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Taliban Control Half of Afghanistan Provincial Capitals; Canada to Require Vaccines for Air, Rail and Marine Travel; Evia, Greece, Residents Coping with Devastation. Aired 1-1:30a ET

Aired August 14, 2021 - 01:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. Appreciate your company. I'm Michael Holmes.

Coming up on the program, city after city fall to the Taliban's lightning advance, we're on the ground in Afghanistan with an exclusive look where former U.S. bases are now in enemy hands.

And massive wildfires are burning through Siberia on a scale hard to comprehend, bigger than in the fires in North America and Europe combined.


HOLMES: Welcome, everyone.

Increasing fear gripping Afghanistan's capital at this hour, as Taliban forces continue their relentless and largely unimpeded advance. Major city after major city has fallen to the militant group, the Taliban now controlling half the provincial capitals, all taken within the past week.

The country's second largest city, Kandahar, among the latest to be captured. Many observers see that as the beginning of the end for the country's U.S.-backed government.

Now there are fears Kabul is being surrounded and could soon fall. Two signs of the concern about that, U.S. embassies' staffing told to destroy sensitive materials and numerous countries making preparations to evacuate their diplomatic staffs.

As the Taliban swiftly gain ground, hundreds of thousands of Afghans are desperately searching for safety. The United Nations says nearly 400,000 Afghans have fled their homes because of the surging violence.

Officials say nearly a quarter of 1 million people have been recently displaced since May alone, an overwhelming number of them women and children. The U.N. secretary general says humanitarian needs are growing by the hour.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: Even a country that has tragically known generations of conflict, Afghanistan is in the throes of yet another chaotic and desperate chapter, an incredible tragedy for its long-suffering people. Afghanistan is spinning out of control.


HOLMES: The Taliban making full use of American military equipment seized from Afghan forces or that withdrawing American troops simply left behind and they are eager to show off their spoils of war.

They granted our Clarissa Ward exclusive access to a former U.S. base that they now hold. And it's raising disturbing questions about what's America achieved in 20 years of conflict.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what remains of the U.S. presence in much of Afghanistan, the hollowed-out skeletons of sprawling military bases now under the control of the Taliban.

Once there were hundreds of U.S. and NATO troops at FOB Andar in Ghazni Province. The last Americans left a couple years ago but their memories still lurk, ghostlike.

WARD: It's just so strange to see this, you know.

WARD (voice-over): The Taliban granted access to CNN, along with award-winning Afghan filmmaker, Najibullah Quraishi, keen to show off the spoils of war.

WARD: So, we're just arriving at another U.S. base. And already I can see a large number of military vehicles over there.

WARD (voice-over): According to the Taliban, Afghan forces here surrendered three weeks ago when their food ran out, leaving weapons and ammunition and more.

WARD: When the Americans were here, were you and your men attacking this base a lot?

MUHAMMED ARIF MUSTAFA, TALIBAN COMMANDER (through translator): Yes, many times we attacked this base when America was here. We did operations. We were using IEDs.

The Americans had their helicopters, weapons and tanks on the ground. We Mujahideen resisted very well.

WARD (voice-over): Now they roam through what's left of the tactical operation center. Anything of value will be stripped down and sold.

WARD: Walking through what's left of these American bases, you have to ask yourself, what was it all for? WARD (voice-over): America's great experiment with nation building now vanished into dust.

MUSTAFA (through translator): It's our belief that, one day, Mujahideen will have victory and Islamic law will come not to just Afghanistan but all over the world. We are not in a hurry. We believe it will come one day. Jihad will not end until the last day.

WARD (voice-over): It's a chilling admission from a group that claims it wants peace, despite continuing a bloody offensive.


WARD (voice-over): Since the U.S. began its withdrawal in May, the militants have advanced across the country at an alarming rate on the backs of American pickup trucks.

On the Ghazni Highway, we pass base after base, all flying the militants' flag.

At the Andar bazaar, it is a similar sight. The days of underground insurgency are over and the Taliban is poised to reestablish the very emirate America once came to destroy.

But Taliban governor Mawlavey Kamil insists the group has changed since then.

MAWLAVEY KAMIL, TALIBAN GOVERNOR, ANDAR DISTRICT (through translator): The difference between that Taliban and this Taliban is that the Taliban of 2001 were new. And now, this Taliban has experience, disciplined. Our activities are going well; we are obeying our leaders.

WARD: A lot of people are concerned that if the Taliban takes power again, women's rights will move backwards.

How can you guarantee that women's rights will be protected?

KAMIL (through translator): We assure this to people all over the world, especially the people of Afghanistan. Islam has given rights to everyone equally. Women have their own rights. How much Islam has given rights to women, we will give them that much?

WARD (voice-over): That is clearly open for interpretation. Next to the mosque, we find a classroom of young girls. But their teacher says they will only receive religious education and will not attend regular school.

At night, I am separated from my male colleagues and sleep in the woman's part of the house with the children.

WARD: I've been talking to some of the women in this room and I promised that I wouldn't show any of their faces. But it's interesting because, you know, the Taliban talks a lot about how it's changed, and girls can go to school now.

But I asked if any of these girls will be going to school and I was told, "Absolutely not. Girls don't go to school."

And when I said why don't girls go to school, they said, "Taliban says it's bad."

WARD (voice-over): Here, what the Taliban says goes. This is now what Afghanistan's future looks like, far from what the U.S. once envisioned and what so many Afghans dreamed of, as the Taliban pushes on towards an all but certain victory -- Clarissa Ward, CNN, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.



HOLMES: Bill Roggio is a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, he is also the editor of the terrific "Long War Journal."

It's great to have you and your knowledge here, Bill. Even if the Taliban find it difficult to take Kabul militarily, it will imminently control the territory around the city, choke it off, create a siege situation.

What do you think is the trajectory of events as you're seeing it?

And is there any way for it to be stopped?

There seems to be zero incentive for them to negotiate.

BILL ROGGIO, EDITOR, "LONG WAR JOURNAL": Yes, thanks for having me on, Michael. And, yes, the situation is dire right now. Just before we got on this call, I'm receiving word that the Taliban very likely took control of three provinces outside of Kabul, including Wardak and Paktika.

So this is -- they are starting to seal the approach to Kabul. I just don't see how the Afghan military can withstand this Taliban onslaught at this point in time.

HOLMES: And it's interesting when we look at your research, the maps on the "Long War Journal," the map of Taliban control -- and we can play it now for folks. And it is just so incredible to see the speed with which it swept the country.

And people are seeing now the map turn red, which is Taliban control.

When you see what's unfolding are you in any way surprised?

Or was it entirely predictable after the West pulled out and pulled out with such speed and with no agreement in place with the Taliban?

ROGGIO: Yes, the -- I was not surprised that the Taliban launched this offensive. The Taliban had -- the west and the Afghan government have relied on diplomacy to try to resolve the situation. We keep hearing their only solution is a diplomatic solution. The Taliban disagrees. The Taliban has a military solution, and it is

implementing it right now. I have been tracking the Taliban's military operations for well over 1.5 decades. And how it fights, its tactics, its strategy. So this didn't surprise me.

The only thing that is surprising has been the last 7 days and that is the speed of the -- I'm sorry -- the last eight days. That is the speed of the Taliban taking over the provinces. They've taken over -- this makes what the Islamic State did in Iraq in 2013-2014 look like child's play.

HOLMES: Yes. You've been following their movement for 10 years, which brings me to this.


HOLMES: The speed and breadth of the advance, breathtaking. But you tweeted something which speaks to why it shouldn't have been a shock. And I want to quote part of it now for people.

You said, "U.S. military intelligence leaders are directly responsible for the biggest intelligence failure since Tet" -- meaning Vietnam -- "in 1968.

"How did the Taliban plan, organize, position and execute this massive offensive under the noses of U.S. military, CIA, et cetera?"

And it is indeed on the face of a catastrophic failure of U.S. intel to misjudge Taliban capability and intent.

What does a failure on that level along with the naivete of even thinking the Taliban would share power, what does a failure like that mean?

ROGGIO: The U.S. particularly and NATO in general has to ask some very hard questions now.

How did this happen?

If what happens in Afghanistan stayed in Afghanistan, you could trump this one off and say, well, we had a bad showing and we will walk away and better luck next time.

If the United States could be fooled by a third-rate militia like the Taliban, what happens if the U.S. actually has to come into contact with China or Russia or some other adversary, that is actually sophisticated?

If you just watched what the Taliban was doing, as I have been doing for the last decade, plus, you would know that this was coming. Even if you don't have direct intelligence on it, you should've been able to predict that this was going to happen.

HOLMES: That is a great point about what it portends if there was a different conflict with a bigger foe. Roger, great to have you on, thank you. ROGGIO: Thank you, sir, it's a pleasure.


HOLMES: A source says the Biden administration is nearing a deal with Qatar to temporarily house Afghan interpreters who helped the U.S. troops during the. War the U.S. says it brought over more than 1,200 Afghans so far who helped the Americans but many others, tens of thousands, are in limbo.

CNN's Cyril Vanier caught up with an interpreter he first met a decade ago, who now fears for his life.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): My first time in Afghanistan, 10 years ago, with U.S. Marines, deep in Taliban country.

VANIER: Every time I've been north of this position we have gotten engaged with small arms fire and mean (ph) machine guns.

VANIER (voice-over): Helmand province, one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take cover, take cover.

VANIER (voice-over): Lieutenant Hanson wants to question two suspects. His Afghan interpreters does the talking.

MAJ. JOSEPH HANSON, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS (RET.): I just want to know where they keep the (INAUDIBLE).

VANIER: Were they villagers or fighters?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, at least one of those kids is a fighter.

Would you agree?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Yes. Definitely they are. They bring weapons here, definitely they bring IED here.

VANIER (voice-over): Ten years later, I am embarrassed at how rarely our camera turned toward perhaps the key person in this exchange, the translator, Haji (ph). Nicknamed Tiger, assigned to the battalion's most difficult missions.

His life on the line just like the Marines. With the Taliban now extending their rule over large parts of the country, I got back in touch with him. We arranged a remote interview in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, his identity protected for fear of retribution.

HAJI (PH), AFGHAN INTERPRETER (from captions): If they found, they'd kill me and they'd kill my family. Because I was an interpreter with the U.S. Marines.

VANIER (voice-over): The Taliban are known to murder Afghans who helped American forces. Haji (ph) says he has been on the run for 6 years, changing houses every few weeks; his children, out of school.

VANIER: What do your children think is the risk for them?

HAJI (from captions): I told them I worked for Americans, please don't go out from the -- from home and don't tell any other children that Haji is living here and that we are living there.

VANIER (voice-over): Haji has been denied a U.S. special immigrant visa twice, despite glowing recommendations from the Marine Corps and the Army, vouching for his intricate role in disrupting enemy operations.

The denial letters citing derogatory information associated with his case. We asked the U.S. embassy in Kabul about Haji's application but a spokesperson said they do not comment on individual cases.

One possible explanation, his employment letter states, job abandonment. It does not sound like the Haji I met, so I found those who fought beside him a decade ago. More than half a dozen former and active duty Marines, including his platoon leader, then Lieutenant Hanson.

VANIER: Did Haji quit on the Marines?

HANSON: Haji would never quit on us or my men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Negative, no sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was there from the beginning, from day one. And he was there all the way until the end.

VANIER (voice-over): This is what I filmed back then, Haji in the closing days of the battalion's mission, still very much on the front line.


VANIER (voice-over): He says his unemployment was unfairly terminated by a private sector contractor after the 3rd Battalion Force Marines left the country for good. Haji's fate and that of so many others are now in the hands of the Biden administration.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our message to those women and men is clear, there is a home for you in the United States --

VANIER: The U.S. State Department did create a new path for Afghan interpreters to reach the U.S., one that's advertised as more generous. But it is going to be extremely difficult for many to apply.

Haji and his family would to have to leave Afghanistan and wait for at least a year in another country while their application is being considered with no protection, no help and no guarantee of success.

VANIER (voice-over): I asked Haji if he ever regretted his decision to side with the U.S. His answer surprised me.

HAJI (from captions): Anytime if they want me I will -- I'm ready to work for the Marines. Always. And I still tell today my Marines, if you guys come again in Afghanistan, I'll be the first interpreter.

VANIER (voice-over): The price he is paying for that brotherhood, a life in the crosshairs of unforgiving killers.

HANSON: Half of the platoon that Haji was with received Purple Hearts or were severely wounded in action or killed. And he was taking part in all those risks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's painful to me that it has come to this, that we are 20 years down this road and we still don't have a clear, simple, straightforward and easy path to protect the people that risked their lives for us and, in many cases, saved our lives.


HOLMES: Incredible report there.

It is full steam ahead on Israel's vaccination program. when we come, back we will tell you what groups there are now authorized to get a booster shot of COVID vaccine. We will be right back.




HOLMES: Welcome back.

Israel is battling back against surging COVID numbers by expanding the age group getting booster shots. They began giving a third dose to people in their 50s on Friday, as well as offering it to some medical workers, prisoners and prison staff.

This comes just 2 weeks after the decision to give extra doses to ages 60 and up. That made Israel the first country in the world to begin offering booster shots. Now Israel is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to booster shots.

Now on Friday, the U.S. CDC advisers voted to recommend a third dose for some people who are immunocompromised, like organ transplant patients or those taking immune suppressing medications.

Boosters not yet recommended for anyone in the general public. The authorization applies to Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech vaccines. The CDC says there is not enough data on the Johnson & Johnson shot just yet.

Canada has one of the highest coronavirus vaccination rates in the world but for the past 2 weeks, new cases in the country have doubled and hospitalizations are on the rise. Officials taking steps to keep the virus from spreading further. Paula Newton with the details.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: In what could prove up to be a controversial move, Canada will be one of the first countries to ban passengers from traveling by air, rail or, in some cases, on the water, if they are not fully vaccinated.

In an announcement today, Canada said it wants to incentivize those Canadians that are still on the sidelines and that it wants to make sure that it builds on the current momentum.

Canada has already a very high vaccination rate; more than 71 percent of those eligible in Canada are now fully vaccinated. And yet, the Canadian government says it is necessary to take this move. And they are taking it not just for travelers.


NEWTON: But they will also mandate in the fall that all federal employees will have to be fully vaccinated. Take a listen.


OMAR ALGHABRA, CANADIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: Canadians don't want to go back to lockdowns. Canadians don't want to go back to travel restrictions. Canadians want to go on with their lives and go back to normal as quickly as possible.

And, you know, it's not uncommon for government to play a regulatory role when it comes to protecting the overall health and safety of Canadians.


NEWTON: In terms of mandating federal workers to be vaccinated, it's an interesting move. But again, when it comes to education and health care, it's actually the Canadian provinces that will determine whether or not those employees need to be fully vaccinated.

And several provinces have said that they will not be mandating those vaccines. Canada is in the middle of a fourth wave at the moment. Cases have doubled in the last two weeks, although hospitalizations have only creeped up just a little bit.

Still the Canadian governments clearly still concerned about a fourth wave in the country and willing to try its mitigation strategy through more vaccinations -- Paula Newton, CNN, Ottawa.


HOLMES: Venezuela's government and opposition say they are trying to end the country's long political crisis. On Friday, signing an agreement to hold good faith talks. Other countries, including Norway, Russia and Netherlands will also be at the table. Venezuela has been locked in a political stalemate since the

presidential election in 2018. Socialist Nicolas Maduro declared victory but opponents say that the vote was rigged.

The U.S. and other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president since 2019.

Huge areas of Siberia are under a state of emergency as intense wildfires burn across the vast Russian province. In fact, more acreage is burning there than is burning in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the U.S. and Canada combined. Thick smoke blanketing towns and cities and reaching all the way to the North Pole.

The country's aerial forest protection service says that it does not have enough resources to battle it all. Officials are blaming the ferociousness of the wildfires on climate change.


HOLMES: After wildfires ripped through forests in Greece for more than a week, some residents are now returning home to scenes of utter devastation. Eleni Giokos spoke to one villager on the island of Evia who says his livelihood and the industry he represents are in ruins.


VANGELIS GEORGANTZIS, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF RESIN GROWERS OF EVIA (through translator): This is the only resin bog (ph) that survived.

ELENI GIOKOS, CNNMONEY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the last tree standing.


GIOKOS (voice-over): Vangelis Georgantzis has lost 9,000 resin producing trees in the wildfires in Evia.

GEORGANTZIS (through translator): We are finished. There is nothing left.

GIOKOS (voice-over): A raw material for wine and paint solvents, locally known as retsina, resin is a mainstay for the island. He says it's over for him. He will never produce resin in his lifetime again.

GIOKOS: How many people worked in the resin industry in Evia?

And how many people lost their jobs?

GEORGANTZIS (through translator): In Evia, around 1,200 to 1,500 families who work in the industry. The situation is now critical in northern Evia (ph) because of the burnt forest land. Eight hundred families will be out of a job. On top of that there were two resin factories in the area.

The forest is our income stream and it's known as resin producers. It's a value chain. GIOKOS: How important is the resin industry to Greece's production?

GEORGANTZIS (through translator): Evia produces 85 percent of Greece's resin. Right now, 70 percent of production has been wiped. Out as a, result Greece's resin production will be halved.

GIOKOS (voice-over): These trees take between 20 and 40 years to mature. Bark is stripped off and these bags collect the resin. Now this industry has been obliterated. The wildfires destroyed more than 50,000 hectares of land in northern Evia.

GIOKOS: Do you think that the forest will ever return to what it was before the fire?

GEORGANTZIS (through translator): If the government allows us, the locals, who grew up here to work and take care of the forest the way we know how, then, in 20 years, we will deliver a healthy forest. Otherwise, it could take 200 years to heal. If we are not the ones to revive it, it may never be what it was again.

GIOKOS (voice-over): A stark warning from him and the people who know the forest well -- Eleni Giokos, CNN, Evia, Greece.


HOLMES: Well, thanks for spending the part of the day with me. I am Michael Holmes, "CONNECTING AFRICA" is next. I'll see you in about 30 minutes.