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Iraqi Helicopter Crashes on Aid Flight; New Details on Death of Robin Williams;

Aired August 12, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news -- fleeing for their lives. Shocking new images as thousands of refugees reach the Iraqi-Syrian border in a desperate bid to escape ISIS terrorists.

Fears of mission creep -- as the U.S. hits ISIS targets from the air, it weighs sending more military advisers to Iraq.

But is there a way out of Iraq?

And the death of Robin Williams -- as fans mourn the actor and the comedian, authorities offer new details about his suicide.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we're following two breaking news stories, as fans around the world mourn the loss of the brilliant comic, Robin Williams. A coroner now revealing new details on how he took his own life. That is coming up.

But first to Iraq, just a day after a CNN team brought back extraordinary images from a daring rescue flight over Mount Sinjar, a helicopter bringing aid to thousands of trapped Yazidis has crashed, killing the pilot.

Now, thousands of refugees are taking it -- trying to make it out of the area on foot in a desperate search for sanctuary ISIS insurgents.

That comes as the United States weighs sending in even more military advisers to Iraq, sparking new concerns of another potential quagmire.

Our correspondents and guests are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with CNN's Ivan Watson.

He's on the Iraqi-Syrian border -- Ivan, tell us what's going on.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can't hear you that well right now.

But let me just say, the scene that we saw at this bridge that -- that crosses the Peshgavor River (ph) was almost biblical. There was dust and there was just this constant stream of people -- civilians, families trudging across the bridge and part of this kind of ad hoc humanitarian corridor that's come together for people by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, to flee the ISIS militants and make it here to Iraqi Kurdistan to safety.

They're basically routing themselves through a Kurdish enclave in Syria. They're being helped by the group that rules that enclave, which is known throughout the region as the Kurdistan Workers Party, who have provided vehicles, the refugees tell me. And then they get repatriated across this bridge here into Iraqi Kurdistan.

Some of these people have escaped from Mount Sinjar, from that place that has become a bit of a trap for people fleeing the city of Sinjar to escape the ISIS militants.

They traveled -- instead of the way that we did, by helicopter yesterday, they trudged 10, 15 hours from the mountain under the protection of the Kurdistan Workers Party to Syria. And one young man that I talked to, Wolf, he said that he buried two of his brothers, his infant brothers, who he says died along that ordeal, that long journey. Very difficult to hear that and to imagine what that man had gone through to make his way here to Iraqi Kurdistan, where, on roadsides, in abandoned buildings, these people who have made it here to safety are now camping out under the stars tonight, provided some food by volunteers, by a few aid organizations. But they're basically refugees sleeping on the street right now here in the city of Zakho -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson on the scene for you. We're going to get back to you, so stand by.

Meanwhile, there's chaos in Iraq's capital. Baghdad was rocked tonight by a pair of car bombs that left at least nine people dead and a political standoff continues.

The outgoing prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is vowing to hold onto power, even though the United States, and now even Iran, they are both backing his designated successor.

Let's go live to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.

He's in Baghdad for us j Nick, first of all, the bombings in the Iraqi capital.

What can you tell us?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this afternoon, we were shaken here, almost, by a plume of black smoke, an explosion a few blocks away in the Karrada District. We're now looking at a death toll from two explosions in roughly a similar area, Shia districts targeted in the capital here. There's at least eight people killed, dozens potentially injured.

But, Wolf, it really shattered a tense quiet. Everybody, I think, seeing in the writing on the wall for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, apart from him. The Iranians, as you say. John Kerry encouraging the prime minister designate, Haider al-Abadi, to get on with his job and form a cabinet in the next 30 days, as quickly as possible.

The French accusing Nouri al-Maliki of being behind the crisis in Iraq itself. And you say that even the Saudi Arabians suggesting that Haider al-Abadi to become the prime minister here.

But Nouri al-Maliki defiant, appearing on state television saying quite clearly that he doesn't want the military to be involved in politics here, given he has suggested he might use force to stay in power.

But we saw a potential window for conciliation in the past few hours. Haider al-Abadi, the prime minister designate, the man nominated to replace Nouri al-Maliki, on his Facebook page, saying Nouri al-Maliki has done a lot to fight terrorism here, has a place in Iraq's future. Perhaps a bid to try and calm tensions here.

But above all, Nouri al-Maliki not stepping back right now from the plate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Nick, there was a very disturbing moment today. An Iraqi military helicopter trying to aid some of the minorities, the Christians, the Yazidis up in the north. That Iraqi military helicopter crashed, apparently, into something. The pilot was killed. A reporter for "The New York Times," Alissa Rubin, she was injured, along with a photographer for "The New York Times." There was a parliamentarian, a Yazidi parliamentarian in the Iraqi parliament who was on board.

What can you tell us about that helicopter, that chopper?

What do we know happened to it?

Because they're -- they're all insisting there was no hostile fire, but it was just some sort of technical or mechanical failure.

WALSH: Well, that's really all we know from the Iraqi military. They have said that it came down because of a technical failure, yes, and the pilot died. Many injured, they're saying, including an M.P. A number of journalists, too, Alissa Rubin from "The New York Times," a veteran war correspondent, suffering a concussion and a broken wrist, according to her own newspaper.

Many other injured, too, on board. We've seen the pictures of how these helicopters fly over territory infested with ISIS militants, often having to fire down below for their own protection as they travel. It's clearly a very dangerous place.

But it does seem they used the phrase "technical failure." I've heard that used in the past in combat zones, perhaps euphemism when planes may -- or helicopters may come under attack. There's no independent suggestion that happened here.

We're talking about very old Russian-made helicopters, very difficult conditions -- dust, heat. It's going to make the chances of a technical problem extraordinarily high, as well.

In this case, only one person lost their life, but it just shows you how perilous these rescue missions really are -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And where are you in Baghdad right now, Nick, give us a little flavor around that so-called Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy -- this is the largest U.S. Embassy in the world. There are literally thousands of Americans there, contractors, diplomats, military personnel.

Over the weekend, we had heard reports that Nouri al-Maliki's loyal troops were moving tanks into that area, looking like he was going to have some sort coup d'etat, if you will.

Has that situation eased now that all the pressure is mounting on Nouri al-Maliki to disappear, if you will?

WALSH: It's certainly not mounted since their first night's report of tanks in the Green Zone. Driving in from the airport, we saw soldiers from the elite militia or the army division known as The Golden Division, who are very loyal to Nouri al-Maliki.

A slightly heightened sense of police on the streets. People describe a different atmosphere in the city, as various militias try and calculate where they fit into this constantly changing political environment.

It's bizarrely quiet. It's very quiet, indeed. The streets emptier than many people would expect, very little traffic. Some residents describing to me it's a city definitely on edge, because the political vacuum here, that may ease in the days ahead Nouri al-Maliki reads the writing everyone else can see on the wall.

But, too, bear in mind, it's the capital and ISIS have been breathing down its neck now for a matter -- almost a month. The explosions, each time they happen, people wondering is this the beginning of something new?

A lot of fear here for those residents still in Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, be careful over there in the Iraqi capital.

We're going to have much more on this story coming up, including reports that the U.S. may be on the verge of deploying many more military advisers to Iraq right now.

We'll go to the Pentagon for that. That's coming up.

But up next, authorities provide new details about the suicide of the actor and comic, Robin Williams. We're about to take a much closer look at his brilliant career.



ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: Well, I guess we'll have to have a quick burial at sea then.


BLITZER: What an amazing talent.

The other breaking news we're following, dramatic new details revealed by authorities on the death of the actor and comedian, Robin Williams.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is in San Rafael, California for us.

What's the latest over there?

What have we learned?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, an autopsy was done on Mr.

Williams' body this morning. And the coroner came out and briefed us on the cause of death and some details of -- surrounding his death.

He apparently has died of suicide. And he has apparently hung himself. That is what the temporary -- or the -- the conclusion is at this point.

The investigation is still going on. They're waiting on toxicology reports. That will take two to five weeks.

But at this point, he appears to have hung himself in a room by himself. He was found by a personal assistant around noon yesterday.


LT. KEITH BOYD, ASSISTANT DEPUTY CHIEF CORONER: Mr. Williams was last seen alive by his wife at approximately 10:30 p.m. on August 10, 2014, when she retired for the evening in a room in the home. The preliminary -- and I again say preliminary -- results of the forensic examination revealed supporting physical signs that Mr. Williams' life ended from asphyxia due to hanging.


ROWLANDS: And also, it was emphasized, Wolf, in this press conference that Robin Williams was seeking help and receiving help for depression.

No funeral arrangements at this point have been made. But his death is being felt across the country and especially here in the San Francisco Bay area where he called home for many, many years.

BLITZER: What a sad, sad story indeed. All right. Ted Rowlands, thanks very much. CNN's Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at Robin Williams'

extraordinary life and career. He's joining us with this part of the story -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the reaction, of course, is a very broad and deep loss of Robin Williams, because out of all the comedians out there, those do manic comedy and political comedy and thoughtful comedy, he was a category unto himself, touching all of those areas and gathering new fans decade after decade.



FOREMAN (voice-over): From his first moments in the '70s hit "Happy Days" as an alien visiting the 1950s, Robin William was a time traveler.

WILLIAMS: I couldn't help it. You understand? I honestly regret it.

FOREMAN: And once he found the spotlight for almost 40 years, he never left it.

WILLIAMS: Iran, Iraq, stalagmite, stalactite, thanks.

FOREMAN: Whether mocking a president for the college crowd on "Saturday Night Live" or leaping into a film for all ages like "Jumanji," Williams engaged each new comedic generation with such energy it always seemed as if he'd come specifically for them.

WILLIAMS: What year is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was brand new.

WILLIAMS: No, what year is it?


FOREMAN: Undeniably, his range made it possible. In films like "Mrs. Doubtfire," he let loose with broad physical comedy.

WILLIAMS: Oh, sir, I saw some angry member of the kitchen staff. Did you not tell him there was a run by...

FOREMAN: In "Aladdin," his extraordinary ability to conjure dozens of voices made the genie in the lamp brilliant.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Anlanza. While we your pleasure be. Let me take your other jacket down. You ain't never had a friend like me.

FOREMAN: And yet, he could just as convincingly play it straight in movies like "Dead Poets' Society."

WILLIAMS: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. A Latin term for that sentiment is carpe diem. Who knows what that means? FOREMAN: Who knew? He did. Because Williams seized each day, each

moment as if it were his last. Whether entertaining troops, raising money for charity or teaching kids on "Sesame Street."

WILLIAMS: When I breathe you can hear the air go in and out. Sometimes you can even see it. Like this. Happy new year!

FOREMAN: Perhaps one reason so many people loved Williams so much was that age and worry and time itself seemed to pass him by. Like his character in "Hook," he was the boy who never grew old and in doing so, the man who kept us all a little younger.


FOREMAN: Kept us all younger. That really was it, Wolf. And you know, as we went through all these video clips today, I was just stunned by the breadth of his work. I've been aware of it, but he has been so prolific. He has produced so many movies, been on so many shows, done so many interviews, it almost defies belief that he had this range of talent over such a long period of time. That's how he gathered so, so many fans who are so troubled by the way his life came to an end.

BLITZER: We are all so sad. It's simply amazing when you think about it.

FOREMAN: A huge talent.


FOREMAN: Unbelievable.

BLITZER: Tom, thanks very much.

Robin Williams was a guest on the iconic television show "Inside the Actors Studio" back in 2001. There's one particular moment from that interview that stands out now in the light of his death. Watch this.


JAMES LIPTON, HOST, "INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO": If heaven exists, what would like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

WILLIAMS: There's seating near the front. The concert begins at 5. It will be Mozart, Elvis and one of your choosing. Or just a nice, if heaven exists, to know that there's laughter, that would be a great thing; just, to hear God go, "Two Jews walk into a bar."


BLITZER: James Lipton is the host of Bravo's "Inside the Actors Studio." He's joining us now on the phone.

James, thanks so much for joining us. He was on your program. You spoke with him about his struggles, the addiction. He was pretty open about all of that. Did you ever see, though, the pain behind that humor?

LIPTON (via phone): No. No, because what he did was remarkable. Obviously, he was tormented. All his life, apparently, he suffered from this problem. But what he did was he kept that inside. That was for him. What was for us was the joy. He gave us nothing but pleasure, nothing but happiness. And he reserved for himself the harder part of his life. In the end, it became too much to bear. That is a very sad fact.

BLITZER: What was it like interviewing him?

LIPTON: Well, for one thing, he came out on the stage, "Inside the Actors Studio: and off he went, bang. He just started. And he didn't stop and he just kept going. And of course, I sat back enjoying it like everyone else. And finally I raised my hand after about 7 1/2, eight minutes. And he said, "What do you want?"

I said, "It's time for my first question."

That was what happened on the show. And of course, the most famous moment in the history of the show was of the 20 years of "Inside the Actors Studio" was the pink pashmina that he took from a young woman in the first row.

When I said to him, "Look, Robin, something's happening here that I don't understand, that none of us are capable of understanding. What's going on inside your head? Are you thinking faster than the rest of us? What are you doing?"

And he just laughed and he said, "Well, I can't explain it, but I'll show you." And he went down, took the pashmina, and in the course of the next six or seven minutes, he used the pashmina in various ways to become an Indian film director, an Iranian woman, a gay rabbi, the iron chef, and finally at the end of it, he folded the pashmina and he -- back and forth in front of his face with its tassels and he came through with his face, and he was a car emerging from a car wash.

Now, that is something that can't be taught. It can't be learned. You have to be born with that kind of genius.

BLITZER: Just ad libbing. These were not planned routines that he had done hundreds of times before, right?

LIPTON: I'm sorry, I didn't hear.

BLITZER: This is not planned routines that he was doing. This was all off-the-cuff adlibbing

LIPTON: Totally improvisation. Let me say something once and for all about Robin. His life was an improvisation. In "Aladdin," he played the genie, right? And the genie taught Aladdin all the things he needed to learn in order to -- to proceed with his life. In the course of that three-minute scene, do you know how many characters he created in three or four minutes of that scene? Fifty-two. Fifty-two separate, discrete complete characters were created by him alone in a studio in front of a microphone. And then they animated to it. Now, that is -- there's only one word for it. That's genius.

BLITZER: I remember having the privilege of seeing him do standup here in Washington, at George Washington University a few years ago. I was sitting up close. And I'll never forget. It must have been at least two hours, and he was making all of us laugh so hard.

But he was working so hard. He was so passionate. He was sweating. The towels were coming out. They were soaking, because he gave it all of that. I'm sure you noticed that, as well.

LIPTON: He -- well, he did his standup act in front of a ziggurat of water bottles, and he would go through 10, 20, 30 bottles of water in the course of a single evening. He gave us everything he had. He withheld nothing. The only thing that withheld from us was his suffering. And in the end, he paid for that. That is a sacrifice to make.

BLITZER: What an amazing, amazing talent. And all of us are sad, so sad that we have to do what we're doing right now. Remember him, because we would have enjoyed his performances, serious and comedic, for many, many years to come.

James Lipton, thanks very much for sharing some thoughts with us. We really appreciate your joining us.

LIPTON: You're very welcome, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you, James Lipton, "Inside the Actors Studio." A remarkable show right there.

Please be sure to tune in later tonight for a special CNN Spotlight, "Remembering Robin." That will air 11:30 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

We have much more of Robin Williams coming up, his life and his legacy. Watch this.


WILLIAMS: I do voices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you mean you do voices?

WILLIAMS: Well, I do voices. Yes. We come to this planet looking for intelligent life. Whoops, we made a mistake. We're happy to be in America. Don't ask for a green card. I want you in the worst way. It's certainly a rough meeting, and it's not going very well for me. I'll tell you that. Hey, boss, give it a chance. She's going to loosen up any moment.



BLITZER: Breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're hearing more U.S. military advisors are heading to Iraq. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, two U.S. officials tell me the decision has been made that indeed, more than 100 additional U.S. military advisers will be making their way mainly to Northern Iraq, where that crisis with tens of thousands of people stranded on that mountain has gripped the world's attention.

One of their main jobs will be to look at humanitarian relief options and the options, what are they for getting those people off the mountain. President Obama has already twice said and they said here at the Pentagon yesterday they want to look at options to get those people out of there.

They need more help, more military advisers to do it. They also are going to be taking a look clearly at the unfolding situation in Northern Iraq, what additional assistance may be needed for the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who have been going against ISIS for weeks now.

And certainly, Wolf, expect to see more airstrikes unfold, especially against Mount Sinjar positions, where ISIS is. They want to push ISIS back from that mountain before they move in with any rescue mission -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Barbara, with another 100 U.S. military advisers heading over to Iraq, that number keeps going up and up. Active-duty U.S. military personnel now in Iraq totaling how many?

STARR: Wolf, we are now somewhere as they say north of 800 personnel, give or take. And, clearly, this is one of the most sensitive issues, the administration, we are told, very sensitive to the notion of mission creep in Iraq. U.S. military personnel already know that. It's a very sensitive matter -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

With U.S. aircraft constantly in the air over Northern Iraq carrying out strikes against ISIS targets and now more U.S. military advisers being sent in, will there be a way out of Iraq anytime soon?

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is looking into this part of the story that some critics are already seeing as mission creep.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question critics, but also supporters, some who are calling for more U.S. military action, saying that it's necessary.

And today the former commander of NATO added his voice to the chorus of lawmakers and some Iraq war veterans who say that U.S. military involvement not only is likely to grow, but in fact must grow to truly confront ISIS. Retired Admiral James Stavridis told "The Military Times" he believes the U.S. should triple the number of military advisers on the ground and expand their role to become spotters for airstrikes, possibly even fight along Iraqi forces, both steps the administration says it will not take.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Here, the aftermath of a devastating U.S. airstrike on ISIS fighters in Northern Iraq. The Obama administration insists attacks from the air like this one are the limit of America's combat role in Iraq.

But several veteran Iraq commanders we interviewed say mission creep is inevitable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is the first toe in the water and eventually this administration will have to confront how to destroy this Islamic State.

SCIUTTO (on camera): When you look at the capabilities or, rather, the lack of capabilities of the Iraqi military, that the U.S. is going to have to be more involved going forward, do you think that that's a reasonable assessment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need an organization, whether it's the United States or coalition forces, that come in and provide them with professional military advice. And, eventually, if U.S. forces are not on the ground, I don't see how we're going to keep ISIS at bay.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): For now, the administration has defined U.S. objectives very narrowly, one, protect tens of thousands of members of Iraq's Yazidi minority from an impending massacre, and, two, protect hundreds of American, diplomats and military advisers stationed in Irbil and Baghdad.

However, even the Pentagon concedes those goals as strictly defined do not address ISIS itself.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE, OPERATIONS DIRECTOR, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: These strikes are unlikely to affect ISIL's overall capabilities or its operations in other areas of Iraq and Syria.

SCIUTTO: In fact, since the president first announced U.S. military action last Thursday, the U.S. has already expanded its military support, sending weaponry to Kurdish forces and considering raising the number of U.S. military advisers on the ground.

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry categorically ruled out U.S. ground troops, though, crucially, he set the stage for further military support for Iraq's new government.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The U.S. does stand ready to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi government, particularly in its fight against ISIL.


SCIUTTO: The administration has yet to the define what that additional help to the new Iraqi government will be. We know that Kurdish forces have asked for heavy weaponry, including mortars and artillery. Of course, we also know the white House is now sending more than 100 advisers in.

The key, Wolf, will be if the mission expands beyond protecting the Yazidis up north and the Americans in Irbil and Baghdad to actually helping Iraqi forces push back ISIS forces, something that they have not been capable of to this point. That's an open question.

BLITZER: Or the Iraqi military has to show up, first of all, and be willing to fight. So far, they have not.

SCIUTTO: No evidence whatsoever.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.

Should Americans be worried once again about what's called mission creep in Iraq?

Joining us now, two guests, the former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson. He was the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad during the run-up to the first Gulf War back in 1990-'91, along with Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. He was an adviser to General David Petraeus in Iraq.

Joe Wilson, are you worried about what's called mission creep right now?

JOE WILSON, FORMER ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, I'm really much more worried about ISIL.

I think there's three distinct problems. One is getting the Yazidi population off of Mount Sinjar, which is in the hands of a very competent army who knows how to do this. This is something we know how to do. The second problem is the transition in Baghdad.

I thought what the secretary had to say about the necessity for inclusive government is an absolute necessity. I think our options there and our leverage is limited. But I do think we should be pressuring the new Iraqi government to try and an approach the Sunni tribal leaders and see if they can dislodge them from their temporarily alliance of convenience with ISIL.

The big strategic problem is ISIL itself. And, again, I think we have to, as I said last time I was on here, whatever we do has to be seen in the context of taking out ISIL, and not in the context of being involved in somebody else's sectarian war.

We do not need to be seen indiscriminately killing Sunni on behalf of an Iranian-supported Shia regime in Baghdad.

BLITZER: But, Stephen, you know that those ISIL, ISIS troops, whatever you call them, ISIL or ISIS, they are well-armed. They have got a lot of U.S. weaponry, armored personnel carriers. They have got American thanks, all of which they stole from the Iraqi military, stuff the U.S. left behind. The Peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters, they are not armed, they can't do the job. The Iraqi military apparently so far, they have just run away.

They're not doing the job. If you're going to destroy ISIS in Iraq, you need an army to do so. You can't do it with airpower alone. That means the U.S. military, right?

STEPHEN BIDDLE, SENIOR FELLOW IN DEFENSE POLICY, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think that's right. I think it's very unlikely that the kinds of airpower options that we're talking about at the moment are going to roll ISIL back very far.

I think it's very unlikely any of the local combatants on the ground will be able to do that any time soon. It's not just ISIL. It's an alliance between ISIL and large fractions of the old more secular Sunni insurgency fighting that was the government of Iraq prior to, say, 2008.

So this is a military job that's too big for the kind of limited options that people are talking about. But the scale of the U.S. interests at stake in the conflict are generally not thought to warrant the sort of massive U.S. ground involvement that would be needed to actually make a difference in the short run.

A much bigger air effort than anything anybody's talking about now from 2003 to 2007 with a multi, 100,000 American soldier ground force in support of it couldn't bring a quick decisive end to a similar war then. To do that with much less now, I think, is not plausible.

BLITZER: If you're going to destroy ISIS, Joe Wilson, you got to destroy ISIS. You can't just fool around with some airpower, right?

WILSON: Well, look, I think that it's important to understand that this is not just an American problem. This is a regional problem and this is in fact an international problem.

The foreign fighters that are coming into Syria and Northern Iraq now will be going back to Chechnya, will be going back to Indonesia, will be going back to Western Europe, will be coming back to the states. What appalls me on this and what I don't understand is why we are not going to the United Nations, why we're not building a coalition and why we're not actively soliciting or getting the support of Sunni governments in the region for what we're doing. We don't want to be out there all alone, it seems to me.

BLITZER: Joe Wilson, we're going to continue this conversation.

Stephen Biddle, thanks to you as well.

Lots to digest. Much more coming up on the story.

Also, we're going to take you behind the front lines in Northern Iraq to show you the impact U.S. airstrikes are already having in slowing the advance of some ISIS insurgents.

And we're also going to have much more ahead on death of the actor, the comedian Robin Williams.


BLITZER: The targeted U.S. airstrikes in Northern Iraq are already providing some relief for the Kurdish military force, the Peshmerga, as it confronts the onslaught by ISIS and a flood of panicked refugees.

CNN's Anna Coren got a firsthand look. She's joining us now live from Irbil.

Anna, what did you see?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we know, those ISIS militants have been making rapid gains across Iraq over the past few months.

They now control one-third of the country, which really is quite staggering. Now, one of the towns that they seized last week was claimed back by Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga, thanks to the U.S. airstrikes.

Well, we visited that town and spent time with these soldiers who are doing everything they can to fight the enemy.


COREN (voice-over): Driving towards enemy territory an armored convoy of Peshmerga escort us beyond the frontline. Just days ago, ISIS militants claimed these vast plains and nearby township of Makhmour, as part of what it calls its new Islamic state. That was until U.S. airstrikes suddenly stopped their advance.

This was one of the targets. Artillery used to attack Kurdish forces who for the first time were inspecting the results of the power unleashed by U.S. fighter jets and predator drones.

(On camera): This is the impact of a 500-pound laser-guided bomb. As you can see, the US airstrike has completely destroyed the ISIS mobile artillery piece. But out here in the open, the militants are easy to attack. Once they move into urban areas, they will be much harder to find.

(Voice-over): For the Peshmerga, U.S. air support is critical. Before it arrived, they were outgunned by the Sunni extremists armed with American weapons seized from the Iraqi army, and were quickly losing ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the U.S. --

COREN (on camera): This is a U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, because this is the Iraqi army.

COREN (voice-over): But with Kurdish forces now receiving weapons directly from the U.S., according to local officials, they believe their soldiers can effectively fight the enemy. "ISIS is bad. They're against humanity, democracy, everything that

has to do with life. That's why we believe in the battle and we were able to win."

But not everyone is so confident. These families who fled during the vicious fighting have returned to pack up their belongings and leave indefinitely. Fearing ISIS just kilometers away in a nearby village will return.

"We're all afraid. The situation is bad. We think ISIS will come back and we don't feel safe."

"America has to help us," pleaded this woman. "ISIS is evil. They behead children like my grandson."

With virtually no one left in these vulnerable border towns, the Peshmerga are desperately hoping the U.S. intensifies its campaign over the skies to help them in their desperate battle.


COREN: Well, people are very fearful of what ISIS is going to do next because no one believes for a second that they are going to be satisfied with the territory that they have at the moment which is why those U.S. airstrikes are critical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly are. All right. Thanks very much, Anna Coren, in Irbil, for us.

When we come back, we're learning new details about a phone call that the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, placed to President Obama, why she now says she's looking forward to, quote, "hugging it out with him." Stand by.


BLITZER: This news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're getting new reaction from the White House about a phone call the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, placed to President Obama just a little while ago in the aftermath of an interview she did in which she seemed to suggest she was distancing herself from him on a key foreign policy issue.

Our senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar is working the story for us, has the very latest.

What is the very latest?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House, Wolf, really trying to downplay differences here after Hillary Clinton called the president to smooth things over.

And this was after she lobbed a bit of an "I told you so" at the president. Her spokesman saying, "Earlier today the secretary called President Obama to make sure he knows that nothing she said was an attempt to attack him, his policies or his leadership. Like any two friends who have to deal with the public eye, she looks forward to hugging it out when they see reach other tomorrow night."

Because they are going to attend the same party on Martha's Vineyard where the president is vacationing. And also Clinton has a book signing tomorrow. But this was an apology for an interview that Clinton gave to the "Atlantic." It was published over the weekend. And in it she described the president's decision to not arm moderate rebels in the beginning of Syria's war is a, quote, "failure," and she also appeared to take a swipe at his self-coined description of his foreign policy decisions of don't do stupid stuff.

She said, "Great nations need organizing principles and don't do stupid stuff is not an organizing principle."

Well, that really upset the Obama camp. His former top aide, David Axelrod, tweeting today, "Just to clarify don't do stupid stuff means stuff like occupying Iraq in the first place which was a tragically bad decision."

So you see an Obama defender really lashing out here but the White House downplaying the friction. Here is what one of the president's top foreign policy aides Ben Rhodes told our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta just moments ago.


BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He and Secretary Clinton have been through so much together. On the campaign trail, in the White House, at the State Department.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They sort of a flashback back at the campaign a little bit.

RHODES: Well, but again, I think their relationship is very resilient. They've been through so much together. And I think they understand that they agree about far more than they disagree about.


KEILAR: But obviously they're caught up here in the back and forth of the White House as well as Hillary Clinton's camp.

Now, Wolf, Axelrod, he was really kind of taking a hit there at Clinton's 2002 vote to authorize force in Iraq giving President Bush that ability. But her hawkish comments here really getting not under the skin of the Obama camp and a lot of liberal activist who are very upset with her.

BLITZER: We'll see how she hugs it out with him --

KEILAR: Yes, exactly.

BLITZER: On Martha's Vineyard.

Thanks very much, Brianna Keilar, reporting.

Coming up right at the top of the hour, we're going to have much more on the two breaking stories we're following. More than a hundred additional U.S. military advisers being sent to northern Iraq as the crisis escalates in the region.

Also, we have new details on the death of Robin Williams as the world remembers his legendary career.

All of that coming up and a lot more.