tv CNN Tonight CNN September 22, 2014 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT
lose. those are three countries that have spent their political investment in pushing the administration to act. >> i want to thank all our guests for joining us. the news out of syria and washington continues to unfold. of course cnn's going to be bringing it to you throughout the night. as we leave you tonight we hand it off to don lemmon and alisyn camero camerota. this is cnn breaking news. >> there is breaking news tonight. the pentagon says air strikes against isis in syria have begun. geeng, everyone. this is "cnn tonight." i'm don lemon. >> we've been waiting for this moment for weeks and here it is tonight. i'm alisyn camerota. pentagon spokesman admiral john kirby says tonight, "i can confirm that u.s. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against isil, terrorists in syria using a mix of fighter, bomber, and tomahawk land attack missiles. given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time," he says. >> but he did go on to say, the statement goes on it say that "the decision to conduct these
strikes was made earlier today by the u.s. central command. commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chi chief. we will provide more details later as operationally appropriate." there's a lot to get to this evening. >> there sure is. let's get right to cnn's team on this, jim sciutto and jim acosta in washington and arwa damon in turkey. jim sciutto, let me start with you. what do we know? >> it's been a remarkable evening. all of these events unfolding just in the past half hour, 45 minutes or so. but i've been told by senior u.s. military officials this is where things stand. that a short time ago air strikes and missile strikes started. they started with sea-launched tomahawk missiles and then fighters and bombers taking part as well. these strikes continuing. it is the u.s. acting, the lone western partner in these air strikes along with more than one arab nation taking part. and i'm told by a senior u.s. military official that three of those arab partners are saudi arabia, the united arab
emirates, and jordan. i'm also told that tonight is meant to be the most intense night of this air campaign. the intention tonight, to take a strong decisive early blow against major isis hard targets inside syria. of course the campaign i'm told will continue beyond tonight. but i'm told more at a pace we've come to see in iraq. u.s. air strikes in iraq in recent days and weeks. tonight meant to be something of a very decisive statement from the u.s. and its arab partners in this. and as well i'm also told that these partners taking part despite some trouble at home, some disagreement, some criticism at home. and that's something to keep in mind here. this is certainly a sensitive decision for an arab nation to take to participate in military action against another arab nation in strikes like this alongside the u.s. so this is a very important piece of this. but as you know, the obama
administration has been intent since the beginning of creating an international coalition here not only with european partners but with partners from the region, partners who are invested, partners who are neighboring syria and feeling in many ways the most severe effects from this. a very intense night. it's not going to end tonight but tonight's going to be particularly intense. it is continuing through the night. it is still nighttime there. we're going to see this take place for another couple of hours at least. starting with those tomahawk missiles, continuing with fighters and bombers, american as well as saudi, jordan sxwrarngs those from the united arab emirates. >> jim, do you have any idea when we will see any pictures or video of this or know the results of those hard targets that you talked about? >> well, in terms of the first read on the results after all those pilots come home, that's when we're going to hear from the pentagon with some more details exactly on which targets have been struck, what pace, how many bombing runs, et cetera, as well as some more details on the partners who took part.
but of course alisyn, as you know, they're going to want to get those pilots home safely before they go into great detail. >> and jim, i don't have to tell you that obviously the syrian foreign minister had said that none of this was supposed to happen without coordinating with syria. do we have any idea if this was a surprise to syria? >> it should be a surprise because u.s. officials have said very consistently they're not going to coordinate in any way with syria on this. although you have the somewhat surprising offer from the syrian government to say hey, we can be your partners on this, that we consider isis as a threat on this. but that's an offer that the u.s. said very definitively that they did not want to take. now, is it likely that the syrian government expected these strikes? i'm sure they did. we've been reporting about the build-up to this, reporting in recent days that the pentagon had prepared the target list that they were confident in the target list and they presented it to the white house for final decision from the president. one other detail i might add is in recent days i've been told by several military officials that
they know that isis was expecting an air campaign as well because of all the reporting that's been done on this. and as a result of that isis had been changing the position of some of its weaponry, of its fighters, moving into more urban areas, concealing their weapons and targets as best that they can. u.s. intelligence, overflights, satellites, as well as intelligence on the ground have been observing those changes. but they were still confident that they had enough data, enough intel to carry out a successful air campaign. >> i want to go to jim acosta at the white house. jim, of course the pentagon official making the official announcement but saying that authorization was given by the commander in chief. we'd heard earlier that these strikes may be carried out this evening. do we know for how long exactly when they started? >> we don't know for how long, don, but yes, the president has given the green light to central command to take these strikes. and obviously that is now happening in syria. i can tell you the president is
heading up to the united nations tomorrow for some pretty critical meetings up there. he's going to be presiding over a u.n. security council meeting on the topic of foreign fighters. and so this is a delicate time from a diplomatic standpoint for the president to be authorizing something like this, for the u.s. to be engaged in something like this. but i will tell you, don, over the last week or so the administration has been hinting that there would be some sort of rollout of sorts of this coalition that they've been talking about building over the last couple weeks. some people have been doubting whether or not that coalition might take place -- one commentator called it the coalition of the unwilling. now we're seeing some of these arab nations coming forward as secretary of state john kerry has been saying over the last several days. i think that is something that should be noted. as for the targets that are being hit tonight, because of the sensitive nature of the president's trip up to the united nations, my question was whether or not these were time-sensitive targets, that they had to be hit now. because positions might be moved
around and they might not be good targets later i'm told by a senior u.s. official these are not time sensitive targets, these are hard targets of critical importance. i'm told by one u.s. senior official, meaning buildings in that area that are being hit right now. >> that's what i want to ask you about. you're hearing these targets are, these strikes are mostly buildings. what's the strategy behind that? why is that? >> well, from what we know about raqqa in that area of syria is that there's a high concentration of isis fighters, isis terrorists, and perhaps some command and control people. command and control assets there. and so these hard targets obviously would be assets that are necessary, that are important to those fighters and to the isis army overall. but as jim sciutto was talking about, this coalition that is taking place right now, don, that's starting to come into shape i think is critically important because one thing that the president has been talking about over the last several days is not wanting to go in and
expanding and escalating this battle against isis unilaterally just as the united states. and while the french have been involved over the last few days on isis targets in iraq, the fact we're seeing arab nations taking part in isis air strikes in syria is a significant development, don. >> jim acosta, stand by. we'll get back to you throughout this broadcast here. we're on at least until midnight, if not longer here on cnn. again, air strikes being launched in syria this evening. the pentagon announcing of course. with permission given by the commander in chief. >> yes. luckily we have our experts standing by and we want to talk about this with retired lieutenant colonel james reese, ceo of tiger swan, and a former delta force commander. lieutenant colonel rick franc a francona, cnn military analyst and former u.s. military attache in syria. and attorney general mark hertling, cnn military analyst and former commanding general u.s. army europe and 7th army. good to have you all with us. general, i'll start with you. what do you make of what you've heard that just started tonight? >> i think that one of the
things that probably isn't going to be talked about a lot is the combination of these forces coming together. this is hard work. i mean, bringing a couple of different countries together in a coalition air campaign is pretty interesting dynamics -- >> who is involved other than the u.s. right now? >> well, indicators are it's all arab nations right now. but what i'd say and i think these gentlemen will back me up, especially rick being with the air force background, is you not only have the strike force. there was probably a tanker force, reconnaissance force, refueling forces. this is a huge multinational effort that goes beyond just the fighters dropping bombs. >> and the question is they've been carrying out air strikes in iraq. why is this so significant? what makes this different? >> well, right now what you have is like we talked about earlier today, the border between iraq and syria is really non-existent when you look at a map. but what's significant about this is you have the saudis have a great -- they've got a great fighter and bomb dropping
capability. the jordanians and the emiratis. they have a great force and they can do this. this to me shows a great aspect of the sunnis going after isis and really showing a coalition fight. >> we just heard from jim sciutto that isis was expecting this. we've been talking about this a lot. so they have been preparing. how so? >> well, if you -- i've been up to raqqa. i'm familiar with the layout of the terrain up there. you've got the city and just north of the city you have this huge divisional headquarters. isis was moving that. of course they moved things out there have because they know we were coming. that's been the big problem. so they dispersed all the assets. that makes the targeting much harder. >> want to pick up on something we said about the air forces and the good bomb-dropping capability. jordan, the united arab emirates, and saudi arabia, they all flight american-made aircraft. they all use the same refueling capability. and we all train together extensively. so this is a perfect fit. this is how this is supposed to work. so the fact that we were able to cobble together a coalition
which we were a little skeptical of, actually getting arabs to drop bombs on arab countries. >> of course. >> this is a big deal. and i think we should -- hats off to the administration for being able to pull this together so quickly. >> here's a question that most people are at home, right? we've been talking about words, smant sxikz nuance here. people at home are going to say are we at war again? no ground troops. right? this is an air operation, air strikes. but are we really at war? >> don, we've been at war against terrorists since 2003 officially. >> in iraq. >> in iraq. and yemen and somalia and other places. this is a continuation of a war against terrorist activity. it just happens to be in another country now. what's interesting too, i think to build on what rick said, not only are these countries that re have trained with and have done things with, their air forces, these countries are going to get a lot of blowback. there's going to be a lot of population unrelative in saudi arabia, in qatar, in the uae if
in fact those are the -- >> because? >> because parts of the population do not agree with sunni going against sunni. as rick said, this is a critical event right now. this is huge. >> huge. absolutely huge. >> and speaking of how huge it is, we just heard jim sciutto say he was reluctant to want to use the sxhok awe metaphor that had been used in 2003 with iraq. but what will it look like there in iraq? >> it's very similar to what was happening. we're talking about capable air forces. the saudis, they've got a great air force. remember, during desert storm audi squadrons supported u.s. ground troops going into kuwait. so sthaf got some great capability. it will look just like this. one of the things anderson talked about on the earlier show is how are they really doing the targeting? remember, one of the things we bring to this fight now is our isr that are can literally see these targets and designate for the aircrafts in the air so we really don't have to have your so-called boots on the ground to
do that. >> yeah. and this is critical. often a lot of people are confused, you can't conduct an air campaign unless you have boots on the ground. you can conduct parts of an air campaign without boots ground. what we're doing right now, usually the first part of any air campaign are strategic targets, fixed locations, big buildings, things you that don't need a guy on the ground to laser designate. it's when you start moving troo troops into the area and you have troops in contact then you need that precision. right now we are capable of doing this just from the air, just from the assets there. >> or if you have troops intermingled with civilians too. and that's a critical piece. i would suggest too that you mentioned before this was not a priz surprise, that isis knew this was coming. they probably did, but not this fast. this was shock and awe in and of itself because it did happen so fast. they expected it but especially against having a coalition air force from arab countries is probably shocking and awing.
>> stick around, guys. we're going to continue to have you here throughout the evening here on cnn. don't go anywhere. we'll need you. we want to bring in right now fran townsend and phil mudd. fran, let me start with you. what are your impressions of what's going on tonight? >> well, look, i don't think it should be so surprising that we have arab allies actually dropping bombs. these are the same arab allies that have been imploring the administration since the speech in the rose garden about the red line to take action in syria. they offered to be part of a military coalition, part of military operations because when the president was talking about bombing syria over the red line. the fact they've come together now is really their way of sort of pushing the administration to keep that commitment. >> phil, we were just talking here about how this is a continuation. that's what the general was saying. of the war that we've been fighting against terrorists since 2003. but tonight feels different. >> it does feel different
because we're looking at a terrorist organization in its resurgence. an organization unlike al qaeda in pakistan which is relatively focused on small groups of people trying to train people to come into europe, the united states. unlike some of the small terror xoenz components we've seen in yemen. we have an organization that controls a vast amount of geography across an international border and that's been threvetting to three-plus years. we have to focus on an organization that not only has the capability to stage terror strikes in places like europe but also has the capability to stage a potential threat to places like baghdad. this is unique in my experience of following terrorism around the world. >> fran, we were talking also about whether or not this came as a surprise to anyone because we've been talking about it so much. the president himself has been telegraphing it so much. and maybe that gave isis too much of a heads-up. but then our generals were saying that you know, it did have -- the speed with which they pulled it off together and
got the coalition may still have surprised them. >> it may have. that's right. although i will tell you the president gave the speech and there's been a little bit of time and we did know there was some dispersal going often isis assets. i will tell you, the fact that this is an arab coalition is no shock and awe to the people on the ground. they don't know that yet, right? all they know is bombs are being dropped. it will have a longer-term strategic effect on them to know that the arab allies have -- are participating in the military campaign. but again, shouldn't surprise them. they've been directly threatening the saudis and the jordanians and the emiratis. and in fact the jordanians have made arrests against isis. the saudis rounded up 60. the fact these people are engaged, it's because it's in their self-interest, right? because they feel directly threatened and they are closest to the conflict. >> i want to ask phil mudd about that. saudi arabia, united arab emirates, and jordan. how significant? fran believes it should not be a
sproois surprise to i.c.e. because obviously they have interest in this. what do you make of this coalition? >> the significant isn't what these folks are doing to targets on the ground today. the significance is people tomorrow morning in cairo, in riya riyadh, saudi arabia, in amman, jordan won't wake up and say america is at war against another arab nation. they're going to wake up and say -- and i suspect in some of these cities they're going to find pride. they're going to say arab countries are involved in fighting an adversary that not only some of the population opposes but that religious leaders, prominent religious leaders in saudi arabia and egypt, which are the core of religion in the sunni arab world, 3r078 nent religious leaders have said isis is not representative of islam and now you have countries that are coming to the fore to attack. it's no longer america's war. this is a coalition war. >> our military experts in studio are shaking their heads up and down in agreement. at least two of them. >> absolutely. >> why do you say absolutely? >> i'll let rick go first.
>> phil, i hope you're right. but i wonder if it won't be portrayed as an american-led coalition just like desert storm was portrayed that way. and i hope you're right, and i hope that they realize these are sunni arabs acting to fight a cancer, a threat to them all. but i'm not so sanguine on that just yet. >> my take is that sometimes many in the arab world will need something to sway them in one way or another. and i think this is critical in terms of swaying them toward some things being done about this. if we wake up tomorrow morning as phil said and we have moderate imams coming out saying this is exactly the right thing to, do these people are an abomination to islam, then we've really got a double victory, and i hope we see that tomorrow morning as well. >> remember, isis had what i would call a relative superiority across where they are right now. iraqi oormy, free syrian army. but now that relative superiority has been broken up
by these other arab nations in the area. >> want to bring in cnn's jim sciutto for an update on what you're hearing. jim, what's the latest? >> just some more details and just a reminder to our audience that air strikes are still under way right now. as we speak. expected to continue into the early morning hours middle eastern time, which is seven hours ahead of eastern, so it's just about 5:00 a.m. there. some more details on the kinds of targets being hit tonight. i'm told by a senior u.s. military official that the targets are meant to get at their ability, that is, isis's ability to command and control, resupply and train. we're look at places where they expect that isis leadership was. places where they trained isis fighters, weapons depots, places where they stored weapons et cetera. so these are hard targets. but not just buildings. places where important people would have been. places where fighters would have been and trained. also places where they keep their weapons and their supplies. that's what they're looking to hit tonight in this what is
meant to be the most intense night of the air campaign, which will, just to remind our viewers, be continuing i'm told well beyond tonight. >> all right. jim sciutto and everyone else, stick around with us. i want to get now -- i want to go to the ground. cnn's arwa damon joins us live. she is in turkey close to the syrian border. arwa, what do you have for us? >> reporter: at this stage we're trying to reach some activists inside syria who might have contacts inside raqqa to try to figure out exactly what these u.s. air strikes are hitting at this stage. what we do know from isis's patterns of behavior ever since the u.s. air strike campaign began in iraq is that they have moved around a significant amount of their assets in anticipation that the air strikes would eventually be taking place in syria as well. raqqa, as we have been reporting, is isis's stronghold inside syria. it is an area that has been under their control for a significant amount of time where they have had a lot of their
training centers, a lot of their weapons depots, a lot of their fighters collecting inside the city itself. it has been under isis's control for over a year now, where isis has been able to operate with pretty much full impunity. very rarely coming under attack from the syrian air force and now we have it being the focus of these most recent air strikes. it would seem the fighters that are part of isis's campaign, they are well spread out within the civilian population. let's remember that this is an area that does still have a significant number of civilians that are being forced to live in it under isis's control. we do also know that isis in anticipation of these types of air strikes, and this is from some iraqi analysts that have been following their activities as well as various activists, moved a lot of the weapons that they've managed to get their hands on following their takeover of huge swaths of northern iraq earlier this summer into the very cavernous
areas, the desert that exists between syria and iraq. so they have been expecting this kind of an air campaign, and this is an organization that is very well equipped in terms of its strategy when it comes to trying to preplan what its movements may be or where it might be storing its weapons when it comes to the potential of these air strikes. but again, trying to still at this stage reach out and gain a better understanding of exactly what it is that these air strikes are hitting and potentially what kind of an effect it would have on isis's capacities inside syria. we do know also that in the last four days isis making a major push toward northern syria. the kurdish-controlled areas there. taking over dozens of villages in the span of just a few days, sending according to the syrian observatory for human rights some 200,000 refugees fleeing from northern syria. the kurdish area into iraq. we know kurdish fighters, they
are struggling against isis's stronghold. so again, a lot that we're trying to still understand at this stage. but this most certainly a very significant development. added of course to all of this is going to be the reaction of the syrian government, who has said that up until now if these air strikes do take place without coordination with syrian authorities they would be viewed by the government of bashar al assad as an act of aggression. >> arwa damon, stand by in turkey. we want to get the reaction from our military experts here. >> i'm a little -- well, that was a good report. i'm just going back to something jim said. he said he's hearing from u.s. officials that this will be the most intense night of the war. the air campaign. why are we telling them that? >> jim sciutto. >> jim sciutto, can you hear us? >> i hear you well, yes. >> did you hear what colonel francona was asking? why would the administration be telegraphing that this will be the most intense portion of the air campaign? >> well, i'm not sure. i think they're just trying to -- a fair point there because of course you don't want to tell
the enemy in this case exactly what you're going to do when and with that intensity. but just in terms of describing what is intended tonight, that they want to get an important hard targets tonight to strike and i suppose show they mean business, right? but also to strike at targets that they think are going to weaken isis immediately. that's why in terms of the categories we're talking about here command and control, i'm told. resupply and training. get at their weapons. get to where they train their fighters. get to where their leaders are based. and command and control these operations including the one that arwa mentioned. this big push they've had toward the north. it's my understanding that they certainly don't want to show all their cards here. but that they do want to start strong while at the same time making it clear that this is not going to end anytime soon, that they're going to continue kind of a pace we can get used to, but also to send a message to isis.
this is something they're going to have to get used to, right? that these strikes are going to continue. >> they're saying tonight the intention is to have an initial definitive blow is what one u.s. official said. major targets were on the list and the pace is intense. >> we talked about this before. this is the punch in the nose to the bully that we talked about on the playground. isis is the bully and we just punched him in the nose. >> and there's going to be many body blows to folly think. >> phil mudd? >> this is not a definitive blow. let's get clear here. when this gets interesting to me as a former practitioner is six months down the road when a second-tier isis commander starts to create some sort of cell to recruit foreigners from europe or the united states or canada do we still have the will and capability and intelligence to locate that person or group of people and put lead on the target? tonight it's interesting. it is not the definitive night in this campaign. the definitive night is six months down the road when this is page a-17 in the paper and american security officials are
still committed to this with intelligence and military diplomacy and the political will to continue to fight. tonight is just a start. >> one of the things we have to look at too is isis has the ability to just fade away back into the communities. and what we want to do now, and i'm sure general lofton and everyone at centcom and throughout the whole region are saying now how do we keep isis there? because we want to fight them there. on their field. so they don't slip back away. >> let's talk about some of those targets because we heard from our reporters they're hitting training grounds. they're hitting buildings, weapons depots. where the leaders meet. how do we know where all these places are in syria, general? >> yeah. we know. there have been overhead strategic imagery. there has been people on the ground reporting. we'll just put it that way. but i think we've got a very firm base of intelligence on the key strategic targets within syria. and we've probably known that.
>> even though they have been moving around over the last couple of weeks. >> but we're not going after the tactical targets, though, don. i think we're really going after the hard targets, which become the bodies. that's why we're striking. >> we've been seeing drone flights over raqqa. isis have been posting video of them. and they post them on youtube every day. they say there's another american drone. so they know we're watching them. but these flights can be very useful because the buildings that they're hitting, they're looking for where does baghdadi sleep? where does he eat? where do they have their meet sngz where do they have their staff meetings? they have to talk to each other. they have to meet. what phone exchanges are they using? those are the kinds of things you can get from the low-level drone activity. >> what i'd also suggest is right now the follow-up to some of these strikes, what are their actions now? i mean, this scurries the cockroaches. so you can tell which direction they go, what they might be doing next. and i think there's intelligence.
you fight for intelligence continuously and there's intelligence that flows from the initial strike and i keep going back to the fact there's other arab nations involved. that's huge. >> what happens next when it comes to arming and training the moderates in the opposition? what happens? >> that's the long-term project here. and i'm not even sure that's kind of do what we need to do on the ground. that's going to take quite a long time. and general hertling can tell you look what we did for the iraqis -- >> but does this change anything? does this change the timeline in doing that? >> no. >> go ahead, phil. >> no, that's jim sciutto. what do you want to add? >> just a thought about foreign participation in this. it's a big statement to have multiple arab nations taking part, saudi arabia, united arab emirates, jordan. what's interesting, though, is the lack of turkish involvement at this point in the air strikes. turkey is a member of nato. so you have this odd situation where the one nato partner in the region is not taking part and these other countries that
are close american allies certainly jordan, uae, saudi arabia are taking part but not the nato ally. and this is key in another respect, because a key goal of the administration's this week at the u.n. is to pass a binding resolution in the u.n. security council to get nations to stop the flow of both money and fighters to isis. this is the other key part of the strategy. it's not just air strikes. not movements on the ground. but it is getting at this flow of fighters and money. and turkey is the really lynchpin in that because turkey is the key transit point into the country for these foreign fighters and there have been complaints quietly in private, some in public about turkey not doing much about that to this point. in fact, possibly letting it happen. so that's a change the administration wants. they did not get turkish participation in the air campaign so far against isis. are we going to get that help this week from turkey on the other key part of the strategy, stopping that flow of fighters and financing? >> great point, jim.
let's bring in arwa damon. she's in turkey. arwa, can you give us some context on everything jim's just outlined? >> reporter: well, one of the reasons why turkey may have been so reluctant to join in the air strikes and actually join the coalition that the u.s. has been building up is that up until this weekend isis had 49 turkish hostages in its custody. amongst them the families of senior diplomats who were mostly kidnapped inside mosul when isis swept through that entire area. so turkey is an incredibly sensitive position. the turkish president erdogan did come out on sunday saying now that the hostages have been freed, which took place at some point over the weekend we could possibly expect that turkey would take in more aggressive positions against isis. turkey also has been, as jim has been mentioning, one of the key transit points for these various foreign fighters, especially the westerners to come into syria and join isis and the various
other syrian rebel groups that do exist there but a lot of the foreign fighters flooding toward isis especially as isis gained even more power, turkey has slightly cracked down and begun to make it a bit more difficult. cnn recently spoke to an individual who described himself as something of a freelance businessman, a consultant who helped isis in these smuggling rings. and he was describing how it was more difficult at this stage to get those foreign fighters across the border from turkey into syria but one can expect that now that those turkish hostages have been freed that the government is saying it will become more of an active participant in this coalition to try to bring the fight to isis. exactly what that means, what kind of turkish participation can we expect to see, that at this stage we do not know. but again, now that these turkish hostages have been
freed. turkey perhaps more at liberty to be more aggressive in how it decides to target isis or participate in this coalition because its role as jim has been reporting can be certainly more vital. >> and to talk more about turkish participation let's go to fran townsend. fran, what might the turkish participation be now as you heard arwa damon said that the prisoners have been released? what might it be now? >> you know why i'm a little cautious on this subject, don? i'm not so sure that the turkish are going to rush in here. they were -- as you say, they were understandably reluctant when they had the hostages in place. they've had -- you know, erdogan has played a very interesting role and not consistent. he's had his own domestic political unrest there. he has had a troubled relationship with the israelis. he has had a troubled relationship and interesting with iran. i do not know that you're going to see turkish forces or air
assets involved in this campaign. i think he's going to be reluctant to get that directly involved in it. >> phil mudd, qatar's not a part of this. should we read anything into that? >> i don't think we should. i think the representation among the arab coalition is pretty remarkable. i agree with fran. i think the turks are going to be cautious. remember they were prominent in leading some of the arab coalition back in the libyan revolution. that didn't turn out too well. i'm sure they're looking at the unstableness, the instablth in syria right now, remembering the experience in libya, knowing that they have a significant kurdish population in turkey that's embroiled in this and saying i'm not sure i want to get involved. i wouldn't be surprised to see the qataris involved down the road. but i think the representation we have now with the saudis, uae and jordan is quite remarkable in the period of time that the u.s. has had to put together this coalition. >> i want to skai question i think is a very good one. tomorrow morning are we going to wake up to start to hear that maybe isis leaders have been
taken out? or is it going to be a while before we hear baghdadi has been taken out if at all? >> well, i think one of the things over the last two months that everyone back here's been arguing what we should have done four years ago, centcom and socom and everyone is in this constant, you know, planning and targeting. and yes, it would not surprise me tonight if some type of leadership had been targeted and were hit on this and we find out they're going to go down. which we'll find out pretty soon because it's about to be dawn there. >> we want to bring in cnn's tom fuentes. we want to ask him, tom-l we be now here at home in a heightened state of alert because these air strikes have begun in syria? >> well, i think that we've already been at a high state of alert. it's hard to say how you get much higher when everybody's been worried about the foreign fighters that might come back or our lone wolves that could get inspired here to do an attack without even going over to the war zone. so i think yeah, they're on high
alert. they'll be on higher alert. but it's hard to get much higher than what they've been in recent times. >> and of course tom we're looking at the white house right now. a live shot of it. this comes on the heels of that iraq war veteran who jumped the fence and had a knife on him and made it across the north lawn and up through the north portico doors before being stopped, and we're looking now i believe at a double fence. they're changing the access, or at least how close you can get now to the white house as a resu result. so i think you're seeing some reinforcements that they're making there. >> can i get to something? this is from our folks down in washington, saying that the president of course being updated on the strikes. the president being updated on the operation. white house official is telling our jim acosta, who of course is our white house correspondent who's on the lawn there, no surprise for the president. my question, i know jim acosta's there, what happens on a night
like tonight when air strikes have been ordered, you're the commander in chief. what's going on? >> i think general austin is fighting the fight. he may not be the one directly involved, although i would suspect he's wide awake right now. good friend of mine. but i don't think the president is monitoring -- i'm hesitant to say this, but i don't think the president is monitoring -- >> he's being updated. >> he's being updated with any criticality of targets hit. where we want to go next. what we might be learning. but yeah, this will be -- result likely in a vtc tomorrow, a video teleconference tomorrow morning between the commander on the ground and the chairman and the secretary of defense and the president. but he isn't in a situation room controlling the switches as many people watching the west wing would see. >> i thought alisyn had a very good question talking about security, right? you're talking about the rest of the country. >> i'm also talking about for us. tom fuentes was saying it's already been heightened. but we're still getting on the subway freely. we're still moving -- >> landmarks throughout the
country. other cities. >> you've got the homeland security director as part of the national security team. so the exchanges of information on what might be happening overseas will also be transferred. and there are certainly other allies who are feeding intelligence back and forth. there's a whole lot of cross-talk and chatter in terms of what kind of information do we need, what kind of triggers are approaching, what kind of intelligence are we seeing come out when these cockroaches start scurrying around in syria. are there new potentials for attack? all that's being monitored on a daily basis. >> and don't forget about the 1,100 special operators and support that are already in iraq with the iraqis -- >> 1,600. >> correct. that are watching this now. and their planning cycle, they're all up right now -- and i don't know if fran townsend is still with us -- >> yeah, she's with us. >> fran, what do you think in terms of how everyone around the country's life changes if it does based on what's happening tonight? >> i'm not sure their lives change. tom fuentes is right. this is the foreign fighter threat has been a real concern
throughout the intelligence and law enforcement communities. that said, there's always this sort of golden period after your action overseas begins that you have a particular worry. so in the next sort of 48 to 72 hours homeland security officials and intelligence officials will be looking very closely to see if there's any indication that isis sympathizers or isis themselves might launch an attack outside the theater. would they attack interests in europe, or american interests in europe? would they try to inspire lone wolves at home? we just saw the videotape here encouraging that activity. you do worry in the immediate aftermath will someone look on that as a particular opportunity to launch an attack? but i must say the law enforcement intelligence communities have been watching this issue and taking it very seriously. it's hard to imagine what more they could do. >> i was relaying a story to you earlier about flying
internationally. i flew international recently. and also domestically. and there is a difference. and you related a story to me even getting here from washington, correct? >> well, orlando. i just flew in from orlando tonight, and there were multiple tsa agents checking tickets, making sure you're -- and this was not something that you normally see. so i think we've increased the surveillance, and i think we're a little bit more concerned about this. >> i hate to forecast but aircraft, is that a particular -- should we be more concerned about that for some reason? >> i don't think so. >> i don't think so. >> you can answer that question properly. go ahead. >> we do have to be concerned about potential sleeper cells that might be in place that could rise up. but i think we've got a pretty good -- the intelligence community never sleeps. they're continually watching this. even though we go about our daily basis there's continual passion of information about what might be potential threats. >> that's comforting. >> we don't always get it 100% correct.
>> of course. stand by, gentlemen. >> we're going to be right back with more of our breaking news tonight. the start of air strikes on syria. at t-mobile, get 4 lines for just $100 bucks. unlimited talk & text and now up to 10gb of 4g lte data. plus get the best trade-in value on you current phone guaranteed.
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and we are back with our breaking news tonight. the start of air strikes on isis in syria. those strikes are expected to go on for hours. but this is likely to be the most intense night of what could be a very long campaign. at least that's what we're being told. we've learned that more than one arab nation is taking part in these strikes. president obama is being updated and has notified congress. so let's get right to cnn's jim sciutto and jim acosta in washington. and we'll later be joined with arwa damon in turkey near the
syrian border. jim acosta, let me start with you. what information is coming from the white house? >> reporter: not a lot right now, alisyn, to be quite honest with you. they're really deferring to the department of defense and centcom at this point. they are saying and a white house official did e-mail us this tiny bit of information earlier this evening, that the president is being updated on the operation that is under way right now in syria. and i think the reason why the president is not coming out tonight and saying more is because this operation is sensitive and the president doesn't want to say anything more than what's being said tonight by the united states military and by these coalition partners. which by the way, the administration has been saying for the last several days, last couple of weeks that they will be putting together and this week for the president at the united nations is a pretty critical week. they've been saying all along or hinting all along that this week would be something of a rollout of these coalition partners. and as we were saying earlier tonight, the fact that there are
arab nations taking part in these air strikes in syria is significant. it's historic. and i think it underlines why this administration has been somewhat top secret about all this. very top secret about all of this over the last several days because of the sensitive nature of this. they were indicating as of a week or so ago, secretary of state john kerry and members of the state department were telling reporters that yes, arab countries will be a part of these air strikes. for the last week or so we've all been asking which countries, what are they going to be doing? and now we're finding out they are indeed doing some things. we should point out, though, when the president gets up to new york later on this week he's going to be chairing a meeting of the u.n. security council on the topic of foreign fighters. and while it's very interesting to talk about these air strikes that are taking place tonight, we should point out that administration officials have said time and again that there is no u.s. air power military solution to isis and what is happening in iraq and syria that
they think controlling the flow of these foreign fighters is also critically important. so we're going to hear the president talk a lot about that as well this week. but as for spreading the word we should point out our deidra walsh on capitol hill, our producer there says the president has spoken to house speaker job boehner, has spoken to the house democratic leader nancy pelosi and other notifications are taking place by the administration to key members of congress at this point. and i think that's appropriate. >> the president spoke with house speaker john boehner tonight, per a boehner spokesperson. defense secretary hagel notified buck mckeon about air strikes. that's the information cnn is getting in here. i want to go to jim sciutto. and jim acosta, if you have anything to add you can. because i'm talking about the targets they are hitting. and this is some of the information that both of you got earlier. jim, you got the coalition which is united arab emirates, saudi arabia, and jordan. let's talk about what they're doing. at least a dozen if not more targets. fuel and weapons depots,
training sites, troop encampments and so on. and then the type of app pratt thaus they have conducting these air strikes. >> this is how it was described. the intention of this first wave of air strikes and missile strikes to go after command and control of isis as well as resupply and training. so you're looking at places where the leaders, where their fighters were trained, the leaders would do command and control, places where they stored their weapons, where they stored their ammunition as well as training grounds. major targets in this first strike meant to be a very strong, decisive start to this campaign. and some more details now on the foreign partners taking part in this. we reported earlier saudi arabia, the united arab emirates and jordan taking part in kinetic activity as the military says. that means dropping bombs. that means air strikes. not just overflights. not just surveillance. but taking part in kinetic strikes against isis targets. we've learned that two other arab nations taking part tonight
are qatar and bahrain as well contributing. so there you have five arab nations taking part alongside the u.s. no european partners. five arab nations and the u.s. and notably absent as well, turkey, a neighbor of syria, a member of nato but not taking part at least in this initial stage of the campaign. which i'm told is still cannotincannot i continuing. >> you were saying three before but now you're saying five? >> that's right. five arab nations taking part. >> before we did not have that information. does that make a difference to you gentlemen? >> yeah, that's huge. if you think about it, there's your gulf states right there. a lot of like the general and rick said, they're all flying u.s. aircraft. but we've trained with them. they know us. we know their tactics. i think personally it's a great thing for the region. >> and general, how can turkey justify not being involved? >> i don't think they can, alisyn. and one of the things that i would like to see turkey do, and i know arwa is right there on the spot, is just close the
borders. that's all they need to do. there is concern as arwa pointed out of issues with the kurds. that's understandable. all of us have had great dealings with the kurds. and we understand the turkish concern about that. but if they would -- it was a problem i experienced in northern iraq where we were having the continuous flow of terrorists across the turkish border, across the syrian border. we know what happened across the syrian border and we're trying to stop it. if turkey would just close their borders and put a lot of emphasis on that, it would be considerably helpful. >> here's one thing you've got to remember here, though. this area for the last several months has been isis's safe haven really. the iraqis weren't going out there. assad wasn't coming out there. so like you said, they're training, bringing foreign fighters in through turkey and some other places. so that now is we have now launched into their safe haven. >> we have the gulf cooperation council now coming together on this. if nato joins in the fight beyond france and turkey is still an absent partner, they
are the nato bridge between the middle east and europe. >> and we want to get to arwa damon now, who is in turkey near the syrian border. and arwa, you've talked about that border and how porous it is. it's not just fighters going across it into syria. it's also the refugee crisis coming into turkey, is that right? >> reporter: right. a complete lockdown of the border would be very difficult because of the massive flow of refugees that we have been seeing pretty much since the syrian civil war began. but especially in the last few days where according to the syrian observatory for human rights upwards of 200,000 syrian kurds have fled from the northern portion of the country into turkey, fleeing an isis push towards this area where it seems like they moved a lot of their fighters and assets to try to push into these various villages in the northern part of syria, centering also around the
town of kobani that up until now has managed to hold out but is really struggling. a senior syrian kurdish official that cnn spoke to in kobani said look, isis is armed with all sorts of tanks, artillery, heavy weaponry that they managed to get their hands on following their push and their takeover of huge swaths of northern iraq earlier this summer. the targeting of these various positions in raqqa, we're trying to get more information on that, reaching out to various syrian activists that might have access to individuals inside and be able to provide us with a better understanding of what it is that the u.s. is targeting, what we do know and do believe according to a number of analysts. some people have been studying isis's movements and tend to have a fairly solid grasp on them-s that isis and al baghdadi have been anticipating this for quite some time, ever since the u.s. began bombing in mosul. yes. >> i want to get in because she was talking about tanks and getting -- you don't believe it?
>> i think we have to stop -- we really have to take a look at their capability. i think we're making them out much more than they really are. like we talked today. they're the bullies on the playground. they got punched in the nose tonight. they have some capability. but remember, with this air power that's up there now, every town they try to move one of these armored vehicles or a pallin or something they have they took from the iraqis they're going to get hit. >> we used to have an expression when you fought there, was you never accept single-source human inside, especially among -- so i think some of the building of these people of isis to be ten feet tall, we need to knock that down a little bit and take a little bit of a suppressant. >> that's a good reality check. stand by, gentlemen. we want to bring in jim sciutto. he has something to add from washington. jim, are you with us? >> alisyn, i am. i just want to give you reaction i've gotten from a syrian opposition official to the start of the u.s. and arab air campaign against isis. i'm going to read it to you because it just shows the strength of emotion here.
he writes to me, "thank god, thank god, what a momentous day, a day we've been looking forward to for so long. it's a big step forward, but we're nonetheless clear-eyed it will be a prolonged campaign." as you know, syrian opposition officials have been pushing washington for involvement in this war for some three years now from the beginning. you remember there were even voices inside this administration to begin arming the syrian rebels earlier. we've heard from former secretary of state clinton, from former cia director leon panetta saying they supported getting involved earlier, particularly arming the rebels. it's a step the administration resisted. it's a step that the administration moved forward on just in recent months. the president announcing that. and now tonight the president moving forward on an air campaign against isis targets inside syria. you have just -- this is a moment as the syrian opposition official was telling me that they have been waiting for for some time and they're seeing it happening tonight for the first time.
>> and jim, much has been made about keeping washington and our lawmakers involved in what's happening overseas and what's happening with potential air strikes and whatever movement there might be. of course we just got this information from our deidra walsh, one of our producers in washington. the president spoke with house speaker john boehner now per boehner's spokesperson. defense secretary hagel notified house services chair buck mckeon about air strikes per the congressional source. we should go to our dana bash now, our congressional correspondent, to get more on this. >> reporter: hi there, don. no question. the administration put the calls out wide and far to congress. and i say wide and far for several reasons. not just for partisan reasons but because congress is not in washington. they're not in session. they left to go campaign knowing that this kind of thing was going to happen. i spoke with senator lindsey graham, who as our viewers know has been one of the biggest proponents of going after isis and going after isis hard.
the vice president called him earlier this afternoon. he told me to tell him that this is going to happen. and now jim sciutto is reporting that there are five arab countries that are part of this coalition in the air. senator graham told me the vice president had given him a heads-up, that there would be multiple arab nations. didn't want to say who they were until these air strikes began. the senator didn't want to tell me until the air strikes began. but it is really telling and it will be a source of comfort to members of congress. i know you're talking with your panel there about how critical it is. when it comes to american support and through american support there are representatives in washington having that coalition is going to be invaluable because a lot of people who are back home with their constituents are hearing we know this is a big threat but what about the region. the ability to tell voters, to tell constituents that members,
countries in the region, arab nations are participating, is going to be absolutely huge. and that is what senator graham said as well. >> stand by for a second. colonel francona, i want to bring you in because you were the attache to syria. so i'm curious, who will the bashar assad regime be reacting to the news tonight? >> well, we've heard them publicly state that any uncoordinated activity by a coalition or by the united states would be regarded as an aggression and that they would take steps, whatever. but if you look at the disposition of syrian air defenses, they're all around damascus. everything was -- the entire syrian air defense system was built to fight israel, not to deal with someone coming from the iraqi side. so the air space up there is pretty open. so very fortunate for us. whatever air defenses are out there are easily managed. and i'm sure part of the package, and i think the general was alluding to this earlier, will include suppression of enemy air defense aircraft so
that any threat would be taken care of. one thing i think is important, and i think dana was talking about how important it is to have this. five nations. five arab nations participating with the united states. because it no longer looks like the west bombing another arab countries. no longer the united states bombing an arab country. but i'm curious as to what happens tomorrow morning when the arab countries wake up and realize that their governments have bombed another arab country. because as we all know, having served in that part of the world, the government and the people are not always the same. >> and you said it's dawn now there and so they will be waking up very shortly to hear that nations of qatar, bahrain, saudi arabia, united arab emirates, and jordan all involved in this along with the united states. i thought you made a particularly good point earlier when you were talking about exactly what is in -- what will be involved in this and what they will use. just because we're not seeing
boots on the ground that -- >> well, the actual strike itself? >> yeah. the actual strike itself. >> they're going to be going after targets here. >> this can be done by the united states and the coalition without boots on the ground. >> this part of it can be. but eventually depending on what you want to accomplish, if you just want to hurt them badly you can do that from the air. but if you want to go there and destroy isis, you're going to have to do that with people on the ground, or as you said killing up close. general dempsey i think said that. this is going to involve rooting them out one by one. because they've already dispersed. and we were talking earlier in the break. i've been up in that whole euphrates valley where they are. and if you start at raqqa and go all the way down to the iraqi border, there are caves and canyons and valleys up there. you can hide a lot of stuff and a lot of people up there and you're going to have to go in there on the ground and get them out. we're going to be in this for the long term. >> and long term who knows,000
long -- >> of course we've heard you talking about how isis is morphing into yet another terrorist organization. just as al qaeda morphed into isis. so i hear you saying that air strikes will work in the short term. and then what? hold that thought. >> yeah, just for a moment. >> yeah, just for a moment. it's the top of the hour. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com this is cnn tonight piem don lemon. >> and i'm alisyn camerota. u.s. jets began air strikes in the isis stronghold of raqqa, syria. this happening a few hours ago. all foreign partners participating in the strikes with the united states are arab countries at the moment. this is a senior u.s. military official telling cnn. those nations include bahrain, saudi arabia, the united arab emirates, and jordan. >> mm-hmm. the u.s. and partner nation forces began striking isis targets using fighters, bombers, and tomahawk missiles. that's according to pentagon
spokesperson rear admiral john kirby. and the strikes are meant to target isis's ability to command, resupply, and to train. president barack obama being updated as he gets -- and he has notified congress on this. we're going to get now straight to cnn's jim sciutto, who is in washington. also jim acosta joining us from washington as well. gentlemen, thank you for joining us this evening. the information is coming in. jim sciutto, at first there were three nation states that we heard about, all arab states. now we're hearing about five. this is particularly significant because? >> reporter: no question. because you heard in recent days secretary of state john kerry, president obama talking about how they wanted to internatio l internationalize this effort, make it u.s.-led perhaps, but to have important partners in the region. and now you have five in the region taking part tonight in at least three of them, i'm told, in kinetic activity. that is, dropping bombs tonight, not just support flights, refueling