get that. I mean... AMANPOUR: Well, he'd love to. He told me I'm Commander-In-Chief. I'm Prime Minister, I have to do this. But, here's the important thing, as much as we think ISIS and the Sunnis are dominant the Shia is still really afraid that the (inaudible) the Sunnis are trying to come back to power.

COOPER: Right.

AMANPOUR: So he said to me this is very, very difficult for me. I have to...

COOPER: Walk that line.

AMANPOUR: ... walk and really fine line.

COOPER: And it's understandable why they feel that because there are these Sunni groups which are supporting ISIS and fighting hand and glove with them. So, I mean, there is that desire to come back.

AMANPOUR: Yes and if this man doesn't succeed, none of this will work.

COOPER: The whole thing would wreck (ph).


COOPER: Why it's crucial -- fascinating. And fascinating to see just how different he is from Maliki (ph).

AMANPOUR: Very more so -- and he didn't want to criticize Maliki, they both come from the same party, they know each other for a long time but he did say, yes I am obviously much more inclusive. I know that I have to do that and that he didn't make mistakes.

COOPER: Right, fascinating. Christiane, thanks very much. I appreciate it. Great inter view.

I want to bring in our panel from more on the reaction of the ground in Iraq. Joining me Senior International Correspondent, Ben Wedeman, who is in Erbil tonight in Iraq and David Kirkpatrick, Cairo Bureau Chief for the New York Times who is in Baghdad tonight.

Ben it's interesting, you know, to hear Christiane, what she heard from the Prime Minister today, it is essential for the government in Baghdad to convince Kurds, to convince Sunnis to support the central government and that they will reach out a hand financially and in terms of power?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the question is Anderson, can he do it? There are so many divisions within Southern Iraq, within Baghdad, between of course the Sunnis and the Shia and of course here in the Northern part of Iraq and the regional -- the Kurdish regional government.

There is support for the United States. This is really the one spot in the region where the Americans have allies they can depend on. Keeping in mind of course that during the entire time, the United States was in the Iraq and not a single American soldier was killed in this part of the country.

So they do have solid support here. Kurdish officials telling us this evening that they're fully behind the American effort against the Islamic State but they have real doubts about the ability of Haider al-Abidi and the new Iraqi government to really change the fundamental problems on the ground, the mistrust that exist.

And Christiane was right to point out that the Iraqi army really has failed in its responsibility to hold on to territory. In end it does depend on the Shia militias which many Sunni have bitter memories about during the war, basically with the civil war we saw in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Anderson?

COOPER: Yeah. And again, as Christiane was saying it all rest on the Iraqi government leaving up to these promises that they are making.

David, in a piece you wrote for the New York Times today, you know that here we are -- six weeks into American airstrikes in Iraq and Iraqi forces have made almost no progress in actually loosening ISIS's grip on more than a quarter of that country. Does that say more about the airstrikes in their effectiveness or more about to state of the Iraqi army?

DAVID KIRKPATRICK. THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it's something about the nature of airstrikes and something about the effectiveness of the Iraqi army. But it also says a lot about just what Ben was saying. It's about their hearts and mind of their people in Iraq and this is a fight in the Sunni areas of Iraq.

And what we're seeing is that for Sunni tribes that played a big role seven years ago in helping the United States force out al-Qaeda in Iraq. Those Sunni tribes haven't yet gone off the sidelines. They haven't really joined to this effort, in part because there still quite suspicious of this new government.

As all of your guest has been saying, there's a great deal of bad blood in part of the Sunni tribes who feel deceived and abused by the central government in Baghdad. I suspect that includes (ph) with Iran and as you say allow the Shia militia have free reign.

And until that political problem of building that credibility is solved, it's very hard to get them engaged in a war effort. And so you see Iraqi army units operating in areas like Anmar that are really kind of isolated behind enemy lines if you will because the population there is now with them.

COOPER: And we've seen Iraqi military units being abandoned by their generals in the face of ISIS forces.

Ben, I know you spoke to one senior Kurdish official about the Iraqi army, the central Iraqi army, what did he tell you?

WEDEMAN: He said there really is no Iraqi army that their experiences -- that there are some individual units that they have confidence in, but by in large they've see this situation sort of the military power backing the Baghdad government is essentially Shia militia.

The Shia Malaysia which really conducted a bloodbath against some of the Sunni tribes until the Americans managed to convince them to come on board. They have very little confidence in the Iraqi army's ability to fight the Islamic State. Anderson?

COOPER: I mean that is devastating and terrifying given that again, at all rest on the Iraqi's abilities to get their act together. Ben Wedeman I appreciate your reporting, David Kirkpatrick as well.

One quick note about Christiane Amanpour's exclusive interview with Iraq's new Prime Minister, you can watch it in full by going to

Just ahead, with airstrikes ongoing and a new terror-alert hanging overhead, we're going to take a closer look at the possible fallout of President, the complicated politics of waging war on ISIS. A lot more ahead.


COOPER: Breaking news, U.S. law enforcement has been warned to be on alert for potential lone-wolf terror attacks on American soil. It's not the only potential fallout of course, there are political complications.

Joining me now is Daniel Benjamin, Former Counter-terrorism Coordinator at the State Department and now Director of the Dartmouth Dickey Center, also, Peter Beinart, CNN Political Commentator and Contributing Editor at Atlantic Media.

Dan, you've been a voice of caution all along when it comes to ISIS and the threat that they pose to United States. I wonder -- first of all what you make of the launch of these airstrikes?

DANIEL BENJAMIN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I support the President's efforts here and I think that ISIS -- well not an imminent threat to the United States at the home, it's a profound threat in the region and therefore, you know, it deserves our attention and we should take the measures that are necessary to get the Iraqi's back in the fight and to make the region own this problem. So, I do think that these airstrikes makes sense.

COOPER: The fact -- Dan, that before this week we really hadn't heard much about the threat hosted by this group that Khorasan -- suddenly the U.S. is trying to take them up in airstrikes a lot of people probably are wondering did this group just pop out of nowhere, I mean how long have you as officials been concerned about this group?

BENJAMIN: Well, U.S. and officials throughout west have been worried about this scenario for quite sometime. I remember hearing about it from European intelligence officials last spring. The notion that the bomb technology developed in Yemen would be exported to Syria where it could much more easily be smuggle across the Turkish boarder and use on a western airline. And that is been something that people have been worrying about for a while. The actual cell that would carry that out that wasn't clear and it was really only I think when James Clapper the Director of National Intelligence mentioned Khorasan a few days ago. That people begin -- and public at least to focus on this group.

COOPER: Peter, what about the possibility that drawing the U.S. into war is exactly what ISIS wants, that the U.S. strikes in Iraq so far have been, recruitment (ph) tolls essentially for ISIS?

BEINART: Well, you have to think that in a short-term, yeah, in a short-term the threat goes up, you know, as Daniel have mentioned. ISIS was not focus primarily on the west it was focused on trying to gain territory in the region. They haven't made the kind of shift that al-Qaeda made in the 1990s when it start to the focus with attack on the West.

So, in the short-term, I think you're seeing with the terrorist the alerts going up that the terrorist threat has done up. Now, you could say that ISIS was a serious long-term threat that United States that you're going to have to deal with anyway, but, you know, what strikes me and I think was strikes a lot of American is that there's been the structuring (ph) of Jihadist groups and there's a sense that, you know, we're now fighting, we've gone three separate different Jihadist groups none of which the average American knows very much about it all.

COOPER: Then, how much do you think the U.S. really understands this region, understands all the players, understands how to actually affect change the way they wanted it, I mean not just the U.S. track record in the past, but moving forward?

BENJAMIN: Well, it's an incredibly complex region and, you know, it's been the graveyard of many U.S. initiatives in the past. I think at the moment, the objective of diminishing ISIS degrading its capabilities and also striking groups like Khorasan, their plot against the west, those are fairly limited objectives.

I think getting this region to a place where is no longer conducive to Jihadist groups like this where there's actually a real resistance whether variables states, whether economies that are thriving. I mean that's obviously an enormously tall order.

COPPER: And Peter, you know, there's column in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago, they made the point that Obama's -- really just a latest in the strings of President to realize that history does not give the acumen of the Oval Office, the luxury of choosing what kind of presidency he gets to conduct, when you consider, you know, how he came into office and where he is now.

BEINART: Right. It certainly not the way that President Obama would have wanted thing to turn out. I mean the thing that worries me is -- although I totally understand that rationale for going after ISIS and Khorasan and al-Nusra right now, you know, George W. Bush actually, I think made an important point after 9/11 which is to say, there is a reason that this ideologies are growing, they're growing because of a political environment in the Arab world where people feel -- have very repressive stagnant government.

And one of the thing you see in this new alliance that the United States are developing with these Arab allies and with the leader of Egypt, for instance, is that we are embed with the same group of people who are repressing there opposition, preventing political decent. And ultimately, protect, leading people to go down this road to Jihadism again. So while we're dealing with the symptom and perhaps we have to deal with the symptom there is this -- I think worry that really the underlying roots of these are not being addressed and we're making some of the same old problems that were making for before 9/11.

COOPER: Peter Beirnart, I appreciated, Daniel Benjamin as well. Thank you very much.

And the coming up next, we going to speak with the man in Syria who's believed to be the first to report the U.S. airstrikes by Tweeting about them, I talk to him next.


COOPER: Time to time to warn the Arab social media. About half hour before the Pentagon announced the U.S. carried out airstrikes in Syria, Twitter user in Raqqa posted this, "Breaking: Huge explosions shook the city in what might be the beginning of U.S. airstrikes on ISIS headquarters in Raqqa." Abdulkader Hariri is the man who posted that on Twitter, his tweet is believes to be first report on the strikes. I spoke him earlier.


Take us through what happen last night, describe what do was like when the strikes were taking place?

ABDULKADER HARIRI: When I was in the balcony and all of sudden, there was flash, light and then I had the sounds one after another, in less than a minutes four or six I counted.

COOPER: Did you think at first that this was attacks from the Assad government or did you know it was not them?

HARIRI: I knew it wasn't the government because I haven't witnessed any area (ph) at nights before, never. So this is the first time...


COOPER: A few days after that first tweet, President Obama will be here to make history. Yet again sharing the Security Council making the case we expect to take on ISIS.

That does it for this two-hour addition 360 stay with CNN for continuing coverage of the U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria.

CNN tonight starts now.