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NTSB Joining Investigation of Fiery Train Crash; Is Mideast Ally Funding Terrorists?; Funding Fight Threatens Homeland Security Shutdown; New Questions Raised about Ally's Aid to ISIS; Activists: ISIS Kidnaps Dozens of Christians

Aired February 24, 2015 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, rail disaster. A major commuter train slams into a truck, raising a massive fireball and leaving dozens hurt. It's the latest in a series of train crashes. Why are they still happening?

Ally or terror bank? As the president meets with the emir of Qatar, there are new questions tonight on whether a key U.S. ally secretly is funding some of those terror groups.

BLITZER: Out of cash. The people who protect U.S. airports and borders may be about to lose their paychecks, thanks to Congressional gridlock. Will they still show up for work?

And frozen. Still covered in ice, it's now bracing for a dangerous now storm that 48 million people could soon be facing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Breaking now. Experts from the National Transportation Safety Board, they're joining investigators at the scene of a fiery commuter train collision near Los Angeles. This was the scene moments after the train hit a produce truck. The truck driver says he turned onto the tracks rather than onto a nearby highway. But he got out. The train couldn't stop in time.

Five cars derailed, three coming to rest on their sides. Twenty-eight people on the train are hurt, four of them critically. Officials say special technology prevented the accident from being far worse.

We'll speak live with the former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman. And our correspondents and analysts, they're all standing by, as well as our newsmakers, to follow all the news that's breaking right now.

Let's begin with our national correspondent Kyung Lah. She's at the scene of the accident near Oxnard, California.

Kyung, what's the latest you're hearing on the scene about this investigation?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the investigation is still ongoing. They're trying to talk to the witnesses, and there were quite a few of them, because the explosion here, Wolf, was so loud. This fireball in the sky lit up the predawn hours.

What happened here began with driver confusion. The driver of a produce truck got confused and thought that this railway was actually a roadway. And it went -- he turned onto the tracks, driving down those tracks. The oncoming train unable to hit the brakes in time to come to a full stop; 49 people aboard who were just heading to work, they were thrown about this train as three railcars basically are just lying on their sides like toys. There are a number of injuries. Three people remain critical.

And as far as the driver, you mentioned, Wolf, that he was able to get out of his vehicle. But he did walk away, about one to two miles away, Wolf. He was found wandering, completely confused. But he is cooperating, we are told, with investigators -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the people who are injured, you say critically injured, they're in intensive care at local hospitals? Is that right?

LAH: Yes. Three of them are. And they are fighting for their lives, we are told. One of them is the conductor, who did hit the emergency brake. He tried to stop the vehicle, simply could not stop in time. We are told that this rail -- rail -- that the train was traveling about 70 miles an hour. He just didn't have time.

Other people had broken bones, as well as head trauma. But it's really incredible, Wolf, that this could have been far worse, had this new technology that you referenced not been in place.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah, on the scene for us in Oxnard, California, thank you.

Today's accident in California comes just three weeks after the deadly commuter train wreck in New York, yet another collision at a rail crossing. Brian Todd has been looking into the persistent and deadly problems that we're all facing right now on the rails. What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A persistent problem, Wolf, even though, to many, it would seem to be an easy hazard to avoid.

At most intersections between train tracks and roads you've got barriers; you've got bells, warning lights. But tonight, safety experts are telling us these so-called highway-grade crossings are deceptively dangerous.


TODD (voice-over): As crash investigators arrive on the scene of another accident between a train and a motor vehicle, new concerns tonight about the safety of rail crossings. In California it was the truck driver, officials say, who took an inexplicable wrong turn.

ASSISTANT CHIEF JASON BENTES, OXNARD, CALIFORNIA, POLICE: Rather than make the right turn onto westbound Fifth Street, it actually turned onto the railroad tracks.

TODD: The truck driver was unhurt, and safety experts say was fortunate to have gotten away from the onrushing train.

LIBBY RECTOR SNIPE, OPERATION LIFESAVER: The power of the train impacting a vehicle is the same as a car crushing a soda can.

TODD: Libby Rector Snipe of the rail safety group Operation Lifesaver says so-called highway grade crossings, where roadways cross railroad tracks at the same level, are often lethal intersections. Just this month, a Metro-North train collided with an SUV outside New York City, killing six people.

The government says fatalities at railroad crossings have decreased about 75 percent in the U.S. since the 1970s. But safety experts say there are still about 2,000 incidents a year at those crossings. More than 200 people were killed at those intersections last year. And a train hits a person or a vehicle every three hours in the U.S. Why?

SNIPE: We think drivers are very distracted in their cars. Crossings like this, I think when the drivers approach, sometimes drivers are in a hurry in this society today. People feel very rushed, and they think they can beat a train.

TODD: Other factors? Rector Snipe says there aren't standard barriers or signals at every crossing. Trains are quieter and faster than they were. And vehicle drivers make tragic miscalculations.

(on camera): What don't people understand about the speed of trains, how long it takes them to stop?

SNIPE: If a train is coming this way, it can take an average train up to a mile to stop. That's the length of 18 football fields. So if a train sees something on the tracks, it can't necessarily stop in time.

TODD: Rector Snipe says if you're stuck on a track, some steps are obvious. Try to somehow get the vehicle off the track. If you can't, exit the vehicle and run.


TODD: Now, what is not so obvious, Libby Rector Snipe says, if you're stuck at a place like this -- say this is the motor vehicle here -- and you have to run away from your vehicle and a train is coming this way, try to run toward the oncoming train, but do it at a 45-degree angle so that you're running away from the track. That way you can avoid the collision coming this way and the debris that is all going to be coming this way. If you try to run this way, Wolf, you're in trouble. You've got to run toward it but at a 45-degree angle.

BLITZER: And Brian, drivers can actually alert the railroad that's something wrong, right?

TODD: That's right. All crossings, at least most of them, have an emergency notification system, a sign with a telephone number on it where vehicle drivers who are stuck can run to the sign, call that number. That's one of the signs there. If you want to know what it looks like. That, if you make that call, that's going to alert the railroad that there is something wrong with the tracks. If there is enough time, they could possibly stop the train. Often, as we know, Wolf, there isn't enough time, but sometimes there is.

BLITZER: Very useful information. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now. Joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former NTSB, National Transportation Safety Board, chair, Deborah Hersman.

Deborah, thanks very much for joining us. You're now the president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

The NTSB, as you know, this is standard operating procedure. They've now sent what's called a go team to the site of the crash. What are they going to be looking for?

DEBORAH HERSMAN, FORMER NTSB CHAIR: Well, they're going to be looking first to really gather up any perishable evidence. They're going to be looking to interview any witnesses and make sure that they've really got that scene locked down. They want to capture any video or any black box type of recorders right away.

BLITZER: Are trains secure right now? Because we're seen these accidents, these train derailments aplenty in the last several weeks.

HERSMAN: You know, there was a discussion earlier: 2,000 of these events occur every year. And so what we see is that there are several hundred fatalities, 250 fatalities, across the U.S. and many more injuries.

What we saw in New York three weeks ago and what we saw here in California are great examples of what we don't want to see happen. And so we've got to do better, certainly, as a society. And for California, they lead the nation when it comes to fatalities at grade crossings.

BLITZER: We know the driver in this particular case was driving a produce truck. But here's what worries a lot of experts, especially in this day of terror. What if that truck had been loaded with explosives? How do you deal with that?

HERSMAN: You know, we've seen so many times that these events actually result in something much more catastrophic than expected. Certainly, we often see the driver of the car, the driver of the truck being injured. But three weeks ago, we actually saw more fatalities on the train.

And I think those really demonstrate to us, just in a single incident, how catastrophic the outcome could be. Certainly, if there was someone who was intending or purposeful in their efforts, it could be even worse.

BLITZER: Because you know, this is the third train derailment this month alone. You had that Metro-North disaster in Westchester outside of New York City, the crude oil carrier derailment in West Virginia, which was awful. I guess the bottom line question is, is there a bigger problem that we're facing here in the United States with trains? HERSMAN: You know, I think there is a longstanding issue when it

comes to grade crossing safety. And so when we look at how to make improvements, it has to do with not just education of the driving population but also improved technology and improved devices at these grade crossings. And so a lot of work has been done.

But certainly this type of situation is going to make people, certainly in this busy corridor in California, question the need of whether or not they need to do further investment to grade separate that road and the grade crossing with the train.

BLITZER: Explain what you mean by grade crossings.

HERSMAN: Sure. There are over 200,000 at-grade intersections. And that's where the road and the train tracks are going to cross each other. And so there are over 200,000 of these across the U.S.

About half of the accidents that occur, about half of the collisions, 50 percent of them that involve fatalities, actually occur at active grade crossings. And so some crossings only have a sign, that cross buck to tell you there's a train. And the drivers are responsible for stopping, looking and listening.

But others have active devices. They have bells. They have gates. They have lights that flash. But we see 50 percent of the fatalities still occurring at those actively-protected grade crossings.

And so it's really important for drivers not only to observe those crossings but not try to beat the train. Don't be impatient, and certainly don't be distracted when you're at a grade crossing so you miss hearing those bells and you miss seeing the lights and those gates coming down.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people think they're faster than the train, and they try to zip across the tracks when, unfortunately, as you point out, sometimes it's too late: too late for them, too late for the train.

So in this particular case, it was 5:30 a.m. local time. A produce truck driver makes a wrong turn -- a wrong turn, drives into this area. Obviously, eventually sees this train coming and starts running away. So how do you deal with this? What's the most important lesson we should learn from what happened this morning outside of Los Angeles?

HERSMAN: Well, I think it certainly is about being aware of your surroundings and making sure that, particularly in dark nighttime conditions, that you are very cautious if you're not familiar with the area; making sure you're well rested so you are not fatigued. And not distracted.

And so once -- once you get onto those tracks and, certainly, with certain kind of trucks in certain situations, if you get stuck on those tracks, there's very little that can be done. And so it's about making sure you know where you are and not getting into that situation in the first place. BLITZER: That's good advice. Deborah Hersman, I want you to stand

by. We're going to have much more on this story coming up. I want to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: On a day when activists reported the abduction of dozens of Christians by ISIS, President Obama welcomed the leader of a crucial Middle East ally which provides American forces with a launching point for attacks against ISIS.

But there are also new questions on whether that ally secretly supports some terrorists. Our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski has been looking into this story for us.

What are you learning, Michelle?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: OK, well, in the fight against ISIS, the White House keeps emphasizing the importance of these regional Arab partnerships, but those relationships can be complicated, to say the least.

So interesting today to see the president sit down with the emir of Qatar, which has been criticized for being one of the top sources of private funding for ISIS and other terror groups.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): As Syria's civil war rages on, ISIS this morning kidnaps some 90 Christians from northeastern towns, according to a human rights group, spreading its reach while Kurdish and Syrian fighters on the ground tried to battle it back. Secretary of State John Kerry today defended the U.S. response.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we have here is a criminal anarchy that we are fighting that is trying to claim legitimacy under religion, and a whole bunch of people are fighting back against that.

KOSINSKI: At the White House, President Obama welcomed the emir of Qatar.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a significant meeting of the minds. We are both committed to making sure that ISIL is defeated.

KOSINSKI: Well, committed and meeting of the minds isn't exactly a view shared by everyone. According to reports, Qatar is now the biggest source of private funding for ISIS. At the same time that it's home to a key U.S. air base for launching airstrikes against the terrorists.

Qatar's state-endorsed main mosque has hosted a study string of clerics preaching hate, including prayers to destroy all Jews. When Egypt started bombing ISIS in Libya this month, Qatar opposed it.

Accurate numbers are hard to come by on how much money flows from wealthy donors to ISIS, thought to be significant, though, only part of ISIS's total daily haul of around $1 million.

(on camera): Do you acknowledge that Qatar has been a significant source of especially private donations to ISIS and other terrorist groups?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Michelle, what we acknowledge is that there are areas where we disagree with the Qataris, but more often we find that our interests overlap.

KOSINSKI: So can you say whether pressure is on them now to stop that financing?

EARNEST: We do believe there's more that we can do and more that we can do together to shut down the financing of terror operations around the -- around the globe.


KOSINSKI: Now, other U.S. allies in this fight, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, have also been accused of not doing enough to crack down on these private forces of funding.

The White House says that it continues to work closely with Qatar on this, that Qatar has been, quote, an effective partner. And as the president said to CNN in an interview, sometimes you have to balance these issues with the immediate fight at hand, Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thank you.

Meanwhile, new terror threats are emerging every single day. But thanks to partisan gridlock up on Capitol Hill, the Department of Homeland Security, which is supposed to protect all of us, is due to run out of funds in less than four days. Are we looking at a potentially very dangerous shutdown? Let's bring in our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She has the very latest -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the chances of that diminished greatly just in the past couple of hours, because the Senate Republican leader effectively caved to what Democrats have been demanding: a clean vote on the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

But going from that concession to votes in the Senate and the House could take time and, as you said, just four days left until it runs out of money.


BASH (voice-over): Unless Congress acts, the TSA, which keeps airports safe, the Coast Guard, which keeps America's waters safe, and the Secret Service which keeps the president safe, would lose funding.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MINORITY WHIP: Let the Department of Homeland Security do its job for America, for Americans.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Democrats continue to try to protect funding for the president's unconstitutional actions.

BASH: Tonight Senate Republicans backed off a bit, saying they would fund homeland security as Democrats demanded, as long as they also vote to end the president's plan giving legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: An opportunity to express their disapproval of what the president did in November.

BASH: But Democrats want assurances House Republicans will fully fund homeland security.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: The burden is on the Republicans. What they're doing is wrong for the country, and they not only will be blamed, they should be blamed for what's going on.

BASH: If the department does shut down, it would mean some 30,000 furloughs. But the vast majority of workers, from TSA to Border Patrol to Secret Service agents, would still be required to work, in most cases without pay.

(on camera): They would have to come to work. So is it really going to be that big of a deal to most of your agency to -- when it comes to the risk to this country?

JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, it is that big of a deal. Let's not forget the Department of Homeland Security interfaces with the American public more than any other department of our government. At airports, at ports.

BASH (voice-over): This is the first big leadership test for Republicans since taking control of Congress, proving they can govern yet still embracing conservatives who want to challenge the president's policies. And it's a test for freshmen Republicans like Senator Mike Rounds, who campaigned on ending Washington dysfunction.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: There's a difference between having a dysfunction in which the system doesn't work and a case of where you have disagreements among members of the United States Senate. Having disagreements...

BASH: Which one is this?

ROUNDS: This is one where we have a disagreement among members of the United States Senate.

BASH: It's pretty dysfunctional to be on the brink of the Homeland Security Department shutting down.

ROUNDS: Except that we're not there right now. They were smart enough to extend it before.


BASH: And it looks like that could happen again. But if you call it dysfunction or disagreement, whatever you call it,

Wolf, Senate Republican leaders at this hour appear to have chosen governing over appealing to their conservative base. And as you can imagine, many in that base who wanted to keep the fight on to push ahead on getting rid of this executive order on immigration are not happy.

We're still waiting to hear from Ted Cruz, who could slow things down in the Senate. And then, of course, we have to see what's going to happen in the House. The House speaker has not yet agreed to take up this clean bill, which would keep that department running.

BLITZER: And this clean bill, as you say, when is that vote expected in the Senate?

BASH: To be determined. A lot of it depends, as I said, on whether or not some Republicans, maybe even some Democrats but more likely Republicans, will slow it down. It could be as soon as tomorrow. It could be deadline day, Friday. And then again, that's the Senate.

House Republicans are going to have to go through their own machinations as we've seen many times before to try to convince their -- many in their rank and file that this is the right thing to do, to keep this department running, despite having to make concessions on some of their political principles.

BLITZER: Not a done deal yet. All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Well, let's find out what at least one Republican member of the House of Representatives is going to do. Joining us, Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Yes, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: If the Senate passes what's called this clean bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security and not allow it to at least even partially shut down, it comes to a vote in the House of Representatives, will you vote in favor or against?

KINZINGER: Yes, I'll vote in favor. And I hope it gets to come over.

I mean, we've been saying from the beginning, and the speaker has said, "Look, the House worked its will. We passed this defunding of the executive order." There's questions about how effective that would be, being as how a lot of these are funded by revenue.

But now we have to see what the Senate can do. Can the Senate pass a clean appropriations bill? Are they going to be able to do whatever?

So when the Senate passes what they pass, it will come to the House. And I think at that point we have a decision to make. I hope that decision is to govern, is to continue to protect our country.

And you know, the other thing is, just a couple of weeks ago, the court basically arrested this issue and said, "Now we will determine if this is, in fact, constitutional." So you know, thank you. That's where the fight is.

BLITZER: You have a clear out now, since the whole thing is on hold as the judicial process goes forward. This federal judge in Texas said, "You can't, Mr. President, go ahead and implement what you wanted to do by executive order, as far as these undocumented immigrants are concerned." So it's not going to happen, at least in the short term, in any case, until it plays out in the courts.

KINZINGER: Yes. I think that's really where the fight is. I can say it's unconstitutional as much as I want, and I really believe it is, but I'm not the court. I'm not the one that gets to determine that one.

And you can understand from a Republican perspective how members of Congress and how our base feels like the president has gone around the Constitution, declared something that should be done through the congressional process. And it's very frustrating.

BLITZER: My working assumption is it will pass, this clean bill; will pass the Senate, maybe tomorrow, maybe Thursday. It will come to the House. The speaker, John Boehner, will allow it to come up for a vote. All the Democrats virtually will support it; a lot of Republicans will support it. It will pass. The Department of Homeland Security will not be forced to shut down. Agreed?

KINZINGER: Well, I can't speak on behalf of the speaker. But I would assume that, if the Senate passes this, the speaker has always said, "Let's see what the Senate can do, and then we'll make a decision." If the Senate shows this is what they can do, I think we've made it clear -- at least I've made it clear that shutting down the government is not the answer and especially at a time where we have such a heightened terror threat against our people.

BLITZER: All right. I want you to stand by. We have a lot more to talk about. You're speaking about a heightened time of terror. We've got details. I want you to weigh in.

Adam Kinzinger, the Republican congressman from Illinois, will be with us when we return.


BLITZER: We're back with the Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, I want to play a clip. This is the president of the United States meeting in the Oval Office today with the visiting emir of Qatar, a critically important country in that part of the world. Listen to this.


OBAMA: Qatar is a strong partner in our coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, and I express my appreciation to his highness for the work that they've done in coordinating with other members of this coalition. We are both committed to making sure that ISIL is defeated.


BLITZER: As you know, it's a strained relationship to a certain degree that the United States has with Qatar. There are two military bases there: the Al Udeid Air Base, Camp As Sayliyah, maybe 8,000 or 9,000 American troops always there.

But at the same time the U.S. officials suspect Qatar is still funneling money to terrorist groups. You're on the inside. What do you know about this?

KINZINGER: This is -- this is the whole quandary of the Middle East. Qatar has said, actually to some extent publicly, that they, in essence, play all sides of the aisle; because they're a small country and they feel like they need to hedge for protection from everywhere. And to some extent, that's true.

Now, you may see private donations coming out of Qatar. And, you know, we can see even in whatever country there may be folks that privately support whatever cause they want to support.

But there's no doubt Qatar can do more to ratchet that down. I think it's time for them, frankly, to choose sides. This isn't an area, and this isn't a battle where you can, I think, play both sides anymore. I mean, either you're with ISIS or you're 100 percent committed against them. And if you're committed to be against them, you need to join the coalition in a very strong way that's committed to destroying them.

Qatar has done some great things. We have our military bases there, where I spent a little bit of time, but they need to do more. I think this is essential that the United States pin them down and say, you've got to pick sides.

BLITZER: I'm sure that's what the president discussed with the emir in the Oval Office today.

Very disturbing development, 90 Christians in Syria were abducted by ISIS, by these ISIS terrorists, including children and women. We don't know what's happened to these people, but it's -- what do they want with these Christians? Why are they going after these Christians in Syria?

KINZINGER: Well, there's multiple reasons. No. 1, they want to horrify the west. No. 2, they maybe can get a ransom from it. They think that they can make money from it.

But No. 3, there's a legitimate belief that, if you're a Christian, you are deserving to be kidnapped and ultimately executed. That's what these radicals believe. And so we have so recognize that. We have to understand it. And I think what we're going to see, unfortunately, is for the next few years, until we have a very solid policy in Syria, which I have not heard articulated from the administration, this is going to continue.

I would not want to be a Christian in Syria right now, you know, facing both the brutality of the Bashar al-Assad regime and the brutality of ISIS. Tough position to be in.

BLITZER: It's not easy being a Christian in Iraq either. A lot of Christians have been forced to flee Iraq right now, given the anti- Christian attitude there, and in other parts of the Middle East, as well.

KINZINGER: Well, this is where we really ought to give a shout-out to the Kurds. I was in Kurdistan, you know, five months ago. And they have millions of displaced people in their region. You know, not an overly wealthy region, but they've taken in Christians, Muslims, everybody and said, basically, "Look, if you're a human, you're worthy of life. You're worthy to exist."

And so in many cases if you go to Erbil and you go to the Kurdistan region, they shelter these folks. And you see, you know, Kurdish Peshmerga forces fighting to defend Christians. And you know, you look at Egypt, for instance, you see help Egypt fighting to defend their Christians. They're examples of some positive stuff out there that we really ought to telegraph to the rest of the world.

BLITZER: So you served in Afghanistan. You served in Iraq. I want to share with you some information our Barbara Starr is getting from the Defense Department.

The U.S. is now sending over to the Iraqi military, getting ready presumably for some sort of advance against the ISIS occupation of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, shipments including 10,000 M- 16 rifles, 10,000 M-68 close combat optical scopes, 23,000 ammunition magazines. A lot of other military equipment, as well.

Initially, it's going to cost about $17 million. Couple of questions. The U.S. taxpayers are paying for this. Iraq is a major oil-exporting country, a member of OPEC. Why are American taxpayers paying for all this military stuff that's being sent over to the Iraqi army? Why aren't the Iraqis reimbursing the United States?

KINZINGER: Well, look, I'd love to see a situation where they do. Keep in mind also we're probably competing with the Iranians, who are happy to give their weapons for free to Iraq, but it comes with a lot of strings. So it's in our interest to ensure that the Iraqis don't side with the Iranians in this fight. Too, keep in mind oil prices worldwide are down significantly, so the Iraqi budget actually has a pretty significant hole in it.

BLITZER: Yes. I think they've got enough money to pay for this kind of weaponry.

But the other issue is maybe even more worrisome, because if you take a look at all the other military hardware the U.S. left behind when it left Iraq, what did the Iraqi military do when a few thousand ISIS terrorists came in, took over Mosul? They ran away. They left all this sophisticated U.S. military equipment. ISIS now has all this stuff. They're killing people with U.S. equipment.

And the concern is all this new stuff the U.S. is handing over to the Iraqi military, who knows if the Iraqi military is going to really show up or abandon the positions once there's a real fight?

KINZINGER: Yes, I think that's a legitimate concern. But I think from the United States' perspective, when the Iraqi army melted away, probably the rank-and-file fighter was ready to fight. They were probably pretty good.

The problem is the leadership, which was infused with these political leaders instead of professional leaders, melted away. And as a soldier, if you see your leadership run away, you're going to run away, too. And they abandoned the equipment.

Unfortunately, we have a choice. Use the Iraqi military -- either totally disengage in the Middle East, use the Iraqi military, or use 100,000 American troops. I don't think the American people are ready for that.

BLITZER: There are Kurdish troops, the Peshmerga. But the U.S. doesn't even provide weapons directly to them. It's got to go through the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

The Kurds, as you know, and you've been there, and I've known Kurds over the years, they're not very happy about that.

KINZINGER: No. And we absolutely should direct arm them. But keep in mind today they're defending a 1,000-kilometer border with ISIS with a quarter of a million troops. That's the equivalent of Washington, D.C., to Chicago, Illinois. So they do need help.

BLITZER: I wish the Iraqi military will show up. I'm still not convinced that they will. But let's hope that they do. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

KINZINGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Adam Kinzinger joining us.

Up next, a disturbing mystery. Who's behind the unexplained drones buzzing popular tourist sites? Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're getting chilling new details on the abduction of dozens of Christians by ISIS. And as terror threats pop up daily, a funding fight threatens to shut down the Department of Homeland Security.

Let's bring in our national security commentator, Mike Rogers, the former Republican Congressman. He served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. We're also joined by former congresswoman Jane Harman. She was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She's now president and CEO of the Wilson Center here in Washington. These U.S.-led coalition air strikes against ISIS, it certainly hasn't

curbed their terror appetite, at least any indication I've seen. Have you?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: No. And if you listen to the president's words, they're crafted pretty carefully about stopping their advance. And so what that means is that we haven't degraded their capabilities, both inside Syria and Iraq.

BLITZER: Why are they going after Christians right now?

ROGERS: For the very reason we're talking about it right now. This is huge P.R. value for them. And it invokes fear. And what the one thing that they want is they want the western civilized nations to have that feeling of fear and hopelessness. That's why they're taking Christians, having very public -- I fear for the lives of the Christian that's they have. I have a feeling it will be very public and very brutal.

BLITZER: Because these aren't, Jane Harman, these aren't just Christian men. These are women and children, too, who have been abducted, 90 Christians abducted in Syria.

JANE HARMAN, PRESIDENT, WILSON CENTER: Their claim is their, quote, "religious beliefs" don't tolerate people who are other than their form of Muslim.

There's also P.R. value in their targeting non-Muslims, because that's a message to the west that they're targeting the west. That obviously is in their sights.

BLITZER: You know, what's worrisome also in the midst of all these terror threats, there's this fight now whether or not the Department of Homeland Security should be funded. You're -- you just left Congress. You're probably pretty happy you're not there anymore. But how do you explain this? Because that seems like a no-brainer. Don't even fool around with funding the Department of Homeland Security.

ROGERS: I say I miss the clowns but not the circus. And what we have here, I think, is exactly that. Once the court decided they were going to take that position of stopping the...

BLITZER: The federal judge in Texas.

ROGERS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: He put all that executive order that the president put forward on hold.

ROGERS: And I thought that was a great opportunity for the House to say, "Great. Now the court has it." That was their position all along. Their -- both Republican conferences were saying that's what they wanted to happen. It did happen. I think they should go ahead and fund it and follow the court.

BLITZER: They will fund it by Friday night, right? HARMAN: I think they will fund it. I think it makes no sense not to.

The question is for how long? The latest rumors are that Mitch McConnell will put a continuing resolution on the floor through this fiscal year, that's September. That's how long the rest of the government is funded.

BLITZER: But that happens a lot. These CRs that keep the government running. That's not unusual.

HARMAN: Well, no. But the rest of the government is actually has an authorized budget. This is less good. It prevents the department from doing things like stronger border enforcement on the southern border, which many Republicans really want to have and they can't fund it. It also demoralizes the department if the CRs are very short. So hopefully that won't happen again. What we need is everyone bringing his or her A-game to mall security and U.S. security.

BLITZER: Is this al-Shabaab threat to go after the Mall of America in Minnesota, is that real or is that just publicity on their part?

ROGERS: Hyperventilating here, too. I think we well -- well overreacted to that. They have the aspiration, meaning they want to do it. They would have loved to inspire someone to do it. But they really haven't shown any capability.

BLITZER: But they can inspire somebody --

HARMAN: Yes, they can.

BLITZER: In Minneapolis/St. Paul who watches their Web sites. They're all pretty sophisticated in social media.

HARMAN: That's true.

BLITZER: To go out and do something.

HARMAN: But I've been to the Mall of the America. It's the largest mall on the planet earth, I think, or maybe any other planet. It has its own climate. It also has its own security force and it's very well prepared as is the Department of Homeland Security against threats. But there's no such thing, as Mike Rogers, my brother in crime, will tell you there's no such thing as 100 percent security. And some clown can get in somewhere where we are weaker and attack us.

BLITZER: What do you make of these mysterious drones now flying over Paris, over the Eiffel Tower, over the U.S. embassy. The French, they don't know what's going on. Do you what's going on?

ROGERS: No. And I don't think the French do either. And I think this is the real risk with the explosion of these commercial drones. You saw it at the White House. This is going to change security posture in places like the White House. It's certainly going to change the security posture at high-profile --

BLITZER: There's so easily accessible, these drones.


BLITZER: And comes on the heels of what happened in Paris a month ago with that attack on the magazine and then that kosher supermarket.

HARMAN: I'm very, very worried about this. Total erosion of privacy. I mean, they can dwell over our backyards, so they can maybe in some future time listen to our conversations in our homes.

I think it was a bad move for the FAA to allow our air space to be open to unregulated drones.

BLITZER: You agree?

ROGERS: I -- we're going to have to look at this very seriously. And -- remember, even a drone that gets across on a highway, if it's going five miles an hour and you're going 50 miles per hour, somebody is going to end up dead.

BLITZER: We remember a few weeks ago a drone actually landed on the White House.

HARMAN: Right.

BLITZER: You know, that's pretty worrisome when you think about what's going on.

We've got to leave it there, guys. Don't go too far away.

Coming up, roads across the Deep South become an icy mess. And just as the snow and ice storm moves out, another major storm now taking aim. Stand by for the latest forecast.

And right at the top of the hour, we have new details from investigators on the scene of today's fiery commuter train crash just outside Los Angeles.


BLITZER: Breaking now, 48 million people from Texas to the Carolinas, they're in the bull's eye for a dangerous new winter storm. It's the last thing they need.

A departing storm left icy roads across the Deep South this morning causing accidents and major slowdowns.

Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray is over at the CNN Severe Weather Center. She's monitoring the latest forecast.

What do you see over there, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, we are still seeing some snow an even icy conditions across portions of North Carolina. The tail end of this one, though, pushing out. We had a lot of accidents across the North Carolina earlier today. We also had quite a bit of snow in downtown Raleigh. This will move out in the next couple of hours but we are setting the

stage for another system that is pushing through tomorrow, through tomorrow evening. And it's going to spread anywhere from east Texas all along the I-20 corridor through Atlanta and end up in the same areas that we saw just in the past 48 hours.

You have to keep in mind where the north gets snow all the time, the south doesn't. And so a lot of these cities don't have the proper machinery to clean up 1 to 3 inches of snow, which some of these cities expected to get. And some areas could see even more.

As we go forward in time, this is Wednesday around 9:00 in the morning, you can see Dallas is in it again. We're seeing ice anywhere from St. Lufkin all the way through Shreveport, southern Arkansas included in that. Rain for south Louisiana and then by Wednesday night it has pushed just south of Little Rock, on into portions of Tennessee. Atlanta, it could start snowing tomorrow afternoon and wrap up by the morning commute on Thursday.

And then it's going to, once again, push off the coast of North Carolina by the time we get to Thursday evening. Snow forecast right here, 1 to 2 inches across areas like Dallas. Isolated amounts even higher. We could see up to 4 to 6 inches of snow across the north Georgia mountains and portions of North Carolina. Even South Carolina is getting in on the action.

If we zoom in to Raleigh, they could get another round of this as well, right around Norfolk, could get possible 10 to 12 inches.

And, Wolf, we want to keep in mind, we're also getting the snow, we're still getting those cold temperatures across much of the country. That's not changing any time soon.

BLITZER: And the ice, the icy roads, you've got to be really, really careful, especially parts of the country where they are not used to driving in those kinds of conditions.

Jennifer, thanks very much.

Coming up, a commuter train slams into a truck raising a massive fireball and leaving dozens hurt. We'll have the latest on what went wrong.

And chilling new reports that ISIS has kidnapped dozens of Christians. Police now believe that three missing schoolgirls may have made their way into Syria. Supposedly they are trying to join up with ISIS.


BLITZER: Happening now, commuter crash. The feds are investigating a new train disaster. It's the third wreck of the rails in the last several weeks. Some fiery and some deadly. Is it safe to take the train?

Plus, joining ISIS.