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Nine Dead, 12 Missing in Southwest Flood Disaster; Cold War Games: Russia, NATO Practice for Combat; NATO Concerned about Russia's 'Snap' Military Exercises. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 26, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:14] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Desperate search. A dozen people missing as deadly flooding inundates parts of Texas. Hope is fading for those washed away. Can rescuers find them in time?

Cold War games: Russia and NATO staging rival large-scale military exercises at a time of heightened tension, raising the specter of the Cold War. Could it lead to another military confrontation?

American ISIS suspect. A young man in Texas is charged with trying to join the terrorist forces, almost reaching the battlefield. How did his family trick him into coming home?

China's outrage. A conflict between Washington and Beijing is escalating after a U.S. spy plane makes what China calls a provocative flight. How is the Chinese military retaliating?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The flood disaster unfolding in the southwest. At least nine people are dead in Texas and Oklahoma. And a desperate search is underway right now for a dozen people missing.

Houston is the latest city inundated with almost a foot of rain paralyzing parts of the region. We're covering all angles of the breaking news this hour with our correspondents and our guests. CNN's Ed Lavandera begins our coverage. He's in Houston.

Ed, what are you seeing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what you see behind me here in Houston is one of the bayous and the tributaries that wind this many parts of this city. And in flash flooding situations, this is what of major concern.

The water levels here, these two bridges that you see behind me, the water levels kind of went over those bridges here in the early morning hours. The good news throughout the day here, though, Wolf, has been that the rain has subsided, at least for now. So that is allowing these water levels to drop and recede rather quickly in some places. But it's still of great concern. You can see how strong the current

is. And this morning it was a mad house in this city as about a thousand cars were left stranded on the roadways. Two people were killed by the rush of flood water. This is torrential and fast moving. You can imagine just how quick and powerful it must have been this morning at the height of the storm.

So in a lot of places where we've seen many neighborhoods took on three to four feet of water, especially if you were near one of these tributaries or bayous that cut through the city. So it will take some time for these flood water to recede a little bit. The damage has been done and that cleanup process has begun. But there was an incredible amount of rain, more than ten inches in just a matter of hours this morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're about, Ed, as you know, to get an update from the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, also the governor, George -- Greg Abbott, I should say. He's going to be updating all of us together with the mayor on what's going on. What are the folks saying? Have they seen anything like this in recent years?

LAVANDERA: They have seen this. It happens -- it seems to happen, like, every five, six, seven years or so. The last one was, like, around 2008 or a little bit earlier than that.

This is, you know, a particular area with these bayous that cut through the city. People understand that this can happen in these flash-flooding situations. But it still doesn't, you know, take away from the fact that the cleanup and the destruction that can happen in these situations are overwhelming and very painful for so many people.

And you can really see just how quickly people had to jump into action once again as we've seen over the last few days here throughout the state of Texas. Many people describing this, they just didn't have a lot of time to react. That water levels were rising from ankle deep to knee deep in a matter of minutes.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get back to you. Ed Lavandera, stand by. I want to bring in our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. She's in Wimberley, Texas. That's right here the state capital of Austin where a dozen people are still missing after flood waters swept away entire homes. What's the latest, Jennifer, you're seeing there?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, this is devastating. This is historic, as well. We've never seen a flooding like this ever in this area.

Of course, back in the 1920s, they had the flooding where the river rose to about 33 feet. This time it rose at least 10 feet higher than that, and that's before the flood gauge went offline. And so what you're dealing with, images like this, you can see the home completely washed off the foundation, all along the street and various streets along the river. You're seeing images exactly like this one. Homes completely destroyed. We're hearing about 400 homes completely destroyed. And about 1,000 heavily damaged. Now, we're up on a bluff. So to put some perspective in this, we're

up on a bluff so the water was well above my head at the worst of it on Sunday. So you can see, as we pan around, and you look down there at the river, the river has gone down considerably.

You can see the trees that are bent over. It gives you an idea of how high the water was, and it went even higher than that. And now as the water is going down, the volume of water that's still moving along that river is incredible. Locals tell us that this is a relatively calm river. And so to see it like this is unprecedented.

And so folks are going to still be -- they're searching for those 12 missing, Wolf, and it's a devastating scene here at Wimberley.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, as well, Jennifer, because the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, is now briefing reporters. I want to listen in.

ANNISE PARKER, MAYOR OF HOUSTON: The city is slowly getting back to normal. But this is a little bit of a situation of a tale of two cities. Much of Houston was unaffected by the weather. But the parts that were affected by the weather were very severely hit.

We've had ten days, two weeks of steady rain. The grounds were completely saturated. And there's really been no place for the water to go. It's also been a situation of almost two different weather events.

Last night we had torrential rain in a very short period of time in the middle of the night. Starting roughly 10 p.m. to about 2 a.m. in the morning, the areas of Houston that flood in those situations underpasses, low-lying areas were affected. And a lot of folks drove their cars into high water and had to abandon those vehicles.

This morning our bio-system, bayous, depending on where you're from, began to swell. And many of our local bayous went over their banks. That took flooding into structures, particularly in the Brays Bayou and White Oak at Buffalo Bayou conflux.

We know there was structural flooding in the Galleria area of parking garages and some commercial properties, flooding also in cross timbers and smaller areas of flooding across the city.

We also tragically know that there has been loss of life. We have three confirmed flood victims now, two that were recovered from vehicles, one body recovered from Brays Bayou. And another person who apparently had -- who may have had a heart attack while pushing his vehicle out of the flood waters.

There are three people missing. There may be others. But those are the ones we know at this moment.

We have begun a property-by-property assessment. But we are hampered by not being able to go into the areas until the waters recede. And these are visual inspections from the outside. Until we can get enough structural experts to accompany our inspectors to see the full extent of the problem.

We have 1,000 properties that we visually inspected. We believe that there may be as many as 4,000 with significant damage.

There are two shelters open at this time. One is at the Chinese community center, 9800 Town Park. And another is the Acres Home Community Center, 6719 West Montgomery.

[17:10:22] At this point we are only sheltering 84 people. We have capacity for many more. But those are locations being managed by the Red Cross where people can go if they need other assistance even if they have a place to stay temporarily.

The first thing we did on the roadways as the water receded was start to tow cars to get those roads open again. And at this point we have more than 750 vehicles of various kinds in city impound lots and temporary storage lots.

BLITZER: I want to break away from the mayor of Houston for a moment. Jennifer Gray is outside of Austin, Texas, the state capital, watching what's going on.

That scene behind you in that area is so devastating. Just walk us through once again what you've seen.

GRAY: Well, you know, Wolf, we just heard her talk about the power of water and flash flooding. And just what they saw in Houston, that's what we saw here in Wimberley, Texas.

The waters rose at an incredible rate, and people had such little time to get to higher ground.

When it comes to weather, more people die from flooding than anything else. And so that's why you have to take this seriously, especially when we are expecting more rain at the end of the week and the weekend.

Look at this. We have complete homes washed clear off of their foundation. And this is not the only one. We see sites like this all across the city. We have about 400 homes in this area completely destroyed and about 1,000 that are heavily damaged.

And this is more than 43 feet, Wolf, above where the river normally sits. And so you can imagine the fear in people when they see the waters coming up, and they're just raging at such an incredible rate. And the force is just enough to wipe trees out.

Residents told us there are cypress trees that are so big around, you can't even put your arms around it and be halfway around it. Incredible trees completely uprooted, and then the force to wipe a home completely off its foundation. If you're in a low-lying area and we've expecting more flash flooding this weekend, you've got to seek higher ground. You've got to go to these shelters and see where you're going to be -- stay where you're going to be staying, because it is a life or death situation at this point. All of the rivers are completely saturated. They're filled to the

brim. The ground is saturated. There's nowhere for the water to go. And so any additional rainfall, as much as an inch or two, will once again be a possibility where we'll be in a flash flooding situation. We'll see waters rising again, Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the forecast for the next few days, Jennifer?

GRAY: Well, we're supposed to stay quiet the rest of today and again tomorrow. But there's more rain in the forecast again Thursday, Friday and then over the weekend. So that's what's got everyone on edge, especially in this Wimberley area and I'm sure in Houston, as well, is any additional rainfall is going to be problematic when you're talking about flash flooding.

The sewers, the drains can't handle it and definitely the rivers you're seeing. The creeks. They're overloaded. They're to the brim. And we've already seen a couple of levee breaks. We've seen water go over dams across Texas. And so any additional water is going to be a big problem.

BLITZER: So it's -- outside of Austin and Wimberley where you are, in Houston. Where else in Texas? I take it Oklahoma is suffering from some severe flooding, as well.

GRAY: Yes. We've seen -- we've seen rivers at their capacity all over Oklahoma. And this started, you know, several weeks ago in Oklahoma where we saw all of the flooding around Oklahoma City and Norman. And now we're seeing all of the rain across central portions of Texas. Not to mention they were in such an extreme drought. And so with the water so dry to begin with it, it runs off even faster.

And so now we're in a state where we're completely saturated all across central and east Texas. And so can't stress enough, more rainfall is not good for the area.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, is speaking now. He's updating us. Let's listen in.

GREG ABBOTT, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: A helicopter ride over many of the areas that have been dramatically impacted by the flooding waters. And my heart, my prayers go out to the families who have been impacted by this dramatic flooding.

We have heard about the loss of life here in Houston and as well as other parts of the state of Texas.

A number that we don't know and we will never know is the number of lives that have been saved by the effective response of first responders and all the many people who have been helping out in the Houston and Harris County area, as well as across the state of Texas.

[17:15:15] I know for a fact that first responders in Houston were able to take swift action to erect barriers to keep people from entering into flooding waters. I know for a fact in areas, whether it be in Harris County or other parts of the state of Texas, water rescue missions have taken place that have saved countless lives.

And so I want to extend my profound gratitude to all first responders across the state for the effective way that they have helped save lives.

Now, as the mayor mentioned, flooding is something that we have been working on across the entire state of Texas over the past week. I witnessed first-hand the devastation of the tsunami-style river rise on the Blanco River in Wimberley, Texas, just west of San Marcus, that completely devastated the area around there and caused a significant loss of life.

I have, as governor, declared disaster declarations from literally the Red River to the Rio Grande, where flooding has been taking place across the state.

But just like in so many other times of challenges, we see Texans respond by coming together, helping each other. We see that in Houston, Texas. We've seen it in other parts of the state with friends helping friends and neighbors helping neighbors.

And I want to express my gratitude to all of our neighboring states. Governor Suzanna Martinez and her team in New Mexico, Governor Mary Fallon in Oklahoma, Governor Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas, and Governor Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. All of our neighbors have offered their support. In fact, Louisiana sent two Black Hawk helicopters as well as sandbag loaders to help us address our challenges here in the state of Texas.

We work more effectively when we work as a team. But just like we have faced these challenges in the past, we will respond effectively to face these challenges.

Earlier today I had a telephone conversation with the Harris County judge with whom I will be meeting shortly. And I announced that, among the 46 counties in the state of Texas that I have declared a disaster declaration, I've now added Harris County as one of the counties included in the disaster declaration. This will provide additional resources and tools that will allow everyone in Harris County to be able to respond even more effectively to the challenges you face.

Let me say one last thing, maybe the most important thing I could say. And that is some of the lives that have been lost are lives that were lost by people who were in vehicles who were trying to bypass through waterways. It's essential to understand that in so many of the rivers across the state of Texas, we are going to continue to have rising waters. If there are rising waters, if your local elected officials tell you to evacuate, it is essential that you heed those warnings. Do not drive into rising water. I know it may seem like something that you can easily traverse, but it's something that is incredibly powerful and can sweep you away just like it has so many others in the state of Texas over the past week.

So don't drive into rising water. You know the common phrase: turn around, don't drown. It has a sense of reality to it right now that we need everyone in the state of Texas to heed.

BLITZER: All right. So we're going to continue to monitor what's going on. Obviously, a disaster unfolding in major parts of Texas right now. You can see these pictures coming in. It's a real, real, deadly, deadly flooding. We'll stay on top of this.

Let's take a quick break. Much more right after this.


[17:24:38] BLITZER: Much more ahead on the flooding disaster in Texas in the southwest. But let's get to another story breaking right now.

On an ominous throwback to the Cold War, thousands of troops on are the move inside Russia while forces from several prominent NATO nations, including the United States, they are busy in the Arctic. Both sides are practicing for war.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got more on these rival war games that are going on. Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you would think we were back in the mid '80s with Tom Clancy, "The Hunt for Red October." You've got two huge military machines playing cat and mouse across Europe, the Atlantic and tonight, even in the Arctic Circle.

It would be fascinating, maybe even fun to watch if it wasn't so dangerous.


TODD (voice-over): Massive Russian military vehicles on the move, part of a surprise military drill ordered by Vladimir Putin, tactical live fire exercises involving 12,000 Russian soldiers and up to 250 aircraft in an intimidating show of force.

Meanwhile, American and European forces begin scheduled drills in the Arctic Circle, involving 4,000 personnel and around 100 fighter jets. The goal is to ramp up military readiness. But with two competing military exercises, there are echoes of a frightening time.

DAMON WILSON, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL: It has an eerie feeling of the challenge of testing sort of the muscle-flexing of the Cold War days.

TODD: Putin is testing data in the U.S., analysts say, to see if they're ready for confrontation. He tells (ph) several snap exercises in recent months on a massive scale. Some have included more than 80,000 Russian troops. He routinely has his military planes fly with their transponders off near European shores, playing high-altitude, high-stakes chicken. And Sweden searching its waters for an unidentified signal that some thought was a Russian sub.

JEFFREY MANKOFF, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The potential for something to go wrong is exacerbated when you have lots of armed people with their fingers on the trigger moving around. TODD: It comes on the heels of tensions over Ukraine, where Russia is

accused of sending soldiers and weapons to help rebel fighters.

Meeting with the head of the NATO alliance, President Obama expresses concern about what he called...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The increasingly aggressive posture that Russia has taken.

TODD: A NATO official tells CNN the alliance is concerned by the size, scale and frequency of Russia's snap exercises. But is NATO ready?

WILSON: NATO has been increasingly ill-prepared to think about Russia as a threat because it just hasn't done the defense planning against Russia. And yet that's what's been playing out, the Russian military over the past several years.

These major exercises were meant to begin to demonstrate the possibility of conflict in Europe. Well, that's just not something that was even imaginable among NATO's military leaders.


TODD: A NATO official responded to that by saying NATO's response to Russia's actions has been swift and proportionate. That NATO has implemented its largest reinforcement of its defenses since the Cold War, and that it's increased its military presence across its eastern fronts, including elite units capable of moving quickly -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very disturbing stuff. Brian, thank you.

The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, is here in Washington today. He met with President Obama to discuss the challenges posed by Russia, as well as by ISIS. The secretary general is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us right now.

Secretary General, welcome to Washington.


BLITZER: How worried are you about what Russia is doing right now, these war games that are going on. It certainly feels like the bad old days of the Cold War.

STOLTENBERG: We're not back in the Cold War, but we are concerned, because we see new challenges and new threats coming from the more assertive behavior of Russia, the aggressive actions they're responsible for in Ukraine.

And that's the reason why we are responding. That's the reason why we are reinforcing our collective defense, while we are increasing the readiness and preparedness of the forces so that we shall be able also in the future to defend and protect.

BLITZER: How worried are you that this could get out of control? STOLTENBERG: We don't see any immediate threat against any NATO ally,

but we are concerned about the increasing number of snap exercises which Russia is conducting. Because that gives us no notification. It reduces transparency, predictability, and that, of course, increases the ability of incidents -- accidents spirals out of control.

BLITZER: Because these snap exercises, they're -- normally, they're supposed to give the NATO allies at least a little advanced warning, just know we're going to do the exercises. You're saying they just do it without even sharing this information with NATO allies like Poland or Lithuania, Estonia, some of the Baltic states?

STOLTENBERG: When we do exercises in NATO, we announce them. They're predictable and transparent. And invite Russia to observe the exercises. But Russia more and more do the snap exercises.


STOLTENBERG: Because that's a way of avoiding transparency, predictability. And they use the snap exercises as a disguise for other activities.

BLITZER: Like what?

STOLTENBERG: Like Crimea. They you used the snap exercise as a disguise for annexing Crimea last year and they also use the snap exercises to reinforce and to support the separatists in eastern Ukraine. So destabilizing eastern Ukraine as part or disguise by a snap exercise.

[17:30:17] BLITZER: So you think they have more ambitions besides Crimea in taking over other parts of Ukraine right now?

STOLTENBERG: They are supporting the separatists, destabilizing Eastern Ukraine. They have forces in eastern Ukraine, and they are providing the separatists with heavy equipment.

BLITZER: They deny it, as you know.

STOLTENBERG: They deny it. But I mean just last week two Russian soldiers were captured in eastern Ukraine, and they have reported -- they have stated to the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that they are serving soldiers in the Russian army. Because there is no doubt that there are Russian soldiers inside eastern Ukraine.

BLITZER: So when you confront Russian President Putin with the evidence, what does he say to you?

STOLTENBERG: They deny it. And they're trying to tell the world that all the Russian soldiers that are in eastern Ukraine are there on leave. But I think hardly anyone really believes that. And we have many different sources, open sources with media, medias with families overseas in Ukraine, confirming that there are Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine. BLITZER: So basically, and I want to continue this conversation.

Putin, from your perspective, secretary general of NATO, is lying?

STOLTENBERG: They're not telling the facts when they are trying to deny that there are Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine.

BLITZER: But you don't want to say he's lying?

STOLTENBERG: I will just limit myself to saying what they are saying is not the correct facts, because they try to deny that they don't have -- that they have forces in eastern Ukraine.

BLITZER: Secretary-General, we have more to discuss. I want to take a quick commercial break. The stakes obviously are enormous. What's going on in Europe. Hard to believe this is going on this day and age. Take a break. Much more with the NATO secretary-general right after this.


BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including the flooding disaster across Texas and the southwest. Right now nine people are dead. Many still missing. Fist I want to get back to the NATO secretary general. He's here in Washington. Had meeting today with president Obama at the white house. They're discussing the threats posed by Vladimir Putin and by Russia in the Middle East and North Africa right now.

Secretary-General, have you seen these reports that the Russians went into Ukraine with what are called these mobile crematoriums so they can burn the bodies of Russian soldiers killed and remove any evidence that Russian soldiers, who are actually serving, fighting in Ukraine with the separatists?

STOLTENBERG: I haven't seen any confirmed information about that. But I think the important thing is that we have seen reports about Russian soldiers who have lost their lives in eastern Ukraine. And who have been buried in Russia. And that just confirms, again, that the Russians are in eastern Ukraine. And they're why, I think, the insurgents (ph), which are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) their forces and also to respect the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: Should the U.S. and our NATO allies, for that matter, be providing what's called lethal aid, military equipment to Ukraine?

STOLTENBERG: The important thing now is to do whatever we can to support the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, which calls for a fuel cease-fire, which calls for the withdrawal of all heavy weapons from the front line or the contact line. And also which calls on the right for all of the observers, the international observers to have full access to the area so they can monitor the cease-fire.

BLITZER: So no lethal aid for the time being. Is that what you're saying?

STOLTENBERG: NATO is not in a position where with process or have weapons or equipment. So we don't believe in that. But I think the message from allies now is that we have to focus on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

BLITZER: Do all the NATO allies support the U.S. and the coalition in fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

STOLTENBERG: All NATO allies contribute to the coalition against ISIS in one way or another. Some take part in the airstrikes and some do training and others contribute in other ways. This is a U.S.-led coalition, but I welcome the strong support of all NATO allies.

BLITZER: Is ISIS winning this war right now?

STOLTENBERG: I think that, from the start of this campaign against ISIS, it was very much underlined that this is not an easy task. It will take time. We have to be there for the long haul.

BLITZER: What does that mean, the long haul?

STOLTENBERG: It means that this will take years. And it's not easy. And in the long run, we have to enable the local forces to take care of their own security. That has to be the long-term solution. They have to be able to take care of it by themselves.

BLITZER: Secretary-General, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Jens Stoltenberg is the secretary-general of NATO. I appreciate it very much.

Coming up, new ISIS tactics, how terrorist forces are changing their battlefield strategy. We're learning new details. Stand by.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news. At least nine people dead in the ongoing flooding disaster across Texas and the southwest. Just now the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, announced he's issued disaster declarations for 46 counties in Texas.

Also breaking now, Iraq's military, along with militias loyal to the government, launching what's being described as a major new military offensive aimed at trying to recapture territory held by ISIS. Among the targets, Ramadi. That's a key city abandoned by Iraqi forces just over a week ago.

Let's get the very latest from our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what are you learning about the Iraqi military moves right now. Are they trying to take Ramadi?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, let's just say there's a lot of skepticism inside the Pentagon about what is really happening on the ground. They hope they're about to retake Ramadi, but look, these comments by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter still ringing out there, that the Iraqis need a little more will to fight. They have a lot of problems.

Right now, sandstorms rolling through the area, so that is adding to some public concern about how fast this can really go. They are on the move, no question about that.

But according to Pentagon officials right now the Iraqis basically conducting probing attacks of ISIS positions. Not yet a full blown effort to try and retake the city -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are the ISIS fighters improving their battlefield tactics based on what you're hearing from experts over there?

STARR: They are -- yes, they are indeed. And this is going to make it tougher for the Iraqis to gain the upper hand. ISIS using larger and larger car bombs, digging tunnels to get into the city and then blowing them up. They're doing everything they can to stay off social media. All of this trying to lower their profile while they engage in these sort of sneak raid attacks. Trying to stay out of the crosshairs of U.S. warplanes overhead. A lot of sophistication growing in the ISIS efforts. It's making it a very complicated situation.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thank you. I want to get more on what's going on.

Joining us are former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd and retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Guys, actually stand by for a moment. I want to take a quick break, resume our analysis, the reporting on what's going on right after this.


[17:50:56] BLITZER: Breaking now, another American is charged with conspiracy to help ISIS. Court papers say a 20-year-old Texas man, Asher Abid Khan, flew to Turkey with a friend, both allegedly hoping to hook up with ISIS fighters inside Syria. While the friend made it, Khan's family lured him back home to Texas where he was arrested.

Let's get some insight from our experts. The former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd and retired U.S. Army General James "Spider" Marks.

Phil, it's amazing. They told this 20-year-old Texas guy, you know what? Your mother is sick. You better come back. He comes back. He is arrested. It worked in this particular system, this lure worked, right?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Sort of. But we've got to watch this story because there is one fundamental question. If you're in the department of justice or the White House or the FBI, you got to question that the Europeans are already starting to answer. That is, if you're going to engage families in persuading a kid to come back, or persuading a kid he should never go out, what's the reward for the family? What I want to see in this case as a result of the lure, are they

going to tell the family the kid gets a break on his federal sentence? Because the federal charge in this case is substantial. I don't see how you go to other cities where we've seen extremism, Minneapolis, California, and tell the next family cooperate with us, if you don't tell this family your kid is going to get a break on the charge.

BLITZER: Well, the family may not want him to go to jail, but that's better than dying in Syria for ISIS.

MUDD: Sure, but you've got to think about what the follow on is. If you're going to walk out and Americans, say, we have campaign to persuade kids and families to participate in federal programs, not to radicalize, if the message is if you participate as a family and your son or daughter gets no break on the federal charge, if I were the family I'd say so what are you negotiating? You're going bring the kid back home and he's got, let's say, at the age of 18, 15 years in federal prison? I don't get it.

BLITZER: What do you think, General Marks? What do you think? How do you deal with this?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You do as Phil described. There has to be a collective effort here. There has to be an incentive for the family to realize, look, I might have blown it at home. I might have missed the leading indicator of my child's radicalization. And if the federal authorities are not going to reach out, I've got to be able to have some type of a guarantee that this young man, this young woman may in fact have a future beyond staying in prison the rest of his or her life.

BLITZER: Spider, what do you think about this new so-called military offensive, these troops in Iraq, Shiite militias backed by Iran, supposedly. They made the announcement. Are they going to get anywhere against is in Ramadi?

MARKS: This is a really difficult step. The only folks that have been showing up in combat have been the Shia militia, the NEK, the Quds force, the Badr Corps. The challenge is as you're injecting a Shia element. That has demonstrated an ability, not only a desire, but an ability to fight smack-dab in the middle of Sunni Anbar. And the largest city -- or the second largest city in Iraq in Ramadi. You have 600,000 folks that are predominantly Sunni.

And now you have this Shia force that is coming in, certainly backed by the government in Iraq. But predominantly the government in Iraq is Shia. So this is a situation, Wolf, where there is probably no good folks involved in this fight on the ground.

BLITZER: And they give this operation a code name. Operation whatever it is. But it's something that's very favorable to the Shia. But the Sunnis were the majority -- the majority of there, Phil Mudd, they hate this.

MUDD: Talk about winning the battle but losing the war. So if you're a tribesman in Anbar Province. BLITZER: Sunni tribesman.

MUDD: Sunni tribesman and the government says our solution to this problem is not the Iraqi military, but Shia militia, you might say great. The guys who beheaded us as Sunni tribesmen are leaving the city. But you say, the next day, boy, I want to join up with the Shia-led offensive against our people? I don't get what the long-term solution is.

BLITZER: Yes. I think -- all right, guys, stand by. I want to continue the breaking news. We're also live in the disaster zone in Texas, where flooding has claimed yet more lives with a dozen people missing.

Plus, a disturbing surge in violence in Baltimore. Now reeling from its deadliest month in more than a decade.


BLITZER: Happening now, flooding emergency. Cars, homes and lives washed away. As fears are rising that more bodies will be found in the floodwaters. We're live in the danger zone.

Attacking ISIS. Iraqi forces say they have launched a new offensive to drive the terrorists out of the captured city of Ramadi. But they're facing a raging sandstorm. And skepticism among the Pentagon brass.

[18:00:04] China's anger. A confrontation with the United States is escalating after a secret mission by American spy plane.