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Taliban Pressing Incursion In Panjshir Valley; Top U.S. General Relates Pain, Anger Over Afghanistan; Death Toll Rises To At Least 50 After Storm Hits East Coast; COVID Cases Among Children Soar Across The U.S.; U.S. President's Agenda Faces Setbacks On Multiple Fronts; Senate Democrat Calls For "Pause" on Spending Bill; Afghan Uyghurs Fear Deportation Back To China; U.S. Paralympian Jessica Long Wins 29th Career Medal. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired September 05, 2021 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fighting back against the Taliban. One group in Afghanistan is refusing to surrender. We'll have a live report from Kabul.

Plus Hurricane Ida's aftermath, a look at the storm's trail of destruction and its growing toll.

Also COVID in kids, why the number of cases among children is surging in the United States and one state that is having relative success in fighting it.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.


BRUNHUBER: Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley now the focus of Taliban efforts to completely take over the country but anti-Taliban forces are fighting back. Panjshir is the only territory not under Taliban control. Fresh fighting was reported Saturday with both sides claiming successes.

CNN cannot independently verify the accuracy of those reports. And the largest currency exchange market reopened for the first time in nearly three weeks but banks are limiting withdrawals. Ben Farmer is in Kabul and is joining us by phone.

So let's start with that fighting.

What is the latest on the conflict there?

BEN FARMER, JOURNALIST: We know that there have been several days of heavy fighting in Panjshir and, as you said, both sides have said that they have had successes and victories. But all we know independently that the Taliban have penetrated into the valley as far as a hospital, which is run by an international aid charity. And it is a significant way into the valley.

So the situation of the resistance is quite -- it is difficult at the moment. They put out a statement overnight, calling on the international community and the United Nations to try to stop the onslaught and also warning that there is a humanitarian crisis because of the fighting.

BRUNHUBER: So let's turn now to life in Kabul. When you and I spoke yesterday, the money exchange market had just reopened. You've spent time speaking to people about the challenges of trying to get access to cash.

What did you find out?

FARMER: The economic situation for ordinary Afghans is very difficult. The banks are open but there are strict limits on how much you can withdraw. That limit is currently $200 a week.

And, of course, you can only withdraw money if you've got it in the bank. Lots and lots of Afghans have not been paid for a long time. The government, which has a significant payroll, hasn't paid its workers for two months. Several people we've spoken to haven't been paid for that long.

And they really are desperate. If you look around the city as well, although there are signs that normality is returning, it is not there yet. Lots and lots of shops are closed. Lots and lots of storefronts are shuttered. And the economic situation is difficult for a lot of people.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thank you so much, Ben Farmer in Kabul.

While the world waits for the Taliban to announce how it plans to govern, women activists again marched in Kabul to demand equal rights under the new regime. The demonstration was noisy but peaceful until they tried to march to the presidential palace.

That is when Taliban militants reportedly turned hostile, accosting some of the women. One protester described what happened.


SORAYA, AFGHAN WOMEN'S RIGHTS PROTESTER (through translator): Together with a group of our colleagues, we wanted to go near the former government offices for a protest.

But before we got there, the Taliban hit women with electric Tasers and they used tear gas against women. They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine and the women became bloody. There was no one to ask why.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER: America's top general says he feels pain and anger over

Afghanistan. Joint Chiefs chairman Mark Milley says it comes from seeing everything that has unfolded over the past 20 years and the last 20 days of the war.

He spoke of losing soldiers killed in action as well as about the wounded and grieving families. The general visited with troops returning from Afghanistan and praised them for their role.



GEN. MARK MILLEY, USJC CHAIRMAN: You guys did an incredible job, all of you, everybody. The Army, Navy and Marines and Air Force flying out, 124,000 people, that's what you saved. That's what came out of there.


BRUNHUBER: And we have more coverage of Afghanistan ahead this hour, including a report on the ethnic minority stuck between the Taliban and China.

Here in the U.S., the country is reeling from a devastating week of extreme weather. The death toll has climbed to at least 50 in the Northeast from Ida's record rainfall and flooding. The hardest hit state is New Jersey. The governor announced Saturday that the death toll there now stands at 27.

In Louisiana, there are still widespread power outages across the state amid the scorching heat. Long lines outside gas stations and a shortage of essential supplies, like food and water, underline the struggle many face to recover in the wake of the storm.

Nadia Romero is in New Orleans, where thousands there are trying their luck elsewhere by moving to shelters outside the city.


NADIA ROMERO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been several days now since Hurricane Ida made her way through this city and residents say it's the aftermath that is really starting to wear on them. Not having power, which means no AC, in the middle of what is a hot time in the Gulf Coast, the heat index so high, residents say it's unbearable.

Many have come outside the convention center and over here you can see there is a line of coach buses that have lined up to pick up people, up to 2,200 evacuees a day, through the city of New Orleans.

They get picked up from 12 different locations, they come to the convention center, go through a registration process, get on a coach bus and they take them out of the city to northern Louisiana, like Shreveport or to Texas.

Listen to why one woman says she had to evacuate now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMERO: What are you missing in home right now that's making it unlivable?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it smell bad in there. You know, it's setting up mold. Yes.

ROMERO: Is it hot?

Do you have any food?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ain't got no food. It's spoiled, my food is spoiled. I don't have no food. I had to throw it out. And it's rough. And there's -- then we getting so much of heat.


ROMERO: So the city says they went to assisted living facilities and nursing homes to try to reach out to special needs cases, to make sure they were OK; if not, to get them loaded on a bus and to safety.

They'll have the convention center open for the next couple of days to take more people who are in need -- Nadia Romero, CNN, New Orleans.


BRUNHUBER: Louisiana is ordering seven nursing homes, that evacuated residents to a warehouse ahead of Hurricane Ida, to close immediately pending further action. The state's health department has confirmed seven deaths among hundreds who were moved.

Five of those deaths are being classified as storm-related. Officials say the temporary shelter was simply overwhelmed, resulting in power and sanitation failures. CNN has reached out to the owner of the nursing home facilities but hasn't heard back. The state attorney general is launching an investigation.

The White House says President Joe Biden will travel to New Jersey and New York on Tuesday to survey some of the storm's damage. Polo Sandoval is in Pennsylvania, getting a firsthand look at recovery efforts there.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If you wonder where most of the water that was flooding neighborhoods, you are basically looking at it here.

You can see Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have worked around the clock to pump that water out of the roads and into the Schuylkill River here, actually reaching two feet above major flood stage a couple of days ago.

We have seen the water level here drop considerably and that signals the end of one phase and perhaps a start of another, which will be clearing out all the debris that was left behind.

Give you an idea of what this river carried into the city here, usually you'd see people walking out and about but now you see the river sediment, trunks and other debris. Now the question is when and how will the city of Philadelphia will be able to clear spaces like this out.

Really, there are bigger concerns in neighboring New Jersey, which is where we saw at least half of the total fatalities.

And I heard people there in the Garden State the last couple of days, yes, many families are grieving and also many families lost their homes all together. So the question of when they'll be able to pick up the pieces and move on, that's still up in the air.

They will want to hear from President Biden as he makes the time to visit early next week.


SANDOVAL: And certainly there will be a big spotlight on him as millions of Americans are waiting to see what will happen next -- Polo Sandoval, CNN, Philadelphia.


BRUNHUBER: From strong storms and unprecedented flooding in the East to extreme heat, historic droughts and out of control fires in the West, this has been another year of extreme weather in the U.S. and around the world. And experts say they know what is to blame: climate change. CNN's Natasha Chen reports.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From coast to coast, people are fleeing flames, wind and water.

DAVE LAUCHNER, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: They are very dangerous conditions. In 22 years of doing this, I've never seen fire conditions like we're seeing now.

CHEN (voice-over): The Caldor Fire has forced tens of thousands of people in the South Lake Tahoe area to evacuate. It's the 15th largest wildfire in California history. And out of the largest 20 California fires, 11 of them happened in the last five years. Up the coast, the Pacific northwest saw a record-breaking heat wave earlier in the summer.

DALE KUNCE, AMERICAN RED CROSS: The Red Cross traditionally doesn't support cooling centers but this is unfortunately our new normal. This is the first time it was 116 degrees. It won't be the last time.

CHEN (voice-over): In the South, people are displaced from Hurricane Ida, which arrived on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And in the Northeast --

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: We are in a whole new world now. Let's be blunt about it.

CHEN (voice-over): The remnants of Ida brought flash flooding and tornados to areas that rarely saw these events in the past.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D-NY): The records that were broken in Central Park, for example, 3.15 inches in one hour. It broke a record literally set one week earlier. That says to me that there are more cataclysmic unforeseeable events.

CHEN (voice-over): In August, the United Nations' intergovernmental panel on climate change said it is, quote, "unequivocal that humans have caused the climate crisis." The report confirms that widespread and rapid changes have already happened. Some of them irreversibly. A lead author of that report, Kim Cobb, explains how the earth has warmed more than 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial levels.

KIM COBB, DIRECTOR, GEORGIA TECH GLOBAL CHANGE PROGRAM: We've, of course, known for decades that rise in fossil fuel emissions are driving warming across the planet. This warming is related to the heating of the atmosphere that has caused a 7 percent increase in the amount of water vapor that the atmosphere can hold.

CHEN (voice-over): More water vapor leads to higher humidity, in some areas, more drought.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've had drought cycles but this is the first time we've ever seen a megadrought, where it's year after year.

CHEN (voice-over): And in other areas, a potential for more rainfall and more frequent heavy rainstorms, with oceans retaining more heat, hurricanes can get stronger, slower and wetter and Ida was a prime example of those changes.

With every fraction of a degree of warming, the effects get worse.

COBB: If we think this is bad, we have to get ready for the climate of the next decades, when we know we have a couple tenths of a degree warming more.

CHEN (voice-over): In the U.N. report's most optimistic scenario, the world's emissions need to drop sharply, beginning now to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Even then, we'll peak above a dangerous warming threshold before falling again.

CHEN: I grew up here in California and in the '80s and '90s. We didn't hear of as many large wildfires as we do today. In looking at the list of the largest and most destructive wildfires in California history, most of them did happen in the last 10 to 20 years.

So the effects of climate change aren't something that just future generations have to handle; it is unfolding right now in our lifetimes -- back to you.


BRUNHUBER: Still ahead, as COVID continues surging across the U.S., more and more kids are bearing the brunt of new cases. We'll have a look at the latest numbers.

Plus with the fall of Afghanistan and a weak than expected jobs report, it has been a bad week for Joe Biden. We'll talk to an expert about what he needs to do to turn things around.





BRUNHUBER: COVID cases among children are soaring across the U.S. Here is a closer look at the numbers from the American Pediatric Association. Nearly 4.8 million U.S. children have tested positive since the pandemic started.

But in the last 1.5 months, weekly cases among children have increased fivefold, from nearly 38,000 in mid-July to more than 200,000 at the end of August.


BRUNHUBER: Dr. Eric Topol is a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research.

Thanks for joining me. I want to look at the big picture across the country in terms of COVID and kids. Last week, close to one in four cases were among kids and pediatric hospitalizations among kids and teens are soaring.

What is behind this?

Is it that the Delta variant causes worse symptoms in teens and kids?

Or is it that the variant is so much more transmissible and more young people getting it?


I think that there is something that we have to reckon with because, at first, we thought Delta was just about this contagiousness. But now we've seen two very large studies of adults, that there is a doubling of hospitalization.

In fact, Denmark, yesterday, almost a tripling of hospitalization. So there is no reason that that wouldn't transfer to children as well. So we think this is a version of the virus that is more virulent, that is it is not just contagious but also leads to more hospitalizations among children.

BRUNHUBER: COVID cases in kids in Los Angeles, I noticed, were up quite a bit. But California has been faring relatively well compared to much of the country. Why is that?

TOPOL: It is always hard to dissect what are the reasons because there are so many different factors. California is somewhat above average.


TOPOL: As you know, there is a new CDC report that really shows that, the more adults vaccinated, the better the children do below the age of 12. So California is in that second tier, not in the top vaccinated states but in the second tier. So that is one reason.

Another reason, of course, is, in California, there is a mandate for all teachers to be vaccinated. And that was the first state do that.

And then there are unpredictable factors. San Francisco is a city -- one of the cities with the highest vaccination rates in the country. But as you say, it is all throughout the state that it looks relatively well. So we never can explain these things fully.

Look at Oregon, Oregon has a much higher vaccination rate but it has had a lot of trouble with kids and adults being hospitalized. So always a bit of a mystery.

BRUNHUBER: You touched on the vaccination mandates for teachers. So I'm wondering, with kids in many places, who have been in school for a month or so, what are we learning about whether mask mandates and vaccine mandates, whether they work or not?

Is there much proof?

TOPOL: I think that the proof for the benefit of masks is unequivocal and we need to stop denying that. It's an inconvenient truth, of course, but all the studies on masks converge on that being the finding, it is protective.

And again, if children are wearing a mask and if they get COVID, they get less of a dose of COVID so symptoms will be much less, much less likely to transmit to other children.

So the masks and vaccines obviously help quite a bit. We need to get more adolescents advantage vaccinated because they network a lot, they are important conduits for other kids. So these are the things that we can do.

BRUNHUBER: But masks in schools, as you know, a very heated topic and many schools don't have those mandates. So many parents are nervous, understandably. And we saw a recent survey by the National Parent- Teacher Association, a survey funded by the CDC, I understand, found that more and more parents these days want their kids to have online option.

And that number has increased recently. But many schools, they aren't offering it anymore.

Are we going to have to change the way that schools are run going forward to account for endemic COVID or maybe for the next mutation?

TOPOL: That is a really important point you are getting at, which is how can you force schools to go open when you have such high circulating levels as we've seen with the kids in Kentucky and Georgia and many of the Southern states now?

So it is not a problem, when you have things in check, like in New England, for example, which is the best region of the country that has been vaccinated.

But when you have so much virus, pulling out all the stops may not be enough. So we'll get through this Delta wave in the weeks ahead, we're just starting to turn the corner. And when we get down to lower levels, then we can get back to opening the schools, hopefully getting more embracement of masks and getting vaccinations.

And eventually, of course, we'll get kids being able to be vaccinated later this year, I hope, and that will help matters, too.

BRUNHUBER: Dr. Eric Topol, Really appreciate it. Thank you so much for joining us.

TOPOL: Thank you, Kim.


BRUNHUBER: U.S. health officials are keeping an eye on a new COVID strain. The World Health Organization has flagged the Mu variant as a variant of interest. And a global database says Mu has been detected in all but two U.S. states. But officials don't believe it is an immediate threat.

CDC numbers show that the Mu variant counts for less than half of 1 percent of cases and the Delta variant accounts for just over 99 percent.

Safe to say it has been a bad week for the U.S. President.

With mixed messages about vaccine boosters, sinking approval ratings and a messy pullout from Afghanistan, can Joe Biden rebound?

We have an expert on U.S. politics next.

Plus many Afghan fear their new Taliban rulers and one group is especially worried. Uyghurs fear their sanctuary in Afghanistan is no longer safe. We'll be live in Hong Kong.





BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

President Biden is facing setbacks for his agenda on multiple fronts. The president spoke several times this week, defending the pullout from Afghanistan. The terror attack on Kabul's airport during the evacuations killed 13 American service members and at least 170 others.

Meanwhile the Biden administration has been trying to clear up confusion and mixed messaging on getting COVID-19 booster vaccines to the American people.

And the economy isn't recovering from the pandemic as fast as analysts hoped. Only 235,000 jobs were created in August, the lowest number in more than six months. Economists expected more than three times that amount.

Finally in Congress, U.S. Senate Democrat Joe Manchin is threatening to derail a key pillar of the president's legislative agenda, the $3.5 trillion stimulus package. Here is how CNN's Phil Mattingly described it and how the White House is responding.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House has a lot of work to do. White House officials openly acknowledge that. They believe that they can get control of what has happened over the course of the last several weeks.

However, there are still Americans on the ground in Afghanistan. That is something the White House needs to continue to work on. There is obviously still a surge in the pandemic, that is something that we are going to hear the president, I'm told, talk about a lot in the coming days, trying to restore a sense of confidence in the U.S. approach to that.

And then there is the economy, which is quite intertwined with that pandemic and how it ends up.

Again, no shortage of issues for the White House to deal with. A number of issues that run headlong into what the president pledged he would bring to office. White House officials confident that they can get the country back to the place they thought they were a few months ago and perhaps much further than they thought they could be, depending on that legislative agenda.

But a lot of work ahead and certainly officials acknowledge that they are happy to get the month of August behind them.



BRUNHUBER: In the midst of these challenges, Biden's public approval rating is taking a hit. Just 43 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing. More than half, about 51 percent, say that they disapprove, that is according to a new poll from NPR, Marist and PBS NewsHour.


BRUNHUBER: Let's bring in Thomas Gift, an associate professor of political science at University College London and he is the director of the Centre on U.S. Politics, joining me from Oxford, England.

Great to see you again. So we're framing this as Biden's bad week. But really many of these issues have been brewing for quite some time now. So let's start with Afghanistan.

Polls show most Americans support the idea of withdrawing U.S. forces but, increasingly, voters are critical of how Biden handled it, understandably. And it has been a huge drop from July until now, more than 20 points, I think.

Will that stick?


Clearly the last few weeks, especially with Afghanistan, have been a jolt to the Biden administration. That is undeniable. Approval ratings for the White House have dipped in to negative territory according to some polls.

Republicans are using the images coming out of Kabul to reinforce this narrative of an unreliable commander in chief. Even Democratic allies have questioned how Biden's recent decisions square with a leader, who promised to be a steady hand and to restore American trust.

So this is really Biden's first true foreign policy test and it is not a trivial one. I think what will ultimately determine whether this sticks, whether this is just a down political period for Biden or the beginning of a more protracted loss of political capital, is how well the administration can flip the script.

We're already seeing the White House communications office try to pivot back to domestic issues. But even here there is no safe harbor, given the depressing data that we see on COVID-19, disappointing job numbers, Manchin's strategic pause on the reconciliation bill, et cetera. So to the extent presidents are granted even a modicum of a honeymoon period anymore, we're well past that with Biden.

BRUNHUBER: So let's drill in on the economy. Between the high gas prices, rising inflation and now the disappointing job numbers, if the midterms come down to it, is the economy, stupid, then Democrats might be in trouble.

GIFT: Exactly. The jobs report really shows that the Delta variant is continuing to have a depressing effect on the labor market and the economy generally. So the number of jobs that were created in August, just over 200,000, that is the smallest figure since beginning of the year.

All in all, the United States is down about 5 million jobs across the country since before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. So the destiny of the U.S. economy is really tied to the ability of the Biden administration to get this COVID under control, especially heading into the fall.

Definitely not the news that Biden was hoping for as he grapples with all of these other challenges. Outside of infrastructure, the number of fiscal levers that remain at Biden's disposal are limited.

And when we're likely to see the Federal Reserve continue to keep interest rates low, that, too, is going to raise alarm bells about inflationary pressures. So between now and the midterms in 2022, I think that lot of what American voters will be looking at is the state of the U.S. economy.

BRUNHUBER: And for Biden, even what was good news is turning sour. You look at his handling of the COVID issue, it used to be considered his strength. But then with the resurgence of the Delta variant and the muddled messaging on boosters, polls suggest a growing number of voters seem to be losing confidence in his handling of that as well.

And then leaving maybe the worst for last, Biden's agenda again may be at stake. Joe Manchin calling for a strategic pause on the $3.5 trillion social spending plan, making what was already a tough and complex negotiation even tougher, which could jeopardize Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill.

GIFT: Exactly. I mean, Manchin's euphemism of a strategic pause is not good news for the Democrats. I still think it is possible to overstate how much some of these recent events, especially in Afghanistan, will filter into domestic policy. And I don't think that we can make a blanket statement about what the impact will be.

It is very case specific. It still seems more likely than not that the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, that has already passed the Senate, will become law, which will only require Democrats vote along party lines in the House.

But this additional $3.5 trillion spending proposal, which was already a tough sell for the White House in ideal circumstances, will probably be made harder, given Biden's dipping numbers.

That is a bill that is jam-packed with progressive wish list items, including clean energy, family leave, housing, pre-K schooling, et cetera. Some Democrats, especially in moderate states, were going to be reluctant to vote for that anyway.

But the diminished political stature of the White House might give those lawmakers even more pause about toeing the party line.


BRUNHUBER: And so let's put a bow on it. The recurring theme here seems to be that decrease in the confidence in Biden, who basically ran on the idea of competence, that is being questioned more than ever before.

His overall approval polls, the lowest in his presidency so far. The polls have moved a lot down, as it turns out, fairly quickly here.

So does it mean that they are volatile and can go back up just as quickly?

GIFT: I think so. But if Democrats receive a shellacking in 2022, much like the Republican wave during Obama's first term in 2010, we might look to this last month as an inflection point.

We know that the party in the White House is usually at a political disadvantage during the midterms anyway, which means that Democrats are already fighting an uphill battle to retain Congress.

Obviously, some forecasters are saying that the botched Afghanistan withdrawal will still be hanging around the necks of Democrats in 14 months. Others insist that the really devastating images that we're seeing out of there will have receded by that time.

My own sense is that this is not a failed blow for Democrats and Biden, unless they let it be. Data show that remarkably large portions of Americans aren't paying attention to some of the issues in Afghanistan. They are much more focused on what happens at home.

So whether this is just a blip or whether this is much more sustained will ultimately be determined, I think, by what unfolds over the next several months, particularly with the economy.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely, and COVID as well. Thomas Gift, again, thank you so much, appreciate your tile.

GIFT: Thanks, Kim.


BRUNHUBER: Ethnic Muslims who fled to Afghanistan from China years ago now fear the new Taliban rulers may force them to return to China. That story ahead.





BRUNHUBER: The Taliban takeover has alarmed many Afghans, who fear their harsh Islamic policies, among them Uyghurs who relocated to Afghanistan from China years ago, now many are terrified that the Taliban will deport them back to China.

Ivan Watson is joining us from Hong Kong.

You've been looking into this story.

What more can you tell us? IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are a number of different communities in Afghanistan that are concerned for the future. And they can vary, based on ethnicity, religion, gender or what kind of a role somebody may have played in the past regime, whether they were a journalist or a member of the government or a human rights activist.

Take a look. For example, Saturday there was a women's rights protest in downtown Kabul. And that attracted the attention of the Taliban and apparently led to violence and a crackdown on several dozen women, who tried to come out to assert their freedoms. Take a listen to what one of them had to say afterwards.


SORAYA, AFGHAN WOMEN'S RIGHTS PROTESTER (through translator): Together with a group of our colleagues, we wanted to go near the former government offices for a protest.

But before we got there, the Taliban hit women with electric Tasers and they used tear gas against women. They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine and the women became bloody. There was no one to ask why.


WATSON: Now a Taliban official has since said that the women who were in that protest were trying to stir up trouble and insisted that they only represented 0.1 percent of the population in Afghanistan.

There is, as you mentioned, Kim, another community, a quite small minority of ethnic Uyghurs from neighboring China, who have expressed real concern that they could be caught in between the Taliban and China in the coming months.


WATSON (voice-over): During the final frantic days of the evacuation from Kabul airport, a woman films desperate families, waiting under the sun for a seat on a plane out of Afghanistan.

"Look at these poor people," she says. "This is a difficult, sad situation, very painful."

She is speaking a language that is foreign to Afghanistan, Uyghur. She is a member of the ethnic Uyghur minority from neighboring China, who moved to Afghanistan more than a decade ago after marrying an Afghan.

On August 25th, the woman's family made it onto this military flight to Italy, where she speaks to CNN from quarantine on condition we don't identify her. She fears the Taliban could hurt her in-laws still in Afghanistan and that the Chinese government could target her other relatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Right now China is trying to capture and send back, all of the Uyghurs from abroad. Uyghurs are facing genocide. If I go back to China, the Chinese will torture and kill me.

WATSON (voice-over): Uyghur exiles from China are among the many communities in Afghanistan terrified by the Taliban takeover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a representative of Uyghurs in Afghan.

WATSON (voice-over): Abdul Aziz Naseri was born in Afghanistan after parents fled China's cultural revolution in 1976.

WATSON: What scenario are you worried about?

ABDUL AZIZ NASERI, AFGHAN UYGHUR: There is a lot of the families in Afghanistan, Uyghur families living in Afghanistan, and they are afraid from China because the Taliban was dealing with China behind the door. And they are afraid to send them back to China.

WATSON (voice-over): Since 2016, China allegedly detained up to 2 million Uyghurs and other Muslims in internment camps as part of what it calls a campaign against Islamic extremism in Xinjiang. Yet Beijing has been courting the Taliban. China's top diplomat held talks with a Taliban delegation in late July. And this week a Taliban spokesman called for closer ties with Beijing.

ZABIULLAH MUJAHID, TALIBAN SPOKESPERSON (through translator): We look forward to building a very strong relationship with China because it is a rapidly developing country which can support Afghanistan.

WATSON (voice-over): CNN obtained testimony of more than a dozen Uyghurs, detailing alleged detention and deportation from other Middle Eastern countries back to China.

Asked about this recent report, which alleges the forced repatriation of over 851 Uyghurs from 23 countries, from 1997 and 2016.


WATSON (voice-over): China's foreign ministry told CNN the report was published by an "anti-China separatist organization and not worth a response."

That is cold comfort for this Uyghur family in northern Afghanistan, who don't want to be identified.

"We face oppression here in Afghanistan," says this Uyghur woman. "And we're afraid to go back after hearing about the oppression in our homeland."

Uyghur exiles caught between a rock and a hard place, like millions of others in Afghanistan, now facing a very uncertain future.


WATSON: For its part the Taliban has issued a general amnesty, they say, for all Afghans, who may have had roles in the former U.S.-backed government, saying that they are all welcome to participate in building a future Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. But there is clearly a fair amount of suspicion and mistrust. All you

have to do is look at the crowds of people, who desperately packed around Kabul airport in the last days of the U.S. evacuation and, more recently, throngs of people, trying to getting across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which triggered a stampede and left at least one person dead. That was just a few days ago.

BRUNHUBER: An important angle in this evolving story, one to follow. Thank you so much, Ivan Watson in Hong Kong.

The Paralympics are coming to a close in Tokyo. Dozens of world records were broken and U.S. swimmer Jessica Long showed her dominance again.

So what keeps her striving for more?


JESSICA LONG, U.S. PARALYMPIC SWIMMER: What has really motivated me is going back to that little 12-year-old girl who never gave up. Even when days get tough and I've definitely had a lot of tough days, even with the postponement, just going back to her, how she would never give up, so why am I going to give up?






BRUNHUBER: The closing ceremony for the Paralympics is just hours away. Athletes from around the world broke dozens of records. China is dominating the medal count with 96 golds and 207 total medals.

Great Britain is a distant second, with 41 golds and 124 total medals, followed by the United States and the Russian Paralympic committee.

One of those is American Jessica Long. She won six medals, giving her 29 career medals. And she spoke with Selina Wang about her remarkable career.



SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jessica, you're now a 29- time Paralympic medalist. You're going home with a full set of medals from Tokyo.

How are you going to reflect on your experience here?

LONG (voice-over): I don't think it has really hit me yet. I like the sound of 29 Paralympic medals. That sounds so insane to me.

Just thinking about this journey that I've been on since I was 12 years old and finding out about the Paralympic movement.

WANG (voice-over): You were just 12 at your first Paralympic games, the youngest on the U.S. Paralympic team.

What has kept your drive and motivation after all these years?

LONG (voice-over): What has really motivated me is going back to that little 12-year-old girl who never gave up. Even when days get tough and I've definitely had a lot of tough days, even with the postponement, just going back to her, how she would never give up, so why am I going to give up?

WANG (voice-over): You were born in Russia with a rare health condition. How did that impact your childhood?

LONG (voice-over): I was born with something called fibular hemimelia. I had a foot with three toes that, after I was adopted at 13 months, they had to amputate it at 18 months old so I could wear prosthetic legs.

There are some parts of my childhood I don't remember because they were so incredibly painful. We're talking about got the right leg done, we go back and do the left leg.

And then as soon as I got the left leg done and I started to learn how to walk again, it was back into the right leg. It was a constant -- it was constantly overcoming. I think in some crazy way, I just thought it was somewhat of a punishment, right?

I was adopted. It's very real to feel abandoned. And even though I was in such a loving family, I was adopted into a family with a total of six kids -- you still kind of feel like, what did I do wrong?

Everyone had legs. No one else in my family had to get surgery. It was survival and it really set the tone to never give up.

WANG (voice-over): How did that constant barrage of obstacles, how does that fuel your swimming today?

LONG (voice-over): As an amputee, I'm still in pain every day. My legs hurt. Me, I just think that's kind of something that comes along with being an amputee. So it's so funny to me that I picked a sport, where single every day, I'm going to be challenged, like so challenged and in pain and feeling the burn in my shoulders.

But at the same time I think to me it's such a comfort. I -- just that pushing through to know that, no matter what I go through, I can overcome it.

WANG (voice-over): You've talked about being just exhausted after the Rio Olympics.

What happened there and how did you bounce back? LONG (voice-over): I was totally burned out. I had two shoulder injuries. I had a really bad eating disorder. I'd never really dealt with that before. And I had lost about 20 pounds. I was really sick, I was really weak, mentally, physically, emotionally.

It was something that I felt like I had to get through it but it felt so incredibly challenging. And when I got back, it was the first time that I truly felt depressed, sad. And I didn't like the word depressed. Back then it felt like such a bad word.

We talk a lot about the post-Olympic blues. But after six months, I was still feeling down and just like a failure, I knew I needed some help.

WANG (voice-over): A key conversation at the Tokyo Olympics was athlete mental health. You had Simone Biles talking about the pressures elite athletes face.

How did you relate to that?

LONG (voice-over): After Rio, I started seeing a counselor, a therapist, and just talking about my mental health. Coming into these games I felt more prepared than ever. But at the same time still having a hard time.

Mental health is such a journey. It doesn't change overnight. I know that when I get home, there's going to be a lot of processing and not being too hard on myself. I think coming here, I realized for the first time just truly how loved I am as a person and that, no matter my outcome, I was going home to a husband who loves me, a family who loves me.


LONG (voice-over): And that was enough. That was just as worthy or just as successful as a gold medal, to me.

WANG (voice-over): So the 29 medals are incredible but you realize you are more than just those 29 medals, as incredible as it is.

LONG (voice-over): I'll look at them. I'll celebrate. I will let people wear them, hold them because everyone has been a part of this journey with me. After I celebrate, I will probably put them in my medal basket, in my closet and get ready for Paris.


BRUNHUBER: That was Jessica Long there, speaking with Selina Wang.

And finally, the oldest Scotch whisky in the world is set to go to auction and you'd better have your wallets ready. This is an 80-year- old Scotch whisky, housed in a jewel-like decanter. It is expected to sell for between $110,000 to $221,000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is about judging the moment when the whisky is absolutely right, it is just drinking it at its peak. And it was deemed, having studied it obviously, the evolution up to now, that now was the moment.

The strength was great, are flavors are incredible, it has a beautiful balance. But still showing the original character. So this was the very moment.


BRUNHUBER: And the precious decanter is going to auction. It's the first of 250 to be bottled from one cask at a distillery in Scotland.

That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back in just a few moments with more news.