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Ten-Year-Old Afghan Girl Forced to Attempt Suicide Bombing Mission; Lindsey Vonn Pulls Out Of Olympics; Following The Ivory Trade; 350 Turkish Police Fired Or Reassigned; Sochi Olympics Security; One Month Until Winter Olympics; Leading Woman Cherie Blair; Extreme Winter Weather; Polar Explorer Shares Tips for Coping With Cold; Parting Shots: Winter Weather Shots from iReporters

Aired January 7, 2014 - 15:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: And tonight, is this the new image of Afghan terror as details emerge of an alleged suicide plot involving a child. Here why this British lawmaker believes the west's war in Afghanistan is lost.

Also ahead, securing Sochi, Russia launches a massive operation to guard the games, but is the host city ready for an Olympic sized influx.

And beating the bone chilling cold as the U.S. and Canada struggle through a deep freeze. A polar explorer tells me how to survive an Arctic blast.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: Well, we begin this evening with Afghanistan where people are searching for a Taliban commander who allegedly was willing to sacrifice his own sister for a suicide mission. A young girl says she was pressured into a bomb plot that ultimately failed.

But as Atika Shubert now reports, there are still many questions about her story.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Spudmai (ph) is just 10- years-old, but she says her brother tried to force her to detonate a suicide bomb at a police post in Helmund Province Afghanistan.

CNN has blurred her face to conceal her identity.

She says, "my brother Zahir (ph) and his friend Jabar (ph) forced me to wear the suicide vest. They also gave me extra clothes to wear after crossing the river. They brought me near the river to cross at night, but when I saw the water and how cold it was, I shouted that I can't cross the river. So they moved me back home and took the vest off," she says.

She told reporters that when she went home, she was beaten and that she ran away and turned herself in to police on Monday.

But there are conflicting accounts about the incident. A government spokesman says at one point the girl told police that she crossed the river, removed the explosives and started screaming.

Authorities say they are still investigating her story. And they have yet to find the alleged explosives, but they say they know the girl is related to a Taliban commander.

She was forced by two Taliban commanders to wear a suicide vest and blow up the police base, says this policeman.

One of the commanders is her brother. As you can see, this girl, this innocent girl, she shouldn't be doing this. No one and no religion should allow her to do this.

Despite years of international forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban remains stubbornly entrenched. The militanst have denied they use children to launch attacks.

Helmund Province, where British troops are based, remains one of the most violent in the country. With the British due to withdraw this year, many are wondering how Afghan security forces will take on the Taliban.

As for Spudmai (ph), President Hamid Karzai put out a statement condemning the Taliban saying children should never be used, quote, "as a tool for suicide attacks."

But he also said the 10-year-old girl would be returned to her family after her parents guaranteed her safety.

Atika Shubert, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: Well, when the war in Afghanistan started in 2001, around 1,300 British and American troops were sent there. That number steadily increased over the years until 2009 when we saw a sharp uptick. At that point, nearly 65,000 foreign forces were deployed. Remember, that was when President Obama was new in office and announced a surge of troops.

It peaked in 2011 with the number around 140,000 U.S. soldiers accounting for 70 percent of that, around 100,000 troops.

We saw a year later a drawdown with the total number reducing to 112,000. And at the end of last year, the number shrank again to just under 85,000. 60,000 of those are American.

Only a few provinces have been fully handed back in Afghan control. And as British forces prepare to hand over security responsibilities for the Helmund Province, many questions remain, don't they.

Well, tonight we have a special guest to help us analyze where things stand. After more than 12 years of conflict in Afghanistan. Paddy Ashdown says we are witnessing a textbook example of how to lose a war. He's a former UN high representative for Bosnia and Herzogovinia. And also himself was a royal marine as well as leader of the Liberal Democrat political party here in the UK.

As the British and Americans get set to complete their pullout by the end of this year, Paddy, how do you assess what they leave behind?

PADY ASHDOWN, FRM. UN HIGH RESPRESENTATIVE: Well, it's mission accomplished only in one sense, and that is that the reason we went in there, at least to start with before we inflated our ambitions towards the impossible, was to deny Afghanistan as a space for al Qaeda to use to attack us. That's we've achieved. As we leave, al Qaeda has been driven out. For how long remains to be seen.

Most of the other over ambitious aims that we set, not least -- and perhaps indeed more imprtantly to leave behind a sustainable state and as a government whose writ will govern the whole of the country, that I think we have significantly failed to achieve.

ANDERSON: Why? What went wrong?

ASHDOWN: Where do you want me to start, Becky? I mean, I said that there was a textbook example of how to lose a war.

This war did not have to be lost. It was a war which could easily have been won. It had the massive support of the Afghan people. We went in under a UN security council resolution, unlike elsewhere. We didn't speak with a single voice. The international community could never establish its aims, could never speak with a single voice, that's one of the principles of these things. You need to speak to and engage the neighbors. We completely failed to do that. We had a military policy to start with, which is (inaudible) forts, which we couldn't protect adequately rather than building peace. We failed to make the rule of law a priority number one with a result that we entrenched corruption rather than creating an effective government. We had a constitution, which was a western style centralized constitution in a nation that has been decentralized and...

ANDERSON: So you could go on, Paddy, I know. You are making some very good points.

I've heard you suggest that over the years there's only been two sort of foreign winners in Afghanistan, one of those was Alexander the Great.

What did he do right that the west has done wrong, as it were?

ASHDOWN: He didn't stay is the answer.

I remember I went to see Tony Blair in what was it, 2002, and he said that we're going to have to go into Afghanistan but we won't stay long. We'll go in there, do what needs to be done and come out.

And I said to him that was I thought a good idea, prime minister. It's not a good thing to try to stay long in Afghanistan.

But look, this was a war which I think was an important one, it was a legal one. We had the support of the Afghan people. It was a war which had been perfectly possible to win. I don't blame our soldiers. They have acted magnificently. This is a political failure.

We have produced a government in Kabul that no longer -- that is famous mostly for its corruption, that no longer had control of its own territory. I think after we withdraw, the most likely outcome is that Afghanistan -- the (inaudible) Afghanistan becomes governed by the Taliban and at least for a bit -- I don't think they'll last very long. The Pashtuns will throw them out. And the rest becomes a playground for the neighboring states to exercise influence.

ANDERSON: And that is fascinating. You've just alluded to withdrawal, which I know you have many a time described as one of the most important and complicated parts of any military operation.

The U.S. and their -- and the Brits effectively have a year, or less than a year to do that. How bad could things get before they leave Afghanistan?

ASHDOWN: Becky, I never make judgments, which are better made by soldiers on the ground. I will repeat what you've said effectively that withdrawal is the most dangerous of all military operations, that the Taliban believe -- and not without justificiation -- that we're withdrawal because of what they've done. It'll be quite surprising if they don't send the old bullet whistling over our head to help us on the way out.

I think it will be a delicate operation. I think it will be a difficult one. The army says they have this under control. I trust the generals. But this ain't going to be easy. And I think the last -- our last days and months in Afghanistan are likely to be -- well, how should I put it, quite inelegant and for some quite difficult.

ANDERSON: Lord Ashdown.

The international community of course as we watch this drawdwon in 2014 in Afghanistan, is also increasingly concerned about the future of Iraq as sectarian violence there reaches levels not seen since the height of the war.

The Shia-led government is fighting a Sunni insurgency in Anbar Province. It says it's battling al Qaeda, but local officials, of course, say Sunni tribes have also taken up arms. It is unclear who exactly is in charge in the key town of Fallujah as well as parts of Ramadi. But the government is determined to regain control, at least this video today saying it launched air strikes on Ramadi that killed 25 militants.

As you assess in quite a bleak way the situation in Afghanistan after 12 years, I want you to just look finally to the picture in Iraq after what just over a decade and tell me where things stand there so far as you are concerned, with your military hat on, sir?

ASHDOWN: Look, I mean, don't look at Iraq as the answer, you need to look at the region. I've been warning for a long time now, 18 months, that it isn't the Syrian issue, it isn't the Iraq issue, what you're seeing now is the precursor to a widening Sunni-Shia conflict throughout the region. And in a sense if you look at Iraq you don't see the whole picture, if you look at Syria you don't either. What you are seeing now is -- well, my guess is that we're on the threshold of them saying inevitably we'll get there, but it's very likely to a period of religious wars, if you want to draw a parallel with Europe in the 17th and 18th Century that wouldn't be inappropriate.

I think the big issue now, and you see it with al Qaeda beginning to control territory across the Syrian-Iraqi border, to create a different kind of state. I think what you are beginning to see now is a widening Sunni-Shia conflict that infects the whole of the Middle East and goes down into North Africa and one in, by the way, in which the west is being largely interventionalized on the side of the Sunnis while the Russians are largely interventionalized on the side of the Shia. And the capacity for a regional war to widen from there is great.

Now, I don't say it's inevitably going to happen. I'm not predicting it will happen. But that's the danger.

If you look at Iraq, you're not looking at a wide enough picture.

ANDERSON: Paddy Ashdown on not just Afghanistan, but Iraq and as he says the wider picture for you this evening here on CNN. Lord Ashdown, thank you.

Still to come tonight, a midnight purge in Turkey has critics crying foul. We'll see what's behind the sacking of hundreds of police officers there.

And in an exclusive report we'll show you the tactics park rangers are using to track ivory poachers in what is a week long series here on CNN.

Plus, Russia ramps up security ahead of the Sochi Olympics. We are a month out. We'll bring you the very latest on the new security measures. All that and much more when Connect the World continues. Stay with us.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

This is Connect the World. 14 minutes past 8:00 for you in London.

Now, it's a milestone in the international effort to destroy Syria's chemical weapons. According to experts overseeing the disarmament, the first batch of one are known as priority weapons have been loaded onto a Danish ship at the port of Latakia. That ship has now left for international waters.

All of Syria's chemical weapons are supposed to be removed and destroyed by the end of June.

Well, the Turkish government is taking action against the country's police force, removing hundreds of officers from their posts. Now this is an apparent push to sideline those the prime minister at least believes are leading a corruption probe targeting his administration.

Our reporter Ivan Watson has the latest from Istanbul for you.


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This appears to be the continuation of a purge of the Turkish police force that began last month. Now on Tuesday, this announcement on Turkish state media that at least 350 Turkish police officers from the capital Ankara, as well as police commanders from at least nine other Turkish cities, were all being reassigned, in other words, demoted, from positions in key departments that battled terrorism, organized crime, smuggling to units like traffic patrol.

This has all come after the police targeted a number of individuals with close ties to the government in a series of raids last month as part of a big investigation into corruption.

Among those detained were the sons of three senior cabinet ministers as well as the head of the state-owned Halkbank who was reportedly found with stacks of cash hidden in shoe boxes in his home.

Now that's forced the Turkish government to reshuffle its government, to force the resignation of at least four cabinet ministers. But also the Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan has claimed that the corruption investigation is basically an interantional conspiracy seeking to topple his government.

He has claimed the gangs have inflitrated the Turkish state.

What's really at stake here is what appears to be a power struggle between Erdogan and one of the most influential figures in moderate political islam in Turkey Fethullah Gulen. He's a reclusive cleric who lives in self- imposed exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. He's believed to lead a virtual empire of schools, businesses, companies as well as have influential support within the judiciary.

And what I think we're seeing now is Erdogan moving to wipe that influence out from the police force and the judiciary, leaving many here to question the independence of the judiciary in Turkey today.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Istanbul.


ANDERSON: Well, U.S. is feeling the brunt of what is severe winter weather. The eastern third of the country is affected by what's called a polar vortex pushing south with temperatures about 20 degrees below normal. At least 15 deaths are being blamed on the frigid conditions. And traveling, well it's still a nightmare, more than 2,300 flights have been canceled Tuesday.

Much more on this story coming up later in the show.

Two ships stuck in the ice in Antarctica have broken free and are headed for open waters. One is a Chinese icebreaker, the other the Russian research vessel it tried to rescue. For two weeks, the rescue drama played out as those stuck on the Russian ship sent videos and pictures before being airlifted to safety. At last check, the captain of the Russia ship says it is now making its ways north. The Chinese ship will remain in the Antarctic.

Well, Dennis Rodman is in North Korea where he and other former NBA players are preparing for a game on Wednesday. It's Rodman's fourth trip to Pyongyang as his relationship with the leader there appears to get friendly.

CNN's Chris Cuomo spoke to Rodman earlier today and asked why he hasn't taken the time to ask his friend about the detained American prisoner Kenneth Bae. This was his response.


DENNIS RODMAN, FRM. NBA PLAYER: If you understand what Kenneth Bae did.


RODMAN: Do you understand what he did...

CUOMO: What did he do? You tell me.

RODMAN: this country?

CUOMO: You tell me. What he do?

RODMAN: No, no, no, you tell me. Why is he held captive?

CUOMO: They haven't released any charges. They haven't released any reason.


SMITH: Listen.

RODMAN: Let me do this, I would love to speak on this.

CUOMO: Go ahead.

RODMAN: You know, you got 10 guys here -- 10 guys here that have left their families, left their families to help this country in a sports venture. Ten guys, all these guys here. Do anyone understand that?

CUOMO: We do. And we appreciate that. And we wish them well with cultural exchange.

RODMAN: No, no. I'm saying -- I don't give (EXPLETIVE DELETED) what the hell you think, I'm saying to you, look at these guys here. Look at them!


ANDERSON: Dennis Rodman.

Don't miss the full version of that, how shall I describe it, explosive interview with my colleague on CNN. It's all on the website. Do head to, you'll find it there.

One of the greatest athletes in the skiing world has announced that she will not be competing in next months winter olympics. Lindsey Vonn, the reigning Olympic and world cup downhill skiing champion says she's not recovered from a right knee injury.

CNN's Christina Macfarlane reports.


CHRISTINA MACFARLANE, CNN INTERANTIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One of the biggest names of the Winter Olympic games is out of the competition. U.S. superstar Lindsey Vonn has announced she'll be unable to take part due to an ongoing injury with her right knee.

With just one month to go until the games, the 29-year-old said that she was devastated to miss the Olympics, but that reality had sunk in and her knee was just too unstable to compete.

Vonn is the most successful skier of all time and was a clear favorite for Sochi having won gold and bronze medals at the Vancouver Olympics. But after falling and injuring her knee at the world champions last year, Vonn has struggled to recover and has withdrawn from competition in recent weeks.

Despite this setback she said she plans to return to skiing in time for the 2015 world championships will be held next year in Vale, Colorado.

Christina Macfarlane, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: Well, a corruption scandal surrounding the Spanish royal family is focused on the king's youngest daughter yet again for a second time. Princess Cristina faces preliminary charges of money laundering and tax fraud in connection with an investigation into her husband's business dealings. The princess has been ordered to appear in court on March 8.

Well, (inaudible) back in school. Today, Prince William began a 10 week course at England's prestigious Cambridge University. Now he'll be studying agricultural management in a course designed for him. He's preparing for when he inherits the Duchy of Cornwall, one of the biggest estates in Britain.

You're watching CNN. This is Connect the world live from London. Coming up, below freezing across the continental United States still, we're going to bring you the latest on the polar vortez engulfing North America.

And protecting Africa's elephants, we go into the jungle with park rangers as they hunt ivory poachers. That is up next. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: Ivory poaching is a multibillion illegal industry, which threatens to wipe out a fifth of the African elephant population in less than a decade. All this week, we are tracking the lucrative ivory trade. And efforts by park rangers to stop it.

Yesterday our team in the republic of Congo showed you how rangers flushed out a gang of poachers. Tonight, CNN's Arwa Damon along with photographer Peter Rudan (ph) and producer Brent Swales (ph) followed the ecoguards in pursuit of the ivory smugglers.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Macha Eccelsteen (ph) isn't wasting any time. He wants to know if there's a more discreet way to get into position. It's the morning after his eco guards raiding an elephan poacher's camp in Odzala National Park. They found a cell phone left behind and they are using it to track down suspected poachers that shot at them and escaped the day before.

They are park rangers by necessity now turned investigators.

(on camera): And you don't think that the authorities will actually investigate properly and go after this guy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. They don't are interested in that.

DAMON (voice-over): Atal (ph) says corruption is rampant in the Congo.

(on camera): That's military issue?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This one, of course.

DAMON (voice-over): At times, they can't even trust themselves. This seized compass is just like those issued to the eco guards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You must have contact, we surrender.

DAMON: We wanted to ask the government about the corruption claims. The minister responsible for forests conceded the government needs to clean up its act.

"Certainly, certainly," he told us. "Yes, it is true that there are accomplices to this illegal trading of wildlife. That is not easy."

He insists the government is committed to fighting corruption. But on this morning, the ecoguard unit is on its own and on the offensive.

Using the captured cell phone, they set up a meeting with an infamous bush meat trader whose number was on the phone. It's an ambush. He's cornered then interrogated.

It doesn't take him long to give up the name of the owner of the cellphone whom the ecoguards believe is one of the elephant poachers.

"They are just there. They live there. He's a young guy."

An hour later, the ecoguards pick up not one, but two men, brothers, an interrogate them back at the unit's checkpoint.

"The other rifle, where is it? You own which one," Acal (ph) demands.

"The .458," one brother responds.

He admits that they were at the camp, but claims they were just fishing. But refused to give up the names of those who shot at the ecoguards. And now the ecoguards will have to look for new leads.

But there have been some successes. In just the last four months, the unit arrested a trafficker ringleader, Islan Ngonjo (ph), better known as Pepito (ph).

(on camera): We're driving through Pepito's (ph) village right now, but we've been advised not to actually get out and shoot, because tensions are incredibly high between those who want to protect the part in Pepito's (ph) gang.

(voice-over): A few days after the two brothers were detained, the unit got a new lead and went after what they suspected was a third gang member. Escaping, he ran over an ecoguard station at this checkpoint. While the unit took the seriously injured guard to hospital, the ecoguard's camp was torched.

The government has promised a response. One week later, the ecoguards remain on their own.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo.


ANDERSON: And do join us tomorrow as the ecoguards set out to make sure ivory doesn't leave this remote corner of Africa. But even with ample evidence, can they stop the poachers?


DAMON: Evidence in hand, Machu Eckel (ph) has had enough.


ANDERSON: Our exclusive series tracking the ivory trade continues tomorrow. You can also use the website to learn more about the ivory trade and Arwa's investigation. That's all at

This is Connect the World out of London for you. Coming up, with just one month left until the Winter Olympics begins in Sochi, how are preparations going? A checklist for you. We're going to find out just ahead.

Plus, seen but not heard, Cherie Blair opens up about the challenges she faced when she lived at Number 10, that's number 10 Downing Street of course.

And a winter so cold that an escaped inmate turned himself in just to get warm. It is no joke. And nor are the temperatures. More on the recordsetting cold snap in the United States. All that coming up. First your headlines follow this short break. Stay with us.


ANDERSON: This is CNN, let's get you the headlines this hour. The Turkish government has removed 350 police officers from their post in Ankara. State media report that most of the officers were working in units dealing with organized crime, with terrorism, and with smuggling. The sacking is said to be retaliation for a sweeping corruption probe targeting the government.

The US is coping with the coldest weather in decades. The eastern third of the country is affected by a polar vortex pushing south with temperatures about 20 degrees below normal. At least 15 deaths are being blamed on the frigid conditions.

Dennis Rodman is in North Korea, where he and other former NBA players are preparing for a game on Wednesday. The exhibition match is planned for leader Kim Jong-un's birthday. Rodman has referred to Kim as an "awesome guy" and his "friend for life."

One of the biggest names in skiing will miss the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month. American Lindsey Vonn says she won't be able to compete due to a knee injury she suffered last year. Vonn holds the Olympic and World Cup championship in downhill skiing.

We are exactly a month out, and ahead of next month's Winter Olympics, Russia has put its security forces on combat alert. Thousands of police officers and troops are being deployed to Sochi and access to the Black Sea resort is being restricted.

Now, the measures come just after a week after two suicide attacks killed more than 30 people in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. CNN's Diana Magnay has more for you from Moscow.



DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In May, 2004, a bomb planted during construction months earlier ripped through a stadium in the Chechen capital of Grozny. The republic's president, Akhmad Kadyrov, was killed instantly.

Grozny then, scarred as it was by two nationalist wars of independence, is a world apart from Sochi now, longtime seaside jaunt of the Russian rich and powerful. But the militancy spawned by Chechnya has spread along the Caucasian mountain range to neighboring republics like Dagestan, gaining a jihadist bent along the way.

Chechen war lord Doku Umarov, who leads the Caucasus Emirate group, has called on his followers to do what they can to disrupt the Games, claiming they will be held on the graves of Muslim occupants of Sochi, driven out by Russian imperial forces in the 19th century.

MAGNAY (on camera): As of now, one month before the Games are due to begin, a special exclusion zone goes into effect around the wider Sochi area. Only cars registered to Sochi, emergency vehicles, and any cars belonging to the FSB, the intelligence services, will be allowed into that zone.

Air traffic, sea traffic will be heavily restricted, and any visitors, anyone going into that area will have to go through rigorous security checks.

So, those buildings, presumably, weren't there.


MAGNAY (voice-over): I meet Andrei Soldatov, an investigative journalist who specializes in the Russian intelligence services, at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow. Here in 2002, Chechen militants took 900 theater-goers hostage.

Russian security forces stormed the building, killing all the rebels, but 130 hostages also lost their lives, most of them because of the toxic gas that was pumped in to neutralize the hostage-takers.

SOLDATOV: Back then, you have to deal with large organizations.

MAGNAY: Soldatov believes Russia's militants no longer have the freedom of movement for large-style terror attacks like that, but he's not confident that the intelligence services are prepared for the threat of lone suicide bombers.

SOLDATOV: Oh, I think the explanation is that they are still inspired by the experience of the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980, so it seems to be they're just obsessed with the idea of controlling everything and everybody, but I don't think it's the same thing when you need to prevent a terrorist attack.

SERGEI AVDIEMKO, RETIRED POLICE COLONEL: Igor Pachenchen (ph), the guy whom I know personally --

MAGNAY: Retired police colonel Sergei Avdienko has more faith in the abilities of his former intelligence counterparts.

AVDIEMKO: When the tactics of terrorists are changing, the anti-terrorist unit has to change their tactics as well. And the utmost sort of means in this field is intelligence first of all. It's not that easy to penetrate those cells, but still, it is possible. It is done, it is done daily.

MAGNAY: There's still no confirmation on who was behind last week's twin attacks in Volgograd, which killed 34. But Avdienko believes those attacks show that the public, too, must be vigilant.

AVDIENKO: Every single citizen in the country has to think over when he gets out in the street, he has to open his eyes and shut his mouth. Instead of tearing up, police is doing nothing, they're doing nothing, he has to look around and be alerted.

MAGNAY: Perhaps not so important within the exclusion zone itself and the surrounding towns which are awash with FSB agents, but Volgograd exposed weaknesses further afield, and terrorists do not have to strike Sochi itself to cast a shadow over the Games.

Diana Magnay, CNN, Moscow.


ANDERSON: Let me just get you a closer look at the security zone that Diana mentioned in that report. Sochi has been locked down. Olympics organizers tell CNN that only authorized people will be allowed in this three-kilometer area outside the -- or around the Olympic site.

Now, a blanket ban on protests at the Games has now been lifted. Three areas have been set aside for protests, and you can see those there on the map. But demonstrator will need to be authorized in advance in order to be allowed access.

Traffic will also be tightly controlled. Only emergency and accredited vehicles and those registered within Sochi are allowed in this wider 17- kilometer zone. I can't remember security like this at any big events.

Sochi will be the most expensive Olympics, Winter or Summer, in history. Ed Hula is the editor and founder of "Around the Rings," a publication specializing in the business behind the Olympics. Ed has covered every Olympics since 1992. He was in Sochi and he's back next week. He's been eight times since 2006. He joins us now live from CNN Center.

We've taken a look at security, and let's leave that aside for the moment because we've spent enough time looking at that. I want to report card, as it were, a month out here. I know you're off to Sochi next week. As far as you can tell, though, in its state, how are they doing so far as preparations are concerned?

ED HULA, FOUNDER AND EDITOR, "AROUND THE RINGS": I think they're doing all right as far as the physical side of things go. The new railroad, the highway going to the ski venues in the mountains, the extraordinary Olympic Park that's been built on the Black Sea.

All of that has come together with a great deal of work. It's cost a lot of money to do, but the physical side of the Games appears to be ready in Sochi.

Not so sure about the software, the people that will actually staff the hotels, the facilities. They haven't really had much of a shakedown, much time to prepare and practice as if these were resorts, these new winter resorts, had been open for a couple of seasons.

ANDERSON: They've literally built everything from the ground up. I know when you were there in 2006, there were livestock on the road where now they have roads, railway lines, construction in the mountains. It is remarkable.

We bang on quite a lot, and I wonder whether we are fair in during this, about how much these Games have cost. We do it every time, every two years, every time anybody stages a major event and, indeed, with the World Cup as well. Are we right to do so? Does it matter how much the Russians are spending at the end of the day on what is a fantastic new facility?

HULA: If they've go the money to spend -- yes, if they've got the money to spend, they're going to spend it. If it's a point of national pride to make the country, the city look good to the rest of the world, a country, a government is going to spend what it needs to spend in order to carry out this grand dream of theirs.

ANDERSON: And this it is. This is an instance of national pride. Putin wants this to work, doesn't he? I'm considering whether he isn't -- and this is for the good of the Games -- putting the Winter Olympics back on the map. With due respect to the Winter Games organizers in years of past, they really don't get this sort of attention generally, do they?

HULA: Not the Winter Olympics. And for it to be held in Sochi, in Russia, with an extraordinary national leader like Vladimir Putin pushing them along, it's very hard to ignore these Games. I think not since Salt Lake City Olympics, which took place just months after the 9/11 attacks, has so much attention been paid to a Winter Olympics.

And Vladimir Putin has put his signature, his stamp across these Games, and he is intent to deliver a satisfying experience for everybody.

ANDERSON: Yes, and -- interesting, you point out Salt Lake City, because of course, security there incredibly tight in 1990 -- back after -- after 9/11. Listen, I was saying that I can't remember security being this tight around any major event.

You only have to talk to Olympians who've dealt with the awful organization of Atlanta, with due respect to Atlanta, but the awful organization -- getting around, they were missing events. Is this going to work, do you think, given what he's put in place so far as the security is concerned?

HULA: Well, very much so, much more easily than, perhaps, other Winter Olympic Games, because for the first time ever, the organizers have created an Olympic Park that has all of the ice arenas in one location. You don't have to drive around town, across the landscape to get from one ice hockey venue to another, or to curling, or to figure skating or speed skating. Those are all together.

And there's never been a compact arrangement for these Olympics such as this. So, despite the security, once you get past the security line into the Olympic Park, for athletes, for spectators, for media, it's going to be very easy to cover those events.

Up in the mountains, it gets a little bit more tricky, where you've got outdoor venues. But there will be fewer crowds, smaller crowds in the mountains, and I think security will not be an issue there.

So far, everybody's been able to get along, get to where they need to go for all the test events, everything that's been held in the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics.

ANDERSON: Ed, it's a pleasure having you on. I know you're out there next week. Like I say, we've had CNN crews out there on a regular basis assessing how they are doing. Come back and talk to us when you're back. With only a month out, people are fascinated to hear what is going on out there. And we'll talk to you before the Games start in February, of course. Ed Hula for you --

HULA: Look forward to joining you again.

ANDERSON: -- this evening out of CNN Center for you. Live from London, this is CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Becky Anderson. Coming up, Cherie Blair tells me about her greatest fear and why it's motivated her to work for women's rights.

So cold that Siberia actually looks warm. It's true for some places. More on why the US is so bitterly unpleasant weather-wise at the moment.


ANDERSON: Well, she spent a decade in the glare of the political spotlight as the UK's first lady. Well now, Cherie Blair is forging ahead as an advocate for women's rights. The wife of the former British prime minister Tony Blair sat down with me recently to talk about life after Downing Street. Have a listen.


ANDERSON (voice-over): She's called home one of the most famous addresses in the world.

CHERIE BLAIR, FOUNDER, CHERIE BLAIR FOUNDATION FOR WOMEN: You kind of think you can just carry on as before, and then when you get into Number 10 Downing Street, you realize that of course that is not possible.

ANDERSON: Cherie Blair and her husband, Tony Blair, lived at 10 Downing Street while he was British prime minister from 1997 to 2007. Before becoming first lady, Blair was already a respected and high-profile attorney in the United Kingdom. Still, she found the political spotlight daunting at times.

BLAIR: For a start, of course, there was a lot more media scrutiny. On top of that, I'm used to speaking for myself. Suddenly, I couldn't just speak for myself. My job is an advocate. But as the wife of the prime minister, I'm supposed to be seen and not heard.

ANDERSON: Despite the limitations, her position also brought renewed purpose.

BLAIR: Suddenly, I had this opportunity to see for myself both just how privileged I was and also how much more could be done to help women across the world.

ANDERSON: Since leaving political life, Blair has continued to be a champion of women, setting up a foundation in 2008.

BLAIR: As late as 1928, the Privy Council in London overturned a ruling which said that women could not stand to parliament because they were not persons.

ANDERSON (on camera): With the Cherie Blair Foundation, tell me about the aims of that foundation.

BLAIR: I could have just gone back to carrying on, and I still am, of course, a lawyer. But I didn't want to lose that other side, which was very much about how we could help women in particular. It was perfectly clear to me that there was so much more that needed to be done in the developing world.



BLAIR: I'm Cherie Blair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Linda Japhong (ph).

ANDERSON (voice-over): They have a number of projects, including in Ghana.

BLAIR: I this world, I'm afraid money talks, and a woman who has her own money, who has financial independence, can make choices. So, I wanted to do something that helps women set up and grow their own businesses. They will also change the lives of those around them and ultimately shape society for the better.

And so giving them the training enables them to see what they could do, and that makes all the difference.

ANDERSON (on camera): What scares you?

BLAIR: I think what scares me is the ignorance in the world. And I think so much of the oppression of women is based on some sort of fear about the power of females.

And you wonder sometimes, because across the world, you see so many powerless females who are being deliberately held back because of some irrational fear, where it's a fact we all know that actually men and women flourish best when they're both give the opportunity to reach their dreams.


ANDERSON: Well, next week, Cherie Blair tells us about her success in her career as a top barrister: how she got there and what she needed to do to get there against the men, of course. And for more on Leading Women, log onto

Well, coming up after this short break on CONNECT THE WORLD. Cold, nippy, a little bit chilly? Well, it's pale into comparison when you talk about the freezing temperatures experienced by North America. We're going to get the latest few from there. That after this.


ANDERSON: A polar vortex swirling over the US is bringing new meaning to the word "cold." Much of the country is in arctic-like conditions, with temperatures far lower than usual. New York City saw a new record low temperature for today's date. At least 15 deaths have been blamed on what have been these frigid conditions.

It is chaos no matter how you are traveling, 2300 flights canceled today, 500 people spent the night on three trains because of the weather, and a US Coast Guard ship had to cut through thick ice simply to sail.

Well, temperatures dipped below freezing all across the continental United States today, although in some places, the low temperatures were not caused by the polar vortex. Authorities are warning people to prepare for power outages.

Let's cross to Minneapolis where Erin McPike is with us. How are things there? How would you describe conditions there?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, it is cold, but because the warning here is that you don't want to be outside for any more than five to ten minutes at a time, I have not been outside for more than ten minutes, and you can warm up after that.

Now, right now, the temperature is 17 degrees below zero Centigrade. That is the highest temperature that we have seen all day. It's about to get a little bit colder than that as we get into the evening, 18 degrees below zero.

Tonight, we'll be seeing about 24 degrees below zero. However, because of the wind chill factor, it will feel even colder than that. The high temperature for tomorrow is supposed to be about 16 degrees below.

Now, the warm-up will be coming on Thursday morning when we'll be getting back up into some of the more standard temperatures, about 7 degrees below zero, and into the weekend, about a degree or two, Becky.

ANDERSON: Sadly, we've seen deaths as a result of this weather. Hypothermia in a situation like this is something we all have to think about. How are people coping? Because quite frankly, in the area that you're in, it's not warm in the winter, is it, generally?

MCPIKE: It isn't. And people here are very used to these cold temperatures, very bad, treacherous weather where it's hard to drive in. What the state is saying is stay off the roads as much as you can.

Now, as you can see, there is snow on the ground, but it hasn't been snowing. But the problem is that these sub-zero temperatures combined with car exhaust creates this condition called black ice. So when drivers are driving over the roads, they don't often see this, and that, when they're driving to fast, can cause lots of accidents.

So AAA, which is the local car safety service, says that in the last day or two, they've serviced a number of calls, more than usual, 3,000 or so yesterday, which was a record. The time before, they serviced 2500 calls in a day, and that was in the last cold snap in 2007.

So, there are more accidents. They're urging people to stay off the roads. The governor, Mark Dayton, of this state mandated that all schools be shut down on Monday. Now, he left that decision up to the local school districts today, but most of the schools across Minnesota have been closed today as well, Becky.

ANDERSON: Good to hear that the forecast is better towards the end of the week. We're going to let you go, because as you say, ten minutes is max, two and a half is probably enough. Thank you, Erin.

Many of us aren't used to cold weather like this, so we've got a polar explorer here to tell us how to cope. Paul Rose joins me now from Geneva.

Now, listen. I've been up in the Arctic. I think I've been in conditions of as low as minus 37, minus 40 with the wind chill. I was outside for no more than a couple of minutes at that point, and it's sensible, obviously, to dress up in fairly warm clothes. Walk me through, though, as a polar explorer, a man who experiences temperatures like this probably 200 days of the year, how you cope.

PAUL ROSE, POLAR EXPLORER: The main thing is to accept the conditions as they are. Because when I'm on a polar journey, I know what the conditions are about to be like, and when I go outside of that tent, I know what to expect.

But when it gets this cold in urban settings and normal settings, we tend to be in a dangerous situation because we forget that our normal routines can't continue, the way we would normally travel to work, the way we would normally take the kids to school, and normal journeys to the shops and routine living matters --


ROSE: -- all have to change. We have to 100 percent accept that the conditions are so different that we have to change our lifestyle.

ANDERSON: Right. I can see you've got some stuff around you. Stick it on. I want you to walk us through what works and what doesn't. I know, for example, that silly polyester as opposed to wool -- is that right? -- against your skin in cold conditions, no good. Walk me through some of this gear.

ROSE: You're right, Becky. In ideal circumstances, we would wear great equipment, wool underwear, polypropylene underwear, all this expensive material. Down coats. Wouldn't it be great if we could all have this polar equipment ready to hang?

But we may not have it. This cold snap is affecting people who've never experienced these conditions before. So I suggest that even if you have cotton clothing, many of us have got cotton gym pants and wind-proof running pants, if you put on plenty of layers, it can get you through it.

It's no good just having a thin shirt and one very thick coat, because soon as you get warm, then it gets a bit damp and you get a bit sweaty and you get very cold. We need to do what we do on these expeditions, which is having lots and lots of layers.

So, build up layers, even if now they're not the most exotic, expensive, best expedition gear on the planet, at least we can wear lots of layers. And when we've got those layers on, never, ever, every, ever sweat.


ANDERSON: All right. Listen, I learned yesterday that the coldest place on Earth is a place called Vostok, am I right? It's a research station way up where in the north. Minus 93, I'm told. How cold can the conditions have you experienced?

ROSE: Yes, I've been in a lot of minus 40, and a lot of that minus 40 was on Antarctica's active volcano, Mt. Erebus, so it's minus 40 and the altitude, so you can believe me, Becky, it's really, really cold.

So, you've really got to take things seriously and have what I suggest we do down there in this cold storm, and that is really have have a high level of maintenance.


ROSE: Don't sort of go outside and hope for the best or think, oh, I'll just run outside for a few minutes without my hat on --


ROSE: -- or run outside with my gloves in my pocket. You need to be really, really, really organized. And if there's one thing I've learned in a lifetime of working in the cold regions is to be incredibly organized.

ANDERSON: Love it. Thank you very much, indeed. He's been skiing. I can see his skis there. Why do they do it, these polar explorers? Anyway, there you go.

In tonight's Parting Shots, we want to show you some incredible photos our iReporters have sent in of what is this deep freeze in the US. And this photo taken in central Wisconsin, you can see a temperature monitor reading minus 21. Wind chill there minus 40 degrees.

Another photo also taken in Wisconsin shows ice crystals frozen on -- isn't that beautiful? Our iReporter said he was thinking about taking his grandchildren sledding but decided it was just too cold. Good for you. And we've got the photo as a result of it.

In Chicago, one man captured this image of the freezing face of one of his colleagues. Look at that frost on his eyes.

I'm Becky Anderson in a very warm studio in London. I really -- I'm not supposed to say that this evening. From the team here it is a very good evening. Do stay with us, CNN continues.