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U.S. Bomb in Afghanistan Killed 36 ISIS Fighters; Russian Foreign Minister Hosting Iran and Syria. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:09] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The biggest non-nuclear weapon in the American arsenal deployed for the first time. Now we're learning how many ISIS soldiers were killed. We are live in the Middle East.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And conversations picked up between Trump associates and the Russians also picked up overseas. Who collected them and how did they stumble upon these conversations?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It's Good Friday, April 14th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

This morning the damage assessments are coming in after the U.S. military's biggest non-nuclear bomb was used in combat for the very first time. Officially designated the MOAB and nicknamed the "mother of all bombs" it was dropped in eastern Afghanistan against ISIS fighters. The Afghan Ministry of Defense announcing overnight 36 ISIS members killed, three tunnels destroyed, along with weapons and ammunition.

ROMANS: In an unusual twist the commander-in-chief will not say for sure whether he gave the command for that strike.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you authorize it, sir?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody knows exactly what happened, so -- and what I do is I authorized my military. We have the greatest military in the world and they've done a job, as usual, so we have given them total authorization and that's what they're doing.

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.


ROMANS: Sources tell CNN the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson signed off and that the White House was informed before the bomb was dropped.

Why use this bomb now? And what signal does it -- does it send to allies and adversaries around the world?

Joining us now senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh. He's live from Iraq.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very strong message I think of American resolve, frankly, by using this bomb. I have to say the casualty as we're hearing of 36 ISIS militants and three tunnels destroyed, well, that doesn't really equate to the decision to use the largest non-nuclear device in combat in American military history, a stark weapon, a stark potential consequences.

We're hearing from civilians living nearby that side, many of the actual residents from there have moved out along ago because of ISIS, that they don't believe there were many civilians in there, too. Well, obviously a device this size doesn't get to pick and choose who it kills and people living kilometers away felt the blast, felt the dust as well.

This is actually in the remote mountainous eastern part of Afghanistan, one of the toughest terrain frankly in the world, and it's where it's been the epicenter for ISIS now for quite some time. They were kicked out of action for some time by the Afghan military with coalition air power assisting them. Now they've come back in again and clearly this target was felt to be of adequate importance that the U.S. wanted to completely and utterly level it.

Now ISIS are regaining strength. They've been able to project their power into the capital Kabul, attacking a key hospital, where just across from the U.S. embassy recently. They seem to be gathering momentum and of course this attack an appalling time for the Afghan security situation in general. Well over half of the country either controlled by the Taliban insurgency or being contested, fought over by them. That's an enormous mess.

President Ashraf Ghani did tweet support for this saying that effectively this is a key decision by the U.S. military and all about pushing ISIS back from the places where they've declared a stronghold. But of course this now raises the question of what kind of fire power may be deployed by the U.S. moving forward and exactly what results will we finally see from this particular blast, staggering as the message clearly is about U.S. resolve in Afghanistan.

ROMANS: Absolutely. And interesting to see how that message is received in other countries around the world.

Nick, thank you so much for that.

BRIGGS: So exactly what is this "mother of all bombs"? Well, the initials actually stand for Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb. It's the biggest conventional, meaning non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, ever used in battle. 30-feet wing along, weighing nearly 22,000 pounds carrying 19,000 pounds of high explosives. Most air bombs carry only 500 to 2,000 pounds of explosives. It is GPS guided but so big it has to be dropped from an MC-130 cargo plane.

ROMANS: The MOAB was developed during the Iraq war but never used at that time. It's intended for use against surface targets, unlike the bunker basting massive ordnance penetrator bomb which is 30,000 pounds. Mostly heavy casing around just 5,000 pounds of explosives. Now that bomb a lot heavier than the MOAB has never been used in combat.

BRIGGS: So we do have new information that U.S. intelligence agencies were not the only ones who intercepted President Trump's campaign associates having conversations with the Russians.

[04:05:06] It turns out intelligence agencies from Britain and other European countries also intercepted communications and passed them along to their American counterparts. According to intelligence sources in Europe and the U.S. the intercepts were part of routine surveillance of Russia and were not targeting Mr. Trump. The nature of the communications thus far unclear but they are expected to be scrutinized by the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its probe of Russia's meddling in the presidential election.

ROMANS: In his first public speech as CIA director, Mike Pompeo blasted WikiLeaks for trying to damage U.S. national security with its release of classified documents. Pompeo's harshest words were for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, accusing him of being in league with Russia and other American adversaries.


MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. Assange is a narcissist who has created nothing of value. He relies on the dirty work of others to make himself famous. He's a fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen.


ROMANS: Pompeo's remarks a stark departure from his boss's attitude during the presidential campaign. Then candidate Trump responding to the release of material damaging to Hillary Clinton said he loved WikiLeaks.

BRIGGS: A new law signed by President Trump behind closed doors makes it legal for states to withhold federal money for any organization that offer abortions services. No cameras present Mr. President reversed an Obama era regulation that ban states from targeting groups like Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood says abortions make up only 3 percent of the women's health services they provide. The head of the organization calls the new law a woman's, quote, "worst fears coming true."

ROMANS: Two Secret Service officers have been fired over an embarrassing security breach at the White House last month. Both officers had less than a year on the job and we're on duty when a man jumped the White House fence and roamed the ground for 15 minutes. Secret Service agents struggled to find him. President Trump was home at the time. The next morning he praised the Secret Service for doing a, quote, "fantastic job." The Secret Service says it does not comment on personnel decisions.

BRIGGS: Top officials from Russia, Syria and Iran all sitting down face-to-face at this hour. What's on the agenda in the wake of the Syrian chemical attack?


[04:11:41] ROMANS: Happening now Russia's Foreign minister hosting his counterparts from Iran and Syria. Their trilateral talks in Moscow expected to focus on the recent chemical attack in Syria and the U.S. missile strike that followed it. Meanwhile, at the Hague, America's ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is accusing Syria of burying the truth with Russia's help.

BRIGGS: All this comes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assar flat- out denied a chemical attack even took place. In an interview with the French Press Agency but filmed by the Syrian regime and edited, Assad insists the horrifying scenes are fake with child actors staging dead scenes to discredit his regime.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Paula Newton, these trilateral meetings.

Good morning to you, Paula. What are they intended to focus on?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they want to focus on is what they agree on and the fact that they're -- those chemical attacks and reaction, the U.S. reaction to it was an aggression in their words and against international law.

But, Dave, turning a minute to those absolutely incredible comments by Bashar al-Assad, I mean, we had our own Ben Wedeman on the ground there speaking to families. Those were not fake. Iran and Russia pulling away from what Assad was saying a little bit and saying look, we don't know what happened there, perhaps there was a chemical attack. We want an independent investigation. And remember that the line that the Russians always put up from the beginning was that it was the rebels that likely caused the chemical attack.

Now coming together, though, what they really want here today and we expect the meeting to get underway any minute now is again that show of force, these three allies now moving closer together, saying that they will look out for anymore, in their words, U.S. aggression and perhaps retaliate accordingly.

And this really makes what's going on in Syria quite a hot war now, Dave, because you have to look at these meeting, and we're not expecting grand things, but we'll have a look at the language in terms of if the United States government gets further involved in Syria beyond its prosecution of ISIS what the reaction might be both diplomatically and militarily. BRIGGS: So some delusional words there from Assad. Paula, thank you.

ROMANS: Breaking overnight, Russia slamming U.S. intel after CNN reported the American military and intelligence community intercepted communications between Syrian military and chemical experts ahead of last week's gas attack and what appears to be a direct response to our reporting, the Russian Defense Ministry has released a statement saying U.S. intelligence agencies are, quote, "pulling the wool over the eyes."

BRIGGS: The ministry adds, "Every military aggression of the U.S. against sovereign states is justified by the Pentagon by some, quote, 'irrefutable evidence of misdeeds.' More farfetched the pseudo proof is the more confidential it becomes."

The U.S. intercepts were part of an immediate review of all intelligence in the hours after the Sarin gas attack. It confirmed Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's responsibility for the deadly attack.

ROMANS: U.S. Central Command confirms an American-led coalition mistakenly killed 18 Syrian allies in what it describes as a misdirected airstrike. The strikes took place Tuesday killing members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an opposition group supported by the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. Military officials say the target they hit was wrongly identified as an ISIS fighting position. That incident is under investigation.

[04:15:06] BRIGGS: The Trump administration ordering dozens of additional troops to Somalia. They will be training the Somali National Army and providing counterterrorism support to local forces fighting the al Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab. The U.S. soldiers are from the 101st Airborne Division in Ft. Camel, Kentucky. They arrived in Mogadishu on April 2nd after the request of the Somali government according to a U.S. military official.

ROMANS: All right. 15 minutes past the hour this Friday morning. The man dragged off the United Airline planning a lawsuit against the airline. And that's not the only new problem for United.


[04:20:07] BRIGGS: The attorney for Dr. David Dao who was forcibly removed from United flights claims the airlines has a history of bullying passengers and says they plan to sue United and the city of Chicago whose Department of Aviation Police dragged Dao from the plane. They say Dao suffered a concussion, lost two teeth and had a severely broken nose.

ROMANS: At a news conference Thursday, Dao's daughter spoke about the family's reaction.


CRYSTAL PEPPER, DAUGHTER OF MAN DRAGGED OFF UNITED FLIGHT: What happened to my dad should have never happened to any human being regardless of the circumstance. We were horrified and shocked and sickened to learn what had happened to him and to see what had happened to him.


ROMANS: Meantime, after first saying Flight 3411 was overbooked then changing that to oversold, United now says it was neither overbooked nor oversold. The flight just had no open seats. It was a full flight. They had to move people off so that they're commuting crew could get to Louisville.

BRIGGS: This lawsuit is going to be a big one. United, though, feeling the sting again literally. A man on a United flight from Houston to Calgary says he was stung by a scorpion. I'm never ever flying again. The venomous animal apparently fell from an overhead bin and landed on Richard Bell's hair. I have nightmares. Flight attendants quickly corralled the scorpion, flushed it down on airplane toilet. Medical personnel cared for Bell when he landed in Canada. Not clear how the scorpion got on board but the flight did originate in Costa Rica. Wow.

ROMANS: Things I'm afraid of. Snakes on a plane, scorpions on a plane, getting bedbugs from a plane. Those are the things I'm very scared off.

BRIGGS: That's your list? How do you board a plane with a scorpion?

ROMANS: Maybe just hitched a ride --

BRIGGS: That should be on the list of banned items.

ROMANS: Hitched a ride on them. All right. Time for an EARLY START on your money. Years of cost cutting, bankruptcies, and consolidation, the airline industry is an industry most people love to hate. This week really tapping into that.

And now just four remaining airlines control more than 80 percent of the industry. American, Delta, United and Southwest so consumer choice has practically disappeared. Airline customer service has been eroding for years. It is notoriously one of the lowest scoring sectors on the American customer satisfaction index.

Meanwhile airlines are making more money than ever. They raked in $25.6 billion in profit last year. That's a 241 percent increase from 2014. Most of that is because oil dropped. Oil is a very big --

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: Fuel cost a very big part of it. But it's not all bad. Air travel is the safest form of transportation. It's now more affordable than ever before, more people can fly and flight cancellations are at their lowest level in decades.

So more people are flying. And I actually feel bad for the people who work for the airlines. Have you ever been like waiting in line and some of these --

(CROSSTALK) BRIGGS: They're very frustrating.

ROMANS: So I think that's why Oscar Munoz's first reaction to this crisis with Dr. Dao was to rally around his people.


ROMANS: He's trying to merge two corporate cultures still Continental United, his people feel like they're under -- you know, under assault from, you know, angered customers.

BRIGGS: And they are. Gate agents are screamed at on a daily and hourly basis. But now to backtrack, they raised prices when oil prices went up but they never came back down correspondingly.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: Brilliant business model. All right.

ROMANS: If indeed there is something out there NASA says it's most likely to be found on two moons in our solar system. Jupiter's Europa and Saturn's -- all right, how do you say that? Enceladus. New evidence revealed the two moons could possibly support life.

BRIGGS: Beats me. And researchers say Enceladus in particular has almost all the key ingredients for life as we know it. Images of the two ocean worlds were captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space telescope. NASA plans to launch a mission to explore Europa and its habitability sometime in the 2020s.

ROMANS: Can we live there? That's the big question.

BRIGGS: That's good stuff.

All right. The place kicker from Arizona making college football history. She is Becca Longo, the first ever woman to be awarded a football scholarship at an NCAA Division 1 or Division 2 school. The 18-year-old Longo signing a letter of intent to play at Adam State University in Colorado. She's been playing football competitively since her sophomore year high school. She got the attention of Adam State head couch when she started following him on Twitter.

ROMANS: Good for her.

BRIGGS: Very good news.

ROMANS: All right. Severe weather ahead for Easter weekend. Meteorologist Allison Chinchar has a look ahead.


[04:25:48] BRIGGS: All right. Thank you.

The National Football League mourning the loss of a legend. Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, one of the most influential NFL executives, died Thursday at the age of 84. He took control of the team in the 1960s from his father Art Rooney who founded the franchise. From there, the Steelers won six Super Bowls. Rooney also served as ambassador to Ireland under President Obama. Mr. Obama remembering Rooney as a, quote, "great friend, a model citizen and a championship caliber good man." The Rooney rule will likely be his lasting influence. It requires NFL teams to interview candidates for a black head coach, which has really changed the game.

ROMANS: Interesting.

BRIGGS: Of course the Steelers have a black head coach. We need to get more into the league.

ROMANS: The Rooney rule.


ROMANS: All right. Why wouldn't the commander-in-chief be the one to order the launch of the biggest conventional weapon in the U.S. military has? Hear what the president said about deploying the "mother of all bombs."