Obama Approves Surveillance Drones Over Syria

Rear Admiral John Kirby comments on the U.S.'s involvement in Syria.
28:38 | 08/26/14

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Transcript for Obama Approves Surveillance Drones Over Syria
The answer is not. To send in large scale military deployments. That over stretch our military. And lead for us occupying countries for a long period of time and end up -- extremists. Rather our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners. To take the fight -- President Obama they are saying the United States is taking on the Sunni extremists in Iraq and Syria. And now ABC news has confirmed that the president has approved surveillance drone flights over Syria. Hello everyone I'm Michelle Franzen in New York the latest move could be a first step toward the possibility. A direct US military action against the group known as crisis in Syria. The place where the extremist group originated and still controls major portions of the country ABC's isn't -- has been tracking the latest developments and joins us now for more season. Good afternoon Michelle these flights are being described as largely for the purpose of information gathering. It it could be a first step toward the possibility of direct US military action against crisis in Syria. This morning there are reports that President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria and that those flights have begun. US officials have said they need more information before they could launched airstrikes against the militant Islamic group crisis. The terrorist organization that has been gaining ground in Iraq and Syria and that's just last week executed American journalist James -- US and British authorities are scrambling to track down police executioner reportedly focusing now on the young London based rapper known as L -- Who has joined ices. L -- most recent social media posting shows the severed head of the Syrian soldier saying be heading is the only cure. The only source of identity. Is -- very extreme and argued be manipulated version of Islam that says you know I don't belong to any nation. Fears are growing about the threat to other American hostages held by crisis. One family is speaking up about their daughter a 26 year old who was working at a hospital in serious when she was kidnapped. Ice -- said bill released the American in return for the release of a woman named obviously DT. Pakistan any doctor sentenced to 86 years in prison for the attempted murder of an American soldier in Afghanistan. But now -- -- Stanley has come -- a -- for the young American woman's life. They were traumatize by the thought that someone else could be harmed. But in the name of mafia. -- this is also demanding a six point six million dollar ransom. In return for the release of the American hospital worker Michelle and Susan was a Syrian government informed about the decision to send these surveillance drones. According to reports known the president did not intensive and form but -- outside whose ouster he has repeatedly called for. Michelle ABC -- Sony thank you for that. And for more on the latest in these developments I want to bring in ABC's Mary Bruce in Washington -- ABC news just confirming that plans to send surveillance drones flying over Syria. The White House has been hesitant to confirm at all. This morning right. Absolutely Michelle now the White House has not publicly commented yet on these surveillance flights. But they have sympathy US will not be restricted by any borders here -- keep in mind this White House is walking a very fine line here the president. Clearly -- -- or not to go. Forward with any kind of expanded military presence there. Weighing his options very carefully but the administration not wanting to get ahead of that the Pentagon right now putting together in reviewing possible options. But so far no decision has been made although clearly and -- put together some of those. Possible options for him. There's the need for more surveillance to have. Every possible bit of information possible for the president to go ahead and make -- decision going forward and what sort of decision process that it is there and what sort of position does the possibility of strikes inside Syria. With the US in especially when it comes to Syrian president -- Well this administration certainly is -- to be seen as helping at all president Assad and President Obama courses -- now for several years for us not to go. Now they're treading very lightly you're not wanting to be seen even inadvertently helping us -- fight against the extremists. Susan mentioned they had not informed them of this they are vowing not to consult with -- side on any decision making this will be a decision that is made by the US and the American allies. And also -- fine line also walking again today the president said no troops would be going on the ground there we heard the president earlier warning though that there needs to be a broader strategy to fight -- But he warned against rushing into another conflict where does this where does this put the administration. -- -- is really trying to walk a very fine line here on one hand. He is -- to protect Americans when ever necessary to use military force if need be. But on the other hand don't wanna drag the US into another -- is not engagement with the with. Iraq another long drawn out war remember of course this president ran against the Iraq War a war he once called -- dumb. He certainly doesn't want to be seen as making any of the mistakes that he accuses his predecessor making so. I suspect we'll hear a lot of talk in the coming weeks about the need for a broad coalition strategy and in the weeks that we've learned what crisis has been up to and also the execution of James Foley is there any sort of sense of urgency or does the president. I have a timeline here on when he will make a decision. They haven't given us any timeline publicly but there's no question here of course there isn't an urgent need for the US to take more action especially after the world with. So shocked by that horrific video showing the killing of American -- James Foley. Now the president carefully weighing that but it certainly seems that the air strikes in Iraq are not going to be enough to cripple I says. And that they're going to have to take some kind of action to try and cripple the growing threat in neighboring Syria Michelle ABC's Mary Bruce at the White House and right now we want to take you to the Pentagon briefing where rear admiral John Kirby is speaking let's listen. There's if -- have talked about it this special operations. Rescue mission that bill on July. Is that considered an act of war when we cents cents special operators and -- country you're not a work. That was a rescue attempt and we only got -- -- -- because. We -- forced to because -- -- who was never an intention to talk about it. No it was not an act of war it was rescue attempt of Americans that were being held hostage by daughters and I also would like to just. Push back on this idea that it failed -- wasn't successful terms that we get them but. But it was executed. Very very well very professionally. -- that's the relationship between the US and -- right now because. Obviously frustrated. From hearing the release of his -- Yesterday American hostage. But at the same -- there's so many reports that could towers supporting. Mr. upfront plus other Islamist groups in Libya and elsewhere. How would you characterize the relationship between US -- who. We we continue to have a solid. Military to military relationship with. With Qatar. As you know secretary -- is spent a lot of time with the GCC nations we are just -- a couple of months ago. And we want to continue to broaden that military to military relationship and that's our focus is on the military relationship. We're putting that aside obviously. We we don't encourage any support. By -- -- Four terrorist groups and extremists particularly in that part of the world. There are less important parents. I've seen those reports and if the reports are true absolutely it's concerning. Tell me that -- the president -- the White House is independent truckers. To conduct surveillance missions over Syria -- what comes next. Don't talk about intelligence matters Tony I'm not gonna start doing that. Today. We're planning organization here we have to be prepared for all all kinds of options. And with -- respect to providing military options. We're going to be ready to do that an American. Get into the deacons intelligence -- is Matt sources and methods. You know the James Bond will this is we're talking about airplanes now he can't confirm that you were authorized to fly. Aircraft over Syria I'm not gonna talk about intelligence final picture last year this very quick the world was consumed with potentially -- Syria with tomahawk missiles to get them in. Give up their chemical weapons and there -- discussion about serious air defense capabilities. Last year they -- -- to secure dresses danced and sophisticated an integrated one year later. Is that still the case -- serious air defenses. You know there's been. No change in our assessment of Syrian air defense capabilities. And coordinate better scenario that -- that there is -- flying around mission. Syria and -- -- -- can't talk about it I wanted to point out that it. How many times have been told how many missions are flying every day over Iraq right next door. Sure sure not gonna talk about it -- But I appreciate the warning and suggested that literally -- there's a bit different series in Iraq we were specifically asked by the government Iraq to command. And assist them with and I -- our effort over it was over. Ask and so we accommodate that request and we continue to accommodate it today. That's -- the of that that's a different situation when you're hypothesize about now. They'll. Admiral there's been a couple members of congress yesterday today who said they believe the president should go to congress passport. And authorization if he decides to order military action Syria what is secretary England -- -- that question. And more generally does he feel the Pentagon can operate under the existing authorization of military force for what congress had to. Change it some way the president -- that order. Well I'm not gonna speak to the question it's better -- of the White House -- What I can tell you is we're operating inside Iraq. And given the authorities that we've been given by the commander in chief and we not just -- just the Defense Department but -- US government has. Kept congress informed of what we're doing the president's filed I think. For war powers resolution. Letters -- response -- or -- because what we're doing inside Iraq so. There's been a concerted effort to keep congress informed. -- But it. You know equivalent. Has enough information. -- pictured above. I sis size -- capabilities -- here. The way I would put it TJO is that we we've been watching I sail for many months now and we recognized that. Their development their growth. The increase their capabilities. It hasn't happened overnight then and it has happened. Regionally that day that they operate. Pretty much freely between Iraq and Syria. Do we have perfect information about them and their capabilities whether it's on the series out of the border -- the Iraqi side now we don't now we're -- better knowledge. In Iraq because we had been flying more. Surveillance flights over the country since we were asked by the Iraqi Government to do so. And because we're in better and more frequent contact now with Iraqi Kurdish forces so -- there's a growing sense of. Of knowledge there Iraqi side. But it's -- it's mixed. Question how many flights have you conducted over. Iraq since the beginning of -- I don't have. I have to get -- -- cent com. At up to -- the same -- -- hadn't been -- and each and every flight. As. German Dempsey said you last week were up over about sixty eyes are flights. Per day in Iraq but it varies. Some days more some days its. Total for -- It's they had been called document recently said he would apply tends to Syria and this would obviously stand to Somalis platforms -- president. You know -- -- -- you possibly conducting these operations we have some sort of coordination with this Syrian government. -- -- question presumes an ominous talk about -- You know operations being conducted and I'm not gonna do that -- and not gonna talk about intelligence matters here. And I haven't seen those comments from. This -- she commander about the -- so I wouldn't have any comment on the job. Brokering back in June when things really heating up -- rock you all accounts that you see George H. W. Bush carrier group into the Persian gulf. And have any additional forces along those lines but added the Persian gulf or from them and in recent weeks. Also did you ever get a response from the Chinese about that Earl Rawlins and. Not aware of any additional. Naval assets that said. John you notice naval forces come and go routinely swapping out on the planet -- -- pointed to the -- for -- update on. With the naval -- looks like them that in the Persian gulf I'm not aware of any major muscle movement changes such as -- -- about it. It questioning the bush is still care that we have available -- part of the world. All myself from in terms of -- Chinese reaction was public. Public comments. They they may do their media that that they AM. That they did acknowledge -- these publicly acknowledged that there was an intercepted. Stressed it in their view that it was done -- a completely safe distance and and with professional demeanor we obviously take. Deep issue with that characterization of the incident. Meeting with Chinese officials of the building here later this week Tarantino -- -- because I understand that that that the navy is having some discussions this week with some of their. Chinese counterparts -- punch to the -- for details on that. I would also from what I gather this morning John this was something that was long planned long scheduled sort of routine staff talks kind of thing. And didn't read which is sensible come up by again I point to me. Argue that it. You he claims Bolivia last weekend this building from the -- that mostly. He said repeatedly that the US didn't know who was responsible for those flights what is it that you have over the last few days have been -- -- -- have been -- By the -- and why couldn't -- excellence. I couldn't say so last week -- I didn't know. And now we know and so. Now I'm able to acknowledge it I mean I idea. I don't think it's. Worthwhile going through all the mechanisms through which we we. You know we learn information there were more than that last week there was -- it was the first such strike in and it was unclear. Aniston who conducted at all I can tell you for sure is that we didn't. We since gain more information and in light of that in spite of this second strike over the weekend we've. We -- -- ascertained that. That we know was conducted. By UAE and by Egypt. In some fashion but again I'd I'd point -- to those countries to talk about. Hard -- understand -- -- he had discouraged them from conducting such flights how did not -- they had done. I did not say that we discouraged. Them from. From conducting these strikes what I said was we don't talk about our diplomatic discussions. It is it business in this building that that you won't comment the UAE Egypt a country tackle terrorism problem. Independently yes -- -- is the same as the United States government position which is that we want the issue solved in Libya to be done peacefully. And through good governance and and politics and not violence and that we. What we discourage other nations from taking apart in Libya's issues through violence. That's our position. Yet David. We'll leave weapons deliveries if you. Talk about the collision. Begins that they -- -- started to begin in the I mean -- indicative of a better sense of that later. I know. I know Albania in the UK have already started to deliver but again -- have to get you some more fidelity -- that it's just this is an effort that's really just sort of starting. And I'd also point to than -- said it. Said before but it's -- from China we too have taken. Part and some of the delivery of equipment and personnel I'm sorry equipment and materiel. Two Kurdish forces helping the Iraqi Government conduct that resupply using some of our aircraft. There's no question -- where it is that of course from State Department will. Additional her personal and. Still reviewing it still looking at that I would also remind you that that that we get many request for forces here. Depending on some comes from the State Department some come from. From combatant commanders there are many options and how you address those kinds of force requirements were working through those options right now. Yes there. Annuity and and featured on the strikes and -- -- -- why wouldn't that be seen as something that would be helpful United States wants -- allies to. -- to step up. And it. Didn't support against militant threats while I would have something helpful I wouldn't -- when yes that's -- point. -- -- What we what we don't want is. More violence on top of violence has already existing inside Libya it's it's already tenuous enough security environment -- -- -- And we do want to see that resolved we do want to see a peaceful stable future for Libya for Libyan people it's not just good for them it's good for that part of the world which is already. Got issues of security as -- as it as it does so but adding more violence -- it we don't believe is the -- Cara -- -- to rack where we're expecting extra expense violence -- -- spent just. -- what differentiates the two situation -- -- absolutely first also were there at the request the Iraqi Government. This wasn't some unilateral decision by the United States the -- strike targets inside Iraq number to. We are there. We are that and construct under which were conducting. Airstrikes are being done very in a very limited targeted discreet manner to protect US personnel and facilities. To assist the Iraqi Security Forces as they go after this threat. Inside their country on behalf of their people. Institute helped contribute any humanitarian missions that minor role evolve like we saw happen amounts -- a couple of weeks ago -- big difference there. But the biggest differences were there at the request of the Iraqi Government. Yes. Blends with the DOD consider any role as part of an international force Libya. I'm not aware of any sense consideration yes. These this -- -- as a magician is conservative begun -- residency training at -- manager of the movement about the. Let's -- we've talked about this for a long time that they. They're well resource they get they get. Money from donations they get money from ransoms. Frankly they get money from I mean -- -- this is a group that tries to develop their own revenue districts that's why they take over facilities it's -- They wanted to control the -- I mean they actually -- ground and try to keep it they're selling oil on the black markets and -- many revenue streams and they're well funded. They get a -- sourcing and their training and their sustenance from across that border in Syria which is one of the reasons why we've got to take a regional approach we talked about this before. OK but isn't it as the last -- yesterday that -- -- as time goes on his mother Angela. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- You -- watching the situation I don't know what's happening in front is that instead it is didn't believe this question training centers -- But -- -- what did you do have people. Who has training centers. That Pakistan has training centers for extremists. -- Have talked about this again to before over the it's a complicated relationship right then and we we want to continue to work with Pakistan to deal with the. What we believe is a common challenges and a common threat faced by both our countries. And by Afghanistan as well and that's extremists and the safe haven and sanctuary that they continue do enjoy. In Pakistan looked -- Pakistani military has taken action against those extremists -- inside their own country they've conducted operations not -- not too long just this summer. And it's important to remind everybody that they too have -- -- reason that fight so it's a common threat we don't always see eye to eye on how to address it debts. Debt remains beating case today but what's different today is that we we have better vehicles for dialogue and cooperation with -- Pakistan military that. That we continue to enjoy and want to continue to improve. -- -- -- Regarding the the perception that the check you're kind of part spokesperson for the ministry of defense didn't respond and -- the US stressed that the PA was in international airspace. That the Chinese government the defense that -- history. Mentioned that the admission of that flight was to you. Was to backtracking Chinese submarines and other ministry activities. So -- in order to you viewed a better -- -- -- relations. That the US needs to reduce this kind of number and his number flights and -- stopped even and also from the Pentagon's perspective I mean the two leaders of the two countries are calling for a better -- committed to relationship. So from -- Pentagon's perspective -- realistic. It is to do such bad relationship with all of this going on in south China -- instruments. It's important that we continue to work at this relationship absolutely it that is not made easier by incidents what we saw. Would that -- intercept of are. Under no circumstances and under no room. Of military relations is it acceptable to fly a jet fighter around. Reconnaissance airplane the way. That was done. That said that doesn't mean that that the relationship -- still. Worth pursuing and we continue to look for avenues to try to increase the dialogue and cooperation the understanding in the transparency between our two countries. But again that incident did nothing to help -- along. -- -- -- -- And you are listening to the Pentagon briefing you can still continue to hear that streaming live on abcnews.com. Right now I want to bring in general James Cartwright former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff -- Allen ABC news contributor. General -- thank you for joining us. Here's an idea what does this signal to -- that the US has approved surveillance drones over Syria is -- a surprise. Wouldn't be a surprise from shelves. You know they're gonna wanna watch forces that are the focus -- -- ices and they're gonna watch the full the forces inside of Iraq and you listen in the briefing. How they've ramp -- the reconnaissance in Iraq. And there are probably gonna want to know where those forces when they cross the border going north and to Syria where they go. Or if they're coming from Syria with weapons and ammunition and resupply where it's coming from. And in learning that an understanding that is probably the essence of these missions. And the Obama administration that President Obama has said he does not plan to send troops on the ground how important is it to have. This type of surveillance then I'm near this soft border between Syria and Iraq. Well -- and the reconnaissance flights will serve to. Increase the knowledge for air strikes effective airstrikes help them be more precise drive them towards. Lucrative targets understand the patterns of life of moving back and forth across that border where they come from where they go how they do it. How long we have and how far they come and where there are logical contradictions but don't forget that Syria has an integrated air defense site of its -- I think it was back in July of 2012 they shot down a Turkish reconnaissance aircraft. And so it's not without risk. But I think mostly what they're focused on here or likely at least at the -- part is what's crossing the border where's it coming from where's -- going to. And could the Syrian government construe the drone flights over Syria as a declaration of war what kind of sort of predicament could this put the US and with the situation with president. -- I think everybody has said is walking a fine line. But historically there's been. At least a concept called hot pursuit so when someone comes into our country conducts -- mission and then leaves. US government normally as soon -- the right to to follow them a certain amount of distance into -- next country to intercept them. The question is how far how much risk are we willing to take. How lucrative are the targets those are all assessments that intelligence is working to understand right now. And could it be that the US is actually working with Syria under this. Scenario of a possible operation. -- any number of things are possible. -- don't know for sure. And get some idea just -- the challenges that are faced with combating -- basis this group that as we've heard. Does very well regionally and is not necessarily in one place. Well they're highly mobile. They're moving around they blend in in many cases. There are sticking to areas where they have plenty of protection whether -- civilians that surround them for building -- along the rivers and you know the areas that have high foliage. Things like that so they are difficult but the key issue here is the sooner you know that some sort of convoy. Or troop formation is moving and can pick it up. And then can watch it. The ease your distant target it once it moves into an area that's that's free from civilian. Potential damage centrist. Course we have heard just recently from. Rear admiral John Kirby saying he's not going to talk about any possible operations but generally speaking. Is there a sense of urgency here. Given these circumstances that have unfolded them in the last week's. I don't know this sense of urgency at least four as the Pentagon and the administration. That's probably more political in nature but any time that you can cut off the supply lines of people ammunition food etc. Then -- going to be better off in controlling. The destiny of the fight. And then are there also concerns we talked earlier about how -- -- operates and it's very. Integrated into many of the communities and and civilian areas is that also concerned. And would be for the US. It would be because it makes air strikes very difficult. Without a lot of collateral damage whether they -- to buildings or harming civilians. That are in the area. And so the more that they're integrated into the local. Villages and what not to more difficult any kind of targeting would be and that's why -- wanna try to get to targeting done before they get into those villages or after their leaving them. Former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff -- ABC news contributor general James Cartwright thank you very much for joining -- And of course you can continue to watch the Pentagon briefing and a state -- streaming both on abcnews.com. And a reminder you can keep up watching the Pentagon briefing also and keep up with these stories by downloading the ABC news -- And star in the story for exclusive updates on the go I'm Michelle -- in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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