Foreign fighters report reveals security gaps

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 29, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL, R-TEXAS: Nearly 70 ISIS followers have been arrested in the last year in the United States of America. I think that's a wake-up call to action. The findings indicate that we, that number one, the threat is getting worse, not better, that we are losing in the struggle to keep Americans from the battlefield because many are still going to the region and coming back. And I think most importantly that we lack a national strategy to deal with this problem.


BRET BAIER, HOST, ‘SPECIAL REPORT’: Bipartisan taskforce with a new report on foreign fighters, calling the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq, quote, "The largest global convergence of jihadists in history." It finds that some7,000 have been added in just the past few months alone, most from the Middle East and North Africa, but thousands from Europe, and some 250 American who is have come back to the U.S. and in some way, shape, or form.

Let's bring in our panel, Yochi Dreazen, managing editor of "Foreign Policy," Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, the report in and of itself is stunning if you take the big broad look at how big this threat is.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It's huge. It's growing. It's unique. It's never happened. When you compare it to the Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, this is -- it is historically unprecedented.

But what's also unprecedented is the utter passivity of the United States. The real story this week is what happened at the U.N. where Putin essentially stepped in and took over Syria. He's now the leader. We had said two weeks ago, I think it was the secretary of state, who said that the build-up of the Russians in Syria was doomed to fail. Two weeks later we have not only accepted it, we welcome it as a fight against ISIS, and we concede essentially that Assad will say under the protection of the Russians.

And the irony is that the Russians aren't in there to fight ISIS. The Russians are in there to support Assad, establish their predominance in the region, to bring in Iran, and to establish military facilities. They have no interest in fighting Assad. The Russians launched a half a dozen drones earlier this week over western Hama and over Latakia. In not one of those areas is there a single ISIS fighter. This isn't about the Russians taking on ISIS. This is about the Russians taking over Syria and keeping Assad as a client in place. That's what happened even as the administration sputters because it has no idea what to do.

BAIER: It's important to point out in this report on the Homeland Security Committee that bipartisan, Democrats and Republicans signed on to this thing.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: And not only are hundreds of Americans going over there, they're coming back. So we're not stopping them from going and we're not identifying them and picking them up when they come back.

And it's amazing to me that we haven't had more incidents in the United States from people who have gone over and come back as there have been in Europe. This is a problem. It's a growing threat. Both parties see that it is, and now they have to devise a strategy to stop it because we don't have one.

BAIER: Yochi?

YOCHI DREAZON, MANAGING EDITOR, "FOREIGN POLICY": What's interesting, it's not just bipartisan but the White House frankly admits to these numbers. They're saying that there are now 30,000 foreign fighters in Syria and in Iraq, much more than they said last year. They said about
15,000 to 20,000, so they're acknowledging an increase.
   The scariest part of this to me is not simply the number who are flowing or the number coming back. It's that they can radicalize here. A lot of the attacks that have taken place in Europe weren't people who weren't trained in military tactics and came back. They are people who got radicalized over the Internet, radicalized in the mosques and schools they went to and the prisons they spent time in. So it isn't simply people go, train, and come back. It's people who never leave their house, never go to the Islamic State but join them anyway.

BAIER: I want to play the sound bite about Hillary Clinton talking about Syria policy in the Obama administration.


CHUCK TODD, NBC: This is a failure in policy, isn't it?

HILLARY CLINTON, D, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it is. As we look back, the people who were fighting Assad, they were business people, they were students, they were professionals. If we had been able to move in to help organize and support those people on the ground, maybe we could have made a difference. Well, we got a deal with where we are right now. It's obviously now a different set of circumstances, and what the Pentagon has been doing hasn't worked.


BAIER: And she said Yochi, she kind of had a hard time with the question of how she differs from President Obama. But in this way she's trying to separate saying she was for arming and training and getting supplies to rebels in Syria early on.

DREAZON: That's right. I think she'll be faced with the difficulty of defending Obama policies up and down the board. On this one she can say accurately she did not want to go with the president. General Petraeus when he was running the CIA, Leon Panetta running the Pentagon, all of them said arm the Syrian rebels. And the president overruled his entire war cabinet. So in this particular issue she can say I was here, the president overruled me, and she's telling the truth.

BAIER: A failure in policy, to hear the former secretary of state say that.

LIASSON: I can't think of a bigger split between her and President Obama on foreign policy. This is a huge amount of daylight. What she's saying is, I mean, she's being modest about it, but, you know, if only they had listened to me. In other words, things might have been different if we had moved early. There were many Republicans who wanted to do that, too. Lindsay Graham and John McCain were for this. But what she's saying is things would have been different if my policy recommendations had been followed.

Now, she's going to have to answer why she couldn't convince the president, what good were you if you couldn't get him to do this. But this is a big, big difference.

KRAUTHAMMER: She is right, and the president wakes up three years after her advice, announces it's now almost exactly a year ago that he's now going to lead a 62-member coalition against ISIS. Remember the mistakes he made, the launching of the airstrikes. Well, 62 nations have produced an army of nine. That's unique I think in the history of warfare.
And it was so humiliating that that was the moment that Putin chose after the announcement of the complete failure of our policy of arming very late, training very late a minuscule number of non-jihadi fighters, that's when Putin could step in because the world could see how the policy had failed.
Clinton is right, her advice was right, and it was ignored. And now we can see the consequences.

BAIER: We should point out all of this comes, the president chaired this summit on countering violent extremism as the Taliban in Afghanistan has taken over a city, another city. ISIS is expanding in Iraq and Syria, but the Taliban is back on the move.

DREAZON: That's right. And for a while they were taking over parts of the south, which was scary enough. Now they're taking Kunduz. I've been to Kunduz. This is a large, major city. So they're expanding in the south, the east, the north, the west. There's not much of the country in which they're not expanding. And remember for a while the White House was saying you will not see Afghan cities fall. This won't be Iraq. Now you're seeing Afghan cities fall and it's taking on the feel or the sense a little bit of Iraq.

KRAUTHAMMER: And what's so scary about the fall of this city in the north, we've always known that the heart of the Taliban, their tribal supporters, the Pashtun who are in the south. But the north had always been fairly anti-Taliban area. In fact when we invaded in 2001, our allies were the Northern Alliance. They were already on our side. So this is a really extraordinary development. And the irony of having Obama preside over a summit about violent extremism as the important city in Afghanistan is falling, as his Syria policy falls apart is a metaphor for the whole foreign policy. Obama loves meetings, he loves talks, he loves coalitions. In the meantime all of our allies in the region are on the run.

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