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China Launches Military Drills As Nancy Pelosi Visits Taiwan; U.S. House Speaker Praises Taiwan's Tech Sector; Images Show Ayman Al- Zawahiri House Struck By U.S. Drone. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 03, 2022 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Wherever you are around the world, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Ahead this hour, Nancy Pelosi goes to Taiwan. A high profile and brazen show of support for the self-ruling island, Beijing responds with live fire military exercises.

How a U.S. missile armed with razor sharp blades sliced al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to death and harm no one else.

Navigating one of those dangerous waterways in the world. The cargo ship carrying thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain is about to reach its final destination.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with John Vause.

VAUSE: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been on the ground in Taiwan for just over 13 hours, long enough for an outrage Beijing to announce a series of live fire military drills in the region and for Pelosi to receive Taiwan's highest civilian honor for her decades of support for the island.

She's now the most senior U.S. official to visit Taiwan in 25 years. A short time ago, meeting with Taiwan's president.

Earlier, the U.S. House Speaker said her visit with a congressional delegation was intended to make it unequivocally clear the U.S. will not abandon its commitment to Taiwan.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Taiwan has been an island of resilience in the world. Indeed, the people of Taiwan have proven to the world that with hope, courage and determination, it is possible to build a peaceful and prosperous future even in terms of the challenges you face.

And now more than ever, America's solidarity with Taiwan is crucial. And that is the message we are bringing here today. (END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: But that uncritical support is precisely what has angered Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be a renegade province and to protest Pelosi's visit, China places military on high alert, ordered multiple military exercises around the region. And according to Taipei, China sent 21 warplanes to Taiwan's air defense identification zone, all on Tuesday. See then

CNN correspondents are tracking developing stories, we have Steven Jiang standing by live in Beijing, Blake Essig is live for us this hour in Tokyo.

Blake, we'll begin with you. And of course, for Nancy Pelosi, this is the culmination of decades of support for Taiwan, or as others say, it could just be a grand gesture for a photo-op.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, I mean, you know, I guess the devil is in the details, we'll have to see what happens as a result of the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arriving in Taiwan late last night. She did so despite warnings from the White House and in defiance of China.

Upon her arrival, she was welcomed with a building lit up with her name on it, as well as hundreds of people gathered outside of her hotel, some happy that she was there visiting, others not.

Once on the ground, the Speaker of the House and her delegation of Democratic lawmakers issued a statement saying that their visit honors America's unwavering commitment to support Taiwan's vibrant democracy, and that American solidarity with the people of Taiwan is more important today than ever before, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and Democracy.

Now, after staying the night in Taiwan earlier this morning, Pelosi met with senior government officials in the Democratic self-governing island.

President Tsai Ing-wen where Pelosi made it clear that the U.S. will not abandon Taiwan and where she received Taiwan's highest civilian honor. And here's what Taiwan's president had to say during a press conference after the two met.


TSAI ING-WEN, TAIWANESE PRESIDENT: Facing deliberately heightened military threats, Taiwan will not back down, we will firmly uphold our nation's sovereignty and continue to hold the line of defense for democracy.

At the same time, we wish to cooperate and work in unity with all democracies around the world to jointly safeguard democratic values.


ESSIG: Pelosi also visited parliament, although she didn't deliver a formal speech, she did give remarks alongside the deputy speaker of Taiwan's legislature, praising Taiwan is one of the freest societies in the world.

The speaker's surprise visit to Taiwan wasn't listed on her itinerary outlining her tour of Asia, which experts say is consistent with the U.S.'s One China policy that acknowledges Beijing's position that Taiwan is a part of China.


It's worth noting that while China's recently announced large scale military exercises, essentially encircling Taiwan which could already be underway. The U.S. does have four warships on routine deployments, including an aircraft carrier that are positioned just east of Taiwan in response to China's military exercises. Taiwan's defense ministry has condemned the drills, saying they undermine regional peace and stability.

John, Speaker Pelosi is expected to leave Taiwan later this evening, and continue her tour of Asia with stops in South Korea and Japan.

VAUSE: Blake, thank you for that. Blake Essig there in Tokyo and Steven Jiang standing by in Beijing. It seems in many ways, the response we've seen so far from Beijing has been fairly muted, if you consider all the talk in the days leading up to this visit of you know, China dispatching war planes in the region as Pelosi's plane was on approach to Taipei, that kind of thing. So, how's it been viewed there in Beijing?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF (on camera): It's interesting you mentioned this, John, because the military drills you and Blake both mentioned, you know, when Pelosi's plane first landed in Taiwan, there was this announcement from the government in terms of a series of drills, live fire drills, starting on Thursday, which was after Pelosi is expected departure date from Taiwan.

But amid this growing online backlash against the government's perceive the lackluster response, especially given what they have been saying beforehand, the Chinese Ministry seemed to have pushed the starting date of their drills forward saying it will start immediately.

Now, these live fire drills, as you mentioned, not only you know, encircle Taiwan in a way but also involved not just shooting conventional missiles and attacking a hypothetical air and land a targets but also a practicing a blockade.

So, this is really why the state media officials here have been describing these drills as unprecedented in terms of its proximity to Taiwan, but also in terms of its scale and intensity.

But of course, the Chinese government have also announced a political but probably more important economic sanctions against Taiwan, including the halting of export of natural sand to the island, which the media says is very important to the semiconductor industry, which of course is very critically important for Taiwan, but also the banning of import of more than 100 types of Taiwanese seafood and fruits.

Now all of this, of course, is not surprising, in addition to all of their rhetorical condemnation after this visit, but what's also worth noting is to say media has also been really highlighting the government's "restraint" in their response, saying, for example, the military here have given a coordinates of their exercise locations in advance, and also really not launching a full long attack on Taiwan to give "peace of unification, One Last Chance", not to mention, they're now saying this complex historical issue cannot be resolved overnight.

But one thing for sure, though, John, is all of this is really such a naturally a rallying cry for the Chinese leadership.

Overnight, nobody seems to be talking about harsh enforcement of COVID or sluggish economy anymore. Everybody is focusing on Taiwan Strait, really, all these nationalistic and patriotic sentiment running very high. That obviously could be something Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader could use ahead of his coronation later this year, if you will, especially since he has staked so much of his reputation and legitimacy on the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

That of course, a critical important -- critically important part of that is, "reunification with Taiwan", John.

VAUSE: Steven, thank you. And as you've been delivering your report, we've been looking at live pictures here from Taipei of Nancy Pelosi the House Speaker and of course, Taiwan's president there. It looks like they are answering questions from the media, we'd be more than willing any details to when we get that.

In the meantime, Steven in Beijing and Blake in Tokyo, thanks to you both.

Shihoko Goto is the Deputy Director for the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She's also director for Geoeconomics and Indo- Pacific Enterprise. She's with us from Tokyo. Thank you for your time.


VAUSE: OK. So, the White House continues to insist that Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taipei, her visit there does not represent any significant change or any change at all, really for U.S. policy towards Taiwan. Listen to this.


JOHN KIRBY, PRESS SECRETARY, PENTAGON: There's no reason, as I said yesterday for Beijing to turn this visit, which is consistent with long standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis.


VAUSE: But you know, if U.S. policy hasn't changed, it certainly is confused. President Biden has suggested at least three times U.S. would defend Taiwan if it was attacked. The Trump administration ended a ban on U.S. diplomats interacting with Taiwanese diplomats, that has not been reversed by Biden, U.S. policy seems to be sort of changing or very confused or changing in real time before our eyes.


GOTO: Right. I think there's -- it's less of a change and more of a splintering within the United States that you did mention that the White House is saying that there is no real change in America's policy towards Taiwan.

But at the same time, we have to bear in mind that at the forefront of this is the adherence to the One China policy to declare that Taiwan is actually under the auspices, under the control of China. That is something that the United States has chosen. And it is something that requires a lot of diplomatic interpretation. And in this relationship, words matter, and cross strait relations have always been tense as a result of this lack of clarity, we call it strategic ambiguity, a deliberate reworking of the red line as to what is acceptable behavior and not.

What Speaker Pelosi has done is actually pushed the line to an extent. And at the same time, what we do know is that China still sees Taiwan as a core interest that sooner or probably more, hopefully, later, that China does want to reunify with Taiwan. And this is something that not just the Xi administration, but all Chinese leaderships have really adhered to, to date.

VAUSE: How much of this is all about extending the Trump era policy of using Taiwan as a way of constraining China or Mainland China?

GOTO: That is one of the biggest challenges that Taiwan faces itself. So, we have Pelosi in Taiwan, she's going to be leaving in a few hours' time. We have, of course, seen a lot of military tension and military exercises on the part of China. But hopefully, it won't escalate further, whilst she's actually on the ground in Taiwan.

But we're playing the long game here. For Taiwan, it is very much at the risk of becoming under increasing pressure from China. We've already seen the economic sanctions, cyber-attacks too that have come hours before Pelosi landed in Taiwan.

Will this continue even after she departs? The expectation is the end (PH), well, yes, and will it intensify? Yes. And that will be very detrimental to Taiwan's economic and military security. And this is where the United States needs to make clear that it is committed to the safety and security of Taiwan in the longer term. And it will not veer from that.

VAUSE: Well, once she was on the ground, Nancy Pelosi made it clear why she made the visit. Here she is.


PELOSI: We commend Taiwan for being one of the freest societies in the world, for your success in addressing the COVID interest issue, which is a health issue, a security issue, an economic issue, and a governance issue. We congratulate you for that.

And again, we come in friendship, we thank you for your leadership, we want the world to recognize that.


VAUSE: Was there a way of making that gesture or delivering that message without risking a reaction from Beijing that could potentially spark World War III?

GOTO: I think at the stage when she said she was going to Taiwan, that was already raising tensions between the United States and Washington. I think that once she declared that she was going for her to back down was no longer going to be an option.

But the best case scenario from here on out, is to make sure that the situation she -- that there is no real escalation of actual action on the part of China. And then, that does not actually extend further even after she departs.

But again, what we do need now is a greater coherence on the part of the United States in defining its own Taiwan policy, and continued commitment to support Taiwan in the longer term.

VAUSE: Shihoko, thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate your insights. And again, this news conference is underway there in Taipei, we are listening to that news conference. Thank you for your time, Shihoko, but let's listen into what Nancy Pelosi and the leader of Taiwan have been saying, here we go.

PELOSI: That it's really clear that while China has stood in the way of Taiwan participating, and going to certain meetings, that they understand that they will not stand in the way of people coming to Taiwan.

It's a show of friendship of support, but also a source of learning about how we can work together better in collaboration.


So, you know, I don't -- I think that they made a big fuss because I'm Speaker, I guess. I don't know if that was a reason or an excuse, because they didn't say anything when the men came.

With the second part was -- the second part was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Invited to the U.S. Congress to --

PELOSI: That was the third part, but I'll go there. That was the third part, I thought.

We haven't had a joint session in probably three years in Congress, partially because of COVID. But even before that, it was Christmas and all that.

So, we haven't had many joint sessions. But we have tried to accommodate visits, by bringing together -- going by the both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol.

And I would hope that that opportunity would be there, as the joint session has become something, again, because of COVID, we can't -- we aren't allowed to go to.

It's even hard for us to do the president's State of the Union address. Because you have the space and you have the time and well, you know, here we are.

The -- I don't know, I think that whatever China was going to do, they will do in their own good time. What excuse they may use to do it is another thing. But you really know more about that than I do.

I do think that the -- it's really important for the message to be clear that in the Congress, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans are committed to the security of Taiwan, in order to have Taiwan be able to most effectively defend themselves.

But it also is about our shared values of democracy and freedom, and how Taiwan has been an example to the world in that regard. And whether it's certain insecurities on the part of the President of China as to his own political situation that he's rattling saber, I don't know.

But it doesn't really matter. What matters to us is that we salute the successes of Taiwan. We work together for the security of Taiwan. And we just take great lessons from the democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.

Right now, we will take questions from the international media. And I would like to invite Samson Ellis, he is the Taipei Bureau Chief of Bloomberg News, Samson.

SAMSON ELLIS, TAIPEI BUREAU CHIEF, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Madam President, Madam Speaker. We have seen the Chinese authorities take multiple economic actions against individual Taiwanese companies and entire sectors of the economy here. Taiwan has already paid a cost for your visit, and is likely to continue to do so over the coming days and weeks. What concrete tangible benefits can you promise Taiwan to offset the cost of your trip?

PELOSI: Well, what the same time as this trip is taking place and in recognition of our common interest economically, we're just past the CHIPS and Science Act. This is something that opens the door for us to again, have good better economic exchanges. I know that some Taiwan businesses, significant ones that are already planning to invest in manufacturing in the United States.

And that the ingenuity, the entrepreneurial spirit, the brainpower, the intellectual resource that exists in Taiwan and the success of the tech industry here, for one -- for one sector has been really a model. And again, we want to increase our relationships.

So, I think that I would be saying we would that would be a goal we share. But with this chipset, we're really facilitating, reaching that goal and to -- it's pretty exciting. It's pretty exciting. And I think that you will see a recognition of the scientific success that Taiwan has had being a model for how we go forward. That's why our bill is called, CHIPS and Science.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. Right now, last but not the least, we will have a representative from the Japanese media. Mr. Ishido Kojiro-san (PH), he is the bureau chief of Asahi Shimbun of Japan.


PELOSI: Hello. Konichiwa.

ISHIDO KOJIRO-SAN (PH), BUREAU CHIEF, ASAHI SHIMBUN OF JAPAN: Konichiwa. Thank you very much for taking my questions. My question is about the Chinese Democracy.

Now, we are witnessing the Chinese authorities increasing the various pressures not only to Taiwanese people and the Hong Kong, but to their own students and in Chinese people.

And as a strong and longtime advocate of democracy, please share your ideas how the democratic countries including South Korea, Japan, where you are heading to can deter China from invading Taiwan militarily? And how we can guide China to the democratic political system? Thank you.

PELOSI: Well, two things. In the context, your question comes in the context of right now, I struggle between autocracy and democracy in the world, we cannot back away from that. And so, as China goes and uses its soft power, money, and whatever, into many countries, in order to get their support at the U.N. and other bodies, we have to recognize some effectiveness, because it's a lot of money, and its promises that may or may not ever be kept.

So, when we talk about Taiwan in that context, we have to talk from strength -- we have to talk from strength, we have to talk from what China -- what Taiwan has been so good about is being technologically advanced, whether it's in business or security.

And we have to show the world. And that's one of the purposes of our trip, to show the world the success of the people of Taiwan, their courage, their courage to change their own country to become more democratic.

They become more democratic, their respect for people and the rest, and quite frankly, a model in this region, in that respect, in those respect.

So, strength, goodwill and again, the demonstration of a democracy that has evolved to a stronger place now. And it offers a very strong contrast to what's happening in Mainland China. No more evidence needed from what happened in Hong Kong, under one country, two systems. That didn't happen.

But again, we're not here to talk about Mainland China. We're here to talk about Taiwan. We have our U.S. -- our Taiwan Relations Act. We support the communities of this, that and the other thing that had gone before, so we're not -- we are supporters of the status quo and the rest. And we don't want anything to happen to Taiwan by force.

So, strength. And one of the biggest sources of strength is democracy. I said at a meeting earlier with the parliamentarians, in our earliest days of our founding of our country, Benjamin Franklin our presidency said, freedom and democracy, freedom and democracy on one thing, security here. If we don't have, we can't have either, if we don't have both.

So, security, economic, security, autonomy. And again, they're all in governance. They're all related. And we want Taiwan to always have freedom, the security. And we're not backing away from that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

VAUSE: We have been listening to the U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi there, she takes questions from reporters in Taipei. She makes his historic visit to Taiwan, the first U.S. House Speaker to visit.

As she talks about strength through democracy, Taiwan is an example throughout the region, and declared that the United States was there to stand by Taiwan against any kind of aggression by China, which has now announced a series of military exercises after Pelosi touchdown about 13 hours ago now. Maybe coming up to 14 hours.

I will continue to monitor Nancy Pelosi's visit there to Taiwan which is causing a lot of outrage in Beijing but we'll take a short break for a moment and when we come back, how a U.S. missile armed with razor sharp blades slice the al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri today.



VAUSE: More than 20 years ago when the U.S. military was trying to flush Osama bin Laden out of the mountainous caves of Tora Bora though dropping Daisy Cutters, also known as MOABs, Mother of All Bombs, only a nuclear bomb has a higher explosive yield.

Over the weekend, though, when his deputy and current al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a U.S. drone. It was a laser guided precision strike, causing no collateral damage, killing just one.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has our report.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The target was the same it was at the start of the war on terror, 9/11 mastermind turned al Qaeda's 71-year-old leader.

But the method, startlingly precise. Two missiles hitting Kabul's fanciest streets. The al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, stepping onto a balcony that had likely for years housed rich Westerners working for NATO, but stepping out onto it dawned Sunday for the last time.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all.

WALSH: The Biden administration so confident they got the right guy, they had built a model of the house they said they didn't need boots on the ground before the strike or after.

KIRBY: We did not have DNA confirmation. We're not going to get that confirmation. And quite frankly, based on the multiple sources and methods that we've gathered the information from, we don't need it.

WALSH: It was a staggering counterterrorism success, borne of a failure the U.S. had tried to gloss over. And as the U.S. rushed to leave Afghanistan, at the end of losing control of the close of its longest war, it had tried to suggest al Qaeda were degraded no longer a threat there.

But in truth, the group we're finding a safe haven there again, with concerns last year, they might have been able to strike the West again, as early as next year. They weren't the threat they were when al-Zawahiri masterminded savagery at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi or on the USS Cole.

And their brutal star had been eclipsed by the mayhem of ISIS. But their franchises had spread across the world, often encouraging locals to target other locals, and al-Zawahiri remained their figurehead, with his hands on some buttons.

Analysts felt his recent messages suggested a man more at ease, even complacent. U.S. officials, saying they had followed family members to get him. His most likely successor, Saif al-Adel, recently in Iran, according to the U.N. One former Afghan official telling me he may have recently left for Afghanistan.

But terror leaders last less long these days. Still, the enduring hard questions before the Taliban, few believed they had truly renounced terror, like they promised the U.S.


But after 20 years of war, they still brought exactly the same al Qaeda figures back into the safest of their havens, central Kabul; yet found the United States also had a long memory and now didn't even need to be there to kill their most wanted.

WALSH: Fundamentally, the question really is not now whether this terror group with its most impactful, awful years far behind it manages to reconstitute itself into the threat that it once was or get itself yet another leader, it's whether this strike permanently damages the possibility of ordinary Afghans getting aid into their country soon. Yes, it shows that the Taliban was not governing in the way that they

hoped they could because of sanctions, but also possibly slipping back into the worst aspects of providing safe haven for terrorists.

That may make it extremely hard for the international community, or certainly the western parts of it to think about putting aid into that country, exacerbate the tensions that are already there in those international relationships for ordinary Afghans struggling through this summer and the winter ahead. That could indeed prove deadly.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, New York.


VAUSE: CNN military analyst and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, Cedric Leighton, is with us now for more on the possible ramifications of this targeted killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Colonel, good to see you. Thanks for being with us.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: And good to be with you, John.

VAUSE: Thank you.

Now, John Kirby, with the U.S. National Security Council, wasn't quite spiking the football on Tuesday. It seemed pretty close. Here he is.


JOHN KIRBY, COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: This action demonstrates that, without American forces on the ground in Afghanistan and in harm's way, we still remain able to identify and locate even the world's most wanted terrorist, and then take the action to remove him from the battlefield.


VAUSE: Should he have added two very important words down at the end, those words being, this time? Because not every situation will be like Zawahiri's, who essentially was hiding in plain sight.

LEIGHTON: Yes, exactly. I think the key thing is that every situation like this is going to be different. The raid that ended up killing bin Laden was quite different from the raid that ended up killing al- Zawahiri.

And we have to keep it in mind that every single one of these incidents has a different terrain that's associated with it, a different way of living for the people that are being targeted; and in many cases, sometimes even different technical mechanisms that are being used to target these individuals.

So sometimes those mechanisms work. Sometimes they don't. In this case, with al-Zawahiri, it worked beautifully. But that's not always going to be the case, and we have to be prepared for failures. VAUSE: And on that, talk about the missile of choice here, reportedly

the RNX modified Hellfire. No explosive warhead but rather six razor sharp blades. How does this work?

LEIGHTON: So, John, the -- there's a type of modified Hellfire that's designed to protect the infrastructure. What we're dealing with here is, you know, going a after specific target without killing civilians that are near that target, without destroying the structures, without doing anything that would damage the infrastructure that surround the particular target.

In the American way of war, we are -- we've modified it to the extent that we're trying to get after specific individuals. And in this particular case, this weapon system was the one that was chosen. And it worked very well in order to get into al-Zawahiri without damaging his family, without damaging the building that he was in. And those blades that you mentioned were basically designed to do that job without the collateral damage of an explosive device.

VAUSE: Essentially cutting and slicing the target into pieces, I think, were the words described to me, right?

LEIGHTON: That is correct. It slices the target without that high- explosive impact that you would see with a normal explosive warhead. And that's why these systems are used in these particular situations.

VAUSE: Fitting end, some might say.

Now, Al-Zawahiri would not have been living in Kabul without approval from al Qaeda's best friend. That's the Taliban. That brought this rebuke from the U.S. State Department: "By hosting and sheltering the leader of al Qaeda in Kabul, the Taliban grossly violated the Doha agreement and repeated assurances to the world they would not allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists to threaten the security of other countries."

But you know, they also lied about girls going back to school, being allowed to work. They lied about when they said they were open to reform. At this point, the fact they lied again is not surprising. It's not shocking. It is sickening. Will there be consequences?

LEIGHTON: I think there will be, John. What we are looking at here is that, you know, there might be eternal consequences within the Taliban itself, but there also are going to be consequences internationally for them.

The fact that they have violated the Doha agreement so profoundly and so brazenly really creates the impact for them that they're not going to be trusted by other parties, including parties in the region, whether it's India or Pakistan or other countries in the area.


And that is going to make a difference and make it a lot harder for the Taliban to have international relations, to save their people from a possible famine. And also, it's going to really make it very difficult for them to govern the country.

VAUSE: Yes. And in the wake of al-Zawahiri's death, there's this warning from the United States: "The Department of State believes there is a higher potential for anti-American violence, given the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri on July 31, 2022."

There is an expectation that al-Qaeda and its supporters may try something. But what about the Taliban? As you mentioned, this precision strike has left them looking pretty helpless and unable to provide security in their own backyard. Will they become more radicalized? Will they sort of take a hard line, if you like?

LEIGHTON: That is certainly a possibility. I think, you know, in many ways, they will feel insulted. They will feel emasculated by this situation, and the very fact that it happened will create a situation where they feel they will have to execute some kind of a plan of revenge.

The problem that they have is that they really don't have an external infrastructure. They used al-Qaeda as their weapon of choice in foreign territories and territories outside of Afghanistan. And that would be the weapon that they use, and it was the group that they use, to go after Western interests, especially U.S. Interests.

But it's going to take a long time for al Qaeda to rebuild itself. And it's also going to take a while for the Taliban to reestablish its connection with al-Qaeda in the sense that it can use them operationally.

VAUSE: Overall, a good day, for the most part. Colonel, thank you so much.

LEIGHTON: You bet, John. Good to be with you.

VAUSE: Still to come on CNN, a war within a war. How drones are changing the battlefield in Ukraine, where they could be critical to winning the fight.


VAUSE: The first wartime shipment of Ukrainian grain from the port of Odessa has now reached Turkey. Right now, the ship is anchored near Istanbul with inspections expected in the hours ahead.

After that, the final destination is Tripoli, Lebanon. In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was hopeful this will be the first of many shipments.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Our goal is to have an orderly schedule so when one ship leaves port, there will be other vessels, those which get loaded and those on approach to the port. Continuity, regularity, this is necessary basis. It is needed by all consumers of Ukrainian agricultural produce.


VAUSE: If goes to plan, that should clear the way for at least 16 other ships stuck at Ukrainian ports since the war began to load up and set sail.


All made possible by a landmark deal which ended a Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea and allowed grain exports to resume, raising hopes of easing a global food shortage.

Ukrainian fighters in the South are stepping up attacks on Russian positions. Military officials say a Russian weapons and equipment depot was hit, as well as a military base near the city of Kherson, which is under Russian occupation.

Meantime, the Southern city of Mykolaiv remains under heavy attack. Within the last hour, the city's mayor reports a series of powerful explosions, likely from airstrikes, and rescue operations are underway.

Ukrainian officials say this video shows the aftermath of a Russian strike on an infrastructure facility Tuesday.

While the final continues on the ground, there's another battle taking place in the skies. CNN's Nic Robertson reports on the critical role drones are playing in this war.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): At Ukraine's Southern front, a reconnaissance team leads us towards Russian lines.

ROBERTSON: We're walking towards the trees, because they were afraid we might be spotted from above by Russian drones. That's the way they do their work out here, hidden by the trees.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Our destination, a drone team shrouded from the skies. Their mission: find Russian forces and call in artillery strikes.

A problem, though. On their first flight of the day, Russian countermeasures mess with their drone. They need to switch out parts before the next launch.

"It's nearly impossible to fight off the Russian jamming signal," the commander says. "But we have special devices to combat it."

But as the drone launches, it lurches the wrong way, hits the trees. Not clear what causes the malfunction.

ROBERTSON: There's a war within the war here, a high-tech war. A software dogfight in the skies above the battlefield. And a mistake by these drone operators can cost them their lives.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Back at base, on a big screen, they scour the first flight's video.

ROBERTSON: The detail's incredible. I mean, you can see exactly where the vehicles are in the trees.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The operator, a 24-year-old former news cameraman.

ROBERTSON: So you're looking at the Russians, but they could be looking at you when you're in the field?


ROBERTSON: How does that feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's scary.

ROBERTSON: How scary?


ROBERTSON: Very scary, but you keep doing it?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we must do it.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Life or death decisions which targets the hit to save his fellow countrymen.

ROBERTSON: He's driving along. He has no idea your drone is following him?




ROBERTSON (voice-over): Previous days, when they've avoided Russian countermeasures, they've had better luck. A Russian tank position hit in the past week, when they called in an artillery strike as they watched.

Who wins these drone wars will help determine who dominates the battle space, and that depends on who has the smartest technology. And, who has the best traditional frontline skills to hide from it.

Nic Robertson, CNN, at Ukraine's Southern front.


VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I am John Vause. I'll be back at the top of the hour. In the meantime, WORLD SPORT starts after a break. See you soon. [00:45:00]