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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Official: U.S. Considering Airstrikes in Iraq>
Aired August 7, 2014 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next breaking news, the president of the United States considering air strikes on Iraq tonight. We are live at the White House and the Pentagon. The reason 100,000 Christians running for their lives in Iraq, the terrorist group, ISIS says they must convert to Islam or die. We are live there.
And the world at war from another Ukrainian fighter jet shot down to the battle to contain the largest Ebola outbreak in history. We are live around the world OUTFRONT with the latest. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, the United States considering military air strikes against Iraq. The Kurdish regional government confirming to CNN just moments ago that air strikes by the Iraqi Air Force have already begun.
The reason a crisis that is growing out of control. People there facing a desperate choice. Convert to Islam or die. That's what up to 100,000 Christians are dealing with being forced to flee their villages or face persecution because ISIS, that is the Muslim extremist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that's trying to do.
They are trying to take control of Iraq. They don't agree with the religious beliefs of certain minorities including Christians and they are telling them they must convert or die. Humanitarian air drops from the United States have already begun providing supplies to these minority groups who are desperate in many cases not even able now to get access to water.
President Barack Obama met with his national security advisors in the situation room this afternoon. The administration very concerned about several military advisors on the ground as well. They are there to assist. Now they can be in jeopardy as well.
Let's go straight to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon tonight. Barbara, obviously the Pentagon paying incredibly close attention to the northern city of Irbil where some of those military advisers are located. Are there lives at risk?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Erin. There are about 40 U.S. military advisors in the northern city of Irbil. Over the last 24 hours, what the U.S. has noticed we are told is ISIS fighters, these militant fighters moving closer to Irbil, moving into THE Irbil area, and moving at a much greater rate than they had seen before.
They have a lot of capability to cause havoc on the ground with their fighters, with their weapons, with their ground weapons and vehicles. So the concern is about those 40 Americans who are there. The troops have been there for several weeks.
They are working to help Iraqi government forces try and get back sort of into this fight against ISIS. But if the situation grows any more dire for the Americans the question will have to be confronted is do they try to evacuate them out of there or could it be so dire that the U.S. might undertake air strikes in Irbil to protect the Americans.
That would be very difficult. That's a very difficult target to hit. You see people on the ground. How do you know if they are ISIS? How do you know they are Iraqi civilians? This is something they are watching minute by minute -- Erin.
BURNETT: Barbara, what will enable them to make that decision?
STARR: Well, it's going to be driven by the intelligence that they do have about the situation that the American troops are in. There's a lot of intelligence gathering going on there in constant touch with them. This is something that officials, obviously, for security reasons, for the safety of the Americans, they are being very tight- lipped about it.
They will tell you they are watching it around the clock and when they have something to tell us about the next step they will tell us. The safety of those 40 American troops right now paramount.
BURNETT: Barbara Starr, thank you very much. Joining me now is the senior White House correspondent for us here at CNN, Jim Acosta. Jim, as Barbara lays it out, an incredibly difficult situation for the president, a decision to make when he put these advisers in he was adamant they were advisors. There would not be boots on the ground in any situation. Is this going to force the administration's hand on that issue of boots on the ground?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, Erin I don't think so. The White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was very careful to say earlier today during the press briefing there will be no boots on the ground in any kind of military operation in Iraq.
But make no mistake the White House is deeply concerned about this unfolding humanitarian crisis that's under way in northern Iraq. While administration officials are not taking air strikes off the table, the question of the hour is how far the president is willing to go.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The killing and mayhem unleashed by the Iraqi militant group, ISIS may have reached a tipping point. After seizing cities and key assets the terror group have chased millions into the mountains of northern Iraq where they are cut off from food and water. A situation so dire a Yazidis member of the Iraqi parliament pleaded to her fellow lawmakers this is a collective attempt to exterminate her people before she collapsed in the chamber.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe.
ACOSTA: CNN has learned an air drop mission of humanitarian supplies has begun. Air strikes against ISIS are under consideration.
(on camera): Are air strikes on the table?
EARNEST: Jim, I'm not in a position to rule things on table or off the table in this context. I can give you some insight into the president's thinking in general about the kinds of principles that would apply to contemplated military action. That would include no combat boots being put on the ground in Iraq.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Behind closed doors in meetings with advisors for much of the day, the president could be seen near the oval office in an animated discussion with chief of staff, Dennis McDonough. Outside the White House protesters pleaded for action.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm here today to tell everybody my family, my friends are trapped in mountains. They are starving to death. They are dying of starvation. Obama, don't let this happen.
ACOSTA: Last June, the White House was on the verge of air strikes against ISIS when it was feared the group might take Baghdad.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: In our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short term immediate things that need to be done militarily.
ACOSTA: But the president pulled back when the Iraqi capital did not fall. White House officials note the humanitarian catastrophe in Northern Iraq is urgent. Much like the conflict in Libya two years ago when Moammar Gadhafi's forces were moving in to take out rebels in Benghazi prompting NATO air strikes. The violence in Iraq is not the picture of stability the president offered when he withdrew U.S. troops three years ago.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead, but we're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.
ACOSTA: And as Barbara Starr mentioned, just a few minutes ago, Erin, administration officials are concerned about those U.S. advisors that are stationed in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. That could be a potential trigger for the president to launch air strikes.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary said as much during the briefing, if American interests are at stake, the U.S. will take a strike at those targets. In the meantime, we should point out another moving part in all of this is the Iraqi government.
The president has insisted for months now that in order for the U.S. to take military action that the Iraqi government start moving toward a unified government and we're starting to see that start to take place in Baghdad, the White House saying earlier today that they are seeing signs of that.
Erin, those are two clear indications that this White House is perhaps moving in the direction of military action. Of course, at this point, it is just not yet decided. We have not gotten word that is going to take place -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much, at the White House. As Jim said, the administration is saying the situation in Northern Iraq is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe. That's a very strong word to use. And I want to explain why they are using Christians and other minority groups including one called the Yazidis are facing persecution.
The 40,000 Yazidis, you may have seen the sign there outside the White House from the protesters today that word "Yazidis." Well, they are trapped between Mosul and Irbil in the mountains in Northern Iraq. They fled their villages for fear of persecution from ISIS.
It is a very small religious minority, Muslim related. If the Yazidis come down from the mountain they could face execution. Again, the reason for the crisis is spread of ISIS militant terror group. They advanced to Northern Iraq in June.
As you can see how much more territory they have taken over in just the past couple of months. In fact, while the world was looking at the Gaza Strip, ISIS was moving ahead. Kurdish authorities in Northern Iraq estimate more than 1.5 million Iraqis have been displaced since ISIS gained control of those areas.
Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, joins me now from Irbil the capital of the Kurdish region where thousands of Iraqis are on the run from ISIS fleeing the militant group's brutal offensive in seeking shelter.
Ivan, it's amazing when I was in Irbil a couple of years ago, it was the crown jewel of Iraq where they were saying they would have new business and entrepreneurs and face of the new Iraq. Now you're in the center of a humanitarian crisis and people fleeing. What are you seeing there?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're right. And Erin, as you would have seen notorious construction boom here. This region enjoying an immense period of stability and prosperity.
Now as you can imagine it, some of these unfinished office buildings and hotels and apartment blocks that have been going up are providing temporary shelter for some of the close to 200,000 Iraqis who have fled this latest ISIS offensive within the last 36, 48 hours.
Tens of thousands of them coming here to Irbil, they are quite literally, I saw them laying down on blankets, on bare concrete, being distributed a little bit of water, some cookies, some yogurt, very ad hoc.
And just the beginning of a new humanitarian crisis that this place isn't equipped to deal with because they are dealing with the Islamist militant whose are only about 35 miles away from where I'm standing.
The ISIS militants have taken control of a town 35 miles southwest of here. Now senior Kurdish officials tell me, Kubad Telebani (ph), deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government. He says that the Iraqi Air Force has been active tonight.
He claims that they have killed two ISIS commanders or amirs as they are known. But the proximity of that gives you a sense of how tense this city is tonight and how worried people are of these Islamist militants really knocking at the gates of the Kurdistan region right now.
BURNETT: All right, Ivan Watson, thank you very much. Ivan as you can all hear with some new and significant information say that Iraqi air force strikes tonight, they claim have killed two senior ISIS commanders near Irbil, one of them just 35 miles away as the United States weighs whether to strike itself tonight.
Joining me now CNN military analyst, Retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks, and our counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd, former FBI and CIA official. Good to have both of you with us.
Phil, let me start with you in terms of what we're seeing. While the world is focused on what was going on at the Gaza Strip, while the world was focused on MH-17 and the Ukraine, ISIS was moving ahead. It seems like at lightning speed.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think that's right. I think we've seen since we last talked about this at some length a fundamental change. It's really profound. When we're talking about this before a month or two ago, we're talking about a U.S. decision about whether to side with Nuri Al-Maliki who is seen as a leader of Iraq that doesn't represent Iraqi minorities.
The question of intervention had to do with, how would we be perceived if we sided with someone who is viewed by many as corrupt leader of Iraq? The story now is forget about Maliki. Do we want to intervene in what is a rapidly humanitarian crisis?
Remember a year ago, we were talking about whether to intervene in favor of Syrian civilians with Bashir al-Assad was massacring them. We chose not to and I think a lot of people are saying let's now replay that story.
BURNETT: General Marks, what does that -- it seems like the only thing that's a little bit different this time is that there are 40 Americans in Irbil. There are 245 military personnel, Americans in Iraq, which the president put in there to try to stabilize the situation provide advice. But if they are indeed at risk, would that then justify the United States doing military strikes and can those strikes be surgical or is that the slippery slope towards a combat situation?
GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Erin, that's exactly the point. The United States can intervene at will. I don't think they need any justification. They have a partner in Iraq and very shaky and a very tenuous relationship with the government in Baghdad, which is unfortunate.
But we have to right that and we got to make sure we can stand that up. The fact that Americans might be in harm's way certainly gives sufficient justification albeit not necessary to go do something to extract those folks. But what the real issue is, is the United States should not at this point say what they are not going to do.
This could be an escalation and we could be as Phil described be in the middle of not only a humanitarian disaster, but an increasing challenge to Baghdad. Those are two separate issues. We've seen humanitarian disasters in our past and we've sat back.
What are we going to do at this point? But the other decision is, is Baghdad at risk? Is Iraq in total at risk as well based on ISIS' advances and we could say, yes, they are on the slope to achieving that right now.
BURNETT: Phil, the question, though, facing the White House tonight in terms of whether to strike is whether that is central to the national security interests of the United States. Has that changed in the past month? Is ISIS rising in Iraq now a direct security threat to the United States?
MUDD: I think when you look at the history of insurgent groups and the terrorist groups that I followed for a quarter century at the agency, this is pretty much unprecedented. You watch what happened in the 1990s in North Africa when insurgent groups were prominent, they were turned back by government forces.
You saw Taliban emerge obviously in the 1990s until 2001 in Afghanistan. Their focus was not on the United States. That was solely typically the focus of al Qaeda. I think this is a new problem that the White House is struggling to try to understand.
And I don't think there's a precedent for understanding this yet. One final comment, when you sit in that decision-making chair at the White House, 9/11 changed something.
That is if you see an insurgent group emerging that might potentially attack America how long do you want to wait? Do you want to wait for that attack to happen or do you want to prevent it by strike early.
MARKS: Erin, can I jump in. I absolutely agree with Phil. The point is we have a plethora of challenges around North Africa and the greater Mideast. The issue becomes that. What's the trigger event and when do you start to act. And I think we are at the point where you begin now to chip away at these challenges or they become much more robust and empowered going down the road.
BURNETT: All right, both of you please stay with us. This is a political crisis for the president of the United States as well. Our breaking coverage of the air strikes against Iraq continues. Will President Obama go ahead? Is it the only way to save hundreds of thousands of Christians about to be slaughtered?
Plus another plane shot down in Ukraine. Once again the Russian-made BUK missile was used so how many do they have and what will President Obama do about it?
Reports that the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has spread now to a fifth country? We're live at the epicenter of the crisis tonight.
BURNETT: Breaking news, the White House tonight weighing its options in Iraq, air strikes are on the table. Keep in mind, this is two years after President Obama ended the war in Iraq and brought the American troops home. Tonight, though, he met with his national security team in the situation room.
And a Pentagon official tells CNN that there are concerns that the terror group known as ISIS could make a move against several dozen U.S. military advisors in Irbil, which is in Northern Iraq in the Kurdistan region.
Armed ISIS fighters swept in the Northern part of Iraq over the past few months. They have captured many towns and villages and they have created a humanitarian crisis. When we say that what they are doing is threatening to slaughter minority groups that includes Christians and includes a small subgroups of Muslims.
The United States began humanitarian air drop missions to aid some of those minority groups who are stuck in the mountains without access to hygiene or water. If they come down the mountain, they will be executed at the hands of ISIS.
We are back with Phil Mudd and Spider Marks along with Dan Senor who served as the point man for the Bush administration in Iraq after the invasion and James Zogby, who just finished meeting with the national security adviser, Susan Rice. Good to have you all of you with us.
Jim, you finished meeting with the national security adviser. What can you tell us about her thinking and this administration's thinking? Are they thinking they will intervene for a humanitarian crisis or will they only intervene if they really believe that those 40 Americans in Irbil lives are at risk?
JAMES ZOGBY, PRESIDENT, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE: I don't think I'm at liberty to divulge what the national security adviser said. I can just say I think the administration is deeply concerned as they demonstrated with the situation of the Christians.
We had a meeting with Ben Rhodes just last week with a group of Christians talking about the specifics of what can to be done to support them in the areas where they are and in the areas where they fled, and to meet their needs and to provide some protection.
At the same time, this horrific situation of the Yazidis that just occurred in the last few days is something that is gripping and gripping to everyone. So this is a humanitarian crisis. The ethnically cleansing entire areas of the country. This armed gang of thugs that is committing atrocities against people.
I've been getting calls from folks, who have just come back from Iraq or in Iraq. It's heart breaking what's happening. I think the president is correct in providing humanitarian assistance and now they are deliberating how and can they -- what we're hearing is, you know, can they involve themselves militarily? I see the Iraqi government is, the air force is. This is a gang of thugs that has to be stopped.
BURNETT: We should report our Ivan Watson on the ground in Irbil tonight is reporting that two senior ISIS commanders as they call themselves, Dan, were killed by Iraqi air strikes tonight about 30 miles away from Irbil.
But to the American people looking at this they are saying we've been in Iraq before. We've been in Iraq multiple times before. They do not see it as a success. They see it as something that is a failure. They say why? Why should the United States go in for humanitarian crisis in Iraq? There's humanitarian crises going on all around the world.
DAN SENOR, CO-FOUNDER, THE FOREIGN POLICY INITIATIVE: I remember John Kerry, I thought made a good argument for the intervention in Libya in which he said there are several criteria that we need to look at. One, is there human catastrophe? To our moral values, America's moral values have an interest here in addressing what's going on.
Two, strategic interest. And three, do we have the capacity to do something. That was true for Libya and true for dealing with this humanitarian catastrophe today. It's in our moral interest. It's consistent with our moral values. We have the capacity to do something.
And it's actually in our strategic interest in preventing this huge swath of a strategic important part of the Middle East being overrun by a radical Islamist group. This is -- imagine Afghanistan pre-9/11.
This is much more valuable real estate than Afghanistan pre-9/11 and you could have the same kind of totally open non-governed open space run by radical terrorist groups that are at war with the west.
BURNETT: How can U.S. air strikes stop that from happening? That would seem to be something that's targeted and specific and anarchy continues.
SENOR: If you look what we did in Libya and Afghanistan, first phase of Afghanistan after 9/11, if you look what we did in Balkans, combination of air power, of some special operations on the ground, certainly intelligence capabilities on the ground.
You need some intelligence capabilities on the ground to communicate with your air power and trainers, real trainers to work with the local military. Some combination of those capabilities can actually help fill a vacuum and do real damage and contain, if not setback an insurgency. We've done this several times before.
BURNETT: So when you hear what Dan is saying, is this something the United States could do? How quickly could it be done?
MARKS: The United States can do almost anything it wants to do. The challenge that we have is I need to go back to what Jim said. I think if we demonize ISIS with the word thug we might, in fact, diminish the image that we have of these guys.
They are incredibly egregious and they are like the Taliban on steroids and an armed capable force. If you put that on the table the answer becomes as Dan described ungoverned space as an inevitable outcome. If that's an OK outcome for us and if Baghdad can live with that type of an outcome then the decision is an easy one.
We'll sit there and monitor. I don't subscribe to the fact that ISIS is going to be metered in any way. They certainly are not bound by any sense of rules of engagement or any sense of propriety at all.
So the United States has an obligation in my mind to get involved not only for the humanitarian part, but also to ensure that we don't lose Baghdad.
BURNETT: So, Phil, does it get better, though, if the United States intervenes. You look at Libya, some might argue that was a success, but certainly it's lawless and a lot of anarchy going on. There is gunfights and insurgents controlling much of that country now.
MUDD: I don't think the tipping point is whether the United States gets involved or not. I'm not arguing for or against, that's a separate question. What I would say is in my experience of watching these groups, here's the horrible tragedy of this.
The decision about whether ISIS succeeds or fails or is in the hands of the people, in the villages and towns that ISIS takes over. If you look at insurgent groups moving in places like Afghanistan, Algeria, what will happen I suspect is until ISIS murders tens of thousands of people, you're going to have some Iraqi civilians who are going to say, I want to get involved in this.
When those civilians start to say I can take it anymore, this is too much that's when the tide turns not when we start dropping bombs overhead.
BURNETT: Quick final word.
SENOR: If you look what worked with the surge in 2007 and 2008 you had that element. They rose up but couldn't have done without the surge of American forces. Without us partnering with Iraqis to give them the security and the space to take on their own insurgency. It applied then and the same applies now. I'm not talking about a big redeployment of ground troops.
BURNETT: All right, thanks very much. I heard Jim Zogby there agreeing -- agreement there with Jim and Dan. Thanks to all.
Still OUTFRONT, our breaking news continues. Jim Sciutto has new reporting from U.S. intelligence officials on whether ISIS is a direct threat to the United States homeland. The crucial question.
Another jet shot down in Ukraine by a Russian BUK missile. Same weapon to shoot down MH-17. How many do they have? We are live in Ukraine tonight.
And another country suspect it may have a patient with Ebola. The head of the CDC warns it could make its way to the United States.
BURNETT: We have more of our breaking news tonight. The United States military considering airstrikes in Iraq, airstrikes from the Iraqi air force have already begun tonight. The problem is the growing threat from the terror group, ISIS, now threatening to slaughter Christian minorities. The United States has already begun humanitarian air drop missions to help some of the afflicted who are trapped in the mountains, afraid to come down for fear of execution.
Chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto has been following the developments. He's OUTFRONT tonight.
Jim, I guess the first question is and I just mentioned this with our panel a moment ago, it feels so many ways a world falling apart. The world was looking at eastern Ukraine. The world was looking at what's going on in Gaza. The world for a moment stopped looking at what was going on in Syria and Iraq. And how big a threat did ISIS become as the world look elsewhere?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You really can't exaggerate this, Erin. It is a big threat. It is a growing threat. And I hear it from so many U.S. officials and so many agencies here.
Let's talk about the immediate threat from ISIS. Right now, here just to the east of Mosul, you have a massacre looming, 40,000 Yazidis, religious minority in Iraq surrounded by ISIS fighters. Really, this is a Srebrenica. It's a Rwanda potentially in the making.
Just to the east of there, in Erbil, you have more than a hundred U.S. military advisors and ISIS forces advancing there threatening them, that of great concern to the White House.
But let's also talk about the medium and longer temple threat. This is ISIS positions in Iraq, just about six weeks ago, middle of June. Just in the six weeks time, this is how much territory they have gained. When I speak to U.S. officials, they tell me there's no signs of ISIS giving up that territory and, in fact, no sign of Iraqi forces gaining it back. That is an enormous concern to U.S. officials and why they are considering air strikes now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): These are the people the U.S. is rushing to protect, tens of thousands of minority Yazidis. They are now surrounded by ISIS fighters in a small northern Iraqi town, only for some of them, to die there of hunger and thirst.
Pleading for their lives inside the Iraqi parliament a Yazidis lawmaker collapsed with emotion.
VIAN DAKHIL, YAZIDI LAWMAKER (through translator): Over 500 men have been slaughtered. Mr. Speaker, our women are being killed or sold as slaves. There's a collective attempt to exterminate the Yazidis people.
SCIUTTO: Faced with a growing humanitarian crisis, the U.S. has launched a mission to drop emergency aid to the stranded Yazidis. It is also considering opening up a humanitarian corridor to allow them to escape. And potential air strikes on ISIS targets to protect U.S. military advisers now stationed in Erbil.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The cold and calculated manner in which ISIL has targeted defenseless Iraqis like the Yazidis and Christians solely because of their ethnic and religious identity demonstrates a callous disregard for human rights, and it is deeply disturbing.
SCIUTTO: ISIS is capable of alarming brutality, including mass executions of anyone who is not a Sunni Muslim or who will not immediately convert.
All recorded for the world to see in slickly produced videos like this one. Iraqi forces say they are striking ISIS positions in the northern Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Mosul. However, ISIS is making further gains. Today reclaiming the crucial Mosul dam which supplies electricity to what has now become the capital of a self-declared Islam caliphate in Iraq.
ISIS is also targeting Christians, attacking three more villages around Nineveh province, forcing hundreds of Christian families to flee for their lives.
A senior intelligence official tells CNN that ISIS is now, quote, "well-positioned to keep the territory it has captured."
SCIUTTO: And let's be clear here, ISIS does not just threaten the region. It also threatens the U.S.
We know that ISIS is planning and aspires to carry out attacks on the U.S. homeland and that is one failed state with one terror group that targets the U.S. I had a briefing with senior intelligence officials today and they made this point, there are now in effect four failed states in the region, with terror groups who are targeting the U.S.
You have al Murabitun here. It's an al Qaeda group. You have an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, an effective failed state, at least in parts of the country. It has already attempted three attacks on the U.S. homeland. And, of course, you have Al-Shabaab, also concerns about returning American fighters that have joined al Shabaab, concerns they would come out to the U.S. and carry out attacks.
This is what counter terror officials face every day and there are increasing concerns as these states fail what that means for safety back here at home.
BURNETT: All right. Jim, please stay with us. I want to bring in Elise Labott into this conversation, our global affairs correspondent.
And, Elise, from your reporting -- and this is the crucial question facing so many Americans watching tonight, trying to decide what they think this country should do -- will this be the beginning of a much larger military involvement in Iraq or is this something they truly believe can be a few surgical strikes?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Erin, I think for right now it's going very limited and specific humanitarian type intervention, along the lines of these airdrops, perhaps helping with the Iraqis to provide some kind of humanitarian corridor, maybe using U.S. air support to get these Yazidis off that mountain and get them out.
The U.S. has been pretty clear -- President Obama has said he is reluctant to get more, further into Iraq until there's an Iraqi government in place.
The Iraqis are still in the throes of political chaos. They do have a new president. They do have a new speaker of parliament, but they still need a prime minister, a government that can stand up and get -- make decisions.
That's what the U.S. thinks there's no military solution to this. That this is -- they think this is a political solution, once an Iraqi government that is inclusive that can stand up that will beat back the tide of ISIS and will be able to recapture the country. So I think that kind of fuller involvement, if the U.S. is going to consider it and as you see ISIS as Jim notes continuing to take large swaths of the country, that kind of military involvement won't be until the U.S.-Iraqi government stands up which can be quite soon because according to the constitution they need to do it in the coming days.
BURNETT: So, Jim, to Elise's point -- I mean, this is a huge moment for the president of the United States, looking at a region and as you point out with these failed states that has had some major failures that could be significant perhaps to the United States. His approval ratings on foreign affairs, 36 percent. That is a record low.
How big of a moment is this for him?
SCIUTTO: It's an enormous moment for the president. It also has to be a difficult decision for him to make. You know, his defining foreign policy success until a few months ago with ISIS' advance has been U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and also the pending withdrawal from Afghanistan. And remember, his decision not to carry out airstrikes in Syria after the use of chemical weapons there.
This is a president who did not want to use military force if he could avoid it and now facing what he's facing there as you look at the map, particularly the rapid advance of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, he's forced to make this decision. He really cannot act now, particularly with Americans under threat, 40,000 Yazidis under threat, you know, it's got be a very difficult moment for him.
BURNETT: Certainly, as he gets criticized when does not, criticized when he does. Thanks to both of you.
And OUTFRONT next, the breaking news continues. Another plane shot down in Ukraine, less than a most downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Another country, this is the fifth reporting a suspected case of Ebola. We're going to go live to the epicenter of the outbreak tonight for the very latest.
BURNETT: Breaking news, another plane shot down in Ukraine. The attack less than a month after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the sky, killing 298 people. According to a Ukrainian official, the military jet was hit by a Russian-made BUK missile. We'll show you what it looks like. This is the BUK.
As you well remember, this is the same missile that is believed to have taken down Flight 17, a missile that has the ability to shot up to 70 feet in the sky.
Our Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT in Donetsk, Ukraine.
And, Nick, what can you tell us about the attack today?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, the focus on this jet being taken down, a MiG-29, because Ukrainian officials say a missile system known as BUK also blamed for taking down Malaysia Flight 17 was used in this attack. It happened to the north of the crash site and it's happening as violence is really escalating in this civil war. The inspectors unable to get that crash site because while I sat here in Donetsk, we're seeing the Ukrainian military closing in very fast, blasts, small arms fire around where I am sat now.
Bizarre event today, when the leader of the separatist, Alexander Borodai, who hadn't been in public for a while, suddenly turned up and gave a press conference and said he was quitting and announced that someone we didn't hear much about, a militant leader, would take his place -- a real sense that things are changing. There are four people killed by shelling today in Donetsk. We awoke this morning at dawn to hearing substantial artillery barrages to the south of where I am sat now.
No doubt the Ukrainian military is moving in fast and no doubt there is increased pressure on Moscow to perhaps intervene in some way although they know themselves they'd be more Western sanctions if they try -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Nick, thanks very much to you.
And I want to bring in our CNN military analyst, retired Army General James "Spider" Marks.
General Marks, let me ask you, this is not an easy weapon to use. We talked so much about whether a Russian hand would have been on the button or the trigger when that MH-17 was shot out of the sky. We know rebels have successfully shot down other Ukrainian military jets. We have heard a lot about BUKs being used. How surprised are you about another BUK is being used.
Do they have a lot more than what was thought?
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, I don't think they have any more.
Erin, you're really making a good point, which is when we saw the egregious and terrible event that occurred with the Malaysian aircraft being shot down, at that point, I think it was fair to assume that that BUK missile system, that SA-11 had come across the border, had come across the border, had been obviously, it's a Russian piece of equipment, it had been brought over to the Russian separatists and there was some sort of training. So, I couldn't positively state that a Russian pulled, absolutely got in there and pulled trigger, pushed the button to make that thing launch off the rails.
In this particular case, I think in retrospect I think it's probably safe to assume that additional training occurred to the Russian separatists because they operated it quite effectively this time vis- a-vis what they did before. They didn't intend to shoot down the Malaysian aircraft and they did because they were not properly trained. They probably received some additional training.
So, I think it's fair to assume legitimately, additional training was provided by the Russians, or the Russians said look these guys aren't ready to operate these weapon systems we'll operate them during the foreseeable future and we'll ride them along with us as we get them more competent. I think the short answer is Russia clearly, again, is behind this.
BURNETT: And, do you think then -- what is Russia's next move? Are they going to keep sending in more and more weapons without care for the sanctions?
MARKS: Yes. I don't think that Russia will measure its activities in any way. In fact, we've seen a build up of Russian forces just across the border again very, very provocative, that close, hanging over the Ukrainian border. And certainly, Putin can push those folks away at any time. He has chosen not to and done the complete opposite.
So, I would imagine Russia will continue to provide the separatists exactly what they need.
BURNETT: All right. General Marks, thank you. MARKS: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT next, Ebola killed nearly 1,000 people. We'll go live to the epicenter of the outbreak in Sierra Leone, after this.
BURNETT: Breaking news on the Ebola virus is spreading tonight. Tonight, reports it has spread to a fifth country, the country of Benin. You can see it highlighted there in yellow next to Nigeria, the most populous country on the African continent. The health minister in Benin saying a Nigerian citizen is hospitalized with a suspected case. It is an outbreak in which 1,000 people have nearly lost their lives.
And today, the director of the CDC warned it could spread to the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, CDC DIRECOTR: It is certainly possible that we could have ill people in the U.S. who develop Ebola while here after having been exposed elsewhere. It is possible that they could spread it to close family members or to health care workers if their infection is not rapidly identified. But we're confident that there will not be a large Ebola outbreak in the U.S.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: David McKenzie is OUTFRONT in Sierra Leone, the epicenter of the outbreak. He's the only television reporter there risking his life to do such incredible reporting this week. David, I know you now have spoken exclusively to the family of a well-known doctor who died from the virus.
What did they say?
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, more than 60 health professional haves died in this unprecedented outbreak here in Sierra Leone and in other parts of the region. It's just tragic that the people trying to save lives have lost their lives, and the only expert on Ebola here in Sierra Leone was one of the first people to really wake up people to this epidemic.
We spoke to his family who are still in shock.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): Dr. Sheik Omar Khan's family knew the risks. He was the country's only Ebola specialist.
When the deadly virus first hit, his father pleaded with him to come home, so did his brother.
C. RAY KHAN, DR. SHEIK OMAR KHAN'S BROTHER: This was a young man who went to do his work. He said I'm going to do it -- MCKENZIE (on camera): It's very difficult to talk about this, his
KHAN: Yes, of course, it is. In retrospect, I wish I forcibly get him out of that place (INAUDIBLE) for me. I mean, you can understand that as a brother.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): But in the Ebola stricken region, Dr. Khan kept treating patients at the state hospital. More than 100 received his care and he promised his brother he would stay safe.
KHAN: I'm a little bit angry. You just have to expect that from me, because there are a lot of things the government should have done to mitigate the spread of this disease.
MCKENZIE: Despite a crumbling health care system, the government says it's doing everything it can, but Dr. Khan went from caregiver to patient, from fighting the disease he succumbed to it.
If you had to say one thing to your brother right now, what would it be?
KHAN: Hey, Omar, you didn't die in vain. No, he didn't die in vain. You died for humanity, for this country.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
MCKENZIE: C. Ray Khan said his brother was alone in his fight, but in his death a nation woke up to this outbreak.
MCKENZIE: Well, Erin, certainly a tragic story there, but his family say they didn't cry. They didn't shed a single tear because they knew while he was alive, Dr. Khan did so much to help Sierra Leone people. But they are also angry that the protocols weren't there, put in place to protect health workers and that certainly is still an issue here in Sierra Leone outside of the topnotch Doctors Without Borders clinics, and many here don't even want to treat the patients because they are too scared -- Erin.
BURNETT: David McKenzie, thank you so much.
We'll be right back.
BURNETT: Get a credit card, serve on a jury, attend an Ivy League school, these are some of the things you can do in this country if you're a woman that you could not do in the 1960s. That's right no credit cards for women in the 1960s in the U.S.
Well, times have changed. That change did not always come easy.
Don't miss "THE SIXTIES", the times, they are changing. Believe me, you don't want to hear me trying to sing that. Tonight at 9:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.
Anderson Cooper starts now.