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Hala Gorani Tonight

Taliban Reassures People Of Afghanistan They Have Nothing To Fear Under Their Rule; White House Defends Withdrawal Of Troops From Afghanistan; Taliban Give First Press Briefing Since Taking Power; Fall Of Afghanistan; Uganda To Temporarily Host 2,000 Afghan Refugees. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired August 17, 2021 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:00]

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: The Taliban are trying to reassure the people of Afghanistan that they have nothing to fear under their rule, yet,

many Afghans simply do not trust them and remain terrified that their hard- earned freedoms over the last 20 years could soon be wiped out. Hello and welcome, I'm Hala Gorani. As a new normal slowly emerges in Kabul, the

Taliban spokesperson addressed the nation today in a live news conference, he said, there will be no discrimination against women within the framework

of Sharia law.

That caveat came back time and again, and he also said no retribution against anyone who opposed the Taliban, including soldiers, former

government employees and translators who helped foreign powers. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, SPOKESMAN, TALIBAN (through translator): We want Afghanistan not to be the battlefield. So, today, the fighting is over. So

the honorable Amir Boumaiza(ph) decree, so whoever was against our opposition, they all have been given blanket amnesty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Well, Germany's foreign minister probably spoke for many today when he said the Taliban will be judged by their actions and not their words.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is in Kabul with more on how the Taliban are trying to transform their image as the entire world looks on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): There's a sense that there's more activity on the streets, more shops that are now

open, more government workers going back to their posts because the Taliban wants to show that it can govern, that it can -- it's just not a fighting

force, but that they can keep the lights on. And this is how they're doing it basically. I'm just going to step out of the shot. And you can maybe

take a slightly closer look. These are Taliban fighters just behind me. They're on an old Humvee.

Those Humvees traditionally associated here with the NDS, which is Afghanistan's equivalent of the CIA. You could see they're all quite keen

to pose for the camera, because they're in pretty good spirits right now. They see themselves as being the victors in all this. And they see this as

an opportunity for them to project a new image on the world stage. And I will say that in terms of the security situation, it's having an impact.

The streets of Kabul are largely calm.

That's partly because there are men like this on almost every other street corner, and it's also partly because people are petrified. I have been

getting phone calls all morning, nonstop. People who work for the U.N., people who work for the U.S. military, translators, NGO workers, who are so

desperately afraid now of what will happen next as the U.S. completes this round of evacuations with chaos at the airport. What's their opportunity?

What's their path out? What does their future look like? No answer to those questions at the moment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Well, as Clarissa said, there's more activity on the streets today, but some obvious differences to life in Kabul under Taliban rule. We want

to show you some images shot by our CNN crew earlier. So, what do you notice? Well, it looks almost ordinary.

Cars on the street, horns honking, people buying and selling things at stores, but what you don't see, well, you are seeing no women, at least in

these images. Although, Clarissa earlier said she spotted one or two in a busy marketplace, but certainly fewer than we would normally see at this

time of day in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Now, although, the Taliban have not laid out official new rules for Kabul residents, many women are staying home in fear or because, as some say,

they don't even own burkas anymore, which the Taliban previously mandated. Now, a Taliban spokesperson has told CNN that the education of women and

girls can continue until university level, but there is huge fear and uncertainty around that. Pashtana Durrani is the founder and executive

director of an NGO for girls education called LEARN, and she joins me now from Kandahar.

Thanks so much for being with us, Pashtana, and I'm so glad I'm able to speak with you this evening. The Taliban spokesperson said, well, women

will be able to work, go to school within the framework of Sharia law. When you hear those words, what do you understand them to mean?

PASHTANA DURRANI, FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LEARN: Thank you for having me. Just to be clear, I am in Binisang(ph) but not in Kandahar, and apart

from that, I did listen to the interview. And for a fact, I believe in actions and not words. And right now, me and you, we both know that girls

in Herat are unable to exist in university level courses and women are not able to go to their work and back in Kandahar.

[14:05:00]

So, I would trust them when they actually put their words in action and let the girls in Herat go to university, and let the women in Kandahar go to

their work.

GORANI: All right. So, you are waiting to see what happens in the days and weeks ahead, right? You're not taking them -- you're not trusting them just

based on what they're telling journalists at a news conference?

DURRANI: Exactly. I mean, like, did you see even -- like, you know, when I was going through it and to start all these, the place was filled with

major -- and then I was in touch with my staff member, and he just -- me, I'm like, did you say you missed school today? He's like, no, but they're

afraid to go. Even if you ask her to go, she's too afraid to go and she's just nine right now, right? So, you have --

GORANI: Yes --

DURRANI: To understand what they're saying. In Kabul, they're not applying it in their provinces, and that's a huge difference they narrated. What

they are seeing in Kabul, they're fishing for legitimacy, but what they're doing on ground, that's what they have been doing in the past too.

GORANI: So, they're saying all the right words if I'm understanding you correctly in order to perhaps acquire some legitimacy with the

international community. But when you talk about a 9-year-old afraid to go to school, it really sounds like women right now are living in fear about

what's going to happen next in their communities.

DURRANI: Exactly. I mean, like they don't have a very good (INAUDIBLE), like you know, being nice to women, being respectful to women. So, you have

to understand that there is a common among women and even if not fear, there's a common mistrust among upon women for them.

They don't have that capacity to even run public institutions. They have been fighting all their life. So, people cannot just trust them with all

these policies that they are saying one thing and doing another thing.

GORANI: Yes, have the Taliban or any members of the group or Taliban fighters been to people's homes? Have they approached women if they

ventured outdoors? Has there been any contact in the last few days that either with you or women and girls you know with the Taliban?

DURRANI: As you can see, I'm in hiding, so there's no contact with me. Of course, there are different humanities on the ground. And from what I hear

in my own community, they did go to houses to check for arms and take the arms so that really common people feel more safe, but at the same time like

it's -- Kandahar, men would always be safe when they're outside. It's the women that need the safety. It's the women that need assurity, right? And

the Taliban are failing to do so up until now. They are not providing any places -- they're just being as we guess, possible.

GORANI: So, and forgive me, I was not aware that you were in hiding. You are afraid for your life? You are afraid that if you venture out, that

because you have an NGO that is an educational NGO, to get people, girls to school, that you might become a target therefore?

DURRANI: I'm going to be honest, Hala. My family forced me into hiding. A lot of people are concerned about my safety. I personally I'm not afraid of

them. They can -- see -- death is one day and it will come and we will -- I'm going to die.

That's what -- if it's certain it'll be at the hands of the Taliban, then I cannot change it, it's fate, right? But at the same time, there are a lot

of people depending on me, and that it's much more important to live as we say in Kushk(ph), to live as a victor rather than die in the war as a

martyr, right? And I'm just trying to do that right now because some thousand girls still need lessons, right?

And if I'm not there, they won't get it. So, for me, it's very important to live, to fight for their rights, to ask for their rights because it's time

that people fight back. Not every person can live. Not every person has the privilege to live, right?

GORANI: That is -- that is true, and that is extraordinarily heroic of you. I just -- I'm actually speechless. It's the kind of heroism that takes your

breath away. You were born in Pakistan as a refugee.

DURRANI: Yes.

GORANI: And you decided to come back and help the girls in your country, which already just as a first act is unbelievably courageous. Would you

consider leaving, fleeing if you felt like you were in danger?

DURRANI: See, right now, Hala, you have to understand that as much as they feel entitled to the sun, I'm as much entitled, right? When I was a

refugee, I was told I was a refugee, I was not entitled to that life, but I'm entitled to this life.

So if they think that they are helping more entitled to this life, I don't think so that's going to work. It's -- as much as my country is as much as

this, and right now, we fight back. We ask for our rights. It's important. It's less -- I'm going to see it recorded as less heroic, it's more

important right now. See, if we don't speak right now, we have educated generation.

The next generation won't even be educated. The next generation would have to go through the same heartbreak that I went through last whole week,

right?

[14:10:00]

Seeing everything fall apart. That's not supposed to be happening, not on my watch. So, we're going to make sure they get to go to school, they get

to go to work, if not on the terms that we want in public, we're going to make it happen anyways because in the '90s, even there are more heroic

women back in the day when the technology was not on ground, and they were running underground schools. So, we can do all those things -- yes, and we

have technology, so we can for sure improvise.

GORANI: Well, Pashtana Durrani, if there is any justice in this world, one day you will be one of the political leaders guiding your country forward.

And I wish you the very best and I hope you stay safe.

DURRANI: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

GORANI: The Pentagon says its mission now is to evacuate, and many U.S. citizens and Afghan interpreters in the coming weeks. After a day of chaos,

the Pentagon says Kabul airport is now secure. Officials hope to evacuate up to 9,000 people a day, that's if conditions are favorable. This after a

day that saw more than 600 Afghans cramming into a single U.S. military cargo plane.

Desperate to get out, you can see them all sitting there, sitting, no seating, just as many people as possible fitted into that military

transport plane. Before they can get on a flight like that, Afghans have to actually make it to the airport. As Nick Paton Walsh tells us, getting

there and getting in is a challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): This is the only way out for so many. The airport road jammed. Chaos. Over a

trillion dollars spent, and this is what the end looks like. Walk where you can't drive.

(on camera): Just ahead of us is the gates into the airport, and this is the panicked scene of many people still moving there, despite how hard it's

been.

(voice-over): At the entry to the last bit of Afghanistan America controls, there is panic.

(on camera): Those aren't tanks, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, they say turn around --

WALSH (voice-over): Let's turn around. Tanks, someone shouts. But who is doing crowd control outside America's evacuation spot? The Taliban. With

vehicles they've taken from the Afghan army, paid for by America, now used to keep the desperate crowds back. People whose only hope is to get out,

possibly with American help.

Crowding at gates, trying to climb walls originally built to keep an insurgency out. At one time, pushing en masse and being sent running.

Nearly every gate with a crowd fueled with the idea this is their only way out. U.S. troops at the perimeter shot dead. Two Afghans who they say were

armed but later admitted were not Taliban.

But inside the airport, the great escape was not going according to script and check-in security had collapsed. Afghans convinced of a promise of a

flight out was their only life ahead, clamoring over walkways and tarmac the U.S. spent billions on to maintain its presence. And then the starting

image, one of the U.S'. largest cargo planes taxiing, laden with Afghans who did not want to be left behind. Later, a plane takes off, and what

you're about to see is disturbing.

As the plane ascends, two objects, all people, appear to fall from the fuselage. But the sheer scale of those who needed help admit it was even

harder to come by. Civilian flights canceled, even the Americans had to pause operations until they could regain control. These images from

satellite in space showing just the volume of people thronging in and around Hamid Karzai International Airport, the symbol of the United States'

billions spent in a 20-year project.

The U.S. always wanted to win hearts and minds here, but their swift, unconditional departure has instead filled them with panic. Nick Paton

Walsh, CNN, Kabul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is facing intense criticism over why the U.S. was not better prepared for the lightning fast Taliban takeover.

In a speech to the nation, Monday, the president admitted that the fall of Kabul happened quicker than anticipated. He went on to blame fleeing Afghan

leaders and troops and decisions by previous administrations, but he insisted that ending America's longest war was the right decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I've learned the hard way that there was never a

good time to withdraw U.S. forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: We just heard from the White House again this past hour, defending the withdrawal, defending how the withdrawal was conducted as well. The

U.S. National Security adviser says that while the images from Kabul's airport are heartbreaking, President Biden had no choice. Jake Sullivan

says the previous administration drew down the number of troops in Afghanistan from 15,000 to 2,500.

[14:15:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER OF THE UNITED STATES: What has unfolded over the past month has proven decisively that it would have taken

a significant American troop presence, multiple times greater than what President Biden was handed to stop a Taliban onslaught and we would have

taken casualties. American men and women would have been fighting and dying once again in Afghanistan, and President Biden was not prepared to send

additional forces or ask any American personnel to do that over the period ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Well, for the latest from the White House, let's head straight to CNN's Jeremy Diamond, he joins us live from Washington D.C. There's been a

lot of criticism following this speech by President Biden, namely by some veterans especially one who spoke to CNN, Matt Zeller of the group, No One

Left Behind, he said, "blaming the Afghan army essentially is a cop-out.

They didn't have the equipment they needed. They didn't have air support anymore." Many of them died trying to confront the Taliban, that the

president shifting the blame to the Afghan leadership and army really was essentially trying to not take any responsibility for the messy way in

which this American pullout has unfolded.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and we certainly continue to hear some of that from the National Security adviser, Jake

Sullivan, just moments ago, who is still currently briefing in the White House briefing room.

One thing that the central point, I think, that Jake Sullivan was trying to convey over and over again, was that ultimately there were no good

decisions here, and that regardless of what decision President Biden had made or how exactly he had ordered the -- he would have worked out the

evacuation of civilians from Kabul, that the Taliban advance and capture of Kabul would have ultimately, regardless of any of those decisions, led to a

chaotic scene at the airport in Kabul.

That is the argument, at least, that Jake Sullivan and the Biden administration are putting forward here. Now, that being said, he did say

that it is fair to ask these questions about whether the United States should have evacuated American personnel from that embassy sooner, whether

they should have moved to evacuate Afghan safe applicants, those special immigrant visa applicants from Afghanistan sooner.

But ultimately, he, once again, as you just said, Hala, pinned it on the Afghan government, saying that the Afghan government and its supporters

made a passionate case that we should not start these kinds of mass evacuations lest there be a crisis of confidence in the government in

Kabul.

That crisis of confidence, of course, would have clearly been warranted, given how quickly we saw President Ghani leave the country and those Afghan

security forces fall back in the wake of or in the face, rather, of this Taliban advance.

What we also heard from Jake Sullivan was that President Biden first of all has not talked to any other world leaders as of yet, which is a pretty

surprising, and that ultimately, the administration will conduct a review of what exactly happened here, what went right, what went wrong. And he did

commit to sharing that assessment publicly.

One question that Jake Sullivan did not answer, which is a critical one, is this idea that as of now, the U.S. is on a timeline to withdraw all of its

forces from Afghanistan by the end of the month, August 31st. The question was posed to him about what happens to any Americans or Afghan applicants

or particularly, Americans who are stuck in Afghanistan after August 31st.

Will the U.S. commit to getting those people out? He would not answer that question, Hala, saying that he would not comment on hypotheticals. That was

pretty striking, and certainly a clip it's going to make the rounds over the coming days.

GORANI: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much. We should have more information from Washington later this hour. We're waiting on a State

Department press conference. We'll bring that to you when it happens. You are seeing the podium there on the right-hand side of your screen. With the

heartrending scenes coming out of Afghanistan, many around the world are wondering if they can help and, if so, how? At our Impact Your World

website, we provide information on ways to give your assistance to refugees at cnn.com/impact.

Still to come tonight, the Taliban want you to believe they return in peace. What they're publicly promising now versus who they've proven

themselves to be in the past. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:20:00]

GORANI: The Taliban are making promises about how they plan to soften their rule in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUJAHID: There will be no violence against women, no discrimination against women. Of course, based within the framework of the Islamic law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: But the gun-toting Taliban we're seeing occupying the streets of Kabul today don't look a whole lot different from the ones we remember,

who, years ago, ruled with a very heavy hand. Here is what they did with power from 1996 to 2001.

Women were banned from working outside of the home, and they had to wear burkas, fully covered. Men could not shave their beards, women couldn't

wear make-up or high heels, only religious music was allowed. People couldn't watch films and flying kites was banned of all things and

cigarette smoking and many other things.

And as we've been showing you, CNN's Clarissa Ward is reporting on the streets of Kabul, she found an example of how things might already be

regressing, especially for women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARD: This shop here, which is selling burkas. Burkas are all-consuming, all-covering attire that are very common in Afghanistan, were particularly

common under the Taliban, and are enjoying now something of a renaissance because as the Taliban have come back into town, more and more women are

afraid to walk down the street, even wearing very conservative attire like I am wearing now. And so, we actually talked to the shop keeper a little

while ago, and he told us that he's been selling a lot more burkas because people are frightened.

They're coming out, they're buying them for their wives, their daughters, whoever it may be, because they feel that from now on, this is the way for

women to be safe on the streets. And this is how it starts, OK? Because we hear from the Taliban again and again, women's rights will be protected.

Women will be allowed to be educated.

Women will be allowed to go to work. But when you have women so afraid that they're going out to buy burkas because they're worried to be seen on the

streets, even dress very conservatively as I am, you start to understand how the space for women becomes smaller and smaller.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Well, that was Clarissa Ward and considering those rules under the Taliban and Clarissa's reporting, this might be a surprise. Female

journalists from the Afghan news organization "TOLO" are working. Some of them like Clarissa are out on the streets, you see one of them there in the

images on your screen.

"TOLO" also broadcasts a news program with a woman in the anchor chair interviewing a Taliban spokesperson. This is happening despite CNN learning

from a contact of several female journalists that they've been threatened by the Taliban either in person or by phone.

Our next guest is one of the world's leading authorities on the Arab and Islamic world, and indeed author of the book "Making The Arab World", which

looks at the historic divide between political Islamists and secular- leaning nationalists. Here's Professor Fawaz Gerges and he joins me now.

[14:25:00]

Thank you Fawaz for being with us. So, first of all, you saw -- I assume you watched or saw some of that remarkable, stunning news conference by the

Taliban's spokesperson, a live event taking journalist's questions, taking questions from female journalists as well. They're clearly trying to

project a softer image. Should we believe them?

FAWAZ GERGES, AUTHOR: Well, first of all, the Taliban in the past year or so have been on a diplomatic charm offensive, and now they are on a public

relations offensive. They are promising heaven. If you listen carefully to what the Taliban have been saying, and I'm not exaggerating, you'd think

they are really newly born Democrats.

They are tolerant. They are peacemakers. I am skeptical. We have to be skeptical. Words don't mean anything, actions speak louder than words. Let

me give you an example of what I mean by that, Hala.

They say in the press conference, he says of course, women will have rights in Afghanistan, but under the framework of an --

GORANI: Yes --

GERGES: Islamic Sharia, fine. Who is going to interpret the Islamic Sharia? What we know from the Taliban, they have the harshest and the most

reactionary interpretation of that Sharia. So --

GORANI: Yes --

GERGES: Again, back to square one. Another example, they say the media are free to report in Afghanistan, of course, but they have to respect our

values, they have to respect our identities, they cannot report any negative stories about them.

What I'm trying to say is that we have to wait and see what kind of government the Taliban sets up. My take on it -- and I might be a bit harsh

on the Taliban, Hala. The Taliban, regardless of how you define them, regardless of how you really go around it, they're going to establish a

repressive theocracy. The question --

GORANI: Yes --

GERGES: Is not whether it's repressive or not. How repressive? Will it be a bit softer, gentler, lighter form of repression? That's what we're talking

about.

GORANI: OK, what would be an example, for instance? A country that is -- that is run in that way, a lighter form of -- lighter -- a theocracy-lite,

if you will? Could you give us an example of where Afghanistan might go this time versus the 1990s?

GERGES: Well, I mean, that's the question. I mean, I hope -- we hope, and I think the Taliban today is not the same Taliban of the 1990s. They,

themselves, acknowledge they have learned quite a few lessons the hard way. First of all, my take on it, Hala, and I might be wrong.

I doubt it very much whether the Taliban will allow al Qaeda and other extremist groups to set up an operation, a base of operation in

Afghanistan. Why? Because, as we've said earlier, they want to really, basically consolidate their rule. They want international recognition and

legitimacy.

So, in a way, it's in their own self interests not to really have back al Qaeda and other extremist groups from Pakistan in Afghanistan. I think this

is -- my take on it is that, the debate on whether Afghanistan will become a breeding ground for trans-national terrorism is a bit misplaced because

the Taliban today are not the Taliban of the 1990s. My take -- my take on it is that, the ideology -- the problem was the ideology, the ideology is

highly regressive, highly --

GORANI: Yes --

GERGES: Reactionary. In fact, we don't really have any example of such a reactionary ideology except probably the Islamic State that was established

in Raqqah, Syria, between 2011 and 2013 and 2019.

GORANI: All right, Fawaz, if you could stand by, we're expecting the State Department to hold a briefing, and so, hopefully, we'll learn more on the

U.S.' position especially with regards to evacuations and perhaps even reaction to this Taliban news conference. And we'd love your analysis on

the back -- off the back of that. Thank you very much. And there's a lot more ahead. Ordinary life under extraordinary circumstances. We return to

Kabul to ask what exactly changes when everything changes? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

GORANI: It's only been a few days, it's hard to believe. We've been looking at how daily life has already changed in Afghanistan. The Taliban issued

what they call an amnesty across Afghanistan, saying they're not looking for any enemies.

But how is that translating to real life in the country?

Let's return to Clarissa Ward in Kabul.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Streets of Kabul today, it's almost surreal. It feels like things are beginning to get back

to normal. We saw a lot more people out on the streets than we did yesterday. We went to a market, as you know from earlier. It was pretty

busy.

I would say roughly a third or half of the stores were open. Some of them closing early, to make sure that people get home early. But for the most

part, there is a sense that there is a sort of very tense calm that's holding.

And that's because there are Taliban fighters on every street corner, who are trying to preserve law and order because they know the world is

watching them right now and they want to get it right.

And I should say the reason I'm a tiny bit distracted is because all the Taliban fighters who were right behind me before are now over behind our

camera. They appear to be engaged in some kind of a dispute potentially with someone in the neighborhood.

But, no, it appears that that has been resolved peacefully. And that's exactly what I'm talking about here, right?

The Taliban wants to show this is their moment; they're ready for it. They're more mature. They're more diplomatic and they're different,

essentially, from the Taliban of 2001.

But that's not doing a lot, understandably, to reassure the tens of thousands of Afghans, who are now desperately afraid for their lives. I

think you could probably argue it's in the hundreds of thousands, between people who worked for the government, people who worked for the U.S.

military, people who were in the Afghan forces. The list goes on.

These people are hunkered down, waiting for the worst. The Taliban has said that there's a blanket amnesty in place. But understandably, a lot of

people have a really tough time believing that.

[14:35:00]

WARD: Their association with the Taliban is the Taliban of the late '90s and early 2000s and the sort of draconian rule that came with that. And

then the Taliban of the last two decades, which has essentially been a bloody, ugly guerrilla insurgency.

GORANI: And as the new reality sets in in Afghanistan, the international reaction has been mixed. In the West, the tone is broadly skeptical. The

European Union offering the stern message. The bloc's foreign affairs chief saying future relations with Afghanistan depend on the protection of human

rights.

But two major powers, Russia and China, are giving the Taliban a warmer welcome on the world stage. Moscow's diplomats are describing initial talks

with the Taliban as "positive and constructive," quote-unquote, saying the group deserves a chance to prove itself. Fred Pleitgen has that story from

Moscow -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Hala. The Russians are certainly moving very quickly to come to terms with the

new situation on the ground there and certainly with the new force that seems to be moving ever closer to being in power there in Afghanistan.

In fact, the Russian ambassador to Kabul, he came out earlier today and said on Russian state TV that he had had meetings with top-level officials

from the Taliban. And he said that they had guaranteed the safety and security of the Russian embassy in Kabul and that they also have a positive

attitude toward Russia.

The Russians, at this point in time, not really anticipating there will be big hiccups for the work of their embassy. In fact, of course, the Russians

had said they are not shutting down their embassy, that the embassy staff is still there and the embassy is still working.

The Russians also said that they believe that the situation in Kabul is, as they put it, "stabilizing." Of course, the Russians have been very critical

of the U.S.-supported government that was in power in Afghanistan, the government of Ashraf Ghani. They called it a puppet government, after

Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Also taking swipes at the U.S. as well. Now we're hearing some different tones coming out from the Russians. You have Russia's foreign minister

saying he had seen some positive signals coming from the Taliban.

Of course, Russians are still warning this does not necessarily change their attitude toward the Taliban. The Taliban, of course, are considered a

terrorist organization here in Russia. They are banned here in Russia.

At the same time, Russia has, for a very long time already, been in communications with the Taliban. The Russians are saying that's one of the

reasons why they believe they're in a fairly, as they put it, "comfortable" position on the ground in Kabul and, of course, in Afghanistan as a whole.

The Russians, of course, have big interests in Afghanistan. There are several allied nations of Russia like, for instance, Tajikistan and

Uzbekistan. They share very long borders with Afghanistan.

The Russians do fear there could be destabilization in that whole part of Central Asia. So the Russians very interested in that part of the world. At

the same time, of course, at this point in time, are saying that they don't believe that that situation there is in danger of destabilizing -- Hala.

GORANI: Thank you, Fred Pleitgen, our senior international correspondent. Sam Kiley joins me now from London. And Fawaz Gerges is back as well.

Sam, one of the things we learned in that Taliban news conference, they're vowing to eliminate drug production in Afghanistan. And drug production is

obviously a huge contributor to the economy of the country.

It's a shadow activity. It's going to be extremely complicated, if not potentially violent for the Taliban to make good on that promise -- Sam.

(CROSSTALK)

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It will be almost catastrophically impossible. They did manage it in 2001 because they had

such a draconian hold on Afghanistan, particularly in the south.

Of course, the Taliban being an originally, largely Pashtun movement coming from the south themselves. But this time around, with 20 years of evolution

of that drug trade worth about $4 billion a year at least in exports from Afghanistan, 70 percent to 90 percent of the world's heroin coming from

Helmand province itself, it will be very dramatic indeed for them.

Helmand has always been an environment where there has been a lot of fighting with NATO troops. The commander now at the head of the British

army toured Helmand peacefully in 2005 and said there's no insurgency there.

But we can give you one, to the British government, if we go in. The Brits went in and the rest is a very bloody history. They found who they were

fighting with, the drug coms (ph) because at the same time the British went in, Tony Blair announced he would be leading the international effort to

eradicate the opium trade, largely centered in Helmand.

[14:40:00]

KILEY: That was met with a very violent response, always blamed on the Taliban. but frequently on the ground you were fighting the drug dealers

and they were predominantly connected to elements of the central government. Not so much the Taliban but gangsters involved with the central

government.

Getting that whole mess, that whole very lucrative gangster world unpicked is perhaps going to be one of the most dramatic efforts the Taliban are

likely to make, if, indeed, they dare -- Hala.

GORANI: Fawaz Gerges, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, said a few minutes ago at the White House that the U.S. would remain "persistently

vigilant," quote-unquote, in terms of containing the terrorist threat or keeping an eye on whether or not terrorist groups reform in Afghanistan.

And that this threat, he said, can be suppressed without a military presence on the ground.

What do you make of that?

GERGES: Well, first of all, the Taliban doing the talks with the Americans have promised the Americans they will never allow Al Qaeda or any extremist

groups like Al Qaeda back into Afghanistan.

I think the Taliban are serious about this. They want to seek international legitimacy and recognition and they also realize that, when Al Qaeda

attacked the American homeland on 9/11/2001, basically they went to exile in Pakistan.

It took the Taliban 20 years to return to Kabul and I don't think the Taliban leadership will risk basically this strategic victory by hosting Al

Qaeda or other extremist groups.

But it all depends. It depends on the type of government that the Taliban set up in the next few days and weeks. But the reality, Hala, Al Qaeda is a

shadow of its former self. And it has been devastated. There are no skilled leaders now within Al Qaeda.

Even the top leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman Zawahiri, we do not know if he's dead or alive. So it will take Al Qaeda quite a few years to rebuild its

strength, if ever. So in a way, Jake Sullivan is correct. And also transnational terrorism has basically mutated in the past 10 years or so.

Most of the Salafi jihadist movement now are concentrated in Iraq, Syria, Africa, in the Sahel, in Libya and the Sinai (ph) as opposed to really

Afghanistan or Pakistan.

GORANI: All right, thank you so much Fawaz Gerges and Sam Kiley for breaking this down for us.

As I mentioned to our viewers, we're expecting a State Department briefing in Washington and we'll get to that when it starts. There's a look at the

podium for you.

Still to come, some of the news we're following, the death toll rises in Haiti as victims of Saturday's earthquake suffer from a very slow response.

We'll have the latest on that after a break.

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[14:45:00]

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GORANI: There are aftershocks and mudslides hampering response efforts in Haiti and then tropical storm Grace is bringing heavy rain to the same

areas that were hit by that massive earthquake. More than 1,400 people are confirmed dead. Matt Rivers reports from near the epicenter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Getting to the hardest-hit area of this earthquake means a helicopter ride 100 miles away

from Port-au-Prince. Land and the reality of Haiti's latest trauma greets us on the tarmac, a waiting truck of injured people still waiting to be

evacuated.

First to come out, a young child held by a relative, carried into a waiting plane. Next up, an elderly woman in a wheelchair, unable to walk. Lifted

out of her chair, she's carried up step by cautious step on the way to the help that still eludes so many.

"Things are out of control at the hospital," he says. "Not enough doctors, not enough medicine, serious injuries. We need urgent help before things

get worse."

At least 1,400 have been killed and thousands more injured in the worst earthquake to strike here since 2010. Not far from the airport, this is

what remains of a multi-story hotel. Officials say there could still be bodies in this rubble. Some here, digging, trying to help; others digging

for scrap metal and air conditioners.

RIVERS: What you don't see here are Haitian authorities. There's no police presence, no firefighters or search and rescue crews here. There's just

people from this community and this lone excavator, which is not in operation currently.

It's very indicative of what we're seeing as we drive through this area.

RIVERS (voice-over): Aid simply isn't arriving quickly.

Part of the reason?

Blocked roads like this one, impassable for some convoys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The response effort is taking time to actually get there. We should have been there already. We're getting started but we're

not satisfied.

RIVERS (voice-over): Back at the airport, first responders desperately look for a way to get this young girl out. She's stoic but her leg is gravely

injured and she is clearly in pain.

This plane is full. Another helicopter takes off without her. After walking around the tarmac, she's placed in another truck; a painful wait for help

goes on -- Matt Rivers, CNN, Haiti.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: A single COVID case in New Zealand has prompted a three-day national lockdown. That's how -- they don't play around with COVID in New

Zealand.

The prime minister says Auckland, where the case was found, will likely be under lockdown for seven days. Jacinda Ardern says it's unclear if the new

case is the Delta variant or not.

This is the country's first local case since February. Under a level 4 lockdown, all gatherings are canceled, public venues are closed and people

are urged to stay at home other than for essential movement.

The Biden administration is poised to change the vaccine playbook, top health officials recommending a third shot, a vaccine booster, once the FDA

reviews the data and signs off.

The new booster would be given eight months after becoming fully vaccinated. Nursing home residents, health care workers and first

responders were at the front of the vaccine line for the booster and could be eligible for that booster as early as next Monday.

Still to come, a closer look at the human toll of Afghanistan's instability as neighboring nations brace for a new influx of refugees.

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[14:50:00]

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GORANI: The U.S. and other countries are stepping up. Evacuation flights from Kabul, many Afghans desperate to leave are at the airport again today.

We haven't seen a repeat thankfully of yesterday's scenes of heartbreaking chaos. CNN's Brianna Keilar shows us a photo that's become another defining

image of the evacuation effort.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): This photo shows the inside of a U.S. military cargo plane packed with Afghan refugees, Defense One posting

the image online Monday, saying the U.S. Air Force C-17 evacuated approximately 640 Afghan civilians late Sunday.

Among the men and women desperately escaping the chaos in Kabul, some children, including a baby, holding a bottle. A Defense official telling

the website the plane did not intend to take so many people but made the decision to go anyway. Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who served in

Afghanistan and Iraq, commenting on the effort.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): They violated basically every Air Force regulation in packing that many people in there. And in the long run,

that's going to end up saving a lot of people's lives.

KEILAR (voice-over): The aircraft, similar to this one, typically transports troops and cargo around the world. This C-17 is believed to be

one of several that departed the Kabul airport Monday, with hundreds on board.

The Air Force says it is among the highest number of people ever flown on a C-17. Back in 2013, a crew evacuated more than 670 people during a typhoon

in the Philippines. This plane, part of the airlift operation departing from Kabul, transported the Afghan refugees safely to a U.S. Air Force base

in Qatar.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It just shows the techniques of the great Air Force personnel that were running that cargo plane.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Brianna Keilar there with that report. The tens of thousands of Afghans trying to get out now are in addition to the hundreds of thousands

that have already fled their homes. The U.N. puts that figure at 550,000 people.

An official in Uganda says the country will temporarily host 2,000 refugees fleeing after a request from the U.S. government and says they will be

documented and screened before being resettled elsewhere.

Arwa Damon joins us now.

I imagine the confusion and especially for families with kids, ending up in Uganda, then having to go we don't know where.

[14:55:00]

GORANI: What more can you tell us?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In theory, these are people trying to get their SIVs processed. The U.S. made a lot of errors in

terms of processing these applications.

Afghans who worked with the U.S. arrived at the airport but they didn't actually have a visa. So they're trying to get on these aircraft. Bottom

line is, because this all happened so quickly and it was so poorly organized, a lot of Afghans didn't have paperwork fully processed.

But they still have to get out of the country because of the threat to their lives posed by the Taliban. So in this whole scramble, the U.S. has

been talking with a number of countries talking about moving those that are part of this visa program there until they can actually have their

paperwork processed by the U.S.

While we're talking, of course, those numbers are a tiny fraction of those Afghans looking to get out of the country. As dramatic as the officials are

that we're seeing right now, one also has to keep in mind that this refugee crisis, this Afghan refugee crisis hasn't even started yet because Afghans

cannot get out of their own country.

Even Turkey is building a wall, a very long wall, that it says is almost complete on its border with Iran, because that is the main transit route

for people fleeing from Afghanistan.

Of course, Turkey is the launching point for Europe. When it comes to Europe, no European country wants to see a repeat of the 2015 refugee

crisis that was mostly made up of Syrians and Iraqis.

So a lot of conversations that are circulating right now among European countries is, how do we stop refugees from ending up in Europe?

And part of the things that are being said by, for example, German chancellor Angela Merkel, is that we need to provide more support for

neighboring countries so Afghans can end up staying there and more support for UNHCR and that sort of thing.

But I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing more and more Afghans in countries where one would perhaps not expect to see them.

GORANI: Arwa, thank you very much.

Arwa Damon reporting live. I'm Hala Gorani. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is next. See you tomorrow.

END