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Top U.S. Envoy Reacts to Russia's Actions in Syria; U.S. Ambassador to U.N. on Syria Criticism;. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired December 28, 2015 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London with a special edition of the show that looks
back at some of our year's big stories.
This year, of course, there was no bigger global disaster than Syria. Actually, for several straight years now, the continuing chaos caused ISIS
to thrive and spread its terror abroad now. From the skies over Egypt to the streets of Paris and California.
Vladimir Putin threw his weight into the fight but on whose side? Russian airstrikes in Syria were not mainly targeted at ISIS but rather, at
propping up Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. Defense Secretary even accused Putin of, quote, "pouring gasoline onto the fire."
And caught in the middle of all of this, the Syrian people. Desperate for safety, hundreds of thousands flooded into Europe, causing the worst
refugee crisis since World War II.
President Obama tasked the retired U.S. General John Allen with leading the fight against ISIS and I spoke with him in October just as he was passing
AMANPOUR: General Allen, welcome to the program.
GEN. JOHN ALLEN, (RET.), MILITARY ADVISER: Good to see you again.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back.
At a time when really we're not quite sure which end is up, what is Russia doing?
Its first sortie has been roundly criticized by the United States as not actually going off to ISIS, as they said they would.
ALLEN: Yes. Well, I think that's clear now, that they have not gone after ISIS in the first targets and perhaps even the second set of targets.
But the Pentagon is doing the analysis to ensure we have a sense of what in fact was struck and the damage that was done.
In terms of what Russia is doing, obviously we've seen this buildup for some period of time. I think it's clear that this is really a reaction.
It's a reaction to their sense that their long-term client was in trouble, the Bashar al-Assad regime, was in trouble and potentially on the verge of
And so their actions here are not necessarily a surprise to us.
AMANPOUR: There are some, as you know, critics who have said that, just as he did in Ukraine, President Putin perceives inaction, confusion on the
side of the West as weakness and takes advantage of it.
ALLEN: Well, I don't think he is going to find the same reaction here. We've had a very clear strategy with respect to dealing with daish, ISIL,
in Syria from the beginning of the coalition, which is about a year old now. It came into birth about this time at the United Nations General
Assembly last year.
And the intent has always been on the part of the United States to lead a global coalition -- it's about 65 members now, 63 countries and two other
entities -- in dealing with daish as the emergency that it is, which is to deal with it as a regional issue, some part of which, of course, was going
to occur in Syria.
But we've also had a policy objective within the United States that the problem in Syria is a problem of the governance and it's a problem that
ultimately resides with Bashar al-Assad.
And so what we seek is not only dealing with daish in Syria as the emergency that we face but also facilitating a political transition --
ALLEN: -- a political transition that ultimately leaves the government of Syria in the hands of Syrians, with Bashar al-Assad not a part of that.
AMANPOUR: Can you explain how that's going to happen?
Because, again, there are a lot of mixed messages. People are saying, including the United States, other Europeans, although there seems to be
some divisions; I've talked to several foreign ministers, who have a different nuance of what should happen, you know, those who say Assad has
no role, either because of his moral culpability or even the efficacy.
If he has a role, it just sends more people into the arms of ISIS.
So what do you see as the actual result of the current facts on the ground?
Russia involvement and everybody else saying, well, we've got to see whether Russia's plans works.
ALLEN: Well, the facts on the ground is that we need to deescalate the war. And by attacking Syrian individuals on the ground who are not part of
ISIL, that is not where we want to head.
We aren't going to fight our way out of this problem. There's no military solution to this. This requires a political solution.
And so your question is exactly correct. There are many opinions about how this should be facilitated and that's part of what Secretary Kerry and the
White House has been doing and the president has been doing, is to facilitate a conversation that brings to the table the many different
voices and equities to try to find our way into a political, diplomatic track that can get us into this transition.
The modality of that conversation, the modality of that transition, I think, is part of that conversation. In fact, I don't think, I know it is
part of the conversation.
And at what point Bashar al-Assad departs the scene will be part of that conversation but the key is to begin that diplomatic and political track.
This problem will not be solved by military means.
AMANPOUR: Let's get to the nitty-gritty. The United States and particularly your area of responsibility was to try to fight ISIS by,
amongst other things, setting up a arm-and-train program to send people into battle against ISIS.
Can you tell me why that hasn't worked and why, by contrast, has Jordan been able to train tens of thousands, some -- I hear something like 35,000
to 40,000 people -- to fight ISIS near their border?
ALLEN: Yes. We learned a lot about the train and equip program as a function of a much broader approach that we were employing in Syria, of
course. And it didn't turn out the way we wanted. But we have looked very closely at the reasons for that and we're adjusting as necessary.
AMANPOUR: But it's on hold now. So it doesn't even look like it is going forward.
ALLEN: Well, it's not on hold, no, that we --
AMANPOUR: -- the news yesterday.
ALLEN: Well, that's not correct. We have troops that are training in the camps. We may make decisions in the future about how that program will
look or what its long-term future is, but that's not the only thing we have been doing, Christiane.
And I think one of the important points was that we learned from Kobani last year that there were Syrian partners who had real capacity to fight
daish and to defend themselves.
And what we learned from that was that the capacity to empower and enable those Syrian partners to achieve not insignificant effect in Northeast
Syria; for example, the Syrian-Turkish border from Iraq all the way to the Euphrates has been cleared of daish.
And the principal crossing point that daish relied on for its foreign fighters and other support, Tell Abyad, is now in the hands of those
fighters. And we have elements of those forces within 45 kilometers of Raqqa.
One other point, if I may, because it's really important, and that is we have engaged our old partner and friend, Turkey, in bilateral talks to
empower additional Syrian Sunni groups south of the remaining 98 kilometers that are in the hands of daish to close that border entirely and to deny it
to daish and ISIL.
AMANPOUR: Can you tell me about the serious allegations by some 50 senior intelligence officials that a lot of the intelligence, which is meant to be
honest, objective intelligence on ISIS, has been turned into "happy talk?"
Seniors at CENTCOM intelligence have been accused of this and apparently there's an investigation into that.
What can you tell me about that?
And how has that set back the reality, the perception of the reality on the ground?
ALLEN: First, I won't go into the details of an investigation, as I think you would imagine. But I think the vast majority of us receive our
information from many sources. In my case, most of my intelligence information comes from the many different entities and agencies of our
AMANPOUR: But we keep hearing that ISIS, that the war is being won. And one year after, as you said, the airstrikes began, we still have Mosul
under ISIS control; Ramadi has stalled and Syria is a mess, with ISIS running practically unopposed.
ALLEN: Well, what I would say is that -- what we're saying is that we have achieved progress in the year. We aren't talking about whether we're
winning or losing at this point. We are achieving progress towards our goal, which is the defeat of daish.
If you think back upon the moment that we --
ALLEN: -- faced a year ago today, Mosul was lost. We were seeing atrocities we could not have imagined. And in the period of time since
that period, we have created the anti-daish coalition. We have stabilized the situation and, in fact, have recovered a significant part of the ground
that daish occupied last year.
AMANPOUR: General Allen, thank you very much indeed.
ALLEN: It's great to be with you again. Good to see you. My pleasure.
AMANPOUR: Thank you. You, too.
AMANPOUR: So while the military fight against ISIS rages on, what's being done on the diplomatic front?
You'll hear from one of America's top diplomats, Samantha Power, when we come back.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to this special edition, looking back at some of this year's biggest stories. The world has looked to the United States to
put an end to the murderous brutality that's ripping Syria apart. But despite its strikes and special ops on the ground, and now a Vienna
political process, Assad remains in power, ISIS still holds territory and its tentacles of terror are spreading all over the globe.
I put all of this to one of America's top diplomats, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, just as the refugee crisis in Europe
was reaching its height.
AMANPOUR: Ambassador Power, welcome back to the program.
SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Good to be back.
AMANPOUR: Well, we're right here in the midst of the most almighty crisis in Europe, a humanitarian crisis and a political crisis.
What do you make of what's going on with the refugees in Europe and the fact that Europe is trying to impose mandatory quotas?
Is that something that U.S. administration agrees with?
POWER: Well, it is extremely complex, as you know, when you have 60 million refugees in the world as a whole, more than in recorded history,
and 12 million people displaced from Syria. It's going to place tremendous burdens on every country, first and foremost, those countries that
immediately surround Syria, who have shouldered so much of the burden up to this point.
And we just hope that Europe can do its fair share and we're in close touch with European leaders. We're looking at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly
as a venue in which leaders will come together to talk both about refugee slots, the issue that you raised, but also money because one of the reasons
that so many of these desperate families are voting with their feet is that the rations have been cut in the region because the financial needs are
very much outpacing what countries have been willing to put forward.
So there's also a financial piece of this, in terms of caring for refugees, in the region.
AMANPOUR: General John Allen, the American general overseeing the fight against ISIS, said that this exodus is going to continue as long as this
Is the United States ready to make this, you know, about Assad as well as about ISIS as most people think it should?
Or is it still focused just on attacking ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
POWER: Well, Assad cannot be part of a solution, even if one only focuses on ISIL.
And needless to say, from the standpoint of stability in the region and the welfare of civilians inside Syria, Assad can't be part of the solution
because he gases his people; uses barrel bombs against them, is responsible for one of the worst torture --
POWER: -- campaigns, it seems in modern memory.
So one has to walk and chew gum at the same time with ISIL and work a political solution so that Assad is not continuing again to attract jihadis
to the Syrian theater.
AMANPOUR: What is your assessment of what Russia is doing?
Is it going in on Assad's side?
POWER: This is not a winning strategy. Doubling down on a regime that gases its people, that barrel bombs its people, that tortures people, who
it arrests simply for protesting and for claiming their rights, that's just not going to work.
I mean, even if you were Machiavelli and all you cared about was ISIL, to support a regime like this and to not take account of the views of the vast
majority of the Syrian people that want to go in a different direction, is not going to either bring peace or actually succeed in defeating terrorism,
which is what President Putin says his priority is.
AMANPOUR: You can see, because I know you're reading the newspapers back in the United States, that there is a growing and loud chorus of criticism
against the Obama administration in some very influential corridors.
For instance, "The New York Times," a column has just said that "American interventionism can have terrible consequences, as the Iraq war has
"But American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates."
What is your answer to that?
Because that is now becoming a predominant criticism of your administration.
POWER: You can't look at 12 million people being displaced from their homes and desperate families washing up on shores and be satisfied with
where we are. I think the challenge is to find what is the policy tool that's going to make things better. And that has proven very, very
The United States has provided $4 billion worth of humanitarian assistance to try to cater to the needs of those who have been displaced again from
this monstrous conflict. We support the Syrian opposition and have for a very long time. We've supported a political track.
But we've not been joined by Russia or Iran or, of course, the Syrian regime in wanting seriously to engage in political negotiations. So I
think again our focus is what is the tool that will work now to make things better.
And looking out at recent history in the region, it's not obvious that going to war against the Syrian government is going to bring you to the
place that all of us want to get to, which is a more peaceful, stable Syria, where people can just live without the threat of barrel bombs or
terrorists at their doorsteps.
AMANPOUR: You are also promoting a campaign to free and empower women, including the Free 20 campaign, women political prisoners. And we have
images of them on the corridors of your mission there, just opposite where you're sitting.
Why have you chosen this campaign at this time?
And give me the reason for some of the 20 whom you've chosen to highlight.
POWER: Well, Christiane, you might remember 20 years ago in Beijing, when then-first lady Hillary Clinton famously said, "Women's rights are human
rights; human rights are women's rights," we're at the 20th anniversary.
And at the upcoming General Assembly, which is the 70th anniversary of the U.N. itself, more heads of state are gathering this year than any time in
recent memory, including President Putin, President Xi from China, Prime Minister Modi from India. It's going to be a remarkable gathering.
And there is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Beijing and there's a lot of backslapping going on. And of course much progress has been made in
terms of women's representations in parliament, in terms of girls' primary education now being roughly equivalent to that of boys around the world in
Progress has been made. And yet in so many countries around the world, the voices of women are being silenced. Women who would have so much to offer
as a check or balance to bad government policy, as an exposer of corruption, just as part of the media, a press that is needed to hold
So rather than say that, what I just said and making it an abstraction, we've just chosen to highlight and to profile 20 very specific women in
countries like China, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran and tell their stories and see if we can activate global public opinion to actually move
beyond the kind of abstractions of women's empowerment to the cases of very specific individuals.
And these 20 stand for thousands more who are languishing in jail rather than contributing to their societies.
AMANPOUR: An incredibly important mission. Ambassador Power, thank you very much for joining me from the United Nations.
POWER: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: And after a break, a glimpse into the world that we never see. Rare footage from inside Syria's largest city. Aleppo at war, when we come
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been under bombardment for more than three years. Now despite the dangers to
Western journalists, including murder and kidnapping, Kurt Pelda of Switzerland is one of the only ones, one of the rare ones, to have gotten
in and out since the Russian intervention began this fall. And this is what he saw.
KURT PELDA, PHOTOJOURNALIST: I just came back from Aleppo. I believe that I was the first Western journalist to -- who managed to go in and come back
safely after the Russian intervention in Syria.
I went in with some Syrian activists, whom I've known for quite some time. And they usually work with the same fighting groups. Before, they called
themselves Northern Storm Rebels. These were the rebels that got visited by John McCain, for instance.
And now they're part of a so-called Levant Front, Jabhat al-Shamiyya in Arabic. And these people, they accompanied me to some other units which
were maybe part of other groups.
But I always kept my bodyguards, which were part of Jabhat al-Shamiyya.
PELDA (voice-over): The main danger was kidnapping networks among the rebels. So I had to stay in a car with tinted windows so that nobody would
see me. And it was just too dangerous that some spy would see me and then make a phone call and tell his buddies, well, there is a Western journalist
This place has been bombed for three years, mostly by the Syrian air force but lately also by the Russians.
When the fighters see those planes coming, they try to judge which will be their target. And as long as the planes are using unguided bombs, then you
know if the plane is not really headed into your direction you will not be hit and you're safe.
At the moment when I filmed the bomb dropping from the wing, I didn't know what kind of bomb it was.
Was it a precision bomb, a cluster bomb, a normal bomb?
Boom! Boom! Boom, boom, boom! Boom!
PELDA (voice-over): And then it is so strange; it takes a long time for a bomb to drop. I felt it was 20 or 30 seconds then it exploded and hear the
other explosions of those small bomblets.
And then I knew this danger is over and it didn't hit us.
PELDA: This is a bomb.
PELDA (voice-over): This is a typical scene.
PELDA: Look, this --
PELDA (voice-over): -- and there was a small one, a small bomblet. Actually, these are really, really dangerous when they explode because they
produce a lot of shrapnel over a large area.
But also because there are so many dots (ph). In one of those cluster bombs, there are more than 100 small bomblets. And some of them remain in
the fields and if the civilians come back even years later, they can explode.
PELDA: The so-called civilian defense force, the so-called white helmets, wanted me to see the effect of the Russian bombings. Of course, I was not
able to confirm if it was Syrian or Russian bombings because I wasn't there when the attack happened. But it was pretty clear from what they told me
and from what I seeing in a video that Syrian camera man took that the pilot came back four times to hit a target.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allahu Akbar!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
PELDA: All the bombs dropped around the mosque. I think and it destroyed the mosque and also some houses around it and the Syrian camera man, he was
killed in the last bomb attack. The video stops shortly before he was killed. Yes. The fourth bomb killed him.
PELDA: At night, you can't see the plane. You hear from which direction it comes but you can't tell if you're the target or not. So at night
you're even more defenseless. You can't do anything. You can just stay in the house and hope that the house is not hit.
I asked several kids in Aleppo, what do you want to do?
And most of the boys said, I want to be a martyr. I want to be a fighter. I want to be an mujahid. And only one said, yes, I want to be a doctor.
The fight is in the Syrian war. They become younger and younger. Some of them are maybe 18 or 19. They have never left Syria.
So they know only by their smartphones what is happening in the rest of the world.
These guys, despite the depressing situation, they're still funny. They're listening to music, they're chatting, they're making jokes. I think it's
only humor that keeps them going, because if you really take it seriously, you would become mad in this situation, where you're fighting on two fronts
and nobody is really helping you.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can now always listen to our show as a podcast, see us online at amanpour.com and
follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.