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Panetta to Lift Ban on Women in Combat; Leaders More Pessismistic at World Economic Forum; Scientists Find Penguins; Victims of Mali Militants Speak Out

Aired January 24, 2013 - 12:30   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But, also interesting that the UAE seems quite happy to welcome the family of Bashar al- Assad as they flee.

There are some reports she's been there since September. We can't confirm it, but definitely an interesting development in terms of Assad's own family and his mother who has been rumored over the last several months since the civil war began and the crackdown began to be the one encouraging him to crack down more forcefully and with more violence.

She's the widow of Hafez al-Assad, of course, Bashar's father.


All right, Hala, thank you. Appreciate it.

The announcement that women will have the right to fight, we're going take a look at one unit in Georgia that is ready to go.


MALVEAUX: We are waiting now for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. In the next hour, he's formally announcing major change in American military policy. He is lifting the ban on women serving in direct combat units.

That is the big distinction here because women have been in America's wars for decades as fighter pilots, on navy ships, as well, but today's change is going to open up military jobs for women on the ground, on the frontlines.



MALVEAUX: This is Tech Sergeant Andrea Jefferson's worst nightmare, patrolling a remote area of Afghanistan, taking on enemy fire and a comrade goes down.

JEFFERSON: He's bleeding right here. I want you to hold pressure on his wound.

MALVEAUX: As an Air Force medic, Jefferson has been training for this moment for months.

JEFFERSON: Let's get him on the vehicle. Get him out of here.

MALVEAUX: Within minutes the injured airman is bandaged up and moved out of harm's way.

JEFFERSON: Here we go.

MALVEAUX: This isn't Afghanistan, but it soon will be for Jefferson's squadron. They are at Moody Air Force Base in south Georgia.

But in a matter of weeks, they'll be on the front lines of battle in Afghanistan and they're ready.

JEFFERSON: I really felt like the warrior medic that, you know, I've seen in the movies.

MALVEAUX: When her squadron is called out, Jefferson and the other women in the group will fight alongside the men.

STAFF SERGEANT NICOLE MOELLER, U.S. AIR FORCE INTEL ANALYST: The females, you know, we do everything the men do, sometimes even better.

MALVEAUX: They are members of the 820th Base Defense Group.

From air assault to ground combat, the group does it all and that includes the women.

They're medics, intelligence office officers, police officers and their current mission ...

STAFF SERGEANT CECILY AMONETT, U.S. AIR FORCE TEAM LEADER: To be a first-in, combat-ready group..

MOELLER: Unlike the rest of the Air Force, we get to go outside the wire.

COLONEL PAUL KASUDA, 820TH BASE DEFENSE GROUP COMMANDER: And we have approximately 730 individuals assigned to our team, 99 of which are women.

Each and every one of our mission sets across the group are open to every individual that we have assigned here, regardless of gender, regardless of race.

MALVEAUX: Until this week, this opportunity was allowed only for the Air Force.

But with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifting the ban that kept women from serving in frontline combat positions, all military women will be there, fighting side by side with men.

KASUDA: We have four different Air Force combat action medal recipients, three Purple Heart recipients as well as four different of our ladies have been entered into the Wounded Warrior Program.

Across the board, as individuals, they all perform superbly.

JEFFERSON: It's amazing what you can do when the adrenalin is pumping. You know, you turn into superwoman and I can lift a car off somebody probably.


MALVEAUX: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta making the formal announcement about 1:30 Eastern time. And, of course, you can see it here, live, on CNN.

And we are also following the U.S. economy as the rest of the world. More than 2,000 government and business leaders meeting at the World Economic Forum. We're going to see what they are predicting for our financial future.


MALVEAUX: Forty-eight world leaders, 2,000 executives, are gathered at, of course, the beautiful ski resort in Davos, Switzerland, to deal with issues just like Spain's.

The World Economic Forum is an annual event, a week-long brain- storming session. This year, the leaders are more pessimistic about the economy than they were last year. Now, they say that these huge gaps in wealth, unsustainable government debt, biggest risks to the world economy right now. The slashing of Europe's public sector jobs, other cutbacks have left 36 million people out of work. Also, they want to talk about the American economy.

Of course, our Richard Quest in Davos, Switzerland, covering all of this. Richard, I know there's a sense of pessimism here. Do they have any idea or ideas in getting together in terms of how to improve the American economy moving forward this year?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL'S "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS": Oh, yes, lots of ideas. The question is whether now is the time to implement them and the inability, seemingly, as they see here, for the U.S. political system to actually accommodate them.

On the question of which is more serious at the moment, the eurozone crisis in 2013 or the U.S. budget crisis, most people seem to still say Europe is the bigger worry.

That is except for Howard Lutnick, the chief executive of the brokerage Cantor Fitzgerald. When I was joined by him earlier today, I asked him where he thought and what he thought the risk of the U.S.


HOWARD LUTNICK, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CANTOR FITZGERALD: The Republican Party who was elected to control the Congress at the same time as Obama was elected are going to cross their arms and they are not going to raise the debt ceiling, ultimately, unless they get severe spending cuts and the Obama administration is not going to give it to them.

And you're going to watch the U.S. do crazy, crazy things this year.

QUEST: If you are right on those crazy, crazy things, then the rest of us are in for a dreadful, dreadful time?

LUTNICK: Dreadful. I mean, it's going to be so strange for the richest country on earth to cross their arms and say, I'm not paying.

Imagine crossing their arms and saying, I'm not paying. But you're going to see it this year.


QUEST: Now, we have been asking our guests here for their CNN Risk- ometer. On this side, we have, is the U.S. a bigger threat to global growth in 2013? On this side, the E.U., European, the eurozone?

Now, Lutnick was over here. He actually thinks the U.S. is by far the bigger. But, as you look overall, most people still seem to believe Europe is the biggest threat in 2013.

By the way, viewers to your august program, @RichardQuest, tweet me where you think the biggest risk in 2013 is, U.S. budget ...

MALVEAUX: Very official looking there, Richard. Did you make that thing yourself?

QUEST: Don't you mock it. It works and it's doing a good job.

MALVEAUX: All right. We're going to have people tweet you and see what they feel about all of this, but, obviously, a lot of power players there weighing in on whether or not there is greater risk here or where you are.

Richard, thank you very much. Stay warm.

Humans now making their first contact with a newly discovered colony of penguins -- that is right -- in the Antarctica.

We're going to talk to one of three people on the planet who found them and took these beautiful pictures.


MALVEAUX: This is my favorite story. Scientists have now discovered 9,000 emperor penguins in the Antarctic. Three researchers, they were the first people to make contact with this penguin colony last month. Now, they found them while they were actually studying ice. The leader of the International Polar Foundation Research Team, Alain Hubert, he is stationed at the Princess Elizabeth Research Station near the penguin colony. And he joins us via Skype from Antarctica.

Alan, you're looking good there. You look cold, too. It looks -- I can only imagine how cold it is there. But you were one of the -- only three people, right, to actually see and visit these penguins. You discovered them. They're like four feet tall. This is like the largest species ever. What was that like? ALAIN HUBERT, POLAR RESEARCHER: Yes, well, it was quite amazing because it has been seven years that I am going around on the huge territory around the coast. And I used to meet lots of penguins and I was wondering where they could be. And so a study from the British Antarctic Survey, by a satellite, indicates to me that it was, you know, in the Asibelum (ph), the east of where we were operating. So I spent quite a lot of time to try to get them this year. And it was in the middle of the night we found the place. And so we just went down on the sea ice to discover this absolutely amazing animals. It was, yes, for me, who used to spend so many years on the ice, it was -- it was just a strong moment. I mean I just (INAUDIBLE) anything. It was just amazing.

MALVEAUX: Did they -- do they greet you? Were they friendly? What happened when you saw them and they saw you?

HUBERT: Well, they -- they are strange to humans, these animals. You know, they are not scared. They -- I was the first human that they ever saw. So, no, I was among them almost. I mean going around, counting them and trying to -- I must (ph) say this (INAUDIBLE), you know, this animal is really, really amazing. So it's interesting because it shows that the satellite could really help us to try to monitor this (INAUDIBLE) around the Antarctica and especially now with climate change, it's something we are very concerned about.

MALVEAUX: And was there anything that surprised you when you saw these huge penguins you'd never seen before?

HUBERT: Yes, I was surprised. Three quarters of the population were chicks, which means that despite the global warming, this colony is a very good breeding size and is growing. It's a growing colony. Maybe more than 9,000. But I didn't spend more than five, six hours with them. So we will study that in the future and be in contact with the scientists to try to study them a bit more.

It's fantastic because, you know -- you know that in Antarctic you have 24 hours day light. So there's no nights. It was the middle of the night, but, you know, with the sun behind the, you know, the clouds and all of this atmosphere, it's, Antarctic, it's another planet. (INAUDIBLE) another planet.

MALVEAUX: I can only imagine. I understand it gets like 76 degrees below -- degrees below zero where you are and you literally have to like dig and crawl to get to those penguins. How did you manage to do that?

HUBERT: Yes. Well, I mean, I spent more than seven years of my life on the ice. So it's like being at home for me. I did lots of expeditions. And I just like it. I can't explain that. I just like the cold. And, well, know the terrain and you have to stay modest, prudent and just try to find your way.

MALVEAUX: And, Alain, what happens next now? I mean do you keep going back and forth? Do you revisit these guys? I mean I'm assuming that they live in their natural habitat and you'll certainly try to protect them. HUBERT: Yes, but it's going to be for next year in November and December because now, mid January, they're all gone to first (INAUDIBLE) and spending their time on ice flows around Antarctica for two months before coming back to the breeding site. So now the colony site is empty. And we're going to have to wait for the next season.

MALVEAUX: All right. Alain, great to see you. Great to see those amazing pictures. And congratulations. That's a lot of work. Great effort on your discovery. Really great to see. Thank you, Alain.


MALVEAUX: This year is going to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Well now the family of one of his closest friends is auctioning off rare photos and files of JFK. We're going to tell you how to get a piece of the history.


MALVEAUX: Battle against Islamic militants increasingly focusing now on Mali. That is the country in Africa where extremists have launched an aggressive fight for sharia law. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the dangers of this yesterday during her testimony about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum. The Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region. Instability in Mali has created an expanding safe haven for terrorists who look to extend their influence and plot further attacks of the kind we just saw last week in Algeria.


MALVEAUX: France is leading the international effort against militants in Mali, but the extremists, they have already committed unspeakable acts against many people in that country, Muslims and Christians alike. Nima Elbagir has details on some of the horrors done by those who have taken sharia law and twisted it into something unimaginable.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A flogging in a public square this month in Gaw (ph) in northern Mali. This man's crime? He dared smoke a cigarette. Islamist militants setting an example for the hundreds of thousands in Mali still living under their rule.

Suliman (ph) and Muktar work as truck drivers in Gaw (ph). When militants overran the town, the men were thrown in prison, accused of stealing. After three months, Muktar says the jailers dragged them from their cells by their feet, tied turbines around their wrists, and began to hack off their hands.

"I prefer dying to being like this," Muktar says. "My hand hurts. High heart hurts. I only have God to turn to."

Suliman says, "the pain was terrible. It was the only thing I could feel."

Now, they say, unable to earn a living and they wander from house to house, their lives, they say, are over.

Malik Aliou Maiga was a radio journalist in Gaw who spoke out against sharia punishment. "Each time they want to do something barbaric, I put out a call to people on the radio and they responded en mass," Maiga told us. "I denounced them," he said. He was brutally beaten by armed militants and left behind the town cemetery to die. Maiga escaped to the capital, Bamako. He's been warned that if he tries to return to Gaw, he'll be killed. So he's staying with another refugee, Sago Dialo (ph), the town's former mayor.

Dialo shows us around. He points to certificates from U.S. special forces when they were on training missions in Mali. They stayed at his hotels in Gaw. Hotels now destroyed by the Islamists who brand him an American collaborator. And he asks where his American friends are in Mali's time of need. "Americans started to train the Malian army. Now the army needs them," he said. "They should finish what they started."

There are hundreds of thousands of displaced Malians. They fled the Islamist controlled north and are trying to get by in camps around the capital. Sad Usangra (ph), a Gaw resident, told us, "when they declared sharia, everybody panicked. Christians, Muslims, everybody fled." For the Islamists," he told us, "a human being is like an ant you squash, like an animal you slaughter."

ELBAGIR (on camera): It may not look like it, but the displaced families here are the lucky ones. As this conflict escalates, aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian disaster. They say tens of thousands of people are now trapped, out of reach, the other side of that front line.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): French combat helicopters fly overhead, prompting cheers from below. To the people here, French forces represent the only hope of defeating the Islamists and allowing them to return home.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Bamako, Mali.



MALVEAUX: One of the top videos trending around the world today actually shows a car crash in Russia that's going to have you holding your breath. Watch this. You see the car sliding into traffic on ice there.