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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.S., Arab Allies Strike ISIS in Syria; New Homeland Security Alert Warns of Lone Attackers; Family of British Hostage Receives Plea for His Life; Interview with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond; High-Tech Weapons Hitting Syria
Aired September 23, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Al Qaeda offshoot in Syria. A surprise strike aimed at foiling planned attacks against the U.S. and the West.
Hammering ISIS. Arab allies team up with the U.S. in hitting terror targets in Syria. Officials call the airstrikes very successful. But warned this is just the beginning.
And more strikes to come. As world leaders gather, President Obama will ask U.N. members for more help. I'll speak to some who joined the anti-terror strikes and one key ally who has not.
I'm Wolf Blitzer at the United Nations. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: And let's get right to the breaking news. The United States and five Arab allies, they carry out waves of airstrikes against terror targets across Syria. The Pentagon calls them very successful but cautions this is only the beginning.
The strikes mark a major new escalation of what could be a long war against ISIS. But they began with a surprise U.S. cruise missile attack on an al Qaeda offshoot that officials say posed an imminent threat, plotting attacks against the U.S. and the West, perhaps using concealed explosives on airplanes.
President Obama says this is not America's fight alone. And when he speaks here at the United Nations tomorrow, he'll make a major pitch for more support in this war on terror.
Let's begin our coverage this hour with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has the very latest -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago, yet another al Qaeda-backed group in Syria says its leader was killed in U.S. airstrikes. No confirmation of that from Washington. But we are getting our first look at U.S. military action.
STARR (voice-over): First, the attack. 48 warplanes from the U.S. and five Arab nations. More than 200 missiles and bombs dropped. Then, the warning. REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: There may be some
tactics, techniques and procedures that we just won't be able to address here today to preserve options that we may want available to us in the future.
STARR: The attack was not shock and awe, but from the outset a surprise. The initial target was not ISIS.
It was 8:30 p.m. in Washington when the first wave of strikes began. In the U.S. crosshairs, the Khorasan Group, al Qaeda veterans dug in near Aleppo in Western Syria. The USS Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea and the USS Philippine Sea in the northern Arabian Gulf launched more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Khorasan. The target, their compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps.
A senior administration official says if the strikes prove as effective as the U.S. hopes, they stop Khorasan's ability to attack the U.S.
LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE JR., DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, JOINT CHIEFS: We believe the Khorasan Group is -- was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland. And we know that the Khorasan Group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands.
STARR: Then, ISIS. 9:00 p.m., the second wave. F-22 Raptors in their first combat roles. F-15s Strike Eagles, F-16s, B-1 bombers and drones. They launched from bases in the region. The target, ISIS headquarters, training camps, barracks, and combat vehicles.
Just after midnight, the final wave. F-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush in the northern Arabian Gulf, U.S. F-16s and Arab members of the coalition attacked in eastern Syria. Their target, ISIS training camps and combat vehicles.
Here, U.S. precision bombs fired against a training area. Other ISIS targets hit with precision bombs included a finance center near Raqqa. The target, a communications array on the roof.
MAYVILLE: On the right-hand side in the picture, the after picture, the rooftop communications is heavily damaged while the surrounding structure remains largely intact.
STARR: The U.S. is now reviewing the impact of all of these airstrikes, seeing how it did and how much was destroyed. U.S. officials believe ISIS will start modifying their behavior, their communications and their movements to avoid future U.S. action -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And as U.S. officials say, this is only just beginning.
Barbara, thanks very much.
Certainly it's going to be a long war against ISIS. If -- if it is to succeed, it certainly will require a strong coalition.
Something of a surprise, it has started out that way. Five Arab nations joined the Syrian operation. Four of them carried out airstrikes.
Let's go to our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. She's following this part of the story.
BLITZER: Very impressive, very surprising coalition in this initial round, Elise.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Wolf, news late today that the United States notified Iran that attacks would be imminent against the Syrian territory. Now they said that they did not coordinate with Iran or tell them targets or anything about that. They did give them a heads up.
Now President Obama has said that this will be a protracted air campaign but day one was all about symbolism for the partners that he chose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LABOTT (voice-over): It was a strike with a message. The U.S. will act but not act alone.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I also made clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition and that's exactly what we've done.
LABOTT: President Obama today declared five Sunni Arab nations participated in the strikes.
OBAMA: America is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these nations. On behalf of our common security.
LABOTT: But he acknowledged there are areas on which they disagree.
OBAMA: Sometimes, for instance, for the sake of our national security, the United States works with governments that do not fully respect the universal rights of their citizens.
LABOTT: One by one, the nations involved took credit. Saudi Arabia said its air forces have participated. Bahrain acknowledged its fighter jets carried out airstrikes. Jordanian planes, the government said, carried out strikes against terrorist groups in Syria and the UAE said its air force, quote, "launched its first strikes against ISIS targets," suggesting more to come.
Only Qatar took part but has stayed silent.
Arab diplomats say, even as they fight ISIS, they want a much larger campaign against terrorist groups in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt Sinai to prevent another ISIS from emerging in the region. At a forum today on combating terror, Secretary Kerry talked big
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: This requires a common strategy and we need to focus on the efforts and areas where our collective efforts are going to be the most coordinated and effective against ISIL as well as against other terrorist groups.
LABOTT: Despite U.S. efforts to bring both Sunni and Shia states together against ISIS, the only countries who took part were Sunni. Iran who has also condemned ISIS condemned the airstrikes, calling them, quote, "illegal." Notably absent, Turkey, who had been accused of colluding with ISIS to secure the release of 49 Turkish diplomats held by the group.
KERRY: Turkey is very much part of this coalition and Turkey will be very engaged on the front lines of this effort.
LABOTT: And, Wolf, in addition to alerting Iran, we're told that Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also notified the Syrian government that attacks would be taking place and you'll note that the Syrians were what the U.S. called passive last night. One could interpret that to mean that they knew that those strikes were coming but they didn't act.
It's also kind of notable, Wolf, that U.S. partners in Europe, like Britain and France, were not part of this air campaign. The U.S. clearly wanted to give this an Arab face -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly did. And they succeeded in this additional wave.
Elise Labott reporting for us. Thanks very much.
The United Arab Emirates played a key role in creating and forming and implementing this coalition strike.
Joining us now, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash.
Minister, thanks very much for joining us.
ANWAR GARGASH, FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Hello, sir.
BLITZER: Welcome to the United Nations.
GARGASH: Thank you for having me here. Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: How difficult of a decision was this for the UAE, to go ahead and join this military strike against ISIS targets in Syria?
GARGASH: I think it was a natural decision. I mean, we've always said that we have to have a collective response to terror. And it was only natural that we would be at the forefront of it.
BLITZER: What did you do, exactly? What was the role of the UAE Air Force in this operation?
GARGASH: Well, rather than speak about the details of their role, I would say that the coalition, I think, has been very effective. We'll continue to work together, also, to be more effective, to eradicate this common threat.
BLITZER: So there's going to be more UAE airstrikes against ISIS targets --
BLITZER: Are they going on even as we speak right now? We know the initial wave, but what about in the hours and days ahead?
GARGASH: Well, definitely, we are committed. I think this will be more or less as part of a concerted military operation, a collective one. And we are committed to it, I think. And this is a common threat.
BLITZER: And so you're going to go ahead with this. The UAE is deeply committed?
BLITZER: Did you get any sense yet from the U.S. or your other coalition partners how much damage to ISIS was actually done in this first wave?
GARGASH: Well, I haven't really gotten any sort of operational sense. But I think the important thing is the political will. Putting this coalition together, I think, has been a great achievement for the administration, for all of us together, because this is a common threat. And I think it's extremely important that we deal with it collectively.
BLITZER: I was never surprised that the UAE would be part of this coalition. You worked with the United States --
BLITZER: -- in going after Gadhafi in Libya. Your Air Force launched airstrikes at that time, as well.
BLITZER: Even Saudi Arabia, to a certain degree. But I was a little surprised by Qatar, your neighbor. Were you surprised that Qatar was involved militarily in going after these ISIS targets in Syria?
GARGASH: Well, I -- I think it's indicative of the threat that everybody feels is common. Nobody is basically immune. Everybody is threatened, the way of life, the values. This is, I think, a danger to all of us, terrorism. And I think this is indicative of how the coalition was built, on the sense that we're -- we need to act. It -- we can't be passive.
BLITZER: Can you tell us how many UAE aircraft were involved in this initial operation and what kind of aircraft they were?
GARGASH: Well, I don't really want to go into numbers or operations. But I want to say that we're a full partner, politically, logistically. Politically, of course, we support this effort wholeheartedly. Logistically, we are also host to an Australian force that also plays a role here, other forces, also. And, of course, we've got our, you know, pilots, and we've got our assets, also, in this fight.
BLITZER: So you're welcoming Australian troops into the UAE?
GARGASH: Into the UAE, yes.
BLITZER: And they will play a military role in going after them?
GARGASH: Exactly. And they've declared that. And I think this is an essential part, also, of this coalition building.
BLITZER: And I know the U.S. Navy visits Dubai as a major presence there, as well.
GARGASH: Very much. Very much.
BLITZER: I don't want you to go away. I have many more questions for you, Mr. Minister.
GARGASH: All right, sir.
BLITZER: Stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. Lots more to discuss with the minister from the United Arab Emirates, one of the countries -- one of the Arab countries deeply involved in this new coalition that President Obama and the U.S. has formed to go after ISIS targets, the terrorist targets, in Syria.
Much more on the war, right after this.
BLITZER: We're getting back to the breaking news, as the United States has joined with five Arab allies at hitting ISIS targets in Syria and strikes against an Al Qaeda spin-off there said to be in the advanced stages of a plot against the United States.
And appropriately enough, we've just received word, just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has just issued a bulletin -- a bulletin to all law enforcement agencies in the United States to be on a heightened state of alert for what are being described as lone wolf attacks in the U.S. homeland in the wake of these strikes, these U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.
We're going to have much more on this part of the story coming up. But the Department of Homeland Security advising all U.S. law enforcement agencies across the country, probably around the world, to be on the lookout for retaliatory lone wolf strikes against the United States because of the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.
Once again, we're joined by Anwar Gargash. He's the minister of state for foreign affairs for the United Arab Emirates.
What do you make of this -- this Khorasan Group, this -- all of a sudden there, out of the blue, we hear this Al Qaeda offshoot is now making threats against the U.S. and other Western allies, I assume against the UAE, as well?
GARGASH: Yes, definitely. Definitely. I think it's in a -- in a chaotic situation, you will always have groups and offshoots and various groups that have the same cause but will not necessarily be organized as the same organization.
So I'm not surprised that there is this group or any other group. It's a very chaotic situation with a security vacuum. And I think it's expected to see that.
BLITZER: And so there you're bracing for potential retaliatory strikes in the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, as well?
GARGASH: Well, I think we all have to be vigilant. But I think taking action is better than not taking action or delaying action. So I think vigilance is expected of all of us. But I think we're doing all the right things in order to thwart this challenge once and for all.
BLITZER: Because you and four other Arab allies went after ISIS targets in Syria. The U.S. alone went -- went after this Khorasan target in Syria.
But if asked, would you get involved in going after Khorasan, as well?
GARGASH: Well, I think, you know, from our perspective, this is a battle against terror. This is a battle about extremism, about violence that terror brings with it. And I think this is all an operational thing. I mean, definitely, we're there not only about ISIS, we're there--
BLITZER: Are you with--
GARGASH: -- against terrorism.
BLITZER: -- are you with the -- ISIS, Minister, are you with the United States in the war against ISIS in Iraq, as well? I know you've launched airstrikes in Syria, but what about Iraq?
GARGASH: No, I think our view is that we are against this war against terror. Terror is a challenge to the -- our way of life, to our stability. And I think it can cover itself under different names. It knows no geography. So we're in it for that, I think. BLITZER: You're with the United States on all this.
I want to read to you a statement that senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham here in the United States--
BLITZER: -- they issued. They applauded what the president and what you are doing against ISIS targets in Syria.
They went one step further, though. They said you should threaten the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. This is what they said: "The president should now issue a similar threat to Assad. The airstrikes and barrel bombs against our moderate opposition partners and civilians in Syria must stop or else your air power will be destroyed."
They want the U.S. to expand and go after Bashar al-Assad's regime, as well.
Are you with McCain and Lindsey Graham?
GARGASH: Well, I think currently, you have an operation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and we think of this operation in terms of an operation against terror.
There has to be, also, a part of this operation involves a lot of political work. Definitely, I think we are with the idea that the current regime in Syria should not benefit from this, but we think, also, a lot of political work has to be done. There's a lot of legwork to also pursue along the line -- the line, also, as we pursue the military option.
BLITZER: Because you want to get rid of the Bashar al-Assad regime, as well?
GARGASH: Well, we -- we actually want stability. We want stability. We want to end this terror challenge. And I don't think we want anybody to benefit from that challenge because ISIS is hit or this other group is hit.
BLITZER: And President Obama is ruling out U.S. combat ground forces.
What about the UAE?
GARGASH: Well, I think the UAE is part of a coalition. And the UAE believes that a lot of the political legwork that can be done on the ground will bring us good alternatives here to cover whatever expected vacuum there is.
BLITZER: And we should expect this to be a long -- a long war, not a few days, a few weeks or a few months, maybe years?
GARGASH: Well, we're -- we're in it for the long haul. I think we are in it committed. I think it's too early now to really put a real assessment of how long we're looking at. You know, we're in day one. But definitely, we need to do the job right.
BLITZER: Minister, thanks very much for joining us.
Welcome to New York.
GARGASH: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: Welcome to the United States.
GARGASH: Thank you.
BLITZER: The minister of state for foreign affairs of the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash.
Thanks very much.
Coming up, the wife of a British hostage held by ISIS receives a recording of him pleading for his life. I'll ask Britain's foreign secretary, Phillip Hammond, about that, and I'll ask why Britain is not taking part in the Syria air strikes.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news. The United States launches a surprise strike against an Al Qaeda offshoot in Syria said to be in the advanced stages of plotting against the United States. Then joins with several Arab allies to carry out dozens of strikes against ISIS targets across Syria. The Pentagon says the strikes were successful but warns this is just the start of what is expected to be a long and major campaign.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's working his sources. What else are you hearing about what's going on right now?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Several developments in the last couple of hours. One is reports from the ground that the leader of Al Nusra -- this is one of the Al Qaeda type groups inside Syria -- has been killed. Not confirmed by U.S. officials. This coming from the group itself.
BLITZER: In one of these U.S.-led air strikes?
SCIUTTO: One of these U.S.-led air strikes. And of course, Al Nusra is not one of the stated targets of the strikes. ISIS and Khorasan were. But these groups are very intertwined, so it is possible you could kill one while attempting to strike the other. So that's one of the developments.
Two, just another indication of this broad coalition that is involved here.
I got more details about the five Arab nations who took part that we've been talking about. And I'm told that all five of them were flying strike aircraft ready to strike ISIS -- ISIS targets there. Qatar is the one that did not. Not because it said that it would not. It's just that it did not see a target on that first night.
But this just gives you a sense that going forward you do have broad regional Arab participation in this alongside the U.S.
And one final thing that we learned just recently, Tony Blinken, the president's deputy national security advisor, telling Jake Tapper, in fact, that in addition to giving a heads up to Syria over the strikes happened here at the U.N., the U.S. also gave a heads up to Iran, warning them that these attacks were coming. Not coordinating with Iran but at least letting them know that the U.S. was going to take this action.
BLITZER: And certainly not seeking their approval, just giving them a heads up and saying, "Guys, this is what's going to happen"?
SCIUTTO: No. Exactly.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto, reporting for us, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper now. Joining us, the former U.S. congresswoman, Jane Harman. She's president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.
Also, retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He was military spokesman in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion; has held posts at the Pentagon and the State Department. He's now a security and defense adviser to a number of U.S. and foreign firms.
And Oubai Shahbandar. He's a senior adviser with the Syrian opposition coalition.
To all three of you, thanks very much for joining us.
General Kimmitt, first to you: What do you make of these U.S.-led air strikes? It sounds like they were -- at least they're claiming to be successful, but this is going to be a long, drawn-out process, isn't it?
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER MILITARY SPOKESMAN IN IRAQ: Well, I think that's right. And I think we also need to clarify, the word "success" came from the joint staff's spokesman, but I think the military J-3, Billy Mayville, who spoke after him, said we need to do the post-strike analysis before we can conclude how well we really did last night.
BLITZER: Because the bomb damage assessment takes a while to really come with that. Oubai, what are you hearing from your friends in the Syrian opposition, the rebel forces there? I know they are very pleased that the U.S. has -- has started this, together with five Arab allies.
OUBAI SHAHBANDAR, SENIOR ADVISOR, SYRIAN OPPOSITION COUNCIL: Absolutely. I mean, this is a very important first step in the strategic partnership with the regional Arab allies. It's really a crucial portion of this military campaign against ISIS, because it also includes the Syrian opposition forces on the ground that have been fighting ISIS since January. So that partnership between Arab allies, between moderate forces on the ground, is ultimately what will sustain any success against ISIS militarily. BLITZER: Do you want -- Oubai, you want the U.S. to do what John
McCain and Lindsey Graham are recommending: Don't just hit ISIS targets but hit Bashar al-Assad's military targets in Syria, as well. Any indication you're getting the U.S. or any of these other Arab countries are ready to do so? Because they refused until now.
SHAHBANDAR: Well, hours before the strikes took place, the Syrian opposition leadership that are there in New York right now on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly made an impassionate plea to the world to immediately launch air strikes to prevent an ISIS offensive against -- against exposed civilians in northern Syria and be in the province of Aleppo and in Northern Raqqah, where Kurdish civilians were trapped by ISIS.
At the same time, the opposition has also made very clear to the international community that you have to deal with the root cause of terrorism, end of ISIS in Syria, and that is the Assad regime.
BLITZER: Jane Harman, let's talk a little bit about the role of Iran. You just heard Jim Sciutto say that the U.S., through diplomatic channels here at the United Nations, informed not only Iran but Syria that the U.S. and these other Arab countries were about to launch these air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria: didn't seek their approval, didn't coordinate, just did it.
Rouhani, the new president of Iran, he's here in New York right now. We know the British prime minister, David Cameron, is going to meet with him in New York. Would it be wise for President Obama to sit down with the Iranian leader while both of them are here at the United Nations?
JANE HARMAN (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, first of all, I think notifying the Iranians was the right thing to do. We have a common interest at the moment, but working with them is not a good idea. We are negotiating with them.
I don't know whether President Obama will seek an opportunity to meet with Rouhani. Our negotiations are going full tilt, and I do hope we reach a deal. I think it's in the interest of everybody in the Middle East and us to reach such a deal, but we're far apart at the moment.
I think President Obama is going to meet with Abadi, the new head of Iraq, and I assume his coalition partners here. I think those are the most important meetings for him to take in New York.
And he comes to New York in a very strong position. The announcement this morning at the White House in front of the helicopter went very well. The briefing by the Defense Department was masterful, and the fact that we're putting out the B-roll of our surgical strikes on targets, the fact that there's not a lot of collateral damage, is so impressive and is sending a message that, at least phase one, I think, is going to be degrade and contain. We're not at the destroy level. It's a long campaign. But destroy will take political buy-in by the Sunnis on the ground.
BLITZER: All right. Let me bring General Kimmitt back into this conversation. We just learned, General Kimmitt, that the U.S. did launch two additional air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria today, following the air strikes that took place last night. So this operation is clearly continuing. And as I said earlier, no one in sight: it's going to be a while.
A few air strikes. There have been almost 200 air strikes against ISIS targets, General Kimmitt, in Iraq. But ISIS still seems to be on the move. They haven't been destroyed there, as well. So what does that say to you about how long this current war, this new war is going to -- is going to continue?
KIMMITT: Well, first of all, I think we've got to recognize that this is, in fact, a long war. Despite the fact that we felt that this war was over a few years ago, this is part of a continuation of what we saw after 9/11, Al Qaeda in Iraq and now against ISIL.
But I think it was very indicative that General Mayville this morning in his briefing said that the purpose last night was to disrupt. In many ways, what the military seems to be trying to do inside of Syria right now is stop the momentum of ISIL on this offensive. Take the air out of the tires. You may not destroy the car, but at least you can stop the car from continuing to move forward and threatening Baghdad.
So with due respect to Congresswoman Harman, I don't think we're even at the degrade portion yet. We're at the disrupt. Take away the ability of ISIL to continue this offensive so that we can buy some space and time for the Iraqi forces to go on the counteroffensive, push them out of Iraq, and then take the fight in Syria.
BLITZER: Oubai, what do you know about this -- this Khorasan group, this Al Qaeda offshoot that we're now hearing about? The U.S. launched Tomahawk cruise missiles to go after some of their sites. They said that some sort of Khorasan-related strike was imminent. What do you know about it? You spent a lot of time in Syria working this issue.
SHAHBANDAR: Khorasan is actually a new name for a group that's been long in existence, essentially comprised of core senior al Qaeda operatives that were based on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that made their way into northern and eastern Syria.
Now, the reason why they left their safe haven in Pakistan and Afghanistan is because they believed that they can operate with greater impunity and safety from international strikes in Syria and northern Syria.
Now, there are some serious questions on how these senior operatives in Khorasan were able to operate out of Tehran for at least four, possibly upwards of five years before they moved into Syria. So there's some big question mark on that, on the Iranian connection there. They are absolutely deadly. They present an international terrorist
threat. And it is notable that the only way that you can prevent these guys from using Syria as a safe haven for global jihad and global terror strikes is to empower the moderate forces on the ground that are their rivals to take and hold territory in Northern Syria in the wake of these air strikes.
BLITZER: How upset are you, if you are, Jane Harman, at all, that Turkey is not involved in these military strikes against ISIS targets in Syria, which happens to be their next-door neighbor?
HARMAN: Well, I'm not only upset about that, Wolf. I'm upset that they still haven't pledged to police their border. The foreign fighters are coming over the Turkish border into Syria.
And Prime Minster Erdogan is here at the U.N. I gather he spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday. And he was asked a question by a reporter specifically about this. He took great offense -- the reporter, by the way, happened to be female. Took great offense and said, "Well, if you tell me their names, then maybe we will stop them."
Not good enough, Mr. Erdogan. This is where the problem starts.
And Turkey is a U.S. ally and is an ally of Europe, and I think we should be expecting them to step up.
I would just make one other comment about Khorasan. You mentioned, Wolf, earlier in your broadcast that the Homeland Security Department is warning of self-radicalized people attacking and the U.S. in response.
I think the answers [SIC] we're taking against Khorasan reduce the risk of that. There's a group that's been urging the attacks on the U.S. homeland. And if they affiliate with this Al Qaeda bomb maker in Yemen, al Asiri, probably the dangerous guy on the planet, that poses a greater risk to our homeland security.
And so widening these attacks is a very smart move by the coalition, including, obviously, the Obama administration.
BLITZER: All right. Jane Harman, thanks very much. Oubai Shahbandar, thanks to you. General Kimmitt, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.
Much more of the breaking news coming up.
The family of a British hostage held by ISIS receives another new threat. We're going to ask Britain's foreign secretary -- he's going to be joining me here at the United Nations -- about the latest efforts to free him. And about why his country, Britain, didn't take part in today's air strikes against ISIS in Syria.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news in the war on ISIS. The family of a British man held by the terror group has now received
a new message. A written statement issued by the wife of the hostage Alan Henning says this: "An audio file of Alan pleading for his life has just been received by me. I and people representing me continue to reach out to those holding Alan."
The statement goes on to say, "We are at a loss why those leading Islamic State cannot open their hearts and minds to the facts surrounding Alan's imprisonment and why they continue to threaten his life."
Joining us now is the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond.
Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.
PHILIP HAMMOND, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Good afternoon.
BLITZER: What do you know about Alan Henning and this -- this latest plea, this audio, apparently, that his family has received?
HAMMOND: Well, what we know is Alan Henning was out there simply to help. He was a humanitarian worker who went with an aid convoy organized by British Muslim groups to support refugees in Syria. He was doing good.
And I think it speaks volumes about ISIL that this is the way they're treating somebody who went out there to help their people, support their communities in their time of need.
BLITZER: The U.K., like the U.S., refuses to pay ransom. To get their citizens released. Right?
HAMMOND: That's absolutely right.
BLITZER: Do you know why these 49 Turkish diplomats were all of a sudden over the weekend released, what Turkey had to do to get them back?
HAMMOND: Well, I think you'll have to ask my Turkish colleague.
BLITZER: But do you know? You don't have to tell us.
HAMMOND: I have an idea.
BLITZER: You know what they did?
HAMMOND: But I think you'll have to ask my Turkish colleague.
BLITZER: Without telling us, because obviously, it's a sensitive issue, and we have been trying to find out, was it something that they paid? Was it something that they promised?
HAMMOND: I don't think they would have paid anything, but I think there would have been a negotiation, a discussion.
BLITZER: And that's how they got their people back. There's another -- obviously, the -- there was a British hostage who was executed.
BLITZER: The same--
HAMMOND: And threats against a second one.
BLITZER: Threats against another one. Two Americans were executed. It looks like by the same individual, right? With a British accent. You know who that individual is, right?
HAMMOND: Well, we're getting warm. We're working on it. We're working on all the leads. It's a big investigation going on. We're getting warm.
BLITZER: What does that mean? You don't know for sure?
HAMMOND: Well, we're -- we're beginning to narrow down the field, but I don't want to say any more than that.
BLITZER: There are indications you knew, but you just don't want to release that individual's name.
HAMMOND: I just said I think we're getting warmer, but at this stage I don't want to say any more than that.
BLITZER: All right. So here's the big question right now. The United States and five Arab countries launched strikes against ISIS targets in Syria. Where was the U.K.?
HAMMOND: Well, the U.K. is part of the coalition. We've made clear that we want to play a significant role in the coalition. How we do that is something we're debating literally right now at the moment.
Debating inside London?
HAMMOND: Debating inside the U.K. government.
BLITZER: Because France --
HAMMOND: How we want to do that.
BLITZER: France joined the U.S. in launching airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq.
HAMMOND: That's right.
BLITZER: You've refused to do that as well, right?
HAMMOND: We haven't refused to do it. We haven't made a -- taken a decision yet to do it but we're considering it, we're looking at our options. If we decide that that is what we want to do, that is the right way to support the coalition, we will have to get the approval of our parliament. That's a commitment we've already made.
BLITZER: Do you think you have the votes to do that? HAMMOND: Well, that's -- that's what we would have to calculate. We
have to be -- we have to clear that it's in the UK's interest to join in airstrikes and we have to be clear that we can get a majority of parliament. It's a democratic country. But we're looking at that right now and we're moving towards making the decisions we need to make.
BLITZER: Because you personally wanted to do so, right? But the prime minister is not yet ready. Is that -- is that a fair assessment?
HAMMOND: But we're a government. We work together. We discuss these things obviously and when we've made a decision, the world will know about it.
BLITZER: What do you know about this new offshoot of this terrorist group that the U.S. launched strikes against? Because only a few weeks ago your prime minister raised the terror threat level in the UK to almost the highest level if not the highest level.
Was it as a result of these threats?
HAMMOND: We've certainly seen reporting and intelligence on external threat planning against UK and other international targets. And it was an assessment of that intelligence which led us to raise the threat level. We believe that there is a real and serious and imminent risk to UK citizens, UK assets.
BLITZER: Because U.S. says there was an imminent threat from this Khorasan Group. And as a result the U.S. launched these strikes. If you saw that there was an imminent threat from one of these terrorist groups in Syria or Iraq, for that matter, would the British Air Force get involved?
HAMMOND: Well, I don't -- I'm afraid I can't get into the detail of what intelligence reporting or our assessment show. Clearly we make judgments about how best to defend our interests, our citizens, our country and we work very closely with the United States. Sometimes there are things which is better and more effective for us to do. Sometimes there are things which is better and more effective for the United States to do.
BLITZER: How much of a threat does ISIS represent?
HAMMOND: It's a very serious threat. A very serious threat. We've got over 500 British originating jihadists fighting in Iraq and Syria with -- most of them with ISIS. They represent a threat if they come back to the UK. They represent a threat if they use ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria as a base to plan attacks on Western interests, airlines, buildings, be whatever. And they represent a threat in Iraq and Syria to the stability of the Gulf region which is essential to all of us.
BLITZER: Do you know who these 500 British citizens are?
HAMMOND: We know who some of them are, for sure. BLITZER: When you say "some", few hundred?
HAMMOND: Well, we have -- we have a sophisticated operation tracking and monitoring. Most of these people enter Iraq through Turkey. We have a million British tourists a year going to Turkey. So it's not that easy to control and check everything but we have a pretty good idea who significant numbers of this group are.
BLITZER: So the most important thing that you, the U.S., the other allies, NATO allies can do right now to defeat this terror threat is what?
HAMMOND: Is, first of all, to cut off their supply of fighters, foreign fighters. Secondly, to cut off their supply of finance, and we're working hard to do that on the back of U.N. Security Council resolution. Thirdly, to support the government in Baghdad as it reaches out to the Sunni tribes in Iraq and tries to detach them from ISIL and then fourthly, to support the military action that will crush ISIL and roll it back in Iran.
BLITZER: Philip Hammond, the UK foreign secretary --
HAMMOND: Thank you.
BLITZER: Good luck. Thank you very much for joining us.
HAMMOND: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, the imminent threat posed by another terror group targeted by today's U.S. airstrikes. Officials say the group was working on high-tech bombs and clothing dipped in explosives. We have new information. We'll share it with you when we come back.
BLITZER: Today's airstrikes on ISIS and other terrorists in Syria saw the first combat use of a brand-new U.S. stealth fighter jet.
CNN's Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at the F-22 as well as some of the other weapons used in Syria today.
What are you seeing, Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. The F-22, depending on who you talk to, is either the most advanced fighter jet in the world or a jet that's had a lot of cost overruns and a lot of problems. Nonetheless, first time it saw action in a stealth technology, its missiles are actually carried inside, so it's better at eluding radar.
And this was just one of a tremendous number of aircraft brought to bear here, including Tomahawk missiles out. There is an aerial assault here. Tremendous amount of power. And when you look at this, what you would expect dependent on to be showing is tremendous devastation on the ground. But look at the images they released. That's not what they showed. What they showed were very specific images of individual places where
there was damage, not here in the original, but over here, look at the very specific pinpoint damage, same in the second image here. They showed how there's a big area of damage out here, but it's important to bear in mind, they pointed out that it was all contained within the fence line of the area they were trying to hit.
Why did they care about that? Because of this. The coalition that has been put together here is very sensitive to the idea that these are Arab nations joining in an assault up here, almost certainly part of what the Pentagon wants here is a clear message that they can, with these advanced aircraft, like the F-22, provide pinpoint accurate assaults and that helps calm the sense here that there will be collateral damage that can make it hard for all these other nations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Tom Foreman reporting for us. Thanks very much.
Coming up, the Homeland Security Department now warning U.S. law enforcement agencies across the country to look out for possible lone wolf attackers. We are going to have full details.
And I will speak with the Information Minister for Jordan, one of the U.S. allies that has now taken part in these airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria.