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Russia's Cruise Missiles Hit ISIS Targets; FIFA Ethics Committee Suspends Top Executives; Volkswagen U.S. CEO Faces Lawmakers Questions. Aired 10-11a ET.

Aired October 8, 2015 - 10:00:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, HOST: Hi there, welcome everyone to the International Desk. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.

Our top story this hour is the launch of a so-called wide scale offensive by government troops in Syria. A Syrian defense official says Russian air

strikes have diminished the capacity of ISIS and other terror groups but Moscow's involvement has intensified the fighting and created deeper

divisions about just how to respond.

Well let's go right to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Hi there, Barbara. These latest military moves, what do they tell you?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Robyn, perhaps your words right there so-called Russia - pardon me so-called Syrian offensive may be the

thing watch. It is the Syrian government, Syrian generals that are saying they've launched this widespread military offensive against ISIS and

terrorist targets. The U.S. sees it somewhat differently.


STARR: What U.S. Officials are saying is they see almost no Russian strikes. The Russian strikes are backing up the anti -- are striking the

anti-Assad forces, they are not striking ISIS.

Right now the sense of it is the Russian strikes are there in support of the Syrian regime. It is Russian artillery, Russian missiles, Russian

aircraft that are doing some of these strikes to support the Syrian military in their effort against anti-Assad forces.

The U.S. doesn't see very many ISIS targets, if any, being struck. Robyn?

CURNOW: OK, and also, let's talk about this near miss in the air. What are - that is just what the Pentagon has been worried about, isn't it?


STARR: Well, they're trying to avoid a near miss. What happened was that some U.S. aircraft flying in eastern Syrian near Raqqa trying to strike an

ISIS target had to call off their mission because a Russian aircraft came within 20 miles of them, and the new rule is now for U.S. pilots if the

Russians come within 20 miles, break off, divert, move away. Not that they think the Russians are going to shoot them down, but U.S. officials tell me

that until they get an agreement with the Russians about flight safety, that the U.S. is going to take it into its own hands to keep its pilots,

its air crews safe. It will take that responsibility by instituting this 20-mile rule.

The Russians have a long history of what the U.S. military sees as aggressive flying practices. The U.S. wants to stay clear of any accidents.

They want to get that technical agreement between both sides so they can fly safely.

CURNOW: Thanks so much. We're going to leave it at that. Barbara Starr, thank you.

Well the U.S. and turkey have expressed doubts that Russia is actually targeting ISIS militants, as Barbara said there. In fact both countries say

that over 90% of Moscow's strikes are not against ISIS.

So is ISIS going unchecked here or is there some long-term strategy at play? CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank joins me from CNN New York to

discuss that. What do you think? What does this offensive mean for ISIS?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well Robyn, the offensive isn't going after ISIS, it's going after non ISIS rebels inside Syrian in places

like Homs, and Hama, places which are strategically important to the Assad regime. ISIS is in northeastern Syrian, away from areas which are

strategically important to the Syrian regime.

CURNOW: So it giving them then the opportunity to regroup?

CRUICKSHANK: Well if they're -it will absolutely give them the opportunity to expand because ISIS' rivals with a lot of other rebel groups, including

Jabhat al Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate there, including Ahrar al Sham, including some more moderate groups like the FSA which is still


So what hurts these groups may help ISIS inside Syrian, and that may be exactly what Russia wants. A lot of people have alleged that what Putin

wants here is to create up a dichotomy between the Assad regime and ISIS. You either choose the Assad regime or ISIS so that western powers will

eventually come around to choosing the Assad regime, Robyn.

CURNOW: Indeed, because ISIS has thrived in the murkiness in the environment, in the vacuum. And what we're seeing now is more gray areas.

So in a way it's fertile ground for ISIS, isn't it?

CRUICKSHANK: It's fertile ground for ISIS, and here's another worry -


CRUICKSHANK: that there could be a surge in foreign fighters to Syria because feelings are still raw about the soviet occupation of Afghanistan

in the 1980s, Russian atrocities in Chechnya in the decade after that. There's been fatwas by Saudi clerics calling for Arabs to go and travel to

Syria in greater numbers, and that all offers up a lot of opportunities to ISIS.


CRUICKSHANK: We've seen already 30,000 foreign fighters going in. Some former Jihadis telling me you've seen nothing yet now that the Russians

have got involved. A lot of anger in the Sunni Muslim world because of this, Robyn.


CRUICKSHANK: And I think also troubling that it could result in some fence mending between Al Qaeda on the one side in Syria and ISIS on the other

side. There's been an escalating war of words. No love lost between these two groups, but historically nothing has unified the global Jihadi movement

like opposition to Russia. And in fact Al Qaeda was originally founded to go after the Soviets in Afghanistan.

So all kind of troubling unintended consequences which could have international security implications, implications on the streets of Europe,

of the United States in the years to come, Robyn.

CURNOW: Indeed, deeply worrying, indeed. Thanks so much for your analysis though, Paul Cruickshank coming to us from New York.

Well now to those stunning new developments in world football's corruption scandal. FIFA's ethics committee has just slapped a 90-day provisional

suspension on President Sepp Blatter.


CURNOW: European Football President, Michel Platini, and FIFA General Secretary, Jerome Valcke. Well Amanda Davies has all the details for us now

live from Zurich, Switzerland.


CURNOW: Hi there, Amanda.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Robyn. Yes, it really couldn't get bigger than the two individuals who have been provisionally

suspended today. As you said, not only the head of world football's governing body FIFA, Sepp Blatter, but his equivalent European football's

governing body, Michel Platini.


DAVIES: The two linchpins really of the world football movement, and they have been handed 90-day suspensions from all football worldwide and a

national and an international basis. This is a suspension that's been handed down by the FIFA Internal Regulatory Body really. It's the ethics

committee who opened their investigations into the pair following the opening of the criminal investigation by the Swiss authorities some two

weeks ago.

And the statement was handed down. It said it was as of immediate effect. 90 days sees both Blatter and Platini out of football until at least

January and then there is the option for the ethics committee to extend that for another 45 days which would take us very, very close to that

February 26th date which is the of the upcoming Presidential election when we knew that Sepp Blatter would be stepping down anyway.

But Michel Platini, of course was the man who was very much widely regarded as the favorite to replace him. As you can imagine, there's a lot of

responses that are coming - coming out from this news today within the legal parameters that people have been able to act in.


DAVIES: Because whilst the FIFA investigations have, of course, been internal, there are still those two legal investigations going on, one by

the Swiss police here, the other by the FBI in the United States.

But Sepp Blatter has released a statement through his lawyer, Richard Cullen, which said -


DAVIES: "Sepp Blatter was disappointed the ethics committee did not follow the code of ethics and disciplinary code." He says the ethics committee

based its decision on a misunderstanding of the actions of the Attorney General in Switzerland, which has opened an investigation but brought no

charge against the President. President Blatter looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will demonstrate that he did not

engage in any misconduct, criminal or otherwise.


DAVIES: FIFA though for their part have reacted very quickly. They have said that whilst during the course of the 90 days Sepp Blatter will be able

to take no part in any FIFA matters, not speak to the media, or be on FIFA territory. They have put in his place the acting FIFA President, Issa

Hayatou. He is the longest serving member of the FIFA executive committee, the President of football in Africa as things stand.


DAVIES: But interestingly, there are now calls coming from Europe to hold an extraordinary meeting of the FIFA executive committee to discuss where

things really go from here.

CURNOW: Amanda, thanks so much for that update.


CURNOW: Appreciate it, and, of course, we'll have much more on the FIFA scandal in World Sport in just about 30 minutes from now.

Well, you are at the International Desk.


CURNOW: Ahead, re-assessing the NATO troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. The U.S. commander there says a new plan is needed. We'll take a closer look in

a live report.

And Volkswagen's top man in the U.S. faces tough questions from lawmakers about the carmaker's diesel emissions scandal.

All that and much more here at the International Desk.



CURNOW: Welcome back. The head of Doctors Without Borders is acknowledging the apology from U.S. President Barack Obama for Saturday's air strike on

their hospital in Afghanistan, but the group says it's just not enough.


CURNOW: In Wednesday's phone call, Mr. Obama stressed that a Pentagon investigation is under way, and he also said he fully supports a separate

probe being done by NATO and the Afghan government. Doctors Without Borders says the bombing is a war crime and wants the International Humanitarian

Fact Finding Commission to handle the investigation. The air strike killed at least 12 staff members and 10 patients.


CURNOW: Now that incident comes at a time when the Taliban are retaking more and more of Afghanistan, including much of that city where it


Germany's Defense Minister now says NATO troops may need to stay there past their scheduled withdrawal date at the end of next year.


CURNOW: She also says any decision to leave should be based on the current situation on the ground. NATO defense chiefs are meeting in Brussels and

are expected to talk about this issue. And this week the top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan said the drawdown strategy in Afghanistan will likely need

to be revised here's part of what he said.

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL, COMMANDER U.S. FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: As I take a look at conditions on the ground as we have to continue to provide TAA to our

Afghan partners. When we made - when the President made that decision it did not take into account the change over the last two years, and so the

courses of action that I have provided to my senior leadership provide options to adjust that.


CURNOW: Well, Afghanistan has a long history of war and foreign invaders. In the 1800s Britain fought several Afghan Anglo wars for control of the

country. In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded after ten years of fighting (inaudible) fighters drove out the soviets. 1n 1996 the Taliban took over

forging an alliance with Al Qaeda. And in 2001 the U.S. And its allies invaded following the 9/11 attacks working with the northern alliance to

topple the Taliban from power. More than 10,000 NATO troops still remain.


CURNOW: Well, I want to bring in Sara Chase, the former journalist and author who lived in Afghanistan for nearly ten years, and is currently a

senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She joins me now via skype from Paris.

Thanks for joining us Sara. In your assessment you've heard about all these conditions on the ground. What are the realities for U.S. troops there and

do you think the Taliban is here to stay?

SARA CHASE, FORMER JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: You know, what's so interesting about these conversations is they focus almost exclusively on numbers of

troops and sort of what's happening on the battlefield.


CHASE: I think what's most interesting about what's going on is really the failure in governance that we're seeing both nationwide and in particular

in Kunduz. I mean It's almost a microcosm of what happened in Iraq last year, that you have a government that is so kind of disrespected and so

angers its own population that they're willing to actually let the Taliban into their houses sometimes and certainly not fight against them.

And so the real issue is that 5,000 U.S. troops or 10,000 U.S. troops may be able to provide some assistance in holding the Taliban at bay for some

temporary amount of time, but it's not a solution. And I really don't see the same amount of energy being spent thinking through, hey, what's the

underlying problem here?


CURNOW: And the underlying problem you argue and I mean you argue it in your book "State of Thieves" and as you say, Iraq another example is

corruption and disaffection with government, and that plays into insurgents. So then what is the solution? I mean how optimistic are you?

How do you fix that?

CHASE: I have to say I am not very optimistic having spent at least five to six years of my life focused specifically on trying to make the case you

just made; that the corruption and abusive behavior of the Afghan government was driving people into the arms of the Taliban. And it just

isn't a very sexy topic. And so the debate keeps shifting to how many troops are doing what on the ground.

And so in my view, if the U.S. were to decide to leave troops after the end of 2016, which I don't think would be a terrible thing one way or the

other, it should leverage the need that the Afghan government has for those troops to really demand serious approaches to the governance issues.


CHASE: And that mean in a place like Kunduz where you have a variety of different ethnic groups and sort of local loyalties. It really means

putting a variety of stakeholders around a table, including many -- maybe some Taliban sympathizers, but not just the Taliban and the government.

Really a variety of local stakeholders, and hammering out what are the grievances and how can we actually address them.

But I don't frankly have much optimism that the U.S. government will condition any support it does provide for Afghanistan just because I've

never seen it do so in the past. It's really hesitant to make use of whatever leverage it might have.


CURNOW: So with that in mind, bearing in mind that, you know, you're saying it doesn't matter how many troops are there or aren't there and I mean

historically Afghanistan has been a country that's essentially unconquerable and that Kunduz as you're saying is also in a way a microcosm

of the larger issues around Afghanistan, do you - what to do? I mean, what is this - you know what can - I mean I know you have kind of touched on it

but really what to be done now?

CHASE: Well, first of all, I actually reject a little bit the parallelism with the soviets and the British empire. I don't think U.S. troops in

Afghanistan have any intention of conquering the country. That was never the point.

And secondly the Taliban are not supported by a vast number or proportion of Afghans as the independence movements in the late 1980s and in the 19th

century were. So those aren't quite applicable parallels.

But your question remains a very good one which is what do we do now, and frankly I'm not a great person to ask that question of because I feel like

the U.S. and the international community failed to use the leverage it had when it really was the most important force in the country for about a

dozen years.


CHASE: And so it's hard to imagine how going forward when there's even less leverage in the hands of the international community for a better solution

to be developed. But, again, I would say the only hope there might be would be to condition whatever support, be it military, civilian, financial

support, on really serious and thoughtful reforms of governance.

CURNOW: OK, thanks so much for your analysis. Sara Chase, there thank you.

You're watching "The International Desk."

Media mogul wades right into the U.S. Presidential race.


CURNOW: We'll tell you about the controversial tweet in support of Republican Ben Carson. Stay around for that.



CURNOW: Now this is a man who certainly is no stranger to controversy. Now media mogul Rupert Murdoch is staking a claim in the race for U.S.

President with a controversial tweet expressing support for Republican Ben Carson.


CURNOW: On Wednesday Murdoch tweeted, "Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide and

much else?" Carson is the only African-American candidate in the race and Murdoch's use of the word "real" has sparked a backlash online. Some have

suggested he was questioning President Barack Obama's identity.

Well our Senior Media Correspondent, Brian Stelter joins me now live from New York.


CURNOW: I mean, this has some people flabbergasted.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It's a head scratcher when he was posting this.

We know that Murdoch is an unusual twitter user. He tends to post off the cuff, sometimes gets himself into some hot water.


STELTER: But this was a whole other level. This is something that shocked a lot of observers when he posted it, and it took him about 12 hours to go

ahead and walk it back. We can show you his version of an apology that he posted this morning. He said, apologies that he meant no offense and that

he feels both Obama and Carson are charming. He says personally find both men charming.



STELTER: But that's going to get much less attention than his original comments, which are triggering a lot of debate about Murdoch, about

conservative beliefs about the President and about Carson as well.


STELTER: In some ways Carson is the anti-Obama. Like you mentioned, the only African-American candidate in the race. He gets a lot of attention in

recent weeks because he's an outsider in the same way that Donald Trump is. And Murdoch has been championing Carson for months, especially in the last

couple of months. It seems like Murdoch has picked his candidate or at least for the 2016 primaries, but his comment about the real black

President is something that's going to be sticking around for a while. I think it shocked a lot of people.

CURNOW: Indeed and bearing in mind, how is that?


CURNOW: How is the issue of race playing into this Presidential race? Is it difficult for the media to deal with it?

STELTER: Well you know I think, if you think back to seven years ago when Barack Obama was elected, was inaugurated, there was a lot of talk we can

say now overstated talk about a post-racial America.


STELTER: I'm not sure if that ever made sense to be saying back in 2008, but we certainly know now that any aspirations that we were going to

somehow be in a post-racial society were for naught. If anything Barack Obama's election reinvigorated conversations about race, both positively

and negatively.


STELTER: Ben Carson is a unique candidate in the race that he's able to talk about issues that some of the other Republicans in the race don't

necessarily feel comfortable talking about. Murdoch in some ways has elevated him even through this controversial tweet.

CURNOW: Brian Stelter, as always, thank you so much for joining us here.

STELTER: Thank you.

CURNOW: Well coming up.


CURNOW: German authorities raid Volkswagen headquarters just as the carmaker's CEO in America gets a grilling by U.S. Lawmakers.



[10:30:25] CURNOW: Welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Here's a check of the headlines.

Russia says a wave of precision attacks launched from its warship in the Caspian Sea hit ISIS facilities in Raqqah, Idlib, and Aleppo, Syria.

It comes as the Syrian army says it has launched a wide scale offensive to eliminate what it calls terrorists and liberate towns under their control.

World football's bribery and corruption scandal widens and goes right to the top. FIFA's ethics committee has just slapped 90-day suspensions on

outgoing President Sepp Blatter, European Football President Michel Platini and FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke. Those suspensions are effective

immediately and could be extended.

Air strikes hit a wedding celebration in a rebel-held portion of Yemen today killing at least 30 people. Local security officials say dozens of

people are unaccounted for and hospitals are overwhelmed with victims. It's not yet clear who carried out the attack in the town of Sana'a, Bani.

Volkswagen's CEO in the U.S. Michael Horn is being grilled this hour by lawmakers in Washington just as German authorities raid VW headquarters in

Wolfsburg over the carmaker's diesel emission scandal. Horn said he knew there was an issue more than a year ago, but thought it was being fixed.

Horn is speaking now. Let's listen in.


MICHAEL HORN, U.S. VOLKSWAGEN CEO: -- to make certain something like this cannot happen again. Fifth, we commit to regular and open communication

with our customers, dealers, employees and the public as we move forward. And as first steps, we have set up the designated service line Web site,

micro site, to be a channel for this communication and I have sent a personal letter to every affected customer.

I can offer today this outline of a path forward towards the goal of making things right. Nevertheless, Volkswagen knows that we will be judged

by our -- judged not by our words, but clearly by our actions over the coming weeks and months. These events are fundamentally contrary to

Volkswagen's core principles of proofing value to our customers, innovation and responsibility to our communities and our environment.

They do not reflect the company that I know and to which I have dedicated 25 years of my life. It's inconsistent that this company

involved in these emissions issue is also the company that had invested in environmental efforts to reduce the carbon footprint in our factories

around the world, where our plant in Tennessee is the best factory in this respect.

In closing, again, I apologize on behalf of everyone at Volkswagen. We will fully cooperate with the responsible authorities. We will find

remedies for our customers, and we will work to ensure that this will never happen again.

Thank you again for allowing me to testify today and I look forward to your questions. Thank you.


CURNOW: An apology there from the Volkswagen -- the head of Volkswagen America.

Let's bring in Maggie Lake. She was listening in to that.

An apology, he admits words are not enough, but what is clear is that the extent of this cheating is becoming more and more clearer.

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Robyn. But the house members there that are listening to that testimony want a lot more

answers. And he apologized. He said it's not consistent with their culture, but I want to tell you in the opening statement, what one of the

representatives said and this will set the tone for what the next few hours are going to be like for Michael Horn.

She said we fully expect to hear that, an apology. We didn't know. We'll get to the bottom of it. We stand behind it. And she says, quote,

"I don't buy it. Customers have been defrauded."

The company's word isn't worth a dime. The only thing I want to know is how VW is going to make this right for the consumer. She wants them to

make everyone whole. If you have a car and it's not what you thought you bought, she wants VW to reimburse you.

Other senators are saying you defrauded a nation. We want to know exactly who knew, how did this happen, how was it allowed to go on for so

long. So a pretty hostile group he's facing here.

This is very important when you talk to analysts for the company to get out in front of this, move to act quickly so they can put this behind

them, Robyn, and as you and I have discussed over the last few days, even if they're able to do that, the financial bill for this is going to be

staggering. Some people putting it, you know, somewhere in the range between $80 billion and $100 billion. So VW needs to act quickly. This is

the beginning of their effort of damage control.

CURNOW: Indeed, it's not just the cost of fixing these 11 million cars, but also they may be fined.

So the real question here is how the company deals with who might be responsible for this deliberate action. I mean, this isn't negligence, and

I think that is what is key here, isn't it?

[10:35:08] LAKE: That's right. It wasn't a mistake. This was a deliberate attempt. And that is why you are looking at the level of

investigations not only on this side of the Atlantic, Robyn, but back home in Germany.

In just the last hour during our show, news broke that German authorities had raided and went into offices at the Volkswagen headquarters

as well as some private homes to gather documents and computers.

I know Atika is going to fill you in on that next. So this is wide- ranging, and they don't believe that it was just four individuals behind this -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Maggie Lake, thanks so much coming to us there from our New York studios. Thanks so much.

Well, now to the raid on Volkswagen headquarters in Germany. As Maggie was saying, Atika is standing by for us live in Berlin. And I think

what is very clear is that there's a lot of pressure here to identify who is responsible.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tremendous pressure. And let's not forget that it was Volkswagen itself that called for a federal prosecutor

to launch a criminal investigation to find out who was responsible. So it's not that much of a surprise to see the search of Volkswagen

headquarters today.

There are three prosecutors involved, more than 50 officials from the prosecutor's office. They took a number of documents, as well as

computers. And, clearly, what they're trying to do is find the paper trail to whose idea was it to install this algorithm that would cheat the

emissions test? How far up does it go?

What we understand from the prosecutor, we asked, you know, where else did they searched, they said they searched also a number of private homes.

Now we asked whether or not that included the home of former CEO Martin Winterkorn. What they said in response was that they searched the homes of

those individuals suspected of being behind this emissions testing.

Now what we know so far is that Martin -- former CEO Martin Winterkorn is not a suspect yet. So it seems unlikely that his home was also

searched. But it could be just the beginning of these sort of searches. They could always come back, of course, for more documents and so forth.

Volkswagen has also put out a statement saying that they voluntarily handed over a number of these documents and computers, and they want to see

this criminal investigation going ahead and will cooperate in any way they can.

Now some critics may be asking why it took so long for the search to be conducted. Remember, it's been a number of weeks now since the scandal

actually broke, but this is all going to be part of the ongoing issue for Volkswagen to restore trust in the brand.

CURNOW: And a rather rainy Berlin, thanks so much for joining us. Atika Shubert. Thanks.

You're watching the INTERNATIONAL DESK.

Still ahead, find out why Daniel Craig is shaken and definitely not stirred by the idea of playing James Bond again.


[10:40:41] CURNOW: Welcome back.

Now, a writer from Belarus wins this year's Nobel Prize for literature. The Swedish Academy honored Svetlana Alexievich for her

portrayal of life in the former Soviet Union, calling her work a monument to suffering and courage in our time.

The 67-year-old has also written about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the Russian war in Afghanistan. And while Alexievich has won

international acclaim, her books are not published in her home country.

Well, it seemed that the specter of doubt hangs over the next James Bond movie. Actor Daniel Craig told Britain's "Time Art" magazine, he'd

rather slash his wrists than play Bond again. Oh, dear. He says all he wants to do is move on.

Craig has done four turns as 007 now. His latest bond film, "Specter" comes out this month. It's the 24th movie in the franchise.

That makes me very, very sad.

Anyway, that does it for the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Thanks so much for joining us here. I'm Robyn Curnow. Don't go anywhere. "World Sport" with

Christina Macfarlane is up next.