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War on Terror: Strikes in Syria; Interview With U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes; Airstrikes on ISIS Oil Facilities

Aired September 24, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news.

The U.S. launches a new round of airstrikes against ISIS forces inside Syria, as President Obama calls on the world to act forcefully against the terror group.

Targets revealed, the U.S.-led coalition, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, now aiming at the terrorists' finances. Can it cut off a major source of income?

Hostage beheaded. A French citizen murdered on tape, but by ISIS supporters hundreds of miles from Syria. Is it the start of a deadly new terror tactic?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the United Nations. This is a SITUATION ROOM SPECIAL report, "War on terror: Strikes in Syria."

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And let's get to the breaking news, the U.S. and Arab partners launching a new round of airstrikes on ISIS targets inside Syria, this time targeting oil facilities controlled by the militants, providing them with millions of dollars each day to fund their reign of terror.

These latest air assaults come as the United Nations answered President Obama's call for a forceful response to the terror threat, unanimously approving a U.N. Security Council resolution to crack down on so-called foreign fighters, some 15,000 of whom are believed to have traveled to Syria.

We have complete coverage this hour with our reporters and our guests here at the United Nations and, indeed, around the world.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, begins our coverage. She's getting new information about these latest U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.

What are your sources, Barbara, telling you?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Just a few moments ago, Wolf, the U.S. military have announced all aircraft have returned safely to their bases. About half a dozen U.S. fighters along with military jets from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates flew a two-hour mission against ISIS oil targets in Eastern Syria.

They attacked about a dozen targets. These are small, modular oil refineries run by ISIS to earn them cash, about $2 million a day. They refine about 300 to 500 barrels of oil a day, a very small amount of oil, but a key revenue source for ISIS. They do have other cash, from robberies and other criminal enterprise. But getting a handle on this illegal smuggling oil revenue, getting these refineries destroyed will be a step in stopping their cash flow, the U.S. believes.

They used the money to finance their operations, to hire operatives, to pay their troops. They will have $2 million a day less right now of cash to do all of this, all aircraft returning to base safely after striking about a dozen of these economic oil targets in very remote areas of Eastern Syria -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's interesting. When we spoke with the Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, he says more bombs were actually dropped by the Saudi planes, the planes from the United Arab Emirates than the U.S. aircraft in this particular run. That's what you're hearing as well. That's pretty significant, isn't it?

STARR: It is a significant development, from the standpoint this campaign is very early in its stages. The whole military campaign against ISIS.

And you are seeing continued and growing support by Arab nations, who are out of patience with all of this, and are willing to put their bombs on ISIS targets. The campaign is going to ebb and flow. All of these bombing runs are going to look slightly different, obviously, due to aircraft availability, who's where, where the target is.

But in this case, by all accounts, the Saudis and the Emiratis stepped up and fired more than the U.S. even did. So this is a real mark in the military coalition that these countries are in it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And it's impressive that these Arab countries are willing to even talk about it. In the olden days, they wouldn't. They would cooperate quietly with the U.S., but no longer as far as the war against ISIS is concerned.

Barbara, thank you very much.

Let's get some more now on the president's call here at the United Nations for direct action against ISIS.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now.

Tell our viewers what exactly happened at the United Nations here today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm told we shouldn't expect to hear from the president on this latest air assault on ISIS later on this evening, but he basically warned ISIS earlier today that more airstrikes were coming in an address to the U.N. General Assembly, a speech he tried to use to connect with hearts and minds in the Muslim world. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Obama arrived at the United Nations not to make peace, but to expand his new war on terrorism. Chairing a session of the U.N. Security Council, the president called on other nations to stop the flow of Western foreign fighters into the ranks of ISIS and other terror groups.

OBAMA: They may try to return to their home countries to carry out deadly attacks.

ACOSTA: And he told new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to brace himself for a long battle.

OBAMA: This is not something that is going to be easy and it is not going to happen overnight.

No God condones this terror.

ACOSTA: In a tough-talking speech to the U.N. General Assembly, the president urged the world to join forces to destroy ISIS, as he warned the terror group soldiers to clear off the battlefield.

OBAMA: The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.

ACOSTA: That network of death line drew instantly drew comparisons to a term used by his predecessor.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

ACOSTA: But Mr. Obama also took aim at the root causes of violent extremism with a candid message to Muslims everywhere.

OBAMA: It is time for the world, especially in Muslim communities, to explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS. No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds.

ACOSTA: Aides say the president added a mention of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, to acknowledge the U.S. isn't perfect.

OBAMA: So, yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions.

ACOSTA: Still, the president didn't win over any adversaries. Moments after he slammed Russia for its actions in Ukraine, Moscow's delegation was caught on camera laughing. And Syria's ambassador to the U.N. accused the U.S. of siding with Arab partners that support terrorism.

BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: You cannot be a terrorist while fighting terrorists. This is why I'm saying USA needs reliable partners such as Syria, Iraq and the other secular governments in the area.


BLITZER: All right. So that was Jim Acosta reporting.

We're also getting the first witness accounts of the impact these strikes are actually having on ISIS.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is joining us now. She's along the Syrian/Turkish border.

What are you hearing over there, Arwa? What are you seeing?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, earlier we spoke to a Syrian activist who from Raqqa and he was talking about the U.S.' initial round of airstrikes that were really centered on that ISIS stronghold, describing how the morning after the airstrikes took place, he saw a convoy of ISIS fighters leaving.

He believed it was perhaps some members of their senior leadership. And then he also, though, went on to say that they came back at night and continued to terrorize the population. He said that a lot of people there had mixed emotions. On the one hand, they were very happy that finally something was being done to save them from ISIS, something they believe should have been done months ago, if not well over a year ago, when ISIS began taking over parts of Syria, but at the same time, a lot of fear, because two to three weeks ago, ISIS moved out of a lot of their headquarters and into civilian homes, only further entrenching themselves within the civilian population.

And so while there is support for this campaign against ISIS, there's a lot of fear about what the civilian cost is potentially going to be of these airstrikes, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us.

The president, by the way, has just left the United Nations, heading back to his hotel. He's had a very, very busy day here.

We're also following another gruesome execution, the beheading of a French hostage, but this murder happened hundreds of miles from ISIS territory. It wasn't carried out by ISIS forces, directly raising fear of a frightening new terror tactic.

Brian Todd has got the details.

Brian, tell our viewers what happened.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this man's beheading raises new concerns tonight about other groups or lone wolves doing ISIS' bidding.

Now, ISIS recently call on jihadists, even those not under its umbrellas, to kill Americans and other Westerners wherever they are. And with airstrikes intensifying and ISIS under more military pressure, the fear tonight is that there will be more incidents like the one in Algeria.


TODD (voice-over): A blood-curdling page out of the ISIS playbook. Militants stand behind a French hostage in Algeria. He speaks. They speak. Then they behead him. These terrorists are not under ISIS control, but they have pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi.

In the Philippines, another terror group not affiliated with ISIS still threatens to execute two German hostages if the allied bombing campaign against ISIS doesn't stop. They come on the heels of three executions by ISIS on videotape. With airstrikes intensifying, will this tactic of abductions spread? Will more Americans and others from allied nations be at risk from ISIS and its supporters?

DANE EGLI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE HOSTAGE ADVISER: There's ever reason to believe that when you start to antagonize them and increase the attacks, that they're going to do what they can. They're in survival mode, so this is a tactic which they do all the time to raise money, to influence societies, and to legitimatize their organization. So there's no reason to doubt that they're going to do everything they can.

TODD: U.S. intelligence and counterterror officials wouldn't comment when we asked if they're worried that airstrikes will lead to more hostage taking. So we asked a former FBI hostage specialist.

CHRIS VOSS, FORMER FBI HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: They have to be. They're responsible -- any responsible government official would be concerned. Is it the right thing to do? Militarily, where they're killing people has to be disrupted. So it's the right thing to do, and they're concerned.

TODD: ISIS is now threatening to behead another hostage, British aide worker Alan Henning, whose wife just received an audio message from him pleading for his life. Analysts say with ISIS coming under much more military pressure right now, abductions might be their most effective and highly visible weapon.

VOSS: Gets them tremendous publicity. These murder videos are really recruiting videos and they're really after getting more followers and they're after more funding. And that's the principal reason for this. They need to show themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

TODD: Should Americans and other Westerners be more worried now about traveling to more and more places?

EGLI: If you look at the State Department postings and you look at the briefings, the security briefings, absolutely. It increases the threat environment. It puts any American or coalition member of society at risk because you're a more valuable target.


TODD: But former FBI hostage special Chris Voss says it isn't really any different than if you're in a neighborhood you shouldn't be in any city in America or elsewhere. If you know there's a lot of criminal behavior or in this case terrorist behavior, and a lack of security in a given area, use common sense and don't go there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, what about the fact that some European allies actually pay ransoms to get their hostages released; is that causing tensions with U.S. officials?

TODD: Well, right now, Wolf, in this climate, U.S. officials are not saying that publicly. But when we have spoken with former officials who have dealt with these hostage situations, they have said it is a point of tension between U.S. officials and their European allies.

They say U.S. officials have tried to get the Europeans to not pay these really large ransoms, but there's only so much the Americans can do. It's a real point of tension right now.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more now on all the breaking news, and there have been dramatic developments today.

Joining us, the president's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes.

Ben, thanks very much for joining us.

These latest airstrikes against these oil refineries, what we heard earlier, they seem to have been successful. Do you have a new readout on how successful they may have been?

BEN RHODES, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, the military will be doing an analysis after these strikes, but we have been very precise in all of our actions in Syria.

What we have made clear is that ISIS tries to gain and hold territory. They have critical infrastructure, which is different than other terrorist groups. They have command and control targets, they have financing targets like these mobile oil refineries. And so we're able to get at their sources of recruiting, training, financing. That's what we're doing with these strikes.

BLITZER: But they already have a ton of money to begin with. They rob banks in Mosul. There are some estimates, a Jordanian minister said to us here yesterday they may have $1 billion they can use to finance terror. Is that right?

RHODES: I think that's a high estimate. That's certainly higher than anything I...


BLITZER: What are you hearing?

RHODES: Well, it's certainly in the many millions.

BLITZER: Hundreds of millions?

RHODES: I don't want to put a specific number on it, Wolf, because it's hard to track the different sources. What we do look at is the ransoms, which you discussed, which have gone into the millions.

These oil facilities, where they can sell oil on the black market, that can net them millions of dollars, and what they gain in the territory that they seize, like in Mosul. But with these airstrikes, we're able to take some of those sources of funding off the table.

BLITZER: I know the ransoms, that's a major issue. The U.S. does not pay ransom. The U.K. does not pay ransom. There have been beheadings of U.K. and U.S. citizens. Do you know how the Turks managed to get their 49 diplomats out over the past days? What did they do to convince ISIS to release them?

RHODES: We don't have specifics on the Turkish agreement, Wolf. We know they were in very active efforts to secure the release of those hostages for some time. What I will say is now that those hostages have been released, we would like to see Turkey play an active role with our coalition in taking the fight to ISIL.

BLITZER: And allow some of their bases to be used for U.S. warplanes to go in and attack ISIS in Iraq and Syria?

RHODES: No, we don't need the Turkish bases. We have plenty of resources in the region, aircraft carriers, other military assets that are prepositioned in the region.

The coalition partners that we have with us are also, of course, able to host some of these resources. But Turkey can play a role in a number of areas. That includes the foreign fighter issue that you referenced. A lot of these fighters who flow into and out of Iraq in Syria, they pass through Turkey. We want to make sure they're working with us to lock down that border as best they can, which is difficult given all the refugees that are flowing, and to apprehend people who we believe have been engaged in extremism.

BLITZER: The beheading of the French tourist in Algeria today by ISIS sympathizers, that's pretty chilling. And it raises fears. France is cooperating with the United States and going after ISIS targets in Iraq. That's what -- they're blaming the French. That's why they killed this French tourist.

How concerned should American tourists be traveling around the world?

RHODES: I would say a number of things, Wolf.

First of all, this is not a new tactic of abductions. ISIL has been trying to abduct people for years. And I think your report puts it well. The State Department puts out a warning of places that it is not wise to travel to. By any analysis, Syria would be on that list, parts of Iraq would be on that list. Of course, parts of other areas of instability in the region would be on that list.

So I think if you exercise that kind of judgment, you stay away from dangerous areas, of course, it's still safe to travel to the vast majority of the world.

BLITZER: But ISIS is warning they will take revenge against Americans. That's a serious concern.

RHODES: It's always a serious concern. We take that very seriously. And we do believe that in their absence of conducting large-scale attacks, they may try to terrorize people through methods like this abduction, these shocking beheadings.

But I think what the world has to do is reject that type of intimidation and say, we're not going to be deterred from taking action against ISIL. That's what they want us to do. President Hollande issued a very strong statement here today, saying France was not going to be deterred.

They're doing airstrikes with us in Iraq. So, we believe that the coalition that we have put together is broad and it's growing every day. In fact, the more ISIL does these types of tactics, what we have seen is the opposite of the effect they want. We have seen more countries join us, because they recognize there's no place for this group in our world today.

BLITZER: All right. Ben, I want you to stand by, because I know you helped draft the president's speech today. I want to go through some of the more controversial words that he said. You will give us some background on what he meant.

A lot more coming up. We will also take a closer look at where the U.S. and its coalition partners go from here. Much more of our conversation with Ben Rhodes, the president's deputy national security adviser, when we come back.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, a new round of airstrikes by U.S.-led coalition, targeting about a dozen ISIS-controlled oil facilities in Eastern Syria. It's an effort to cut off an estimated $2 million a day the terror group has been making from its illegal black market oil trade.

Let's bring back President Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, who is here with me at the United Nations.

Does the president actually get involved in target selection or does he stay out of it and he just gives basic orders as commander of chief to the military, do what you need to do? Or does he really get involved? For example, this decision to bomb these oil facilities in Eastern Syria, would he be involved in that kind of a decision?

RHODES: No, he wouldn't be involved in the specific target selection.

But before he authorized the strikes in Syria, he was briefed on the campaign plan by the CENTCOM commander when he was down at CENTCOM. And we did discuss the fact that we wanted to take action against not just the terrorist targets specifically, but also the infrastructure, the command and control, facilities like this that they depend upon. But the other thing that the president gave in terms of guidance is,

let's have a coalition. And so we took a little extra time to bring along our Arab partners. And it's very important, Wolf, as you said today, that you have Saudi and Emirate planes taking the majority of these strikes. It sends a message to the world that our Arab partners are united with us against this threat.

BLITZER: Yes, it's very impressive. As somebody who's covered the Middle East for a long time, usually they want to stay behind the scenes. The U.S. has an air base, for example, in Qatar. The Qataris don't even want to talk about it, but it's a very -- Al Udeid, it's a very important air base. I have been there.

But now they're talking about it, the Emiratis, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, which of course has been a very close ally, King Abdullah, for a long time.

You were involved in helping to prepare the president's speech today. The language was very, very tough. "The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force."

What was the message the president wanted to send?

RHODES: Well, he wanted to send a message to the world that a group like ISIL cannot be accepted, that the whole world has to unite to reject this type of extremism and to take action against it. We cannot be complacent in the face of it, a terrorist group like this that is seeking to advance, hold territory and terrorize people.

I'll tell you, Wolf, though, the very first speech I worked on with the president was in August 1, 2007, when he said that he would take action in Pakistan against Palestine targets if we had actionable intelligence.

BLITZER: That's when he was a senator in the United States, thinking about running for president.

RHODES: That's right.

BLITZER: But this speech -- and I'm old enough and you're old enough to remember when he was first was elected president. You helped draft that Cairo speech he delivered first year of his administration. When he went to Turkey, he delivered a speech to the Muslim -- this was a very different speech.

Some are saying he was almost lecturing the Arab and Muslim world. Here's what you need to do.

RHODES: There's a common thread between them, Wolf, which is on the specific subject of terrorism, he has always made clear that there's no safe haven, whether it was in 2007, 2009, or today.

He will take action against terrorist targets if they pose a threat to us. More broadly, though, we have to reject the extremism, the ideology, the financing, the sectarianism that creates conditions for terrorism. That has been a consistent message.

What he was saying today, though, is, enough is enough in the Middle East with any tolerance of this type of hate speech, this type of radicalizing of youth. There needs to be a concerted effort not just to take action on the ground against ISIL targets, but to drain the swamp that has allowed for them to recruit in terms of the ideology in some of these places.

BLITZER: If someone would have said to me, even an hour before the speech, the president is going to raise the issue of Ferguson, Missouri, in his address before the United Nations General Assembly, he's going to talk about what happened there, I would have said, what? What does that have to do with international affairs? But he did.

Explain the rationale, the thinking, why he brought up that incident in Ferguson, Missouri, when a white police officer shot an unarmed black man walking on the street.

RHODES: Well, Wolf, I think what the president was acknowledging is, this issue got a lot of international attention. But he was drawing a contrast on how America deals with challenges.

Every country in the world is going to have difficulties, but we have an open debate, we have a democracy, and we had a free press that was able to report from Ferguson. We're able to take actions over time to correct any mistakes, to perfect our union, as he said today. America has improved steadily over the years on issues related to civil rights, for instance, and I think what he's making a case for is democracy, that democracy allows for countries to address challenges in a better way.

And that's consistent with the message of his speech and the message of his presidency.

BLITZER: The president wanted to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he's got a new war going on, in the final two years of his administration. Did you ever think that the last two years of the administration, there would be a new war in effect that the president of the United States has initiated, a war against ISIS?

RHODES: Well, I would never be surprised that he is going to take action against terrorist targets, because that's what he's done from the beginning of the administration, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

But this is different, Wolf. We had 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan when we took office. We have removed all of those troops from Iraq. We now have roughly 1,500 to 2,000 doing advice and training. We have 30,000 in Afghanistan. That is significantly lower, of course, than the 180,000.

This is a different kind of war. It doesn't involve U.S. combat troops fighting on the ground in large numbers or at all, frankly. It involves airpower and support of partners on the ground. It's a different model. But the common thread is always with this president, we're not going to allow a safe haven for terrorists. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is he a reluctant warrior?

RHODES: Well, he's always deliberate about decisions about the use of force.

And some people have been critical. But the fact is, I think the American people don't want a president who rushes into war, or doesn't think very carefully before taking military action. As we have already seen, Wolf, in Syria and Iraq, when you do take military action, that causes a set of consequences. And you have to think those through before you act.

That's why we took the time, again, to put together a coalition, so that we're not acting by ourselves, to get an inclusive Iraqi government in place, so that the conditions are set for Iraqis to take the fight to ISIL.

BLITZER: Let's hope this new Iraqi government comes through, because the old one certainly did not.

RHODES: Well, I will say Prime Minister Abadi was very impressive in the meeting today with the president.

BLITZER: He was?

RHODES: He made clear that he's committed to an inclusive government where Sunnis and Kurds as well as Shia have a place in Iraq. We believe he's going to be a good partner.

BLITZER: Let's hope he is. Ben Rhodes, thanks very much for joining us.

RHODES: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Rhodes is the deputy national security adviser to the president of the United States.

Up next, more of the breaking news, including the growing fear of a lone extremist carrying out a revenge attack in the United States. And just how big is the threat? We will talk about that, much more. Our terrorism experts, they are all standing by.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news here at the United Nations. We're told a new -- a new round of U.S.-led air strikes on ISIS inside Syria have just wrapped up. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, launching air strikes together with the United States.

Amid all of this, there is growing concern that the ongoing assaults could prompt revenge retaliation inside the United States. Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is here with me at the United Nations, working this part of the story.

Very disturbing, worrisome information. What are you picking up?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The whole lone wolf scenario has been a longtime concern from intelligence officials. And we've learned that DHS and FBI officials have sent warnings to law enforcement agencies across the country, asking them to be on heightened alert out of concerns that homegrown violent extremists could try to retaliate and launch an attack in the homeland in the wake of strikes in Syria.


BROWN (voice-over): U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN they're tracking at least a few hundred individuals as potential homegrown violent extremists, in addition to the handful of foreign fighters they believe have returned to the U.S. from Syria.

Tonight, in the wake of strikes on terrorist targets inside Syria, federal officials are asking local police departments across the country to be on high alert for retaliatory attacks on the U.S. by radicalized individuals.

JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have to be vigilant in looking for countering attempts at violent extremism here at home.

BROWN: A nationwide joint DHS/FBI bulletin obtained by CNN says it faces an increased challenge in detecting terrorist plots underway by individuals or small groups acting quickly and independently or with only tenuous ties to foreign handlers.

The bulletin reminds law enforcement to look for potential red flags of homegrown violent extremists, such as changes in appearance and behavior, weapons training, using religion to sanction violence, and frequenting extremist websites.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN ANALYST: These are very emotionally affected people. They're probably looking at violent videos or photographs on the Internet. So you have to get there between the day when they start thinking about an act of violence and the day they might act on it. That emotion can switch on very quickly. So the time frame an investigator has to find somebody like this might be measured in a matter of weeks.

BROWN: Adding to concerns, just this week, a senior ISIS leader for the first time called for lone wolf attacks on the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Rig the roads with explosives for them, attack their bases, raid their homes, cut off their heads. Do not let them feel secure. Hunt them wherever they may be.

BROWN: Today, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited a large Somali-American community in Columbus, Ohio, working with leaders there to help counter violent extremists here at home.

JOHNSON: We've got to depend on state and local law enforcement and community organizations like this to help us establish linkages into communities where this kind of thing might occur. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And U.S. law enforcement sources I've been speaking with say they don't have any intelligence or knowledge of attacks happening here in the U.S. Again, this bulletin was sent to these law enforcement agencies as a precaution, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very important information, Pamela. Thanks very much for that.

Let's get some more now. Joining us, our CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. His new book is called "Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA." Also joining us, the Middle East analyst, Robin Wright of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Paul, how difficult is it to track a homegrown extremist acting on his or her own?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Wolf, it's very difficult, indeed, because these individuals don't have connections to overseas terror networks. So more difficult to identify. Sometimes they're just one or two guys who are operating, so difficult to know their intentions. You can look for warning signs, the sorts of things they're posting on social media. The most valuable thing you can have is someone on the inside.

My book is about a CIA double agent. This guy, Morton Storm, managed to thwart two plots in the west, because the plotters themselves told him about their intentions, confided in their plans.

But overall, it's very difficult, indeed, Wolf.

BLITZER: You anticipate, Robin, revenge retaliation along these lines in the aftermath of these U.S.-led air strikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria?

ROBIN WRIGHT, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, I don't want to get involved in fear-mongering, but I think we have to be realistic about the potential. The fact is, since the U.S. engaged in its air strikes, since we pledged we were going to attack, whether it's ISIS in Iraq or in Syria, there have been claims by these groups that they will attack us.

And I think that we are now engaged in what is a war that could play out not just in the Middle East, but whether it's by sympathizers or cells activated by foreign fighters who have returned to the United States, I think that's a possibility that we all have to face.

I do -- I don't think we're likely to see the kind of terrorism spectaculars we saw with al Qaeda. I think it is more likely that we see some of these small-scale possibilities, like we saw, whether it's the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels or the plot in Australia to nab someone off the street. These smaller scale things are in many ways more effective, because they begin frightening everyone.

BLITZER: And we did see, Paul, today, a very disturbing development in Algeria. France, together with the United States bombing ISIS targets in Iraq. An ISIS sympathizer group in Algeria picked up a French tourist and said, because France is hitting ISIS targets in Iraq, they beheaded that tourist today. That's a very, very worrisome development. And bodes a lot of problems down the road, I suspect.

CRUICKSHANK: It's very worrisome, indeed. This was an al Qaeda in North Africa splinter group that's pledged loyalty to ISIS, to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, carrying this out in revenge for French air strikes.

The concern is we'll see more of this now in the Middle East. Just a week ago, we saw a plot thwarted in Australia. ISIS sympathizers there were going to execute a random person after wrapping them in an ISIS flag. So we could also see this in the west.

BLITZER: What about that, Robin? How worried are you about what happened in Algeria today?

WRIGHT: Well, I lived in Lebanon in the 1980s, and we saw during that period, dozens, even well over 100 westerners taken hostage. And these became long, drawn-out ordeals. Several of the Americans were held several years. Some of them died in detention. This was in the era before beheadings, but it became a national trauma. And some of them held for as long as seven years.

So this is something, because it's disproportionately affected, because we all feel the emotion of these individuals, we get into their life stories, that it does have a terrible psychological toll, and it's the way that the psychology of terrorism can sometimes be as effective, even more effective than the attacks that are bloody and deadly themselves.

BLITZER: And how much cooperation, Paul, is there between ISIS and some of these al Qaeda splinter groups? Because we know core al Qaeda basically repudiated ISIS, but now we're getting word that some of these other al Qaeda groups are actually sympathizing and supporting ISIS.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, Wolf, the big concern now is that now you have U.S. strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, some of these other al Qaeda groups are going to rally around ISIS and start working with them.

There's been a lot of criticism from al Qaeda groups of ISIS, because of its brutality, because of its insubordination. But I think everybody's concerned now is that some of these groups may start cooperating with ISIS, pooling their resources against the west.

Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen has called for exactly that. They've called for al Qaeda and ISIS to join together and hit the United States, Wolf.

BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, thanks very much.

Robin Wright, thanks to you, as well.

Just ahead, the urgent diplomacy happening right now, right here at the United Nations. We're going to talk about that and more. CNN's Fareed Zakaria is standing by.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. New U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria. The United States, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, all taking part. U.S. officials say the targets were ISIS oil facilities. It comes as President Obama urges the United States to take direct action against ISIS.

Let's find out how his tough message is being received by his colleagues here at United Nations on the world stage. Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is joining us.

So, what's been the reaction, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's wide agreement, Wolf, that the president struck the right tone. In the last few weeks, Secretary Kerry in the region, in the last few days, talking with leaders, told U.S. allies that the U.S. wants to put past that criticism that the U.S. has not done enough behind them. They want more engagement.

And what more symbolism than the fact that this is a worldwide threat than President Hollande of France taking the stage minutes after that Frenchman was beheaded. So, I think leaders now, they want to heed the call, especially in the Arab world, they really feel that they need to unite. That this is the time to take a stand, not just on the military front or on the fighter's front or on funding front, but also trying to rectify this -- combat this narrative of ISIS that's really been bastardizing Islam.

But, Wolf, they want this to be a wider campaign. Not just about ISIS, yes, that's the imminent threat. But they're saying, if you don't deal with the Sinai in Egypt, tor the militants that are in control of Libya, or in Yemen today, the Houthi rebels that have taken over the capital, you'll have another is in six months. So they really want going forward this to be a much wider campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know that five Arab states have played a key role in the first two rounds of U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, Elise. Who else is going to take part, militarily?

LABOTT: Well, Wolf, I think there was a real decision on the part of this administration to give this an Arab face for those first few rounds. And that's why they really reached out to those Arab partners. But I think as this goes on, and the president said it was going to be a protracted campaign, you're going to see more Western nations. Australia has said it's willing to contribute. The Dutch today said they're willing to contribute.

And I think you're also -- the British parliament is debating right now what their contribution will be. And U.S. officials say, Turkey has not done anything yet, but wait for Turkey. They are going to have a very robust role. And we have to look now, Wolf, after the beheading of this French citizen, what the French role will be. So, I think as this goes on, this is going to be a much more global campaign, with those first few rounds, the U.S. definitely wanted everyone to see that the Arabs were taking control of the future of their region, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Elise, I want you to stand by.

Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked the former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, about this new U.S.-led war against ISIS. Watch this.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We know that the U.S. is currently bombing targets in Syria. We know that that bombing campaign is likely to continue for several days. The question is, do you think this is the right move, and is it the right timing?

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Sanjay, I think the president gave a very clear explanation and robust defense of the actions that he has ordered with respect to the terrorists in Iraq and Syria. Certainly, the support that has been offered by Arab nations, as well as others, the first air strikes included, as you know, planes from Arab nations in the region, demonstrates that this is a recognized international threat.

And clearly, the president has said, no American soldiers are going to be involved, but we do have unique capabilities that we are using to give time to the Iraqi government, to other governments, to put together the kind of force that is going to be necessary to take on, to degrade, and to defeat these groups.


BLITZER: By the way, you can see Sanjay's full interview with the former secretary of state on "SANJAY GUPTA, M.D." Saturday afternoon 4:30 p.m. Eastern, again Sunday morning, 7:30 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent, is still with us. Elise Labott is with us as well.

So, the Clintons, both Clintons, they're not fully on board with the president. I guess we shouldn't be all that surprised.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We shouldn't be that surprised, Wolf, but the context is important. Remember, earlier this summer, Hillary Clinton said that don't do stupid stuff was not an organizing principle, and there was all this talk about how she had once pushed the president to try to get those rebels in Syria armed, and that the president wasn't really in favor of that policy, didn't think it would make a difference, and now you see him sort of moving in Hillary Clinton's direction.

And, Wolf, keep in mind, if she's elected president, this is a war that President Obama would be handing over to her, theoretically speaking. When you asked Ben Rhodes earlier today, is this what the president thought he would be doing the last two years of being president, and he said, well, it's a different kind of war. But it's certainly a war that will likely last until the next administration.

BLITZER: Yes, it's certainly not going to be over anytime soon. It's only just beginning. In fact, Elise, the president is making a major effort to make sure he's got all of the allies on board. And it's been pretty impressive, I must say, so far, when you see all these Arab countries, not only cooperating, but being willing to talk about it publicly. That normally doesn't necessarily happen.

LABOTT: It's really groundbreaking, wolf. And I think it's because of this threat by ISIS. No nation in the region right now feels that it's immune. A lot of borders across some of these nations -- in Jordan, in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia have changed hands a few times, very quickly, but still nonetheless, there is a real threat out there.

And I think that message by the administration last week by Secretary Kerry in the region, and they've seen, obviously, this lightning advance by ISIS that I think took them all by surprise, they have woken up to the fact that this is a real threat.

But I must say, Wolf, these Arab nations have been telling the administration for a long time that this extremist threat was growing. And now, they are glad that the administration is on board and they want to encourage that and they want to show that they can be equal partners, Wolf.

BLITZER: Elise Labott, thanks very much. Jim Acosta, thanks to you as well.

Up next, we're going inside the latest air strikes against ISIS in Syria, with a closer look at the targets. More of the breaking news, straight ahead.


BLITZER: Let's quickly go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's taking a closer look at these latest U.S.-led air strikes.

What are you seeing, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The strikes from a couple days ago, the big strikes in Syria, went all through here and then overnight, we saw strikes that went into these areas. The latest ones we're talking about right now, Wolf, are focused in this area, in the oil-producing areas here.

There is no indication that at this point, they're looking at the big oil facilities in places like Raqqa, which is the town of about a quarter million people. They do have oil production there on a bigger scale.

But instead, it's out here, around places like Marqada (ph), lots of open area, these sort of portable, smaller refinery units. The real key here, Wolf, is these are easily struck targets by precision weapons because they're easily seen, and this countryside out there, it is a way at getting at the funding behind ISIS, Wolf, because this organization is bringing in maybe around $2 million a day in black market oil.

Cut that off, and you cut off one of the keys to this being one of the best funded terrorist organizations in history -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there is, obviously, a lot of targets -- potential targets in Syria that the U.S. and its coalition partners, Tom, that can go after these ISIS targets, ISIS controls a whole lot of land in Syria, as well as neighboring Iraq, including --

FOREMAN: That's true.

BLITZER: -- some oil facilities in Iraq. A lot of potential targets there, as well, if they want to undermine ISIS' financial capabilities to recruit and support terrorism.

FOREMAN: There really are, Wolf. And if you look at this, just look at the frequency of bombings since late in July, look at how much they have been pounding away in all this time. This is early August, late July in here. Look at the pounding away, pounding away, pounding away.

But one thing I want to note here, very quickly, Wolf, if you look at the map of what ISIS was controlling here in late July, the red is what they control, yellow is where they have influence, bring it forward to right now. Watch very closely in here. Almost no change in the territory they control.

There are strategic advances, Wolf, but very little change in the territory they control. That may be one reason they're now really turning the pressure on the oil, because now they have to attack at a different level. Not just about trying to push them out of territory where it's hard to get at them, but cutting off the economic arm because that could make it really weaken ISIS and make it harder for them to do all the things they must do to keep holding that territory -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, good report. Thanks very much.

That's all the time I have today. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer at the United Nations.

Stay with CNN for all the late breaking news. The news continues right now on CNN.