'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Monday, September 22nd, 2014
Read the transcript to the Monday show
Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: September 22, 2014
Guest: Laith Alkhouri, Michael Leiter, William McCants
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: It is 5:00 a.m. in Syria at this hour. And
about an hour and a half ago, as Rachel just reported, the United States
started bombing Syria -- the eastern part of Syria in its ongoing action
against the Islamic state in that region.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, issued a written
statement tonight confirming, quote, "U.S. military and partner nation
forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria,
using a mix of fighter bomber and tomahawk land attack missiles. The
decision conduct these strikes was made earlier today by the U.S. Central
Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander-in-
Joining me from the Pentagon is NBC News Pentagon correspondent Jim
Miklaszewski, and at the White House is NBC News senior White House
correspondent Chris Jansing.
Jim, what do we know about what the munitions that are involved tonight,
the degree of this attack?
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, U.S. military
officials are describing these airstrikes tonight as significant, not
necessarily strike and awe. But in fact, they launched cruise missiles
from U.S. Navy ships in the region, as well as waves of attack of bombers,
B-1s, F-16s, FA-18s, F-15s from bases in the region and from the aircraft
carrier George H.W. Bush that is stationed currently in the Persian Gulf.
There were 20-some strikes against multiple targets there in Syria around
Raqqa, which is the declared capital of the Islamic State, ISIS. And they
were aimed primarily at command-and-control headquarters, munitions depots,
fuel depots and some troop or ISIS fighter encampments.
The issue here, of course, is according to military officials, is that
there were no ISIS leadership that were targeted in tonight`s attack. And
if you talk to military experts, past and present, they say that to do
that, the U.S. just doesn`t have enough intelligence on the ground right
now to effectively go after leadership targets.
And that is what`s missing. Nobody here believes that these strikes
tonight are going to have any kind of significant effect against ISIS that
would be decisive, and that it`s only the beginning of what will probably
be a longer, larger military campaign, primarily from the air, by the U.S.,
against ISIS in Syria, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Jim, what are we to make of the statement from the Pentagon
tonight where it says that the decision to conduct these strikes was made
earlier today by the U.S. Central Command commander, under authorization
granted him by the commander-in-chief.
Is that to suggest that the timing of this was up to the Central Command
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, the president had earlier issued authorization and in
fact it was up to the commander, General Austin, there, the CentCom
commander down there in Tampa, Florida, a long veteran of the wars both in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
And, you know, it`s semantical in some respects. Everything goes through
the White House. Everything goes through the president, the commander-in-
chief. So, it`s a matter of timing more than anything, as opposed to
O`DONNELL: Chris Jansing, what are we hearing from the White House about
this so far tonight?
CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So far tonight,
absolutely nothing. They said we`re not going to hear anything. We should
hear something absolutely tomorrow. The president leaves to go the United
Nations and I have to believe that we will get some comment directly from
But Mick is absolutely right. I mean, the president signaled 12 days
almost exactly to the hour, when he spoke in primetime to the nation, that
he was ready to do this. White House officials have been questioned about
it constantly, almost every day over the last 12 days. They said the
president has authorized it, you know, he`s laid out the parameters for the
strikes but they were ready to go.
The timing is really interesting, though, with him going in, and by his own
admission, the way he put it, is his job in going to the United Nations
over the next three days is to rally the world around this threat, and
there was this briefing today by senior administration officials, really
focusing on this threat, focusing on foreign fighters and the concerns in
Europe and the United States, that they could come here. And that the
magnitude and scale of that threat is so much greater, extremely worrying,
is the way think put it, dwarfing what we`ve seen before.
So, there have been signals all along the way, starting with the biggest
one from the president himself 12 days ago when he addressed the nation
that he was ready to do this. Now, some of the really tough work begins at
the U.N. where the president is going to try to bring more of this
coalition on board to do more. So far, as you well know, Lawrence, the
only country that we have seen with these airstrikes is France joining on,
and being very clear about the fact that they`re not going to go into
Syria, that they are in this just for Iraq.
O`DONNELL: We are showing video, right now, from the Defense Department,
from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, showing the takeoff of some
of the aircraft involved in these attacks.
And, Jim Miklaszewski, it does appear to be just after dawn on some of
these takeoffs that we`re seeing the video of right now. What about the
part of the Pentagon statement that referred to partner nation forces also
being involved? What do we know about that?
MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, we`re told that there are some Arab allies who had
participated in some way, had a role in some way in these airstrikes
tonight. It`s not clear whether they actually flew in a combat attack
missions. It`s thought that they would have waited until the first
American wave and come in after the U.S. aircraft and cruise missiles had
been launched. But that`s not even clear whether it was a support role,
active combat role.
But, again, they`re trying to push this idea out of the White House and
through the Pentagon, actually, that this will be a coalition front against
the ISIS fighters and ISIS organization, not only in Iraq. But in Syria,
but so far, it appears that the response has been somewhat tepid. Maybe in
the next few hours, we`ll get more information on exactly what that role
has been. But nobody`s been willing to step forward and say exactly what
that`s been. So, it leads us to believe that maybe it wasn`t as
significant as it`s being portrayed, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Now, Chris Jansing, was there any notion that you were able to
pick up from the White House in the last couple days that perhaps the
president would want to go to the United Nations with an attack like this
already under way so he could be going there to say you should join this
operation that is already in progress and cannot be stopped?
JANSING: Well, it certainly sends a powerful message in that regard, but
the only thing that they have said clearly is that they wanted to go there
with commitments. You saw a foreshadowing from Samantha Power over the
weekend who says that if we decide to do airstrikes, we`re not going to do
But a lot has been made over the last couple days about this resolution,
and they believe, senior White House officials said very clearly today,
they believe it will pass, bringing together a coalition of nations to
require, essentially, these countries to prevent the recruitment, the
transportation, the financing of foreign fighters. They`re working on a
lot of different levels here to try to portray a united front.
I spent a lot of time today talking to administration officials about the
fact that there aren`t a lot of teeth to this. There`s no penalties for
those who don`t follow this. They think it sends an important message. It
sends an important message that the president is going to be chairing this
very unusual session of the Security Council.
But the biggest message that they can send is to come out clearly with what
countries are participating and what exactly that participation is, which
is something they haven`t done yet, as you know, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And, Jim Miklaszewski, the administration has made it very
plain that they kind of desperately want allies in this, to make it look
like it`s not just the United States mounting this, but here they are going
in with, as they say, partner nation forces that they can`t even name. I`m
having trouble right now remembering a situation like this where we`ve had
an ally in battle, and we could not publicly say who that ally is.
MIKLASZEWSKI: At some point, that`s got to emerge, but even some of the
allies in the region that permit the U.S. military aircraft to be based
there and take off and launch air strikes inside Syria have not been
revealed. Those sites have not been revealed.
It`s sort of been this long-standing kabuki dance between these area
nations, those support nations and the U.S. who, who, those nations want to
keep their identity and their contribution secret. Although, we have been
told that you know, it appears that Saudi Arabia is willing to step up at
some point. Don`t know how. Jordan certainly, but don`t know how yet.
So, it`s an ongoing process there in Syria. But I mean, in that region.
But you know, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Martin Dempsey, told
reporters here at the Pentagon several weeks ago, he said, look, you cannot
defeat ISIS unless you go after them in Syria. Military officials say that
has to include ground forces.
And the U.S. military, if you listen to President Obama, is not going to
put boots on the ground. Many, even here in this building, say that you
shouldn`t -- you shouldn`t actually take options off the table when going
to confront an enemy. But the president has chosen to do that.
And it`s not clear that Peshmerga and certainly the Free Syrian Army is in
no position yet even with $500 million in aid from the U.S. and training
that some predicted would take a year. Others say it would take years to
put together the kind of force that would be needed to take on ISIS.
O`DONNELL: Jim Miklaszewski and Chris Jansing, thank you both very much
for joining us tonight.
MIKLASZEWSKI: All right.
JANSING: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Also joining us now is Andrea Mitchell, NBC`s chief foreign
affairs correspondent and host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS" on MSNBC.
Andrea, what is your interpretation of the timing of this event on the eve
of the president`s trip to the United Nations?
ANDREA MTICHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you
might think as he`s about to address the General Assembly on Wednesday,
give a climate speech tomorrow and host a Security Council meeting on
terrorism Thursday, that he would not want to have military action.
But actually, I think that the timing is exactly what they have planned.
They want to show that they have Arab partners. They want to show that the
world is united against ISIS. And in this case, I`ve been told that it
does include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the UAE, certainly, unclear
if Qatar is involved. So far, people are saying that Qatar is not involved
in these initial attacks -- the attacks that Jim Miklaszewski has described
as massive, and as involving land based, as well sea based, you know, sea-
based tomahawk cruise missiles as well as fighter jets from the George
Herbert Walker Bush aircraft carrier.
So, they are not, apparently using bases from Turkey. That has been
another one of the problems, but they are expecting that Jordan in
particular will have air power involved and that Jordan will provide
critical intelligence, which has been one of the great strengths of Jordan
being right there, of course, along the border with Syria and Iraq.
O`DONNELL: Andrea, you just mentioned a few neighboring nations that are
involved here, and since we have no other information at this point about
who the partner nation forces are, I just wanted to go through those again.
I just want to make sure I have the checklist right from you. I heard
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan, is that it?
MITCHELL: That is as far as I know at this point. Qatar is noticeably
missing. There has been a lot of tension between the UAE and the Saudis on
one side in Qatar, because Qatar was one of the initial funders of several
of the militant groups that morphed became metastasized into ISIL, ISIS if
So, there has been a lot of tension between the Saudis, the other Sunni
leaders, the Sunni monarchies and Qatar, which they feel has supported
Hamas, supported the Muslim Brotherhood and supported ISIS.
O`DONNELL: And, Andrea, there are reports that Turkey started sealing its
border earlier today. So, they may, must have been very well aware that
something was coming.
MITCHELL: Oh, absolutely. There have been meetings with Erdogan and
Kerry. Kerry was on this coalition-building mission, which was a shadow of
what Jim Baker was able to do for Bush 41. But he was certainly in Jeddah
and the rest of the region, getting the Saudi support, getting King
Abdullah who was very resistant to be supportive of President Obama,
because of a lack of trust, frankly, between this Saudi regime and the
Obama administration. They feel that he let them down in the past. But
that was a very big part of putting together the coalition that they put
One interesting thing is that Kerry met earlier today with the Saudi
foreign minister and that the Saudi foreign minister also met with foreign
minister from Iran. You don`t see that every day, and that there will be a
follow up meeting in Riyadh so that enmity of ISIS has brought together the
Shiite Iranians and Sunni Saudis.
O`DONNELL: Truly extraordinary situation.
Andrea, why would the statement from the Pentagon tonight and the
information as publicly released by the administration so far not include
any of those nations, specifically, that you mentioned to be participating
MITCHELL: I think because the operation is still under way, because
clearly, by the time the president faces the world tomorrow, either back
home in the White House before he leaves or potentially in New York, by
that point, he`s going to have to thank the allies who were flying and
joining this operation tonight.
So, I think that it is probably because it is still an operation midway
O`DONNELL: And so, clearly, the decision was made in the White House that
better to go to the United Nations with this kind of attack already under
way than to simply go there and continue to talk about something that
hasn`t happened yet.
MITCHELL: Yes. And I think that they have done enough of the spade work
in the last couple of weeks, diplomatically. The president had given his
speech. There had been testimony on the Hill, so Congress had been
notified, and there was surprising support from Congress with the exception
of some noteworthy people in both parties, such as Rand Paul and others in
the Democratic Party. But for the most part, there was support for what
would be considered limited air operations, not for ground forces, although
there are others as you know, the hawks in both parties have been calling
for the ground troops as well.
Now, what we`ve seen is a commitment from Kerry and the president, that the
ground forces will be regional. And by that, they have said so far that
they mean Syrian rebel forces. They`re going to take about a year to
train, about 5,000 of them we`re told, and also the Iraqi army. Both of
those forces are in disrepair to say the least. So, it will be quite a
while before those forces will be able to do anything at all significantly
on the ground. And airstrikes have to be called in.
So, there are, someone is calling in these airstrikes. There`s someone on
the ground. And I`m betting that those are Americans, and that they do
wear boots, but they`re not in a combat role, but they`re forward deployed.
O`DONNELL: Andrea, what other possible ground forces, any of the other
nations that you mentioned, would they be capable of having delivered some
ground forces to this already?
MITCHELL: It would be really tricky. I don`t think at this point, you
might have to see what you`d get from Jordan and from the UAE and the
Saudis. But at this stage with Assad still in power, it would be very,
very difficult indeed.
One of the things that`s going to be very important to note is whether the
Syrian, Russian-built, Syrian enabled air defense system worked and whether
there`s any push back by Assad. I suspect there won`t be.
I think they`re going to go in and get to Raqqa, which has been the
headquarters of ISIS in northern Syria, and I think that they will not be
stopped by Syrian air forces. And maybe there was some back channeling as
to that as well.
O`DONNELL: What about that, Andrea? What would be your expectation of,
assuming rational actors in Damascus, what would be the Syrian regime`s
reaction to this bombing?
MITCHELL: To welcome it, because ISIS is their worst threat. The rebel
armies can be dealt with, and they have been dealt with. The Syrian regime
has managed to crush the rebel forces. Periodically with the help of Iran,
with the help of Russia, but ISIS has been a significant threat, and I
think that Assad would probably welcome the fight, even though it`s clearly
uncomfortable for the United States, for this White House to be on the same
side as Assad.
O`DONNELL: Andrea Mitchell, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
MITCHELL: You bet.
O`DONNELL: We`re now joined by phone Ayman Mohyeldin. He joins me by
Ayman, what is your sense of what the reaction to this is going to be in
the region, the public reaction to this in the region?
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, I
think the first major concern among many of the neighboring countries is
going to be about the humanitarian aspect of what an operation like this
may mean for some of the neighboring countries. We`ve been talking about
perhaps the involvement of countries like Jordan and others. There`s no
doubt that the government in Amman, the government in Turkey, Lebanon,
they`re going to have serious concerns about the spillover effect.
In the past three or four days alone, Turkey has seen a sudden spike of
refugees crossing its border. It`s one of the reasons that led the Turkish
government as you mentioned earlier to shut down its border with Syria.
About 200,000 refugees passed that border just in the past three or four
So, I think there are going to be a lot of questions, but also there are
going to be a lot of support for the U.S. operations and the support is
getting from some of the Arab countries in some of the Arab capitals.
We know that Secretary of State John Kerry has met with a lot of the Arab
leaders, including those in the gulf countries as well as Egypt. Many of
them have said they are going to participate.
And tonight, they have confirmed that they are operationally involved in
the airstrikes on ISIS targets inside Syria. But you`re also going to see
a lot of moral and public support with statements, perhaps, coming out from
important allies like Egypt and other regional powers.
O`DONNELL: The Pentagon statement on this tonight referred, kind of in a
gray way, to partner nation forces. No specificity at all. Andrea
Mitchell just reported to us that it`s her understanding that Saudi Arabia
is involved, United Arab Emirates is involved, Bahrain is involved, Jordan.
Does that jive with your understanding of who the partner nations may be at
MOHYELDIN: Absolutely. In fact, we do have confirmation from at least one
senior gulf diplomat who has confirm that there are Arab nations involved
operationally, that`s the word he used to describe the ongoing campaign
inside Syria. Now, exactly what that means is still a little bit
We can expect comments to come out tomorrow after the president speaks
publicly about this for the first time. You can also expect governments to
come out with what roles they are playing.
But at least in the run up to this strike and the, perhaps the strikes
themselves are not a surprise, but the timing certainly is. We`ve been
speaking to a lot of people in the region who have been saying that they
are willing to play a role.
And these roles vary. Some of it is going to be with intelligence
gathering. Some of it is going to be with air support, others are
logistics and perhaps even offering the U.S. overflight permission of their
countries, and also perhaps offering air bases to U.S. airplanes that are
fighting in the area to perhaps use those if needed any kind of an
So, there`s no doubt that Arab countries have publicly come out and said
this, but perhaps we`re going to learn more in the coming days what exact
role they`re playing if logistical and militarily.
O`DONNELL: Ayman, is it possible that some of them advised the
administration to get this started before the president goes to the United
Nations, that would allow him to make a more forceful presentation there?
MOHYELDIN: Well, I think there has been pressure on the U.S. by Arab
countries to act. In fact, if anything, there has been criticism that the
U.S. did not act fast enough. In some cases, some of the Arab leaders and
some of the rhetoric coming out of these closed door meetings with the
secretary of state was that the U.S. really wanted to build this coalition,
reminiscent to the one that was put together in 1991, but that there was a
desire to see action happening on the ground before ISIS continues the
rampage that it has carried out in both Iraq and Syria.
There is no doubt, also, some criticism now against the U.S., getting
involved in this war three years after it began, when many were saying the
U.S. could have gotten involved much earlier to try to suppress some of the
outbreak of groups like ISIS and other al Qaeda-related groups earlier on
in the Syrian conflict.
But also the interesting question going forth is what does this Syrian
government now do? The Syrian government has been very clear in the past
couple of weeks that they adamantly rejected and warned the United States
not to carry out any strikes on its territory without coordinating it with
And we`ve heard from the U.S. administration saying repeatedly that they
will not be coordinating with either the Syrian regime or even perhaps the
Iranians about specific airstrikes inside Syria. It will be interesting to
see what the Syrian government does tomorrow, whether it`s going to tacitly
accept this or perhaps even try to counter with any power it may have.
O`DONNELL: Well, Ayman, is it possible that one of the partner nations
coordinated with Syria on this and that would give Syria enough cover for
that demand that this be coordinated?
MOHYELDIN: Absolutely. The U.S. has relations, obviously, with Lebanon
which still maintains its channels with the government in Damascus. In
fact, the Syrian embassy is one of the few that remains open and
operational in Beirut in the region.
And no doubt that there are some further countries far from Syria that are
in communication with the Syrian government. It has been one of the major
problems in building not only this coalition but just also the general
policy of the region in the last several years is that the Arab countries
have been divided. Some have been saying that the government in Damascus
is legitimate and has to be backed and is important in this fight against
terrorism, while others say that precisely that the persistence of
President Assad to stay in power has led to groups like ISIS and al Qaeda
without the international community doing much about it.
But you can definitely accept and expect that some of the countries in the
region that the U.S. has been communicating with certainly have relayed
that information to the Syrian government. Again, whether or not the
Syrian government has the capabilities to defend its airspace or even try
to do so in the wake of what the U.S. is now doing as opposed to just
simply turning a blind eye, because it is advancing the Syrian regime`s
fight against the extreme elements, that also remains to be seen with the
reaction expected probably as early as tomorrow morning, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And the government of Turkey has just issued a statement
indicating that Turkey will be discussing its participation in this at the
United Nations tomorrow.
We`re rejoined by Chris Jansing from the White House. Chris, that`s --
O`DONNELL: -- that seems to indicate turkey`s statement saying that we
will be discussing our participation in these operations tomorrow at the
United Nations. It seems to indicate that some of the partner nations
involved must have thought it best to get this under way before the
president, president gets to the United Nations.
I`m told we do not have Chris Jansing now.
We have Colonel Jack -- OK, now the control room has decided that we do
indeed have Chris Jansing.
Chris, we just learned that turkey has announced that they will be
discussing their participation in this operation tonight at the United
Nations tomorrow. And that seems to indicate, then, Chris, that some of
the partner nations involved in this probably wanted this under way so that
their participation could be discussed in the forum of the United Nations.
That that was a safer place for them to be publicly revealed as being
involved in this.
JANSING: You`re absolutely right about this. One of the things
administration officials were saying today is that they wanted to lend
support to each other to make this look like an international coalition.
And one of the things that administration officials have been saying to me
over the last couple weeks is that they want opportunities for countries
across a broad swath of the world, but particularly, obviously, that part
of the world, to be able to contribute.
Now, they always say depending on what their own personal capabilities are
and what their own political situation is. So a lot of this is about the
messaging. A lot of this is, indeed, about the politics of it, Lawrence,
to be able to go there as a group, to say here`s how we`re going to move
forward and to give them different levels of opportunity to participate.
Obviously, they`re looking to see who will support them militarily. The
president has said, Samantha powers has said we won`t go this alone, but
they`re doing all different levels of participation, including this binding
resolution, that the president will lead, that he will introduce, that he
will chair the meeting to give them an opportunity to adopt and say, we
stand together in really making a statement about the threat that ISIS
poses, about the threat in particular that the foreign fighters, something
that U.S. officials just today again called unprecedented.
So, you`re absolutely right. The timing of this, really critical as these
other countries go in and also have to, obviously, make a statement to
their home countries about what they`re doing and why.
O`DONNELL: Chris, Speaker Boehner`s office just released a statement
saying, saying simply and nothing more than, the speaker spoke with the
president by phone this evening. Now, that is very likely to have been a
phone call from the president to the speaker informing him before he would
learn on television what`s going on in Syria tonight.
JANSING: Absolutely. We have expected that the president would make those
phone calls. He`s been in, I would say, more touch with Congress over the
last couple weeks.
Look, this has been, sort of, classic in the sense of how the president has
rolled this out. He`s very methodical. Some would say even professorial.
But he has approached this in a step by step way after the airstrikes began
in Iraq and the address to the nation. And the indication that we were
ready to go into Syria, and the indications that, in fact, already they had
the authorization that they need, that the president was waiting for the
military to look and see how the timing was and make sure, obviously, that
they had their targets right.
But in the middle of all that, the President, you`ll remember, when he
spoke to the nation 12 days ago, asked Congress for just one thing. He
asked them to vote and to approve the authorization for the training and
equipping of the Syrian rebels. So he got that. He went in to that with
an indication that he knew that was going to happen.
There was another message today. You mentioned John Boehner. We don`t
know that there was a phone call, but Pete King, the Republican from New
York saying "It`s time for us to support the President." So all of these
things have lined up and lead to the President going tomorrow.
I do think one more thing that`s just worth noting in context here,
Lawrence, is that a year ago, when the President addressed the United
Nations, he talked about shifting away from a perpetual war footing, about
the draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course, here we are one year
later with air strikes in.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR (via phone): And it is 5:31 a.m. in Syria
(ph). Breaking news coverage tonight two hours -- two and a half hours
ago, the United States began airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.
Joining me now by phone is Colonel Jack Jacobs, MSNBC military analyst.
Jack, based on what you`re hearing tonight, what do you think is the extent
of the first campaign in?
JACK JACOBS, COLONEL, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, obvious concentrations
that they`ve seen before and that they`ve kept an eye on for a long, long
time. Which there was a lot of impetus to strike before, but the President
didn`t want to do it and finally made the decision to go ahead and strike
able. We`ve been keeping our eye on these command-and-control locations,
training areas, troop concentrations which are easy to move, but ammo
storage facilities which are not.
And what`s going to happen is the following; there will be a bomb damage
assessment afterward and then the decision made to probably to strike other
targets that have moved, and they can see, or to re-strike targets that
have already been hit, strike them again for a second and perhaps even a
But the information that we have is all from satellites and reconnaissance
aircraft and other facilities. We don`t have a lot of information from
human intelligence on the ground at the end of the day. That`s always the
best to have if you can have it. But we don`t have it in Syria and it`s
not something that`s going to develop over a -- except over a long period
In addition, just striking these targets as has been said many, many times
by itself, these strikes are not by themselves, these strikes are not going
to do anything but degrade ISIS capability at the end of the day. Somebody
has to be on the ground to seize and hold terrain. And unfortunately,
there`s nobody to do it at the moment.
The coalition, not withstanding, I don`t think you`re going to see lots of
Saudis on the ground or any of that kind of stuff. And we`ve been talking
about training the free Syrian army perhaps, or moderate rebels, which is
something of an oxymoron.
The numbers of those are very small in any case and most observers can`t
see the five or even 10,000 rebels who can be trained and then reinserted
or inserted into Syria having much of an effect. But at the end of the
day, it`s going to take not just airstrikes. It`s going to take a
concerted effort on the ground to have some positive effect, which is one
reason why everybody in the administration`s been talking for quite some
time about this being a longer campaign than most people are thinking about
with pause (ph).
O`DONNELL: Colonel Jacobs, what kind of pause do you expect between
airstrikes? And can the United Nations expect this to be going on at some
point in every day that they`re meeting this week?
JACOBS: Yes, it`s very -- it`s a very interesting question. It`s a heck
of a backdrop for the United Nations meeting. There can be a very, very
short pause. Typically, what will happen is the following; there will be a
primary target list and a secondary target list which can be struck in
quick succession after the first and then other lists as well.
Also there will be targets of opportunity, no doubt about the fact that
airstrikes are going to chase ISIS concentrations around. And they`re
going to -- they`ll be observable, easily observable when they start moving
Other targets which had not been seen before, let`s say concentrations of
ammunition, ammunition storage facilities and so on. Once they start
moving that stuff, especially by convoy, we`re going to be able to pick
that up too. So you have the strange jacks (ph) the position of the United
Nations meeting and the backdrop is -- perhaps even continuous air strikes
O`DONNELL: Jack, what of the kinds of strains that could develop with the
list of partner nations that we`ve seen to have information about so far,
Turkey having some involvement that it says it will discuss tomorrow at the
United Nations. Andrea Mitchell reporting Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE,
Jordan, what of the kind of stresses that develop in alliances like this?
JACOBS: Well, I think it`s going to be difficult to throw up together a
coalition that makes a great deal of senses. So the stresses that you`re
talking about are going to exist from the very beginning.
You mentioned Turkey. Turkey has been obstructionist in all this for quite
some time. Turkey has been a conduit for the oil that ISIS has been
selling in order to fund a lot of its operations. Turkey has also, the
source of a fairly substantial number of recruits for ISIS. And Turkey has
had some fairly tough talks with the United States in recent times.
So it is a -- it`s a pleasant surprise to hear that Turkey is talking
about, perhaps, participating. But I don`t think we should expect much
from Turkey or from Qatar either. The other states we`re talking about are
actually very, very scared that ISIS is as big a problem as it is, and
wants anybody`s assistance. That includes Jordan and the other Gulf
States. But it will be interesting to see what we get out of Turkey. And
whether or not Turkey and/or Qatar can actually become some kind of
participant in this coalition but I don`t think we should be seeing win
about what we`re going to see from any of these guys.
Saudi Arabia is going to give us some training areas so we can train the
rebels. They`re probably going to cough up some money. There`s also a
possibility they may -- they might participate with air strikes they have a
fairly substantial air force. Many of whose pilots trained by the United
States so we have a very close air relationship with them.
But you know, this is going to be a U.S. dominated strike as long as it`s
going to be in the air, the United States is going to be launching
missiles, going to be launching precision-guided missiles from aircraft,
going to be launching cruise missiles, perhaps even from surface ships.
It`s going to be a U.S. dominated and controlled attack. And unless and
until there can be, they can be Arab States on the ground following up on
this stuff, I don`t, you`re going to see ISIS degraded but not destroyed.
O`DONNELL: Colonel Jack Jacobs, thank you very much for joining us
JACOBS: Yes, sir.
O`DONNELL: We`re joined now by NBC terrorism analyst, Michael Leiter and
Laith Alkhouri, Senior Terrorism Analyst with Flashpoint Global Partners.
Laith, what is the reaction inside the Islamic State tonight?
LAITH ALKHOURI, SENIOR TERRORISM ANALYST, FLASHPOINT GLOBAL PARTNERS: The
Islamic State fighters as well as supporters are really expressing,
actually, outrage more than anything else. Not outrage at the fact that
they`re being attacked by the United States. This is something they`ve
been expecting. They`ve seen it in Iraq. And now, they are expecting in
But outrage that they`re not getting enough recruits. They are not getting
enough people to join their ranks not just in Iraq and Syria but in other
areas. The spokesman of ISIS just over 24 hours ago released a massive
audio encouraging supporters and fighters to attack the United States, to
attack his allies, Australia, France and so on and so forth. But he
expressed grievance over lack of attacks in places like Yemen. So we`re
seeing a mixed reaction but most importantly we`re seeing really outrage,
and I think he`s driving the message to his supporters to up their game.
And we`re expecting to see a massive amount of attacks.
O`DONNELL: And what will their reaction be to the partner nations that the
United States is referring to so far, not by name, but the information we
seem to be getting tonight indicates that may include Saudi Arabia, United
Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan and Turkey in some way?
ALKHOURI: ISIS leadership has over and again expressed their interest in
expanding inside Saudi Arabia and inside Jordan. We`ve seen pockets of
groups inside both countries expressing support to ISIS officially via
audios and via pictures and video coming out of places like Amman in
Jordan, coming out of places like higher in Saudi Arabia. So there is
enough support for ISIS in these countries that to cause some havoc.
Now we have, we know that the intelligence agencies in both of these
countries are allies with the United States. They`re cooperating with them
in this war. We expect that the risk to attacks in these countries is
going to get higher.
O`DONNELL: Michael Leiter, what is your sense of the reaction within the
Islamic State tonight?
MICHAEL LEITER, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: I think they expected these
strikes, Lawrence. This won`t be a surprise, although there`s a tactical
surprise here which the United States obviously wanted. Strategically they
were expecting this. And the targets that were hit tonight are generally
fixed things that they couldn`t move anyway. So this is to be expected. I
think they were already, as we saw with the flow of the attack in
Australia, already moving and pushing some of their adherents to attack
outside of the region.
I think in a very short run this will accelerate some of that but that
should not be taken to me that I think we`re provoking it. Quite clearly
they were intent on attacking outside the region, attacking outside the
west. And aren`t these will heighten some of their efforts to do so in the
O`DONNELL: There we`re some analyst, Laith, you were saying that the
Islamic State wants this. They want an attack by the United States. Is it
possible that they could want that? What would be the conceivable net
benefit to this kind of thing?
ALKHOURI: You know, ISIS spokesman really summed it up in two lines. He
said if you attack us, we get just stronger. And if you don`t attack us we
expand even more. So whether we actually attack them or not, they want an
engagement. They present themselves as this state, head butting with the
United States they present that to their followers as well as to others.
And they also are trying to rise to the occasion. They`re saying nobody is
really confronting the United States, we are.
And I think in the long run, they really do want troops in the region. And
I think for them, that solidifies the ideology, that solidifies that
there`s a true crusaded war against the Islamic State and that we are the
only you know, the only people that can actually defend the Islamic Ummah
(ph) or Islamic Nation, and I think that would be a rallying support for
their, for the group.
O`DONNELL: But Michael, for them to want that, as Laith says, they would
then have to believe that they have the tactical ability to survive this.
LEITER: That`s right. That only works if, frankly, they aren`t seriously
degraded and I think destroyed is a long ways off but really, really hurt
by the U.S. And it also goes to the point that several others had made,
the importance of having Non-American, Sunni Nations fighting in this fight
Now that doesn`t totally eliminate their propaganda perspective, because
they would simply say well, the Saudis are helping, the Jordanians are
helping, and these are all apostate Sunni regimes but having Sunnis troops,
free Syrian army and the like helping our airstrikes is really critical so
this doesn`t become a west versus Sunni Islam.
O`DONNELL: The, Laith,-- the other dimension of this for the Islamic
State, is retaining morale within the group, many of whom now are near the
possibility of the bombing areas affecting them. There`s a new reality to
being in the Islamic state that wasn`t there yesterday.
ALKHOURI: That`s correct. And Islamic State has actually been a -- its
leadership has been very centralized. So the commands come from the top
down. This is not something we see in Al Qaeda groups for example. And
the command has been that be ready, be ready, because they`re anticipating
this campaign. And we`ve seen, for example, tunnels being dug underground.
We`ve seen artillery and vehicles being transported across the borders
between the Iraq and Syria.
The Islamic State seized control of their azure which was previously under
the control of other rebel functions including the Jabhat al-Nusra, Al
Qaeda`s link in Syria. And ISIS had encouraging (ph) them taken over that.
And that`s just expanded the area where it could have hideouts, where it
could spread its fighters.
We`ve seen control on the borders between Syria and Iraq. So that gives it
you know, some area to move in and out. So we`re not really talking about
just hideouts you know, I mean we see them operating, you know, in the
open, we`ve seen their convoys. So it`s really the focus on getting the
leadership, is the leadership being targeted right now or not. And that`s
what, something we really be focused on to break the morale.
O`DONNELL: Michael, we`re now getting a report that indicates in addition
to the other nations we`ve already mentioned, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain,
Jordan, that indeed Qatar may well have been involved in the coalitions
tonight. What would be the significance of that?
LEITER: Qatar`s important, because it has been one of our friends who
simultaneously has over the past three years have provided what would be
viewed as counter-productive assistance to the rebel groups. So having
Qatar involved, might not just their involvement in the strike but might
mark a real turning point for them being willing to cut off some of that
aid and break do you know on some of the foreign funders.
Now, foreign funders aren`t as important to ISIS as they once were. But
it`s still a very important statement. So I expect it`s quite possible
that airstrikes could have been launched from Qatar and Bahrain. I expect
Saudis could have provided some air assets, and undoubtedly the Jordanians
provided at least intelligence support because that relationship with the
U.S. is extremely tight and very important given their location.
O`DONNELL: Laith, if we are to, as they keep saying, destroy the Islamic
State, how many Islamic State fighters do we have to kill in order to do
ALKHOURI: That`s a very good question. And there`s always been this
question or speculation about how many fighters do they really have? And
we have to actually calculate before they took over Mosul or after they
took over Mosul.
You know, when they took over Mosul, they were around 8,000, 10,000
fighters between both Iraq and Syria. But after taking over Mosul, they
were able to rally a lot of the tribes, a lot of the Sunni tribes that have
animosity toward the Shiite-led Government. And -- so we have to be really
careful about seeing actual fighters on the ground, actual troops or actual
support in general who are providing them with logistical and financial
And I think if we talk about the bigger picture it`s a lot more what jets
can handle. So it goes beyond and my estimates would be around 25,000 at
this point, which is not a small army, considering that they have actual
places where they can operate.
O`DONNELL: What would you say is the quality of the training and the
capacity of those 25,000? Is does that mean that there`s 5,000 who are,
you know, much more capable and another 20? Or is it mostly the ill-
equipped, untrained people?
ALKHOURI: Well, it`s really varies. They have actually wishing doctors,
engineers and so on and so forth. But when we talk about military
capability, they actually have enough capability to be able to bring jets
down like they have anti-aircraft artillery. They have seized M198 guns
that was left by the United States in Iraq and they took it over across the
border to Syria.
So we see capability -- military capability, we see logistics capability
but you know in the overall -- in the overall targeting of the group, we
need to be careful where we target them, because we still don`t know where
they`re hiding these artillery or where they`re hiding these weapons.
We`ve seen an excellent manufacturing of weapons, homemade weapons.
They`ve manufactured their own rockets. That`s very important to take note
of, because we still don`t know the locations of these rockets, but we do
know they have developed them.
O`DONNELL: Laith Alkhouri, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
ALKHOURI: Thank you, sure.
O`DONNELL: We`re joined now by phone by MSNBC Contributor Steve Clemons.
Steve, what is your reaction to the developments so far tonight?
STEVE CLEMONS, CONTRIBUTOR, MSNBC (via phone): Well, I think it`s you
know, our form of quick shock and awe. We are going to have to see what
happens after the dust settles. And devastating they hear what I thought
is terrific and aliases from Laith. I mean there`s so much more that we
don`t quite know yet. I was fascinated that just 35 minutes ago the state
department sent out John Kerry`s remarks tonight. He was on a party of all
those concerned about the damage that culture antiquities in Syria and in
And it shared his comments and you know when you read these things, and
when you talk about him, his hierarchy of concerns in the region, there`s
no indication that Secretary Kerry at least in those comments just made a
short while ago, had -- it`s either a great actor or had no idea what was
When you hook at the statements that have come out, you know those are very
few, and talks with the White House, it was clear that the President gave
the commander of central command the authority to move ahead and he did, in
an incredible coordinated barrage.
So we`ll sort out who knew, what, when later. But it`s a fascinating big
the decisive of strike and we`ll be seeing -- left to see how degraded ISIS
is now at this point.
O`DONNELL: Steve, you mentioned Secretary Kerry`s event tonight in New
York City about preserving and the antiquities at risk here. I saw an
invitation in email -- a notification about that event that was to occur at
6:00 tonight. I believe, at a museum in New York. That turns out to be a
beginning, anyway, about two and half hours before the airstrike actually
began. And there is no way the Secretary of State didn`t know about that -
- about that timing earlier today when people are being you know invited in
And it just -- it shows you that they, you know, they clearly had a
schedule here in New York and the United Nations week that they intend to
stick to. And this is simply going to become an additional component of
what they were coming to the United Nations to talk about anyway.
CLEMONS: Right. I mean I think it`s an amazing point that right now you
have the world on parade in New York at the U.N. General Assembly. There`s
a very bold action to take. It kind of dares anyone in the world to
basically stand against it. Particularly, it`s going to be interesting to
see how Russia shapes its posture. We haven`t -- I haven`t seen any word
from Russia just yet. But the fact that they were sending signals before
that they were very uncomfortable on any incursions into Syrian space,
despite their own incursions, of course, into Ukraine, a bit of
inconsistency there, but it`s a bold move by us and striking.
I think just like Laith said, with the news that you`re getting that the
Saudis were fundamentally there, that is a very big piece of news as it is
with Qatar. But for the Saudi military to be involved in a substantial way
is a step much further than many of us thought they`d go.
O`DONNELL: And Steve, to get this set of partner nations ready to go
tonight. It wasn`t just the United Nations -- the United States that was
ready to go tonight, but according to the information we currently have, it
would be Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and now possibly Qatar and
Turkey in some way that it will explain tomorrow. So this was a
significant number of agreements had to be made to take this action
CLEMONS: No. And I think that it is a very big leap. I mean, you and I
have talked previously about this, where it looked as if the UAE was all in
and of course Jordan, but there were a lot of other missing planks and that
the custodian of the two Holy Mosques, in my view, Saudi Arabia, had to
essentially send a much more strong message to people in the region that
what ISIS represented was outside, completely outside their interpretation
of what Sunni Islam represented.
So John Kerry has been busy at work. You`re probably right. He did know
what was going on. He has put together a coalition in the Arab world to
support us that`s much bigger than those of us who were watching thought.
We thought it was fairly meager. We hoped that the Sunni participation
would be large. But candidly, I think many of us doubted that we will get
there. That they`re was a sort of lowest common denominator approach to
some of this. And we were all hoping to see a much more maximalist point
And so, at least what it seems so far before in these reports, is its
substantial and I`m sure these governments will have to struggle with their
own backlashes internally. But nonetheless, this is a really, really
important punctuation point in our relationship with these nations in the
Middle East, taking action to clean up their neighborhood.
O`DONNELL: Steve, this makes tomorrow one of the very dramatic days in the
history of the United Nations. And I`m wondering what you expect. We know
what the President is going to do tomorrow, but what do we expect from the
other partner nations at the United Nations? Will they -- is that the
forum they will choose to publicly speak about this through their United
CLEMONS: Well, I think speculating, I can`t see it any other way. I don`t
expect them to participate in such an action and then hide from it. This
week, of all weeks, is the one in which every nation, works and successes
on display, and it`s not a time one can hide.
Laith was just speaking about Qatar, the a mere of Qatar is there and
they`ve been both supportive of us in various ways, but they also have a
complicated relationship, they`re not, in my view and reporting I`ve done,
not involved to a substantial degree with ISIS but they are substantially
involved with al-Nusra, another Islam is the al-Qaeda-affiliated group
within Syria, and that`s part of the Rubik`s cube of Syria, to see how
other parts of the opposition to Bashar al-Assad are treated.
And my guess is that they`re going to go out and say, not that they were
glad they joined the United States, but that they were glad they took steps
to try and rid the region of a scourge which threatened them all. And so
this is a collective action, a very, very rare collective action that one
hasn`t seen in quite a long time about -- between Arab States.
O`DONNELL: We`re joined now by William McCants. He is a fellow at the
Brookings Institution of former State Department Adviser on counter
terrorism. Mr. McCants, what is your reaction to everything we`ve been
learning so far tonight?
WILLIAM MCCANTS, FORMER ADVISER ON COUNTER TERRORISM, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
(via phone): Well, it`s a really stunning development. I mean Raqqa has
been the headquarters of ISIS for over a year now. They`ve been
terrorizing its people from there. They`ve spread out through Eastern
Syria and into Western Iraq.
And now the United States and its Gulf allies, and Jordan are striking
against it. It`s a remarkable development and a major testimony to the
President and Secretary caring diplomatic skill pulling together such a
coalition. And I was really skeptical that those countries would be
engaging directly, militarily inside Syria. And, of course, we have to
wait until the morning of the next few days to see who exactly did what.
But if the early reports are true, it`s a remarkable development.
O`DONNELL: And knowing the inside of the Islamic state as you do, or as
well as anyone does here, what do you expect their tactical reaction to be
MCCANTS: Well, they have already been preparing, I am sure. They knew
these strikes were coming, telegraphed weeks ago, so they would have hidden
away any really valuable artillery or tanks. They will probably blend in
to some of the cities where they are holding people hostage. Not just
American hostages or British hostages but also locals, Christians, other
They will begin to execute them to redact some sort of retribution against
the United States. They will survive this early round of strikes. They
will claim it as some sort of moral victory, and then we will begin the
long slog of trying to diminish their hold on territory inside Iraq and
O`DONNELL: And Steve Clemons, if that is what we see and suddenly there is
a spate of public video beheadings, how do we expect that to affect the
I guess we don`t have Steve Clemons. William McCants, I`ll go to you on
O`DONNELL: I`d like to just -- be have you play out for us the action and
reaction on both sides, what we can expect as you just gave us a sense of
what the Islamic State reaction would be? And then how do you expect the
reaction to follow then from the coalition to whatever they do?
MCCANTS: Well, it looks like the coalition members have decided they`re
going to be undeterred. It certainly didn`t keep the United States or the
-- from striking it hasn`t prevented the British from supporting it. The
holding the Turkish hostages didn`t prevent them from even providing some
tepid support to the United States. I think they`ve made the calculation
that they`re going to press ahead, no matter what is done to the hostages
in these villages, but it is going to be an awful, awful situation in the
areas they control.
And look, the Islamic State knows how to use helpless civilians as a
weapon. Not just by executing them but also driving them out of areas that
they drove out the Kurds over the past few days in order to place pressure
on Turkey. We`re going to see the same sort of tactic used in the coming
days. And there is no capable force on the ground as your previous guest
said who can really capitalize on ISIS pulling back from various positions.
O`DONNELL: And there`s been some talk prior to now of some of these
potential partners of the United States being halfhearted participants in
this and perhaps continuing to, in the shadows, do things that aren`t
entirely oppositional to the Islamic State. What is your sense of the kind
of commitment that these nations would have actually had to deliver in
order to be involved in this tonight?
MCCANTS: Well, according to the press reports, it was pretty strong
showing. I mean, you even have Bahrain possibly participating in some sort
of airstrike. The country at least provided an air force base from reports
I`ve read and perhaps even some planes. And this, you know, this coalition
coming together has not been able to do did prior to this.
ISIS has really focused their mind before this there was a lot of
infighting. And United States was not able to crowd them in a single
directions, this strike is not just a physical manifestation of them coming
together but also quite symbolic because they had been able to achieve it
in the prior two years.
O`DONNELL: William McCants, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
MCCANTS: My pleasure.
O`DONNELL: Our live coverage of tonight`s airstrikes in Syria continues
now with Chris Hayes.
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