OTR Interviews

Debriefing the first wave of airstrikes in Syria: ISIS was the main target, but imminent attack by Al-Qaeda linked Khorasan Group stopped

Did the US-led coalition of Arab nations achieve its objectives in initial strikes on ISIS in Syria?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 23, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: This is a FOX News alert. An al Qaeda group ready to strike the US A US intelligence officer says Khorasan was operational and in the final stages of plans to attack the U.S. homeland or Europe. And less than 24 hours ago, the U.S. launching air strikes against the terror group in Syria. Also, overnight, the U.S. and a coalition between five Arab nations bombing ISIS targets inside Syria.

In just minutes, you will hear from Ambassador John Bolton and General Bob Scales.,

But first, Pentagon press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, just moments ago, we spoke with him about the latest U.S. military action.


VAN SUSTEREN: Admiral, thank you for join being us, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Admiral, what did Khorasan have 24 hours ago that it doesn't have right now?

KIRBY: We're still assessing the effects of these strikes that we took against the Khorasan group in Syria. We do know we hit what we were aiming at. What we were aiming at was some of their command-and-control capabilities, some of their weapons-making capabilities. We know we hit those targets. We're still assessing though the effectiveness, the thoroughness of those strikes, and we'll know probably in the next day or so.

VAN SUSTEREN: How long have they been on our radar screen? I thought ISIS was our target in Iraq and in Syria. Now I'm hearing about Khorasan. How long have they been on our so-called radar screen?

KIRBY: We've been watching this group Khorasan for quite some time now. We've been aware of them. They're a derivative of al Qaeda, an offshoot of al Nusra. While it may be a new name to many Americans, it's not a new name to the Defense Department or intelligence community. We have been watching these guys and we know their history. We also know what they're capable of and what they were planning, and that's what led to the urgency with the strikes last night.

VAN SUSTEREN: The next question has to be, what were they planning and has it been thwarted?

KIRBY: They were planning -- we know they were planning attacks against Western targets, either in Europe or in the U.S. homeland. We also know they were very close to the end game on those efforts. And were they getting close to the execution of an actual attack. It's hard for me to pinpoint exactly how long that would have been, but we know they were getting very near the end just based on intelligence we were able to collect. While I'm not at liberty to go into too much detail about the attack itself, but I can tell you they were getting close, and that's what led to the urgency.

Again, if we were fully successful in these strikes, we believe we will have been able to thwart those attacks but, again, we still need to wait and watch and take another look.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. I note you use the word "targets." I don't want to push you any further. I know you don't want to tell me, and I got that. But does the Pentagon know what the targets are or were? They're very specific?

KIRBY: We have specific intelligence, specific information about the nature of the attack. That's really as far as I'm able to go.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now turn to ISIS. What did ISIS have 24 hours ago that it doesn't have right now in Syria?

KIRBY: We hit targets that get right at ISIL's community -- excuse me, targets that affect their ability to command-and-control, to sustain themselves, to train themselves, to recruit. We know that we hit hard targets that they have been using to sustain themselves in the fight in Iraq and, frankly, in Syria. And this is not just like any other terrorist group. This is a group that tries to grab ground. They want infrastructure. They have governing ambitions. These kinds of targets are meaningful to them.

You've seen some of the video and images. We know we hit what we were aiming at. We are still assessing and will be assessing for quite some time to get a better sense of how effective we were. But we know these strikes were at the very least successful.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have we heard from the Assad regime, President Assad of Syria, since this happened?

KIRBY: We've been -- from the military perspective, Greta, we've not been in any communication with the Assad regime, before, during or after.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know if others within the government that has been in contact with the Assad regime before, during or after?

KIRBY: Through -- through our U.N. ambassador, the Assad regime was notified of our intent to conduct air strikes in Syria. But there was no deep-level coordination or communication about that. And certainly, again, from a military perspective, we have not and have no plans to coordinate our activities with the Assad regime.

VAN SUSTEREN: We have been told that this is going to be a long, sustained effort to get ISIS. How do you define long and sustained? Is that a day? Week? Years? Any idea? Can you give me a little more of a time frame?

KIRBY: Sure. I think, to put it simply, we need to steel ourselves for an effort that could take years, Greta. Everybody's clear here at the Pentagon about the scope of this challenge and how significant it is to our interest, to our people in the region, but also to the interest of our partners and allies. And I think that -- you saw Arab nations, Sunni Arab nations participate in air operations last night. That's a real statement. It speaks volumes about how they, too, share the significance of this threat. I think we're very, very honest with ourselves about the challenge here and we're prepared to be at this for a while. But I think in terms of scope, I would say, yeah, probably years.

VAN SUSTEREN: No matter which way you fall on any of this, once again, I think we can all be proud of our military for executing a plan well done. No one has hurt, at least not on our side.

Anyway, Admiral, thank you very much for joining us.

KIRBY: Thanks for having me, Greta.