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CONNECT THE WORLD
Civilians Flee Intense Violence in Last ISIS Enclave in Syria; General Votel Says Tens of Thousands of ISIS Fighters Remain; Tehran Celebrates 40 Years since Islamic Revolution; Diversity on Display as Women and Hip-Hop Stares Win Big; Diversity Celebrated at British Film Awards; Guaido Says Blocking Aid into Venezuela is a Crime Against Humanity; Women Selling Their Bodies so Their Families can Survive; Al-Araibi Released from Thai Prison, Avoids Extradition. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired February 11, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us. You're watching CNN. This is CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Robyn Curnow.
So there is a lot happening on the show this hour. We're going to be focusing on what is happening in Syria, and we're going to begin in eastern
Syria, where hundreds of civilians are fleeing the violence. One woman told our correspondent Ben Wedeman that people have been used as human
shields in her town as fighting between ISIS and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces escalates. On top of the fighting, others say food is so
scarce, that many are being forced to eat grain normally fed to live stock. Well, Ben Wedeman filed this exclusive report from the front lines in
eastern Syria. Take a look.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The final battle began just after sunset with coalition air strikes pounding
the last dot on the map, held by the state that calls itself Islamic. The town Baghouz Al-Fawqani in eastern Syria.
But there was no calm before the storm, as gunners with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces rained heavy machine gunfire down on to ISIS
targets. While civilians who had stuck it out in the town made their way to safer ground. A mortar round exploded near 14-year-old, Mahmoud Nazeel
(ph), days ago. His wounds still fresh. His brother, Thamar, says they couldn't afford to pay the ISIS fighters a thousand dollars apiece to
leave. And thus had to sneak out under cover of darkness.
An hour before the final push began, Arab tribal fighters danced a useful morale raising exercise perhaps, before the coming battle. The bombing of
the town continued throughout the night, intensifying at first light.
(on camera): The battle to take the last enclave of ISIS in Syria is now into its second day. Syrian Democratic Forces have made good progress
within the town but they are encountering some resistance from the ISIS fighters. This despite the constant heavy coalition air strikes on the
(voice-over): But as the day wore on, the going got tougher and the air strikes increased. It's a hit. ISIS has dug a network of tunnels and
trenches, its fighters some of its most experienced and battle hardened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ARAB FIGHTER (through translator): This battle will not end the war on ISIS. When ISIS the state is replaced by ISIS the terrorist
insurgency, this Arab fighter tells me. It will be tougher still. This war is easy, he says. We're fighting them on a front. It will be
different when it becomes guerrilla warfare.
WEDEMAN: Victory of sorts is at hand. Peace in this tortured land, still elusive.
CURNOW: That was Ben Wedeman there. Now the fight to take back that last ISIS enclave, won't mean the end of the group. Ben said it there in his
piece, General Joseph Votel, the top U.S. military man in the Middle East says there are still tens of thousands of ISIS fighters scattered across
Syria and Iraq. His assessment is sharply different from President Donald Trump who says the fight against ISIS is almost over.
So let's get more from CNN Pentagon correspondent, Ryan Browne. Ryan, what else did he say? He is certainly contradicting the President and also
perhaps backing up what we are seeing on the frontlines from Ben Wedeman.
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, is absolutely right, Robyn. You heard Ben Wedeman there, interviewing an SDF fighter who talked about
the shift from territorial control by ISIS, to more of an insurgency, a guerrilla group. This is something that has worried military commanders.
While President Trump has talked about the land, the territory that ISIS holds, shrinking and that it soon will be eliminated. Military commanders
are focused on the next phase. And you hear General Votel talked about tens of thousands of fighters traveling in route to the region with CNN's
Barbara Starr. Let's hear from him now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I'm kind of aligned with where the intelligence community is on this. They talked about tens
of thousands that have been dispersed and disaggregated from the area.
[15:35:00] So they've dispersed and disaggregated, but there is leadership there, there are fighters there, there are facilitators there. They still
have some access to resources and, of course, they still maintain this kind of perverse ideology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWNE: This is something that has concerned U.S. military leaders, how to deal with the remnants of this terror group, once it loses its last bit of
territory there in Syria. U.S. military says it is working on plans to maintain pressure on the terror group while also executing this withdrawal
from Syria, that was ordered by President Trump. But it's unclear how they're going to be able to do both. Very few details emerging about what
those plans might look like so this is a problem they're trying to tackle. How do you keep the pressure on while pulling out? And the military
assesses that without that pressure in six to 12 months ISIS could very well make a comeback and reclaim some of the territory it's lost -- Robyn.
CURNOW: And where are we with the timing on this withdrawal of American troops in Syria.
BROWNE: Well General Votel refuses to get into specific timelines. He did say that it's more likely to be a matter of weeks than a matter of days.
But I've gone, they've started pulling out some equipment. And they say that's going to be the hardest part, getting some of this the military
equipment. You know, things like armored vehicle, or heavy weapons, getting that out first, and then the troops, you'd be able to pull them out
relatively quickly. President Trump has talked about maintaining a presence in Iraq in part to kind of keep an eye on Syria so they can go in
should they see ISIS begin to re-emerge. But again, we're not clear on the timeline. But it's the military is very clear, they are following
President Trump's orders that troops will come out eventually.
CURNOW: Brian Browne there at the Pentagon, thanks for all that update.
I want to go back to eastern Syria, Ben Wedeman joins us now on the phone. Ben, has been near the frontlines, and on the frontline, actually, in the
past few hours. But actually had to move back earlier, because of an intense ISIS counter-attack. Ben, I know you're on the phone. What have
you been seeing there where you are right now?
WEDEMAN (via phone): We are a good ways away now from the area surges (INAUDIBLE) there this morning. What we saw, was really actually, we woke
up to the sound of heavy exchanges of small arms and followed by that we go over onto the route of where of where we were doing our live reports from
there. And the bullets were zinging over our heads. And at a certain point, there was a large explosion which was it appeared to have been an
incoming mortar round, right next to the building where we were at. We took cover after that.
But the incoming fire was increasing. We understand that ISIS fighters managed to get over the barrier that blocks the main road leading into
Baghouz Al-Fawqani. And as a result, the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces had to abandon some of their positions. What we saw in the hours after
that is there was an intensification of coalition air strikes. But when we left that town, the situation was very, very unstable, to say the least.
CURNOW: Who is still left in that town?
WEDEMAN: It's an interesting question. Because what we've been hearing for days, from SDF officials, is that there were approximately 1,500
civilians inside. But what we saw today was 21 truckloads of people who have left the town within the last 24 hours. An official told me there
were 700 people in that convoy of trucks and he said we miscalculated the number of civilians inside. Now they're saying there are thousands --
without specifying how many thousand -- but thousands of civilians still inside.
And I spoke to some of them, and they said yes, there are many people are still inside, some are being kept as human shields. And that they said
that not only is the town coming under bombs, air strikes, and artillery and mortar bombardment, from the coalition, the anti-ISIS forces backed by
the United States, but there are also being bombarded from regime positions as well as from Iraqi army positions very nearby, just over the border. So
it sounds like the situation inside this town is hellish.
People that I asked, were you in an area where there were air strikes. They said there are air strikes everywhere. There is incoming artillery
everywhere. And there is -- people do not have anywhere to seek safety.
[10:10:00] They said we're hiding out in our homes, trying to survive this. But there is no way for them to be shaken in any sense of the word. There
are no bomb shelters or anything like that. We understand the ISIS fighters are in better position, because they have tunnels. They have
built a network of tunnels throughout the town. And the civilians, every one of them, all of them are in harm's way.
CURNOW: And when you talk about those ISIS fighters, Ben, there's a three- pronged attack as you described, civilians facing. In terms of those ISIS fighter, who are they, who are the die-hards that are left now? How many
of them are foreign fighters?
WEDEMAN: Well, we don't have a precise number. We've heard anywhere between 300 and 500 fighters are still left inside. Now when you speak to
people who have come out, they say there are a variety of nationalities. There are people from the former Soviet Union, people who appear to be from
the far east. There are Chechens and Europeans, some people even mentioned Americans. Now they may not know precisely how to distinguish between all
of those, but it does appear that there are a variety of nationalities in addition to Syrian and Iraqi ISIS fighters.
But it does seem that as a result, as ISIS has fallen back, it looks like battle-hardened people are concentrated in this tiny, it is not a big town.
So yes, this is why I think the fighting is proving to be so difficult. Last night, we were speaking with some SDF commanders who were saying yes,
perhaps tomorrow, or the day after, we will be able to retake the town of Baghouz. I think lack their calculations, it is the number of civilians
inside the town, they are starting to make new calculations.
CURNOW: Ben, we spoke, when ISIS was being pushed out of Iraq in the last few years. This is the final sliver in fact, of the caliphate. You say
potentially that it is a day or two longer. What are other people saying on the ground? Do they feel that this is going to be the final battle?
And how soon will it end?
WEDEMAN: Well I think that they were saying that they assume the end tomorrow --
CURNOW: It's difficult to hear you.
WEDEMAN: -- or the next day. But obviously, that's not going to be the case. In terms of the end, there is no end in sight at this point. Yes,
there is an end to the geographical caliphate, but in terms of the long- term threat from the group, or groups that come out of it, exactly the same way that Al Qaeda in Iraq morphed into ISIS, and what was ISIS may morph
into something else. Many of ISIS managed to escape from the battles of Iraq, the battles of Raqqah and elsewhere in Syria, blend in with the local
population, or take refuge in the desert, in the mountains. And the worry is, for instance, when the American forces pull out -- there are only about
2,000 of them on the ground, plus a significant presence in the air -- that there will be a vacuum into which will rush either Turkey, the Syrian
regime, ISIS, or all three.
So yes, I mean at the moment, it does appear that a significant victory is about to be achieved. In the long run, there's no indication that once
this tiny town of Baghouz Al-Fawqani falls, that peace will break out.
CURNOW: Ben Wedeman and your team there on the ground in eastern Syria, thank you for this reporting. We'll continue to check in with you. Stay
OK, so Iran's President is defiantly speaking out against the U.S. as his country celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. An
event that sparked decades of hostility between the two countries. Now Hassan Rouhani addressed thousands of his people earlier today declaring
that Iran will not let America be victorious. And the country will continue to expand its military and missile program. And CNN just spoke to
the head of the Revolutionary Guard. This is what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMED ALI JAFARI, COMMANDER, IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARD (through translator): With the missiles we have right now, with the progress in
high technology, and with the self-reliance we have achieved in various fields, and also with the growth of the population in Iran, we have the
power and capacity to defend against any kind of invasion. After 40 years, now that we have expanded our defense systems, and we have developed
military technologies in various fields, of course the Americans and other big powers know that conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran would fail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[10:15:04] CURNOW: Well, CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins me now from the Iranian capital. In that interview, what else did the head of the Revolutionary
Guard say? Certainly doubling down.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, very much doubling down. Basically also saying that despite Iran's
current economic turmoil, that he believes the Islamic Republic at this point in time is probably stronger than it ever has been during the past 40
years since the Islamic Revolution.
Certainly militarily and politically, it seems to us that is something that could be true. But economically of course, Robyn, that even on this 40th
anniversary, you can see that this country, on the ground, this country is certainly one that suffering, under the hardline of the Trump
administration, or the crippling sanctions that have been put in place, after the U.S. has pulled out of a nuclear agreement.
And it is so interesting to see today, at that event, it did have a lot of people who are very defiant, certainly very angry at the United States, for
pulling out of the nuclear agreement. But there certainly is also a lot of people who are very concerned about their own economic future here in Iran,
with so many hopes pinned on the nuclear agreement. And people don't know how this country could emerge from sanctions and how this country will move
forward to try to get the economy back on track.
We do see a lot of defiance from officials, like for instance, the head of the Revolutionary Guard, who is of course a very powerful man here in Iran.
And also is very much in charge of a lot of the things that the Iranians do abroad in the Middle East, like for instance, in Syria. But certainly on
the ground, there are a lot of people right now who are very, very concerned about the medium and long-term future of this country -- Robyn.
CURNOW: With that in mind, Hassan Rouhani also increasingly striking a more defiant note.
PLEITGEN: Yes, that was actually a great point that you made. That's one of the things that certainly too are stood out to me. Because I've been at
a couple of these celebrations that happens every year, the celebration of the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, certainly I was here, in 2016,
with the nuclear agreement was still -- or at least the U.S. was still part of the nuclear agreement. It did have a much more conciliatory tone coming
from Hassan Rouhani. Also some of these surroundings that we are seeing right now, weren't the same back then and right now. We have an arms Expo
that was going on here in Tehran, a lot of officials on display. (INAUDIBLE) but you're absolutely right, a much more defiant tone by Hassan
Rouhani, a much more negative one towards the U.S. and the West.
CURNOW: Fred Pleitgen reporting live from Tehran, thanks so much, Fred.
I'm Robyn Curnow. This is CONNECT THE WORLD. Coming up the situation in Venezuela is getting so desperate that some women are doing the
unthinkable. Selling their bodies so their families can survive.
And standing united, women and minority rights are championed at the Grammy Awards which included a surprise appearance that stunned many in the crowd.
[10:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CURNOW: You are watching CNN, and this is CONNECT THE WORLD, with me Robyn Curnow. Thanks for joining us this Monday.
Well, history was certainly made in America's biggest night for music, the Grammys. "This is America", by Childless Gambino, became the first rap
song to win song of the year. Cardi B became the first woman to win a Grammy for best rap album. It was part of a pretty big name for women,
although the woman everyone is talking about isn't even a musician.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER U.S. FIRST LADY: From the Motown records I wore out on the south side, to the "who run the world" songs that fueled me through
this last decade, music has always helped me tell my story. And I know that's true for everybody here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: Well, Michelle Obama there, alongside a group of pretty fabulous women. Like Alicia Keys, the first female host of the Grammys in more than
a decade, or J. Lo, the first woman to ever have a number one movie and album at the same time. Jada Pinkett-Smith who overcame suicidal thoughts
to establish yourself as a Hollywood A-lister, business woman and philanthropist. And of course, Lady Gaga, the first person ever to be
nominated for Oscar for best actress and song in the same year. Well Stephanie Elam is in LA with more on all of that. I mean, it's kind of a
fabulous night, wasn't it? Certainly a first on many levels.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For sure, Robyn, and I have to say, as far as award shows go -- and I've been out on a lot of red carpets for them
-- this one particularly went well. The show went particularly well. I think a lot of it has to do with some of the surprises. I think Alicia
Keys did a great job. And the fact that Michelle Obama showed up, no one expected her, that she came out of nowhere, and she was on the Grammy
stage. And then the fact that she also just had all of these superstars just star-struck, was pretty phenomenal. In fact, she had to tell people
to kind of quiet down so she could actually speak a little bit. Just take a listen to a little bit more of what she had to say there on the stage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Music shows us that all of it matters. Every story, within every voice, every note, within every song.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELAM: And the whole idea behind those women coming together on the stage is to say how important music is. And let's be honest, the Grammys have
gotten some backlash for not having enough women included in the performer, and in their winners, and in their nominees. Definitely a different case
when you look at the Grammys last night. You had Brandy Carlisle, who was the most nominated female artist going into the Grammys and she came out
with three wins. You saw Cardi B take best rap album which was historic. So there were a lot of moments like that. Kacey Musgraves, too, who's a
country singer, her album won album of the year. And when she one she said, what? Like she was shocked she won. And this was after performing
along with Dolly Parton. So, it was a great night for women overall.
CURNOW: Yes, it certainly was. Let's talk about Cardi B. I mean, it was a great night for hip-hop as well.
ELAM: Yes, it was expected that hip-hop and pop would really dominate. That's why Kacey Musgraves' win was such a breakthrough. But you did see
Dua Lipa was named best new artist. I talked to her briefly on the carpet. She was over the moon delighted and just so happy. It's almost like you
can tell I couldn't -- hadn't totally sunk in for her. So you could see that there were these big wins in places that people didn't expect to see
And then you have someone like Childish Gambino who no one knows where he was during the show. No one knows why he wasn't there. But he walked away
I think with four Grammys for "This is America". And part of it is because he put so much thought into the song and then also this video which also
won a Grammy as well. I mean, this video went completely viral when this song first came out.
CURNOW: But also, "This is America", very much a story, a song, about racial injustice, and again, there was a little bit of politics, maybe not
all me-too, but certainly he made a statement with that.
ELAM: Oh, there was a lot of that. And there were some folk singers here too, who were nominated for best new artist who were also very much
speaking about the state of things in America in their music, and they were nominated. I do think it speaks to a bigger picture -- like Margo Price --
of what people are talking about right now. And I feel like the Grammys was trying to hit on that, by having Alicia Keys -- who's won 15 Grammys
herself. But also not afraid to talk about these things or have people around her who are talking about these things. And the other thing the
Grammys did that was different, they started off the show with Latin acts. So you had Kamila Cabello. You had multi-generational too, because Ricky
Martin come out on stage.
[10:25:00] You had J Balvin -- I talked to him on the red carpet. And it's like, what is it now that, you know, stations across the world are playing
your music even if they're not Spanish language. He's like, it just feels like the time is right. And you can still enjoy great music even if you
don't understand the lyrics. And if you think about it around the world, that's been happening for very a long time.
CURNOW: And just quickly before we go. Lady Gaga, she knocked it out of the park, didn't she?
ELAM: Yes, she did something a little different with her rendition of "Shallow" which is the stadium buster song from "A Star Is Born". She did
it alone. She did it very much more of an edgy way. Of course, Bradley Cooper was in London because BAFTAs for the movie, so he wasn't there. But
she knocked it out of the park and then seemed genuinely and thrilled when the song won a Grammy as well.
CURNOW: OK, Stephanie thanks for that update. Appreciate it.
And talking about Lady Gaga, however talent she is, not even she had the power to be in two places at the same time. Which is a shame because last
night she also won a big award in an event taking place across the pond at the BAFTAs. And Erin McLaughlin is reporting from there. She was there on
the red carpet. Diversity was another big theme as well, in London. Take a look.
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a celebration of women and diversity.
PIPPA HARRIS, CHAIR BAFTA: This year, people are wanting to say we all need to change the industry together.
MCLAUGHLIN: Roma won four BAFTAs, including best film. A story of an indigenous live in maid set in Mexico in the 1970s.
ALFONSO CUARON, FILM DIRECTOR: The theme of "Roma" speaks about today. Themes like inequality, race, gender, are prevalent, as prevalent or more
prevalent today as they were 50 years ago.
OLIVIA COLMAN, PLAYS QUEEN ANNE IN "THE FAVOURITE": Did you just look at me? Did you? Look at me. Look at me. How dare you close your eyes.
GARY OLDMAN, ACTOR: And the BAFTA goes to Olivia Coleman.
MCLAUGHLIN: Olivia Coleman was crowned queen of the BAFTAs of her portrayal in the movie "The Favourite" which took seven awards.
(on camera): Over a year on from the beginning of the me-too movement and time's up, the 2019 BAFTAs are all about strong female characters and
(voice-over): But no female directors. Sore point for the cast of "Can You Forgive Me," despite nominations for best actress and best supporting
actor, no mention for the film's director.
MELISSA MCCARTHY, ACTOR: Of course, I think she should have been nominated across the board.
MCLAUGHLIN (on camera): Not a single female director was nominated.
MCCARTHY: I know. It's not great. We're moving forward. But we're certainly not there yet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the BAFTA goes to Rami Malek.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Rami Malek won best actor for his portrayal of a gay British icon. Queen front man, Freddy Mercury. Yet one more sign that
BAFTAs focus is on inclusivity and their will for change is there.
RAMI MALEK, ACTOR: Thank you, thank you, for including me.
MCLAUGHLIN: The night ceremony, a powerful signal that this is just the beginning.
JOANNA LUMLEY, BAFTA HOST: We are so wearing white tonight.
MCLAUGHLIN: Erin McLaughlin, CNN BAFTAs.
CURNOW: Thanks to Erin for that report. She looked like a movie star herself, didn't she?
You are watching CONNECT THE WORLD. This is what we are going to be focusing on next. We are going to switch gears a bit, take you live to
Venezuela, where doctors are now joining protests to demand government, the government allow in critically-needed humanitarian aid.
Also, as fighting continues between ISIS and U.S. back forces in the militant group's final enclave in eastern Syria, we talk to a former
ambassador to Iraq and Syria about what might come next.
[10:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CURNOW: You are watching CNN, this is CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Robyn Curnow, thanks for joining us.
So Venezuela's self-declared interim president calls it a crime against humanity. Opposition leader Juan Guaido is demanding the government of
Nicolas Maduro to stop blocking desperately-needed aid from entering the country. Food and medicine are piling up across the border in a Columbia
town. But President Maduro would not allow it in calling the international aid a ploy to intervene in his country's political crisis.
Venezuelan doctors protested at the border over the weekend, saying clinics and hospitals urgently need that aid to save lives. Now the situation in
Venezuela has gotten so desperate, that some women who should be at work in a doctor's office or law firm are doing the unthinkable just to keep their
families alive as Isa Soares now reports.
ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the street corners in the main squares of Columbia's border city of Cucuta, Venezuela
women hide their pain behind their feign smiles. It's here I meet Mariza who trembles as she tells me her story.
As a nurse back home, she worked 15 days for a bag of flour. Frustrated, desperate and unable to find work in a city with the highest unemployment
in Colombia, she now sells her body to feed her children back home. Earning a mere six dollars per man.
MARIZA, SELLS HER BODY TO FEED HER CHILDREN (through translator): It's frustrating because you realize that you worked five years of my life,
studying -- but I feel at this moment that it's five years I've lost because I can't practice. The government has a lot in this -- the current
SOARES: With each tear comes a drop of anger.
MARIZA: -- but the previous on, is even more guilty.
SOARES: But the shame is overpowering and keeping the secret is tearing her apart.
(on camera): Do you think your mother would understand your reason for doing this?
On a different square, just down the road, I meet an experienced attorney. Also selling sex to feed her two children, and parents back in Venezuela.
MARIZA: My mom is a super mom. My mom is everything. And I know that the day she finds out for whatever reason, it will hurt her but she won't judge
me. I'm a woman that never imagined this getting to this extreme.
SOARES: On a different square just down the road I meet an experienced attorney also selling sex to feed her two children and parents back in
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can only afford to give them breakfast, sometimes just lunch, and at times they go to bed without eating. They go to school.
I even do the impossible.
SOARES: At the end of the day what do you do? Cry? Pray?
But the impossible she tells me has become a burden.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I kneel at night to ask God -- I've even been to church to ask God for forgiveness -- because I think of my kids' little
faces, my parents, is not easy friend, is not easy.
CURNOW: Well, Isa joins us live now, live at a border town. You've been speaking to a lot of people. I mean that story just in itself absolutely
devastating. What else are people telling you?
SOARES: Robyn, I've been speaking to people every single day, pretty much, every single hour, as soon as I, you know, see cues of lines, throngs of
people snaking around for food or crossing the border. I hear heart- wrenching stories. And I'm at the soup kitchen here today, and behind me you see a group -- cues of Venezuelans who are waiting to get one meal,
that is lunchtime now. They cue from 6:00 in the morning, Robyn. They start coming at 6:00, come in for breakfast with their families. They
finish eating, they start cueing again.
I was speaking to the priest who is in charge of this program -- together with the World Food Program, to have volunteers from Venezuela and Colombia
volunteers -- and he was saying to me there was one point, when one Venezuelan lady came up to him and asked him for the pan where they cooked
and he thought that she was going to offer to actually to clean, to do the dishes, instead, she started licking that pan. And he said it's these
examples that you -- why you see so many volunteers out here.
I'm going to move out of the way so we can give you a sense of the crowds. So this is really a line cueing, mostly mothers, many, many children, up to
6,000 people every day come here to get their meal. And many of them don't have a place to stay, Robyn. I was speaking to one lady who said to me
that she pays one dollar to rent a mattress and then in that -- with that dollar, with that mattress, she stays the night, sharing a room with some
16 or so people. And that's the reality.
Some people stay in Colombia, but many others travel five, six hours. Joaquin tells me that the priest, back to Venezuela, so they can get their
meal. This is what it's come down to. Just not even being able to get a bit of rice, some lentils and even milk and a bit of bread in the morning.
This is what's happened to so many families in Venezuela who have had to make this journey, day in, day out for their meals -- Robyn.
CURNOW: What about those who are sick, with medicine, and hospital access? I know you've been visiting hospitals, what did you see there?
SOARES: Yes, I've been speaking to doctors in Venezuela, but also doctors who have made the journey here. And those in Venezuela had been telling me
that what they are in dire need of -- emergency needs -- is everything from parasitical, antibiotics. But things such as plasters, things such as bed
linen, basic utensils as well. They don't have gloves, Robyn, they don't have kind of the basic needs for any sort of surgery. And here in
hospitals, those that are crossing the border, the three main needs are children who are extremely malnourished.
We've also had cases of HIV patients who can't get the medication -- anti- viral there. They come here, many of them have died because they're not getting -- they're not eating properly. So of course, their immune system
is down, they're not getting the right drugs. So of course, they're coming here in such a dire state, that their body can no longer function, so there
are deaths there.
But also pregnant women, pregnant women who would never actually have been seen. They haven't even had a scan. So that is the reality of what we're
seeing. I'm actually making my way to a hospital in two hours from now, where I will be speaking to some of those HIV patients, and some of those
pregnant women, to really get a sense of how hard it is back in Venezuela, and why they have to make this journey, almost on a daily basis, to be seen
here by doctors -- Robyn.
CURNOW: OK, and we await that report. But what you also are talking about is the extraordinary resilience we've seen from Venezuelans in the last few
years. What you're seeing there now on the ground, how much longer can this go on? Particularly because on a political level, the stalemate
SOARES: Well, it is a very good question, because of course, while the media have been focusing on this for the last six, search months, when you
think about it, this has been going on for years.
[10:40:00] That we've had protests in Venezuela for much, much longer. So this is not a result of six months. This is a result of six years of not
having water, electricity, not being able to put food on the table. And has gotten the point where people have been saying to me, when can we get
our hands on that aid. And that's what we've heard in the last 15 or 20 minutes or so, you seeing a tweet from Juan Guaido -- the interim President
of Venezuela, the self-elected President of Venezuela -- who basically said we are asking people to register on this website to become volunteers. He
said as up to 100,000 people have registered to become volunteers.
So the question there remains, there are volunteers to come and pick up the aid. How is that going to happen, how exactly is this going to play out?
So far, they're getting the people behind him, he is getting the people behind him to try to get the aid. But we do not know how they are going to
make that journey. And once they're into Venezuela, with that aid, Robyn, if that is indeed a plan, we do not know. It's very easy for Maduro's
forces to then take that aid from them. So putting the people, pitting the people against Maduro. But so far, people are despite what they're going
through, they are resilient like you said. And everybody has been telling me this is Maduro's fault, we will fight against Maduro if need be. So
fighting spirit from a population really who have seen so much misery, who have seen so much hunger, but clearly, not giving up just yet -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Isa Soares there, thank you so much. Very powerful reporting. Thanks to you and your team there on the grown. Thanks, Isa.
So I want to return now to our top story, the battle to defeat ISIS in eastern Syria. U.S.-backed Kurdish forces are fighting ISIS militants in
their last enclave. An area that amounts to about four-square kilometers. But America's top general in the war is warning tens of thousands of ISIS
fighters remain scattered across Iraq and Syria. Civilians are fleeing the violence. One woman told CNN that people are being used as human shields
by ISIS militants in her town at the heart of the conflict.
Well, Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, joins me now from Princeton University, where he is a visiting
lecturer and diplomat in residence. Thank you for joining us, sir. This is certainly a messy collapse.
RYAN CROCKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN: It is. That's a pretty good word to describe a lot of what is going on in
Syria and Iraq right now. Unscripted and messy. But this war is not on the verge of being over. Even when their last strong hold is finally taken
-- as you said earlier -- they're going underground. They know how to do this. They have done it once before in Iraq, in 2008, 2009.
CURNOW: So when we look at an end game, this is just a new phase that you're saying that ISIS and this crisis is going to move into?
CROCKER: Well, that is what the recent past should tell us. When we surged our troops into Iraq -- when I was ambassador there, 2007, 2009 --
violence and killing dropped right through the floor. It had become, for a brief period, almost like a normal country. But one thing we could not do,
even with 180,000 troops on the ground, was completely eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq -- the precursor of Islamic state.
Why? Because there were pockets in Mosul, pockets up the Euphrates River Valley, where the population, even after what they had been through, saw
al-Qaeda in Iraq as a lesser threat than the Shia-led government in Baghdad. That's going to be the case in Syria as well. So Abu Bakr al-
Baghdadi, he is underground, and he's going to take a lot of people with him and wait for better time. Times when we're not there. So this is not
over. It is not even close to being over.
CURNOW: The top military leader -- U.S. military leader is in Egypt at the moment and says tens of thousands of fighters are potentially out there.
Is that the kind of number that you would agree with?
CROCKER: Well, we in the West like to attach numbers to things. The honest truth is, I don't know, I don't think we know how many there are.
But it would be a safe bet that there are just a lot of people that have taken up arms, are going to put those arms under the bed, and wait for
another time. Again, they've done this before.
CURNOW: And ambassador, we heard from Ben Wedeman, who's been there reporting on the frontlines, and at one point he said a few hours ago,
there was sort of a three-pronged attack from Damascus, from Iraq, as well as from the coalition, on this one small town. Is that again also perhaps
an analogy or a situation that you're going to see more of?
[10:45:00] And also the relationship between Tehran and Damascus, how does that play into it?
CROCKER: The linkage between Tehran and Damascus is strategic, it's solid, and it has been there for a long, long time. That was forged very shortly
after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Today, with the incredible investment the Iranians have made with their own troopers and with allied
militias like Hezbollah, that is an absolutely solid strategic relationship. It works for both countries. We're going to have to factor
that into our own calculations.
In terms of what is happening on the ground out there, I can imagine that everybody would like to get credit for reducing this last -- this last
Islamic state strong hold. It's concrete. It's clear. You can see it. And once it's done, you can raise somebody's flag over the wreckage. But I
hope no one out there is deluded into thinking that that will be the last battle of this very long war.
CURNOW: Ryan Crocker, Ambassador, thanks so much for giving us your perspective. It's very valuable insight, appreciate you joining us here on
CROCKER: Thank you, Robyn.
CURNOW: So live from Atlanta, this is CONNECT THE WORLD. Coming up, a refugee footballer who was jailed in Thailand now walks free. We will
speak with one man who campaigned tirelessly for his freedom.
CURNOW: The refugee footballer has walked free from a Thai prison after his native land dropped its acquisition request. Hakeem al-Araibi fled
Bahrain to Australia where he was granted asylum. But late last year while honeymooning in Thailand he was arrested at the Bahraini government's
request. Accused of vandalism during an anti-regime protest. He and his supporters fought his return to Bahrain saying there was reason to believe
he would be tortured and killed. While stars from the world of football campaigned for his release. Perhaps the most vocal Craig Foster, former
captain of the Socceroo, the Australian national team. Craig joins us now via Skype from Melbourne in Australia. Craig, it must be a good day for
CRAIG FOSTER, CAMPAIGNED FOR AL-ARAIBI'S RELEASE: Well, it's a good day for everyone, Robyn, yes, thanks. You know, as you said, there are so many
high-profile players who stepped forward, human rights organization. It was really an incredible coalition of wonderful people. And it's been a
pleasure to get to know so many of them. It's been a really intense three months. And the news came for many very suddenly tonight, when the
pressure broke over the last 24 hours.
Our Australian government stepped forward recently as well, did well. We were also pleased that FIFA stepped forward in the last week to ten days.
We think more should have been done.
[10:50:00] Nevertheless, we have to give credit to a whole heap of people and organizations who put immense pressure on Bahrain in the end to
withdraw their extradition order, which was the most appropriate outcome here, because that was the most heinous part of this whole campaign.
CURNOW: Has anybody spoken to Hakeem?
FOSTER: Yes, certainly his wife has and a couple of other people. I tried to get through to him at the airport in Bangkok, I haven't been able to
yet. He should be actually leaving quite shortly or in another hour or so. And so, he's still there. We are holding our breath until he gets on the
plane, and once he is in the air, we will be much more elate. And he will arrive here in Melbourne tomorrow to see his wife who hasn't seen him in
almost three months. And ultimately those two now, it's their well-being that we're most concerned about. He is a tortured survivor, of course,
from Bahrain, when they incarcerated all of those athletes back in 2011-12 and we're taking advice now around support for him, to make sure his
psychological and physical well-being will be best looked after.
CURNOW: You mentioned FIFA and the world of football and perhaps more could have been done earlier on. What exactly could have been done?
Sanctions I think have been thrown out, haven't they?
FOSTER: That's true. I think a couple of things. Firstly, is that there were many officials here, whether it was in Thailand, or certainly the AFC,
and Sheikh Salman, the AFC President, we called numerous times for him to immediately stand down. His conduct was absolutely abhorrent. But also,
we thought sanctions were really an important part of a remedy here. So in many ways this was a new case. As I said before, we are pleased that they
did step forward. She did escalate the issue to emergency status. They did get involved certainly behind the scenes anyway. We think the FIFA
president should have been actively and publicly involved. And we expect to conduct a full review, alongside FIFA, to make sure in the future
whenever this happens again, the response from football is much more efficient, effective and that every football official understands their
obligations very clearly.
CURNOW: And the Australian government?
FOSTER: Did well in the end. Like FIFA, slow, for our Prime Minister Scott Morrison to step up, but our foreign minister, Marise Payne, really
did a marvelous job. And she felt personally about the issue and rightly so. This wasn't just about an athlete or a footballer. This was very much
about a refugee who was under our protection. We've got a lot of work to do here as well, Robyn, in terms of our refugee law. And we haven't spoken
about it too much throughout.
We're really putting pressure on the Thai government and we hope that this is a step forward in their refugee policy. But now, you know, I can say to
the people of Thailand, look, we recognize that we have work to do here as well. And I've given undertakings, particularly the U.N., that once we
Hakeem out, I'd work here in Australia, to make sure our own refugee policy is more humane.
So there's a lot of good things that can come out of this. The soul of sport was really very much on the line here. Politics were -- you know, he
was a political prisoner of football. And politics held a lot of football officials back from doing the right thing here. And we're going to make
sure now that we hold everyone accountable. Particularly the AFC President and others, to make sure that in the future, everyone involved in
governance of football has the right values at heart.
CURNOW: Craig foster, former captain of the Socceroo, really appreciate you taking the time. I know it's late there in Melbourne, but thanks so
FOSTER: My pleasure.
CURNOW: Ok, so this is CONNECT THE WORLD. Still to come, manmade climate change is forcing the polar bear to find new ground. Stay with us for more
on this clash.
[10:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CURNOW: Before we go, our "Parting Shots" this hour. A remote Russian archipelago has become ground zero for what is being dubbed, a quote,
invasion of polar bears by terrified residents. Dozens of sightings have been reported in an arctic coastal area since December. World Wildlife
Fund patrols have set up deterrents like noise-making machines to prevent any potential fatal encounters. The bears are driven by desperation as
they face food shortages, becoming poster children for the devastating effects of climate change. Unless there is a turn-around, they will
continue roaming further into human territory.
Well, I'm Robyn Curnow. That was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thanks so much for watching. I'll be back in about 45 minutes time with the "INTERNATIONAL
DESK." stick with us. You're watching CNN.