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U.S. Drops MOAB Bomb; Largest Non-Nuclear Bomb Dropped; Fighters Killed in Syria; Trump Stance on Military Force. Aired 2- 2:30p ET
Aired April 13, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:20] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
We start with the breaking news here on CNN, that the United States has just dropped the, quote, mother of all bombs in Afghanistan. The target there, ISIS and their labyrinth of underground tunnels in Nangarhar province. Specifically, this is known as a Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb, acronym is MOAB. And it's America's most powerful non- nuclear bomb.
And so the video you're looking at, let's be crystal clear, this is test video from 2003. But up until now, this bomb has never actually been used on the battlefield.
So, let's begin with Ryan Browne, our correspondent there at the Pentagon.
And so, Ryan, why did they do this?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Hi, Brooke.
Yes, that's right, this bomb was used because they saw that - they - the military says it was the right target - it was the right weapon for the right target. So this was used against, as you said, a tunnels and caves complex in eastern Afghanistan, in Nangarhar province. It's a very volatile area and it's where ISIS has established a real presence there. In fact, a U.S. special forces soldier was killed battling ISIS there Saturday.
So they saw this cave complex as a particularly difficult target. The commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan said it was laden with IEDs, a very difficult objective. So they wanted to use a bomb that could completely knock it out. And one of the other things U.S. officials tell us is they did not observe any civilians anywhere near this complex. Therefore, they thought that this was the right weapon for the task.
BALDWIN: OK. Ryan, stand by. Let me bring in a couple of more voices on this bomb.
And, Nick Paton Walsh, let me just follow up with you, our CNN senior international correspondent there in Iraq.
I mean when one, you know, reads and thinks much about ISIS, you think about Iraq, you think about Syria. I mean, I'm wondering, why Afghanistan and why specifically this Nangarhar province?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you absolutely correctly say, Iraq and Syria, where we normally associate ISIS, having franchises in Africa, Libya, and Nigeria, but specifically in Afghanistan too, and there they're known as the Islamic State in Horistan (ph). Horistan is sort of the historical name for the part of Afghanistan and Pakistan they want to lay claim to.
Now, a lot of the time these are disgruntled Taliban fighters, youth who were bored of the idea of attaching themselves to the brand of the Taliban. Remember, that war's been going on for longer for the Taliban than it has been for the U.S. And for the U.S. it's been 16 years.
So akin where this bomb was dropped is a very remote mountainous town which has basically been the epicenter of ISIS since we just filmed them in fact emerging about two years ago now. They've been under assault there from the Afghan army, kicked out. They would came back, kick civilians out. It's been a bloody mess, frankly, and a lot of U.S. drones hanging in the sky over there trying to take out ISIS. In fact, I've even met Taliban fighters who have been recruited by the Afghan government to fight ISIS for them. That is how messy the fight against ISIS is.
But the fact they had to use a bomb of this dimension shows how remote this area is, it shows possibly how hard it would have been to insert special forces, to make the kind of assault you'd probably prefer to do because that means you know exactly what you destroyed and you can get intelligence from that site.
But it also gives you a snapshot, Brooke, about where the war in Afghanistan is going. This is a massive message, frankly, of U.S. commitment, of U.S. firepower, of how serious perhaps it sees the threat is ISIS in Afghanistan. The largest bomb they've ever dropped that doesn't involve a nuclear device. And I think it also reminds you of the losses, frankly, Afghan security forces are facing, record at this stage amongst police and army. It seems that about - according to his figures you look at, over half of the country is currently either Taliban controlled or being heavily contested by them. And we're looking at a very messy summer ahead potentially where a lot of key towns have already fallen to the Taliban and ISIS are trying to get their claim in the capital, launching some pretty key attacks in there, you know, including one at a key hospital right across from the U.S. embassy in the capital.
BALDWIN: Sure. And staying on this conversation, and Major General James "Spider" Marks, let me - let me bring you in, because on Afghanistan we also learned, after we learned about this bomb, that a senior administration official also said yesterday the Trump administration was undergoing a full, quote, "strategy review" of Afghanistan plans and policy moving forward. And, you know, you have what happened in Syria a week ago and those 59 tomahawk missiles landing on that air base and now this. What do you make of the timing?
[14:04:55] MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I would - I would be cautious to try to conflate these, Brooke, and I - and I totally understand the question. It might simply be the gods of coincidence are at work here. But clearly what has taken place in Syria, separate (INAUDIBLE) from what is taking place in Afghanistan, and as has been reported, the target was the right target. They used the right weapons system. And I can tell you that although, if you had put ground forces into that target to try to rest them out and try to walk away with some intelligence, you would have increased a level of risk and it obviously was a large enough target which justified the use of this large weapons system. I mean unprecedented use.
I would also suggest that the use of this weapons system was probably delegated down to the combatant commander, General Votel (ph), which is central command. And he and General Nicholson (ph), General Nicholson is in country, the senior commander in country, went to his boss and said, boss, I've got the right target. I can use this weapons system. I know it's unprecedented. Let's notify the National Security Council. Let's keep the secretary of defense informed. Let those guys notify the big guys, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Go to the president and say, hey, we're using this thing. I guarantee you that that's probably the process that took place because it was actionable intelligence and it was the right time.
BALDWIN: What about in terms of damage, Colonel Leighton, let me - let me bring your voice in here as well? There's the actual, physical damage and then, from what I've been reading, according to military experts, this - one of the reasons behind conceiving this bomb was for psychological operations. Apparently they wanted to create a bomb of this magnitude that would maybe rattle, at the time it was made during the Iraqi War, rattle Iraqi troops. Do you think that still holds true today?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think in part it does, Brooke. And I was actually involved back - even as far back as Desert Storm in the movement of the father, if you will, of the mother of all bombs and there were a lot of things that went into this process. But one of them was exactly as you described. It is the psychological effect of this kind of a bomb.
When a bomb like this drops, what it does is it not only send the direct blast, it affects the people that are within that - what they call a circular area of probability. But there also is a - the effect of the blast that comes out from the center of that target area and the after-effects of that, the shock waves, all of that, not only have physical effects, but they also have psychological effects. And what they're trying to do is they're trying to convince the enemy, whoever the adversary is, that it is in essence time to give up. And that is why these bombs not only have the power that they have, but it's also the type of bomb that is designed to really make it very difficult for forces to operate in tunnels, for forces to operate in any other kind of denied area like that. BALDWIN: How elaborate, Nick Paton Walsh, on these tunnels and caves,
how elaborate are they in this part of Afghanistan?
WALSH: Well, I mean, Brooke, this is a part of the world which is at best very remote and mountainous, at times almost impossible to get to. I mean the U.S. has had outposts in to the north of Nangarhar, Nurastan (ph), Kunar (ph), they have ben sadly overrun. They've really struggled to maintain a presence there because a lot of the time, yes, it's already very mountainous and hard to get around, but also, too, there are naturally occurring caves. Remember, the whole issue with bin Laden hiding out in Tora Bora.
Now, I don't know specifically where this bomb was dropped. But remember here, too, in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has spent years digging very complicated tunnel networks. I've seen kilometer-long ones heading into the town of Mosul near here that uses part of their infrastructure to evade the drones that often hover above areas they control looking for targets to hit. It's just part of daily life of being an ISIS terrorist fighter basically. So a similar approach clearly used in Afghanistan. But also bear in mind too, but when we say ISIS in Afghanistan, this is a messy group. It's people who maybe were Taliban, maybe too young to want to be in the Taliban, maybe they're people who had al Qaeda leanings. Remember, a few years ago, the U.S. were insistent that al Qaeda on their back foot. Now they're much clearer. They're finding ground again, possibly in the hundreds as core members in Afghanistan, maybe some al Qaeda loyalists who have ISIS affiliations, too. A lot of messy extremist jihadist tendencies across Afghanistan making use of that security vacuum that allowed bin Laden to hide before 2001, before they attacked on the Twin Towers. So we're seeing history to some degree repeat itself, but this is after 16 years of American blood and treasure and it must be weighing on the Trump administration. How many more resources do you want to commit given that the U.S. has already pretty much thrown everything and the kitchen sink at Afghanistan and they're still debating what more improvements can be made to render it secure, Brooke.
BALDWIN: What about just adding another layer to the conversation, General Marks, you're precisely right, and not conflating what's happening in different countries. But I mentioned the tomahawk missiles dropped a week ago in Syria. Then you have this bomb dropped in Afghanistan. And then, Ryan Browne, you have a number of allied fighters who were killed in this coalition air strike in Tabka (ph), Syria. Can you tell me about what happened there?
[14:10:16] BROWNE: (INAUDIBLE) doing battle for the Tabka Damn, which is considered a key strategic area in the fight against ISIS. And U.S. forces have been performing - U.S.-led coalition forces have been forming regular air strikes in support of these local rebels. They're called the Syrian Democratic Forces. They include some Kurdish and some Arab fighters. And they've been some of the most successful U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS.
And in this situation, what appears, what the coalition has said, is that an air strike was called in by these forces and they misidentified a target. So you had a situation of friendly fire where a local force allied with the U.S. on the ground accidently called in an air strike, directed an air strike at a - another allied force that was a little bit closer to the front lines. It's a tragic situation as far as you never - friendly fire in the military, they never want to see that happen and occur. It does, unfortunately, happen in these intense, close quarter, close air support battles.
BALDWIN: What do you make of that, Colonel Leighton, what happened there in Syria?
LEIGHTON: Well, I think the situation in Syria there shows how difficult it is to integrate all the different pieces there, Brooke. And what you're seeing is a potential definitely for the type of friendly fire incident or something else that could have occurred. We don't - I don't think - Ryan may have some better information, but right now I don't think we know enough to actually say definitively that that's what happened. But there are obviously risks here and it's a very, you know, a very tight battlefield in some quarters.
BALDWIN: Thank you, everyone, so much. But don't move because we have so much more on this massive breaking story today, including the politics of President Trump flexing his military muscle here.
Plus, the Syrian dictator speaking for the first time since the chemical weapons attack in Syria one week ago and the U.S. strikes against his regime. Hear why he says he didn't do it.
Also ahead, in moments, the new director of the CIA will be speaking out, we'll take it live, amid news of this bomb, this mother of all bombs as it's known, and the global tensions all around the world.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
[14:16:12] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Some news breaking out of Afghanistan, so I just want to give you a quick update.
Around 7:00 p.m. local time in Afghanistan last night, the United States military used a GBU 43 weapon in Afghanistan. The GBU 43 is a large, powerful and accurately delivered weapon. We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target U.S. Military advisers and Afghan forces in the area. The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group we must deny them operational space, which we did. The United States took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation. Any further details, I would refer you to the Department of Defense on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So that was Sean Spicer moments ago in that White House daily briefing there. He's explaining why the United States just dropped what's actually called colloquially here, the mother of all bombs, in Afghanistan in the fight against ISIS. So, for some perspective, President Trump just dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in all of America's arsenal in his first 100 days in the White House.
With me now on the politics of all of this, David Catanese, senior politics writer for the "U.S. News & World Report," CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel and Kurt Bardella, who has spent more than a decade representing members of Congress in the House and the Senate.
So, welcome to all of you here.
And as we talk about this bomb, Jamie, let me just turn to you for perspective. This is now. That was then. The then candidate Trump and how of course you would talk about wanting to bomb the hell out of ISIS. But some were even saying Hillary Clinton would have been more hawkish overseas. What did he say then?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, absolutely. I mean I think there are two things that are striking about this. One is just big picture. Donald Trump was the candidate who said he did not want to be the policeman of the world. He was very harsh about ISIS, but I was just looking back from September and he said, "we cannot be the policemen of the world. We cannot protect countries all over the world." And what we've seen is, in a very short period of time, in the first 100 days, he has engaged in very aggressive ways, after the chemical weapons attack in Syria and now taking this action against ISIS. It's not that we haven't been taking action against ISIS, but this is - seems comparatively much larger action.
BALDWIN: David, I read a line of yours. And again, to be clear, this - this - you're writing this on Syria. But you wrote, "as the trumpian rule shows, his word is only good until an intervening event changes his mind." How do you mean?
DAVID CATANESE, SENIOR POLITICS WRITER, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Well, I mean that you've seen it down the line on domestic and foreign policy issues. And he - and he said this in interviews before. He's said, hey, I can change. I get new information. I'll change my mind. I'm malleable. I can be convinced on an issue. I'm not an ideologue. And he wears it as a badge of honor, whereas most politicians, especially national politicians, are petrified of being called a hypocrite or a flip-flop. Trump sort of embraces it as a badge of honor, as a guy who is willing to take action and is willing to be convinced by an event - an intervening event, or a person.
And I think the most interesting thing politically about what transpired today is the timing. We're a week from his action in Syria and this is only going to heighten the speculation that he is moving completely away from his non-interventionist pledge during the campaign. You know, as you mentioned, he did say to the campaign, I want to bomb the bleep out of ISIS and I think that's how the administration will frame this going forward, that this was targeted right at ISIS and they'll - let's say that's the national security threat, that Trump always pledged to eradicate. But bigger picture, as Jamie was citing, this is another step away from the non- interventionist plank that he ran on all throughout 2016.
[14:20:21] BALDWIN: Kurt, how do you think his base will see this? KURT BARDELLA, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR GOP CONGRESSMAN DARRELL ISSA: Oh,
again, I think that there's a reason why it was the mother of all bombs used here. Trump is all about shows of force for momentum. Kind of hyperbole actually. And I liken it to, Donald Trump, right now, is like that drunk guy at a bar who just takes a big haymaker at somebody. Nobody messes with that guy after that. I think he's hoping that whether it's North Korea, Russia, Syria, ISIS, he's hoping that these massive shows of force will deter them from acting against America's interests. And I think it is a signal to the base that he's willing to be a man of action. He hasn't had any success on the legislative policy front enacting his initiatives, so he needed to do something that can show that in the first 100 days of his presidency, he's been the man of action that he campaigned on.
BALDWIN: Let me just say what everyone's thinking, which is, I hope he's not the drunk guy at the bar. But I think, to your point, let me add on to that, because when you look - you're right, and I realize the military guys I just had on said, Brooke, don't conflate the two, and I hear them loud and clear. But you do have those 59 tomahawk missiles dropped on that air base one week ago. You have the mother of all bombs dropped there in this ISIS area of Afghanistan. And then we also know in Afghanistan, that they're going to be undergoing a full strategy review of policies, et cetera there, to your point, Kurt, I think of flexing military muscle.
And then, Jamie, do you think, though, to David's point on the reversals, what about just playing devil's advocate? I mean normally in D.C. you have these, you know, I'm not changing my mind. I'm not flexible at all. Is this not - is this not a bad thing?
GANGEL: Right, because in D.C. that's called a flip-flop and politicians don't like flip-flop. But just the other day, what did Donald Trump - he said, I'm flexible when someone called him out, right?
BALDWIN: He did say that.
BALDWIN: And he says this is harder than I thought it would be as well.
GANGEL: But - so there are some reality checks going on here. Maybe there is some of sending a message. I'm not - you know, there's a new sheriff in town. Don't mess with me. But the other thing that we've seen, what have we been talking about in general on policies? U-turns.
GANGEL: Right. All of a sudden, NATO is back.
BALDWIN: It's no longer obsolete.
GANGEL: The Chinese - right, NATO is longer obsolete. The Chinese are not currency manipulators.
BALDWIN: Currency manipulators.
GANGEL: And, guess what, Donald Trump is now out there being the policeman.
BALDWIN: Then, as you've been reporting, and, David, let me pose this to you on the whole palace intrigue, who's in, who's out, will Steve Bannon even have a job after the end of this weekend? I mean how do you think his inner circle is advising him and the changes afoot?
CATANESE: Well, I predict that there will be a leak within 24 to 48 hours on where Steve Bannon was on this. Was he for the bombing in Afghanistan? Remember, it came out -
BALDWIN: He wasn't in Syria.
CATANESE: Well, he wasn't in Syria, exactly. So I think that will probably come out in reporting in the days ahead which corners were on which side.
But I would make a broader point that with the Syria bombing it was politically popular. The polling that came out after that had, you know, 50 plus, almost 60 percent of Americans favoring Trump's military actions. Probably the most popular thing he has done as president.
CATANESE: So from a political perspective, you know, Americans might support him here. I'd also say Democrats were very, very careful about criticizing him. Most of the Democratic Party leadership did not criticize his action in Syria and said now you have to come to Congress and present a comprehensive strategic plan, but they withheld criticism on his actual strikes. It's going to be interesting to see over the next eight hours to see if Democrats come out against this and what they say. It's a very touchy topic for Democrats, especially those in the Senate who want to run against him in 2020.
BALDWIN: That's a great point. That's a great point. It's a great point.
Kurt, let me just end this conversation with what I thought we'd be talking about until this happened. On Steve Bannon, and you've talked about this, about - what was your line about maybe Steve Bannon is a little too close to the sun and he's getting burned. The sun being the president of the United States, right? He was irked that it was Steve Bannon on the cover of "Time" magazine. He was irked that "Saturday Night Live" is also parodying Steve Bannon. You think, the president doesn't like that?
BARDELLA: Well, I think that - when you work for someone who really prides his whole being on coverage and how he brags about how many times he's been on the cover of "Time" magazine and how he has those magazine collection on his desk of all of the things that he's been on the cover of, when you have someone who Trump views as a subordinate taking center stage and playing today via (ph) that you actually are the one who runs the president, you're the co-president, the brain of it all, you know, you're really going after the heart and soul of your boss there and what he values the most is that stature in the media. And so I think Steve kind of fell into that classic Washington trap of believing your own hype, playing to it, and then ultimately when things don't work out the way that you hoped, you get burnt by it and you've made yourself a target to be the first person to blame. You know they always say success has 1,000 fathers, failure is an orphan, and when Obamacare repeal didn't happen, when the executive orders got challenged legally, Steve was right there center stage to be blamed.
[14:25:19] BALDWIN: A quick show of hands, then I'm letting you all go. How many people think Steve Bannon still has the same job on Monday?
GANGEL: How many - could he still?
BALDWIN: One. Still have. Still have.
GANGEL: No, I would say two.
BALDWIN: Yes, OK.
GANGEL: I don't think it's that fast.
CATANESE: I think (INAUDIBLE).
BALDWIN: OK. Two or three. We'll loop back on Monday and see what happens. David and Jamie and Kurt, thank you so, so much, I appreciate it.
CATANESE: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Especially on this breaking news here, this historic bomb drop in Afghanistan. Straight ahead, we have more on this.
Also ahead, from Afghanistan to Syria, today you have the president there, here he is, Bashar al Assad making his first public comment since the deadly chemical weapons attack a week ago and then the U.S. missile strikes. Why Assad says he did not do this to his own people.
All of this as President Trump appears to be changing his tune on Russia. My next guest has been described as Putin's nemesis. We'll talk to the former president of Georgia, next.