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U.S. Forces Target Jihadi John; Battle Against ISIS for Sinjar; Donald Trumps Goes After Ben Carson. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 13, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. targets one of the world's most wanted killers, Jihadi John, the face of ISIS. So, is he dead? And what does this mean for U.S. Intelligence in into that terror group.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Moments from now Ben Carson will respond live for the first time since Donald Trump's stunning rant, the 95- minute tirade in which he directly asked how the people of Iowa can be so stupid.


DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: He lunged that knife into the stomach of his friend but, lo and behold, it hit the belt.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BOLDUAN: I'm Kate Bolduan.

Breaking news we're following AT THIS HOUR. A strike at the heart of ISIS. U.S. drones targeting and possibly killing Jihadi John. He's the masked man, remember, who appeared in those brutal ISIS beheading videos. The Pentagon has not yet confirmed his death, but a senior U.S. official says they knew it was him when they took the shot over Syria.

BERMAN: His real name is Mohammed Emwazi. It's his voice in the monstrous beheadings of Stephen Sotloff, James Foley as well as several others.

This is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry moments ago.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are still assessing the results of this strike. But the terrorist associated with Daesh, need to know this, your days are numbered and you will be defeated.


BERMAN: Let's go to Barbara Starr for the latest.

Barbara, how did they find him and how do they know he's dead?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: We now know they had been tracking -- the U.S. Intelligence, the U.S. military had been tracking Jihadi John, Mohammed Emwazi, for several days. He had been in some location outside of Raqqa, Syria. Began to move into Raqqa. That's when they picked up his trail. And they have been trailing him very closely since Wednesday. It was yesterday when that drone moved in and took the shot against him when he stepped out of a building and into a vehicle.

So, now, why is everybody saying they think they got him but they are not absolutely certain? The reason is this. The U.S. has no military or U.S. Intelligence personnel on the ground in Syria, in Raqqa, so they have no direct eyes on the target. They can't be absolutely 100 percent sure. They knew it was him when they took the shot. They knew they struck the vehicle. What they are now doing is going through and monitoring every piece of intelligence coming in, ISIS social media accounts, intercepts, classified communications, talking to people who may know something about all of this, looking at every scrap they can. Sometimes in these situations you begin to actually see the terror group involved post essentially funeral notices, condolences, marking the passing of someone. So, that's what they're looking for, for that absolute confirmation. AT THIS HOUR they appear to be fairly confident that they did get him -- John, Kate?

BOLDUAN: Barbara, what's the timetable, though? I mean, is your sense from your sources at the Pentagon that they're expecting to get firm confirmation soon or is this going to linger?

STARR: I think it could well linger. To be candid, we've seen these things go both ways. We've seen quick confirmation because the group involved may post something on social media, but there have been other cases where they have never been absolutely certain. There have been cases where, weeks later, they come to find out the person is still alive. And they have to, basically, hunt them down again and conduct another strike.

There's good reason, they say, to believe that they did get Jihadi John. You have to look at who conducted the mission. This was the Joint Special Operations Command. This is the group down in Ft. Bragg that's been conducting all these drone ops and tracks this type of intelligence bit by bit. They took the shot because they really believed that that was him.

BERMAN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with the latest.

Thanks much.

Want to talk about this more.

CNN counterterrorism and intelligence analyst, Phil Mudd, joins us.

Phil, you have worked inside the CIA. You have had your eye on people like this over the last several decades. I want to know if they identify Jihadi John in Syria, does this mean that the United States has some friendly assets on the ground, somehow infiltrating that ISIS circle?

[11:04:00] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Sure. There's a big but here. You to think about three steps. Number one, identifying that they know that Jihadi John is up somewhere in Syria. In other words, they have identified him, for example, on a phone. Secondly, finding him in space. If you identified him in making a mistake on a phone, talking to the wrong person, exactly where is he, so you can begin to think about a shot. And the third is determining where he's going to be tomorrow. That is, finding out where he was yesterday, that's not good enough. That's classic intelligence. That's not drone intelligence. You want to predict enough so you've got an aerial device in the sky to hit him.

The problem with this, John, is you're talking about one individual and technical intelligence on that individual. It does not suggest to me that we have intelligence on the entire organization. This is just a sliver of the organization that Jihadi John was involved with.

Finally, the first thing ISIS will do is start to draw a picture of what kind of operational security mistakes they made that led to his death. So, even if there was some penetration, you find ISIS and al Qaeda pretty good at trying to bridge the gap to avoid this from happening again.

BOLDUAN: That poses one of the risks they have to take. Another ISIS fighter could easily step into the position that Jihadi John filled. Being the murderous face of these horrific beheadings ISIS carries out. What do you think of how high priority this attack was when you weigh the risk? They're going to learn from an attack like this as well.

MUDD: Zero risk. The risk in this case is ensuring you have a shot that has minimal prospect of killing innocents, especially women and children. And obviously heightening the probability you are killing the person you think it is. In this case, Jihadi John. The risk he'll be replaced to me is zero for the following reason. When you're sitting there trying to determine what to do in the U.S. Intelligence, U.S. Command, I hear in the intelligence space about whether you'll create further terrorists by killing someone with the drone. That's not the debate inside government. It's much simpler. This person will go on to murder more people. If he's in the sights, your choice is either to prevent that from happening by killing him or to allow him to keep moving on because you're afraid killing him will create other terrorists. That's not a choice. You'll take him out.

BERMAN: Kate was asking how big a priority this is. I think we had a good sense when British Prime Minister David Cameron walked out of 10 Downing Street to claim victory, saying, this proves the long arm that the U.S. and U.K. has. We will not forget acts of terror committed against either American or British people. That was a pretty stunning statement for the prime minister and it shows how committed that country certainly is to fighting terrorists even if they come from that country. MUDD: This is a striking statement from the prime minister for two

reasons. Number one, the political and legal reason. The British prime minister is out there saying they will not only support U.S. attacks, they will work jointly with the United States, with the U.S. military, to target and kill a British citizen overseas without a legal process beyond the prime minister's office. The same thing President Obama did when he authorized the killing of Anwar al Awalki. It's an interesting step in warfare that is debated among lawyers about the appropriateness of killing a citizen without due process and the court.

The second I find fascinating, this is not an operational success. Jihadi John is not the leader of ISIS. I personally don't think he was operationally significant. This is a psychological success. The bottom line is this is a message, if you go, there's a chance you're never going to come home alive.

BOLDUAN: ISIS deals in symbolism as well. Now the coalition battling ISIS, part of that.

Phil Mudd, thanks for being with us.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Phil.

MUDD: Thank you.

BERMAN: Got a different major development in the battle against ISIS. Kurdish forces claim they have retaken the town of Sinjar on a key highway linking the land controlled by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The two-day assault backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes.

BOLDUAN: Right now, a Kurdish flag flies over the city, so is the fight over there? Is the city liberated?

Senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is on the phone with us.

Nick, you've watched this fight unfold. You were there on the front lines watching it play out. Is this town liberated, as Kurdish leaders say?

[11:09:33] NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's certainly no longer under the control of ISIS, that's for sure. Entirely under the control of Peshmerga? When we left four or five hours ago, that was unclear.

During our time, about two hours, there were moments in which they were over our head and fairly chaotic reactions from the Peshmerga, who said two of their number had been injured and required treatment from that particular sniper. A Swedish volunteer fighter from Sweden, Tony, by name, said there were, in fact, tunnels under the city linked up to explosives at times, which ISIS would potentially use to make their escape and also make life difficult for the Peshmerga moving in. Booby traps, land mines, frankly, everywhere. Buildings mined as well. Massive destruction. So, while, yes, the Peshmerga are there in numbers enough to arguably

be in control of that particular town, the question is, how much longer will it take for them to rid of any previous trace of is? We saw explosions in the distance when we were leaving recently. A messy task and one not made any easier by the time ISIS had to prepare. Still, when the Kurdish leaders say this has been liberated, that is frankly relatively fair to say. ISIS are no longer in control and pushed back to harassing a large number of the Peshmerga -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Nick Paton Walsh there for us. Nick, great to hear from you. Thank you so much.

We were talking about ISIS and talking about sending messages. ISIS sent a powerful and deadly message in a different way, killing dozens in Beirut. CNN's Clarissa Ward is there as one of the suicide bombers who survived this attack makes a very big admission.

BERMAN: Plus, any moment now, Ben Carson will respond live to Donald Trump's 95-minute speech and piece of performance art. You're seeing it right there. In a CNN interview, Trump compared Carson to a child molester. We'll hear what Donald Trump said about that. Also, what Donald Trump said he'll do about ISIS.


TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me. I would bomb the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) out of them.





[11:15:59] BERMAN: This morning, people across Iowa are rubbing their jaws, the jaws that dropped during the 95-minute Donald Trump speech last night that was unusual even by Trump standards. A direct attack at Ben Carson that even involved a kind of visual reenactment.

BOLDUAN: That John will re-enact for me.

BERMAN: Not me.

BOLDUAN: It seemed like the gloves didn't just come off, they've been thrown away all together. His prime target, Ben Carson, his closest competitor in Iowa where Donald Trump was speaking. Listen here.


TRUMP: I don't want a person that has pathological disease. If you're a child molester, a sick puppy, you're a child molester, there's no cure for that.

Pathological, there's no secure for that. I have a belt.


Somebody hits me with a belt, it's going in, because the belt moves this way. It moves this way.


It moves that way.


He hit the belt buckle.

Anybody have a knife? You want to try it on me?


Anybody? It ain't going to work.

How stupid are the people of Iowa? How stupid are the people of the country to believe this crap?


BOLDUAN: Mr. Trump.

Nia-Malika Henderson is following the Carson campaign in Greenville, South Carolina, where Mr. Carson is expected to speak to reporters in just a few minutes.

Nia, what do you expect Ben Carson is going to say after all of that?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, we know his aide, Armstrong Williams, was on our air this morning talking about this and essentially saying that his prescription for Donald Trump, at this point, he has clearly Donald Trump committed to going after Ben Carson in this manner. The only solution and their reaction right now -- I think we have some of that sound.


ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, FRIEND & BUSINESS MANAGER FOR DR. BEN CARSON: You know, it's so immature. It is so embarrassing. I feel so sorry for him. When I spoke with Dr. Carson about this yesterday, asking how we should respond, he was so sad by it. He says, pray for him. He feels so sorry for him because he really likes Mr. Trump. He like what is Mr. Trump brings to this campaign, what he brings to this election, with his voice on immigration. But to see him just imploding before our very eyes, it's just sad to watch.


HENDERSON: So there you see a kind of turn-the-other-cheek approach to this so far. We'll have to see what Dr. Ben Carson says. He has an event here at noon. He'll be on stage with Tim Scott. We'll see what he says at this press conference.

Also what we have going on, did Donald Trump quadrupling down on this. I believe he just sent out an Instagram where he is playing -- playing Dr. Ben Carson talking about this incident from his childhood and using the background music of the "Friday the 13th" theme song.





UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Does it fit with the guy you knew?




HENDERSON: There you have it.

We know Carly Fiorina has come out. She's on Ben Carson's side, defending him, saying Donald Trump should know something about what it means to be pathologic, given some of the statements he's made. She's also said that all the money in the world, Donald Trump, won't make you as smart as Ben Carson.

So this is getting heated at this point. We'll have to see how Dr. Carson weighs in.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Nia, you're there for us. Thanks so much. Great to see you.

Let's talk about this. Let's bring in CNN political commentator, S.E. Cupp; and Scottie Hughes, news director at the Tea Party Network and a Trump supporter.

Scottie, a lot to get to. First to you.

In this 95-minute rant, one of the most memorable -- it's not a rant. It's Donald Trump doing Donald Trump. But in this speech, gave this belt demonstration. And Steve Dee, influential Iowa radio host, he called this, "the most embarrassing nine minutes I've ever witnessed from a GOP presidential candidate," in talking about that belt demonstration. What do you say to that?

[11:20:22] SCOTTIE HUGHES, NEWS DIRECTOR, TEA PARTY NETWORK: Well, good morning. Yes, that speech was awkward. It was awkward for the people in the room. It was awkward to listen to post. I think what we heard yesterday was the frustration of Mr. Trump. Since the debate, he has been going nonstop. It hasn't just been in hotel rooms. He's done more media, done more rallies, he's been more with the people, talking to them. I think he hears the frustration of these excuses, these continued excuses from different candidates to the answers they've been challenged with. And they really just don't bode well. As well as the excuses coming from Washington, D.C. It's more of the same. And I think he's just frustrated, the fact that nobody's pushing for actual answers. There's one thing with Mr. Trump you have to realize, he does not like excuses. He calls it out. While it's awkward for Mr. Trump to do it on the stage with Iowan, you know that's some of the same conversations made in living rooms business dads, uncles, moms and Mr. Trump put it up on stage.

BERMAN: S.E. someone sympathetic, Scottie, called it an awkward moment. There are people who have called it much more than awkward. They say it stood out. They said it was horrifying. Steve Dee said the most horrifying nine minutes he's ever seen. Why is this moment different than all the others with Donald Trump that we've seen that were supposed to disqualify him? What he said about John McCain. What he said about Megyn Kelly. Isn't that more of that? And that didn't hurt him?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is more of that yet it's another swing and a miss at Ben Carson, who has for the first time either met or surpassed Mr. Trump in the polls. So, you know, Trump has not been able to find the strike zone when it comes to Ben Carson, right? I mean, he started out talking about maybe he's not that great a doctor. That didn't really work. That didn't land. He took a swing at his Seventh Day Adventism in Iowa where people are pretty familiar with that religion. That didn't work. Eats called him low energy. That's not really working. Now he's going after his biography, as are other people, but in a really sort of silly, bizarre performance art kind of way. What Donald Trump doesn't understand is that his supporters aren't there for him because they don't like Ben Carson. They're there for him because they don't trust the establishment. So, here he is going after this guy that his supporters either have no opinion of or probably like, which is why as he's doing this belt performance. You see like glazed over looks in the audience. They're not with him. They don't know where this is going.

So, yes, you're right. He's had a number of these bizarre moments. None of them have been disqualifying. I just don't think he's been able to figure out or solve for Ben Carson, and it might be doing him some damage.

BOLDUAN: So, Scottie, Ben Carson's campaign, his business manager, this morning, called what Trump said sad, and then also said that when he talked about it with Ben Carson, that Carson's response was, we should pray for him. We should pray for Donald Trump. Is that the perfect response from Carson?

HUGHES: You can't get more perfect of a response than that when you look at Ben Carson's evangelical base. That's a great response.

There's also a doctrine difference between what Donald Trump believes as Presbyterians and what Dr. Carson does as Seventh Day Adventist. There's the idea of being born again. Where as Presbyterians, once you're born a Christian, you're a Christian. So there's a difference in the understanding of doctrines there that might, if you want to get into the details of religion, you can look at. It was a great response by Dr. Carson.

I think Mr. Trump is trying to find a way to just express a lot of these emotions that are -- why aren't they pressing more about a belt buckle? I would love to see the size of that belt buckle. Also talking about hitting a padlock and hitting his mom. Why do we continue to get those stories? I think there's other things when other excuses, like Carly, and her three-page tax document, no one's pressing what does that three-page tax document look at? This is another way to distract from the policy talked about in the 90-minute speech yesterday and hit on petty things. They make better news headlines.

BERMAN: S.E. -- S.E., you know, Ben Carson --


CUPP: Can I just --


BERMAN: -- Ben Carson -- well, let me add this. Ben Carson just did an interview with Katie Couric. And there are a lot of questions to Ben Carson right now. He apparently told Katie Couric, if the media agrees to be nice, he'll release the identity of the person he tried to stab. "If media will be honest and fair, I will reveal identity of the young man involved in childhood knife incident."

Will that answer some questions that have gone his way, S.E.?

CUPP: I don't know what he means by if the media agrees to be nicer. There's no covenant like that in this business. Ben Carson is running for president. He needs to get his gifted hands a little dirty.


At the same time, let me respond to what Scottie is saying. I think she's right. We need to ask questions of Ben Carson about the veracity of his biography. It's the only thing we have to look at, his only record. But at the same time, if Donald Trump is frustrated by the lack of policy -- attention to policy, why is he doing a 95- minute performance art show on Ben Carson's belt buckle? It makes no sense. If Donald Trump is concerned about policies, he should be talking about policies and not Ben Carson's pathology.

[11:25:29] HUGHES: But that was only 30 seconds of the speech, S.E. There was 90 minutes. There was policy in there. It was a pep rally, not a policy rally.


CUPP: But Donald Trump knows --

(CROSSTALK) HUGHES: He was recounting --


CUPP: -- just how the media works. Donald Trump knows better than anyone that all we'll be talking about are the belt buckle and the performance and the child molesting. He knows that. So if he actually cared about having policy conversations only, he wouldn't clutter it up and distract it with all of this nonsense.

BOLDUAN: I think --


BERMAN: We're talking about it.

BOLDUAN: We all well know -- let's be honest, how cue not be talking about it when you see something like that?

CUPP: Exactly.


BOLDUAN: But let's be honest. It's not that Donald Trump knows how the media works. This is how anybody would -- anyone would be talking about because no one has seen a candidate do that on the campaign trail.


CUPP: Right, right.

BOLDUAN: That's just the way it is.

All right, S.E., Scottie, great to see you guys. Thank you.

Coming up for us, even -- so even before Donald Trump was unplugged last night, the Republican establishment was reportedly panicking that Trump and Carson continue to dominate in the polls. And they're so worried some are even floating the idea of drafting Mitt Romney to run. That's ahead.

BERMAN: Plus, the breaking news this morning, the U.S. targeting Jihadi John, the face many say of ISIS. A drone strike, did it kill him?

This, as a surviving bomber of a suicide attack in Lebanon makes a big admission about ISIS.