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CNN's Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon Shares Her Story of Being Trapped at the Front Line of the Battle in Mosul. Early Voters are Turning Out in High Numbers in Both Florida and Ohio, Two Key States in This Presidential Election. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 11, 2016 - 10:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN HOST: Let's hunker down.




COSTELLO: And good morning and thanks so much for joining me from our nation's capitol. I'm Carol Costello. The U.S. and Turkey laying out a long-term plan to retake the government of Raqqa in Syria which is now under ISIS control. In the meantime, U.S. backed militia groups announcing plans to push out the terror group by shutting down the so- called back door escape out the city. This as the fight against ISIS rages on in Iraq as forces try to liberate Mosul. Earlier today, Kurdish forces reclaimed a town near the city. CNN's Arwa Damon has been reporting from the front lines. [10:35:10]

Over the weekend, she was trapped in the middle of a fierce gun battle with ISIS. What you're about to see is the war with ISIS firsthand, like you've never seen it before. I have to warn you some of the images you're about to see are graphic. Here's Arwa Damon's exclusive report.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): After three weeks of this offensive, the Iraqi military is at last about to enter Mosul. The men of the elite counter terrorism forces Salahudine(ph) regiment are in high spirits. But after the open planes of northern Iraq, they're about to meet a terrible new reality. This is not a place these soldiers know, but their enemy does.

DAMON: The sounds they're facing right now that there's snipers on rooftops and they're receiving incoming mortar fire that ISIS is shooting from areas that having civilians in them, which makes it almost impossible or the counter terrorism unit to fire back.

UNKNOWN MALE: A car! A yellow car in front of you! Hurry up! The side road in front of you. A man with an RPG. Hit him!

DAMON: The three cars have disappeared down a side street.

UNKNOWN MALE: There is a guy over there.

DAMON (voice over): Already there's a sense that this will be a different battle. Civilians are still waving white flags, but the roads are getting narrower. We're in ISIS territory. It's clearly marked. The convoy slows down and on the soldiers' faces nerves begin to show.

UNKNOWN MALE: Watch out, ISIS is behind you.

DAMON (voice over): And then the roads give way to muddy alleys. There's nowhere to turn. It's so claustrophobic and every car here, every garbage can could be a bomb. It's heartbreaking that some families are still here.

UNKNOWN MALE: My wife is here but she's scared.

DAMON: So is his 19-year-old daughter, Noor(ph).

UNKNOWN FEMALE: We're fine, thank God. You're right to be afraid.

UNKKNOWN FEMALE: I'm not afraid for me, but I'm afraid about my father, I have no one else but him. I swear, I have no one but him.

DAMON (voice over): Noor(ph) was accepted into university, but she never went. Her younger brother, Seif(ph), is paralyzed with fear, cowering with his mother in the back. Then a car approaches, frantic shouted warnings. Clearly, he's not a bomber, but he's critically injured.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: That car? The yellow one? It's his? You thought it was a car bomb?

DAMON (voice over): Minutes later, he is dead, an innocent taxi driver it would seem, in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Now there's more incoming fire.

DAMON: They've been coming across quite a bit of sniper fire, gunfire, mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, and of course those car bombs.

DAMON (voice over): Even I the midst of battle, moments of humanity, but they are all too fleeting. ISIS fighters are on the rooftops. Three grenades land in the street.

UNKNOWN MALE: (INAUDIBLE) just I look this(ph).

UNKNOWN MALE: How did you get this.

UNKNOWN MALE: A grenade.

DAMON (voice over): Bullets ricochet off our vehicle, intensifying as we go forward. Then a suicide car bomb right behind us. There was a flash of orange, ears ringing, then another.

DAMON: That was the second massive explosion like that that we just heard. The first one they said it was a suicide car bomb and it exploded on the vehicles that are just behind us. There are a number of soldiers just running in the street. One was carrying his buddy who seems to be wounded.

DAMON (voice over): They spot enemy movement. [10:40:06]

UNKNOWN MALE: That guy in front of us - check the house over there. The first vehicle? It was hit?

DAMON (voice over): The incoming fire is now intense. The bulldozer is hit. Our vehicle takes more fire. Soldiers shoot at a motorbike racing toward us. It's hit. We hear the hiss of a tire losing air. We realize we're trapped; vehicles, wreckage everywhere. Our MRAP takes a direct hit.

UNKNOWN MALE: What are we doing?

DAMON: I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. We need to go in this house.


DAMON: Go, go, go, go. In there.

DAMON (voice over): We take cover, injured soldiers and a terrified family. Breese(ph), too, has a small head wound. More wounded arrive.

UNKNOWN MALE: I tried to deal with it and get out because the house had no cover. I did not know there was a guy over there.

DAMON (voice over): Injured himself, staff sergeant Ahmed(ph), treats Breese's(ph) head wound. ISIS has systematically targeted and disabled almost every vehicle in our convoy. There are only three working Humvees.

DAMON: It's been hours since they called for backup and none has arrived. They need to evacuate their own wounded. They don't even have enough vehicles to get everyone out, and that's assuming that they would even be able to do so because they say there's still ISIS fighters that have them surrounded on all sides.

DAMON (voice over): Later, ISIS released its own video of the battle. They had filmed the very house where we were taking shelter from just across the street. It's almost dark. The front line has moved right next to the house where we have shelter. We need to move but every time we try gunfire drives us back. It's complete chaos and absolutely terrifying. We need to get to a Humvee five steps away. Finally, we make a run for it. We're running as quickly as we can. But there are so many damaged vehicles in our way. Our Humvee gets entangled in another.

UNKNOWN MALE: Go back, back, back, it's stuck.

DAMON (voice over): We break free but go just 10 yards.

UNKNOWN MALE: Go forward a bit! Get out of here, go forward, forward a bit.

DAMON (voice over): A long and frightening night in hiding follows. We had no idea that ISIS fighters were filming the war booty they'd recovered from the regiment's wrecked vehicles just down the street. It's dawn and we're still alive. We're with more than a dozen wounded soldiers, only six who are not, and munition is running low.

DAMON: It's been almost 20 hours since they first called for backup and sent out the alarm that said we're surrounded and we're still waiting.

DAMON (voice over): The soldiers with us are exhausted, but determined. They know they're in this fight alone. On the rooftop, they scan for ISIS fighters. The soldiers get ready for the attack they know is coming. Someone has been shot. The grief of a woman yards away is almost hideous. "Where is he?" She yelled. And then it erupts again. I see that the house is surrounded. Our only defenders are mostly the walking wounded. [10:45:01]

A grenade lands in the courtyard. More wounded are brought in. They tell us it was tossed by an ISIS fighter in the house behind us. An air strike hit the house and brings down the outer wall of the home we're in. The family we're with hide under the staircase. One of the boys cries, "I don't want to die." Hours later, a moment of utter relief.

UNKNOWN MALE: What happened?

UNKNOWN MALE: They arrived.

UNKNOWN MALE: You saw them?

UNKNOWN MALE: Yes, they were over there.

DAMON: They're here.

DAMON (voice over): Our regiment has arrived as backup along with a Humvee to evacuate us. It's less than a mile to safety. We're lucky. We can leave the combat zone. These men will have to return. The battle for Mosul has only just begun.


COSTELLO: Such a powerful story. CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Arwa Damon joins us now live from Erbil. Arwa, it's so hard for us to determine whether that was progress on the Iraqi troop's part or not.

DAMON: You know, Carol, the bottom line is that the defenses that ISIS has put into place are posing greater challenges than the Iraqi's themselves or anyone for that matter had anticipated and they are proving to be quite sophisticated in the attacks that they carry out. They have managed to push into Mosul. They have managed to hold some neighborhoods, but what you saw there was the difficulty that the Iraqis are going to be facing as they push deeper and deeper into the city. The fight that they are encountering there is unlike any they have encountered before and unlike any that the U.S. military encountered during its time in Iraq.

COSTELLO: I think what your story really illustrates is how difficult it is to fight when civilians are in the picture, because, you know, they're just trying to survive.

DAMON: It really is an impossible situation. The civilians can't leave. ISIS does not let them leave. And the soldiers don't know who is friend or foe and there were a couple of instances when the soldiers that we were with said that they went into a building and a family would be hiding downstairs and they would go up into the upstairs floor and there would be ISIS fighters in the same building. How do you actually fight a war like that in a city the size of Mosul with 1.2 million people in it? The sad reality of it that everyone has to accept at this point in time is that this is going to be absolutely devastating. If this is the kind of fight, if these are the kinds of tactics that ISIS is using on its very eastern edge, just imagine what it's going to be like in the central part of the city and in the western part that's meant to be their stronghold.

COSTELLO: Arwa Damon, thanks for your courageous reporting. It's so important that people see that so that they can understand. Arwa Damon, thank you so much. I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Let's take a quick look at the market now. The Dow up over 250 points after news the FBI again cleared Clinton in that email investigation. We'll be keeping an eye on this all day long on CNN. Right now the message from both the Clinton and Trump campaign is, go vote. And turnout will be key I battlegrounds like Florida and Ohio. We've got reporters in each of these states. Let's start there with Boris Sanchez. He's in Miami. Good morning.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning, Carol. You said it. Turnout is huge, especially here in Florida, 29 electoral votes up for grabs. So far 6.4 million Floridians have cast their ballots. Think about this: 8.4 million people voted in 2012 total, so turnout is huge, on pace to be huge here in the state of Florida. On top of that, who is voting is important. There's been a four percent spike in the number of Latino voters so far taking part in early voting and the question for both candidates is who is voting among those Latinos? Is it the Puerto Ricans, an essential part of the state, an influx of several hundred thousand Puerto Ricans that we've seen move to Florida that are democratic leaning? Or is it the traditionally GOP leaning Cuban Americans here in Miami-Dade County? The big question now for the candidates is will the 88,000 voter advantage that democrats have last going into election day? For President Obama, his 100,000 vote advantage in early voting ended up being about a 70,000 vote victory. We'll see who turns out on election day and if it tilts the early voting toward Donald Trump, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Boris Sanchez, thanks so much. Now let's head to Ohio and check in with Martin Savidge. Hi Martin.