New fears over imminent collapse of US-Mideast policies

This is a rush transcript from "The Kelly File," February 13, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST: Breaking tonight, there's action in Iraq involving U.S. troops and ISIS tonight. Reports that U.S. helicopter gunships may have been deployed to beat back an ISIS attack on an Iraqi town and an Iraqi base that houses hundreds of American soldiers.

Welcome to "The Kelly File" everyone, I'm Megyn Kelly. Yesterday ISIS fighters reportedly took over the Iraqi town of al Baghdadi. Today they were beaten back after attempting to infiltrate an airbase where hundreds of Americans are based. There are reports that at least one aircraft, American aircraft, engaged the terrorists. If these reports are confirmed, it may signal a significant escalation as low-flying potentially vulnerable American aircraft entered this fight. Former Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Pete Hegseth has been doing some investigating on this. He's here in a moment.

But first, also breaking tonight, fierce new reaction to our interview last night with the State Department's Jen Psaki as experts begin to question whether we have lost all influence in the Arab world and whether this administration is being honest about the facts. Yesterday, the State Department admitting that mistakes were made by the U.S. in at least Libya where America was forced to close its embassy, and that the withdrawal from Yemen this week did not go as planned. We reported on some Americans who were evacuating the Yemeni capital leaving so quickly they left their keys in the car ignitions, which were then seized by America-hating rebels.  U.S. Marines also destroyed their weapons before jumping on private planes unarmed and getting out of a country President Obama only months ago touted as an example of our successful foreign policy.

As it stands now, an Iranian-backed militant group with a habit of chanting death to America has taken full control in the Yemen capital topping a U.S.-friendly government. But yesterday the State Department's Jen Psaki told us everything seems under control.


KELLY: Do we have control of our policy in the Middle East? And does this reflect a lack of American leadership?

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: The situation as you've referenced in your opening here is just too volatile to be on the ground right now. That's not about American leadership. That is about the situation on the ground.

KELLY: But the government there was U.S.-backed. And as recently as September Barack Obama was touting it as an example of a country in which our counterterrorism program is working and our support of a foreign government is working.

Are we still supposed to be looking at Yemen as some sort of example of an American success?

PSAKI: We still have means of communicating and working with a range of contacts and sources we have on the ground.


PSAKI: That's continuing.

KELLY: Who? The people we liked are now pushed out of power and here's video of the people who are now in control. They do not appear to be fans of the United States as they love to run around chanting the following. Show the video.


(Protesters): Death to Israel. Death to Israel. Victory to Islam.


KELLY: I mean, are we supposed to be coordinating with them? Are those our new counterterrorism partners?

PSAKI: Well, Megyn, there are as there are in any country, there are counterparts we work with that are on the military chains, that are in other chains that are not necessarily diplomatic chains. And that is continuing in Yemen today as we speak.

KELLY: Jen, the problem that the United States has now is it appears that the policy we pursued in connection with the Arab Spring from December 2010 forward has failed. And it seems very clear that American influence in that region is diminishing while that of Iran is on the rise.

PSAKI: I think we have to look at each of these countries individually. As it relates to Libya, you're right.

KELLY: But there's a question whether we blew it. Whether we blew it in each of those instances and in the case of Yemen.

PSAKI: Well, what I'm getting at Megyn, do we want a return to Yemen?  Absolutely. That's why we suspended our operations. We plan on returning when we can. The Houthis have said, they are not threatening. They don't want to go after the United States.

KELLY: Well, the video sort of belies that promise.

PSAKI: Well, Megyn, there's no question that actions speak louder than words.

KELLY: Why was the evacuation from the embassy so hasty?

PSAKI: Well, first, it wasn't hasty.

KELLY: It wasn't?

PSAKI: Just because everybody didn't know what the plans were, it didn't mean the plans weren't in place for weeks.

KELLY: We're so chummy with the Amanis which is the neighboring country, why wouldn't they let our U.S. Marines bring their guns on the plane?

PSAKI: They've followed the proper protocol to destroy their weapons or to disassemble their weapons before they got on the plane. What wasn't planned here is for the Houthis to take control of our vehicles. Did everything go exactly as planned? No. But we've been planning these for weeks and everybody was following the proper protocol put in place for the advance.


KELLY: Joining me now Bret Stephens, foreign affairs columnist for The Wall Street Journal and author of "America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder."

Bret, good to see you tonight. She wants us to believe that we had this planned, you know, it was executed quickly, it went generally according to plan as opposed to the fact the Yemeni Embassy was apparently sacked and that the counterterrorism program is still -- that's bull.

BRET STEPHENS, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: The language is Orwellian. The language is absolutely Orwellian. You know, just in the last 24, 48 hours we've had the remains of the Yemeni government, a major base, being overrun by Al Qaeda. We have two major strategic threats in Yemen, the Shiite, the Iranian-backed Houthis who have taken over the capital --

KELLY: Those are the death to America.

STEPHENS: And the other death to America people, the Sunni side, who are --

KELLY: And those ones really mean it. The Al Qaeda ones really mean it. They've devoted their whole lives to it.

STEPHENS: You know, Megyn, the first time, I think the first time I was on your show we were talking about Yemen. This was back in September when the Houthis first marched into Sanaa and started encamping around government buildings. And it was clear then we had a major strategic problem. And the entire time the administration has tried to pretend that we don't face a major strategic -- not a setback, a calamity in Yemen.

KELLY: The problem is, I mean, most people are like Yemen, what? But the problem is, they house our most dangerous enemy, the most dangerous faction of Al Qaeda is growing in Yemen. The people who did the Charlie Hebdo execution in Paris, France, were from Yemen. And this is a group that's very determined in attacking America and particular and other western partners. So, we cannot afford to have the U.S.-backed government collapse. We can't afford to pull our embassy out because that's where the CIA is based and their counterterrorism operations are.

STEPHENS: Right. And now you have Al Qaeda -- AQAP, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, ISIS, Boko Haram, you saw what happened in Libya in recent days with the murder of cops. You have a whole belt of jihadist who were seizing control of a region from which the president is desperately trying to look away. So this is a very serious problem. I don't see how you easily roll this back unless you have a president who understands the magnitude of the problem. The problem here is the president recently came out with a national security strategy, the essence of which is we should not overreact. Well, it's very difficult to look at what's just happened in Yemen and not appreciate the magnitude of what we're facing.

KELLY: The best case scenario right now is the death to America people retain control. That's the best case scenario. Because if they lose then the Al Qaeda folks take control.

STEPHENS: Yes. Except, they're an arm of Iran. They're essentially the Yemeni version of Hezbollah. Iran now controls Arab capitals in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and now Yemen in Sanaa. So, both of our enemies are advancing at once. And this is a major strategic dilemma for which this administration doesn't have even the beginning of an answer.

KELLY: Nor a commitment to being truthful. I mean, Jen Psaki, it's not her fault. She works for an administration that tells her what to say and she's a good ambassador for them. But the president and the State Department at large needs to be honest about what's really happening there.  Bret, good to see you.

STEPHENS: Good to be here.

KELLY: Back now to our top story tonight. New reports that U.S. helicopter gunships were deployed during an attempted attack on U.S. troops in Iraq. And reports that gunships may also have engaged ISIS fighters for the first time in or near a strategic Iraqi town.

Pete Hegseth is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and a Fox News contributor. So, talk to me about what is significant about the -- what exactly did ISIS do that takes us to a new level?

PETE HEGSETH, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERAN: Well, it appears, Megyn, the jayvee team is at the gates. I mean, what they did today, attempted to do over the last 24 hours is an attack on the al-Asad airbase which is a strong -- in Anbar Province. The marine compound there of 300 personnel is only one portion of it, it's a large complex, but they attempted a complex attack, with suicide bombers on that compound. Really to probe the defensive the Iraqi army and send a clear signal that our president may say and want to believe that airstrikes are pushing them back. But they've seized more train including the al-Baghdadi town which is just five miles outside of town --

KELLY: The Pentagon has confirmed that.

HEGSETH: -- and now they're launching complex attacks.

KELLY: The Pentagon has confirmed that they're now in control of this town, this big town.

HEGSETH: And if we're launching apache gunships, if we're launching close air support, it means we believe there's eminent threat to strategic assets or our personnel, which has got to sound alarm bells for a lot of people and remind us that we've got a fight on our hands. And close air support is vulnerable, Megyn. If we're putting pilots toward the ground engaging ISIS fighters, there's always a chance that unfortunately ISIS could be successful in attacking one of those. Now you've got a downed pilot, what do you do to get them? And you could have Mogadishu on speed with ISIS fighters converging on U.S. personnel if we don't have a plan.  And right now, Megyn, it really doesn't appear that we do.

KELLY: They said that ISIS was dressed in Iraqi army uniforms. So, they tried to pretend to be, you know, the friend to the United States.

HEGSETH: Uh-huh.

KELLY: And stormed this compound. And the American compound, I guess, is part of it. But inside of it. And so the Iraqis fought them back.


KELLY: And apparently we engaged as well. But apparently managed to stop the attack. But they're getting bolder, Pete.

HEGSETH: That's exactly right. It's a common tactic, deception. But they're getting bold to hit a base where American personnel are housed.  But they know the Americans, they have a bunker mentality. They are forced to stay inside the wire. Normally in al-Assad, I did some research, talked to Marines today. It's inside Awadi (ph), a valley surrounded by high ground. Normally when we defended that base when we were in Iraq before we maintained checkpoints and over-watched positions to prevent the enemy from encircling that base. We don't have that today. We're relying on the Iraqi army. They're seizing those vulnerabilities. And the Marines are not allowed to do what they would need to do to push the perimeter out further. Therefore, more vulnerable, we deploy air support which is helpful in the short-term, but ultimately these marines in this compound are under siege because ISIS is emboldened, they're continuing to push.  And our air support approach only, pinprick strikes are not pushing ISIS back.

KELLY: You hate to think of our men and women there feeling like that they're fighting with one arm tied behind their back.

HEGSETH: Which they are, Megyn, two hands.

KELLY: Pete, good to see you.

HEGSETH: Thank you.

KELLY: We'll continue to follow it.

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