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The War Against ISIS: What Should U.S. Do Now? Aired 21:00- 22:00p ET.

Aired June 2, 2015 - 21:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: This is a Situation Room special report. The war against ISIS, What Should the U.S. Do Now?

The most brutal terrorist on the planet are killing their way to new corners of the world. ISIS fighters are slaughtering civilians, seizing cities, and recruiting Americans to attack a U.S. soil.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive and ISIL is going to lose.


BLITZER: Tonight, the war against ISIS., what should the United States do now? Some of the best military minds can be in our Situation Room as a battle unfolds over the President's strategy and what could be done to reverse stunning losses.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are neither degrading nor destroying ISIS, and we have no strategy for doing so.


BLITZER: How can the U.S. and its allies defeat a terrorist entity unlike any other. Armed with a powerful propaganda -- intent on wiping on history and creating its own so-called the Islamic state.

After so much blood and treasure lost in Iraq, what should America do now to destroy ISIS?

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room here in Washington.

In Iraq, Syria and beyond, ISIS is on the move. Scoring stunning battlefield victories and committing savage atrocities wherever it goes. Tonight, we've gathered some of America's top military and strategic minds, not to talk about the past but to look at the state of the war against ISIS as it stands right now, it's a layout. What the United States and the world can do before ISIS extends its deadly reach.

Gathered here at our Situation Room, Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, he led the First Armored Division in Iraq during the surge, later commanded the U.S. Army in Europe.

Retired Four-Star General Carter Ham, he led a brigade in Northern Iraq. Commanded the U.S. Army in Europe, and later headed the U.S.- Africa Command.

Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, he was the Senior Intelligence Officer at Iraq and Commanded the U.S. Army Intelligence School.

Retired Four-Star Admiral, William Fallon, Former Head of the U.S. Central Command, which stretches from the Middle East to Central Asia. He flew carrier jets, led a carrier group and commanding U.S. flits.

And Former NATO Supreme Ally Commander, retired Four-Star General Wesley Clark, he served in Vietnam, oversaw Allied military operations in the Balkans. He's a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center.

Gentlemen, I want to welcome all of you here to our Situation Room. Let me begin, General Clark with a simple question, can the U.S. defeat ISIS without committing more ground troops to Iraq?

WESLEY CLARK, (RET.) SENIOR FELLOW, UCLA BURKLE CENTER: I think the simple answer is yes. We have to find a way to do this because you can't panic right now. It's on a bunch of U.S. ground troops. That's the way to lose this, by Americanizing this fight.

BLITZER: How do you do it without more ground troops?

CLARK: You've got to get the ground troops that are there armed and they've got to have the will to fight.

BLITZER: The U.S. -- 3000 troops over there now, is that what you're talking?

CLARK: ... the local people, they've got to fight. This is their fight. We've got to avoid losing in order to win. So no U.S. ground troops right now.

BLITZER: What about that no U.S. ground troops, can the U.S. win without a lot more U.S. ground troops.

GEN. CARTER HAM, (RET.) U.S. ARMY : The U.S. can in my view, must win. I don't think the Iraq -- we can help the Iraqis win without additional U.S. support, perhaps forward air controllers and the like...

BLITZER: How many? HAM: I don't know -- a number. The situation is efficiently fragile, that I think we're fast approaching a point that without the insertion of ground combat forces from the regional partners, the U.S. or others that this situation might become vastly...

BLITZER: So it sounds that you want more U.S. ground troops there?

HAM: I think more support for sure, forward air controllers I think are an appropriate first step. I don't think we're yet at a point where we should consider ground combat force.

BLITZER: What do you think Admiral Fallon? More U.S. troops though or not?

ADM. WILLIAM FALLON, (RET.) FORMER COMMANDER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: No. No significant U.S. force increase, however, we can be more effective with select units. So, we have air power, nobody else has it. Special forces, second to none. They can be more helpful but we don't -- we're not going to win this unless the people on the ground take this fight to ISIS.

BLITZER: All right, General Marks

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, (RET.) FORMER CPOMMANDER ARMY INDEPENDECEN CENTER: We must ensure that that Baghdad does not fall, which means we have to maintain our...

BLITZER: You've been raising that question about the capital of Iraq, a huge city falling. That raises all sorts of fears and it reminds a lot of people about Saigon.

MARKS: There are discussions right now in the National Security Council, they are talking about what are the options? And the options are we can't allow that to fall. What can we allow? This caliphate that's been created cannot expand. It can't continue to double up a territory, and that this has to be contained. More U.S. troops on the ground right now is not the solution.

[21:05:04] BLITZER: So you say that there shouldn't be more? What do you say?

L.T. GEN. MARK HERTLING, MILITARY ANALYST: We are supporting actor in this, Wolf. This has got to be the Iraqi government that wins this and then later on something different in Syria, but we have got to provide more than just force in a military approach to this. It is got to be governmental, it's got to be informational, it's got to be economic and diplomatic. We've got to put more effort into this beyond just...

BLITZER: You have confidence in this Iraqi government right now?

CLARK: No. I don't have a lot of confidence...

BLITZER: So, what makes you think that the U.S. can win?

CLARK: Because I think you've to work that Iraqi government and I think you've got to work the tribal leaders in Anbar province and pull something together. As what General Hertling is saying about the need for a broader approach, it's not just about kinetics. We've got to be able to force...


HERTLING: We have got to force that to happen with the tribes, with the Kurds, with the Sunni tribes, with the Kurds and everything in between. There are 11 different states within Iraq. None of them have confidence in the central...

FALLON: All right. A requisite success here, Wolf, is political action by the government of Baghdad to convince right now, the Sunnis, that they're going to have a stake in the future.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment. I like to you to stand by. I want to get a briefing on the current reach of ISIS. The extraordinary rate this terror group has held its territory and has actually spread. Our Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto is over at the magic wall. Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the map of ISIS presence in Iraq and Syria as of the end of May. Areas in red, that's ISIS control, yellow, ISIS support, and these orange areas where they've been able to carry out attacks.

You see it extends across the border from Syria into Iraq. It extends down to the border with Jordan. General Clark mentioned the threat to Jordan. Attacks in Lebanon, also threatening Saudi Arabia.

So, key question, has the U.S.-led air campaign, has the effort of Kurdish and Iraqi troops made a difference so far in changing this map, let's look to three months ago. This is February. If you can't tell a difference between those two maps, you're not alone because the maps are largely the same.

Again, this is May, end of May, this is February. The map largely unchanged and in fact during that time, ISIS gaining some ground in Ramadi, the Baiji oil refinery, maintaining their key base of support here in Mosul.

Let's look the influence beyond Iraq and Syria. As they've held their ground there, they began to expand their influence throughout the region. You have presence now and affiliates in Libya, in Egypt, in Yemen as well as areas of support in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. They were able to carry out an attack in Tunisia recently and this is the key concern. Does ISIS extend its influence into Europe as you have returning foreign fighters there? They've already been able to carry out attacks in Europe and of course, crucial concern for America, can they cross the Atlantic. And in fact, we've had a number of arrest here, supporters here, the possibility of attacks as well. During this time, it goes from a local, a regional threat to an international problem. Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much. So, how does the United States and its partners deal with this rapid expansion of ISIS? It's rapid and it's continuing. They don't seem to be stopped at all, do they?

FALLON: The Iraqi ground forces to date have not demonstrated an ability to stay and fight its battle and win. And that has to happen if we're going to be successful.



HAM: As long as ISIS continues to achieve success, they become an inspiring element for extremists in other parts of the world, as far as Sub-Saharan African as Jim laid out. So, while there is not an ultimately a military solution, there is a military requirement, I think, in the near term to defeat ISIS, at least hectically to contain them, thwart them from expanding the territory they...


BLITZER: Hold on a second. Hold on second here.

CLARK: Because when they swept out of nowhere and took Mosul, you would have thought the sky was going to fall the next day. It didn't. Now, they did take Ramadi and it was a tough fight but that was a long fight.

BLITZER: It wasn't such a tough fight, they simply ran away, the Iraqi army.

CLARK: They were hit by a lot of enormous explosion.

BLITZER: They were outnumbered. The Iraqi army was in big numbers. In Ramadi, there were a lot fewer ISIS troops...


CLARK: ... ready to fight. We got to get -- we, working together with the Iraqis, we've got to get that army able to fight and it's too early to say that army can't fight. That army can fight and the militias can fight.

MARKS: This has to have a neighborhood solution. You got to get Sunni Arabs involved in this, clearly internal to Iraq. We got to get the Sunni tribes to continue to engage. You have to have the courage to continue to engage. But you have to have local...


BLITZER: Hold on a second. General Hertling, as you know, all of you know because you all served there as you know, the U.S. spent a decade...


BLITZER: ... arming, training, financing an Iraqi military. When the U.S. pulled out, they had several hundred thousand Iraqi military personnel working. What has happened? Why is that army collapsed? HERTLING: You judge an army by two things, Wolf, will and skill. I

think our key contributions to the Iraqi army over that 10-year period was giving them the skills, the basic skills...

[21:10:03] BLITZER: So, what do you do now...

HERTLING: Right now -- but the will is the problem. And it gets back to the political will that's associated with leading the force and the will of the leaders to treat the soldiers in the right way. It's interesting to note when Jim was mentioning on maps, all the places he located were all places where there were failed government, failed leadership, failed will to fight this organization.

BLITZER: The President of the United States calls you into his Situation Room and says General Clark what's the most important thing the United States can do right now to defeat ISIS, you say?

CLARK: Get the Sunni tribes fighting.

BLITZER: You say?

HAM: Ramp up support so they have the ability to fight.

BLITZER: What does that mean, ramp up support?

HAM: I think the forward air controllers, more precise, more effective air strikes as a start.

BLITZER: What does this say to you, Admiral?

FALLON: The most important thing to do is to get to the leadership in Baghdad and tell me get off their tails and make difference out in Anbar.

MARKS: Initially, keep ISIS where it is in some form of containment long-term. You got to do everything that these gentlemen have said.

HERTLING: All of the above but with a focus on what Admiral Fallon said, you have got to persuade and we have not done diplomatically the things we need to do to get the Iraqi government supporting their people, all of their people.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We have a lot more.

Coming up, with few reliable on allies on the ground, should the U.S. cut off the middle men, the Central Iraqi government, and arm the enemies of ISIS. And later, he's known as the Invisible Sheikh, can the U.S. hunt down and killed the illusive leader of ISIS.


[21:15:05] BLITZER: Welcome back to our Situation Room special report where we've gathered top military and strategic minds to look at the how to defeat ISIS. There's a major air war underway right now against ISIS but no one believes air power alone will defeat the terror group. Let's look at what the United States and its allies are doing right now and what they need to do going forward.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr, reports.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After months of fighting on the ground and more than 3,000 air strikes over Syria and Iraq, the question, how much is there to show for it?

The Pentagon and the White House are, as they say, fine-tuning the strategy. The U.S. commitment set out last year with problems from the beginning.


OBAMA: Our objective is clear. We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained 1:00 and strategy.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.) FORMER AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: It seems to me that there was no plan to fully execute a strategy like that to truly get to the destroy part. And that's a significant shortfall when it comes to executing a war plan or implementing a strategy.


STARR (voice-over): For months, the U.S. watched ISIS on the march, taking town after town, Raqqah, Deir Ezzor, Sinjar, Mosul, and Ramadi.

But the air and ground campaign really born from the horror of the killings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and the mass atrocities ISIS inflicts on thousands across Syria and Iraq.

But the Pentagon immediately warned air strikes would never be enough.


GEN. AMRTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There is no air power alone solutions to ISIL either in Iraq or in Syria.


STARR (voice-over): The tactics to carry out the strategy and win, build coalition, conduct air strikes and train local forces on the ground to do the fighting.

From the beginning most of the effort was in Iraq. The U.S. believing it could work with the Iraqi government. But when ISIS took over Ramadi, that stunning statement from Defense Secretary Ash Carter.


ASHTON CARTER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. We can give them training, we can give them equipment. We obviously can't give them the will to fight. The people who live in that territory, particularly the Sunni tribes, they are the ones we have to get in the fight and win the fight and then hold the territory after ISIS defeated.


STARR: And Ash Carter will also tell you he is not recommending U.S troops on the ground in a combat role. Wolf?

BLITZER: At least not yet. All right, thanks very much Barbara for that.

Joining our group of experts, the Former CIA counterterrorism official Phillip Mudd, he also served as the FBI's Senior Intelligence Adviser a decade or so ago.

The U.S. basically bought up a lot of the Sunni troops in Anbar province and else where in Iraq. Should the U.S. now be arming the Sunni, moderate Sunni forces fighting ISIS directly or should it still have to go through that government in Baghdad?

PHILLIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Heck no. They had to arm their directly. We got a simple problem here that is when we're dealing with a counter insurgency campaign, we got to drain this swamp of local support so ISIS can't operate. They are not providing governance now, they are providing intimidation.

Right now, the message of the Shia-led government to Sunni tribes and Anbar is, we're going to bring in Shia militias. If you are a Sunni tribe, then you got to be saying, are you kidding me?

So I think one of the questions we have here is do we keep depending on the Shia-led government to provide military support to the Sunnis. So far, they haven't been very effective or do we take an end of round, and I'd argue go for the end of round because we've already seen what the government brings to the table.

UNIDENTIFIELD MALE: The end of round but don't let the government of Baghdad fall. That is the key point is...

MUDD: That's right. That right.

BLITZER: The government of Baghdad hates this notion of directly arming the Sunnis or the Kurds for that...

HERTLING: Because they feel the threat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. And that's where you're going to the political side of this thing. When you say win, what does it mean? And what you got now is a sectarian situation that's so hateful and so fearful inside Iraq. But the idea that you can put this back together if ISIS will just go away, that's a really hard shell to the Iraqi...

BLITZER: If you were still the head of the U.S. military central command, what would you do? Would you arm the Sunnis directly? Would you arm the Kurds directly? Or still have to through Baghdad? FALLON: Oh, the reality is you got to deal with both sides. I would be very interested in putting equipment into Anbar because the Sunnis are going to have to be the guys to fight, and they are the guys that are going to have the will.

BLITZER: What if the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi says, you know what, you do that, I'm going to Iran. I'm moving along the lines of Nouri alt-Malik's predecessors.

[21:19:59] FALLON: So I would say, OK. Fine. Then we'll leave and by the way, what happened in Tikrit, it seems to me that Shia militias didn't do too well. They pulled him out and finally a combination of Iraqi forces with U.S. support took the town. So these guys are not as good as they would claim they are. And the reality is that we can help them but there has to be support coming out of Baghdad. That's what's really been like...

MARKS: Admiral, I don't disagree but when you look at this emerging caliphate that ISIS has created...

BLITZER: Here in Iraq, in Syria...

MARKS: And in Syria...

BLITZER: And they're ambitious, they want more.

MARKS: Absolutely. The key thing is this is intergenerational. There is a lot that can be done. To General Clark's point is that none of the solutions are shake and bake. None of these are immediate solutions yet we tend to have a discussion of what can we do right now, what is the immediate...


FALLON: I think there is no immediate. There is no one thing you're going to do. I mean, these guys are getting support from around the world...




FALLON: They're on a role. The impression is they're tough guys, they're big guys. Look at this and all these gory things, they're great recruiting tools. They get bunked on the head a couple of times. I think that's going to back away.

So, go back to 2007 in Iraq, al-Qaeda was on a role as well...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the surge.

FALLON: And then things happened. What happened behind the scenes? It wasn't just the surge, it was what we are doing and then, it was the reality that the support that they got tacitly or otherwise, went away.

BLITZER: The U.S. was buying off these Sunni...


BLITZER: ... tribal leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... paying them.


BLITZER: ... hundreds of millions of dollars giving this -- the tribal sheiks cash, right?

FALLON: Well, the key -- I think the key thing was that the troopers actually got cash.


FALLON: They got pay for the service. They don't have any other jobs.

BLITZER: You were in the CIA.

MUDD: Yeah.

BLITZER: CIA was funneling a lot of money to theses Sunnis in Anbar province.

MUDD: That's right. That's right.

BLITZER: Were they paying these guys off? What were they doing?

MUDD: I wouldn't say paying. Wolf, look, you have a counterinsurgency capability on the ground, that is the Sunni tribes. We keep talking about ISIS versus the government. If you look where counterinsurgency succeeds, place like Somalia, places like North Africa, it's because the local population gets tired or getting their heads...

BLITZER: So, would that strategy work now looking forward?

HAM: I think we have to find a way to, again, help the Sunni tribes in Anbar, particularly mobilize and help them -- and help the central government convey to the Sunni tribes that hey, this is one Iraq, we're in this together.

BLITZER: Standby, we have a lot more to discuss. In fact, we're only just getting started.

Coming up in our special report. Know thy enemy. ISIS has been changing its tactics in the face of relentless air strikes. Can military might defeat fighters happy to die for their cause. And later, he is known as the Invisible Sheikh. Can the U.S. kill the elusive leader of ISIS?


[21:26:40] BLITZER: We're back with our Situation Room special report. Top former and military strategic thinkers, they're here with me in the Situation Room stand by.

I want to go straight to Iraq right now were ISIS has its own version of shock and awe ferocious attacks led by suicide bombers and followed by bloody atrocities. CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon has cover this war from the very start. She's in Baghdad with the close look at the terror group's strategy.


ARWA DAMON, CNN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are among the chaotic final moments of the battle for Ramadi captured on a cellphone. Minutes later, shouts up no ammunition. And the unit is ordered to retreat by a higher command. The domino-like collapse of Iraq's forces in Ramadi is under scrutiny and investigation by the government. But the battle for the city highlights how ISIS evolved its tactics.

For weeks, sending wave after wave of vehicles laden with explosives driven by suicide bombers, its weapon of choice, and unlike the days of the U.S. occupation here, often the ones deployed are unstoppable. ISIS has plenty of fighters willing to volunteer to deliver the deadly load. And Iraq's security forces trained by the U.S. are plague with logistical and leadership failures, unable to face off against ISIS tactics.


DAMON (voice-over): ISIS are well-organized fighters, well-trained and they have a doctrine in fighting that is difficult to defeat.

Falih al-Essawi, deputy head of the Anbar Provincial Council says "they are fighting to die, to get into heaven and we are fighting to live so the next generation can live."

"ISIS is relying heavily on former regime army and intelligence officers that joined ISIS and were close to the inner circle of the regime", he says

ISIS fighting ranked swelled (ph) quickly, the organization easily capitalizing on the Sunni population's grievances with and broken pledges of the Shia-led government. Essawi says the Anbar council and tribal leaders asked for air strikes in the province last summer, and pleaded back then for the U.S. and the Iraqi government to arm the tribes against ISIS.

AL-ESSAWI: (Foreign Language)

DAMON (voice-over): The Americans are not honest, he says. They lost an important ally in the region and they did not take advantage of this opportunity. Iraqi's will tell you the U.S. strategy is not failing here simply because ISIS is a formidable foe, the U.S. strategy is failing because America never understood the region or succeeded in Iraq to begin with.


DAMON: And, Wolf, the U.S. grossly underestimated ISIS' capabilities up until the fall of Mosul, and as one former senior Iraqi official was telling me, he is concerned that once again the organization's capabilities are being underestimated and not really knowing an enemy like ISIS could potentially have devastating repercussions beyond anything, anyone could ever imagine.

[21:30:05] BLITZER: Arwa, I know you've been listening to our military experts here in the Situation Room, what are they missing?

DAMON: Well here's how desperate the situation in Anbar is. First of all, the people in Anbar, the tribal leaders do not want to see the Shia militias fighting there but at this stage, they are welcoming them. They know there is going to be a price to pay but they have no other choice because they feel as if America has abandoned them already, and America has abandoned the Sunni tribes in the past after they turned against Al-Qaeda and fought alongside U.S. forces, not necessarily because of money but because they did not want to be ruled by Al-Qaeda.

They feel as if the U.S. abandoned them when America withdrew and left them to the mercy of the predominantly Shia government. They feel as if America has abandoned them already in the battle against ISIS by not coming to their assistance when they have requested it in the past.

And for America to rebuild those ties, that is going to be vital moving forward if the U.S. is really concerned about Iran's influence here because at this stage, the Sunnis are willing to make a deal with the Shia and with the Iranians to save themselves from ISIS.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon is a very courageous journalist joining us from Baghdad. Be careful over there, Arwa. Thank you.

Let's bring back Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, he led the First-Armored Division in Iraq, later commanded the U.S. Army in Europe. Also joining us, Zalmay Khalilzad, he served as the United States Ambassador in Afghanistan, in Iraq and at the United Nations.

Ambassador Khalilzad, these ISIS fighters, they're no ordinary fighters, these are fanatics by and large, what do you need to do to defeat these fanatics?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER U.S. AMB. TO AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ, U.N.: I think they are fanatics but they are also -- quite a number of the more professional military people who used to be part of Saddam Hussein's army.

What's needed in my view, beside the military effort that needs to be made to contain them so that they don't move out of Anbar into Baghdad is that, you need a political deal. And sometimes in a crisis that heats up, that is an opportunity and the opportunity is to for diplomacy for our senior diplomatic people to engage to get a settlement between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq so that the Sunnis can be armed. Ultimately, they would have to defeat ISIS.

BLITZER: But can regional partners of the United States, whether the Saudis, the Jordanians, others in the area, can they help?

KHALILZAD: They would have to be at the table in my view. You left up the Iranians ultimately, the Saudis and the Turks, also at the table for a settlement of Iraq and Syria because ISIS is not only in Iraq and being very threatening right now but also Syria, the sanctuary for them. And as long as that sanctuary is there, Iraq will remain...

BLITZER: General Clark, are these regional partners of the United States and some not partners like Iran for example or Syria, Bashar al-Assad's regime, are they going to help the United States in this effort?

CLARK: Well they can help themselves. And this question for us to put together the right framework where they can help themselves and help us in the process. We're not going to defeat ISIS all by ourselves in this and we're not going to defeat them just with military power. So what's emerging here is let's get the Sunnis engaged, let's get the other others in the region engaged. Let's be able to put the right diplomacy as well as the right weapons in to contain ISIS and then squeeze it down.

BLITZER: But you heard Arwa Damon, she's been there for years. And she just came back from meeting a lot of these Sunnis, moderate Sunnis who have, in her words, lost all confidence in the United States right now. How do you regain their confidence?

HAM: Time is one of our enemies right now. I mean every day that goes by, that ISIL is able to advance, take another town, take another village, conduct more suicide bombings, contributes to this myth of ISIL's invincibility. And so it is in our best interest, it's in America's best interest, again, to help Iraq and in this case, the Sunni Arabs of Anbar, to at least stymie that advance.

BLITZER: We have a lot more to assess. Coming up...

Could ISIS be beaten without the help of two of America's biggest adversaries? Iran and Syria could hold the key to defeating ISIS but at what cost? Should the U.S. work with the regimes in Tehran and Damascus? And the leader of ISIS, he's known as the Invisible Sheikh. If the U.S. can find him and take him out, can it defeat the terror group?


[21:38:22] BLITZER: We're back with our military and strategy experts. Also joining us again, the Former CIA counterterrorism official, Philip Mudd. Phil, should the U.S. work directly with Iran and Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad to defeat ISIS?

MUDD: No way. I mean, look -- we got to look at it -- objective here. Our objective is not simply defeating ISIS, it's getting Iraq to a place where all the parties, the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shia play together.

I don't think Iran shares that objective, that's why they're pressing for Shia militia to go up into Sunni cities. Same thing on the Syria side, we have an objective here and that is to destroy (inaudible) ISIS. It is not to keep empower a man who use chemical weapons against his own people. We got to keep our focus.

BLITZER: Ambassador Khalilzad.

KHALILZAD: We cannot fix Iraq and Syria so that conditions for growth of ISIS or successors will not be there and for that we need the regional players. We need Iran. We need Saudi Arabia. We need Turkey and we need a settlement, a compact among internal players, the tribes, the Kurds, the Shia, as well as the regional players. I think that is the part that's missing. That has to be our long-term objective in order to defeat ISIS for the long term.

BLITZER: Admiral Fallon, and you had the military central command. The great fear that a lot of U.S. experts has is the, yes, Iran will come in and help maybe the Syrians, but in the end, if they do and they do defeat ISIS, Iran may emerge as the major strategic winner and be in-charge not only in Iran but Iraq moving into Syria. Maybe into Lebanon, have that huge arch, the U.S. loses, Iran wins.

[21:40:04] FALLON: The reality is -- that Iran has lot of challenges on its plate right now. And regarding, you know, the idea that they are going to come in their army is going to take over and defeat ISIS, nonsense.

BLITZER: But they're in already. There are reigning revolutionary guys, they are there.

FALLON: Sure they are, but look at the record on the battlefield. They came into Tikrit, flags flying, we're here we're gong to fix this and they didn't. It turns out the Iraqi army had to come bail them out with a strong support from the U.S. So they're a player, they have to be a player and a solution.

BLITZER: You want the U.S. to work with Iran to defeat ISIS?

HAM: No, I think we work -- I think it's one of the reasons why a multi-cultura,l multi-ethnic Iraq is so important because that does provide an element of balance in the region which is so necessary.

BLITZER: What do you think?

CLARK: I don't think you want to work with Iran or Syria, but I do think you have to use diplomacy in this. And whether you reach them indirectly or not, you got to somehow make them believe that our objective is their objective to some extent. We got to figure out what we're trying to do here. Now, we started with this talk, what is winning? Winning is not just getting rid of ISIS, winning is stabilizing this. So ISIS right now is like a cork in a bottle, if you pull ISIS out immediately, what you'll have is you'll have the Iranian threat, the Turks will come in, the Saudis are in danger so how do you pull this together.

I like the idea of working with the Sunni tribes, telling Baghdad that we're going to have like a national guard in the Sunni areas. They're going to have to live with it until they can (inaudible) from the Iraqi national forces. And then the Iranians have to accept but we're not going to accept a Bashar Assad or in Iranian hegemony in the area.

MUDD: That's right. There's going to be a problem with this, especially going to a presidential campaign and that is we're all agreeing that we don't want to cooperate with Iran. We might de- conflict with them, we don't want to cooperate. There's a realistic piece of this still and that is we can't walk in the Baghdad and say, you've got to get the Iranians out. We're 10,000 miles away, the Iranians are there including generals on the ground, so this is a bit of a fine sort of...

CLARK: And not only that, but we're about to make a nuclear arrangement...


CLARK: ... with Iran which is going to -- first, it's going to give them a lot of money right away to cost (inaudible). But secondly, it's at least as it's been explained to me, it sort of sets a time table in which they could break...

KHALILZAD: I think that's...

CLARK: ... nuclear weapon

KHALILZAD: ... this maybe.

CLARK: So it's very dangerous.

KHALILZAD: This maybe a time that Iranians also maybe concerned that maybe this is getting out of control. The Saudis have reacted to them in Yemen, there is a potential for an escalation there because of Shia-Sunni thing. Iraq is unraveling and Iran controlling Iraq is going to be very difficult to sustain.

BLITZER: I want to take a quick break, much more coming up. Cutting off the head of the snake, The U.S. has a $10 million bounty on the leader of ISIS. How big a blow would it be for ISIS to lose its leader?


[21:46:55] BLITZER: Welcome back to our Situation Room special report where we gathered top military and strategic minds to take a close look at how to defeat ISIS. Can the United States and its allies deal a major blow to ISIS by taking out its chief? Our Brian Todd takes a close look at the terror group secretive and enigmatic leader who regards himself as a modern caliph, head of an Islamic state.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He slowly ascended to the podium. Spokes softly and sent chills down the spines of intelligence and military officials around the world.

ABU BAKR AL BAGHDADI, ISIS LEADER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): You should take up Jihad to please God and fight in his name.

TODD (voice-over): Wearing signature black, flashing an expensive watch, his sermon at a mosque in Mosul in July, 2014 was an emergence for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. An aberration for a man called the Invisible Sheikh known to be obsessive about secrecy.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, TERRORISM ANALYST: There are rumors that this is a guy who used to cover his face even when meeting with some of his own people. Someone who took his extraordinary precautions when (inaudible) security.

TODD (voice-over): Baghdadi now has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head.

How does he manage ISIS? One hint comes from accounts of a period when he was actually in U.S. custody, at Camp Bucca in Iraq, a U.S. one prison of over 20,000 insurgents. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi became a trusted inmate by his American captives, allowed to roam freely around the camp as a sort of ambassador.

MARTIN CHULOV, CORRESPONDENT, THE GUARDIAN: And the Americans seemed to see Abu Bakr as somebody who could keep the prison quiet.

TODD (voice-over): Guardian reporter Martin Chulov, interviewed a senior ISIS commander, he calls "Abu Ahmed", not his real name. Abu Ahmed says he spent time at Camp Bucca with Baghdadi starting in 2004. He told Chulov, Baghdadi was a fixer at the camp who could settle disputes between competing factions, "he was respected very much by the U.S. army."

Baghdadi, he said, was seen by other detainees as clever, scheming, "using a policy of conquer and divide to get what he wanted". Baghdadi was eventually released from Bucca. As he left, according to the former camp commander, he had one last message.

KENNETH KING, FORMER COMMANDER AT CAMP BUCCA: He looked over to us and as he left, he said see you guys in New York.

TODD (voice-over): Now, Baghdadi is said to run ISIS like a combination of a Mafia don and a CEO with spreadsheets on missions, assassinations and captured assets. If he is taken out by the U.S.- led allies, could ISIS survive? Analyst say as valuable as Baghdadi is for the ISIS brand, the group would not disintegrate without him.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: Even killing the leader of ISIS and its predecessor organization, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, including Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, has not been able to significantly impact the organization.


TODD (voice-over): One key reason for that, ISIS has smartly fanned out from its center of gravity in Iraq and Syria. It's taken its black market operations and diversified leadership structure to places like Africa and South Asia. Analyst say a decapitation strike likely will not finish this group off. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thanks very much. Would it make a difference if Al-Baghdadi is taken out?

[21:50:10] MUDD: Not unless you sustain this over time. Look, this is a group that's been around for a while. If you look at our successes against southern insurgent groups, al-Qaeda is one example, unless you sustain over time, month after month, they will find somebody like shark's teeth to take over. You got to keep going.

BLITZER: You agree?

MARKS: Totally agree. The deal that really is important to focus in on is frankly it doesn't matter who the leader is because it will metastasize. We could really take a chunk out of ISIS right now. But it'll metastasize into something else.

FALLON: I think it's usually helpful to get rid of a leader, particularly of some organization like this. You need to have follow- up, somebody's going to step up, but if you start targeting a leaders and they go away, that's a good way to start making progress in this process.

BLITZER: How big of a deal would it be if the U.S. kill him?

HAM: It won't have any lasting strategic or operational effect but the world will be a better place without Baghdadi.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

CLARK: Sure. But you got to kill the idea. It's not just a person. It's the idea of what he stands for and what this organization stands for.

FALLON: I think right now one thing that you it's really important that would be very helpful is a little bit of success. So, some place in this area need to draw a line and we need to win a battle. When you pick the place, put a whipping on him and show the world, this is not some of invincible machine that's going to keep rolling. And I think that would be a good tonic to buck up troops in the field, people in Baghdad, and maybe to have some other people around the world...

BLITZER: General Ham, it's been a year now, ISIS has been in control of Mosul up here in the North, the second largest city in Iraq, a city of nearly two million people. They are still in control. Now, they're in Ramadi over here, not far from Fallujah, they're moving there. And the fear is they're moving towards Baghdad with these suicide attacks using U.S. Humvees 2300 that they captured in Mosul right now. They're moving in. They're going to scare the Iraqis. How endangered is a Baghdad right now?

HAM: I don't think Baghdad is militarily threatened. It's too big, too complex. It is the capital. I agree with General Marks, they're going to -- the Iraqis will sustain it.

Mosul, I served over a year in Mosul. I know how large it is. That's a bridge too far right now for the Iraqi security forces. I agree with Admiral Fallon, Anbar is the place right now to demonstrate to the Iraqi security forces, to the regional partners that this is not an invincible foe and they can and must be stopped.

BLITZER: General Clark, you served in Vietnam, right?

CLARK: I do.

BLITZER: Do you remember when Saigon was too big to fall?

CLARK: I do.

BLITZER: What happened?

CLARK: Well, it fell. And I remember when the French said, if they just make a stand at Dien Vien Phu that the Viet men would go away in 1954. So, I think, you know, it's a good thing to get win -- we've had some wins. We had a win in Tikrit. We had a win in Erbil, and yet somehow, they've turn the momentum and kept it going ISIS has.

So, we got to fight against the idea. We know we have to bring the Sunni tribes into this thing. And somehow we got to get the Iraqis back on the battlefield and I hope we can do it with that U.S. ground troops there.

BLITZER: You have confidence in the Iraqi military at all?

MUDD: Yeah. I do partly because if you look at the make up of Iraq, you're talking about a country that's two-third Shia. We're talking about Baghdad, Baghdad as a huge Shia population. We're focused on one province which is a Sunni majority province. If ISIS starts to move, I can tell you what the Shia are going to start to say, that two-thirds of the country down south. They're going to say, ain't coming of Baghdad and there will be a bloodbath.

BLITZER: Is this winnable, General Ham?

HAM: Yes. And it must be.


HAM: Again, not -- this is not for Iraq's sake, this is for our sake. It's in our best interest that this region be more stable and increasingly secure.

BLITZER: All right. Gentlemen, stay... MUDD: This is not winnable. We focused on this kind of threat, that is a Islamist threat in Afghanistan, in Western Pakistan, in Somalia, in North Africa, in Northern Nigeria, and we can contain it but we can't win it. This is a myth that this...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people have to win it. The people of Iraq.

CLARK: ... on timeframes.


CLARK: So this is a long term challenge. So, this is going to go on, not a year, not two years, not 10 years, but 20 years. And that's why you have to be very careful in committing American troops that people understand, this is a long term challenge. We're going to have violence in this region...

MARKS: We could defeat...

CLARK: ... for a long time.

MARKS: ... these guys tomorrow and there would be another terrorist organization that would appear and we'd have to roll right back in.

FALLON: We have military capabilities without which the Iraqis are not likely to be successful. We have the best military. We have capabilities that nobody else has. They need to be applied with the Iraqis.


FALLON: At the end of the day, it's people on the ground that live there that are going to have to do this.

BLITZER: Standby, gentlemen.

[21:54:55] Coming up, we've heard from some of America's top military leaders and strategists. Next, we'll look at what we've learned.


BLITZER: We've heard some of the American's top retired military leaders weigh in in how to defeat ISIS. Former CIA counterterrorist official Philip Mudd, he's still with us. Phil, based on what you've heard around this table tonight, what's the most important thing the United States needs to do right now to defeat ISIS.

MUDD: One, maintain military support for the government. Do not draw back but figure out a way, and maybe it's independently to get weapons up to the -- up to both the Kurds but also to the Sunni tribes. Number two on diplomacy, keep the pressure on Baghdad to bring the Sunni's in and have a reality check in Washington D.C. which does not do reality. The Iranians are going to play, get over it. The final point is from the White House, Americans don't know patience, minimum timeframe for a counterinsurgency like this, 10 years so you got that give a message to the American people they're not going to like. We're 13, 14 years into this, another decade, maybe we'll make progress in the long run.

BLITZER: With a lot of troops on the ground?

MUDD: No, no I think we're looking at maybe modest increases. People talk about forward spotters but there's a simple point, we are the supporting actor. We support the Iraqi military. We don't change so that we become the big player on the block. There's one person who does that and that's sits in Baghdad.

BLITZER: Philip Mudd, thanks very much. That's it. Thanks very much for watching the Situation Room special report, I'm Wolf Blitzer. CNN Tonight with Don Lemon starts right now.