PBS NewsHour

U.S. not cooperating with Russia against Islamic State, Carter says

Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at a news conference on May 1, 2015. Speaking from Rome on Wednesday, Carter said
         the U.S. has no supported Moscow's fight against the Islamic State. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at a news conference on May 1, 2015. Speaking from Rome on Wednesday, Carter said the U.S. has no supported Moscow’s fight against the Islamic State. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

ROME — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday the U.S.-led coalition has not agreed to cooperate with Russia in the fight against the Islamic State and no collaboration is possible as long as Moscow continues to strike other targets.

He said the U.S. will conduct basic, technical talks with Russia about efforts to ensure that flights over Syria are conducted safely, and, “That’s it.”

Carter spoke during a press conference in Rome with Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti.

The United States, Carter said, is not prepared to cooperate with a strategy of Russia’s that is “tragically flawed.”

“They continue to hit targets that are not ISIL,” Carter said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group. “We believe that is a fundamental mistake.”

Carter said he is concerned about the Syrian ground offensive that began Wednesday backed by Russian airpower. Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, has hit Western-backed rebels fighting Assad. The U.S. maintains that the only route to peace in Syria is to remove Assad from power.

Russia on Tuesday informed the United States that Moscow is willing to continue talks to ensure that the two countries’ aircraft don’t interfere with each other, U.S. officials said. But a Russian defense official said the talks should be much broader than what the Pentagon is seeking.

The Pentagon wants talks aimed at making sure there are no conflicts, collisions or other problems as the U.S.-led coalition and the Russians fly over Syria. The U.S. side has proposed a number of safety measures, including using specific international radio frequencies for distress calls by military pilots flying in Syrian airspace.

Carter had called on Russian leaders to contact the Pentagon immediately to discuss Moscow’s military activities in Syria, reflecting urgent concerns about Russian aircraft violating Turkish airspace. NATO on Monday denounced Russia for “irresponsible behavior” for allowing its warplanes to cross into Turkey.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said the Russians want broad discussions on international cooperation between Russia and the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, but “regrettably, the Americans would like to limit our cooperation to technical issues relating to interaction between our pilots.”

The United States, Carter said, is not prepared to cooperate with a strategy of Russia’s that is “tragically flawed.” U.S. and Russian officials met once by video conference late last week, before Russian incursion into the airspace of Turkey over the weekend.

Carter and other NATO defense ministers are expected to discuss how to deal with the problem when they meet in Brussels Thursday.

The U.S.-led coalition has been routinely conducting airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria.

Russia says the airstrikes it began last week are directed against the Islamic State group, as well as al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliates. But the U.S. and France say at least some of the strikes appear to have hit Western-backed rebel factions fighting government troops, with the real goal of protecting Assad.

On a weeklong trip to Europe, Carter is focused on reassuring European allies of U.S. support as they face growing security threats from a more aggressive Russia and militant extremists from north Africa.

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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News Wrap: Russian violation of Turkish air space ‘unacceptable,’ says NATO chief


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JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news, the head of NATO stepped up his war of words with Russia for violating Turkey’s airspace. Russia maintains that its planes twice strayed into Turkey accidentally, as they were on bombing runs in Syria.

But, in Brussels, NATO’s chief rejected that explanation, and charged that Russia’s actions are — quote — “unacceptable.”

JENS STOLTENBERG, Secretary-General, NATO: This is a serious violation of the airspace. And, actually, there were two violations during the weekend. So, that just adds to the fact that this doesn’t look like an accident.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the Russians said their latest targets were towns in northern Aleppo province that are under Islamic State control, as well as militant bases in Palmyra.

Turkey is warning that three million more refugees could flee the fighting in Syria. The new estimate came today at a meeting of European officials in Brussels. E.U. nations, in turn, offered Turkey more than $1 billion in aid, plus other incentives, in a bid to stem the flow.

The European Union’s highest court has handed privacy advocates a major victory. Today’s decision struck down an agreement that lets Facebook and others transfer consumer information to the U.S. unimpeded. The court said revelations about U.S. surveillance shows the information is not being adequately protected, and European officials echoed the point.

HEIKO MAAS, Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, Germany (through interpreter): The verdict of the European Court of Justice is a strong signal for more data protection and greater protection of privacy in a globally interconnected world. That will only be possible if the data of European users which is saved in the U.S. is better protected in future than before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The ruling could make it far more difficult for thousands of companies to do business, in the face of consumer complaints.

A Chicago company could face a record fine, nearly $2 million, for flying drones in Chicago and New York without permission. The Federal Aviation Administration proposed the penalty today for SkyPan International. The FAA says the aerial photography company made dozens of drone flights into restricted airspace over nearly three years.

Scientists from Canada and Japan have won this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics for explaining how neutrinos fit into the universe. Working separately, Arthur McDonald and Takaaki Kajita proved the subatomic particles have mass. In Tokyo today, Kajita said the research is just one small step toward understanding the complexities of the cosmos.

TAKAAKI KAJITA, Co-Winner, Nobel Prize in Physics (through interpreter): The universe we live in is filled with things that have yet to be discovered. Such enormous questions are not resolved in research that is done in a matter of one day or two days, but it takes many people getting involved over the course of many years to unravel the mystery. So, I really hope young people will participate in solving these mysteries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Most neutrinos that reach Earth were created by nuclear reactions inside the sun, and trillions of them pass through the human body every second.

There’s word the Obama administration deported fewer immigrants over the past year than at any time since 2006. The Associated Press reports that 231,000 people were sent home in the 12 months that ended in September. That doesn’t include Mexicans who were caught at the border and quickly returned.

This was a lackluster day on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 13 points to close at 16790. The Nasdaq fell nearly 33 points, and the S&P 500 lost seven.

And, horror of horrors, pumpkin pie could be in short supply come Thanksgiving. Crop experts in Illinois say record rain in June washed out crops in the state that grows 90 percent of U.S. pumpkins. They say there should be enough jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween, but canned pumpkin is liable to run low before Thanksgiving.

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Top U.S. commander recommends revising Afghan drawdown plan


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JUDY WOODRUFF: The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan went before the Senate Armed Services Committee today and recommended altering the plan to withdraw American troops in that country. He also shed more light on the deadly incident earlier this week in which a civilian hospital was mistakenly attacked by U.S. aircraft.

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL, Commander, U.S. Forces – Afghanistan: To be clear, the decision was a U.S. decision made within the U.S. chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That mistake killed at least 22 people Friday in Kunduz. Today, General John Campbell, facing committee chair Senator John McCain acknowledged it was an American decision to strike.

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL: The Afghan forces on the ground requested air support from our forces that are on the ground. Even though the Afghans request that support, it still has to go through a rigorous U.S. procedure to enable fires to go on the ground.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, Chair, Armed Services Committee: But there was no forward air controllers, American forward air controllers on the ground?

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL: Sir, we had a special operations unit that was in close vicinity that was talking to the aircraft that delivered those fires.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Initial accounts had said the AC-130 gunship fired in support of the American troops. The evolving story has led Doctors Without Borders to demand a fully independent investigation.

New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen:

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), New Hampshire: Do you have any reason to object to having an independent investigation done by the U.N. or another independent body of what happened?

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL: Ma’am, I have trust and confidence in the folks that will do the investigation for NATO, the folks that will do the investigation for DOD and the Afghan partners. And so, you know, all the very, very tough questions that we’re all asking, they will get after that.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN: But, as I understand your answer, then, you wouldn’t object to and would cooperate with an independent body?

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL: I would let my higher headquarters or senior personnel make that decision.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, the White House announced the Justice Department is also investigating.

The airstrikes at Kunduz came amid a pitched battle to retake the city, the first one captured by the Taliban since 2001. Campbell said, given the Taliban surge and the Islamic State’s entry into Afghanistan, he’s proposing extending the U.S. presence beyond what the president outlined 16 months ago.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: By the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we have done in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That deadline was mentioned repeatedly today, ruefully by some.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: I’m not making this up, as he said, just as we have done in Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reports last night said the Obama White House is now considering a force of 5,000 troops, as Maine independent Angus King noted.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), Maine: In your professional military judgment, conditions on the ground at the present time would require some revision of the withdrawal plan to a Kabul-centric 1,000 personnel by the end of 2016. Is that correct?

GEN. JOHN CAMPBELL: The options I provided provide pros and cons of different levels of support above and beyond the 1,000.

SEN. ANGUS KING: But I’m not asking you what you recommended. I’m asking you for your professional judgment as you’re sitting here today that there should be some revision to that plan.


JUDY WOODRUFF: There is no timetable on when that decision will be made.

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Should the U.S. keep a significant military presence in Afghanistan?

Marines wait to board a CH-53 helicopter as it lands at a forward operating base in Helmand Province,
         southern Afghanistan, in 2009. The 2016 defense spending bill Photo by David Furst/AFP/Getty Images

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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we take a closer look at the future role of the U.S. in Afghanistan with retired Army Lieutenant General David Barno. He served as a commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. He now teaches at American University. And Scott Smith, he is director of the Afghanistan and Central Asia Program at the United States Institute of Peace. For over a decade, he worked for the United Nations, where he focused on Afghanistan.

And we welcome you both to the program.

General Barno, I’m going to begin with you.

What more can you add to what the U.S. military officials are now saying was a mistake in this strike on the hospital in Kunduz?

LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO (RET.), Former Commander, Coalition Forces in Afghanistan: Well, I think we have seen the story evolve over the last several days, which is totally unsurprising to me.

This incident happened in the middle of the night at about 2:00 in the morning on early Saturday morning. It involved a U.S. aircraft, an AC-130 Spectre gunship, which typically fly several thousand feet in the air, striking a target that later turned out to be the Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz.

And we have also found out now that there was a special forces team, an American special forces team, on the ground nearby that was talking to the aircraft. And I think all of this is indicative of fog of war and a big fight for Kunduz that’s been raging for the last week.

And I’m very, very unsurprised to find out that the situation is continuing to evolve. And I am encouraged to see there will be at least three investigations that we know of right now to take a look at this. This is not unusual in Afghanistan. I tragically saw some of these incidents occur when I was the commander there.

And it always is tragic. It’s always disastrous to our efforts in many ways there. And the investigations find new ways to prevent these from happening, but, inevitably, in these type of wars, especially when we’re in close civilian areas, we are going to see these kind of accidents occur.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Scott Smith, there’s a lot of outrage over this. Is that appropriate, I mean, given what the general is explaining here?

SCOTT SMITH, United States Institute of Peace: Appropriate or not, it’s not an unexpected emotion to come out of it.

I think what the MSF people are saying is that…

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the Doctors Without Borders.

SCOTT SMITH: Doctors — sorry, the French acronym for Doctors Without Borders.

That there was repeated fire every 15 minutes over an hour after they were calling to say, look it, you’re hitting a hospital right now. Who knows what the truth is? We will have to see what the investigation comes — investigations comes out with, what witnesses on the ground say.

But it’s unfortunate. As General Barno said, it’s not uncommon, but it is definitely unfortunate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: General Barno, we noticed that Afghan President Ghani doesn’t seem to be as critical as typically President Karzai has been in the past of the United States. How do you explain that?

LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO: Well, this is a big change. And I think it’s a welcome one for the United States and for our NATO allies.

President Karzai over his 12-plus years in office became more and more frustrated with the coalition military presence and was very, very forceful in his response to these kinds of incidents.

And I think President Ghani, who realizes that President Obama here in the United States is about to make a critical decision about keeping American forces in Afghanistan or drawing them down to only several hundred, President Ghani is a little bit more cautious. He’s been more reserved.

And I think he and many of his senior officials have already come out to say this is tragic, but we understand how this can happen and we look forward to the results of the investigation. His response has been very muted, and I think that’s been appropriate, given the investigation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Scott Smith, let’s broaden this out and talk about the — what the Taliban actually did in there in Kunduz.

How significant that they were able to make their first takeover of a major city in, what, 14, 15 years?

SCOTT SMITH: I think it’s very significant.

First of all, it is first city which has fallen, and Kunduz was also the last city that fell to — the last Taliban-occupied city that fell to American troops in 2001, so there’s sort of a symbolic dimension to this.

Secondly, the fact that, from what my sources on the ground are saying, the government has not taken it back — they have taken part of it back, but there’s still fighting, and it’s not just booby traps. But there is actually still some resistance in the street-to-street fighting.

Third, the Taliban has opened up fighting in other parts of the north. There have been three other provincial capitals that have also been under attack. So, this is not only about Kunduz. It’s about the wider northern area where, remember, so far up to now, they haven’t had a very significant toehold.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, General Barno, what is your sense of where things stand then in Afghanistan right now?

LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO: Well, I would reinforce those points. This is of very deep concern, the fact that the Taliban are this active and this aggressive now in Northern Afghanistan, which for almost a decade has been the most quiet part of Afghanistan in terms of insurgent activity.

We have always worried about the southern part of Afghanistan, around Kandahar. We have worried about the east around Jalalabad. Those have been hotbeds of Taliban activity really since the middle of the last decade. This is a new, very unwelcome phenomenon. They’re deeply entrenched in the north now. And that should give us great cause for concern.

And it certainly is going to influence President Obama’s decision, in my judgment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about that, General Barno. I mean, if the situation is that unstable and that concerning, is keeping another 5,000 troops going to make a difference, if that’s what the president decides to do?

LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO: I think it will make a big difference.

And I think the fact that, if you were to go down to several hundred, the Afghan security forces, the Afghan army would lose all of its connection to things like American firepower, American logistics, American trainers and advice. And that’s crucial to keep them in the battle right now against the Taliban.

If we take that out, I think their ability to continue to go toe to toe with the Taliban will diminish very, very rapidly. And they have been in this fight. They’re not running away from the Taliban. They’re in the fight in all of these cities. So, that’s encouraging. But if we take American troops down to just a few that are around the embassy in Kabul, I think that is going to be put at deep risk.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Scott Smith, it sounds like the U.S. needs to remain there — at least the general is saying that — to stiffen the spine and provide other support for the Afghan forces.

SCOTT SMITH: And I agree.

Part of it is all of the elements that General Barno mentioned, the financial support, the continuing training support, airpower, which we have seen has been something which they had last year and has been taken away.

There’s also a big psychological dimension to this. Afghans feel they’re about to be abandoned again by the West, as they were in 1992. And I think, if this decision is going to be taken, and I think it probably will be taken, to stay — keep more troops in there longer than originally anticipated, I wish it had been taken earlier, because then it would have been seen as part of a contribution to our strategic partnership with the Afghans.

Now it looks like it’s in reaction to the loss of Kunduz, and therefore kind of more of a panicked reaction, even though this discussion has been under way for at least a year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, so many questions raised about this.

For now, though, we want to thank both of you.

General David Barno, retired general, thank you.

And, Scott Smith, we thank you.

SCOTT SMITH: Thank you.

LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO: Thanks very much.

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