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World Leaders Unite For Anti-Terror Summit; 25,000 Foreign Fighters Join In Syria, Iraq; Obama Hosting Anti-ISIS Summit; Obama Cites Successes And Setbacks Against ISIS; Summit on Defeating ISIS; Afghan Battles Taliban. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 29, 2015 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Agreed that there needs to be a consensus and a coalition to fight the terror group. Just a little while ago, a new report shed light on the scope of one of the biggest threats, foreign fighters.

Now, it's believed 25,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq since 2011. What may be more surprising is that more than a quarter of those, some 7,000, have joined the fight in just the past nine months alone. The influx of foreign fighters, part of the focus of the United Nations terror summit that's underway right now.

President Obama is hosting the meeting where he called on the 104 countries in attendance and others not there to all focus on defeating and degrading ISIS.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ultimately, however, it is not going to be enough to defeat ISIL in the battlefield. We have to prevent it from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others to violence in the first place. And this means defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated by guns, they're defeated by better ideas, a more attractive and compelling vision.

KING ADBUALLH II, JORDAN: Winning hearts and minds remains a big challenge as this will also require, in the longer and medium term, dealing with governance, poverty, youth, job creation and education. It is only by stabilizing the entire region, giving people hope instead of fear and destruction, that we truly address these and other challenges, including the outpouring of refugees whom are fleeing from terror and seeking a decent life far from their homes.

DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: And we need to make sure we don't allow incubation of an extremist world view even before it gets to justifying violence. We've got to get it out of our schools, get it out of our prisons, get it out of our universities. I believe in freedom of speech. But freedom to hate is not the same thing.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But we will ultimately prevail because we are guided by a stronger, better vision, a commitment to the security opportunity and dignity of every human being. But it will require diligence, focus and sustained effort by all of us.


BLITZER: Complicating the coalition, Russia and Iran. Russia is critical of the U.S. leading today's summit and opposes the removal of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad. While Iran was not invited to take part because of Iran's designation by the United States as a state sponsor of terror.

Meanwhile, up on Capitol Hill, there were hearings today on the growing refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war and on the online threat from terror groups like ISIS who use the Internet to recruit foreign fighters.

Let's focus now on the influx of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq and the anti-terror summit that's underway at the United Nations. Joining us now are Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. Also joining us, Kimberly Dozier, CNN Global Affairs Analyst, contributing writer for "The Daily Beast" and Phil Mudd, our CNN Counterterrorism Expert.

Kimberly, you have an article. What did you say, what, a thousand new fighters are joining ISIS every month? What's going on over here because it looks like there's no stop in this influx?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, that's the estimate and some administration officials I have spoken to think it may actually be higher than that. The problem is that even as the U.S. has spent the getting other countries to tighten their laws, and they say that they've tightened the border with Turkey where most of these people come, down to just 68 miles that still porous, yet they haven't stopped the flow.

The problem is they don't have the -- the fighters don't have to work through the same system of laws. They're not held back by that. And they're using the criminal smuggling routes that are used, for instance, by drug dealers that the U.S. and other world leaders haven't been able to shut down for decades.

BLITZER: Here are the latest numbers coming in, Phil. France says they're had 1,800 citizens go to the region to join the fight. Britain says they've had more than 750. The United States now more than 250. And some of those 250 have now returned to the United States, and apparently some remain at large. They're not even being monitored.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: Let me tell you what the problem is here. When you look at terrorism since the 911 attacks, you have terrorism cropping up on the periphery of the Arab world, places like Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan. If you're a kid in Paris or New York, you're not sitting there saying, how do I get to Pakistan and travel to the travel areas? That is not an accessible route. If you're thinking in Europe or New York that you want to get to ISIS, as Kimberly is saying, very easy to get through Turkey. You take one flight into Ankara, travel down. So, I think the report is interesting, worth reading. But until you eliminate the magnet of ISIS in a geographically accessible area, that is Syria, you are not going to defeat this problem by trying to stop people from getting on an airplane.

BLITZER: Jim, the -- let's talk a little bit about this anti-ISIS summit underway right now, chaired by the president. Iran, as you know, was not even invited. President Obama, though, says he's willing to work with anyone, including Iran and Russia, in order to defeat ISIS. So, how is that done if Iran is kept out of a summit of this importance?

[13:05:10] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's a fair question. I asked about Russia as well. The White House telling me that Russia was never expected to take part in this. But you would expect that that would at least be considered, particularly since Russia now has forces on the ground and that it claims it's principally to fight ISIS. But this administration doesn't necessarily believe that explanation.

So, it is willing to work with them. It, clearly, won't be in this forum. And the fact is the administration will have to work with them, because Russia is on the ground there.

And just one more note about the foreign fighters coming in. I've been speaking to intelligence officials about this some time. They say two other problems. One, Turkey isn't doing enough to stem the flow, in part because Turkey would rather see those extremists go to fight in Syria than stay on Turkish soil where they might carry out acts of terror.

But they also talk about European partners there just not having the resources necessary to track all those fighters. And let's keep in mind, if the U.S., as you say, Wolf, can't keep track of all that smaller number of foreign fighters returning to the U.S., imagine Britain, France, Germany that have multiple the times of the numbers of foreign fighters traveling to Syria and then back home to Europe.

BLITZER: And as you heard, Kimberly, the Jordanian King Abdullah, he said the Muslim countries, the Arab countries, they need to take the lead in fighting ISIS right now. Is that happening?

DOZIER: To a certain extent, they have started cooperating much -- in much greater numbers than before, in terms of especially how much information they are sharing.

One of the things that administration officials were telling us in a small briefing was that 45 countries have now contributed 4,000 new profiles of suspected terrorists to an Interpol database. That's one of the ways that they are starting to track some of these people.

The problem is the radicalization happens so fast that you can have a kid in New York City who has been exchanging Twitter messages, switches to something encrypted and they travel. It's reaching those people that the State Department is really having trouble doing. How do you make something that is counter culture that reaches out to these young people who feel alienated when you're part of the system?

BLITZER: And they are good now with this -- these encrypted messages that they're able to talk to each other without anyone being able to monitor what they're doing.

MUDD: When you think about the problems for a security service, a couple we just talked about, that is encrypted messages, just end-to- end encryption, which the government is talking to Silicon Valley about, very difficult, if not impossible, Wolf, for the government to defeat. So, a kid who's 16 year old -- years old who wants to talk to an activist in Syria can do it without the FBI watching.

The other issue I would get back time and time again, we did not see this, by the way, when I was at the CIA after 911, volume. Three hundred million plus Americans, we say maybe a few dozen engaging with Al Qaeda in Pakistan. We're seeing hundred now. No security service can handle that volume.

BLITZER: All right, Phil Mudd, Kimberly Dozier, Jim Sciutto, guys, thank you.

The White House has been accused of not having a coherent strategy for beating ISIS. Today's summit, maybe that could change that perception. We're going to talk about what's going on. The president's top counterterror homeland security advisor, Lisa Monaco, joins me live. That's coming up next.

Plus, an ominous development underway in Afghanistan, the Taliban capturing a major city, one of several that U.S. troops won at the cost of many lives, billions and billions of dollars. How big of a blow is this to the entire effort in Afghanistan? That's coming up as well.



BLITZER: President Obama is trying to shore up support for the war against ISIS. The president convened a summit of more than 100 countries at the United Nations. Today, he told all these leaders, ISIS ultimately, he said, will be degraded and destroyed but there will be -- and they -- there will be successes, he says, but there will also be setbacks.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Iraq, ISIL continues to hold Mosul, Fallujah and Ramadi. But Iraq forces, backed by a coalition airpower, have liberated towns across Kirkuk Province and Tikrit. ISIL has now lost nearly a third of the populated areas in Iraq that had had control.


BLITZER: Lisa Monaco, who is assistant to the president for homeland security counterterrorism, she's with the president in New York. She's joining us now, live, from the United Nations. Lisa, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: I want to give you a chance to respond to this House homeland security committee report that was just released today. It's a very lengthy report, a bi-partisan report, Democrats and Republicans. And its conclusions are pretty damning.

Among other things, it says this, despite concerted efforts to stem the flow, we have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling overseas to join jihadists. Of the hundreds of Americans who have sought to travel to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq, authorities have only interdicted a fraction of them. Several dozen have also managed to make it back into America. Do you agree with those conclusions?

MONACO: Well, Wolf, there's no doubt that the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into Iraq and Syria continues to be a challenge. It's one of the topics that was discussed in the summit that President Obama has convened of over a hundred world leaders, as you noted at the top. These are leaders who've come together to reinforce their commitment, make new commitments to the counter-ISIL campaign, to addressing the flow of foreign fighters, and, importantly, Wolf, to address the scourge of violent extremism.

With respect to the foreign fighters, what is true is that, today, after the leadership the president showed a year ago when he convened the first ever meeting of the national security -- the U.N. Security Council on foreign terrorist fighters.

[13:15:00] What is true today is there are more countries sharing more information about the flow of fighters, more countries have enacted new laws and are acting under those laws to prosecute, interdict and attempt to stem the flow of fighters.

BLITZER: But the report says that it's been a failure to stop these Americans from going over there. Some of them have even come back of the 250 and may be at large in the United States right now. Is that true?

MONACO: Well, there's no doubt, Wolf, that there still continues to be a magnet for foreign fighters to Syria and to Iraq. Most - most notably to Syria, where Bashar al Assad is in essence an attraction for extremists to come fight because of what he has done to his own people in the form of barrel bombs, in the form of atrocious attacks. So, yes, there continues to be a draw. But what we are doing with over 100 countries and over 60 countries who were formally part of the coalition against ISIL, is to work together to share information, to enhance screening procedures, to address this flow. But, yes, there will continue to be and there has continued to be a flow of foreign fighters, but that is what has galvanized these countries to come together again this year to address it.

BLITZER: Here's one of the most eye-popping lines from this report from the House Homeland Security Committee. "The U.S. government lacks a national strategy for combating terrorist travel and has not produced one in nearly a decade." President Obama has been in office for nearly seven years now. Do you agree that there is no national strategy for combating terrorist travel?

MONACO: I disagree with that conclusion, Wolf, but I will say, this is a bipartisan report. It's a report that we have worked closely, the Department of Homeland Security, and National Counterterrorism Center and other agencies have worked closely with the members on this report, with the committee that engaged in this review. And we contributed to that and shared information about it. There are some conclusions I agree with, some that I would take issue with. But the fact of the matter is, I think this was an effort to address a problem and describe a problem and make recommendations, many of which I think are well founded and many of which we share and, frankly, have already taken steps to address.

BLITZER: One more line out of this conclusion from this report, very damning report. "The unprecedented speed at which Americans are being radicalized by violent extremists is straining federal law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept suspects." Are there suspects at large in the United States right now, ISIS sympathizers, those who have traveled, maybe come back to the United States, who are at large, who aren't even being monitored by law enforcement?

MONACO: The FBI director has spoken to this issue, and it is a concern for everyone in the counterterrorism, homeland security and law enforcement community. The use that ISIL has been able to make of social media to recruit, to enlist, and to inspire individuals to their violent cause is of grave concern to our law enforcement and homeland security professionals. The FBI director has said that they have investigations in all 50 states. They have made a number of arrests, about 50 in the last year, and what is true, Wolf, is the concerning thing about this issue, and why you have leaders coming together to make unprecedented commitments to address the scourge of violent extremism is precisely because the attraction of ISIL's message does not - is not limited to any one demographic, to any one group. It is, however, being particularly consumed by youth. And that is of concern and that's why you've seen these leaders come together to reinforce and enhance their commitments against violent extremism.

BLITZER: Yesterday, when the president addressed the U.N. General Assembly, he said the U.S. would be willing to work with all countries, including Iran and Russia, to try to destroy ISIS, these terrorist groups. But one complicating factor, one reason why Iran, for example, wasn't invited to your conference today, is because the U.S. government still considers Iran to be a state sponsor of terrorism, is that right?

MONACO: That's correct, Wolf.

BLITZER: So how does that play in? Why would the U.S. want to bring in Iran to fight terror if the U.S. believes Iran itself is a - is a terrorist state?

MONACO: Well, look, what the president said is that there are areas where - and we - common interests that we have with Russia, with others, to go after ISIL. Where countries can make a contribution to going after ISIL and to addressing the threat that they pose, that can be productive. But there are many issues, quite obviously, in which we're not going to agree. And that's what the president said coming out of the meeting with President Putin, where there can be constructive contributions to the fight against ISIL, we want those.

[13:20:08] But by the same token, Assad, we feel, is a magnet for ISIL, is a magnet for extremists flowing into Syria and contributing to the chaos there and that is an issue that we disagree with the Russians on and therefore where we can work with them to go after ISIL, that's all to the good. But there's got to be a managed transition because Assad has lost all legitimacy and can't continue in the future for Syria.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but very quickly, where could you work with Iran in fighting terror if you regard them as a state sponsor of terror?

MONACO: Well, look, Wolf, we're not working with Iran in fighting ISIL in Iraq. We are not coordinating with them. But there are issues, most notably, of course, the agreement that was worked through over the course of the summer to come up with an agreement to prevent Iran from securing a nuclear weapon. These are areas where we work with countries who have a common interest. And that's what we've done and that's what we'll continue to do.

BLITZER: Lisa Monaco is the president's advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism, attending this summit in New York with the president. Lisa, thank you very much.

MONACO: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Afghans in a key town north of Kabul thought the Taliban was gone for good. But guess what? Those terrorists are now back full time. They're trying to seize the city from overwhelmed Afghan soldier, many of whom have abandoned this city. Could this battle foreshadow a bleak future for all of Afghanistan? We're going to talk about that with retired U.S. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Much more coming up.


[13:26:03] BLITZER: The war in Afghanistan is escalating as security forces there battle for control of a strategic city and the U.S. military is joining in to try to help. Kunduz, that's in the north, a major city, was largely overtaken by Taliban militants on Monday after several days of fierce clashes. The fight was the first time since 2001 that the Afghan Taliban has managed to take control of a major city there. The Afghan government claims it has now recaptured parts of the city killing 83 insurgents. U.S. forces supposed the operation from the air, launching an air strike on militant targets today.

For more on what's going on, let's bring in our military analyst, retired Army commanding general for Europe and the Seventh Army, Lieutenant General, retired, Mark hurtling. Mark, thanks very much for joining us. I want to get to that in a moment. Your quick reaction to this House Homeland Security Task Force Committee report on combatting terrorists and foreign fighter travel. I read some of the highlights, some of the summary to Lisa Monaco, the president's top advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism. You could go on and just read the executive summary. Point after point after point it paints a very disturbing, eye-opening, damning account of the lack of readiness over these years in dealing with this threat. Your reaction?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's a tough report, Wolf, to be sure. There's - I haven't read the whole thing. I have seen some of the excerpts to it. But it's, as you say, damning. It points to some things that I think the intelligence community and the operational commanders are very aware of, but there are also some things that it's very difficult to counter. Terrorism across the world, as it's growing, as what you're seeing some new things, it's very difficult, but it's also eye-opening in terms of a congressional report.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of work they're going to need to do and we're going to follow up on this.

Let's talk about what's going on in Afghanistan, Taliban victory, Kunduz, fifth largest city in Afghanistan. A city of about 3,000 people. All of a sudden under control of the Taliban. It reminds me of Iraq when the ISIS terrorists took control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, a city of nearly 2 million people. Is Afghanistan going down?

HERTLING: I don't believe so, Wolf. This was a - but it was certainly a psychological victory for the Taliban, getting into what is the fourth largest city of northern Afghanistan, Kunduz, about the size of the city of Cincinnati. So you're not talking about a small village here. And there had been contention in that area. ISAF (ph) has been watching Kunduz very closely. It's in the north. It's bumped up against Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, so it is not on the Pakistani border. They're not flowing the forces back and forth. This was an area that at one time was secure. So this came as a surprise and in a very tough time for the Afghan government and it certainly puts General Campbell in a - in a bad situation as he's preparing to come back to the United States in a couple of weeks to testify to Congress in terms of what's next in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Yes, because the U.S. has been there, as you know, for more than a decade training the Afghan military and police. $60 billion in U.S. taxpayer money. There's still about 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But this is going to raise lots of question. Whether all of that money, all of that effort, all of those U.S. lives that have been lost, those U.S. troops who have come home injured severely, whether or not this was a waste?

HERTLING: Yes, you know, Wolf, I was in Kunduz a few years ago. The Germans were there providing security as part of the NATO force. And they had it pretty well under control. I think there has been a pretty good future for the Afghan security forces across the board, but they are still in their infancy. They still need a lot of help. The air power is helping them, but there are very few NATO forces in Kunduz itself right now. Most of them, as well as some special operators and some aviation assets, are about 20 kilometers to the west in Nasser Sharif. So as the NATO forces, as ISAF (ph) has been drawing down, you know, the Afghan security forces have been building up, but they are not to the point where they can take -

[13:30:09] BLITZER: Unfortunately we just lost our connection with General Hertling, but we were wrapping it up, in any case.