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ISIS Base Annihilated By Moab Strike, Say Afghan Officials; Us Sending Dozens More Troops To Somalia; Us Watching North Korea Closely On Major Holiday; Sources Say Uk And European Intel Intercepted Contacts Between Trump Associates And Russia; Chemical Attacks Is 100 Percent Fabrication Says Bashar Al-Assad; Cia Director Slams Wikileaks As Hostile to the US. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 03:00   ET


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Ahead this hour, it's nicknamed Mother of All Bombs. US military drops its powerful non-nuclear weapon on Afghanistan. We'll explain the latest.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: New details on the investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

HOWELL: And we've all been following the story about the passenger dragged off flight. He plans to sue United Airlines and he says this moment was more horrifying than his escape from the Vietnam War.

ALLEN: That sums it up, doesn't it? My goodness. Welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm Natalie Allen.

HOWELL: And I'm George Howell from CNN world headquarters. NEWSROOM starts right now.

ALLEN: Our top story, the Afghan defense ministry says at least 36 ISIS fighters were killed Thursday by that massive US conventional bomb dropped in a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan.

Known as MOAB, the 10 metric ton non-nuclear device has never been used in combat until now.

HOWELL: Afghan officials say the earthquake-like blast annihilated the ISIS base. It collapsed tunnels. It destroyed weapons and ammunition.

President Donald Trump praised the military action, though he refused to say if he approved the mission himself. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you authorize it, sir?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world and they've done the job as usual. So, we have given them total authorization. And that's what they have done. And, frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately.

If you look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what's happened over the last eight years, you'll see there's a tremendous difference. Tremendous difference.

So, we have incredible leaders in the military and we have incredible military. And we are very proud of them. And this was another very, very successful mission.


ALLEN: Well, to explain why MOAB is such a fearsome and devastating weapon, here's CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The enormously powerful Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb or MOAB went off more than an hour after sunset in eastern Afghanistan in the Nangarhar Province, an ISIS stronghold where a US Special Forces soldier was killed less than a week ago.

That was the target for the big bomb, which was being used in combat for the first time, an ISIS camp in a remote area not far from the border with Pakistan.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target US military advisers and Afghan forces in the area.


FOREMAN: The region is home to the Khorasan branch of ISIS known as ISIS-K, built in part by recruiting fighters from the Taliban, which also remains a dangerous force.

The purpose of the MOAB? Take out the enemy in one swoop, collapse tunnels and hit the terrorists even if they are hiding in caves.


MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's a concussive blast. So, everybody underneath that thing is either obliterated, ears are bleeding or they're completely destroyed.


FOREMAN: So, how did this weapon actually work? If I had a MOAB in the room with me here now, this is about the size it would be, some 30 feet long, about 22,000 pounds. This is actually pulled out of the back of a C-130 by a parachute and then cut loose to free fall to the Earth, somewhere around 3 miles, being guided by GPS along the way toward its target.

And then, just before it reaches the ground, that's when about 9 tons of explosives detonate here with devastating effect. First of all, there's the shrapnel from this. It is driven with so much force, it can penetrate hardened concrete and dig deep into the Earth.

Secondly, there is the blast wave from this, which is so strong, it scorches and scours the Earth in all directions for thousands of feet, and then everything comes rushing back into the vacuum it creates, doing even more damage.

And lastly, military leaders talk about the shock and awe effect, saying that this is so overwhelming to be close to it, if you survive it even, you will live with a very different impression of the kind of power that the US military can project on to the battlefield.

So, obviously, troops now want to get to the blast site of this weapon to see if in this real first use on the battlefield, it lived up to expectations.


ALLEN: Well, for more now, the district governor in Afghanistan told the Agence France-Presse the explosion was the biggest he had ever seen, with towering flames that engulfed the area.

Let's get more from Sune Engel Rasmussen, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Sune, by every indication, this was a massive, massive bomb, what more are you hearing about what happened as a result?

[03:05:10] SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN, REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN" (via telephone): Well, we are hearing from locals close to where the blast site was, some of the people who were only a mile-and-a-half away from this village where the attacks took place, they say that their ears were ringing for a long time after the blast, that the explosion cracked their walls, blew out all their windows, the women and children were very afraid.

Now, the Afghan government and the US military insist that there were no civilian casualties. And it is true that this area was under the control of ISIS (INAUDIBLE).

I've also spoken to locals who say that at least one teacher and his young son were apparently killed in this attack. We'll have to wait for a little bit before we can get confirmation out from the area. But still, there were airstrikes as late as this morning as well. So, it's not really possible for anyone to go and assess the damage inflicted. We're going to have to wait a little bit for that.

ALLEN: All right. And what about the number of ISIS reportedly killed? The number we have is 36. How many ISIS members are there approximately in Afghanistan?

RASMUSSEN (via telephone): The most recent estimate from the US military is between 600 and 800 ISIS fighters and the majority of them are concentrated in the east in Nangarhar Province and in Achin district, which was targeted last night.

There is also a pocket of fighters in Kunar Province. The 600 to 800 fighters, that's a drop from up to 2,000, which was the estimate about a year and a half ago. So, this has been - this is the result of a sustained US air campaign in the eastern part of the country.

However, it seems they are still able to recruit from across the border. It's worth mentioning that ISIS fighters in Afghanistan are not primarily Afghan. They are members - former members of the Pakistani Taliban and they are Central Asians.

So, whether this will stop the recruitment flow or whether it doesn't have any (INAUDIBLE) we'll also have to wait and see, I think.

ALLEN: Well, we thank you. And that's the first report, I believe, we've seen of possible civilian casualties as well in the bombing. Thank you so much, Sune Engel Rasmussen. Thanks.

HOWELL: It's a story we'll surely continue to follow. The US is sending more troops to Somalia to help the fight against al-Shabaab. A US military official says dozens of additional troops will train and equip the Somali National Army.

The US already has troops in the East African nation to support counterterrorism efforts. And President Trump has authorized airstrikes against that terror group.

Now, taking you to North Korea, 25 million people there are preparing to mark the most important day of their calendar. It is called the Day of the Sun.

ALLEN: And usually something happens far as a loss on this holiday because some say dictator Kim Jong-un could use the occasion to conduct a sixth nuclear test. Kim made a rare public appearance in Pyongyang Thursday, as you just saw, to attend a ribbon cutting.

HOWELL: Following the story live in Seoul, South Korea, Alexander Fields joins us live. Alexandra, it's good to have you with us. A moment ago, Natalie alluded to this, but analysts have pointed to satellite imagery showing that North Korea may be preparing for its sixth nuclear test.

What is the mood there on the peninsula given these heightened tensions?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, George, this is something they have certainly seen here before, five times before when it comes to a nuclear test. So, there is, to a certain extent, the fact that people here do take it in stride.

There is also the reality that you cannot precisely ever predict when North Korea will carry out an act like a missile launch or a nuclear test. But because there is now a pattern you can look at, there are reasons that analysts think that a test could be imminent.

And some of that is evidence collected from satellite images that you show, renewed and stepped-up activity around the country's main nuclear site. You've also pointed out the fact that North Korea is getting ready to celebrate its most important day on the calendar.

We know that, in the past, they have used their important national holidays to time other provocative measures, like missile launches, for example. They do try to maximize exposure when they carry out these actions, which are then often widely condemned by the international community.

There's more fuel in the fire, though, for North Korea at this moment because we've got the USS Carl Vinson, which has been making its way back to the waters off of the Korean Peninsula. This is a move that has enraged Pyongyang.

It was sent there as a protective measure by Washington as a deterrence effort. But it has, again, angered Pyongyang. And just today, the state news agency has put out a statement retaliating against the presence of this aircraft carrier strike group.

[03:10:01] Let me read from it for you. They say, the US introduces into the Korean Peninsula, the world's biggest hotspot, huge nuclear strategic assets, seriously threatening peace and security on the peninsula and pushing the situation there to the brink of a war. This has created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula.

So, that is part of the propaganda machine that comes out of North Korea. That is how they are responding to the presence of the Carl Vinson. Of course, officials in Washington saying that this is a necessary measure purely based on deterrence and a response to the recent rash of provocations frankly.

George, Natalie?

HOWELL: Alexandra, all of this happening in advance of the US President Mike Pence set to make his first visit to South Korea over the weekend, commitment being the key message to the US allies in the Asia-Pacific region.

FIELD: Look, these are some of the tensest times on the peninsula in years, but there have been rather constant reassurances from top US diplomats and officials that the alliance is strong and that the security commitment remains firmly in place and that these two countries will continue to work together to deal with the North Korea security threat.

You did have the secretary of state and the defense secretary, both high members of the Trump administration, making trips to this region since President Trump took office. Now, you've got this trip from the vice president. The South Koreans see this as yet another commitment to this alliance and an opportunity to work together to plot the course forward.

Because while you do see these missile launches happening in North Korea quite frequently and people are, to some extent, used to it here in South Korea, you do now have this sort of wildcard, the presence of this aircraft carrier that was positioned there in response to the provocations.

It has left South Koreans asking, wondering, even some worrying, whether or not the US would take a step like a preemptive strike against North Korea and what that would mean for them in terms of an almost certain retaliation from North Korea.

So, they do want to get assurances from US officials that the US and South Korea are working together and that the US will only act in consult with South Korea, or at least give them warning of any actions that they would possibly consider taking.

South Korean officials assuring the public here that that would happen and that the two are in close contact.

HOWELL: A lot of moving parts here during high tensions in the region and an historic moment in North Korea at a time where they are commemorating a very important anniversary.

CNN International correspondent Alexandra Field live for us. Thank you for the reporting.

We are now learning more about new contacts between President Trump's associates and Russia.

ALLEN: Multiple sources tell CNN intelligence officials outside the US have been finding their own information related to the allegations. Here's CNN's Jim Sciutto with more.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned that British and European intelligence intercepted communications between Trump associates and Russian officials and other Russians known to Western intelligence during the US presidential campaign and shared those communications with their US counterparts, multiple US and Western officials tell CNN.

These sources stress that, at no point did Western intelligence, including Britain's GCHQ which is responsible for communication surveillance, target these Trump associates. They said their communications were picked up as incidental collection during routine surveillance of known Russian targets.

The US and Britain are part of the so-called Five Eyes agreement, along with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which calls for openly sharing among member nations of a broad range of intelligence.

This new information comes as former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page provides a confusing, even conflicting story about his contacts with Russian intelligence. He has denied that he was a foreign agent.


CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: This is - it's just such a joke that it's beyond words.


SCIUTTO: Page told CNN's Jake Tapper that when he visited Russia last July, he never discussed easing sanctions on Russia related to the seizing of Crimea.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER: Did you ever talk with anyone there about maybe President Trump, if he were elected, then-candidate Trump would be willing to get rid of the sanctions.

PAGE: Never any direct conversation such as that. Look, it's -

TAPPER: What do you mean direct - I don't know what that means, direct conversation.

PAGE: Well, I'm just saying, that was never said. No.


SCIUTTO: But interviewed on ABC News, Page could not provide a clear answer.


PAGE: Something may have come up in a conversation. I have no recollection and there is nothing specifically that I would've done that would've given people that impression, George.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, "ABC NEWS" HOST, "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS": But you can't say without equivocation that you didn't discuss the easing of sanctions.

PAGE: Someone may have brought it up. I have no recollection. And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for.


SCIUTTO: These intercepted communications certain to be of interest to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees' investigations of Russian influence in the US election, as well as the FBI investigation.

A source close to the Senate investigation tells me that if it is relevant to their probe, they will certainly examine this intelligence.

Jim Sciutto, CNN, Washington.


[03:15:11] HOWELL: Still ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, the head of the CIA attacks WikiLeaks. How his criticism compares to the past praise of the president, who said that he loves WikiLeaks, during the campaign at least. Stay with us.


ALLEN: Welcome back. Syria's president is calling reports of last week's chemical attack "100 percent fabrication."

HOWELL: This despite the fact that eyewitness reports and independent examinations contradict that assertion. During an exclusive interview with AFPTV, Bashar al-Assad said the Syrian military does not possess chemical weapons and that it would not use them if it did. He also accused the West of working hand in glove with terrorists.


Bashar al-Assad, Syrian President: The United States and the West, they are not serious in fighting the terrorists. And yesterday, some of their statements were defending ISIS. They were saying that ISIS doesn't have chemical weapons. They are defending ISIS against the Syrian government and the Syrian army.

So, actually, we cannot talk about partnership between us who are taking on the terrorists and who fight the terrorism and the others who are supporting explicitly the terrorists.


HOWELL: Important to point out that AFP was not allowed to film the interview with Assad. That was done by Syrians.

ALLEN: Well, Russia is criticizing the US for how it gathered intelligence on the chemical attack in Syria. On Thursday, CNN reported the US military and intelligence community intercepted communications that included Syrian military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin attack that killed 89 people.

CNN received that information from a senior US official. Both Syria and Russia have denied involvement.

CNN's Paula Newton joins us from Moscow with more on Russia's reaction to that CNN report. It's just interesting that Russia and Syria just deny and deny when it comes to this, Paula.

Paula Newton, CNN Correspondent: Yes. And they deny because they say that there is no concrete proof. Now, it's important to note that that Pentagon source who told Barbara Starr about information said that they do not have any information, evidence that Russia knew about the attack beforehand or was complicit in it.

And that's been echoed even by President Trump. The defense ministry, though - the Russian defense minister hitting back saying that, in their words, pulling the wool over people's eyes has been a hobby lately of American officials.

And they go on, noting that the more far-fetched the evidence, the more confidential it becomes. And what they're pointing to there is the fact that these are unnamed sources at the Pentagon.

Look, what's going on here is that the very premise that there was a chemical attack and that it was carried out by the Syrian Air Force, both things now are being denied by both Syria and Russia. Russia, though, on the other hand, has said, look, we want an

independent investigation. They have not gone as far as Assad is saying that it was completely faked. Having said that, Russia still pushing back very, very tough on our CNN reporting. I noticed that it's on state media as well, saying that, look, what is this all about?

The punching and the counterpunching continues even though we just had that important visit from Rex Tillerson here.

ALLEN: I was about to ask you that. This comes on the heels of Rex Tillerson's meeting there, trying to find some common ground with Russia when it comes to Syria and whose side are they on. Doesn't seem like much came from that.

NEWTON: Well, not so far. I think that, today, we have the foreign ministers of Syria, Iran and Russia all meeting here in Moscow today, and that is to show a united front.

What's happened here, Natalie, is that the US airstrikes in Syria have moved those three allies actually closer together. That wouldn't be to stay, especially with the distrust going on between the two main powerbrokers in Syria, Russia and Iran, there is a lot of distrust between those two countries.

Things will change and can continue to change. And I think that's the main message from those US airstrikes. The entire dynamic politically, militarily, on the ground in Syria can be changing in the next few weeks.

What is dependent here is not what Russia says in terms of its rhetoric and its propaganda, but how it continues to maneuver militarily against both the US coalition supported rebels and ISIS within that Syrian space. And I think the US military will be watching that very closely in the days and weeks to come.

ALLEN: We thank you, Paula Newton, live there for us from Moscow. Thanks, Paula.

HOWELL: A US-led coalition airstrike has accidentally killed 18 of its own allies in Syria. US Central Command described the strike as "misdirected." It hit what was thought to be an ISIS position in South Tabqah.

It's been an area of focus as coalition troops approach ISIS' self- declared capital of Raqqa. But the position hit was actually held by rebels with the Syrian Democratic Forces. Coalition extended its condolences for what it calls a "tragic incident."

A senior US official is attacking WikiLeaks. CIA Director Mike Pompeo spoke at a think tank on Thursday and slammed WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.


MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: While we do our best to quietly collect information on those who pose a very real threat to our country, individuals such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden seek to use that information to make a name for themselves.

As long as they make a splash, they care nothing about the lives they put at risk or the damage they cause to national security.

WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service that has encouraged its followers to find jobs at the CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning intercept a specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from any democratic countries and organizations.


[03:25:13] ALLEN: Pompeo's remarks clash with past comments by the president, Donald Trump. He praised then WikiLeaks during his presidential run, even saying he loved it for leaking emails tied to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Well, happening right now, Christians around the world celebrating Holy Week and marking Good Friday as they prepare for Easter Sunday. We have live pictures for you here from Jerusalem where the Way of the Cross procession is taking place.

HOWELL: Christians believe Jesus walked the same street as he carried the cross on the way to his crucifixion. Pope Francis will lead a similar torch light procession at the Colosseum in Rome.

ALLEN: Ahead here, a powerful US weapon never used on the battlefield until now. We'll speak with a military analyst about why US commanders decided to drop it on ISIS in Afghanistan.

HOWELL: Plus, this incident has outraged people all over the world. Now, we're finally hearing from the family of the United passenger, who was dragged off his flight.

Live around the world, this hour. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers right around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. Here are our top stories. The Afghan Ministry of Defense says at least 36 ISIS fighters were killed and their base annihilated by a massive US bomb Thursday.

The weapon targeted a tunnel complex used by ISIS in Eastern Afghanistan. It is the first time the 10 metric ton MOAB bomb has been used in combat.

HOWELL: New details in a story that just won't go away for the Trump administration. It is the story about possible ties to Russia. Sources say, British and other European intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Trump associates and Russian officials during the US presidential campaign. They then passed along that Intel to their American counterparts. Communications are likely to be scrutinized by the Senate committee investigating Russia's efforts to meddle in the US election.

ALLEN: In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad says reports of last week's chemical attacks are "100 percent fabrication." This despite eyewitness reports and independent analysis that contradict his claim. In an exclusive interview with AFPTV, Assad also suggested photographs showing children who died in that attack may have been staged.

HOWELL: More now on that massive bomb that we talked about here just a moment ago that was dropped on ISIS in eastern Afghanistan. It's the most powerful non-nuclear ordinance in the US arsenal.

Its official designation is GBU-43B, but it's better known as MOAB for Massive Ordnance Air Blast, the nickname the Mother of All Bombs.

ALLEN: At nearly 9.5 meters long, MOAB weighs nearly 10 metric tons and is guided to its target by satellite. It works by exploding above the ground, sending out an enormously destructive shock wave in all directions.

HOWELL: Joining now is CNN military analyst Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling. Mark, it's good to have you with us.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Great to be with you, George.

HOWELL: Let's talk more about this strike. It is the first time the US military has deployed this type of weapon. Why do you think they chose this weapon?

HERTLING: Well, actually, this weapon has been in the Central Command area of operations for over 10 years, George. It just hasn't been used. And part of the reason it hasn't been used is because, a lot of the combat that's been conducted in both Afghanistan and Iraq have been in city environments, and this kind of a weapon system is employed in specific kind of conditions.

And, in fact, the military has a manual called the JMEMs, the Joint Munitions Employment Manual, that targeters look at and they say, hey, here are the conditions of the battlefield, here's what we're looking to strike, what's the best kind of ammunition to strike here.

In this particular case, in the Nangarhar Valley, they had a large formation, a large area of ISIS Khorasan fighters that looked like they were building a defensive position. And whenever you have that with ISIS, they normally will defend with a lot of improvised explosive devices, IEDs. They will have tunnels and passageways to get between them.

So, I'm betting the targeteers took a look at this area, which is also a very rocky, hilly area with a lot of gorges, and said, a MOAB would be perfect for this, it's constrained, there's no civilian collateral damage, it will collapse tunnels, it will explode the IEDs and it will have a huge psychological effect on this area that has a lot of transitioning between Pakistan and Afghanistan ISIS fighters.

HOWELL: So, let's touch more on that because, at this point, we don't have any indications on whether the bomb hit its intended target. If it did, though, what kind of damage are we talking about on the ground?

HERTLING: Well, I would bet that it did hit its target because this is a GPS-guided bomb. It looks like it just falls out of the back of an AC-130, a special forces aircraft, but it has a GPS locator. So, it hits the target it's aiming at right smack in the middle.

But when it does it, you're going to see a flattening of ground and a huge concussion for an area of about 15 to 20 -- a diameter of 15 to 20 soccer fields, football fields. It will level that area and provide an unbelievable amount of concussion to that area. So, it will collapse caves, it will blow up things. If you're alive afterwards, you're going to have perforated eardrums and a lot of trauma.

HOWELL: All right. Let's talk about the context of all of this. The strike comes less than a week after the US launched Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase. You think these operations signal a change in the US' overall military posture?

HERTLING: I've got to say, I really don't think so. In Afghanistan, this was a commander's call -- General Mick Nicholson, who I know well -- to use this munition on this target.

Now, coincidentally, last week, there was a Tomahawk strike against an airfield that had launched chemical weapons against civilians. Two differently distinct situations that happened to serendipitously coincide within a week's period of time.

So, you can say, is this all sending a signal. I don't think it is. I just think it happens to be the kind of ways that Mr. Trump is going to pursue the military use of power.

[03:35:15] The other thing I'm concerned about is, Mr. Trump said today something that really annoyed me when he said, we've done more in the last eight weeks than have been done in the last eight years. I don't believe that's true. And I also think that's pretty insulting to the forces that have been fighting long and hard against some very tough enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HOWELL: CNN military analyst Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, thank you so much for your insight. We'll stay in touch with you.

HERTLING: Thank you, George.

ALLEN: Again, updated information. A reporter I talked with earlier this hour said there had been reports that there were two civilian casualties there. We'll continue to check that out.

Well, Thursday's airstrike in Eastern Afghanistan targeted ISIS, but US military commanders warn Russia and Iran may be inserting themselves into the Afghan conflict in direct opposition to US interests.

CNN's Cyril Vanier explains.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what more than 21,000 pounds of ordnance looks like from a few dozen kilometers away. A thick cloud. One can only guess at the level of destruction. After years of scaling down its efforts in Afghanistan, the US military has used its most devastating bomb short of a nuclear weapon.

This one was aimed at ISIS in the east of the country. Parts of the Southwest meanwhile have been overrun by the Taliban insurgency. And as the US-led coalition tries to navigate the Afghan minefield, it is finding familiar foes in its way.


GEN. JOHN W. NICHOLSON JR., COMMANDER, US FORCES, AFGHANISTAN: When we look at Russia and Iranian actions in Afghanistan, I believe that, in part, they're to undermine the United States and NATO.


VANIER: Russia and Iran working against US interests. This, from the top American commander in Afghanistan.


NICHOLSON: They have begun to publicly legitimize the Taliban.


VANIER: According to "The Washington Post", local Afghan leaders go a step further, alleging that Iran and Russia provide weapons and military instructors to the Taliban, sending the hardware across the porous Iran-Afghanistan border, a charge that both countries deny.

But their growing involvement here is undeniable. Holding several rounds of talks with other regional countries, and each time, the US, the main foreign force in Afghanistan, is conspicuously absent.

As in Syria, Moscow and Tehran seek to expand their regional influence. And as in Syria, they are unafraid to butt heads with the United States. And just like in Syria, it appears that proxy battles will only prolong the conflict.

Cyril Vanier, CNN.


HOWELL: Still ahead here. He was violently removed from a United Airlines flight. And now, the passenger's legal team is promising to fight back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [03:41:12] ALLEN: Well, here's a story about a roller coaster ride that will certainly give you the heebie-jeebies.

HOWELL: Oh, my God!

ALLEN: (INAUDIBLE) nightmare. They're going nowhere. In the State of Maryland, two dozen people were stuck on this stalled ride for several hours Thursday. At least, they're not upside down. Thankfully, no one was injured.

HOWELL: That would really not be cool if they were upside. What would you do there, Natalie?

ALLEN: I would just die from a heart attack.

HOWELL: This happened at a Six Flags America amusement park. It's not far from Washington. CNN called the park to find out what caused the ride to shut down so far, though we've not received a response.

A similar incident happened back in 2014 on the same ride. It took rescuers more than four hours to get the people off that coaster in time. My goodness!

ALLEN: Speaking of roller coaster rides --

HOWELL: There we go. Just a few days after he was brutally dragged off a United Airlines flight -- you remember seeing that video -- Dr. David Dao is recovering in a hospital.

ALLEN: Seen around the world, Dao's attorney says he has a long list of injuries. And at a heated news conference, his legal team went after United Airlines. Our Rene Marsh reports.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attorneys for David Dao, the man dragged off of a full United Express flight, fired a warning shot Thursday, saying they will probably sue.


THOMAS DEMETRIO, DAVID DAO'S ATTORNEY: If you're going to eject a passenger, under no circumstances can it be done with unreasonable force or violence.


MARSH (voice-over): Dao was released from the hospital Wednesday night, but suffers a long list of injuries, including a concussion, broken nose, injured sinuses, he lost two front teeth and he's set to undergo reconstructive surgery.

After the incident, Dao appeared dazed as he rambled, just kill me.



MARSH (voice-over): His attorney explained.


DEMETRIO: He said that he left Vietnam in 1975 when Saigon fell. And he was on a boat. And he said he was terrified. He said that being dragged down the aisle was more horrifying and harrowing than what he experienced in leaving Vietnam.


MARSH (voice-over): Dao's daughter said watching the video made her family even more outraged.


CRYSTAL DAO PEPPER, DAVID DAO'S DAUGHTER: What happened to my dad should never happen to any human being regardless of the circumstances.

We are horrified.


MARSH (voice-over): The attorney also blamed the City of Chicago and its officers. While a lawsuit has not been filed yet, they've signaled it's the direction they're going in, asking a court to order the airline and Chicago airport police to preserve evidence, including surveillance video of passengers boarding the flight, the cockpit voice recordings and personnel files.

JUSTIN GREEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: This happened in the absolute worst city, Chicago. It's famous for being a very good place to sue a corporation and it's the last place on Earth that United Airlines would want to defend the case.

MARSH (voice-over): It took three days before the airline's CEO faced the media and apologized directly to Dao, a move that may have satisfied some of the airline's PR problems, but in the end may hurt them legally.

GREEN: The CEO of United is already on the record saying Dr. Dao did nothing wrong. So, it's going to be, I think, more difficult for United to defend the case.

MARSH: Well, CNN has obtained an email the airline sent to passengers offering reimbursement for the flight. It says customers are eligible for vouchers towards future flights if they release the airline from lawsuits.

[03:345:02] Well, after CNN reported this, a United spokesperson later told us that it didn't mean to send passengers emails with that language and then told us that no person on-board that flight would have to agree to such terms.

Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: What a terrible ordeal for that family and that. Well, coming up here, he has been called Egypt's Jon Stewart. What comedian Bassem Youssef thinks about US President Donald Trump.



HOWELL: Here in the United States, the name is Trevor Noah. It used to be Jon Stewart. But Bassem Youssef, a household name in his native Egypt, where this comedian took aim at the policies there and military figures and his humor is even compared to the daily show.

ALLEN: Apparently, not everyone was laughing, though. Youssef had to flee Egypt over his comedy. He recently spoke with our Chris Moody about life now in the United States.


CHRIS MOODY, CNN SENIOR DIGITAL REPORTER (voice-over): You might have heard of, the Arab world's most well-known satirist.

As the host of an Egyptian comedy show, he pilloried the ruling elite. That is, until he had to flee his own country.

[03:50:05] BASSEM YOUSSEF, COMEDIAN: When I was driving through the airport, I was thinking, just like a couple of years ago, I was the biggest name in this country and now I have to escape. At least, we did something. And now, I had to run for my life.

MOODY: Youssef was a surgeon in Cairo when the Egyptian revolution broke out in 2011. In his off time, he started a YouTube channel from his laundry room. And it went viral. That led to a nationwide television deal and notice from Jon Stewart, who appeared on the program.

On his show, Youssef mocked the Muslim brotherhood and the leader of the army, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who eventually became president.

Feeling threatened when an Egyptian court ordered him to pay millions over his jokes, Youssef escaped the country.

YOUSSEF: Went back home, packed as much as possible in two bags, passed by my father on my way to the airport. I said like I -- because I couldn't talk to him on the phone, I didn't know if our phones were tapped or not, and I told I'm leaving right now, I'm sorry. And I guess I'll see you when I see you. I didn't even have time to say goodbye to my brother.

MOODY: Youssef is now an immigrant living in Los Angeles with his family. He has a new book called Revolution for Dummies and a documentary about his time in Egypt called Tickling Giants.

YOUSSEF: I decided to come here to America, start from scratch, like from a zero point where I'm speaking to a different people, different language. Again, restarting for the third time, a third career. It is interesting and it's scaring at the same time.

MOODY: Youssef is famous worldwide and he's been celebrated on national television.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Please welcome Bassem Youssef. Bassem, thank you so much --

YOUSSEF: Who the hell is this guy?


MOODY: But his future in America still isn't clear.

YOUSSEF: I think I have the usual concerns, like even Americans in the United States have. Will I be able to make it or not? I want to use that momentum to continue to have my place under the sun in the American media.

I take input (ph) classes. I take acting classes. Sometimes, I do cartoon video (ph). I do auditions like anybody and get rejected like everybody. So, it has been busy. It is good.

If leaders are so tough and powerful, why can't they take a joke? We come from an area where societies are not allowed to question and not allowed to speak against authority, whether that authority was a family authority, a business authority, a school authority or country authority, religious authority, military authority.

It's a sin. It's like you're betraying. Like, how dare you speak about our leader?

We broke that. We actually spoke up. We spoke up against presidents, against leaders, against institutions that were absolutely untouchable.

MOODY: The Youssef family moved to the United States during an interesting time politically. He is often asked about President Donald Trump. And as if it were some cosmic cruel joke, Trump recently invited Youssef's tormentor, Egyptian President Sisi, to the White House.


TRUMP: He's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.


YOUSSEF: It's funny to see, like which one of them is looking at the other as a role model. One of them wanted to -- like, how can you have so unquestioned powers? And the other one, like how can I be as stupid as you.

I'm not worried about Trump as much as the atmosphere that he has created, the racism that he has enabled, the hate that he has made it a mainstream. That will stay long after Trump.

It's amazing to see all of this activism. I would like to see like ten times more of snarking and making fun of (INAUDIBLE) activists, but what does it lead to? I'm just like worried that people are resolving to just sharing and retweeting and reposting stuff. But the fight is every two years, is in your mid-terms, is in your elections. If you do the initial activism and you don't do that, that's horrible.

Satire is great, but it doesn't do anything by itself.

MOODY: You consider yourself in exile?

YOUSSEF: No. I considered myself in exile even when I was in Egypt. You could be in your own country and you could be in exile if you can't connect with the people around you.

And I think you can make your exile home if you find a certain success there, if you you're your way, your path, your voice, that makes it home.


ALLEN: We wish him well in LA.

Finally, this hour, it turns out the Fearless Girl facing down that Charging Bull on Wall Street may really be mightier than that raging beast.

[03:55:00] HOWELL: The Italian sculptor of the bull says that the girl's defiant stance in front of his statue diminishes his art. Now, he wants her removed.


ARTURO DI MODICA, CHARGING BULL SCULPTOR: It's negative. It's negative. Who knows, but I believe it's negative. The girl is right in front of this well, doing this, mamma mia, what are you going to do?


HOWELL: Arturo Di Modica says it took him two years and $350,000 of his own money to create that bull back in 1989. But many tourists have been stopping by to see the Fearless Girl since she popped up last month and they are sounding off about this controversy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can see his viewpoint. Absolutely. Because he put that -- that is a very powerful piece of sculpture. But I can understand why he would be. This could be eclipsed by this little girl. That must go -- must be hard for your ego, I'd imagine. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we're in America and everybody does have the right to say what they think. And I think the bull has been representing us for a long time. And I think the addition of a little girl is a good thing, not a bad thing.


ALLEN: Well, New York City's Mayor says she's staying. Fearless Girl staying foot. So, I guess, we'll have to keep you.

HOWELL: A lot of people talking about it for sure. Thanks for being with us. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: After a quick break, more news from Isa Soares in London. Thanks for watching CNN.