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U.S. Military Investigating Civilian Deaths; Carrie Lam Elected Hong Kong's New Leader. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2017 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The Pentagon is investigating allegations that U.S. air raids killed more than 200 people in Mosul, Iraq. Our military analyst will explain how these airstrikes are conducted.

And Carrie Lam is the new leader of Hong Kong through a vote under the direct influence of Beijing. We'll be live in Hong Kong.

Hello, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta. And your CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

There are growing fears that ISIS is using civilians as human shields as it tries to stop U.S. and Iraqi forces from pushing the terror group out of Iraq's second largest city. The U.S. military is looking into allegations that Iraqi civilians were killed in several U.S.-led airstrikes on ISIS targets in Western Mosul this month.

These pictures show the aftermath in one of the areas in Western Mosul that was allegedly hit. Iraq's defense ministry is investigating the raids as well. Civilian casualties have also been reported in Syria. More now from CNN's Ian Lee.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a staggering number. Nearly 300 Syrians and Iraqi civilians allegedly killed in coalition airstrikes. Local provincial leaders say the civilians, mainly women and children, died in three different bombings since March 16th. As many as 200 may have been killed in Western Mosul alone. An investigation has been launched by U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for the military operations in Iraq and Syria.

A U.S. Defense official told CNN the U.S. military is trying to determine how many civilians died as a result of the Mosul strikes and how it may have happened. This comes as Iraqi forces move through the densely populated Old City of Mosul, hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped.

Iraqi federal police driving the push, switched up tactics, using more snipers, drones, soldiers on foot and fewer mortars and mechanized vehicles. Fleeing civilians described how ISIS is using residents as human


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are being fired on and Islamic State would not let the families out. We went out in the middle of the night. People were killed. But thank God we managed to escape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We were fired upon from coalition air force. The snipers go to the top of buildings that have families and the air force strikes these buildings, killing them and everyone in the house.

LEE: While they're investigating the allegations, U.S. Central Command says the military operations will continue and that their goal is zero civilian casualties -- Ian Lee, CNN, Cairo.


VANIER: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is with us now he is going to give us some of his expertise.

Lt. Gen., you were in that part of country a number of years ago. So you know this area particularly well. The U.S. has made mistakes like the one that is being alleged now, although not necessarily on the same scale.

But in previous conflict zones, in Afghanistan, in Iraq previously.

So my question is, the United States military not learning the lessons from previous conflicts?

Or is this just inevitable?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, not at all, Cyril. It is inevitable in combat like this. And I will tell you that above any other military in the world, and I will say this conclusively, and like anybody to argue with me about it, the U.S. military is adamant in terms of attempting to prevent these through a series of methods.

But what I will tell you first of all, I have been in the situation as a commander, where I have been notified that, hey, one of our aircraft has hit a target and there is collateral damage and civilian deaths.

And there are probably both Iraqi and U.S. commanders right now on the ground in Northern Iraq, with just an empty feeling in their gut saying, what happened?

Why did it happen?

And how do we prevent this and fix it before we send another aircraft out?

That's one thing. But the second thing when you are talking combat in Western Mosul, and I have been on that ground multiple times, that is very constrictive fighting in an urban environment. And that's the worst kind of combat you can experience.

So what you are talking about, first of all, is a confusing situation. There is dust and heat and smoke and fire and fear and trauma. But, secondly, you have tight streets, houses that are very close together and an enemy that doesn't have uniforms. You have aircraft dropping ordnance from 5,000 feet. And you have a communication chain that goes from the Iraqi fighter, that sees a target or the aircraft that sees the target, to an Air Force spotter, could be a special forces spotter, back to the airplane.

And then you have to paint the picture, so that the target can be hit by the bomb. All of these things add to the confusion of combat. This isn't like a video game, where you just put the crosshairs on the target --


HERTLING: -- and squeeze the trigger and the target disappears. There is so many other things involved in a combat scenario like this.

VANIER: All right, so I think you have explained forcefully, eloquently, that this is not exact science. And that even with the best of intentions, this is what you're saying, mistakes do happen in this kind of circumstance.

But doesn't that, in that case, raise the question of whether air raids should be used as intensively as they are in a place like Western Mosul, where there are a lot of civilians?

HERTLING: Well, a couple of things to add to that, all of the ordnance that's being dropped by U.S. and coalition fighters, aircraft, are precision weapons. They hit the target that they are aimed at either through grid coordinates or a laser spotting or the weapons system itself.

So if you say, hey, there is an ISIS fighter on the top of a building, hit it with a bomb, the bomb is going to hit that building. So what might happen is ISIS has said through their messaging techniques, let's put a lot of civilians in the basement of that building or under the roof and we will fire from that roof.

So you know if you hit the target, you are going to kill a lot of civilians that you don't see as the bomb is dropped. And ISIS will use that, as many other terrorist organizations will, as a messaging and a propaganda ploy.

VANIER: All right, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Thank you very much for your insights. Good speaking to you.

HERTLING: Thank you, Cyril.


VANIER: Just a short while ago, an election committee has selected Carrie Lam as Hong Kong's new leader. She was seen as Beijing's choice. And she defeated a candidate who had more popular support. Our Kristie Lu Stout joins us now from Hong Kong.

Kristie, tell us more about Carrie Lam, why she wasn't the people's favorite and why Beijing favored her.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: Cyril, Hong Kong has a new leader, as widely expected. It is Carrie Lam, the first female chief executive in the history of the territory. And when the announcement was made here at Hong Kong election headquarters, it was met by cheers in the public gallery. But according to the polls, she is not the people's choice.

She was voted in by a mere 1,200-member election committee, said to be broadly representative of Hong Kong, but made up largely of pro- business and pro-Beijing interests. Now changing this system was a key demand of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protest. That request back then for universal suffrage was not granted.

And today, earlier today, we saw hundreds of protesters out and about carrying the signs, the symbols, the slogans asking for universal suffrage. So that protest will continue.

So Carrie Lam, the first female chief executive of Hong Kong, voted in with just 777 votes by this election committee. A number of challenges ahead for her including meeting the public's demand for universal suffrage, a growing rich-poor divide, increasing influence of Beijing in Hong Kong.

She's the new leader of Hong Kong, a major global financial hub and home to 7 million people who, by and large, did not vote for her -- back to you.

VANIER: Right.

So what does this mean then going forward for Hong Kong?

I mean, for Beijing, she was clearly a choice of continuity. She had served in the cabinet of her boss, the previous chief executive, CY Leung.

STOUT: And I was talking to an analyst just now about this, Eric Cheung. He's with Hong Kong University, about why was she Beijing's choice?

Behind the scenes, observers have pointed out that there was lobbying in the election committee for her to be picked. She is seen as a continuation of the current chief executive, CY Leung, a safe pair of hands by the establishment and also by pro-Beijing interests.

But CY Leung has been very, very unpopular to the people here in Hong Kong. Carrie Lam has been seen as continuation of his policies, so much so that she has a nickname of CY 2.0. She was not ahead in the public opinion polls. That would have been her rival, who was much more charismatic, much more liked by the people. So that will be an additional key challenge for her. How will she be able to lead Hong Kong when she doesn't seem to have

the public's mandate -- Cyril.

VANIER: Kristie, what is the reaction likely to be in Hong Kong to that?

You started alluding to that earlier.

STOUT: Yes, well, there is a tale of, I guess, two different types of reactions.

I mean, outside we did see the reaction from the, I guess, pro- democracy supporters. We did see the very interesting protest that erupted just when they were counting the ballots and just when they were going to make the announcement of who the next CE was.

Back over there, here at election headquarters, the yellow Umbrella Movement umbrella was hoisted up as well as banners as well. So that protest movement.

That being said, there are also some pro-China protesters here. There was, in the public gallery, some supporters for Carrie Lam. So, yes, she does have some support in the broad base in Hong Kong.

But again, according to those public opinion polls, she was not ahead of the polls. She was not seen as the people's choice. Criticism includes she is seen as being out of touch with the people's interests here in Hong Kong. And so this is the tension --


STOUT: -- that is here in society that's divided Hong Kong society and something that the next leader has to contend with head-on -- Cyril.

VANIER: And Kristie, thank you very much. Kristie Lu Stout, reporting live from Hong Kong, tracking the reaction to this election. Some are calling it a selection by Beijing. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

And coastal evacuations are under way in Australia as tropical cyclone Debbie bears down on the Queensland coast. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us now.


VANIER: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. And MARKETPLACE AFRICA is next. Stay with us.