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Iraqi Forces Launch Offensive to Retake Western Mosul; Trump Rips Media, Touts Accomplishments at Rally; Pence Tries to Soothe Allies in Europe. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2017 - 02:29   ET



CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Iraqi forces launch a major operation to retake Western Mosul from ISIS.

Plus U.S. president Donald Trump back to campaign-style rallies, this time urging Democrats to join him in his fight to repeal ObamaCare.

And Russia says the guns will fall silent in Ukraine on Monday when a new cease-fire takes effect.

Hi, everyone, thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

VANIER: And we start with breaking news. Iraq's prime minister says the operation to retake Western Mosul from ISIS has begun. Let's go straight to our Ben Wedeman, who's following developments from Istanbul.

Ben, I think it's difficult to overstate how important this is for Iraq. This was, the fall of Mosul to the jihadists, to ISIS a year and a half ago, really signaled the beginning of a very dark period for this country.

What can you tell us?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the announcement was made at 7:00 am Baghdad time by the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. This is how he announced it.


HAIDER AL-ABADI, PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ (through translator): We are announcing the start of a new phase. We are coming, Nineveh, operations to liberate the right side of Mosul city as we had liberated other areas.

We call on our brave troops to start the push to liberate the rest of the city and to liberate people from the oppression and terrorism of daish.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WEDEMAN: And it has been pretty obvious, Cyril, for the last few days, that this operation was coming. Yesterday, we saw intense air bombardment by the Iraqi air force and the U.S.-led international coalition.

Also, the Iraqi air force overnight dropped leaflets on the western side of the city, warning residents that this operation was imminent.

The situation in the city itself for anywhere between 750,000-800,000 people, according to the U.N., is dire. Food supplies are running low. They only have electricity for about two to three hours a day.

According to UNICEF, only about 40 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water. And, of course, the city has been essentially under siege now for months since the main road to Syria was cut. So it is going to be a delicate and difficult operation, given the presence of so many civilians within the city.

According to coalition officials, there are anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000 ISIS fighters in Western Mosul. They're well dug in and probably very well prepared for this operation.

Now according to the Iraqi military, the focus of the operation is from the southwest and the south. And it seems to be focused, for instance, on retaking Mosul airport, which is in the southern part of the city.

Now it took the Iraqi forces about three months to take the eastern part of the city; the western part is somewhat less populated but it is much more densely populated. So it is going to be a long and difficult and delicate operation -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right, Ben Wedeman, reporting live from Istanbul in Turkey, thank you very much. We are looking forward to your many updates in the coming hours. Thanks a lot.

And U.S. President Donald Trump marked his first month in office by returning to a format that helped get him elected, a freewheeling style campaign style rally before thousands of cheering supporters.

Mr. Trump's remarks on Saturday in Melbourne, Florida, hit on many of his most populist themes: restoring American jobs, slamming international trade deals and defending his controversial travel ban.

But some of his harshest words were aimed at the media, especially news organizations he recently denounced as "the enemy of the American people."


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They've become a big part of the problem. They are part of the corrupt system. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln and many of our greatest presidents fought with the media and called them out oftentimes on their lies.

When the media lies to people, I will never, ever let them get away with it.


VANIER: CNN's Athena Jones has more from Melbourne, Florida.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This rally was like a flashback to campaign 2016. And in many ways it was an extension of the campaign. It was paid for by the campaign. The White House described it --


JONES: -- as a campaign rally.

Asked before he got off of Air Force One upon arrival why he was doing a campaign event so early in his presidency, the president told reporters, life is a campaign. Making our country great again is a campaign.

What was interesting here was there you had the president, repeating a lot of the same rhetoric we've heard on the campaign trail. A lot of the same arguments we heard just a few days ago at that press conference on Thursday in the East Room, laying out some of what he views as his administration's great accomplishments in his view in his first month.

He talked about the five-year ban on lobbying. He also complained once again about this travel ban and talked about the need to keep America safe.

We have been talking a lot about how it is not unusual to see a president go out on the road early in his presidency to sell something, to sell a specific policy. We have been talking how President Trump wasn't pushing one specific policy, like, for instance, the stimulus package back in 2009, when President Obama first took office.

But he did ostensibly try to sell one thing today. He tried to urge Democrats on Capitol Hill to cooperate with Republicans to pass his agenda. Take a listen.

TRUMP: It's also time for the Senate Democrats to take responsibility for ObamaCare and to work with us to replace it with new reforms that reverse this nationwide health care tragedy.

It is a tragedy. It's unaffordable. It doesn't work. And I said to the Republicans, I said, you want to do something great politically, don't do anything. Sit back for two years, let it explode. The Democrats will come and beg for us to do something.

But we can't do that to the American people. We have to fix it. And we will. We need members of both parties to join hands and work with us to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to build new roads and bridges and airports and tunnels and highways and railways all across our great nation. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So there he was, urging bipartisan cooperation to get the things done that he wants to get done. I should note that Democrats on Capitol Hill have indicated they are interested in working with Republicans on an infrastructure package.

One more area where he called on Democrats to cooperate with Republicans was to approve his nominee to replace Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, Judge Neil Gorsuch.

So he did end up trying to sell something when it comes to place here during this speech. But still this was very much something that he was looking forward to doing. He said early on in the speech that he wanted to get around the media filter to talk directly to the people.

And it was clear that this crowd really ate it up. These are people who had been standing in line for hours. Very, very interesting and campaign-like event here.


VANIER: A new cease-fire is expected to start on Monday in Eastern Ukraine. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced it on Saturday after meeting in Munich with diplomats from France, Germany and Ukraine.

The deal comes after a violent flare-up in the conflict. Past efforts have not been successful in ending the fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops. For more on this, CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's been announced is an agreement to end the latest upsurge in fighting in Eastern Ukraine, which has flared around the government town of Avdiivka since the end of January.

Both government forces and Russian-backed rebels accusing each other of firing artillery and other heavy weapons, like rockets, across the front line, killing civilians and causing widespread disruption.

The Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the withdrawal of military hardware from the area had also been agreed but the Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, complained major progress had not been made.

It all comes though, as on the same day as the Kremlin announced that Russia would begin temporarily recognizing passports and documents issued by separatist rebel authorities in Eastern Ukraine, a move criticized by the Ukrainian government.

In recent weeks the Trump administration and the United States has been critical itself of Russia's involvement in Ukraine, calling on Moscow to implement an agreed peace accord and to hand back Crimea, the strategic peninsula which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

There had been expectations in Russia that President Trump would adopt a softer line on Crimea, particularly after he suggested that during his election campaign he would look at recognizing the territory as part of Russia -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


VANIER: And U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will be in Brussels on Sunday for talks with Belgium's prime minister and other E.U. officials. Pence did not specifically mention the European Union while addressing the Munich Security Conference on Saturday but he did try to reassure European allies who are worried about direction of U.S. foreign policy under President Trump.


VANIER: He told them the U.S. supports NATO and stands by Europe. But he also said that NATO's members must pay their share of defense spending.

Let's move onto another part of the world now. Kenya's government has declared a national disaster. There is an ongoing drought impacting the region. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us now for more on this.

It's a very vulnerable part of the world, Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It really is. And the Kenyan government is calling on international aid to help combat this ongoing drought that is impacting wildlife and people and their livestock and the wildlife who are in the area as well. You're looking at some images coming out of the region. Kenya Red Cross estimated 2.7 million people are in need of food aid after a low rainfall season from October to November. We'll get to the details in just a second.

This is causing mass migrations of cattle and the cattle herders seeking water and resources in neighboring Uganda. Unfortunately, this is also causing human conflict at the same time.

Take a look at some of these images behind me. You can see an example of the Takana (ph) County, which is in extreme Northwestern Kenya, this is an area that is experiencing severe drought. Let's break it down.

Why is this happening?

Why has this been an ongoing issue?

We've got what is called the intertropical conversion zone, the ITCZ. And this shifts, depending on the season. But during the summer months in the Southern Hemisphere, that shifts south. It should, in a normal year, bring rainfall to Kenya, helping alleviate drought conditions.

Unfortunately, that did not happen during what is called the short rains monsoon season. They have two different rainy periods, one from March to May, one from October to December. And, unfortunately, it never panned out. That is why we have this significant drought.

We're talking about 2 percent of average for that short rain season in Ludwar (ph) into the extreme northwestern sections of Kenya. Even along the coast from Mombasa to Mamu (ph), we're talking about 6 percent of normal. That is causing extreme food security problems and also health security and health concerns for this part of the world.

Check this out. The Kenya national government declaring that national disaster. But this is a problem, considering that this is -- people seeking refuge from this drought, limiting clean water sources in the area. And this is also wiping out pasture and livestocks. And it's not just Kenya that is experiencing this. It is much of the Horn of Africa into South Sudan, even into Tanzania as temperatures continue to warm, the fingerprint of climate change all over the story.

And, unfortunately, there is just no rainfall relief in sight. It appears as if, as we head into this second wet season of the year, all forecasts yielding a dry season for this part of the world.

So it appears, Cyril, that the drought will continue across Kenya, impacting just under 3 million people.

VANIER: Yes, Derek Van Dam. Thank you very much. And there not many cameras in that part of Kenya to show us what is going on. So thank you for the very important story. Thanks a lot.

And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. More Africa coming up on CNN with "MARKETPLACE AFRICA" next. Stay with us.