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Taliban, Resistance Fighters Battle in Panjshir Valley; More Domestic Flights Resume at Kabul Airport; Recovery Efforts Underway in Hard-hit New York; Military Seizes Power in Apparent Coup in Guinea; U.S. Plans to Roll Out Booster Program in Coming Weeks. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired September 06, 2021 - 01:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, welcome to all of our viewers around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow live in Atlanta, you're watching CNN.

Just ahead, flights resumed from Kabul's airport as you can see here. That's one step towards us, a return to normal, allowing much needed aid to arrive. And celebrations in the streets in Guinea as the country's long serving president was ousted in an apparent coup and the Paralympics come to a close, while Japan still struggles with a pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center. This is CNN Newsroom with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: The Taliban are pushing ahead with their offensive in northern Afghanistan and their quest to take control of the last holdout for resistance fighters. On Sunday, fierce fighting was reported in the Panjshir valley with both sides claiming to have made gains.

Now, the leader of the National Resistance Front says he supports calls for an end to the fighting and is ready to talk once the Taliban withdraw their fighters.

Meanwhile, a vital lifeline for Afghanistan has reopened. The Kabul airport is now seeing more domestic flights resumed. And on Sunday, eight plates brought in more than 50 tons of medical supplies and food. And while the Taliban have taken a key step in reopening the airport, they still haven't announced what the new government will look like. Nic Robertson has the details on that. Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The Taliban is still yet to announce who's going to be in their government. They said it would be inclusive include non-Taliban members, Pakistan's head of the intelligence services, the ISI went to Kabul Saturday, met with the Taliban. Pakistani sources now telling us the Taliban's Supreme Leader, the one that they call their Commander of the Faithful, Hibatullah Akhundzada, he is going to remain as the top leader of the Taliban. There's a dispute over who could be defense minister, there's a contest between some pretty powerful military commanders within the Taliban on that. But what they have said, what their source says is that the Taliban will not put anyone in that government who is under UN sanctions for connection to terrorism. But this is really a very slow process. I think everyone had expected it to happen much sooner. The indications are that whomever this non-Taliban person is against including is likely to be a relatively low-profile politician, and may in fact, not get a position of real power and influence within the Taliban government. And we also understand, don't expect any women to be in that government in significant senior positions.

Now, women have been protesting on the streets of Kabul, third protests Saturday and elsewhere in the country as well. That small protest by a small group of women in Kabul came to blows when the Taliban tried to break it up. They're trying to get to the presidential palace, according to a local news station, one of the women got blooded and the women of the protest said that the Taliban were using tear gas and tasers on them to break up the protests. The Taliban also now announcing strict dress codes for women in higher education, blacker bias, and women to be separated from men, separate classrooms in so really tiny classes and to arrive at separate times. So, the Taliban really going forward with their strict interpretation of Shariah Law.

CURNOW: It's in there in Pakistan. While Anna Coren has covered Afghanistan for many, many years. Anna joins me now with the latest. Anna, hi, what do we know about the airport reopening and what the meaning of that is, the significance?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Robin, as we know, this is a vital link to the outside world and the domestic carrier, Ariana Afghan Airlines has resumed flights within Afghanistan to the major provincial cities of Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.

Now, this means that they can move around your people supplies, you know, amongst this landlocked country, and that is definitely, you know, a return to some sort of semblance of normality in the country. At least, you know, as far as travel or air travel is concerned, but we know that a technical team from Qatar arrived, they helped with the repairs to the airport runway, which was damaged during the mass evacuations where more than 120,000 people were airlifted out of Afghanistan, out of Kabul within that 16 days, you know, people came into the airport afterwards. There was damage that looting. So, repairs to that runway have been completed to a standard where now foreign aid, international flights can land with foreign aid and that is what we have been seeing over the last couple of days.


This is we know, Robyn, desperately needed due to the humanitarian crisis that is facing Afghanistan. The question now is when will those evacuation flights resumed. We know that the U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was in Qatar, the last few days, he met with the Taliban leadership to discuss this exact issue. And he believes that those evacuation flights will resume in the future, near future. The Taliban has said that people with U.S. passports, with visas to other countries will be allowed to travel but international flights out of the country have not taken place as yet. Robyn.

CURNOW: OK, we'll continue to monitor that. And let's just talk more about the economic situation, Anna, we certainly are getting warnings that it is dire. We know that many of the banks are close. People have a limit on how much money they can take out. What is it like on the ground in terms of what folks are having to deal with?

COREN: It's dire on the ground. We've seen those scenes outside banks where people have queued for days, they open them sporadically, people are only allowed out a certain amount of money limited to perhaps like 100 U.S. dollars. We also know that the currency, the Afghani has plummeted that the price of basic goods, rice, oil, flour have risen. So, you know, it's all becoming just way too expensive in this very impoverished country. According to the United Nations, you know, a third of the population is struggling to survive. Half of the population is malnourished. This is a country that is going through a very severe drought. And in the coming months, winter is arriving.

The head of the U.N. relief agency has been in Kabul is there. He was tweeting, sent out a press release saying that we want to continue to offer assistance to the Afghan people. We will cooperate with the Taliban leadership, the Taliban, obviously very grateful for that to ensure that that aid continues to come in.

But Robyn, we have to remember that former Afghan governments have been propped up by foreign aid, something like, you know, 60% of the money coming in has been foreign aid. The Taliban will need this foreign aid. Unless it resorts to the heroin trade, the methamphetamine trade, you know, then aquatics in trade to prop up a government. But if you're going to do business with the West, if you're going to have some sort of legitimacy, you are going to need the international community to play ball. And Robyn, as we know, this is perhaps the only leverage that the United States and the national community have with in dealing with the Taliban.

CURNOW: Certainly is, Anna Coren, good to speak to you. Thanks so much for that update. So nearly a week after President Joe Biden declared the end to America's longest war, there are concerns about just how many Americans are still trying to get out of Afghanistan. One Republican lawmaker now claims the Taliban are preventing some U.S. citizens from flying out. Suzanne Malveaux has the details from Washington on that. Suzanne.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alarmist language, a dire warning from a top Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. He is the top Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee saying that American citizens are on the ground being held by the Taliban that they are not able to get on these flights, that they are in a desperate situation, saying he's getting this information from classified briefings, and he is describing it as something that is similar to a near hostage situation.

MICHAEL MCCAUL, U.S. HOUSE REPUBLICAN: We have six airplanes at Mazar- i-Sharif airport, six airplanes with American citizens on them as I speak. Also with these interpreters, and the Taliban is holding them hostage for demands. Right now, they -- we have -- the state has cleared these flights and the Taliban will not let them leave the airport.

MALVEAUX: Because of the specific nature of McCaul's claims, CNN has reached out to various government agencies and entities to help amplify, clarify or even confirm what he is saying here. And while the State Department says it cannot confirm the details, the specifics of this situation they put out a statement here saying we understand the concern that many people are feeling as they try to facilitate further charter and other passage out of Afghanistan. However, we do not have personnel on the ground, we do not have air assets in the country. We do not control the airspace, whether over Afghanistan or elsewhere in the region. Given these constraints, we also do not have a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights including who may be organizing them. The number of U.S. citizens and other priority groups on board. CNN has reached out to a send it as a nonprofit group like many of these groups that are trying to get American citizens out of Kabul, out of the airport. They say that yes, there are some that are being held there, that the Taliban is not allowing for these planes to leave. The spokesperson from the State Department, however, reiterating that they will hold the Taliban accountable to the commitment that they made that American citizens as well as allies will be able to leave the country freely. But, of course, all right now is very uncertain. Suzanne Malveaux, CNN at the Capitol.



CURNOW: It has been a week since Hurricane Ida charged ashore in Louisiana and it's still claiming victims, a 74-year-old man from New Orleans died of heat exhaustion, that's according to the state health department. Now the tally of storm related deaths in Louisiana, is now standing at 13. We know that nearly 600,000 customers across the state are still without power and face another day of scorching temperatures. It could take actually several more weeks to fully restore electricity there. Residents are also navigating a minefield of other challenges including a shortage of food, water and gasoline.

And then in the northeast Ida's record, rainfall and flooding have left at least 50 people dead there. A short time ago, the President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for New Jersey, that'll certainly speed up federal aid for the victims of the storm there.

Meanwhile, across state lines, New Yorkers are hoping for the same kind of help from the Biden administration as Polo Sandoval now reports. Polo.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're one of those Queens neighborhoods that was hit particularly hard by last week's flash flooding, there are multiple residents here in Queens that have told me that they are certainly hoping that the federal government will come through with some kind of financial assistance package that would help them rebuild or in some cases simply repair what they lost during that flash flood flooding.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul actually called on the Biden administration to expedite the kind of financial assistance not just for local governments, but also for New Yorkers as well. Those who have been struggling to rebuild. In fact, over the weekend, she actually toured some of these neighborhoods and saw firsthand what's many of those neighbors are having to deal with.

Now, the governor signing this new disaster declaration, with the president's approval, it would potentially lead the way to some kind of individual assistance, that some of these folks would need to replace some of what they lost. We did spend some time hearing from some of these folks who said that they are certainly worried that this help may not come. This is Barbara Amarantinis, who turned to a local center here where the city is offering some support. But she says that's still enough. She needs more.

BARBARA AMARANTINIS, QUEENS RESIDENT: I came by here today because I thought I might be able to get assistance. My hot water heater was shot, you can't get a plumber. My boiler also gone. And all we've been told with everyone that's here today is call 311 to file a complaint, which I did and was closed out. I don't know what to do. We need financial assistance. We need to get back on our feet.

SANDOVAL: Also, over the weekend, the NYPD also releasing some very dramatic video that was actually taken on Wednesday during the height of the storm. And in it you can see officers desperately trying to reach an area that had been submerged under water. This was one of those basement cellar apartments that the city is taking a closer look at, in this particular case, first responders having to pull back until they can actually pump the water out of that living space. And unfortunately, once they got in there they recovered three bodies that of a two year old toddler and his parents. Polo Sandoval, CNN New York.


CURNOW: And just ahead on CNN, COVID boosters are in the spotlight as the target day for proposed rollout nears in the U.S. Why experts are pushing for an extra dose even as many Americans refused to get the first. And then also we're watching this story celebrations in the streets of the West African nation of Guinea after an apparent coup, details after the break.



CURNOW: And a broadcast statement Guinea's military announced the Constitution has been dissolved and an apparent coup and advisor to the President, Alpha Conde, confirms he is under arrest. President Conde's location is unclear, but a widely circulated video shows him surrounded by soldiers. CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of this video.

Now the military announced a nationwide curfew, the closing of land and air borders and that the President is unharmed. The 83-year-old won a disputed third term last year after he changed the constitution to allow it. Well, Christ Fomunyoh is Senior Associate for Africa at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. He joins us now from Washington.

Sir, hi, good to see you. Tell us what do we know, what happened in Guinea?

CHRISTOPHER FOMUNYOH, SENIOR ASSOCIATE FOR AFRICA, THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Well, thank you, Robyn, for having me. And I should say what we've seen in Guinea, what happened in Guinea this weekend is a very classic coup d'etat where units of the military move against a leader that a civilian leader that came into office through an electoral process. But also, as we seen many of such countries that are prone to coups, the military really took advantage of the fact that the President's legitimacy was getting becoming questionable around controversies with regards to the Constitution and the presidential elections of 2020 which explains why some people were in distress jubilating after President Alpha Conde fell from office.

CURNOW: Yeah, there certainly is video of people seeming happy. What sparked it in many ways, was this a long time coming or do you feel that the military and particularly these were special forces that that seemed to take over?

FOMUNYOH: Firstly, I should explain the uniqueness of special forces in the sense that in the past decade, many African countries, Guinea and a number of other African countries have created special forces to deal with the new threats of terrorism that many African people face. And these are units that are more agile, better train and most of the time better equipped than most of the other military units.


And so, when they move in the president's office was a big chance that they wouldn't get a lot of resistance from the presidential guards or the infantry units. I should also say that since 2020, the controversies around the presidential elections and the constitutional referendum have taken away a lot of the President's legitimacy. So much so that his collapse or the collapse of his government today comes as no surprise to many Guineans and many watchers of Guinean politics.

CURNOW: What then is the regional implication of this coup, especially for security in the region? You mentioned, terrorism is a real concern. What are the short term and medium-term issues here when it comes to security for the region activists?

FOMUNYOH: Sure, I think that anytime that civilian government is overthrown by the military, it poses threats of insecurity and further instability. But we also have to keep in mind that this is the third coup in the sub region in just 2021, coming after Chad, where the military also intervene in a succession process coming after Mali where the military staged a second coup and overthrew a civilian who was acting Head of State for the transition, and now we have Guinea Conakry.

So, alarm bells are on and prodemocracy forces across the entire sub region, are wondering what the sub regional organization ECOWAS would do, as well as what the African Union itself, which has a charter against coups will do to make sure that democracy can return. And the people of Guinea who in the vast majority are spared to be governed democratically can actually have their rights and liberties respected.

CURNOW: When we look at the international implications of this, the west has been critical of this government even before the coup, and we know that the president, President Conde had reached out towards Russia and China, what do we know that about the alliances being built by the self-declared new coup leader?

FOMUNYOH: I would say that most of those alliances were alliances of convenience. I know that although many Western governments probably wouldn't say this publicly. For many of them, it will be good riddance, because we're extremely critical of the constitutional process that allowed President Conde to get another five-year term. And also, many of them will begin to question his Democratic credentials. At the same time, Russia and China that were very friendly to the government have taken a stance of not intervening in the internal or domestic affairs of Guinea. And it will be extremely difficult now haven't taken that stand why President Conde was in office to then come back when the military is overthrown him and say, you know, we want to have him reinstated. So, I think the next few months are going to be extremely important. But I don't see alliances lining up in a way that can allow Alpha Conde to return to power.

CURNOW: So, what are you going to watch for in the coming hours, in the coming days?

FOMUNYOH: I think we should keep our eyes on ECOWAS, the subversion of organization. We should keep our eyes also on the African Union because there's an emergency meeting that has been called of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union probably by early next week. We, it will be important to see whether the African Union puts a premium on the government returning to power or puts more emphasis on an inclusive transition that can allow Guinea to return to democratic governance without the current government.

CURNOW: Christopher Fomunyoh, thank you very much. Thanks for joining us and sharing your expertise and analysis. I appreciate it. Many thanks

FOMUNYOH: Thank you for having me.

CURNOW: Now much of the U.S. is struggling to get the recent surge of new Coronavirus cases under control and as you can see here, on this map, many states are seeing spikes driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant and as the debate about the rollout of booster shots continues, the idea is certainly gaining traction with U.S. health officials, thanks to the data we're getting from Israel. Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke to Jim Acosta on Sunday about what the information reveals.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: So, their data clearly show that we are going in the right direction of where we need to go with regard to boosters. But importantly, their data also show that when you give those boosters you reconstitute to an even higher level than before, the protection against both infection and hospitalization.


CURNOW: And as Americans, more Americans suffer through COVID attitudes are slowly changing about the general risk of catching the virus. Natasha Chen has more now on how dire the situation has become. Natasha.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. is experiencing COVID-19 trends in the wrong direction with cases, deaths and hospitalizations going upward. This Labor Day weekend, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents is up by about 300% compared to this holiday weekend last year.


The seven-day average of new deaths has increased greatly over the last week, and daily hospitalizations are topping 100,000. That's after hospitalizations tripled in July than doubled again in August, according to Health and Human Services data. A Washington Post, ABC News poll shows a 47% of adults in the U.S. feel they have a moderate or high risk of getting sick. That's a higher percentage of concerned adults compared to a June survey. The situation is so dire in Kentucky that the governor has called a special session of its state legislature to handle COVID-19 issues and essential California the San Joaquin Valley area on Friday had fewer than 10% of staffed ICU beds remaining available for three consecutive days.

Further north in the state, about 100 doctors from the Humboldt-Del Norte County Medical Society signed a letter written to its own community saying in part, "Please get vaccinated. We ask this from the bottom of our hearts as your physicians and as the people with whom you have worked, played, laughed and cried. We must admit we are tired. We will keep working of course but we are tired. We are tired of the suffering, pain and death that can be avoided by getting vaccinated."

Meanwhile, the Biden administration said it is prepared to roll out the booster vaccines by September 20, though that is pending the approval and guidance of the CDC and FDA. Back to you.

CURNOW: Thanks so much Natasha Chen there. Israel is also said to present data from its booster rollout to the FDA later on this month. The country was one of the first to begin offering a third dose of the vaccine early last month. Officials say the booster shots have certainly helped slower rise in severe illness caused by the Delta variant. As Natasha was saying on Saturday, Israel reported its lowest daily case count in three weeks. The country's COVID czar also says another round of booster shots could be coming soon. So, you're watching CNN. There's been a colorful closing ceremony that's wrapped up the Tokyo Olympics, the Paralympics as the games move on Japan though, is still fighting, rising COVID infections. We're live in Tokyo, that is next.



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN. It's 30 minutes past the hour exactly.

I'm Robyn Curnow, live in Atlanta. Thanks for joining me.

So the Tokyo Paralympics have now wrapped up and they ended with a colorful celebration despite the ongoing pandemic. Sunday's closing ceremony included singing, dancing in the parade of nations and took place in a near empty stadium without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Well, Japan found some success in containing the virus during the Paralympics, but the delta variant is certainly still driving new infections.

Let's go straight to Tokyo. Blake Essig is standing by. Blake, hi. Lovely to see you.

And I understand that you went to the closing ceremony. Just talk us through what it was like and what the experience meant?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Robyn, an incredible experience to be inside that 68,000-seat stadium, essentially all alone, but yes. I mean look, last night inside this national stadium right here behind me, the closing ceremony was held bringing an end to an Olympic and Paralympic Games like no other. Mainly with spectators, which is just absolutely surreal.

That has been the case throughout these games. Last night's closing ceremonies -- yes, closing ceremony took place inside that nearly empty stadium. While I was inside the people that should have been there, the people of Japan weren't.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really hope there will never have to be a summer games like this again, where people can't attend in person due to a pandemic.

I think these gains would've been even better and safer if there were no pandemic, but nobody could have seen that coming.


ESSIG: And while I was lucky enough to be one of the few people inside the 68,000-seat stadium and like every event that I attended throughout these games, it was a surreal experience to sit inside the stadium, seemingly all alone and watch the celebration of sport with strange but also exciting at the same time.

Now, there was singing, dancing, as you mentioned, a very colorful festival-like atmosphere. Of course, there was also parade of nations that included two Afghan athletes who were originally unable to reach Tokyo following the Taliban's takeover. But Paralympic organizers say with the help of individuals, organizations and governments from around the world, the pair were evacuated from Kabul and arrived here just in time to compete.

It was definitely a really nice moment to see them proudly carrying their country's flag knowing Robyn what they had been there -- been through to be here.

CURNOW: Yes, certainly, which is one of the many moments that was special throughout these games.

Let's just talk about what the COVID situation is like there in Japan. It's still -- it's still really bad and certainly real concerns about the impact the Olympics has had on the infection rates.

ESSIG: Yes, absolutely. I mean look, inside the Olympic and Paralympic bubble, the COVID-19 counter measures put in place by organizers did seem to prove largely successful. The daily case count remained low.

But outside of the bubble, cases in Tokyo and around Japan skyrocketed. A state of emergency remains in place for roughly 80 percent of the country and health care professionals say that the medical system has collapsed.

There's about 200,000 people right now recovering at home who have COVID-19. Tens of thousands require medical care, but are unable to receive it. And some people are dying at home.

The medical professionals say that even though the Olympics didn't directly impact the number of cases, there was absolute indirect effect with the number of people that came out to attend events, took pictures outside of stadiums and whatnot.

So whether or not, you know, the impact of these games on the COVID-19 numbers is still to be determined, medical professionals say there's no question that it had an impact.

Now four months, Robyn, there was fierce opposition toward these games felt by a majority of the Japanese people but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pushed ahead with the event seemingly against the will of the people and against his health care advisers' advice.


ESSIG: And really, according to the people that CNN has talked to, political experts, it is likely the reason why the prime minister is no longer seeking reelection when his term comes to a close here at the end of the month.

CURNOW: Ok, Blake Essig there. Thanks so much. Appreciate it. Great reporting over the past few weeks there on the Olympics. So there's some news in just to CNN. The Taliban spokesperson is now claiming fighters have quote, 'completely conquered the Panjshir Province in northern Afghanistan, but that claim is being denied by the National Resistance Front. They told CNN resistance forces are still in strategic positions across the valley and are continuing to fight.

The two sides have been battling over the last hold-out province. And we'll continue to monitor that here on CNN.

Meanwhile still ahead, there've been chaotic scenes unfolding in southern Mexico. Authorities moved to break up a group of migrants headed for the U.S.


CURNOW: The Mexican authorities have blocked the passage of a new migrant caravan headed towards the U.S. The crackdown came just one day after the group left southern Mexico.

CNN's Rafael Romo now reports some families with young children were among those caught up in the chaos.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's been tensions between immigrants and Mexican immigration authorities for weeks. This latest caravan was coming from Tapachula (ph), a city across the Guatemalan border and was traveling through the state of Chiapas when they were stopped.

Let me first show you what happened during an the operation by the Mexican National Guard and the Migration Institute with the goal of stopping the immigrants.

This was the chaotic situation that unfolded in the city of Huixtla, Chiapas state Sunday morning, where the migrants had spent the night at the Mexican National Guard in full riot gear trying to stop the immigrants. Some of them were traveling in family units with small children.


ROMO: There were several tense moments, including one when authorities tried to stop the mother with here child in her arms. There was a similar incident moments later when a father claimed authorities were trying to separate him from his young daughter.

Let's take a look.

Let me translate what he said. "Leave me alone," he said repeatedly. "I'm not leaving without my daughter."

He later told the members of the National Guard, "You're parents, too. Have a heart." CNN tried to reach both the National Guard and the National Migration Institute for comment, but there was no answer. There were no public statements either.

Last week the Mexican Migration Institute issued a statement saying that it was not going to allow any type of abuse against immigrants or journalists covering the story. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last Thursday that his country is working to hold back the migratory flow as much as it can.

And at the same time is in communication with the U.S. government to come up with solutions to address this challenge.

This latest group of about 500 immigrants was composed of people from Haiti, Venezuela and Central America.

Rafael Romo, CNN -- Mexico City.


CURNOW: And I'm Robyn Curnow. For our international interviewers, I'm going to hand you over to "INSIDE AFRICA". That is next.

For everyone else though, the news continues.

I will be back after the break.