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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S. Struggles to Bring Order to Chaotic Afghanistan Exit; Texas Governor Abbott Tests Positive for Coronavirus; White House to Announce Plans for General Public Booster Shots Today. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 18, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in United States and all around the world. Thanks for getting an early start with me. I'm Laura Jarrett. Christine is off today. It's Wednesday, August 18th. It's 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

Twenty years after storming in to Afghanistan to drive the Taliban out, the U.S. is now left with little choice but to rely on that same group to allow Americans out. The White House says the Taliban have agreed to provide safe passage to Kabul's airport for civilians with the right to live in the U.S., but how long will that coperation last and who will the Taliban let go?


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There have been instances where we have received reports of people being turned away or pushed back or even beaten. We are taking that up in a channel with the Taliban to try to resolve those issues. And we are concerned about whether that will continue to unfold in the coming days. As things stand right now, what we are finding is that we are getting people through the gate, we are getting them lined up and we're getting them on planes, but this is an hour by hour issue.


JARRETT: Thousands of troops rushed to Afghanistan seem to have restored order at the airport after harrowing scenes like this one of Afghans clinging to planes apparently later stowing away in wheel wells plunging to their deaths from hundreds of feet in the air.

At the U.S. embassy in Kabul, American personnel getting rid of sensitive materials, destroyed the passports of some Afghans possibly because it would have been dangerous for them to fall into the hands of the Taliban.

But, of course, having no passport creates major problems for the Afghans now trying to get out of the country. Meanwhile journalists on the ground continue to show what the Taliban's takeover of Kabul is really like, despite their PR campaign, and I will warn that you some of these images are really disturbing. "L.A. Times" photographer, Marcus Yam captured the aftermath of

Taliban using gunfire, whips and sticks on Afghans desperately searching for a way out.


MARCUS YAM, L.A. TIMES PHOTOGRAPHER: I watched several thousand walk around with sticks, whips, using the butt of their rifles to hit people and chase them around. I even watched one Taliban fighter after firing shots in the general direction of crowds smiling at another Taliban fighter. It was a game to them or something.


JARRETT: Another sign of regime change, Taliban cofounder Mullah Abdul Baradar arriving at the airport in Kandahar on Tuesday. He is the deputy leader of the Taliban movement, and hadn't set foot in Afghanistan in some 20 years.

CNN's Anna Coren has reported extensively from Afghanistan in recent weeks. She joins us live.

Anna, with so much uncertainty, where do things stand this morning?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, as far as the airport is concerned, it is secure. We know that flights are coming in and out, those military flights, and that commercial flights may also be joining them. The State Department said that yesterday they got 1,000 people out.

Now, that is a miniscule number when you think of the tens of thousands of Afghans that they need to get out of the country by the 31st of August. That is still the deadline that they are aiming for. And you know, as soon as the Americans leave Kabul International Airport, it is over.

I've been talking to U.S. -- or I should say Afghan interpreters who worked with the U.S. military who, you know, they were at the airport on Monday thinking that they could perhaps get on one of the planes when it was possible to breach the walls and get on to the tarmac. I mean, they witnessed those chaotic scenes, they witnessed, you know, the violence that took place, the beatings.

They reported that they saw this. And one of them said to me, this was the blackest day because I had a realization that once the Americans go, it is all over for me.

I'm hearing from my Afghan friends, local journalists who I worked with just last month, they are fearing for their lives. You know, these are people who have reported with Western organizations like CNN for the past two decades, Yu know, covering this war. They now feel that they will be a target for the Taliban. This despite the Taliban coming out and saying that there is general amnesty for absolutely everybody.

No one is truly buying this. This one friend of mine, he said that he has, you know, been hiding away sense the Taliban came to Kabul on Sunday.


That they came to his apartment building, car loads of them. They said we understand that there are people in this building who have worked for the government, have worked for foreigners. They were going apartment to apartment searching.

They came to my friend's apartment. They knocked on the door, his wife answered and said that there are no men in here. In the meantime, my friend was on a security WhatsApp chat in which the Taliban is administering, and he said this is what is going on. Within ten minutes, there was a Landcruiser that arrived, the official Taliban, who then arrested these members.

But, you know, as far as he was concerned, they would be taken away, released and then return. So they have moved locations.

I mean, Laura, this is a story that we're hearing, you know, over and over again of the fear that these people are fearing -- feeling I should say. And I think it also goes to show that there are these different factions of the Taliban.

You have the official Taliban that is putting out the word that they are here to govern for the 38 million people in Afghanistan. That they are there to provide, you know, law and order.

But then you have these members of the Taliban who are looking for revenge, those reprisal attacks. And then you have those who have been in prison, thousands of them in prison now for years, who are out in the public. This is the acute danger for so many local Afghans.

JARRETT: So to your point, the official Taliban is making a lot of promises that sound good, right? Namely for women and as you mentioned amnesty for those who sided with the now foreigner Afghan government. So they are saying right things, but what is the reason to believe them?

COREN: Yeah, it is really interesting because they are saying all the right things. I mean, they know how to speak to the international media. They have become very sophisticated, you know, over the last however many years.

But nobody is buying it. Certainly not the people -- the educated people that I know are buying it, and that is because of the brutal regime that the Taliban administered when they were in power from 1996 to 2001.

They operated under this extremely harsh interpretation of Islam. They operated under Sharia law. Now, under Sharia law, there was no music, there was no TV.

You know, men have to grow their beards to a certain length. Women have to wear burqas when they are outside, must be chaperoned by a male relative. Otherwise they are confined to their homes. Women weren't allowed to work. As far as forms of punishment, there were public floggings, there were

amputations, thieves would have their hands cut off. There were public stonings of women who committed adultery, mass executions of ethnic minorities.

You are talking about that were killed in their thousands. Why would these people believe that the Afghanistan -- that the Taliban now ruling Afghanistan have changed their ways, have changed their views.

Like I said, you know, no one is buying it. And yesterday we heard from Zabihullah Mujahid, who is the Taliban spokesperson, he is a very high ranking member of the Taliban. He addressed the press.

Interestingly, he took his first question from a female reporter. He was asked, will women be allowed to go to work? He said yes, they will, under the framework of Sharia law. And he was then asked the question, and I think this was very telling, what is the difference between the Taliban of the '90s and the Taliban today.

And let me read you what he said. He said, if this question is based on thought, ideology, beliefs, then there is no difference. We have the same beliefs.

So what does that say? It truly is for interpretation. I guess time will tell. The fear for the people on the ground, Laura, is that once the cameras go, once the media leaves, once the world's attention turns to the next breaking news story, that that is when the Taliban will reveal its true colors.

JARRETT: Obviously, that is a telling statement that the beliefs haven't changed. Before we let you go, I want to ask you about Pakistan. It's obviously a key moment for the region, the country as of now holding back on recognizing the Taliban as the official government.

Help our viewers understand why exactly Pakistan's response here affects America's ability to gather intelligence on the ground.

COREN: Look, we heard from Prime Minister Imran Khan a couple months ago where he basically ruled out any American base in Pakistan.


He knows that that would be political suicide. They have done it before and he will not be doing it again.

But we have to remember that the Pakistan has been in bed with the Taliban for years. They have harbored the Taliban for the last 20 years along the border. This is where the military wing of the Taliban has been based. They have had training grounds. They have had hospitals for Taliban fighters who have returned from the battlefield back to Pakistan to recover.

So, you know, they may be celebrating. And we heard from, you know, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan saying that the shackles have been broken of slavery in Afghanistan. But this is a dangerous bedfellow to have because now, the Taliban

once harboring along the border are in control. They are running the government. And the Pakistani Taliban that could perhaps get ideas, they certainly have caused problems over the years. And there is no reason to say that they won't again.

You have potential, you know, terror networks like al Qaeda and ISIS which many experts say are already in Afghanistan that could once again set up bases. You know, right there on Pakistan's doorstep. Plus you have this humanitarian crisis that is unfolding as we speak.

And while the Taliban might be in control of the borders at the moment, once they are up -- and people can move, there will be a lot of Afghans fleeing back in Pakistan like they did back in the late '90s.

JARRETT: Yes. Clearly, Pakistan's next move will be key. And I should mention that the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg joins "NEW DAY" at 6:00 a.m. to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

Anna Coren, thank you. Thank you for all your reporting as usual.

Still ahead, his state has more children in the hospital than any other state in the nation. Now, after refusing health precautions to keep his people safe, the governor of Texas has coronavirus. What it means for him and the dozens he spent time with this week.



JARRETT: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has spent months advocating against masks and attended a big maskless fundraiser Monday. But now --


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: This is Governor Greg Abbott. As you may have heard by now, I have tested positive for COVID-19.


JARRETT: Abbott says he is doing just fine but his diagnosis makes him the latest public figure to downplay coronavirus risks only to come down with the virus.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Dallas with more.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has tested positive for COVID-19 according to his press office who also says that the governor is fully vaccinated, he has no symptoms, he is in isolation at the governor's mansion. He is being treated with monoclonal antibodies and that the first lady of Texas was also tested and that she has tested negative for COVID-19. His press office also saying everyone in close contact with the governor has been contacted.

Now, that might include the people in these pictures. Take a look. Governor Greg Abbott tweeting these Monday night showing his attendance at a mostly maskless rally in Collin County.

Now, Governor Greg Abbott now a part of the alarming statistics in this state, the growing number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Now, all this happening at a time when his attorneys are arguing in courts across the state against mask mandates in schools at a time when the state of Texas leads the nation in the number of children who are hospitalized with COVID-19.

Now, will his infection change his mind on mask mandates? We don't know that. What we do know is that the legal battle over mask mandates in this state continues -- Laura.


JARRETT: Rosa, thank you for that.

The White House is set to announce its formal plans later today for a COVID vaccine booster shot. A senior U.S. health official tells Dr. Gupta that announcement will include the first detailed data on waning immunity among vaccinated Americans.

Last week, the FDA approved booster shots for certain people who are immunocompromised. Administration sources have said that the government is planning to start offering third doses to other fully vaccinated people starting next month.

All right. A little programming note here for you. Join CNN "We Love New York City." the homecoming concert Saturday, starting 5:00 p.m. Eastern, exclusively on CNN.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

A breakneck mass evacuation is job one for the U.S. military in Afghanistan right now. And it is a daunting task. More than 1,000 U.S. citizens, permanent residents and their families were evacuated on 13 flights from Afghanistan yesterday. Officials estimate as many as 10,000 to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan. But the numbers here are influx and many people are far from the airport in Kabul. That is on top of the thousands of Afghan allies who helped the U.S. war effort.

Sources say the state department is still deciding new prioritize evacuations and it is still unclear whether President Biden would be willing to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond August 31st if evacuations are ongoing. Well, social media giants are scrambling to figure out how to deal

with the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Facebook reiterated its ban on accounts praising or representing the Taliban from all of its platforms and that it would remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban. YouTube says Taliban is prohibited from its platform and any account operated will by that group, will be terminated.

Meanwhile, Twitter taking a different approach here. A spokesperson said people are using either platform to seek help, and it promised to remain vigilant in enforcing its policies.


All these platforms are facing complex choices, because they want Afghan users to remain connected but the Taliban may clamp down on Internet access and other forms of communication anyway.

Coming up for you, people in Haiti forced to dig in the rubble of a grocery store in search of food. CNN takes you inside a hospital treating victims of this horrific earthquake. That's next.