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Obama Delays Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal; Russia Steps Up Airstrikes in Syria; Iran: Missile Base is 1,600 Feet Under a Mountain; Bush Raking in Cash, Lagging in Polls; Trump and Carson Threaten to Boycott Next Debate. Aired 5:00-6:00p ET

Aired October 15, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who's in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, fragile fight. President Obama delays the withdrawal of U.S. troops to Afghanistan after acknowledging the shaky security there following the Taliban recently capturing a major city.

Is Putin winning? The Russian leader outmaneuvers the U.S. and shows off his global reach as his jets and missiles pound targets in Syria. But will Syria soon turn into a quagmire for Vladimir Putin?

Out to get Clinton. Another Republican lawmaker says the Benghazi committee was designed to hurt Hillary Clinton. Can the Democratic frontrunner now turn this to her advantage?

And jihadi tango. A former ISIS hostage gives shocking new details of his torture by the terror group's most notorious murderer. He says he was even made to dance the tango with the killer known as Jihadi John.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news. In a major turnaround, President Obama now says he's delaying the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, calling the situation there very fragile with a resurgent al Qaeda and a growing ISIS presence. The president now says 9,800 troops will stay through most of next year with a drawdown of 5,500 after that.

And there are also now some chilling new threats from Iran, which has shown extraordinary images of an underground missile base carved into a mountain. Iran says its missiles are ready to launch if its supreme leader gives the order and declares all U.S. bases in the region are now within range.

I'll speak with the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Congressman Ed Royce. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they'll have full coverage of the day's top stories. Let's begin with Afghanistan. Let's go live to our Pentagon

correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what's the reasoning behind the president's decision now to delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Pure and simple, Wolf. It is a very fragile security situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban, al Qaeda, now ISIS on the rise. Making the president take another look at what the plan was and make that decision based on recommendations from his military commanders.

Ten thousand troops in Afghanistan right now, most of them supposed to be out by the end of next year. Now it will look like most of them will stay, and it will be cut in half perhaps in 2017.

Have a listen to some of what the president had to say about all of this earlier today at the White House.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pressure from Pakistan has resulted more in al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan. And we've seen the emergence of an ISIL presence.

The bottom line is, in key areas of the country, the security situation is still very fragile. And in some places there's risk of deterioration.

STARR: And so this nation's longest war, now some 14 years, will go on. Of course, it began less than one month after the 9/11 attacks. Fourteen years later still struggling to get some kind of stability, some kind of security in Afghanistan, Wolf.

BLITZER: Fourteen years, hundreds of billions of dollars, U.S. taxpayer dollars. And now the Pentagon, the White House, they're both saying that, to keep these troops in Afghanistan longer, it's going to be, what, another $15 billion a year, is that right?

STARR: Well, that is one estimate. You know, it comes down, obviously, as you have less troops. To say the least. But this is a very costly proposition. There's no question about it.

BLITZER: Fifteen billion dollars a year. Is this the number that military planners at the Pentagon were asking for? Because you hear some of President Obama's critics, like Lindsey Graham for example, John McCain, saying they really want more. This is a scaled- down number.

What do we know about the recommendations from the president's military commanders: 9,800 still there through most of next year, 5,500 in 2017. Do we know what the Pentagon really wants?

STARR: We don't. These are very closely-held recommendations. General John Campbell, the top commander in Afghanistan, had been looking at all of this for several weeks. And when he testified in front of Congress several days ago, he made very clear it was his feeling that the security situation had changed, the threat had grown, Afghan forces in some areas of the country were really struggling to keep ahold on things. And he made very clear at that time he was going to recommend that more U.S. troops stay, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

On another front, the skies over Syria, they are getting crowded right now. Russia's stepping up its airstrikes. Those strikes have little to do with ISIS. Let's go to our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. She's working this story for us.

[17:05:04] Elise, there are some -- some suggesting now that Putin, Vladimir Putin is really outmaneuvering the president on this whole Syria issue.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Russian president is using a combination of military prowess and global deal making to gain the upper hand in Syria. And he may look like he's winning now, but the U.S. is warning him these are early days, and Russia will soon find itself on the losing end.


LABOTT (voice-over): Russian fighter jets continue to pound targets in Syria with 32 airstrikes in the last 24 hours against what Moscow called terrorists. But those targets, largely in rebel-held areas in northwest Syria. Another sign, the U.S. says, Russia's stated campaign against ISIS is more about propping up Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The vast majority of targets continue to be opposition groups and not, in fact, ISIL.

LABOTT: In Russia's first overseas military campaign since the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin is showcasing his global reach with new aircraft and sea-based cruise missiles.

Russian airstrikes supporting the advance of Syrian ground troops and a reported new Iranian-led offensive, designed to shore up the regime's strongholds teetering towards the rebels.

In neighboring Israel, Putin struck an agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid clashes with Israeli jets flying over Syria. All attempts to paint a picture of Russia's global dominance.

In Kazakhstan for talks, he contrasted U.S. policy as feckless.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The weakness of the American position in this case comes from the lack of any agenda. I do not quite understand how our American partners could criticize Russia's actions to fight terrorism in Syria when they reject direct dialogue on a major issue of political settlement.

LABOTT: But Washington is only interested in pilot safety talks, or plans to defeat ISIS. Not cooperation that could bolster Assad.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: They can join in supporting a plan to drive DAISH back and create room for a more unifying set of Syrian leaders, or they can invest their arms and prestige on behalf of a dictator...

LABOTT: While Putin may seem to have the advantage now, U.S. officials predict Moscow will soon find itself bogged down in Syria.

MICHAEL WEISS, CO-AUTHOR, "ISIS: INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR": It means that the U.S. is basically saying, "OK, you know what? Russia, Iran, they want a proxy war, we'll give them a proxy war. And we're going to bleed them."


LABOTT: Now, President Obama's view is that, sooner rather than later, Russia will see the error of its ways and engage in talks with the U.S. on a political process that phases Assad out.

Now, some in the administration, like Secretary Kerry, believe to hasten that day, the U.S. must flex its military muscle in Syria and not let Putin dominate the skies. And that includes, Wolf, a no-fly zone. A lot of people pushing for that.

BLITZER: Yes. The president is reluctant. He sees resisting Hillary Clinton may support a no-fly zone, but the president points out she's running for political office. He's the president of the United States. He's got responsibilities as president which she doesn't have. The president was very pointed on that the other day.

All right, Elise, thanks very much.

Joining us now, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Republican congressman Ed Royce of California.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

And I want to talk about all of these issues. As you know, three years ago, October 2012, Vice President Joe Biden said -- I'm quoting him now -- we are leaving in 2014, period. In 2014, the president said, all U.S. troops, with the exception of a few protecting the U.S. embassy in Kabul, would be out by the end of 2016.

Today he says not so fast. They have to remain almost 10,000 next year and then 5,500 the year after. Is he doing the right thing?

REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Yes, she is doing the right thing, Wolf. It would not behoove us in the west to allow al Qaeda to re-establish bases of operation. Al Qaeda means "the base," and when they can get that base, when they can get that caliphate, they use it to launch attacks like they did on 9/11.

So it is worthwhile to make certain that the Afghan forces can prevent the most radical elements from taking over the stage. BLITZER: But you know, the counterargument that you hear, it's

been 14 years, the U.S. gas been training, arming all of these Afghan troops, hundreds of thousands of Afghan military and police forces. And they still aren't capable of getting the job done. The critics say spend another 14 years, hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars. They're still not going to be able to do it then. Your response to that?

ROYCE: We've got 5,500 U.S. troops slated to assist to make certain that the country does not fall to this radical element. And I would just say that, when we pulled all of the U.S. forces out of Baghdad and out of the theater, the result was that ISIS, ISIS, was able to establish its caliphate.

And now we see the impact that ISIS can have in creating total implosion, total chaos, the flight of millions of human beings out of that region.

[17:10:16] I would say that it's better to have a strategy to prevent the fall of these states to caliphates, which are then used to expand a wider war that will be far more costly, far more consequential to the west than anything we can do now to keep their opponents in power.

BLITZER: I spoke -- I spoke with the Republican Senator Rand Paul today. He opposes keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

ROYCE: I understand that.

BLITZER: He said spending $15 billion a year. Just think what the U.S. could be doing with $15 billion a year. Whether in your district in California or elsewhere around the country for other domestic purposes, that's a lot of money. How do you explain to your constituents that it's worth it to the United States to keep spending this money in Afghanistan?

ROYCE: Do a quick calculation on an envelope of what it cost us on 9/11 on the attacks on our homeland, on the attacks on the Pentagon, on the impact on the market, on the costs in human lives, over 3,000 Americans killed, that is what happens when a terrorist organization is able to take over a state and use resources to plot an attack on our homeland.

So it is better. It is a better alternative for us to help the existing governments stave off an overthrow by al Qaeda elements and by groups like ISIS.

BLITZER: But you know, the reaction I'm getting from some folks out there, whether on social media or elsewhere, on a day when the Social Security says they're not going to provide an increase for cost of living this year, the U.S. is spending all this money over there for what so many critics say is just throwing more money down the drain. I'm sure you've heard those complaints.

ROYCE: But think this through. People should think this through. We had this discussion on your show when myself and my Democratic colleague, Elliot Engel, had called for hitting ISIS early on and taking it out when it was still in Syria, on the road, on the road, to begin to take these cities.

And at that time, at that time, we could have used our Air Force to hit them out on the open highway. Had we done so then, how much better off we would be today, because today we have a situation where they're recruiting here in the United States.

We talked to one young Yezidi woman who testified before our committee she was taken captive by an American who had been converted four years ago to ISIS, who believed that ISIS could not be defeated, and because she was an infidel felt he could buy her and treat her as a concubine.

This is the reality of the mindset. So if we allow these radicals to run up these types of victories without being defeated or without being challenged, the perception becomes around the world among young men of a certain persuasion that they can join a cause where fate will put them in a position where they can subjugate others, including bringing attacks back here in the United States.

It's a tough decision, but we have to make a decision. Putting off the decision is itself a decision, in that we did not take out ISIS when we had the air power to do it. We're still not arming the Kurds who are fighting ISIS so that they can help take them out. We don't want to see U.S. Marines on the ground fighting ISIS. We want the Kurds to do it, but we've got to arm them, and we've got to give them air support for them to do it.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, we have more to discuss, including Iran now boasting of an until now secret tunnel, a secret depot, if you will, for ballistic missiles. They're showing off their capabilities.

Much more on this other important breaking developments right after this quick word.


BLITZER: The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Congressman Ed Royce, he's still with us. We're going to get back to him in a moment.

But first, we're getting some chilling new threats now from Iran. Iran has revealed stunning images of a secret underground missile base, saying its missiles are now ready to launch on the orders of its supreme leader. That follows the test firing of a new long-range missile.

But Iran has also now approved the nuclear deal reached with the United States and other world powers.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here.

Jim, what do you make of all these late-breaking developments?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've seen, in fact, a number of provocative moves in recent days. Let's look at this most recent one.

This video broadcast on Iranian state television showing a hidden arsenal. These are rockets on their launching vehicles here, dozens of them. And you see dozens of soldiers from the Iranian revolutionary guards, as well, 500 meters underground. That's 650 feet underground. A not too subtle message that this is out of the range of U.S. armaments. It's so deep down there that it would be protected.

And you see an Iranian revolutionary guards commander congratulating the troops, as you see, really, just a massive arsenal stretching underneath there.

Keep in mind there is also -- there are also underground nuclear facilities and, of course, this happens just weeks after the U.S. and Iran and the west signed this nuclear deal.

This video release, broadcast on Iranian state television, keep in mind, they say it's just one of many underground facilities, comes just a few days after Iran did a missile test of a new generation long-range ballistic missile, which the U.S. says -- and here's the missile here going up -- broadcast, as well, on Iranian state TV. They wanted the world to know this.

[17:20:19] The U.S. says that this missile violates an existing U.N. Security Council resolution banning Iran from ballistic missile testing. The U.S. is now referring this matter to the U.N.

So yet another step by Iran. That is Iran expanding its military operations inside Syria. The U.S. says that right now there are 1,000 Iranian fighters who have joined the fight on the ground. This is in addition to -- to thousands more fighters from the Iranian-backed militia Hezbollah. The White House saying, though, that this is Tehran acting, in effect, out of desperation.

Here's the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the fact that they're having to ramp up their support and to do it in a more public and conspicuous way, I think is an indication that what they've been doing so far hasn't really worked.


SCIUTTO: But neither Iran or Russia, in fact, backing down. A delegation of Iranian officials arrived in Syria on Wednesday to discuss a new pact with Russia aimed at propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, saying that they'd back a political solution. But the terrorists, that's how they describe them, only understand the language of force.

The trouble, of course, Wolf, is that Russia, in addition to Iran, seems to categorize any group that is fighting the regime of Assad as a terrorist. And that includes forces backed by the U.S. You know, the U.S. has said repeatedly, Wolf, that it would

welcome moves by Russian, Iran if they are fighting ISIS there. But really these airstrikes we're seeing, they are striking all sorts of groups, and the focus very much protecting the regime and protecting areas controlled by Bashar al-Assad.

BLITZER: Yes, the Russians and the Iranians have something very much in common. Their main goal in Syria is to make sure Bashar al- Assad remains in power.

All right, thanks. Good explanation for that, Jim Sciutto.

We're back with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Ed Royce of California. What is Iran's motive right now, based on everything you know, Mr. Chairman, broadcasting these new images of ballistic missiles, ballistic missile tests which the U.S. now suspects is a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. What are they up to?

SCIUTTO: At the moment, they're testing the United States. During the debate, some of the talking points for the agreement with Iran was that there was going to be a prohibition on arms -- an arms embargo, actually, as well as a prohibition on targeting for their ballistic missiles. And this was supposed to be a five-year and an eight-year prohibition.

The Iranians, shortly after -- it was Rouhani made the announcement, their head of state, said, "We don't recognize that part of the agreement. We don't recognize that as part of the agreement we signed onto."

So they're going to go forward, not just with their testing, but also with their transfer of these capabilities. They're going to transfer this to Hezbollah, according to the latest reports. And they're going to transfer this capability for missiles to Hamas so these two entities can do precision strikes on Israel.

And at the same time, they're moving forward with their three- stage ICBM program.

I think what should be concerning to us is that the rhetoric is still death to America, death to Israel. And we haven't seen any indication that they're changing their attitudes or that they intend to comply with the talking points that we heard, that this deal was going to curtail their commitment to their ballistic missile program. It's quite the opposite.

BLITZER: Let me wrap it up. One quick question on Afghanistan.

As we discussed earlier, disturbing report out today from intercept, the leaked intelligence documents they've obtained, suggesting that 90 percent, their -- this assessment for these leaked intelligence documents, 90 percent of the deaths during a five-month- long U.S. drone strike campaign in Afghanistan were unintended targets. Have you heard this? Can you confirm this? ROYCE: No. I have not heard this. But I have heard some of the

reports coming out of Syria about how many of the attacks that are committed by the Syrian regime are actually on civilian targets.

And that number was, yes, 90 percent of all of the attacks had been on markets, on hospitals and on schools. But I had not heard any reports on collateral damage in terms of U.S. drone strikes. I will try to get to the bottom of it now that you've raised it with respect to Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan the argument, the point is that this leaked report is that U.S. drone strikes were killing -- were going after terrorist targets. But 90 percent of the targets turned out to be not those they were going after. That's what's in this report. But I know you haven't seen it. You haven't checked it out. We'll get your...

ROYCE: We'll check that out. I did ask for a report on how many of the Russian attacks were on ISIS. And the answer to that so far has been 7 percent.

The first four attacks were on the U.S.-trained Free Syrian Army. It's hard to believe that that was accidental. So you right now in Aleppo have those who are fighting ISIS are simultaneously being bombarded by Russian bombs.

And it looks very clear to me the case here is that Russia is not carrying out strikes against ISIS to any -- in any manner, shape nor form. They are carrying out attacks, more attacks in one day than U.S. forces are carrying out in one month. With our attacks on ISIS. But their attacks are on the Free Syrian Army.

BLITZER: Ed Royce is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

ROYCE: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, the cruel mind games of a notorious ISIS killer. A former hostage says the man known as Jihadi John forced him to dance the tango with him.

Plus, Jeb Bush wading into the controversy over the name the Washington Redskins should have. This time with a joke.


[17:30:59] BLITZER: There's some positive new numbers for Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, but they're not in the polls. His campaign now reporting fundraising all of more than $13 million over the summer.

CNN's Athena Jones joining us now with more.

Athena, how does that compare with the other GOP candidates?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, that number puts him in second place behind Ben Carson. It's a pretty solid fundraising figure for the quarter. The question is now will he begin to post more solid poll numbers.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't expect Washington to be the solution. They should be a partner.

JONES (voice-over): Jeb Bush on the trail in New Hampshire as his campaign announced he raised $13.4 million in the third quarter. A figure that puts him in second place in the GOP in fundraising behind Ben Carson who brought in some $20 million. But Bush beat Ted Cruz who raised $12 million and Carly Fiorina who raked in $6.8 million. And also Marco Rubio, his former protege, who posted a $6 million haul.

Frontrunner Donald Trump is mostly self-funding his campaign. And while Trump tweeted a picture of himself signing his tax return today, Bush was set to release his 2014 tax returns and his medical records. A document dump that comes as the former Florida governor lags in national and early state polls.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're in first place everywhere.

JONES: The latest CNN-ORC poll shows Trump with a big lead in Nevada and South Carolina. Bush barely making it into the top five. And the latest national poll from FOX News also shows Bush in the single digits. Way behind Trump and Carson.

BUSH: Appreciate you coming.

JONES: This as the campaign faces donors growing increasingly anxious about his poll position. Bush telling Dana Bash the race is a triathlon, not a sprint.

BUSH: Look, the fact is we've got a plan, we're executing on the plan. I'm convinced I'm going to win the Republican nomination. I'm going to do it in a way that will actually make it possible to win the general election as well.


JONES: Now the Bush campaign just released those medical records, also his tax filings. And a top list of fundraisers a few minutes ago. We're going through those documents, but I can tell you that Bush's doctor reports that he is healthy and like a lot of Americans he's taking a cholesterol lowering drug known as Statins.

One more bit of news, Trump and Carson are now threatening to bow out of the next debate on CNBC at the end of the month unless certain demands are met. Both candidates want guarantees the debate won't last more than two hours. And that they'll be able to deliver opening statements and closing statements -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena, thanks very much.

Let's get some more from our political commentators, joining us S.E. Cupp, Ana Navarro, a Jeb Bush supporter who helps raise money for his campaign. She's also a friend of Marco Rubio. And the "Atlantic" magazine contributing editor Peter Beinart.

Guys, thanks very much.

Ana, these numbers, though, the fundraising numbers OK. The poll numbers for Jeb Bush, the man you support, you're working for, very disappointing. Why is he doing so poorly right now?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because there's 15 people running for president. And I think that, you know, it's a hard field because we are still kind of in the reality show topic. But, you know, I think, Wolf, that these numbers are very good. I can tell you that his donors and supporters are very happy with these numbers. Out of the 15 running Donald Trump is not raising any money and Ben Carson raised 20, other than that Jeb Bush beat everybody else.

And I do know that he's spending some of that money on building a ground root and ground troop operation in the early states. He's got staff there. He's got offices there. And, you know, look, his strategy is I'm going to build a structure, I'm going to wait this out, I have the financial resources to do it.

BLITZER: Peter, in releasing the numbers the Bush campaign noted that Bush's fundraising was comparable to what Mitt Romney had raised in the third quarter back in 2011. But Romney was the GOP frontrunner at the time. In the latest CNN poll Bush nationally among Republicans in fifth place. Also not doing well specifically in Nevada, South Carolina, as we pointed out. So what is he doing wrong?

[17:35:13] PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Jeb Bush is a terrific fundraiser. He can draw on the -- you know, the network of his entire family. But unfortunately for him there are still some democratic aspects to the way we choose presidents, which is to say we don't simply choose by who can raise the most money. And what he's finding out there on the stump is that the Republicans are in an anti- establishment mood. And no matter what he says he epitomizes the Republican establishment. His brother was president. His father was president. Republicans want someone who is an outsider. And he will never be that.

BLITZER: What do you think, S.E.? Why is Jeb Bush -- he's raising the money. Obviously he's got some major political backers out there, but when it translates into numbers in the national polls as well as in these first four states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, he's down there in single digits.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. But I will point out that within the margin of error he's actually just tied for third. So if you take Trump and Carson and use conventional wisdom and project that maybe they won't be standing in the end, actually Jeb is poised to be in a pretty good position toward the general.

BLITZER: Well, let me -- let me put the numbers back up on the screen.


BLITZER: Here's the numbers in our CNN-ORC poll for Nevada. Trump 38 percent, Carson 22 percent. Take a look at this. Bush, he's down at 6 percent.

CUPP: Right, but he's right next to Carly and Marco.


CUPP: And within the margin of error. He's essentially tied for third place.

BLITZER: But he's not even close to the number one or the number two.

CUPP: No one is. No one is. And you have to anticipate that over the course of the next few weeks and months the Ben Carson-Trump bubbles might deflate a bit. In which case someone like Jeb and Marco and Carly will be well poised.

BLITZER: It's not just Nevada. South Carolina, the third state.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: Look at the numbers. I'll put them back on the screen.

NAVARRO: But listen -- but, Wolf --

BLITZER: Hold on, hold on, Ana. 36 percent for Trump. 18 percent for Carson. Rubio 9 percent, Fiorina 7 percent, Jeb Bush 6 percent. So it's not just one state. It's all four of these states plus nationally.

CUPP: Right. Right.

BLITZER: He's raising a ton of money, but it's not generating into support in all of these statewide and national polls.

CUPP: It is for no one, if you are not named Trump or Carson. And that is what Peter referred to this anti-establishment interest. And we'll have to see. I mean, whether the other candidates including Jeb Bush can sort of remind voters that you have to be electable in a general or not. You know, Jeb Bush actually is I think poised pretty well considering no one has been able to crack the Trump-Carson --


NAVARRO: Wolf --

BLITZER: Hold on, everybody. Hold on, Ana. Hold on. Hold on, Ana. We're going to continue this conversation.

Everyone's working under the assumption or at least a lot of Republicans are working under the assumption that Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, they're not going to be the nominees. Well, guess what, for the past several months they have been doing really well. We'll see what happens. Stay with us. We have much more to assess right after this.


[17:42:44] BLITZER: Republican presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson, they want to see some changes in the next Republican presidential debate. And they're threatening right now to actually boycott that debate if their demands aren't met.

Trump and Carson want the debate to include opening and closing statements and run no longer than two hours.

We're back with our political commentators.

Ana, what's your reaction when you hear that threat from Donald Trump and Ben Carson?

NAVARRO: I hope they follow through on it. I hope that, you know -- first of all it's amusing to me that the guy, Donald Trump who calls Jeb Bush and others low energy, is saying if you make me stand up for two hours or more than two hours God forbid one more minute than 120 minutes I'm going to pull out.

Look, if they want to play that game, fine. I think they can't afford to. One of the things that keeps Donald Trump alive is being in the headlines and being part of these debates. The same goes for Ben Carson. Neither of them are paying for paid media. So, you know, I think they have as much to lose as any network does or as the party does from them not participating.

BLITZER: I assume there might be some fewer candidates the next time around, S.E., there were 11 candidates on the main stage at the GOP debate the last time. Maybe the next time they'll be one or two less?

CUPP: I don't know. I mean, the person that most Republicans are looking at to drop out soon would be Rand Paul. And he is just sort of explained why he is not going anywhere. So I'm not really sure that this early anyone's going to drop out in time for the next debate. Maybe the next debate will sort of set the table.

BLITZER: Is it a matter of expectation? There's a lot of Republicans now who fear that Donald Trump might actually get the Republican presidential nomination. And maybe that's going to happen given his numbers.

CUPP: Yes.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from your Republican friends?

CUPP: It could. I mean, every prediction made about Trump is a losing game because he has defied predictions from the beginning. Carson I think as more people are getting to know him they're getting to see how frightening some of his policies and his ideas are and how unwell thought out they are. But Trump really seems to have staying power almost no matter what he says. So, yes, I think the job of the other candidates and they have

tried to do this is to remind Republican voters that you have to win in a general election. And Trump just doesn't match up next to Hillary, who is, you know, probably going to be the nominee in a general election.

[17:45:11] BLITZER: More and more people are talking about the possibility. I don't know if it's going to happen.

CUPP: It's possible. It's possible.

BLITZER: But Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton presidential debate.

CUPP: It's possible.

BLITZER: Peter Beinart, Hillary Clinton's campaign now saying that Benghazi select committee inquiry has, in their words, zero credibility left after another Republican congressman, Richard Hanna of New York, has added his voice to those saying that the committee was designed, set up largely to damage Hillary Clinton politically.

What does this mean for the former secretary?

BEINART: It's terrific for her. You know, this is actually really page out of the Clinton's playbook. If you go back to the 1990s and impeachment, the best -- the Clintons' best friend has always been the Republicans who were out to get them. And they have always focused on their Republican tormenters to discredit them. And that's been a very effective strategy to suggest to people that these so-called scandals are not real scandals.

So Hillary has had a lot of problems with the e-mails. By her own admission she made a big mistake by having that private server. But by focusing on the Republicans who were doing this in a partisan way she riles up Democrats and she changes the focus.

BLITZER: Peter Beinart, Ana Navarro, S.E. Cupp, guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, a former hostage forced to dance with the notorious executioner. We're learning disturbing new details about the cruel mind games played by the man known as Jihadi John.


[17:51:06] BLITZER: A former ISIS hostage is now giving some shocking new details of his torture at the hands of the terror group's most notorious murderer. He says at one point he was made to dance the tango with a killer known as Jihadi John.

Brian Todd has been looking into all of this. What are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're learning new details tonight of the bizarre and cruel treatment the hostages receive from Jihadi John and other ISIS captors. Daniel Rye from Denmark is believed to be the last Western hostage to have gotten out alive before ISIS started beheading other hostages.

Rye says Jihadi John not only made him dance the tango but also beat him mercilessly. Sometimes just for looking at him in the eyes.


TODD (voice-over): He's ISIS' best known killer, presiding over the beheadings of Americans James Foley and other Western hostages. He may have killed some himself and with each video he's trashed talk his enemies.

MOHAMMED EMWAZI, "JIHADI JOHN": Obama, you have started your Arab bombardment in Sham which keeps striking our people so it's only right we continue to strike the next of your people.

TODD: Tonight, a new and bizarre account of the cruelty handed out by Jihadi John, the masked ISIS militant identified by Western officials as British national Mohammed Emwazi. Daniel Rye, a 26-year- old Danish photographer held by ISIS for more than a year, says one day, quote, "He picked me up and I had to dance the tango, John and I."

MICHAEL WEISS, CO-AUTHOR, "ISIS: INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR": It's not really that surprising that he would have this kind of almost clockwork orange sense of, you know, sinister humor about torturing and abasing. One of his hostages a lot of the ISIS trolls on Twitter were laughing about this. They think it's hilarious.

TODD: In an interview with Danish TV, Rye said when Jihadi John was tangoing with him, he kept his eyes on the ground. Looking Jihadi John in the eyes, he said, would bring a beating. He says he was beaten anyway after the dance. Then Rye says, quote, "They finished by threatening to cut my nose off with pliers and things like that where I was thinking what the F."

AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA ANALYST: The guys who run this organization are -- a lot of these guys who control their hostages, they're sadists.

TODD: Rye says he was held alongside James Foley. Rye was released in June of last year several weeks before Foley's execution. Rye's family reportedly paid ISIS a large ransom which the U.S. government had previously discouraged the families of American hostages from doing.

WEISS: The survivors of American victims of ISIS, James Foley's family, Stephen Sotloff's family, there is a great deal of resentment that they harbor toward the Obama administration for simply not taking to ISIS, either directly or indirectly, as many European countries have done.

TODD: President Obama has since changed U.S. policy, agreeing to communicate with terrorist hostage takers but still no payments.

As for Jihadi John, neither U.S. nor British officials won't say where they believe he might be.

PERITZ: He's an absolutely high valued target. We know that the British government is actually looking to strike him in a big way because he's done so much damage to U.S. and U.K. relations. He's also done some terrible things to their own citizens.


TODD: Jihadi John has not been seen in a video since January of this year and his fate remains a mystery. There were uncorroborated reports that he might have fled from ISIS, that his value to the group was diminished after his identity was revealed. But one analyst says his lack of visibility recently could be simply because ISIS might be running low on Western hostages to murder -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This former hostage, Daniel Rye, Brian, he passed along an important message to James Foley's parents when he was released, right?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. Daniel Rye says that when he was held with James Foley for about eight months, he says Foley was a very good friend of his. Rye says that before he was released, Foley asked him to commit a letter to memory, not to paper but to memory, a letter from James Foley to his parents. Rye says he did that and he conveyed the letter to Foley's family. Rye told reporters, he said, quote, "It was terrible, it was a death letter, a farewell to his family." Rye says if he were to think of that letter every day, he would be a wreck emotionally.

[17:55:10] BLITZER: What a story that is. All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, fear and fury in Israel where citizens are now being told to arm themselves after a wave of random attacks by Palestinians as clashes continue. Can leaders put a lid on the violence? I'll speak with a senior Palestinian official. And a whole lot more when we come back.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Unending war. President Obama throws out his plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as ISIS and other enemy forces make gains on the ground. Will the conflict he promised to end outlast his time in office?