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Suspect Siti Aisyah Released After Charge Dropped; U.S. Allies Again Attack Terrorists Last Syria Enclave; CNN On The Front Lines In Eastern Syria; U.K. Defends Stripping Female ISIS Member Of Citizenship; Donald Trump Getting Ready for Another Fight; Nicolas Maduro Says his Country May Have Collapsed; a Horrific Ethiopian Airlines Crash; the Trial for Murder Suspect in the Murder of Kim Jong-Un's Brother. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 02:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: A search for answers and repercussions for a major plane manufacturer after a horrific crash kills everyone onboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Nairobi.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, President Trump settles in for another fight as he proposes slashing the U.S. budget drastically on healthcare and education in order to pay for his border wall.

CHURCH: And the top critic of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro says the country has already collapsed. Juan Guaido sits down with CNN for an interview. Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and, of course, from all around the world. I am Rosemary Church.

HOWELL: And I am George Howell from CNN world headquarters. Newsroom starts right now.

CHURCH: And our top story, Ethiopia and China are now grounding all Boeing 737 max8 aircraft, the same type of plane from Sunday's crash in Ethiopia which killed all 157 people onboard. Ethiopia says the decision was made as a safety precaution. China says it wants assurances from Boeing and U.S. regulators before resuming the flights.

HOWELL: The 737 max8 is also the same model from last year's Lion Air crash in Indonesia. That crash killing 189 people. It's still unclear what caused the Ethiopian Airlines crash. And there's no evidence the two incidents are linked. In the meantime, investigators comb the crash site for more clues. Ethiopia's prime minister is offering his condolences and some promises. Listen.


ABIY AHMED, ETHIOPIAN PRIME MINISTER: The accident is shocking and tragic. As we all know, Ethiopian Airlines is a reputable airline with a good safety record for a long time. The cause of the accident will be deeply investigated by the professionals of the field, and the results of the findings will be made public.


CHURCH: Well, CNN's Farai Sevenzo is in Nairobi, Kenya. He joins us now live. So, of course, Farai, we know that the plane was heading there for Nairobi. Talk to us about the reaction there in light of this doomed aircraft going down.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, there's a real sense of shock amongst all the people who work for nongovernmental organizations like the human rights people that the United Nations, Refugee Council, The World Food Program. All of these organizations have massive bases here in Nairobi. In fact, in many of the cases they are living in Nairobi and hopping over to (Inaudible), which is of course, the seat of the African Union where policy makers.

So all Africans' many huge problems like Somalia, South Sudan wars, and then the crisis of refugees in Northern Uganda, they're tackled between these two great east African cities, Nairobi and (Inaudible). So it came as no surprise that there would be so many United Nations people onboard. But the reaction, Rosemary, is of course, a great sense of deep loss and shock really.

I am here talking to you from (Inaudible) International Airport. Behind me is the international arrivals. Now, 24 hours ago, that plane, that doomed (Inaudible) should have landed at this airport, and many of those people and including 32 Kenyans would have been walking through this international arrivals area. And sadly, that isn't the case.

At the moment, we know that (Inaudible) the company's secretary for transport is about to give a statement just across the way from where we're standing at the moment. And he's joined as well by the Ethiopian Airlines chief from Nairobi. We don't quite know what they're going to say, but of course, the feeling of tragedy is palpable in this town where so many United Nations people work.

No matter what organization you come from, whether it's the international organization (AUDIO GAP). You'll have an office in Nairobi. Why is that? Because the infrastructure here is so solid, and that's why they choose to base themselves in Nairobi, that's why that plane was coming here. Indeed, there was going to be a United Nations environmental meeting here today.

And the feeling is I keep on saying, Rosemary, is palpable, the deep sense of shock that this shouldn't have happened to the humanitarian community and family. And, of course, we are reading many statements internationally as it affected 35 nations and some of those, of course, had dual citizenship, Nigerian and Canadian. And many others we're still trying to pick through who exactly they were.

[02:05:09] CHURCH: Farai, as you mentioned this is a global tragedy. We know that that news conference that you referred to has gotten underway. We're monitoring that. I do want to go to our Robyn Kriel. She joins us on the line now. And Robyn, earlier you went out to that crash site. Talk to us about what you saw, and you're intending to head out there again.

ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, we're at the crash site right now. It's a lot of clanging as you can watch (Inaudible) sifting through debris. I'm not sure exactly what they're looking for. But they're digging deep into this hole that we can't really see. On the side of the hole, though, is pieces of scrapped metal from that plane.

And anyone who's flown with Ethiopian Airlines will know the colors of the (Inaudible) so vibrant of the airplane, bright green and orange. So those are the colors of the scrap metal all mangled they're taking out of the holes. There's also a number of Ethiopian federal police. And I can see the forensic investigation team from the Ethiopians.

And they have some equipment as well, lights, because I am guessing that this continued late into last night, and will likely do so again today just judging from the amount of debris. There's also just big pieces of what looked like mechanical parts of the plane. I am not an expert but something that looks like it could be some kind of turbine.

Just the same as yesterday, really, pieces of paper scattered by the wind and glass across this field, spanning about 500 meters, the pieces of paper that we've been seeing are luggage tags, pieces of clothing, women's handbags, people's business cards, and part of the flight maps that would have been ejected from the cockpit.

There's also a number of Red Cross people here. And we understand that as obviously the scene develops and the people are needing to be proven. They're going to need their embassies to come out, bringing forensic investigations teams from likely the affected countries. That would be your French, your Kenyan. The Ethiopia is already here, but also American, British.

All of those people that are affected, they'll be coming up here with more than likely with their own people working side by side with the Ethiopians to try and figure out who perished in this crash, and make sure that everyone's DNA is matching up.

CHURCH: Yeah. People desperately at this point wanting some answers as to why this plane went down, our Robyn Kriel there at that crash site, it's the second time that she has returned to that area. And, of course, we're waiting to hear more from that news conference as to what happened.

HOWELL: So many questions at this point still.

CHURCH: Yeah, indeed. And the passengers on the Ethiopian Airlines flight came from 35 countries, as you heard there, and as live reports showing that Sunday's crash is truly a global tragedy.

HOWELL: They included 19 United Nations staff members. Six of them worked at the U.N. Office in Nairobi. The U.N. secretary general says he was deeply saddened by the loss. A Georgetown University law student from Kenya also died in the crash. School officials called him a champion for social justice across east Africa.

Also onboard, the children and wife of a Slovakian lawmaker, he asked people to think of them in a quiet memory.

CHURCH: And we are hearing more from the families of those who lost their lives on Sunday.

HOWELL: Dan Curia, whose father died in the crash, told the BBC that the two shared a meal in the U.K. shortly before his dad left for Ethiopia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I woke up, I was -- I went on the phone to look at whether he put a message to say he'd arrived safely in (Inaudible). And the first thing that I saw was a message that said that an Ethiopian Airlines airplane had crashed near (Inaudible) and then it was just a roller coaster of news.

I think shortly after that, I found out that nearly everybody had passed away. And it was just a frantic rush to work the phones to kind of try and get any information that we could get.


HOWELL: He says that he is still in shock, not just from the passing of his father, but for all the people who died on that flight. The U.S. president is ready to launch a new border wall fight, but his 2020 budget proposal is already getting a thumbs down from Democratic leaders. We'll have more on that ahead.


HOWELL: Returning now to our top story, the deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight. The CEO of that company says that the pilot of Flight 302 had an excellent flying record and had flown more than 8,000 hours.

CHURCH: He says routine maintenance of the plane did not reveal any problems. But at this point, he's not ruling out any reasons for the cause of the crash, including terrorism or sabotage.

HOWELL: Let's bring in Alan Diehl, Alan, a former U.S. Accident Investigator and has a wide range of experience, even writing the book called Air Safety Investigators, Using Science to Save Lives One Crash at a Time. Alan joining us this hour from Albuquerque, New Mexico, good to have you on with us, Alan.


HOWELL: These were -- they're very disturbing similarities, wouldn't you say, between the Lion Air flight and this crash. Should this raise alarms in your view about this aircraft?

DIEHL: Well, certainly it's something to consider. And yes, I guess the short answer is yes. But all air safety investigators go about very diligently looking through the evidence. And right now, we really don't have any evidence other than that radio call that it was returning to base. And the radar data that showed the aircraft descending shortly after take off and then repeatedly varying its altitude, which is very similar to what happened in the Lion Air crash several months ago.

[02:15:13] HOWELL: China and Ethiopia, both have decided to ground all 737 max8s. Are you surprised by this move and should others consider the same?

DIEHL: Well, I was a little surprised, but they're doing it out of an abundance of caution. Obviously, each carrier needs to look at the impact of doing that. Clearly, there is -- for some airlines it would be significant. There are 350 of these max8s out there. But I would think the government official in the United States and around the world will quickly want to look at things like the recorder, the black box as some call.

And also, they maybe able to get some evidence just from the radio transmissions. A lot of times when you take those recordings of the radio transmissions into the lab, you could also pick up whether or not there is a warning system or a thing called a stick shaker. It rattles to let the pilots know they're in a stalled condition.

So there's a lot of evidence they maybe able to get very quickly. And if it looks like this is similar to the Lion Air, yes, I think at that point they ought to seriously consider grounding all the 737 max aircraft.

HOWELL: And Alan, what can you tell us about the airline itself?

DIEHL: Well, Ethiopia has a tremendous reputation. They're considered to be probably -- they and South African Airways are probably the two best airlines on the continent of Africa. So yeah, they've had a few accidents over the decades, but they have a very good reputation. This is as, as you know, a brand new aircraft, an experienced crew.

The weather was good, and the maintenance on Ethiopian aircraft is supposed to be very good. It's reportedly very good. I've never investigated a previous Ethiopian crash. But everything I've read about the airline, both the training and the maintenance looks like it's exceptional.

HOWELL: All right. And I also want to talk about the overall circumstances around this crash. We understand the pilot, he was experienced. The weather was good. Does this come down to the plane itself?

DIEHL: Well, it tends to point in that direction. Of course, you know, there are so many things we haven't eliminated yet. And that's why you do these investigations, everything from sabotage to sabotage, to bird strikes, to some sort of mis-loading of the cargo. You could actually have the plane out of balance on take off.

And we've seen accidents where the plane lost control after take off, because that weight and balance, as they say, wasn't done correctly. So we don't want to jump to any conclusion. If anything, George, these air safety investigators are very meticulous. So you're kind of caught between a double-edged sword. One, you want to get the answer out as quickly as you can, because other aircraft could be at risk.

On the other hand, you want to be thorough. So these people work long hours and work expeditiously. And they will be calling in experts not just from the NTSB and the United States and the FAA, but also obviously from Boeing, the engine manufacturers, the avionics manufacturers, so all the systems will be looked at simultaneously in all these areas.

But right now it is strange. The weather was good. About the only thing that I've heard that gave me a little pause, and I don't know that this has been confirmed yet, but they said the copilot only had 200 hours total time. Now that, like I said, it was reported in the press. I haven't seen that officially confirmed. I know the captain supposedly had 8,000 hours, so he was very experienced.

But there are some differences between the so-called max8 737 and the earlier types. And some of the things that work for pilots, some of the actions that you take if you have a loss of control are quite different on the max8. So the training of these pilots, whether or not they were properly briefed on the new max8 features, the so-called maneuvering augmentation control system, maneuvering characteristics system, whether or not they were briefed on that we'll have to wait and see.

But I am sure they're looking at maintenance records, training records, and basically everything simultaneously.

HOWELL: Alan Diehl, we appreciate your time and expertise on this.

DIEHL: Thanks so much for having me.

[02:19:57] CHURCH: And you can stay up-to-date with the very latest news on the Ethiopian Airlines crash. We are tracking it all live here on I want to turn to U.S. politics now. And another budget showdown is on the horizon. President Trump will present his plan for 2020 later Monday.

HOWELL: It includes funding for a border wall and budget cuts that are already meeting with opposition from Democratic leaders. Our Boris Sanchez has this.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is asking for a five percent cut in spending from all federal agencies except those related to defense, President Trump actually asking for a $35 billion increase in defense spending over last year, including $8.6 billion for his long-promised border wall.

And it's actually the first time the Trump administration is looking to get border wall funding for more than one source, the president asking for $5 billion from Customs and Border Protection, and an additional $3.6 billion in military construction funds from the Pentagon. And on top of that, President Trump is asking for an additional $3.6 billion, essentially to reimburse money that he's used during his national emergency declaration over the issue of immigration.

To make it simpler, the president is asking Congress to authorize money that he went around them to spend. Democrats are not very happy about this budget. The congressional leadership and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the minority leader Chuck Schumer put out a joint statement. They write "President Trump hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall, which he promised would be paid for by Mexico."

Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson. So both sides are digging in for what will likely be a slugfest. And Democrats here are essentially daring President Trump to try and shutdown the federal government again, which would be the third time in his presidency that the federal government is shut down over the issue of immigration. Boris Sanchez, CNN, traveling with the president in West Palm Beach, Florida.


CHURCH: Inderjeet Parmar is a professor of International Politics at City University. He joins us now from London. Good to have you with us. So President Trump forging ahead with plans to build his wall, and he wants to cut funds to education and healthcare to make that happen. Now, the Democrats, as we heard there, say he won't get what he wants.

So what's their likely next move? And who's going to win this budget battle do you think?

INDERJEET PARMAR, CITY UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR OF INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: Well, it's interesting that President Trump is only asking for additional funds to build the wall. But he's also demanding that the military budget increase significantly as well. When you look at the wall and how he justifies it, it's all about defending America and Americans and so on.

And I think he's now drawing a line to say once again or I emphasize once again we need a person who stands up for America and for Americans and their security, whereas -- arguing the Democrats don't. So I think that he's putting the Democrats into a very, very difficult position. And they are leaving him very (AUDIO GAP) options other than at least initially to stand up and oppose and fully contradict what President Trump is trying to do.

CHURCH: So how likely do you think it is that we will see another government shutdown over this looming budget battle? This would be his third.

PARMAR: Absolutely. And I think that's the direction I think this is probably heading. President Trump is -- everybody's not pervading the 2020 elections. And I think President Trump is now trying to sort of draw that line and just show -- and the reason he's doing that is to try to secure his political base as far as he possibly can. And he has been able to pretty strongly do that.

However, the evidence from the last shutdown was that even Republicans weren't too happy with that shutdown. And nor were they with the emergency -- the national emergency that he declared. So I think he's like fighting the last stand as far as he sees it to secure his support. I think the Democrats are going to have got to stand their ground. And the chances are therefore that there's a very high likelihood the government shuts down.

CHURCH: Right.

PARMAR: (Inaudible) peoples' lives.

CHURCH: And of course in the midst of this, he upsets some major allies. On Saturday, President Trump tweeted this, wacky nutjob job Ann Coulter who still hasn't figured out that despite all odds and an entire Democrat Party of far left radicals against me, not to mention certain Republicans, who were sadly willing to fight.

I am winning on the border. So Ann Coulter, once Mr. Trump's biggest fan or at least one of them, she is now turning on him. He is fighting back. What does that indicate to you?

[02:25:00] PARMAR: Well, I think you need to look at the grounds on which Ann Coulter is now fighting against President Trump. And that's any idea that he might compromise on building the wall is the kind of principal source of her opposition. You know that Ann Coulter is a kind of white genocide conspiracy theorist who argues who argues that immigration into the United States is really a white genocide to sort of reduce white American (Inaudible) minority.

So she represents a very extreme right wing position. And some of those people are very upset that President Trump couldn't sign-off a budget previously which would have not included funds for a border wall, which requires about $25 billion worth of funding. So President Trump is trying to salvage that kind of reputation that he's got, that he's going to build a wall and defend America.

But there are those on the extreme right who are not very happy with him because he appears to be compromising from time to time. On the other hand, he's lost other support from other Republican voters who basically don't believe that he's a very competent president and they've deserted him (Inaudible). So once again, what we're seeing here is that President Trump is trying to secure a political base.

It's under threat. And he is now kind of drawing a line in the sand, and he's going to fight on that position in 2020. The American people themselves, ordinary people are left in this particular battle, very difficult to tell, because he's willing to cut their healthcare, their education, and other in entitlements in order to pay for those kinds of symbolic things that he claims to stand for.

CHURCH: Yeah. We will watch to see in just a few hours. And of course, we will hear the announcement and then more reaction. Inderjeet Parmar, thank you so much for your analysis. We appreciate it.

PARMAR: Thank you very much.

HOWELL: The trial has started for suspects in a murder that made international headlines. But one suspect has just been set free. The new details in the Kim Jong-Un murder -- his murdered brother coming up.

CHURCH: Plus, black outs are still causing misery in Venezuela. The opposition leader says he will take action but he fears the country has already collapsed. What he told CNN in a new interview. We'll have that for you just ahead.


[02:30:38] GEORGE HOWELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: And I'm Rosemary Church. We want to take the headlines this hour.

HOWELL: Crews are combing the site of Ethiopian Airline crash that crash killing all 157 people onboard it. 19 of the victims were United Nations staff members. The Nairobi bound flight went down just minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The airlines CEO saying the pilot reported technical difficulties and was given clearance to turn back.

ROSCHELLE: Thousands in Russia protesting a bill that would tighten internet restrictions. It has Russia's Parliament last month. But still needs two more approvals before becoming law. Supporters say it's necessary to prevent foreign meddling. Critics say it would be used to stifle descent.

HOWELL: White House Adviser says President Trump would be "disappointed" if North Korea conducts a new missile test. John Bolton spoke after the release of satellite images showing activity at a rocket facility near Pyongyang. Bolton said in a T.V. interview, the US. Is always watching North Korea.

CHURCH: We have new developments on the murder trial of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's half-brother. Siti Aisyah, an Indonesian woman who was accused of the 2017 killing of Kim Jong-nam walked free on Monday. She said she had no idea she was being used by North Korea and thought the direction she was given was for a T.V. show.

HOWELL: Charges against the Vietnamese national remain though. Prosecutors accused the two women of exposing Kim Jong-nam to the deadly nerve agent V.X. as he entered the Kuala Lumpur Airport killing him within minutes. Let's get more now on the story with Ivan Watson following it in Hong Kong. And Ivan, what more can you could tell us about the circumstances of this woman walking free?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, this is a remarkable development in the trial after this brazen assassination in Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February of 2017. One of the two suspects in the case who was apparently caught on security cameras involved in smearing deadly V.X. nerve agent on the face of the North Korean dictators' half-brother Kim Jong-nam that she was abruptly set free when the prosecutors in Malaysia abruptly dropped charges.

Now, it appears that some serious lobbying on behalf of the Indonesian government in defense of their citizen, Siti Aisyah may have played a big role in getting these charges dropped. The Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur gave a press conference where there were some top Indonesian officials who said that the Malaysian prosecutors dropped the charges according to Section 254 of the Malaysia's criminal code which basically says -- I'll paraphrase what it says at any moment that prosecutors want they can drop charges.

Which appears to be what has happened. The Indonesian authorities were saying that Siti Aisyah who was potentially facing the death penalty in Malaysia up until this morning is now expected to be brought back home to Indonesia in the near future. And her family who have spoken with CNN who were brought to the Indonesian Capital of Jakarta by Indonesia authorities are of course celebrating that their daughter is now escaping the death penalty.

Her mother telling CNN that she believed her daughter was innocent all along in court. Siti Aisyah was overheard thanking the President of Indonesia as well as the Indonesian Ambassador and the Malaysian government and her lawyers for helping free her. George?

HOWELL: And, you know, just to touch on this, the woman, Ivan, the charges still not dropped there?

WATSON: No. And -- but this raises some serious question about what's going to happen to her. Her name is Doan Thi Huong and she also faces murder charges potentially the death penalty. Her lawyer has immediately made an appeal to the attorney general in Malaysia saying, hey, if you're going to send one suspect free on the grounds of fairness, you need to set my client free as well.

[02:35:06] and I do know that the Vietnamese government has been working on this case on behalf of their citizen. If this follows the same pattern and it's still early to say that then the two suspects who were in detention could walk away free. Again, it's still early days from this very brazen broad daylight assassination of a high- profile figure in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Both of these women had pled not guilty.

Malaysia wants four North Koreans in connection with the assassination but they -- their whereabouts is unclear right now, Interpol has an arrest warrant for them. George?

HOWELL: Ivan Watson following the story for us in Hong Kong. Ivan, thank you.

CHURCH: Well, Venezuela's opposition leader says his country has collapsed from the crippling blackouts there. HOWELL: Juan Guaido told CNN the power outages have cost Venezuela

hundreds of millions of dollars and have made it hard to make basic needs.


JUAN GUAIDO, SELF-DECLARED INTERIM VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): There was no service in the hospitals. These were the best hospitals in the country. If we are in the capitol what is it like kilometers inside Venezuela where there hasn't been or has been very little gasoline with periodic cuts in electricity without basic goods with inefficient public transportation. You can say with responsibility that Venezuela has already collapsed.

There's been an exodus of talent. There are many specialists, many technicians that have found opportunities elsewhere so they don't have the manpower, they don't have the technical capacity to do it quickly. The proof is it's been four days. More than $4.1 billion lost in the national economy and the minute-by-minute that grows. So I don't think they can recover fully the system.


CHURCH: We also Guaido if he thinks his rival President Nicholas Maduro would ever step down without violence?


GUADIO: He is the one making it harder in doing that today. 12 hours ago we counted 17 murders. We can't caught any other way. Imagine within your count you wait to the news that there's four days without electricity because of corruption, because they steal from electricity plants and 17 people died. That's murder.


HOWELL: Guaido says that he will call for a state of national emergency to address crisis. It's the latest disaster to hit the already troubled nation.

CHURCH: In the meantime, Juan Guaido says 16 states in Venezuela are completely without power while six have partial power. And with the lights still out, the government is suspending all school and work activities Monday. CNN's Paula Newton has more now from Caracas.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the piece of good news comes from the lights that you see behind me. It's seems that the city this country is just beginning to recover. But the toll is taken already in a country crippled by acute shortages of food and medicine and now this. We have heard stories of so many people struggling to survive especially in those hospitals that were already facing so much adversity.

Today we heard from many, many people who said look, the power must come back on. We are running out of everything, we have spoiled food in our homes and no way to really figure out how to get more food. And quite frankly the money to get more food into our homes. Right now the government has said that Monday again everyone should stay home, schools, business, the government is closed.

People again will continue to try and recover. Politically the opposition still continues to say this was mass management on the government side. President Maduro though continuing to hold to his line saying that this was indeed sabotage. One thing is for sure. The hydro system, the electricity system in this country is in dire need of repair and in the middle of a drought. Venezuelans know that while this blackout may be over for now or at least beginning to be over they know that they risk more blackouts to come and of course, more struggles. Paula Newton, CNN, Caracas.

HOWELL: Paula, thank you. U.S.-backed forces say that ISIS is out time to surrender in Eastern Syria. CNN has been on the front lines of the latest battle there. We have a live report ahead for you. Stay with us.


[02:42:54] CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, the last 24 hours have seen another round of intense fighting in Eastern Syria. U.S.- backed forces are once again trying to seize the country's last ISIS enclave.

HOWELL: That was the storm on Sunday. You could see and hear the explosions that light up the night sky and hear the heavy gunfire.

CHURCH: And CNN's Ben Wedeman, producer Kareem Khadder, cameraman Scott McWhinnie and team member Adam Dobby have been covering this battle from the front lines. For the latest, Ben joins us now live from Eastern Syria. So, Ben you and your team have been watching this battle play out for a while now. Why has it taken so long and will this be a fight to the death or will we see some of these ISIS fighters surrender?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, the reason why they've had -- this is the third attempt to retake this very small bit of land still occupied by ISIS. And the reason is, they were so many civilians inside. Originally the Syrian Democratic Forces widely underestimated the number of people inside. A month ago they were telling us they thought there were only about 1500 civilians and maybe 500 fighters.

Well, it turned out there were more than 30,000 inside. So after the first two attempts to retake to town, they called a truce to allow civilians and fighters who wanted to leave and surrender to do so. So between the fighting we saw these huge numbers of come out and most recently we saw hundreds of ISIS fighters some of whom I spoke to leaving. Many of them said that they simply could not stand the bombardment onto that town.

Now in the last 72 hours only a few dozen people came out and that's when the Syrian Democratic Forces decided that OK, it is time to launch this final operation. But this doesn't necessarily mean we may be in for another round of civilians leaving and another truce. So, it's the third attempt but there may be a fourth.

[02:45:09] CHURCH: Yes. That's certainly possible, of course, while that plays out. And it is a small area that we're talking about, but where does all this leave ISIS as an organization?

WEDEMAN: As an organization, it continues to exist and operate -- excuse me -- in other parts of Syria and Iraq. But as a territorial entity, as a pseudo-state, it is certainly in its last days.

Now, we got a chance to go into that encampment. Part of it that has been liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces. We were there just an hour before the operation began and I'm not even going to try to describe it. Just watch and listen.


WEDEMAN: We were going to go forward to an area closer to where the ISIS encampment is. But because of this fighting apparently, a battle has broken out a new one. So, we're not going any further. This is as far as we can go at this point.

Now, it appears that -- and if you can see here, that gunfire is hitting around the corner from us because there's a sniper in an ISIS building just 200 meters from where we are. So, if we were to go around at this corner here, we'd be exposed to that sniper.

Now, Scott McWhinnie is holding the camera around the corner. But not going that around the corner himself because of the possibility of getting hit by that sniper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to go in?

WEDEMAN: No, no, no, it's OK. That's fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Talking about the tents and the tunnels.

WEDEMAN: OK. Well, and then, I don't want to go out there.


WEDEMAN: And we have been watching through the binoculars and actually been able to see people inside. And if we can zoom in on the camp behind me, you can actually make out one of several Isis flags we've been able to see are still flying within that encampment.

We don't know how many fighters there are. We did as I said, see through the binoculars. Some it appears men still walking around that despite everything that's going on behind me.

So, how long this battle is going to take, Rosemary is anybody's guess at this point. But certainly, what we saw overnight was some very intense bombardment not only by U.S.-led coalition aircraft but also by mortars and artillery as well.

Those mortars and artillery, some of them are manned by French, British, and American Special Forces who aren't on the frontlines. They're not actually engaged in the tent to tent combat, so to speak. But definitely playing an important supporting role. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Ben Wedeman, you and your team incredible reporting -- exclusive reporting they're from eastern Syria. Do stay safe and we'll continue to follow the story and see how long this battle takes. Many thanks to you, Ben.

HOWELL: The British government is defending its actions after the death of an ISIS member's baby in Syria.

The U.K.'s top diplomat spoke to the BBC about Shamima Begum's child and stripped the mother seen here of her citizenship. He used the term, Daesh, an Arabic acronym for ISIS.


JEREMY HUNT, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS, UNITED KINGDOM: Shamima knew when she made the decision to join Daesh, she was going into a country where there was no embassy, there was no consular assistance, and I'm afraid those -- you know, those decisions, awful though it is, they do have consequences.


[02:49:51] CHURCH: And that was British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, speaking about Shamima Begum. She left the U.K. to join ISIS more than four years ago at the time she was only 15 years old.

Well, another burst of winter is headed for the United Kingdom. Heavy snowfall, ice, and wind are coming and we will have the forecast for you with our Pedram Javaheri. That is next. Do stay with us.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL SPORTS ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. I'm Patrick Snell with your CNN "WORLD SPORT" headlines. We started England's Premier League where the title race is playing out to be a nail-biting thriller.

On Saturday Man City beating Watford 3-1, so the pressure all on Liverpool Sunday as they hosted Burnley. Under pressure, The Reds would deliver Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Both netting braces as they cruise to the 4-2 victory, they now trail City by one point and turn their attention to a crucial Champions League matchup on Wednesday at Bayern Munich.

Staying in the Premier League, Man United are a new team since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took to the wheel there after the departed former head coach Jose Mourinho.

The Red Devils were yet to lose in the Premier League until that is they make Arsenal on Sunday. The Gunners getting a goal from Granit Xhaka and a penalty from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a 2-0 victory. Arsenal now leapfrogging United into fourth spot. And hamming Solskjaer his first defeat in English Premier League as manager.

And finally, to Formula E, where British driver Sam Bird was on the podium after Sunday's race in Hong Kong. He was even celebrating his second win of the season. But then, he was stripped of his trophy because of the collision with Andre Lotterer on the penultimate lap. And Lotterer was leading but he failed to finish due to a punctured tire. So, Bird was hit with a five-second penalty resulting in a win for Edoardo Mortara with a sixth-place finish for Bird.

That's a look at your "WORLD SPORT" headlines. I'm Patrick Snell.


HOWELL: Welcome back. Now to tell you about some wintry weather headed for the U.K. Our meteorologists Pedram Javaheri is here of that. Pedram?

[02:54:15] PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Yes, George and Rosemary, you know, I was just counting about 90 days officially in the winter season this season, and 81 of those days are down, nine days left. Next Wednesday if you're counting. March 20th the official spring equinox as spring officially beginning there across the Northern Hemisphere.

And look at this, winter making noise on these last few days of the season. We have not only a threat here, but certainly could see some disruptions on the roadways, on the railways as well.

Pedestrian caution for those icy streets. But generally, north of Cardiff, work your way into the Wales region and to the Scottish Highlands. Portions of Ireland certainly seeing the threat here. A low impact but still, could see some ice -- some snow accumulating over the next couple of days.

So, the wintery weather still in store in some of these areas. In fact, when you put the radar picture in motion here, the mass going to be really widespread across the area as far as what we have in store the next, at least 24 so hours.

Some snow showers coming in, a wintry mix in places as well. But the threat, not just the weather when it comes to say, precipitation. But also the powerful winds in store over this region.

So, the front comes in later this afternoon into early tomorrow morning. And with it, winds will be howling from areas from Dublin, southeastward towards areas -- I work your way towards even London. Notice this, wind speeds potentially as much as 50 to 80 kilometers per hour. You take an hour-by-hour as we approach later on this evening.

And tonight, areas of Dublin and points southward 65 to 70 kilometer per hour winds. And notice the progression here, widespread into the U.K. going into Tuesday morning. London into the middle 50 KPH range but we'll bring that up closer to 7:00 here.

So, as we go in towards Tuesday afternoon and Tuesday evening. So, maybe some disruptions possible here. And kind of be a multi-day event. Because once the winds begin dying down a little across portions of the U.K., back west and Ireland, you get the activity picking up again with powerful winds and this is kind of a theme here for at least the beginning of this week here with wet weather.

Again, some high elevation snow showers and a lot of wind to be had before spring officially gets here a week from Wednesday. So, a few more days of this.

HOWELL: Right. Pedram, thank you.

JAVAHERI: Thank you.

HOWELL: And thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell.

CHURCH: And I'm Rosemary Church. We'll be back with another hour of news in just a moment. You're watching CNN, just stick around.