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Iraqi Army Advances on Ramadi; Afghan Forces Fight Taliban in Helmand Province; Muslims Shield Christians during Al-Shabaab Attack; Search Continues for Chinese Landslide Victims; Trump Uses Crude Language in Attack on Clinton; India Toughens Laws for Juvenile Offenders; Bethlehem's Quiet Christmas; Spain's Christmas Lottery Pays Out More Than $2 Billion. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 22, 2015 - 10:00   ET





LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I am Lynda Kinkade.

A major offensive is underway to retake a key Iraqi city from ISIS. Ramadi, which is about 115 kilometers from the capital, Baghdad, fell to

the terrorist group in May. And now Iraqi troops have moved into the center of the city supported by airstrikes.

CNN's Robyn Kriel is following this story for us from London.

And, Robyn, we know this operation started over a month ago and ramped up earlier this morning. Just give us a sense of the numbers of fighters

on both side, the Iraqi coalition versus the ISIS militants.

How do they stack up?

ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Iraqi coalition tightlipped about their exact numbers. But we can tell you that their elite

counterterrorism forces leading this assault, they're being backed up by a U.S.-led coalition and a number of airstrikes have occurred today.

They're also being backed up by the Iraqi army itself as well as some Sunni tribes. Now in terms of the ISIS fighters, a lot of them likely have

dissolved into the population. They were given a fair warning for civilians to flee on Sunday. The coalition dropped leaflets saying that

they were going to launch this assault. So a number of those fighters would have likely just filtered out of the city quietly but about 250-300

militants would have stayed to fight.

And if it's anything like the battle for Sinjar, Lynda, then it is likely that these fighters will fight to death.

KINKADE: And, Robyn, do you know how many civilians remain in the city?

Talk to us about the fears that ISIS is using them as human shields.

KRIEL: Yes, that is what we're hearing from Iraqi intelligence officials, that while a number of citizens were able to leave to flee the

city, they were given ample warning by the coalition forces, saying that they were going to come in and that they should leave the city until the

city is secured.

A number of them were forced to stay by ISIS and there is the concern that they will be used as human shields. We understand that this is

progressing very, very slowly. It's a very short, sharp operation. But it has to progress slowly, just given the fact that ISIS has been entrenched

in this city for a number of months now.

They would have been able to plant booby traps. They would have been able to create rat holes for snipers, they would have been able to set up

car bombs, vehicle-borne IEDs and those sorts of things to counter assault as these counterterror Iraqi special forces would have gone in, as well as

we understand using human shields, citizens as human shields. And of course they're trying to minimize the civilian casualties.

KINKADE: OK. Robyn Kriel, thank you for reporting on that. We will leave it there for now.

A new report says ISIS has lost 14 percent of its territory in 2015. Analytics company IHS says some of the militants' biggest losses are along

Syria's border with Turkey, seen here in red, while ISIS made gains around Palmyra in Syria, it also lost ground in Northern Iraq.

CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton joins us now from Washington.

And, Cedric, this new report claims that ISIS has lost almost 13,000 - -


KINKADE: -- square kilometers this year.

What does that say about the battle against ISIS, are they on the back foot?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Lynda, I think it is too early to say that they're on the back foot right now and

here is why. Sometimes terrorist groups or insurgencies lose territory only to regain it in other areas.

One things to note in this particular report by IHS is the fact that the area around Palmyra in Syria was captured by ISIS and that is a

significant gain for them. Yes, they did lose territory, they lost the Baiji oil refinery in Iraq, they lost areas around Tikrit in Iraqi.

But there are other areas that they've gained, they've lost the northern part around Kobani. And that's actually somewhat dangerous for

them because that's close to Raqqah, the capital there, but it is too early to actually say that they're being defeated right now. They may be on

their way to being defeated but they're not there yet.

KINKADE: Looking at Ramadi, when Iraqi troops lost that city, some called it a embarrassment, a Pentagon official questioned the Iraqis' lack

of will to fight.

What will it mean if the troops retake the city and do you think they'll be able to hold it?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think if the Iraqi forces are able to retake Ramadi, that will be a significant victory for them. So they might be able

to do this. They supposedly are controlling about 60 percent of the city right now, and moving into the city center.

What that actually would mean in terms of holding it is another question. And in this particular case, there's a huge challenge because

you're dealing with urban warfare, you're dealing with not only the fact that you're going into a lot of buildings that have been destroyed or

damaged but you're also going into a situation where, as your previous report from Robyn Kriel pointed out, they have human shields, they're using

the local population as human shields.

That is really going to complicate the tactics for the Iraqi forces. And that's going to be the difficult thing for them to do that, then

holding it, they have to make sure they also don't get surprised by things like vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and other tactics that ISIS

is known to employ.

KINKADE: Cedric, the recent attacks we saw in San Bernardino, California, and in Paris certainly show that ISIS has the ability to win

over disaffected Muslims in Western countries.

So if they lose ground in the Middle East, will their propaganda and their ability to lure Western supporters be weakened?

LEIGHTON: It may not be and part of the reason for that is they may look at this as in essence a path to martyrdom. And they may say if they

lose territory, they will then energize their supporters to mount attacks in the West.

In fact, it is very likely ISIS will become more dangerous as they lose more territory. So if the percentage, say, approaches 20 percent of

territory lost or goes even higher than that, then you can be assured they're going to try to mount attacks in the West, just as a way of

diverting attention of what is going on in the Middle East, but also as a way to preserve the organization.

KINKADE: All right. Cedric Leighton, we appreciate your perspective on all of this. Thanks so much for joining us.

LEIGHTON: It's my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.

KINKADE: Now an increase in violence is erupting across Afghanistan. The Taliban are threatening to overrun Afghan forces in a key district in

southern Helmand province. Six U.S. troops were killed in a suicide attack near Bagram air base on Monday.

Let's bring in journalist Sune Engel Rasmussen, who joins us now from Kabul by Skype.

Sune, this attack on the U.S. native (ph) fighters was one of the deadliest on international forces in Afghanistan this year.

Should we view it as a setback?

SUNE ENGEL RASMUSSEN, JOURNALIST: Well, the fact is one of the deadliest since 2012, that's the last time that many U.S. soldiers were

killed. I don't know if it is a setback long-term. We haven't had that many international forces killed in Afghanistan this year. Still under 30,

which is a fraction of what was killed in the years past.

But it does signal that the Taliban are still able to inflict some casualties on international forces and there still is a war being fought in

Afghanistan, if anyone should have forgotten about that.

It also is a reminder to people in the U.S. who don't think that -- or might not think Americans are still at war in Afghanistan. But they're

still on patrol and they're still getting into contact at times with insurgents here.

KINKADE: Reports from Helmand province suggest that there's a fear that the Taliban militants are close to overtaking the city or particularly

at least the district of Sangin.

Are Afghanistan forces and NATO forces struggling to hold on to it?

RASMUSSEN: Yes, they are definitely struggling to hold onto it. Now I think if you ask NATO, they will say that the Afghan forces are trying to

hold onto it as NATO is now not involved --


RASMUSSEN: -- in the combat mission anymore. But that being said, U.S. (INAUDIBLE) forces, special forces have joined the fight in Helmand

recently, as far as I know, they're not in Sangin but we might see airstrikes, for example, in the coming days if the Afghan forces don't

manage to push back the Taliban from Sangin.

The Afghan forces are stretched all across Helmand. It has been a very bloody 10 months since they launched their so-called spring fighting

season. And occasionally they get help from NATO advisers, as they're called, and some special forces but mainly it's the Afghan, the Afghan --

the regular troops and the special forces who are carrying out fighting against the Taliban.

KINKADE: As you probably know, the local deputy governor there apparently used Facebook to ask the president for more reinforcements and

supplies and weapons.

Talk to us about why the fighting there has been going on for so long, why it is such a tough fight.

RASMUSSEN: Yes, it is an interesting choice of communication to the president, right, as he goes -- takes to Facebook to plea for help saving

the province. The reason that Helmand is so embattled for so long, is that it is strategically important, is that traditional Taliban heartland, it's

part of the opium trafficking route and it is where the bulk of Afghanistan's opium is being produced.

So there's a lot of economic incentive for the Taliban to take it and also strategic incentive to take the border with Pakistan. So that's why

it has been so heavily embattled for so long and probably will remain so for quite awhile yet.

KINKADE: Sune Engel Rasmussen, thanks so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

RASMUSSEN: Sure. You're welcome.

KINKADE: This is the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Still ahead, a remarkable act of bravery from a group of Muslim bus passengers in Kenya. How they

saved lives of fellow passengers from a militant attack.





KINKADE: Welcome back.

In Kenya, Muslim bus passengers are being hailed as heroes for banding together to save lives of Christians during an Al-Shabaab attack. CNN's

David McKenzie picks up the story from Nairobi.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Their aim is to cause terror and division. But Al-Shabaab gunmen here in Kenya came up against an

extraordinary show of defiance and unity.

On Monday, more than 100 passengers were crammed on this bus, traveling to Mandera on the chronically insecure border with Somalia.

Bullets ripped through the side of the bus in an ambush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were two groups. One group of us, one the other group. So I went to see (INAUDIBLE) to the road to the stop, ask --

he told us to get those who are Muslims to come out, go back to class (ph). Don't go back to bus.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): A man on the bus told CNN there were 12 Christians on board. The gunmen wanted to identify them and execute them.

He says Muslim passengers help hide some of them on the bus and they gave the Christian women head scarves before the gunmen made them line up on the


They stood strong, said the witness, telling the gunmen, quote, "if you want to kill us, then kill us. There are no Christians here."

Al-Shabaab then fled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are all Kenyans. We are not separated by a religion. Everybody can profess as well religious part. We see we are one

country, we are one people. Finish, now there is a very good message.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Civilians have suffered through countless Al- Shabaab attacks in the border regions of Kenya. Earlier this year Al- Shabaab attacked Garissa University, killing 147 innocent students. Again, they singled out Christians.

More than 20 were killed in a shocking bush ambush last year.

Tragically a man who fled the scene and a passerby were killed by the gunmen, but the death toll could have been that much higher. And Kenyans

are praising the acts of their citizens who stopped this terrible attack -- David McKenzie, Nairobi, Kenya.


KINKADE: The U.S. soldier who was exchanged in a controversial prisoner swap with the Taliban is being arraigned in a military court in

North Carolina this hour.

Army Sergeant Beau Bergdahl faces charges of desertion and endangering fellow soldiers. He disappeared from his base in Afghanistan in 2009 and

was captured by Taliban.

Last year, the U.S. released five Taliban detainees in exchange for Bergdahl. He could face the death penalty if found guilty.

One body has been recovered from the debris of a landslide in Southern China. It is the only confirmed death from Sunday's disaster; 76 people

remain missing. CNN's Matt Rivers talks to one family who described the excruciating wait.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The landslide was incredibly sudden, striking with tremendous power, it toppled buildings and

swallowed dozens of people inside.

Days later, only a handful of people have been rescued.

Hong Libao's (ph) parents are among those still trapped. Six years old, he stoically wipes away quiet tears. For now, his aunt and 16-year-

old brother are looking after him. They all went to the scene on Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): When I asked him to leave, he simply wouldn't go. He said even if someone gave him all the money in

the world, all he would want are his parents.

RIVERS (voice-over): Chinese state media said it was a 20-story pile of earth and construction debris that collapsed. But as rescue crews

continue their difficult work searching through rubble more than 10 meters high, the looming question, who is at fault for all of this?

State media reports have placed blame on both poor construction management and a lack of usable dump sites in the area.

But this is just the latest deadly accident in China this year. On New Year's Eve, 36 people died in a stampede in Shanghai. Officials later

admitted they weren't prepared to handle the crowds.

In June, more than 430 people drowned after a riverboat sailed into a storm. And in August, there was this: a massive chemical explosion in the

port city of Tianjin after authorities say a company illegally stored combustible chemicals in a residential area. More than 160 people died.

And now this, a manmade landslide. It's not clear yet if it could have been prevented, but people in Shenzhen did report problems to local

authorities, according to state media. The pain of --


RIVERS (voice-over): -- this disaster clear on the faces of these two brothers potentially orphaned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I simply cannot accept this as true. We are not prepared for this.

RIVERS (voice-over): From his little brother, simpler words.

"I just want my parents back," Libao (ph) says. But as the hours and days go by, the chances of a reunion grow faint -- Matt Rivers, CNN,



KINKADE: You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Still to come, U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is causing controversy yet

again as he takes aim at Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. We'll have the details after a short break.




KINKADE: Welcome back. U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has touted frontrunner status throughout the campaign. But a new

poll says he'd better start looking over his shoulder because someone is gaining on him. That's Texas senator Ted Cruz. Senior Washington

correspondent Joe Johns has more on the race and the latest controversial remarks from Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, ENTREPRENEUR: And you see Hillary. I mean, did you watch that -- what happened to her?

Oh, she's terrible.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump unleashing yet another tirade against Democratic frontrunner Hillary

Clinton at a rally in Michigan.

TRUMP: Hillary, that's not a president.

JOHNS (voice-over): The billionaire coming under fire for using an R- rated derogatory term when referring to her 2008 defeat by Barack Obama.

TRUMP: She was favored to win and she got schlonged. She lost. I mean, she lost.

JOHNS (voice-over): And weighing in on her much-discussed bathroom break from Saturday's debate.

TRUMP: I know where she went. It's disgusting. I don't want to talk about it. No, it's too disgusting. Don't say it. It's disgusting.

JOHNS (voice-over): Trump then going after Clinton's claim that ISIS is propagandizing the GOP frontrunner.

TRUMP: Donald Trump is on video and --


TRUMP: -- ISIS is using him on the video to recruit.

And it turned out to be a lie. She's a liar.

JOHNS (voice-over): Clinton's press secretary doubling down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a confirmed fact that the footage of Donald Trump making those hateful comments earlier this month was played all

across the Middle East.

JOHNS (voice-over): Trump also discussing the controversy over Vladimir Putin's praise and allegations that the Russian president has

ordered the killing of journalists.

TRUMP: They said, oh, Trump should have been much nastier, that's terrible. And then they said, you know, he has killed reporters and I

don't like that. I am totally against that.

JOHNS (voice-over): The GOP frontrunner then reconsidering.

TRUMP: I would never kill them. I would never do that. Let's see, no, I wouldn't. But I do hate them. And some of them are such lying,

disgusting people.

JOHNS (voice-over): Trump continues leading in the latest national poll. But Texas senator Ted Cruz is closing in. The rest of the GOP field

making the rounds in the battleground state of New Hampshire, where Trump rival, Jeb Bush, again went on the attack.

JEB BUSH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: This is not a serious man that has serious plans.


KINKADE: Senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns reporting there for us on Republican candidate Donald Trump and the U.S. presidential race.

Coming up, we're live from India, where the government is strengthening laws to increase punishment for teenagers accused of the most

violent crimes.

Plus the migrant crisis in Europe hits a sobering milestone. We'll have the latest figures from refugee agencies.





KINKADE: Hello and welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Lynda Kinkade. Here are the headlines we're following.


KINKADE: After the release of a man in a notorious gang rape in India, parliament has approved a bill to prosecute teenagers as young as 16

as adults in cases of violent crime. CNN's Sumnima Udas is following this development and joins us now from New Delhi.

Sumnima, just elaborate on what these amendments to the law could mean for juveniles.

SUMNIMA UDAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What this means, Lynda, is anyone between the ages 16 and 18 convicted of committing a serious crime, a

heinous crime like murder and rape can basically be treated, they can be charged and tried as an adult.

This is significant because of the timing, this comes just two days after the entire country and the whole world, as a matter of fact, saw the

juvenile basically walk out free, a juvenile who was just a few months shy of 18th birthday, the youngest of the six rapists accused of gang raping,

convicted for gang raping this student on a moving bus back in 2012.

There was a lot of outrage there. This is basically a result of that outrage, a result of that reaction.

Until this new law, until basically a few hours ago, anyone who had committed a crime, anyone under the age of 18, the maximum they could serve

would be three years in a reform facility. Now that sentencing can be increased, and of course a person between ages 16 and 18 can be charged and

tried as an adult.

Also this doesn't mean that they will be directly sent to a jail but that they will be tried in a juvenile tribunal, which has the authority to

determine whether this person is mature enough and should be treated as a child or an adult. So this is significant -- Lynda.

KINKADE: And looking at that case in particular, it seems quite unfortunate for the family of the young woman who was brutally gang raped,

that these laws can't be applied in retrospect.

UDAS: That's right. Unfortunately, it can't. And in fact, the parents of the victim were in parliament the entire day, listening to this


As they came out, they said their sentiments. They have bitter and sweet sentiments. They are happy that basically the laws have changed, and

at least this can no longer happen, at least other minors will perhaps be deterred from committing such crimes.

At the same time they're very sad that their daughter still has not gotten justice -- Lynda.

KINKADE: And Sumnima, just give us some perspective on how many juvenile criminals this new law could effect.

UDAS: Well, that's a point that they mentioned in parliament, the lawmakers, is that actually there's a lot of juveniles who are especially

in the -- in that age bracket, 16 and 18, who have been committing crimes. That is on the increase.

So given that it is on the increase, the laws need to reflect what's happening in society. So this is the right time to change those laws. In

terms of numbers, at least 33,000 juveniles were accused and convicted of committing some sort of crime in 2014. That number is up from 27,000 just

two years ago.

So given these changes in terms of society, one parliamentarian mentioned --


UDAS: -- these kids, these juveniles are growing up much faster, so the laws need to reflect that and hence these changes are necessary --


KINKADE: OK. Sumnima Udas in New Delhi, thank you very much for staying across all of that for us.

The migrant crisis in Europe has hit a somber milestone. Agencies say more than 1 million refugees have now entered Europe. The vast majority of

them made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. While more than 3,500 others died in their attempt. The migrants are fleeing wars,

persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Africa and most of them arrive in Greece.

Well, every Christmas, the faithful flock to a manger in Bethlehem. But this year tourism is way down, a casualty of the clashes between

Palestinians and Israeli security forces. CNN's Oren Liebermann has more from Bethlehem.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christmas is days away in Bethlehem. The holiday decorations ready in Manger Square. Yet

all the action is down the road, clashes once again between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces, a near-daily occurrence for the

last three months.

Now Christmas is caught in the middle. The clashes, the tension hitting the tourism industry at a critical time. Elias Salen Michel's (ph)

gift shop, right on Manger Square, a prime spot for tourists, is empty. He is left, cleaning up the remnants of a dismal end to the year.

ELIAS SALEN MICHEL (PH), GIFT SHOP OWNER: The manger scene, how is this a Manger Square by yourself? These?

You look. Show me group coming. Show me family coming to the square.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): His family has owned this shop since 1818. He says this is one of the hardest years he can remember. Sales are down

80 percent from last year.

A factory that makes the olive wood crafts so popular during the holiday season has had to cut back on hours because of slumping sales and

may have to cut back on working days.

MICHEL (PH): I don't have any Americans or any European customers store and didn't make $10 for the week.

Are you believe that?

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Because of the tension and the clashes, the U.S. issued a travel warning last week to the region. It was another blow

to an already sagging tourism industry.

It's just a couple days before Christmas here in Manger Square and there should be hundreds if not thousands of tourists making this holiday

pilgrimage. Instead, take a look around here. There's almost nobody here. Tour guides stand around the Church of the Nativity, waiting for

business. But no one here is particularly hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Totally bad. We have no tourists. We are coming here to spend time, only to talk and to see each other. Otherwise, we have

stay at home without work at all.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): There's little anyone can do at this point to change the situation in time for Christmas. But hope, hope that next

year will bring a rebirth of tourism -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Bethlehem.


KINKADE: Now to an update on a story we brought you a few moments ago, the U.S. soldier who was exchanged in a controversial prisoner swap

with the Taliban has been arraigned. Army Sgt. Beau Bergdahl is facing charges of desertion and endangering fellow soldiers, he disappeared from

his base in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured by the Taliban.

Last year, the U.S. released five Taliban detainees in exchange for Bergdahl. Our Nick Valencia was at the hearing. He says Bergdahl did not

enter a plea and waived the right to hear the charges against him. If found guilty, Bergdahl could face the death penalty.

Well, still to come, hitting the jackpot. Spain's annual El Gordo lottery issues a huge payout, guaranteeing some people a very happy






KINKADE: Happy holiday tidings for the winners of Spain's annual Christmas lottery. It paid out more than $2 billion this year. The top El

Gordo prize of more than $4 million went to winners in a coastal tourist town in the south.

Every year people band together to buy a first share of the El Gordo jackpot, which dates back to 1812. Ticket sales were higher this year, a

sign of recovery from the country's economic crisis.

That does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I am Lynda Kinkade. But don't go anywhere. "WORLD SPORT" with Alex Thomas is up