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Obama Weighs Airstrikes on ISIS in Syria; Hundreds Seize Border Post Near Israel; ISIS Growing Stronger And More Capable; What is the Threat Posed by ISIS?; American Journalist Freed after Two Years in Captivity in Syria; A Mother's Plea To ISIS

Aired August 27, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thanks very much, Jake.

Happening now, Syria airstrikes -- U.S. drones already scouting targets, as President Obama weighs his options for expanding the attacks on ISIS.

Jihadists on the border -- the war in Syria spills over into Israeli- held territory, as al Qaeda allies seize a key crossing point.

And a mother's plea -- after the brutal murder of one American, the mother of another American hostage begs ISIS to release her son.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We're tracking major developments this hour in the Middle East. The war in Syria threatens to drag in Israel, as a group tied to al Qaeda seizes a key border post. Syrian rebels now say a second American has been killed fighting for ISIS. And with one American hostage murdered, the mother of another is pleading with ISIS for his freedom.

President Obama is considering whether to pull the trigger on airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria.

Our correspondents and guests, they're standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, on the very tough decision facing the president -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, HOST: That it is, Wolf.

With a growing chorus of Republicans calling on President Obama to lay out his plan for dealing with ISIS, the president has been meeting with top officials all week on potential options for striking the group in Syria, but no decision yet.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Secretary of State John Kerry and top administration officials were spotted leaving the West Wing today, as the White House continues to weigh options on the ISIS threat. The president has called ISIS a cancer. (on camera): If is a cancer, does he want to defeat it?


ACOSTA (voice-over): As the Pentagon announced new airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, the White House remained cagey about whether Syria is next and soon.

(on camera): Is it crunch time?

EARNEST: Well, I would say that this is a situation that the president and his team is watching very closely.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The U.S. is also working to rescue a small number of Americans held hostage by ISIS, as recently freed journalist, Theo Curtis, was back on American soil...

PETER THEO CURTIS, FREED AMERICAN JOURNALIST: To all those people, I say a huge thank you from my heart, from the bottom of my heart.

ACOSTA: -- the mother of Steven Sotloff pleaded for mercy.

SHIRLEY SOTLOFF, MOTHER OF STEVEN SOTLOFF: I ask you to please release my child.

ACOSTA: The administration is also eyeing another potential humanitarian crisis in Northern Iraq -- ethnic Shiite Turkmen fleeing their homes to escape ISIS fighters.

The ISIS army of terror is growing. Militants posted this video on YouTube, boasting the group now wields this American-made Howitzer, a claim CNN cannot verify.

Lawmakers from both parties are calling on the president to make his case.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We're launching airstrikes in Iraq for reasons which are really not totally specified yet, but surveillance in Syria.

How does that work?

There is no strategy.

ACOSTA: Even as one top Republican told CNN, a get tough approach would be popular.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: I'm anxious to hear what the president has in mind and I think he's very likely to get support.

ACOSTA: But targeting ISIS in Syria would be more complicated than the mission in Iraq. There would be no coordination with the Syrian leadership.

TARA MALLER, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: The administration has said that they are not seeking the cooperation or approval of the Assad regime to go in. So lack of cooperation and also lack of information in terms of intelligence -- on the ground intelligence, because we have not had the presence in Syria that we've had Iraq.


ACOSTA: The White House says it also wants more international partners to deal with ISIS. That's happening in Iraq. But in Syria, that is another question.

A British embassy spokesperson told CNN airstrikes at this point in Syria are not under discussion.

However, all of that, Wolf, will be on the table when the president meets with NATO next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Jim Acosta at the White House.

U.S. airstrikes are helping to slow the ISIS advance in Iraq, but top military officials concede that's about all airstrikes can do, even as the president considers expanding the air campaign to Syria.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara, the president obviously under an enormous amount of pressure to hit ISIS hard, including in Syria.

What's the view you're getting from inside the Pentagon?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when you walk the hallways around the Pentagon, what you hear mainly is nobody right now is going to be rushed into a decision, not the president, not the secretary of Defense, not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

When and if the president makes a decision, they will be ready to go. But right now, they are continuing to gather intelligence from those drones flying overhead in the region about where ISIS positions are in Syria, where their troops are, how they're moving around, all of that, where the weapons are.

But they're only able to get that overhead intelligence right now. So if they're going to do airstrikes, they need to keep that up, because ISIS is always on the move.

No real rush to do it, by all accounts, at this point. What officials are saying is they need to -- everybody needs to have an understanding of what the understanding of what the strategy is, what they're trying to do, what threat those ISIS fighters on the ground inside Syria pose to the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what you're hearing now, Barbara, is that drones are flying reconnaissance missions, surveillance over potential ISIS targets in Syria, but manned aircraft not yet, is that right?