Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Bomb in Afghanistan Killed 36 ISIS Fighters; Russian Foreign Minister Hosting Iran and Syria; Female Kicker Makes College Football History; Atlanta Braves Unveil Their New Stadium. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: For the 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.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: But in an unusual twist the commander-in- chief won't say for sure whether he gave the command for the 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.


BRIGGS: So if the president did not give the order, who did? CNN national security reporter Ryan Browne live for us in Washington.

Good morning, Ryan. It's not entirely clear here if the president knew of this exact military action, is it?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning, Dave. No, it's not and I think one of the issues is here that this weapon, this MOAB bomb, had been requested by the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Nicholson, for some time and actually was -- he was authorized to use it by his immediate spear, General Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command before Trump's administration was even inaugurated, so this has been in the works for some time.

Now we do believe we are told that President Trump was briefed that this bomb was going to be used but he -- the authorities to use it had been delegated kind of down the chain of command for some months now. So this is a 22,000 pound bomb. It's never used in combat before. It

was developed during the second Iraq war, in the early -- in early 2000s. And it's so big that it actually has to be dropped out of a back of a C-130 cargo transport plane via parachute.

And again the initial battle damage assessments from the Afghans are coming in. I think the U.S. is still waiting to make its assessment exactly as to what happened but you know, this area of Afghanistan, Nangarhar Province, Achin District, it's a very volatile, very remote region. It borders Pakistan and it's kind of a real hot bed for ISIS K or that's ISIS' local Afghan affiliate. There's some 600 or 800 ISIS fighters estimated the military believes largely created from other terror groups in the region.

Islamic Uzbekistan and Pakistan Taliban, former members who've kind of created this new group and rebranded. So it is considered a threat. A U.S. Special Forces soldier lost his life fighting ISIS there in that very same district over the last weekend. So this is definitely an emerging threat and you're seeing this deployment of this weapon as kind of a new effort to really send a message and to really deliver against this complex series of tunnels and fighters.

BRIGGS: Certainly came as a big surprise to the intelligence community and military analysts.

Thank you, Ryan.

ROMANS: OK. So why use the bomb now and what signal does it send to allies and adversaries around the world?

Joining us now senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh live from Ira.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A clear signal perhaps those munitions and sort of technology that's been off the table for quite some time is now in play perhaps. And this comes at a very key time in the terror and security situation in Afghanistan, frankly the worst it's been since the U.S. first invaded. Remember 16 years ago was still the United States in that war.

Now the Taliban have been gaining a lot of ground, taking key towns that you haven't really heard about in the news. But they've been moving fast forward in about half the country now either contested or controlled by that insurgency.

ISIS a whole set of problems there, exploiting dissolution with the Taliban. The fact that some young fighters are bored with Taliban's behavior, its branding, seek the sort of newer, fresher face that ISIS provide. ISIS K, standing for Khorasan, the K, and that's sort of historically the area of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And they would like to see in their hands. Some say in fact even ISIS came across the border from Pakistan when it first infiltrated that sort of remote mountainous part in the east. Some of the toughest terrain in the world frankly. Actually being the epicenter of where it all began. ISIS have lost territory there in the past by the Afghan army, being

heavily damaged by drone and coalition airstrikes, too, but they've regained ground quite substantially in the past months or so even behind some attacks in the capital Kabul. Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton for us in Irbil. Thank you for that, Nick.

BRIGGS: All right. To help us break it all down this morning, let's bring in CNN military analyst, retired air force, Colonel Cedric Leighton, a former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He joins us from Washington.

Good morning to you, sir.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good morning, Dave. How are you this morning?

BRIGGS: We're good. We're a little bit confused because when you hear the "mother of all bombs" will be dropped for the first time, he's the third president to have it, you expect more than 36 casualties. Are you surprised by these results?

[05:05:07] LEIGHTON: I am a bit surprised. I find them a bit, shall we say, disproportionate to borrow a term from the military because what you try to do in warfare is you try to achieve a degree of proportionality. In other words you use the amount of force that you need in order to get the job done. Now having said that, I think the big issue here is the kind of structure or the kind of terrain that we're dealing with and there's very little other weapon -- very little few other weapons systems that could actually be used in that kind of an environment and achieve the same effect.

ROMANS: They've been having trouble with the Afghan military and special ops teams really getting in there. I mean, you want the intelligence that you can gather from an ISIS training or an ISIS camp in a tunnel system like that but if you can't get in there or there could be loss of life, this is your only option?

LEIGHTON: That's -- it's one of the few options. And another way to do it, of course, in order to avoid that loss of life is to, you know, find all the entrances and in essence to mine those or booby trap those, but that would be very a very inefficient way of doing business. And this is certainly from that standpoint a very efficient way of doing it and that effect closes off all the entrances. And it also forces the ISIS fighters into a certain position, either they are going to be eliminated by the blast itself or they are going to be forced to abandon the facility, so either of those outcomes is certainly a good outcome for the U.S. and its Afghan partners.

BRIGGS: In the initial aftermath of this, Colonel, the first question people are asking is, did President Trump give this order? Sean Spicer punted on that and then the president himself, we just played a short time ago, didn't really answer the question if he gave this order. Are you surprised by his response? LEIGHTON: Well, I think he could have probably said it in a bit of a

more artful way but the way it's normally set up is for the president to approve the broad concept of operations like this and especially if a different kind of weapon is being used he should certainly be informed of that. It sounds like he has given a broad delegation of authority to Central Command and then Central Command has in turn done that to the commander in Afghanistan, General Nicholson, and the fact that they did that shows that the president of course seems to have a lot of confidence in his troops.


LEIGHTON: And that's a good thing. You know, in the military we always talk about the 6,000 or 8,000 mile screw driver depending on how far away you are from the Pentagon and if you don't have that screw driver then you can handle the tactical aspects of the operations on your own which is what military people are trained to do.

ROMANS: Let me ask you. OK. So this is one episode in eastern Afghanistan. There were strikes in Syria and we are moving a carrier strike group toward North Korea. You don't want to conflate the issues happening in different countries around the world, but all taken together, what does this tell us about this president's foreign policy?

LEIGHTON: Well, it's certainly a warning to adversaries and in some reasons reassuring to allies that there's going to be massive fire power backing them up and backing up the U.S., so what you're dealing with here I think is a message whether it's intended or not, it is still a message to countries like North Korea, to Syria, to ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and to any other rival that we have, not to mention Russia of course. And that is I think one of the key aspects to this.

It like I said may not be directly intended but it certainly has that affect and sometimes the affects are more important than intentions.

ROMANS: Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Thank you. Great analysis.

BRIGGS: Yes. And we'll stay on that subject when we come back because the president promised not to be the world's policeman. More on how the MOAB bombing fits into that plan, next.


[05:13:07] ROMANS: President Trump keeping his promise to bomb the something out of ISIS or words to that affect. I won't say heck but --

BRIGGS: Yes. Bleep.

ROMANS: It's snot. It's not out of ISIS.

BRIGGS: Yes. ROMANS: Just one day after he reversed course on three other major

policy claims, helping us figure out what all this means and the rest of the day in politics, Michael Warren, joins us. Senior writer at the "Weekly Standard."

Good morning. Welcome aboard. All the best people come on at 5:00 a.m. I got to tell you. And this is the best time to be on TV. Nice to see you. So let's talk a little bit here about the president's foreign policy, right? What is the president's important policy? You know, he's dropped this big bomb in Afghanistan, there has been missile strikes in Syria, carrier strike group is steaming toward the Korean Peninsula. What do we know?

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, one problem in sort of figuring this out is the administration, the White House is sort of selectively forthcoming about what information. That Syria strike last week the administration, you had Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, the National Security adviser, out very quickly with information for the press, talking with reporters, getting it out to the public. This strike in Afghanistan, less so and maybe that's reflective of the different natures of this.

Afghanistan, again, we've been at war in Afghanistan, we are still at war for 16 years.

ROMANS: Right.

WARREN: This is part of an ongoing operation. What happened in Syria last week, what could potentially happen or being prepared for North Korea I think are more reflective of changes in U.S. policy and really policy from the White House.

BRIGGS: So President Trump, the third president to have this MOAB bomb, the first to use it, though. He was asked yesterday if this was sending a message to North Korea. Here's what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does it send a message to North Korea?

TRUMP: I don't know if this sends a message. It doesn't make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.


[05:15:05] BRIGGS: Is any of this following with campaign promises or more about sending individual messages in your opinion?

WARREN: Well, I don't know if it falls on campaign promises but I can tell you that the administration, from the very beginning, from January 20th, has been putting together a strategy for rethinking its North Korean policy. They've been bringing in a lot of different voices within the National Security Council, other parts of the national security parts of the government. And so this is something that has emerged as a very important issue for the Trump administration so whether or not it's intended as a message I think this is a part of a larger strategy of sort changing that message from the United States vis-a-vis North Korea. You're seeing it in a lot of the interactions with China and President Xi.

ROMANS: Right.

WARREN: Some economic sanctions or effective economic sanctions happening there between North Korea and China that I think the U.S. government would like it to be perceived as part of the U.S.'s pressure on China and North Korea.

ROMANS: But, you know, I would put China in that category of flip flops from this president this week that has been so fascinating to watch. You know, he said on the campaign trail again and again that he was going to label China as a currency manipulator. He was going to, you know, ride away. He was going to get back with them for all their trade shenanigans. And then, you know, he sat with President Xi for 10 minutes and said, you know, gosh, it's a lot harder, the North Korean problem, than I thought it was going to be.

And today on the "Wall Street Journal," the front page of the "Journal," a really interesting story about Trump's reversals, affecting more businesses. That's the "Washington Post" editorial. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about this story in the "Wall Street Journal" that it's the business folks around Trump that maybe are helping him and advising him, and that's why you're seeing these U-turns on policy. What do you think?

WARREN: Possibly. I mean, you know, this happens I think every president comes into office and they learn new things, they get new information and a lot of their policy positions change from what they were during the campaign. This president just seems to sort of wear those changes a little bit more on his sleeve than most perhaps.

But I do think there's a change of influence. And there is an internal debate as well, not just on the foreign policy and national security, but economics as well. There is a debate among folks like Gary Cohn at the National Economic Council, and more sort of tough on China folks like Peter Navarro.


WARREN: All in the West Wing, that's happening right now. But I think that sort of public debate is something that we're not normally seeing. We're seeing it in this administration which I think reflects the lack of --


WARREN: Kind of a set of ideology going into this White House.

BRIGGS: Well, the "Journal" call it the Kushner-Cohn ascendancy. Many feel that Gary -- global Gary Cohn is a, quote, "liberal Democrat," not my words, the words of several conservatives. Are conservatives comfortable with the lessening influence of Steve Bannon and the increasing influence of Gary Cohn? WARREN: Well, these are a lot of terms that are kind of hard to

define. You know, Steve Bannon does represent a sort of wing of right-wing politics within the White House but a lot more traditional conservatives would say he's no more representative of that than Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner, people who were registered Democrats until coming into this White House.

There's not really much of a representative for the kind of conservatism that you actually see among Republicans in the House of Representatives.

ROMANS: Right.

WARREN: So as Bannonism wanes and Gary Cohnism, whatever you want to call it, is on the rise, there does seem to be a lack of more traditional conservatism, maybe that's where Mike Pence, the vice president, somebody not really talked about in these discussions, comes in and does have a representation.

ROMANS: Mike Pence taking a really immense role in the administration. He's the one on the weekends has been going out there and, you know.

BRIGGS: Yes. The president is in Mar-a-Lago and Pence is in South Korea this weekend.

ROMANS: Right.

All right. Michael Warren, nice to meet you. Come back in a few minutes. Get a cup of coffee and come back.

WARREN: Sure. Thanks.

ROMANS: We'll (INAUDIBLE) more. Thanks.

WARREN: Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right. Well, the baseball season just a couple of weeks old but it's opening night at the sun. The Atlanta Braves' spanking new SunTrust Park. Coy Wire there for the Christening in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good for you. Get yourself a hotdog, Cory, we'll see you in a minute.


[05:23:42] BRIGGS: An Arizona high school football player making history to become the first woman to earn a scholarship at an NCAA school division one or two.

ROMANS: Good for her. Coy Wire has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey there.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, guys. I'm here at the Atlanta Braves' brand new state of the art stadium. More on that in a second. But we have to talk about this amazing accomplishment of Becca Longo. The glass ceiling breaking high school kicker out of Arizona. Becca only started playing football just a couple of years ago and when she signed that letter of intent to play for Adam State University in Colorado she was shocked to learn that she has done something no other woman has done before.


BECCA LONGO, HISTORY MAKING FOOTBALL PLAYER: I was so emotional. I was just so grateful that somebody believed in me and that I could actually do it. I'm going to go in. I'm going to be ready to compete. I'm not one to back down to anybody.


WIRE: Now I spoke to Becca last night and she had a special message for us to start our weekend. Check it out.


LONGO: Hey, guys. It's Becca here. I'm going to kick butt this week, and remember to set your goals high and never let anything hold you back.


WIRE: Winning -- speaking of winners, Houston, Texas, David Quessenberry is winning at life. He's been fighting cancer and this week he finished his last chemotherapy treatment. And David was so excited afterwards that he rang the celebration bell so hard he knocked it off the wall.

[05:55:06] He posted this video on Instagram with an inspirational message saying, "Cancer that make them strong. Love it." Go to and you can see the entire goose-bump inducing message from David.

Now there seems to be a bit of arms race within pro-sports stadiums. And in the past year we've had two NFL stadiums pop up, the Vikings and the Falcons, and within the next two years, we'll have three more teams with a new stadium, the Rams and Charges in L.A., the Raiders in Vegas. I'm here at MLB's newest stadium, SunTrust Part of the Atlanta Braves where they went all out to create a great fan experience. You've got to figure out a way to get people away from their 60 inch flat screams into the ballpark. And as you can see, they have zip- lining, rock climbing, any kind of food you could possibly imagine.

And as far as technology they have the fastest Wi-Fi of any stadium in the U.S., an app that can find the nearest burger spot and frosty beverage. Even a spot in line for the zipline you can reserve. The Braves have the Padres tonight at 7:35 Eastern. It's their first game in their brand new, beautiful home and I am ready to rock, guys.

Dave, I know you're a bit jealous. I wish you guys were here with me.

BRIGGS: Well, Coy, it's 5:26 a.m. I recommend Section 311. That's where Waffle House is located. It's breakfast time, man. Go get some waffles. ROMANS: I love me some good stadium food. That is awesome.

BRIGGS: Awesome.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Coy, nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Enjoy.

WIRE: You're welcome. You too.

ROMANS: OK. 26 minutes past the hour. Why wouldn't the commander- in-chief be the one to order the launch of the biggest conventional weapons the U.S. military has?

Hear what the president said about deploying the "mother of all bombs."