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Hundreds Missing After Sierra Leone Mudslide; White House Dissent Delays Afghanistan Strategy; A "Grand Finale" for the Cassini Satellite. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired August 15, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Tonight on the program, devastation in Sierra Leon after a massive mudslide leaves hundreds dead and many more
missing near the country's capital. We will hear from families on the ground as the president calls for urgent support.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I first saw the body of my sister and called on people to help me and we lay her on the floor. Then I
started hearing other people nearby crying. I've lost all of my family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: Also ahead, what's next for America's longest war? I speak to journalist David Rohde once held by the Taliban for months as the Trump
administration continues to push back its decision on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes in for Christiane Amanpour.
Well, hundreds of people are still missing in Sierra Leone after a mudslide tore through the outskirts of the capital Freetown swallowing up homes and
families as they sleep.
Rescue teams working desperately to find survivors buried beneath mud and debris. We know about 400 people have lost their lives, but this number is
expected to rise.
Our reporter in the area is Farai Sevenzo.
FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the moment captured on cell phone, the water came, sweeping away entire communities and lives.
Rescuers worked in the pouring rain. One of the distraught man is comforted. He says eight members of his family have died.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I first saw the body of my sister and called on people to help me and we lay her on the floor. Then I
started hearing other people nearby crying. I've lost all of my family.
Still, rescuers continue their search for survivors though it is not hopeful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We established a commander center right under -- very close to the epicenter here and we are calling on missing effort to make
sure we get people out. We have to get a lot of dead bodies and have taken out anybody alive.
SEVENZO: The dead are carried away. Tons of them lay exposed. Tree trunks uprooted now stuck in houses as families try to salvage what's left
behind. Whatever the water spared is covered in mud.
The heavy flooding and mudslides have spread through the hills of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. It didn't only bring down small homes, but large
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the zinc houses, (INAUDIBLE), all of them wiped out by the water with people, even the big house behind me.
SEVENZO: The country's president says his people are grip by grief. The Red Cross tells CNN continuing rains, a lack of excavation tools and the
dangerous condition of the soaked water is hampering the rescue mission. An uphill battle for those on the front line of nature's wrath.
Farai Sevenzo, CNN.
HOLMES: Extraordinary scenes.
And I asked Farai earlier what types of challenges there are for the rescue teams.
SEVENZO: Well, the biggest problem of course is that remember, when this massive body of water came, cascading down, loads of mud, it has carried
with it all manner of debris. And then the people who were sleeping in their homes and their valley below have no time to prepare to get out.
So in some instances, it has carried these bodies a mile down from where they actually lived.
And of course in carrying them down, they hit all manner of obstacles where they are crushed or the limbs were cut off and even decapitated in some
cases we are hearing.
Our man here in Sierra Leone, on the ground, has just told me that the chief government pathologist Dr. Urwiz Koroma (ph) has recommended that
they all be separated into men, women and children and be buried immediately.
At the moment, the biggest task of course is that the morgue is Sierra Leone's capital Freetown is absolutely full capacity. He is saying he saw
bodies on the ground.
And so the pathologist, the government pathologist is saying, look, let's bury them for now and then we can sort that our later, because as you know
Sierra Leone is a city that has suffered the scourge of cholera and of course most importantly just four years ago Ebola.
So if you see the pictures coming out of Freetown, they're all wearing those yellow masks. You'll remember from four years ago, those yellow sort
of protective gear and gloves. So the public is very keen that this be done.
And he's counted of the dismembered people -- 51 males, 44 females and 45 children, Michael, who they want to bury as quickly as possible sometime
HOLMES: So how much if any of what we've seen could perhaps have been preventable in terms of where these houses were located, the infrastructure
and so on.
[14:05:32] SEVENZO: Michael, this is Freetown. Retained its old colonial names and everything, it is a city that gave Graham Greene's journey of a
thousand miles. You know the whole idea of "The Heart of the Matter," one of his great novels, all was inspiration for that. And it's retained some
names like Regency.
Now Regency is a place where that moved in in the last 10 years ironically because of the peace that have come to Sierra Leone after many years of
civil war. And some of these houses were informal structures, which didn't have any sort of planning permission. But at the same time, those with
planning permission also fell victim to this massive rain and its tremendous and terrible mudslides.
So in a way it's easy to sort of say that it was possibly could have been prevented, but it's also the case that this was a natural disaster, which
nobody foresaw. And if people might be pointing at climate change and global warning, but these rains have been much more than anyone would have
In fact the head of the communications for the Red Cross told me yesterday, they have never in all their time after a rainy season, buried and found so
many dead people in one day. So it is quite extraordinary and quite specifically original as a tragedy.
HOLMES: Now people in Sierra Leone, as you touched on that, they've lived difficult lives to begin with. There was the lengthy Civil War. There's
poverty issues. Of course, you mentioned Ebola, which stretched the healthcare system as it was.
How tough is life in ordinary times for Sierra Leone?
SEVENZO: You know, it's one of the stories, you know. When I was last there, sometimes when I go there, you know you go from the special court of
Sierra Leone where they try their former leaders for having brought them to this war because they bore the greatest responsibility. And then you go
back and then it's peace fallen. And people are reuniting and forgiving each other and there's reconciliation and then they have Ebola.
So in a way, it's as if they take five steps forward and somehow they have to take six steps back because of these natural, unforeseen circumstances.
But the people themselves are cheerful and go getting people who have a great deal to be proud of in terms of their camaraderie.
And even into this case, as they dig for bodies with their bare hands with just two diggers that they had for excavation yesterday, you can see that
everyone is doing their utmost best to make sure this tragedy goes away very quickly.
HOLMES: You mentioned the bodies and the need for quick burial. Oftentimes when we see water disaster like this cholera becomes an issue as
well, how strict is the healthcare system? How prepared are they to deal with the living?
SEVENZO: Well, this is it. The moment we still don't know how many survivors or how many people were made of these.
We know that the morgues are filling out. We know that the second city of Sierra Leone, Bo, has also suffered heavy floods overnight. But
unfortunately for the people of Bo, it's a much more flat terrain.
We know that other hospitals in the center of the country, that is where the injured had been sent. So we learned from our man in Sierra Leone that
the national security is going to hold an emergency meeting and the moment they are saying that no, they don't need any help. They can handle
themselves. But, of course, people like the WP have told me today, but they are scrambling to try and organize a response, because people will be
angry. People will be homeless, and people will need much more than the government can possibly afford to give them.
HOLMES: Give us a sense since you touched on this as well, give us a sense of the spirit of the people of Sierra Leone given the tribulations they
have faced over the years. The poverty and the privation they continue to face. Speak to their spirit.
SEVENZO: Their spirit is incredible. I mean, you know, just a few months ago, we reported on a (INAUDIBLE) 700 carat diamond, which he then handed
over to the government, these finds.
They are a very united people in that respect. And, of course, these tragedies, which sort of broken many people, marched through it and find a
way to the other side.
So I think, speaking as an African, Michael, I think that Sierra Leone will bounced back. But it's important that they get the help they need to
overcome what is in all appearance is a natural disaster, but it could befallen anybody from Australia to Los Angeles.
HOLMES: Yes. A lot of need and urgent need as well.
Farai Sevenzo, thanks so much.
[14:10:10] HOLMES: Well, after a short break here on the program, we changed topic. We looked to Afghanistan where U.S. strategy is no way to
be seen. We will ask.
Will the Trump administration go hard or go home. That's next.
HOLMES: Welcome back to the program, everyone.
We are now more than 200 days into the Trump presidency and still no decision on a strategy for Afghanistan. America's longest war.
President Trump's defense secretary James Mattis promised a new plan by mid-July. But a month after that deadline, he now says, quote, "I just
tell you that we are very, very close on this. The strategic decisions have not been decided but we're very close," unquote.
And while the Trump administration fiddles Afghanistan in many ways burns, a report from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul says that as of May, the
Afghan government controls all influences. Less than 60 percent of the country's districts down six percent from the same period last year.
In 2008, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Rohde was kidnapped by the Taliban. He spent seven months and 10 days in captivity before escaping to
freedom with his translator.
He is now our global affairs analyst for CNN and online news director for "The New Yorker," and he joins me now via Skype.
David, always a pleasure. A plan promised by July. It's mid-August. Why do you think the delay?
DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Oh, I think there's deep division leaders the to the White House about what to do in Afghanistan. It's the
core division if you will. I think the national security adviser H.R. McMaster and the Defense Secretary James Mattis have pushed for a small
increase in U.S. troops. About 4000 additional troops, a multiyear commitment to stay -- you know, for the U.S. to stay at it in Afghanistan.
Steve Bannon, the domestic policy advisor who was a key player in Trump's election victory you know promised to Trump's base that the U.S. was not
going to be drawn into these foreign conflicts. You know, there would be decisive use of military action.
And so those two very different schools to engage more in Afghanistan or do we withdraw our filing this out and it's not clear who is going to win.
HOLMES: Wait, what has the best chance of working. I mean, forget the politics. I mean, in terms of strategy. What is the best chance of having
a genuine impact on the situation on the ground in terms of U.S. interest anyway rather than putting fingers and dikes?
ROHDE: It's got to be a combined diplomatic and military approach. You mentioned captivity, which was many, many like eight years ago now, but I
was held in a remote travelers of Pakistan which the Taliban have used and continue to use as a safe haven until Pakistan as sort of part of a peace
agreement, you know, and until Pakistan stopped sheltering the Taliban, there is no way for the United States to win militarily in Afghanistan.
You know, we saw that in the Obama surge. The Taliban simply withdraw over the border into Pakistan and no matter how many American troops are
present, U.S. and Afghan forces cannot defeat the Taliban because they just go into the safe havens inside Pakistan.
[14:15:00] HOLMES: You know, Donald Trump tweeted this back in 2013, long before he was president.
He said, quote, "We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard and quick. We build the
A complete U.S. withdrawal would mean what? I mean, one presumes eventually the Taliban back in power and probably ISIS with territories
from which to work.
ROHDE: Yes, I think the Taliban backed by Pakistan would regain control eventually of the whole country and eventually retake Kabul. There has
been an in fighting between the Taliban and ISIS groups in Afghanistan.
It's not, you know, there was a recent coordination on one attack apparently between the two groups. So, you know, whatever happens it would
be chaos. The Taliban would regain control, I think, and the Afghan government would collapse.
There is an argument that that to be blunt is maybe a just withdrawing and letting that happen is some ways more ethical than dragging this war
endlessly out by putting in a very small number of troops again. There's 8000 troops -American troops now in Afghanistan. Adding another 4000 will
not change the military balance.
So there is an argument to just, you know, let the government fall. There's huge advances for, you know, all Afghans that live in major cities.
For women in particular, all that would be lost. It will be a huge propaganda victory for the Taliban. So this is our decision.
HOLMES: Speaking of the Taliban, they put a letter out there, which you've probably seen and part of it said -- this was today -- and, quote, "
Previous experiences have shown sending more troops to Afghanistan will not result in anything other than further destruction American military and
Did they have a point?
ROHDE: They do. And what went wrong with the Obama surge was Obama, you know, to placate his base, his Democratic and liberal base, said that
surged was only going to last a limited amount of time.
The Taliban sat out the surge and waited and the surge went away. So the problem with the U.S. strategies and it's always been about domestic
American politics, you know, president saying what they think is going to please American voters, that does not lead to sort of concrete results on
the ground and Afghanistan.
HOLMES: And is reminiscent of the old saying, you know, "You in the west have the waters, we have the time." Meaning they will just waited out.
You know, it's not, as you know, all too well, it's not just about U.S. direct interest in Afghanistan, is it? There are other players. In fact,
foes who have vested interest.
Russia has fingers in the pie. You've got Iran. Shiite, Iran working ironically with Sunni Taliban in a marriage of convenience.
China are expanding economic interests in Afghanistan and now want to hold hands with the U.S. to achieve their aims.
ROHDE: I agree. And the U.S. can sort of step back. The key thing is that those players have to come to some sort of grand bargain about
Afghanistan. The problem isn't the Afghan people themselves. These kinds of stereotypes. Them being, you know, war like. That is one element of a
But if it wasn't for the sworn powers, you know, funding and arming the different factions in Afghanistan, you wouldn't have this repeated, you
know, the warfare that's going on since you know throughout the country's history so that dynamic is not new. And that's why there has to be a
diplomatic solution that has to be an element of this Trump strategy.
HOLMES: And, unfortunately, very few diplomatic positions for the United States embassy in Afghanistan are filled. There is no major diplomatic
effort there. Again, there aren't even enough diplomats in Kabul and senior diplomats to carry out any kind of negotiation strategy.
When it comes to negotiating and the very notion of negotiating, what would entice the Taliban to the negotiating table? They are winning on the
ground. What's in it for them anyway?
ROHDE: It's what would entice Pakistan, and Iran, and Russia and China to isolate the Taliban. To stop backing them. They are -- the Taliban are a
strong movement. It has very strong support with the Afghan people. And then it would -- for the Taliban themselves to agree, they would need parts
of the government. There would have to be again a grand bargain where some parts of the country would be essentially ruled by the Taliban.
Most Afghans in major cities particularly in Kabul and more specifically they don't want to return to the days the Taliban and that kind of, you
know, the vice and virtue police that would barred in girls from going to school.
[14:20:00] So this may sound pie in the sky, but it's the regional players and the Taliban themselves has to be dealt with in a negotiation process.
Unless the U.S. -- Trump was right. Are we going to intervene decisively? Are we going to send in 100,000 troops and spend years there and really
engage, because it has been a very episodic American and an even American effort in Afghanistan.
HOLMES: Well, that brings me to a brief and final question, if you will. I mean, if the Taliban couldn't be defeated with 100,000 plus troops,
sending in 4,000 as advisors or trainers when billions are being spent and years invested in training and advising.
In a way, what's the point?
ROHDE: There is no point. And as long as Pakistan shelters the Taliban, 4,000 troops won't matter. And it's arguably cruel to Afghans.
Thousands of Afghan soldiers and police have died fighting the Taliban, decisively back the Afghan government or leave. Made that hard decision
and I don't see any evidence of the Trump administration is going to make that hard decision as this drags on.
HOLMES: David Rohde, thank you so much. Great to have your expertise on this issue.
And now we turn to the U.K. As time ticks away ahead of the Brexit deadline today, the country's Brexit Secretary David Davis floated a
government proposal. Pitching a transitional trade period of two years after Britain leaves the EU.
Now that would keep as many of the existing arrangements as possible while still negotiating its own trade deals with other countries.
Now this is something no EU member can do. And our Isa Soares spoke to Davis and has this report.
ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The clock is ticking on Brexit and the U.K. is wasting no time in laying out its roadmap for what it wants
on trade, calling for temporary customs union with EU that will facilitate the freest and most frictionless possible trading goods between both. It's
a proposal some argue proves the UK only wants to have its cake and eat it, an accusation Brexit secretary David Davis contest.
DAVID DAVIS, BREXIT SECRETARY: It's actually in their interest, too. I mean, we sell _230 billion of goods to them, goods and services to them
every year. They sell $290 billion to us.
If you are a BMW or Siemens in Bavaria, if you are a company in Holland or indeed you're the Port of Rotterdam, you want this to work. You want a
smooth, frictionless trading arrangement so you can sell into one of the biggest and fastest growing markets in Europe.
SOARES: The EU customs union allows goods to be free between member state, and that means that between the 27 countries, there are few checks and no
tariffs or taxes are imposed on each other's goods. So staying in for the UK, even if it's just for an interim period of two years as it is being
proposed means business can avoid higher cost of goods and less disruption.
After that, though, in post 2019, the UK would want a highly streamlined border with EU, which begs the question.
(on-camera): Why not stay in the custom unit as it is rather than call for new customs.
DAVIS: Because that takes away our right to do deals for the rest of the world, which is the big upside for United Kingdom in this.
SOARES: The proposal is already raising eyebrows in the continent with some saying it's his fantasy, but the European commission is being somewhat
more measured calling it a positive step, but reminding us of its continuing position on the matter, basically saying that frictionless trade
is not possible outside of the customs union and outside of the single market which should make for interesting talks on both side in two weeks'
Isa Soares, CNN, London.
HOLMES: Now we live in a time, of course, in which so few words and even tweets can leave the world reeling. So imagine what they could do when
transported beyond our solar system. Will NASA offers such a chance.
With a competition finishing today, that will send 160 word tweet, 21 billion kilometers away to the Voyager satellite to celebrate its 40th year
among the stars.
Next up, we'll go to Saturn to mark a fiery farewell to one of its sister satellite.
HOLMES: And finally tonight, we imagine a grand finally for one of the solar system's great explorers. The Cassini satellite left the earth's
surface 20 years ago traveling to the outer solar system where it drops the first probe on Saturn.
For 13 years, it has kept watch on the planet providing us with these stellar images. Well, now as it runs out of fuel, NASA has prepared an
extraordinary farewell trip. As Cassini goes closer to Saturn at any shift before, diving into Saturn's atmosphere five times to help us discover its
Well, during its tenure, Cassini has made 288 orbits on Saturn. After just a handful more, it will charge towards the surface of Saturn. Starting an
almost Viking-like send off which will set Cassini ablaze as it descends into the atmosphere. A move designed to avoid harming any of the Saturn's
moons that could harbor life and transforming Cassini into parts of the planet it has monitored for all these years.
And that is it for our program tonight. Remember you can listen to our podcast, see us online at Amanpour.com. Follow me on Twitter @HolmesCNN.
Thanks for watching, everyone, and goodbye for now from London.