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Hala Gorani Tonight
Greece Continues To Battle Devastating Wildfires; New York Governor Cuomo Resigns; Virginia Giuffre Sues Prince Andrew Of Sexual Assault; Afghan President Calls For Uprisings Against Taliban; Taliban Claims Eight Provincial Capitals In Five Days; COVID-19 Infections Rise In China, Thailand, Australia; Climate Change Transforming Life As We Know It. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired August 10, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, live from CNN in London, I'm HALA GORANI TONIGHT. A disaster of unprecedented proportions.
That is what the Greek prime minister is calling the wildfires still ripping through his country. We're live on the island of Evia. Then a
stunning fall from grace for the Governor of New York. He resigns after mounting pressure over allegations of sexual harassment.
And later, one of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims sues Britain's Prince Andrew, accusing him of sexual assault and battery two decades ago. Will
the prince respond? We'll have that story as well. Greece's prime minister is calling it a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions, and a sign
that climate change is knocking on the door of the entire planet. More than 500 wildfires are now burning across Greece, destroying homes, forcing
thousands to flee.
Extreme weather is also devastating other parts of the world including Turkey, Algeria, California -- we'll get to that in a moment. And this
comes just a day after that landmark report from the United Nations warning that the climate crisis could get a lot worse and a lot faster. Greece's
second largest island, Evia, has been at the center of this particular storm. Here's CNN's Eleni Giokos posting on social media a short while ago
about the situation on the island.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This fire they've been trying to put out since early this morning, we've been watching helicopters, airplanes
dropping off water -- there's my cameraman, there's another blaze that's burning. But I'm -- you know, the blaze is certain times is so deep and
it's literally ripping through all the trees. And then you have local volunteers that are trying to assist with whatever water they have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Well, Eleni Giokos joins me now live from Evia with the very latest. It's dark now where you are. Talk to us about this battle to put
out these fires on Evia. How contained are they?
GIOKOS: Look, you know, Hala, it's been a very tough day to witness it, but also importantly for the firefighters that have been battling these fires
across the island. Now, there was hope that, you know, most fires were under control this morning, but so many of the fires rekindled a few
We still had a bit of lights and unfortunately the helicopters had to stop working. Behind me, I can still see, and you probably can't see this on
camera because of the smoke, it's so intense, there's a fire burning on one of the mountains behind me.
And it just means that there's so much more work to come tomorrow. It's very difficult to access some of these mountains which means they're just
going to have to allow it to rip through a lot of the areas, a few villagers were evacuated today. Some villagers say that they don't want to
leave their homes. They want to protect their homes. Now, in terms of the fire fighting capabilities, the Greeks were assisted by various
international teams today, we specifically followed the Slovakian team that was on the ground.
And I tell you, the work and just the manpower that is required to put these fires out, which by the way are aggressive and intense, and as you
say completely unprecedented, never seen before. Firefighters that have been working in this industry for decades say they've never seen this or
experienced this before. Locals say they've never seen the extent of damage and also the fires that are just absolutely unprecedented. We've also seen
other international teams on the ground, very much needed.
You mentioned the prime minister has apologized for the weaknesses in their reaction, but the locals are devastated and they are shocked. Now, they're
tallying up the losses, and they're hoping that this is going to end soon. We discussed this yesterday, Hala, we're hoping in the next few days -- I
mean, to be honest, we've seen the rekindling of fires in the Parnithas as well, which means that you --
GORANI: Yes --
GIOKOS: Still have over 500 fires that are still raging on in Greece.
GORANI: And talk to us just being on the ground, I mean, just looking at these images, it must be difficult to breathe. It must be difficult to just
navigate this scene to just report from there. Talk to us about what it's like being on the ground so close to these blazes.
GIOKOS: You know, since I've arrived, I can barely breathe. It is so hard. The air is just filled with smoke. It is dangerous. People have been asked
to stay at home. We've been wearing two masks, and it's been raining ash. I mean, and it is warm, actually when it touches your skin, you almost feel
like it's burning, and it's difficult to escape.
There's nowhere to go. You cannot escape this. Can you imagine what the firefighters are experiencing? And in fact, we took a walk -- the video
showed, we took a walk to a fire face on and we spent a lot of time with firefighters today.
It is absolutely intense, and it is difficult because you're hearing the personal stories of people losing their livelihoods that rely on the
forests for their income, and now we'll probably have to wait 30 years for the forest to recover. And then you're seeing just the efforts on the
ground by average people and the firefighters, and it's an absolute intense and traumatic experience.
GORANI: All right, Eleni Giokos, thanks very much. Great reporting there on the ground there giving us a sense of the severity of the fires of the
intensity of the blazes and how overwhelmed some of these firefighters are. Thanks very much. And it's not just Greece.
California is experiencing a wildfire crisis. More examples of the destructive effects of climate change. The Dixie Fire has now destroyed
nearly 900 structures, and it is threatening another 16,000. It's the second largest wildfire in the state's history.
That fire is one of 11 major wildfires burning cross the state. More than 12,000 people are currently under evacuation orders. And let's take you to
North Africa. Wildfires turning deadly in Algeria. At least four people have died as dozens of fires burn across that country according to the
state news agency.
Three others have been injured and Algeria's interior minister is calling the spread a criminal act, but of course, we've been reporting the climate
as well, the fact that the air is so dry and the landscape is so dry is making -- is allowing these fires to spread very fast.
All right, more on the climate a bit later, but I want to bring you the breaking news that is rocking the state of New York that has ripple effects
way beyond that state. Governor Andrew Cuomo has just announced his resignation. A stunning fall from grace for a man once considered one of
America's most popular politicians.
Cuomo defended himself until the end against an attorney general's report that found he had sexually harassed 11 women. He said that in his mind, he
had never, quote, "crossed the line" with anyone. But he acknowledged that the scandal had become too much of a distraction to continue on the job.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): And I would never want to be unhelpful in any way. And I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now
is if I step aside and let government get back to governing. And therefore, that's what I'll do because I work for you. And doing the right thing is
doing the right thing for you. Because as we say, it's not about me, it's about we.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Well, CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson joins me now from New York. Joey, this isn't over for the now -- well, soon to be former Governor Cuomo
because there could be civil cases, there could be even criminal cases emerging from this.
JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, that's very true, Hala, good to be with you. And that depends, right, because there could have been
circumstances based upon his resignation such that it made his resignation more palatable if you will, right? I'm assuming he's been wanting to step
out of or not wanting to step out and defend and fight this, and so you have to wonder if any deals were broken. So, yes as, it relates to any
allegations of sexual harassment, there are two tracks, Hala, just to be clear.
There's the civil track that involves money in the event that he created a hostile work environment, in the event that his conduct was offensive in
much as it led the women to really just be uncomfortable and not be able to perform their duties as they should if he retaliated in any way, then
And he would open himself up to and of course, have to defend against civil lawsuits, civil litigation. From a criminal perspective On the other track,
we know that a woman filed a complaint in Albany. The Albany county district attorney is investigating that complaint, he would be facing two
misdemeanor charges for those.
A misdemeanor, just to be clear, crime punishable by up to a year distinguishable from a felony which is punishable from year to life. Just
clarifying his exposure.
In addition to that Albany case, you have the Nassau County D.A. who is investigating, you have the Manhattan district attorney who is
investigating, you have the Westchester County, right? The way that New York is structured, you have various counties, each county has an elected
D.A. So, to your point, while it may eliminate the political implications in terms of an impeachment, there's still very much civil liability that
could be imposed and there's criminal culpability that could be outstanding for this governor.
GORANI: And it appears as though the key defense is, look, I may have called someone darling, I may have made someone uncomfortable, but I really
wasn't aware that I was crossing the line. Does that hold up?
JACKSON: It will not hold up as it relates to the civil type of allegations. And again, the civil cases involve money, right? It involves a
hostile work environment. Interestingly enough and ironically enough, in 2019, this governor signed legislation here in New York which would make it
more favorable for victims to come forward.
How? Extending the statute of limitations from one year to three years. Eliminating the component in the law, Hala, that said it had to be
persistent, right, and pervasive in terms of severe and pervasive discrimination? No, it doesn't have to be that at all.
One incident if the proper incident and the proper misconduct could constitute in fact the violation and a whole host of other things that make
it more likely that victims --
GORANI: Yes --
JACKSON: Could come forward, including not even reporting, right? Before you had to report it now, you don't have to report. So, ironically, the
same governor who signed that legislation to make it easier for victims to get relief is now a victim of the legislation. Certainly, calling him a
victim I think people would beg to differ, but figuratively-speaking --
GORANI: Yes --
JACKSON: By the governor who signed that now of course, you know, has to be held accountable and apparently he was.
GORANI: And his lawyer also, I mean, showing pictures of some of the accusers smiling with the governor, I mean, it seems as though that's sort
of the outline of a defense going forward. Would you agree?
JACKSON: So what's happens in a civil context is that, generally, cases like that would settle, right? I don't know that any lawyer would want to
put victims through depositions where you now have to interview them again, right, outside the presence of --
GORANI: Yes --
JACKSON: Court. There's discovery. There's a whole host in New York and throughout the country in the United States, there's a process and a
proceeding. So, he could defend on a number of defenses, but that would be protractive litigation. I think there --
GORANI: Yes --
JACKSON: Could be a monetary settlement that would be, you know -- that would be wise enough and well enough, right, for the victims to accept --
alleged victims to accept and that would end it. The outstanding issue now would be as to the criminality. Will these prosecutors move forward?
GORANI: Sure --
JACKSON: Will there be an arrest? Will he then have to defend himself in a criminal proceeding where he's facing of course a violation of his liberty
interest, right? That is going to jam.
GORANI: And I mean, finally, this is -- I mean, this is also a big, a huge political story in the United States, a big star of the Democratic Party.
It is a political dynasty in New York, of course, Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo's father, governor of New York as well. What happens to the name
Cuomo now in New York politics?
JACKSON: Yes, I think certainly, listen, Mario Cuomo, his father, outstanding governor. And quite frankly, I have to tell you, Hala, Andrew
Cuomo, the person we're looking at, outstanding governor, if you can separate the specifics of his performance, his job, the nature of how he
did his job from the personal conduct.
And so, you know, listen, I think that there would be a lot of repairing for him to do moving forward. I think it's the right call as it relates to
not putting through the state and really, you know, the country in large measure. He's a national figure through the whole circus of having a
I was one though as a defense attorney who felt very much that he's entitled to due process. People -- you know, they came out with a report,
the attorney general, that is, but he certainly would have a right to defend it.
I think he said, listen, I'm not going to put our legislature through the impeachment process, I'm not going to put myself, I'm not going to put the
people of New York in that process, and instead, I'll just step aside, let government go back to work and we'll see what happens from there. But a
major blow particularly as it relates to New York politics. This is big news here, I think it's big news around the country, many thought he would
stay and fight.
GORANI: Well, and around the world. It's the lead story on many websites in Europe as well. And the Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take over in
14 days when the Andrew Cuomo resignation takes effect. Thanks so much, Joey Jackson as always for --
JACKSON: Always --
GORANI: For talking us through this. When Virginia Roberts Giuffre publicly accused Britain's Prince Andrew of sexually abusing her when she was
underage, Buckingham Palace denied it, quote, "emphatically". The prince claimed he never met her, he never have a recollection of never meeting
her. But denial may not be enough anymore now that Giuffre is suing the prince.
Nina dos Santos has details from newly filed court documents.
NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Virginia Giuffre around the time she says she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew, a
photo taken at the London house of socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, facing trial for procuring minors for the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, charges
she has pled not guilty to. When the shop was snapped in 2001 Giuffre was just 17, Prince Andrew was around 40.
VIRGINIA ROBERTS GIUFFRE, ACCUSES PRINCE ANDREW OF SEXUAL ASSAULT: He knows what happened, I know what happened, and there's only one of us telling the
truth, and I know that's me.
DOS SANTOS: In a civil suit filed this week in New York, Giuffre alleges the prince abused her in three locations, including at Epstein's mansion in
Manhattan and on his private Caribbean island. She says the prince knew she was underage and she had been trafficked there. The complaint filed under
state child protection laws details allegations first described by Giuffre in 2015 and seeks damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
Prince Andrew's legal team declined to comment on the development. In the past, the royal has strenuously denied he's ever met Giuffre whose maiden
name is Roberts and has suggested that the photo of them together could be fake.
ANDREW ALBERT CHRISTIAN EDWARD, DUKE OF YORK: I can absolutely, categorically tell you, it never happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you recall any kind of sexual contact with Virginia Roberts then --
EDWARD: No, none --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or any other time?
EDWARD: None whatsoever.
DOS SANTOS: Prince Andrew offered to cooperate with investigators in 2019 in this disastrous TV interview. And has since repeated that pledge in a
written statement when resigning from royal duties. Giuffre's lawyers, though, say he's been stonewalling since. For this author, who's written a
book on the prince and Epstein, the legal drama means it's unlikely Andrew will make it back into the royal fold soon.
NIGEL CAWTHORNE, AUTHOR: The new civil lawsuit from -- filed by Virginia Giuffre certainly precludes Prince Andrew from returning to public duties.
It's very different to see how it can come back to the frontline of the monarchy as he's expressed a wish to with this suit pending or if there's -
- a court finds against him in absentia.
DOS SANTOS (on camera): Buckingham Palace declined to comment on Giuffre's suit. In the past, it has issued statements asserting the prince's denials.
But news of fresh litigation highlights some comfortable questions about the prince's relationship with a known sex offender long after Jeffrey
Epstein's death. Nina dos Santos, CNN in London.
GORANI: CNN legal analyst Paul Callan joins me now. What happens if Prince Andrew just simply does not respond?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: If he doesn't respond to the charges, he'll be held in default in federal court in New York. And what would happen next
is, there would be a trial on what the damages are in the case, which could be conducted in absentia, that is --
GORANI: Yes --
CALLAN: Without the prince being present. And once that judgment was handed down, that could be enforced under international law in the United Kingdom
GORANI: This is a civil case, so Virginia Giuffre is suing for damages. If there is a judgment against Prince Andrew and he does not settle or he does
not pay, what happens?
CALLAN: You would have the right -- the victim in this case would have the right then to enforce that judgment under treaties that have been signed
between the United States and Great Britain. And that judgment could, in fact, be enforced in the British Isles. Now, the prince might choose to
contest it, contest the legality of the judgment when it was tried to be enforced in the United Kingdom and would have to see how that turned out.
But treaty obligations would require him I think, to pay a U.S. judgment.
GORANI: So, if he chooses to --
CALLAN: And could be a big one I have to say. It could be a huge judgment, too. A case like this --
GORANI: Yes --
CALLAN: Could go easily for well over a million dollars in terms of damages if it's proven in court.
GORANI: That's interesting. Why do you come up with that -- I mean, what makes you say that? Is this based on previous similar cases?
CALLAN: Yes, it's based on experience. Cases like this have been brought throughout the United States. And when you have a minor being sexually
abused by somebody who's in their 40s, those are cases that can lead to enormous damage awards by juries. And here, where you have a British prince
GORANI: Yes --
CALLAN: Being the defendant in the case, I think you could expect a huge verdict against the prince if the evidence warrants it.
GORANI: If he chooses to settle, can he do it from outside the United States, or would he have to travel to the United States in person?
CALLAN: No, a settlement could be negotiated from outside the United States, and a lot of times in these cases, there's a confidentiality
agreement that is also negotiated between the parties. Now, it's hard to say whether that will happen in this case because this case has been so
highly publicized that everybody is aware of its existence. But nonetheless, they might try to -- lawyers representing the prince might try
to negotiate a confidentiality agreement if a settlement was reached.
GORANI: Prince Andrew has consistently denied any wrongdoing. He says he has no recollection of ever even meeting Virginia Giuffre. But there are --
there is one photo that we've all seen basically of the prince with his arm around the waist of the young woman, Virginia Giuffre, 17 at the time. How
would a picture like that play into this case?
CALLAN: It's been my experience as a trial lawyer that a photo like that would be extremely damaging, almost impossible to get around, unless he can
come up with some kind of a forensic expert to say that the picture is faked. And I think it's going to be very difficult to prove that.
So, that one picture may be the thing that would do him in a civil case. So, the other thing of course is Jeffrey Epstein now has an acknowledged
history of abusing young women, and for the prince to be hanging around with Epstein, the whole atmosphere around this case would be terrible for
So, I think he's going to have an uphill battle beating back this -- the accusations in this case.
GORANI: All right, Paul Callan as always, thanks so much for joining us.
CALLAN: Thank you, Hala.
GORANI: Still to come tonight, football superstar Lionel Messi, he's making a career move and it's a huge story in France and across Europe. We have a
live report next. Plus, Afghan forces struggle to stop the Taliban's offensive, and it is forcing the president to seek other kinds of help.
We'll be right back.
GORANI: Just days after a tearful good-bye in Barcelona, Lionel Messi is now in Paris greeted with jubilation just hours ago. Obviously, he's one of
the world's most famous footballers, he's expected to sign a contract with Paris Saint-Germain, Saskya Vandoorne was there as fans went wild.
SASKYA VANDOORNE, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: (INAUDIBLE) ever since it was announced that PSG would offer Messi a two-year contract. Now some of the
fans were here yesterday, others arrived this morning. And every move that Messi has made today has been tracked when he left his home in Barcelona,
when he arrived at the airport in Barcelona.
He was then on a plane, his wife, on Instagram, a picture of them together and saying how much he was looking forward to the next adventure, all five
of them together. And now he's finally here, he has landed at Le Bourget Airport just north of Paris. And the next steps from what we hear that the
French press say that tomorrow, there should be a press conference which -- where Messi will be --
GORANI: Yes --
VANDOORNE: Officially unveiled. Hala?
GORANI: All right, thank you very much. It was loud because people are excited. I didn't catch every single word that Saskya said, but I could
really sense the excitement coming through. Obviously, this is not -- we're not giving you the sports angles here, we have our sports journalists for
that. But we're talking about Messi as a global brand on his own.
One of the most recognizable names in the world. And Paris Saint-Germain is one of just a handful of clubs that could even think about being able to
sign him. He became a free agent after his deal with Barcelona was unable to go through. Let's go to Pau Mosquera, he's in Paris with more on the
mega bucks that got the mega money that got Messi to Paris Saint-Germain. Talk to us about the negotiations and how it ended the way it did.
PAU MOSQUERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Hala or may I say bonjour, because from now on it seems that all Lionel Messi soccer fans are going to have to
get used to French language. So, it seemed so far the negotiations haven't been made official, but as for what we know or at least as the sports, the
media sports here in France saying.
It seems like the new contract that would be signing Messi within a matter of hours, it would give him a salary up to 30 million or 40 million euros,
which is a little bit lower than it was in football club Barcelona, but still very considerable.
And we also have to keep in mind that having Messi on a sports team is important because it's going to have a very big impact on its brand. And
for sure we're going to see how it is once he finally signs the contract with Paris Saint-Germain. And actually, Hala, I guess, that you can hear it
through my microphone.
Those are still here -- some people have -- some fans have gathered since morning that we were waiting to see Lionel Messi arriving here to Parc des
Princes, which is a stadium of Paris Saint-Germain. These people that are behind me, they're not many as they were before just a few minutes ago.
We can say there were still a big crowd here cheering, clapping, waiting for Messi. And actually, they had the chance to have a shot at him because
Messi actually got here to the stadium with a black van to wave the people that were waiting for him, but it was a short visit.
After that he got back to the van, and now he is supposed to be in the hotel awaiting to being presented tomorrow, Wednesday here at Parc des
Princes, and it's going to happen around 11 O'clock Paris time, 5:00 in the morning Eastern Time.
Actually this morning, Hala, we had the chance to speak to some of the fans that gathered here around, and they told us that they were really excited
about having him in Paris. And actually, that's a little bit more of what they told us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're asking me if I'm excited, that the G.O.A.T., that the best player ever is coming to Paris? Of course, it's awesome, it's
wonderful, it's great, and it's another message that we are sending to Europe and to all over the world that Paris Saint-Germain is growing up,
growing up, growing up. I mean, it's amazing, we're like living in a dream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOSQUERA: Well, we're going to have to wait until tomorrow morning to see how Lionel Messi is unveiled as a new player here at Paris Saint --
GORANI: We lost our connection there with Pau there. Lots of excitement in Paris, there'll be more on "WORLD SPORT".
Still to come tonight, an urgent move by the Afghan president. The Taliban are seizing more territory from the government. Ashraf Ghani turns to local
warlords for help. We'll explain after the break.
GORANI: The Taliban appear to have captured even more territory in Afghanistan as their lightning offensive pushes on. Their fighters now
claim to have taken over the city of Pul-e-Khumri in the north. This would mark the eighth provincial capital to fall to the group since Friday, just
a few days.
Embattled Afghan president Ashraf Ghani is now formally enlisting the help of local warlords and he is urging civilians to rise up against the
Taliban. That's how desperate they are, asking civilians to pitch in.
This as sources tell CNN, U.S. officials are no longer talking about six months as the likely timeline for the Afghan government to collapse. They
think it could happen much more quickly. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins me now with more on the very latest on the Taliban advance -- Nick.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I have to say, Hala, it is quite startling to hear the pace at which these pieces of bad news
keep emerging from Afghanistan.
Pul-e-Khumri falling; if that is the case and the Taliban claim in their Pentagon (ph) witness reports from inside the city and videos to back much
of that up would be taking them to nearly about a quarter of the provincial capitals falling to their hands in just five days.
Then on Sunday we heard that Kunduz had fallen; I think many possibly thought it might be a lull while they reset, resupplied. They just
continued on apace. I have to say I was quite shocked to hear reporting from our D.C. colleagues about officials in the U.S. government, discussing
the timeline being sped up, from predicting a possible collapse in six months, that maybe it'll happen faster.
Yes, that's a reflection of reality, certainly.
WALSH: But it came, too, with the recognition they might have to reduce their embassy presence at some point over the next weeks or so.
Sort of startling to see the U.S. government react, often its own interests first understandable, but remarkable I think to hear that bold assessment
from those as to quite how fast wrong this is going.
Now the question, of course, will be what are the major cities right now. Lashkar Gah in the south; heavy fighting in Helmand, where many U.S.
soldiers and NATO troops lost their lives; Kandahar encircled, Mazar-i- Sharif looking imperiled up in the north. And then, of course, Kabul, what of Kabul?
Six million people, heavily pro-government. Many in there think it's almost impossible to imagine the Taliban walking in. But I think our concepts of
what's feasible and not feasible is evolving rapidly as this happens.
Some analysts have talked about a house of cards that was essentially built for the Afghan government during the U.S. presence there and that's a
little rash to suggest it's collapsing as we speak.
But this is exceptionally fast. And the U.S.' response at this stage is to send their chief diplomats on this matter, out to Doha, to Qatar, and to
try to persuade the Taliban over three days of meetings to slow down their offensive.
The peace process, years long as it's been, has clearly not taken the Americans the place where they want to be. And they're leaving, again
announcing today that they have over 95 percent of their personnel out of the country.
I have to say, Hala, we all knew this was going to be bad when President Joe Biden said they were going to leave unconditionally. Many, I think,
felt that ugly scenes would follow. But I have to say I am surprised every day at how quite quickly this is unfolding.
Under a week, a quarter of provincial capitals, the urban centers that many analysts thought were simply not place that the Taliban would be able to
push into are falling; quite startling.
GORANI: Nick Paton Walsh, thanks so much.
Our next guest is a former U.S. Marine captain, who served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded the Purple Heart. He's also authored
several novels and short stories. His latest book is "2034," a novel of the next world war.
Elliot Ackerman joins me now from Florida.
Thanks for being with us. You've written, withdrawing from Afghanistan completely is a decision I don't agree with.
What do you think would have been the best approach?
CAPT. ELLIOT ACKERMAN, USMC (RET.): I think that the best approach would have been a -- to maintain our force levels at what they were at around
2020 before this announcement. There were approximately 3,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Those troops sent an important signal both to the Taliban and to the world that Afghan government was within the sphere of influence of the United
States and our presence there was a stabilizing force so that you'd not see the very collapse we're witnessing today, which is, yes, these are
battlefield gains we're seeing by the Taliban.
But what we're also really seeing is just a massive collapse in confidence in the Afghan government. And that collapse in confidence occurs because
they have no partners.
GORANI: But the Biden administration has said repeatedly, defending this decision, that the Afghan Defense Forces, the national defense Forces, that
they have the training, the ability to confront the Taliban. Clearly we're seeing it with our own eyes that is not the case.
Was it a miscalculation, do you believe, by the Biden administration to withdraw so quickly and completely?
ACKERMAN: I think that is somewhat a duplicitous framing of the conditions in Afghanistan by the Biden administration. The fact of the matter is, the
Afghan army today is not what the Afghan army was before the U.S. pulled out, specifically, their ability to reach back on things like airstrikes,
medevac, reconnaissance support.
All of that has vanished. So suddenly, the Afghan military doesn't enjoy the on-the-ground advantage it once held over the Taliban. Now you're
seeing two militaries that are pretty much equally paired. And obviously the Afghan military is not faring well because the Afghan political system
is collapsing as well.
GORANI: You were on the ground in Afghanistan.
The trillions of dollars spent on building up this national force, what went wrong?
ACKERMAN: How long is your program?
I think it's difficult to say what went wrong --
GORANI: I mean just some of the -- I know not necessarily in a sound bite, just way that would be -- a reductive way. But that's the question I hear
most often. It's like all this effort, all this planning, all this strategizing, the schools built, the bridges built, the money spent in
training the Afghan force, all of that has ended in essentially a scenario in which the Taliban is making such lightning rapid advances in the country
that you wonder what was the biggest issue here.
ACKERMAN: All of that was predicated on a promise that Afghanistan would never be sort of thrown back to the wolves again. You see, with girls going
to school, people aligning themselves the Afghan government, on the ground, day-to-day, war, insurgency, counterinsurgency is very retail (ph). You're
trying to give people their confidence in the fact that their best future exists with the government of Afghanistan.
And that is a million conversations taking place over many, many years. I think one of the problems the U.S. effort had in Afghanistan is we were
always one foot in Afghanistan and one foot out the door, which never lent itself to a whole lot of confidence on the part of the Afghan people, that
our commitment there would be enduring.
You go all the way back to 2009, to Obama's speech, when he announced the surge and in the very same speech announced that all U.S. troops would be
leaving in 2014. Those (INAUDIBLE) have real consequences.
GORANI: So now what then?
What happens, do you think?
ACKERMAN: I think we're going to see Afghanistan turn into a black hole. And I think the Biden administration has embarked on an incredibly risky
policy because their policy is only successful if nothing crawls out of that black hole and strikes at the United States.
And I hope that doesn't happen. But you know, we have a recent example of what happens when you allow country structures to implode on itself. In
Iraq in 2014 and we saw the rise of the Islamic State there and let's all hope we don't see a similar type of organization rise in Afghanistan with
the intention of harming the United States and the West.
GORANI: Yes, and it's not just the harm directed potentially at the U.S. and the West but, as you well know, all the advances for girls, for women,
the schools built, all of that potentially at risk of being rolled back.
And your heart has to break for -- I mean, I've seen, just social media postings and interviews of young girls, who are absolutely terrified that
they're going to go back to some very dark times.
ACKERMAN: Indeed. And in my opinion, this was utterly avoidable. For the price tag of 3,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan in an enduring way,
in much the same way we've had U.S. troops stationed in Germany, in Japan, in Korea, this could have been avoided.
GORANI: Elliot Ackerman, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate your time this evening.
ACKERMAN: Thank you.
Still to come, anger on the streets of Thailand over the government's handling of COVID, the pandemic there. We'll see how cases are on the rise
across Asia, despite some very strict measures.
So what's going on?
We'll be right back.
GORANI: Well, the diplomatic spat between China and Canada took another hit today when a Chinese court upheld the death sentence for a Canadian citizen
for drug smuggling.
Robert Schellenberg was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018 four years after his arrest. The sentence, though, was changed to death
just a month after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a warrant from the United States. She's now fighting extradition
to the U.S.
In Asia, coronavirus cases and deaths are spiking in places that thought they had a handle on the pandemic months ago. Vietnam, Thailand and
Malaysia among the countries fighting another wave of COVID.
Take a look at the graphic. Unmistakably, you're seeing that line rise up. Some hospitals are overwhelmed. They're running out of beds, equipment and
Protesters in Thailand have been taking to the streets to voice their anger at their government's handling of the pandemic. Today, police fired tear
gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.
And in Australia, authorities are vowing to step up enforcement of lockdown rules in Sydney. The city just reported 343 new infections. That is its
highest daily case count since the pandemic began. Paula Hancocks is following developments from Seoul.
And you see really strict measures in many of these Asian countries and yet the number of cases is rising dramatically.
What's going on?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hala, there's a few reasons for this. Quite frankly, first of all, the Delta variant is so much more contagious
than previous variants, which is always going to have an impact. And we're seeing that impact around the world.
What you're also dealing with these many of these Asian countries is low vaccination rates. Quite simply put, many of these countries didn't feel
they needed the vaccine as much as the United States, the United Kingdom, countries that really did need to have that measure. And felt it was more
of a silver bullet than other countries.
But when you look at places like Australia, just a matter of months ago, there was barely a mask being worn on the street. It felt like the
coronavirus pandemic had passed them by, that there were minimal cases every day.
And now, as you say, we've got Sydney, for example, the most populous city in the country, which is on its seventh week of lockdown. And yet we're
still seeing the highest level of cases on a daily basis that we have seen in that city.
In Thailand as well, there is rising anger in Thailand. We saw in the streets of Bangkok on Tuesday evening, there was violence on the street,
clashes with riot police. Many anti-government protesters really felt that their government was not doing enough to deal with the pandemic.
So the vaccination rates, for example, in Thailand it is 6.7 percent of the population that has been fully vaccinated up until this point. In
Australia, you've got just over 22 percent of the population that is fully vaccinated. And again, in Australia there is backlash against the
government, against prime minister Scott Morrison, feeling that they simply didn't act quickly enough.
And for many of these Asian countries at the beginning, when the vaccination was starting to rollout, many, in fact, said they were happy to
sit back and wait and see what kind of response there was to these vaccinations because they simply didn't feel the desperation to roll it out
quite so quickly among its population.
GORANI: It's interesting, because Australia is one of those countries, one of the few countries that very quickly shut its borders, even to its own
citizens; lockdowns, if only a few cases emerged.
And then you have this 22 percent, 23 percent vaccination rate. It is puzzling because you would have expected a country like Australia to move
quickly on vaccinations and it wasn't the case necessarily.
HANCOCKS: Well, there's criticism for that as well, Hala. The fact that they did have this period of time, this window, where there were minimal
cases and they were able to try and roll the vaccinations out quicker.
Now we've heard from the New South Wales state's premier, saying there could be, in fact, thousands of cases on a daily basis at this point.
HANCOCKS: If they hadn't gone into the lockdown so what they're dealing with is hundreds. Now it is still too much and they're still trying to
ratchet up the vaccination program.
There were a number of different things. As I mentioned, the reason why they were quite slow at the uptake at the beginning, there was also
changing medical advice on the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine, which certainly didn't help matters.
But the higher numbers have become, of daily cases, the longer the lockdowns have been as well, in places like Sydney and Melbourne, once some
of the biggest cities, we are seeing an increase in the number of people wanting to be vaccinated as well.
GORANI: All right, Paula Hancocks, thanks very much. And thanks for staying up. It's almost 4:00 in the morning there for you, burning the midnight
We'll be right back. Stay with CNN.
GORANI: Well, we're still grappling with that historic climate report released yesterday by the U.N. that, if we don't address climate change and
fast, humans are not the only ones going to suffer. And as Scott McLean shows us, the British puffins face a dire fate if a global temperature role
is not met. Take a look.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A few miles off England's sandy, northeastern coastline, there's a rocky archipelago.
Isolated, barren and nearly unscarred by humans, save for a few lighthouses and a 650-year-old former monastery.
For centuries the Farne Islands have been left almost unchanged, attracting only a few solitary hermits, sunbathing seals and hundreds of thousands of
breeding birds, like the Atlantic puffins.
But even on this remote outcrop, where only nature appears to govern who survives and who doesn't, there's now another force to contend with.
Every morning Gwen Potter and her team of park rangers arrive before the crush of tourists.
GWEN POTTER, NATIONAL TRUST COUNTRYSIDE MANAGER, FARNE ISLANDS: They are very delicate. They can sometimes collapse, so we've got to be very
MCLEAN: They go borough to borough, shoulder deep, to count how many puffins are underground with their eggs.
POTTER: Oh, unoccupied.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one home.
POTTER: I really want a nibble.
MCLEAN: The global population of Atlantic puffins is in steep decline, so the count is done every summer. The growing frequency of extreme weather
threatens to flood their burrows and the eggs inside them.
MCLEAN (voice-over): Rising temperatures are disrupting their food chain.
But on this sunny day, it's hard to imagine the Farne Islands puffin has anything to worry about.
(on camera): I'm just looking at all the birds behind you. It's difficult to envision that these birds could be in any way be threatened.
POTTER: What we're seeing here is a snapshot in time. But over the long term, all of these birds are declining.
MCLEAN: You'll often see puffins holding fish in their mouths. That's their primary food source called sand eels. When eel eggs hatch, they're supposed
to feed on plankton, which blooms at around the same time of year.
But with rising sea temperatures, those two events are now out of sync by almost three weeks. Less food for sand eels ultimately means fewer sand
eels for puffins.
POTTER: And these puffins also, they -- they pair for life. Puffin divorce rate, we believe, is quite low.
MCLEAN: They're better at commitment in relationships than we are?
POTTER: They're much better at bird marriage than human marriage, Yes.
MCLEAN (voice-over): A human commitment is exactly with these birds need. The 2015 Paris climate accord committed world leaders to keep global
temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius.
But a newly-published report from the WWF warns of an uncertain future for the Atlantic puffin if temperatures rise more than 1.5 degrees. Leaders
will have another kick at the climate crisis can at the COP26 summit this fall in Scotland.
MARK WRIGHT, WWF-UK DIRECTOR OF SCIENCE: If we do not step up at the end of this year at the climate meeting, it will have been a complete abrogation
of responsibility, a real missed opportunity. And we'll be letting down future generations if we don't act now.
MCLEAN: Puffin populations in Norway have dropped sharply. And in Iceland, colonies are at risk of dying out completely, according to the WWF.
But on the Farnes, the puffin population appears stable after declining over the past two decades.
POTTER: What really causes issues is rapid change. And while our lifetime may not feel like a rapid change, that is a rapid change.
MCLEAN (on camera): They can adapt to a slowly changing climate but not at the rate that we're at right now.
POTTER: That's exactly it. Yes.
MCLEAN (voice-over): Meaning the rest of the world will have to change, so these islands don't -- Scott McLean, CNN, on the Farne Islands in northern
GORANI: Well, that's going to do it for us. Stay with CNN. I'm Hala Gorani. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is next.