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Hala Gorani Tonight

Pentagon Holds First Press Conference Since U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan; U.S. Defense Secretary To Travel To The Gulf Next Week; Qatari Team Arrives In Kabul To Discuss Reopening Airport; E.U. Countries Divided On How To Handle Afghan Migration; Taliban Celebrate Military Victory With Parade; Nicaragua Publishes Candidates List For November Election; Syrian Oil Spill Threatening Cyprus; Ida Evacuees Wait For Food, Water And Gasoline In Long Lines; Bombing Survivor's Journey To The Paralympics. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired September 01, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, HOST, HALA GORANI TONIGHT: And fuel run out in Louisiana as the state reels from Hurricane Ida. We're live in New Orleans. Now Pentagon

officials have just held their first press conference since America formally ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan. And these are the new images

of one of the final flights out of Kabul. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. military and its allies evacuated 6,000 American citizens and

a total of more than 124,000 civilians. But now he says the focus is on diplomacy.


LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, UNITED STATES: Now, the war is over and we're entering a new chapter, one where our diplomats and our inner

agency partners take the lead. We're part of an urgent team effort to move Afghan evacuees out of temporary housing in intermediate staging bases in

the gulf and in Europe and on to begin new lives. And I'll be traveling to the gulf next week to thank our partners there who have done so much to

help save and shelter Afghan civilians.


SOARES: While, meanwhile inside Afghanistan, the Taliban is celebrating victory and beginning to face the major challenge of governing. Taliban

fighters held a large military parade in Kandahar today as you can see there. And you can see American-made vehicles in display with the group's

militant flags. But despite the bravado, there are signs the Taliban are looking for some outside support. A technical team from Qatar has arrived

in Kabul to discuss reopening the airport. To discuss all of this, I'm joined by CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a well-

known face here on CNN, he's joining us from Orlando, Florida.

And senior international correspondent Sam Kiley, who joins us from Qatar. And Sam, let me start with you. I'm sure you heard the U.S. President

fiercely defending his decision to withdraw what he called this "forever war". Today on the ground though, give us a sense of how the Taliban are

planning their next steps to actually run the country, to actually govern.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, they've been having a victory parade in Kandahar, essentially the birth

place of the Taliban in the early 1990s, the place from which they launched their assaults on Kabul in 1996, successfully in 1996, and eventually were

driven out in 2001. So, very important symbolic place for them to hold these victory parades, including flying a captured Afghan army Black Hawk

helicopter and a parade of a large amount of equipment, also American manufactured supplied by the Afghan army captured by the Taliban.

So, they're rubbing it in, as you might expect. But it's not all going to be plain sailing as you intimate in your question there, Isa, the real

issue now is, how do they go about forming a government. They've been talking about forming a government and making an announcement on that by

Friday. There are a number of names from within the Taliban that have already been mentioned with certain portfolios, but nothing formal

attributed to them. And the -- all eyes will be on whether or not they're going to be sufficiently inclusive to perhaps include Hamid Karzai; the

former Afghan president or Abdullah Abdullah, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister and chief executive of Afghanistan, a kind of co-

presidential role he's played in the past.

Both of them stayed behind to handle these negotiations. There have been repeated promises from the Taliban that they would be inclusive. And Qatar

is playing a very important role in trying to make sure that the Taliban stick to that statement and follow through with a sense that they are a

moderated force compared to the one that ruled Afghanistan some 25 years ago. So, that is what is -- all eyes are going to be on that, particularly

with regard to human rights and so on. And part of the carrot in all of this, for example, is getting the international airport up and running.

Qatari experts are there assessing whether or not Qatar can be of assistance, assessing the security and engineering challenges there to

getting civilian aircraft as quickly as possible in and out. And of course, humanitarian efforts have got to start. This is a country that's on its

knees economically before the Taliban victory. It is now completely paralyzed economically. The United Nations has warned there's half a

million people displaced. There could be another half a million people heading towards the borders as refugees. There is 12 provinces at least

have got chronic malnutrition among children.

It is in desperate need of getting up a humanitarian effort and United Nations and others are looking at expanding a humanitarian air bridge into

Kabul. So, these are all immediate challenges that face the Taliban, Isa.

SOARES: Yes, and we'll be speaking to the assistant foreign minister of Qatar in just a few minutes. But General, the president -- I was listening

to the president yesterday and he did sound like he wanted to draw a line under this war, wanted to move on.


But today, we heard the Pentagon a few minutes ago, basically saying they will continue to evacuate Americans, more on the diplomatic mission. How

difficult, logistically though, will this be given that we'd have -- don't have any boots on the ground?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No doubt about it, it's going to require not only the military or civilian aircrafts, as Sam just pointed

out, but the diplomatic efforts to allow that to happen, and the persuasion to allow the Taliban, which as Sam also pointed out, is just forming their

government to understand the rationale and the potential of doing those kind of things. So, the context of all of this is critically important.

It's going to be an extremely complex and challenging operation to get additional folks out.

We're already seeing the Afghan refugees spreading across both the Middle East and potentially going into southern Europe. So, it is also going to be

a problem for the Taliban to hold their state together. And with all the problems they have from economic to transportation to security forces to

police, it's going to be very challenging. It's going to be more than just naming people to positions. They've got to get a brand-new government up

and operational under some very difficult times.

SOARES: And, Sam, given what we just heard from the general what he just outlined, the Taliban surely knows they can't do this alone. International

players, who will step in here? You mentioned Qatar kind of being the mediator. In the long term, though, rebuilding Afghanistan, infrastructure,

are we looking at China? Are we looking at Russia here?

KILEY: Well, these are moments of opportunity for U.S. rivals, notably China of course has a border with Afghanistan, has a longstanding interests

in Afghanistan's minerals. They've got some pretty exciting minerals, particularly rare metals and other minerals essential for the manufacture

of advanced technologies that China would have its eye on. Russia, a little bit more circumspect, but has been taking a softly approach with the

Taliban for some time, building up quiet relationships there. No great economic opportunities, but it's part of the great game, of course, of

influence over this part of central Asia and pressuring on India and Pakistan, of course always of interest to Russia.

And I'm mentioning India and Pakistan, Pakistan is going to be the absolutely key interested party here. They have longstanding links and

interests involving the Taliban in Afghanistan. They also have the Taliban in their own country responsible for some 80,000 deaths in previous

insurgencies. A great deal of anxiety in Pakistan that the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan doesn't provoke new energy among the Taliban

elements within Pakistan itself. That said, therefore the Pakistanis need stability and they need the Taliban to mutate into a governing organization

rather than a religious cult effectively.

And that is what the Taliban is saying that they're going to try to do. But they haven't got a lot of time. They've got a lot of challenges, and

they're going to need a lot of aid and trade. And they're very open. They've been openly saying we want to do business with the United States of

America. We need their aid. We need their multilateral donations through the UN and so on. They're trying not to be bitter about all of this because

obviously they can be a bit more magnanimous in victory.

But there are a lot of interested parties that need to see Afghanistan remain stable and not become the failed state, whether or not the Taliban

like it -- if it becomes a failed state, it inevitably will become a breeding ground for groups like ISIS-K and others. And that is the central

fear. Now, groups like ISIS are actually much stronger in North Africa, arguably they're stronger in Europe. But nobody wants to see them gaining

in strength in Afghanistan and influencing events in India and Pakistan, in particular.

SOARES: General Hertling, I was listening to the Pentagon, I'm sure you heard too -- and General Mark Milley, his words and what he was saying. I

was really struck by his tone. Now, I want to play it back for our viewers. Let's have a listen.


MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: This is tough stuff. War is hard. It's vicious. It's brutal. It's unforgiving. And, yes, we all

have pain and anger, and when we see what has unfolded over the last 20 years and over the last 20 days, that creates pain and anger. And mine

comes from 242 of my soldiers killed in action over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, yes, I have that. But I'm a professional soldier, I'm

going to contain my pain and anger and continue to execute my mission.


SOARES: So, clearly, a sense of -- I can't say relief, but also grief, general.


SOARES: Who was that message directed at?


HERTLING: Well, I think it's directed at the majority of the U.S. and NATO veterans who have fought and bled and in some cases died or were wounded in

this conflict over the last 20 years. You know, Isa, that struck -- that tone struck me as well when I was listening to it, because I experienced

the same kind of things because my combat tours were mostly in Iraq. But when I went back to Europe, we would do exercises with the Russians and

with the Ukrainians and many other nations that had been involved in Afghanistan in the '80s.

And you would always see the young soldiers point to the old Afghan vets in the -- in the Russian army, the so-called Soviet army at the time, and they

were always talking about how bitter they were and how cynical they were because of their experiences in a younger day. What I'm concerned about and

I think General Milley is too, is there's so much blood and treasure pulled out of these U.S. and NATO service members as they fought for so many years

within Afghanistan for an ideal that they all believed in, that some of them are very cynical.

And I think both Secretary Austin and General Milley were trying to address that, and saying, OK, it's time now to move on. We have fought this war. We

are out of there. We now have to look at what's next without carrying that sadness, that bitterness, that cynicism into the future.

SOARES: But clearly also reflecting, General, on the last 20 years and the mission at hand is very different from what we heard from President Biden

yesterday, where he called the withdrawal an extraordinary success. His tone --

HERTLING: Right --

SOARES: Almost struck me as very different from what we heard from the president.

HERTLING: Yes, it certainly was. And knowing Secretary Austin and what he said during his part of the briefing about not only the next phase and the

kudos to the troops and the other missions throughout the world continuing, but I think what he was also saying was there were some failures, certainly

some failures, and the U.S. government is going to look at those holistically and try and see what went wrong. But I think both of the --

both Secretary Austin and General Milley were also talking about there were an awful lot of successes for the Afghan people in the U.S. military during

this 20 years.

But if you just take a snapshot of what's occurred over the last three weeks, and you have the visual of the people hanging on to the C-17, those

successes that occurred kind of fall by the wayside. And I think that's what certainly is tainting many Americans' view of this image. And

Secretary and the chairman wanted to bring back the -- hey, you fought the good fight. You were fighting for a cause, and now it's time to move on.

SOARES: Yes, such important context. Sam, let me go back to you. We heard today from the senior State Department official basically saying the

majority of Afghan SIV applicants were left behind in the chaotic and rushed evacuation. This is what they say. What happens to them? Any sense

of how exactly, you know, they will get out? I know this becomes a diplomatic effort here. What are you hearing from your contact on the


KILEY: Well, a great deal of effort is going into, again, exactly that, the diplomatic effort being made to convince the Taliban to allow these

people to leave. They keep repeating the mantra that anybody with the right documentation is free to leave Afghanistan and will be free to leave

Afghanistan when the aircraft are flying in and out of Kabul international airport next. So, the proof will be in the pudding there. We just have to

wait and see whether or not they will be able to go. That said, they are also extremely anxious, this is the Taliban over an intellectual brain

drain from Afghanistan.

It's going to be hard enough to run this country as it is without having all of the intellectual power that is available to it on an aircraft out of

it. So, that is something that in the end, the Taliban may try and put a squeeze on, Isa.

SOARES: Sam Kiley there for us in Qatar, and CNN military -- go ahead, go ahead, General.

HERTLING: You know, I think it's important. Everything Sam said is correct. And the concern by the Taliban of the brain drain. But I'd like to

remind everybody for 10,000 SIV holders that may get out, they're also bringing their family members, usually two, three, four, five family

members, children and spouses. So, you're talking about exponentially the number of required personnel that will have to leave the country. And

that's going to be difficult for the Taliban to approve, even if flights do get up and operational.

SOARES: Wonderful. General Mark Hertling there, thank you very much and Sam Kiley in Qatar, appreciate, thank you very much, appreciate you taking

time to speak to us. Now, that the war has ended, the international community faces a tough question. How to work with the Taliban government?

For their part, the Taliban said they want to forge far-reaching international ties. The group's spokesman has said strong links with China

are a key priority.


But they also have existing ties with countries in the region, already told you about the Qatari team, dispatch to try to reopen Kabul's airport. You

heard Sam Kiley talk about that. The Taliban have long maintained a political office in Qatar, leaving that country uniquely positioned as

you can imagine to negotiate with Afghanistan's new leaders. For more, I'm joined now by Lolwah Al-Khater; she is assistant Foreign Minister of Qatar

and she's live for us in Doha at this hour. Minister, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us here on this show.

As you heard me say, we're learning that a team of Qatari technical experts are in Kabul at the Taliban's request. What is the Taliban asking of Qatar,

requesting help right now from Qatar with?

LOLWAH AL-KHATER, ASISTANT FOREIGN MINISTER, QATAR: Thank you very much, Isa. Actually it's been also upon the request of our international partners

that we work with the power there on the ground in Afghanistan to resume the operations at the airport so that the outbound flights as well as the

inbound flights can just resume normal operations. As you can imagine, after many experts have left the country and after the operators and many

of them have been foreigner companies basically and experts have fled the country, Taliban is left with very little expertise to run the airport.

That's one aspect of it.

The other aspect is actually the actual infrastructure. It seems like many of the equipment is damaged or actually was taken. And of course, there is

a blame game there between the different parties on the ground who hasn't done this or that. Our role here, our technical team there is basically to

facilitate, work with the international partners to resume the operations in the airport.

SOARES: And so, minister, do you know at this stage whether Qatar would be providing security and airport operation? And if so, for how long?

AL-KHATER: Well, not security. And this remains a debated topic. It seems like Taliban is insisting on the security aspect, yet what they don't

realize is security in an airport is very different from securing the outer or the surrounding side of the airport. So, they don't realize things like

biometrics and all the measures that any international airport has to have in order to operate. So, we're trying to negotiate this, to explain the

complexity of the process. But the security is definitely an element that will not be with us on Qatar. And we're discussing this with Taliban and

the international partners, our part would be the technical assistance as well as eventually helping with the aircrafts as well.

SOARES: Now, Qatar has been playing a key role, a correspondent was just saying that in Doha in terms of the communication front with the Taliban.

Why do you feel, minister, that this is important right now?

AL-KHATER: Well, it's extremely important because there needs to be a constructive engagement. I mean, Isa, in the G7 meeting that happened only

a couple of days ago, which Qatar, Turkey, the NATO and the EWI -- EU, pardon me, also joined. There was an agreement that there needs to be

constructive engagement with Taliban simply because they are the de facto authority there right now. Now, in terms of our role in mediating and also

facilitating those discussions between Taliban and the international partners, you might have heard that many of the EU missions as well as the

United States mission, diplomatic mission, Japan's, also South Korea's mission will all relocate to Doha.

So, this will be a chance to facilitate a real discussion around the contested issues as well as facilitating all the other operations for the

citizens of those countries as well as Afghan citizens who would -- or might end up evacuating to those countries.

SOARES: Do you worry -- I know you're talking about constructive engagement, the importance of constructing engagement with the Taliban at

this stage, minister. But do you worry -- do you -- first of all, do you trust the Taliban and the promises that are being made? And do you worry,

frankly, that it could backfire?

AL-KHATER: Well, we have our own worries and concerns, no question about that. This needs to be a trust building process.


We all agreed with our international partners that rushing into recognition is not necessarily the wisest decision to make now, yet a constructive

dialogue is extremely important. So, it will be a trust building process. It's very important, Isa, that all of us collectively build and capitalize

on the pragmatism that Taliban has shown so far. Taliban needs the international community. They realize this. They say this. And that's why

we need to capitalize on this moment. Shutting them down completely is not going to be very helpful in this situation. That's why we need to think of

other ways to engage with them without undermining human rights, without undermining women's rights, without undermining all the international

standards that we all collectively embrace.

And we think that there is a real opportunity here to rationalize the public actions. Now, changing their ideology might take years and decades

if it's going to happen altogether. Yet, rationalizing their public actions should be our very clear and pragmatic aim. We don't care and we shouldn't

care about their private actions within their own private spheres. What should matter is the public sphere. What should matter is their public

actions. What should matter is the collective good and interests of the people of Afghanistan.

At the end of the day, Isa, and I will conclude with this point. At the end of the day, we should not be focusing on the elitists in the Afghan

society. We should be looking at the wider society, rural areas, other provinces. Those people will eventually suffer economically unless we jump

in as the international community and help. And this, unfortunately, cannot happen without engaging with all parties on the ground. And we've been

pushing for an inclusive government for the Taliban in our past discussions and still until this very moment, we've been pushing for more women

participation. We've been pushing for women education.

At the end of the day, I mean, there are many Muslim countries who are engaging in discussions with them, including Qatar. And we have women

education. We have women participating in the workforce. More than 50 percent of our workforce are women. All those points we try to push in our

discussions with Taliban. Once again, I want to emphasize what matters is their public actions. And they showed a great deal of pragmatism that we as

the international community should capitalize on.

SOARES: So there, so far you're seeing a great deal of pragmatism, I'm not sure whether you're seeing any evidence yet of a -- of a gentler, more

inclusive Taliban. I don't know if you've seen that. You can give us an idea if you've seen that, you've heard that from them. But I'm also keen to

know, minister, what is the red line for Qatar? Of course, we're hearing all these promises from the Taliban. But where does Qatar draw the line?

You mentioned human rights. You mentioned women's issues as well, women integration into society. Where do you draw that line?

AL-KHATER: Well, there is a red line definitely. But human rights and women's rights is also a spectrum. Now, what we have said and communicated

very clearly that a recognition even from the side of Qatar will only come if there is an inclusive government. And this will be the first gesture

that we would accept as a state of Qatar from the Taliban side.

SOARES: Lolwah Al-Khater; the Qatari assistant foreign minister. Thank you very much, minister, for taking time to speak to us here on CNN. And

still to come tonight as thousands of people flee Afghanistan, parts of Europe are bracing for migrant surge. But many are hoping to avoid repeat

of the 2015 crisis. We're live for you in Paris. That's next.



SOARES: Now, Britain's foreign secretary has defended the U.K.'s withdrawal from Afghanistan at the hearing before lawmakers. Dominic Raab

insisted that no other country managed the crisis better than the U.K. But he did acknowledge that Britain didn't expect Kabul to fall so quickly.

Take a listen.



operate into and it was certainly backed up by those who took -- and the military, is that the likely -- was likely the central proposition was

that, given the troop withdrawal by the end of August, you would see a steady deterioration from that point, and that it was unlikely Kabul would

fall this year.

That was the central assessment. And of course, with all the usual caveats that you will be familiar with, that doesn't mean we didn't do

contingency planning or game out or test the other propositions. And just to be clear, that's something that was widely shared, that view amongst

NATO allies.


SOARES: Well, across the channel, EU officials have also been discussing the situation in Afghanistan. One thing they're debating is how to deal

with the large number of people who fled the country. CNN's Melissa Bell is live in Paris. And Melissa, let me start with what we heard from Dominic

Raab. We heard of course, President Biden putting an end to this, what he called "forever war". Today, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab facing a

grilling over the U.K.'s handling of, you know, the pullout of Afghanistan. What is the mood though across Europe, now that the U.S. has pulled out?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very different debate here on this side of the channel within the European Union simply because the combat

troops of European nations that had been involved had been withdrawn far before. So, this sort of debacle that Dominic Raab was having to answer for

before that select committee today has not posed itself in the same terms for European countries. What has been immediately apparent and very

shocking to some is the extent to which the leaders of European member states have been very quick to raise this specter of their fears of a

return of the 2015 migrant crisis.

Emmanuel Macron, the very day after Kabul had fallen, in his televised address to the nation warned of the need to prevent irregular flows of

migrants. And that did not go down well, he tried to roll it back a few more times. But you have to remember that so many of these governments,

these individual member states have seen since 2015, the political cost of what those images of hundreds and thousands of migrants coming across

European borders has led to. And in so many countries here in Europe, Isa, it's led to far right parties doing well, centrist parties having to follow


And there's a great fear electorally of what such a repeat might cost people like Emmanuel Macron facing re-election next year, Angela Merkel's

party facing re-election this September. There is a fear that any further images could do greater damage, which is why you have this kind of

disconnect, Isa, between the language that you're hearing from the leaders of the individual member states and what you're hearing from the European

Union itself in terms of its hopes of being able to resettle Afghan migrants and do right by the Geneva convention of which Europe is a


And so we heard the session today, where a representative of the European External Affairs Agency was before parliamentarians, talking about the

possibility of opening land corridors.

The idea is that although Kabul airport for the time being has not been secured, while negotiations through Turkey and Qatar go on to get it

reopened so that much needed humanitarian aid can get in and those needing to get out can go, that land corridors might be found as well.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Melissa. Great to see you.

Still to come tonight, the delicate and difficult act of engaging with the Taliban. How the world's relationship with the militants now running

Afghanistan has changed almost overnight. That is next.




SOARES: Now the Taliban haven't announced a new government yet or any details on how they plan to actually run Afghanistan. They're still

celebrating the end of a 20-year war that left them flush with U.S. weaponry.

Taliban fighters held a victory parade, as you can see in Kandahar today, driving through the streets and military vehicles, as a Black Hawk

helicopter buzzed overhead. Now that they are running the country, the Taliban hope to project a new, more moderate image to the world as they

seek foreign aid.

Let's bring in our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson. He's live for us in Islamabad.

As I showed our viewers, Taliban clearly celebrating the U.S. exit today in Kandahar. But I suspect they will get a reality check once they realize

that taking over was the easy part. They actually have to govern.

How difficult will this be for them?

And how soon do you think we'll expect to hear from them on the government front?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think expectations are high that we're going to hear about the government soon.


ROBERTSON: And I think the expectations were raised because they had a leadership council over the three days that ended yesterday. That was

expected to sort of precipitate a government.

But they will know the pressure that's on them because, of course, they went through this running the country between 1996 and 2001, when they were

ousted from power. So they know the challenges.

But this time, it really is for real. They have an opportunity here to potentially get a swath of the international community on board. And we got

a sense of that from one of the Taliban spokesmen today, when he was speaking about China.

Remember it was China and Russia that vetoed or abstained from voting at the U.N. Security Council just 24 hours ago about safe areas, safe zones

for nationals, who want to leave Afghanistan to be able to leave safely through the airport.

So I think the Taliban look towards China and Russia as being a little bit more aligned, a little bit closer. And we heard that from a Taliban

spokesman today, saying that we have good diplomatic relations with China and we really hope we can make them stronger.

So they know the task ahead now is winning over elements of the international community.

The question is, with this government, is it as inclusive, as they say it will be, including non-Taliban members?

And will those members get senior positions of influence in that government?

If the answer is yes, then they're more likely to win over eventually. If they meet other expectations, a broader international community support. If

not, then I think the Taliban are going to be looking at a situation where they have only partial international acceptance.

So that reality that you're talking about of running the country becomes a bigger challenge for them.

SOARES: And critically I think you pointed at that just now in your answers, that they have to convince not just the world but also Afghans

that they can run a country and be inclusive because, after all, there will be depending on funding from the International Monetary Fund, with

international donors.

How will this sit though, Nick, within strict Islamic law?

Can they accept funding?

Do they pay tax?

Just talk us through that.

ROBERTSON: Yes, I mean the Taliban are going to face a very big issue. You know, the International Monetary Fund helps countries like Afghanistan. It

lends them money. But it expects interest to be paid.

The Taliban's very strict interpretation of Islam and sharia law means they don't believe in paying interest. They don't believe in interest. They

think it's wrong. It's not laid out, as they understand, in the Quran.

So it would seem that that, on face value, how will they accept the sort of basic loans and international aid that other poorer nations depend on to

help get their economies moving?

I mean, the International Monetary Fund would put so many stipulations and so many expectations on the Taliban government. There would be issues

about, you know, about corruption. There would be issues about sort of accounting for the money, all of those complexities.

The Taliban tend not to have sort of raised a cadre of technocrats. They raised an army to take over the country. Now they know they're going to

need the technocrats. And that's one of the reasons they were so critical of so many people leaving Afghanistan.

But it is essentially where they may come up short, the actual people, who were able to run government.

SOARES: Yes, and that's a fear, of course, over the brain drain. But as we can see from the international community, what we're hearing, at least, is

that they're using the carrot approach so far, waiting for that government, for them to see what Taliban comes out in forms of a government. Nic

Robertson, great to see you.

Nicaragua's supreme electoral council has just released a preliminary list of candidates who can run in November's election. And not surprisingly to

critics, all the candidates are aligned with president Daniel Ortega, who is seeking a fourth straight term.

This follows the country's sweeping crackdown on opposition leaders. CNN's Rafael Romo joins me now live from Mexico City.

We have seen Ortega really cracking down not just on opposition leaders but also activists. And that has intensified as of late.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Yes, that's right, Isa; essentially anybody who disagrees with him. And let's remember that the

crackdown against the opposition has been going on all summer long, with arrests of candidates, activists and opposition leaders.

And it started in June with the detention of Cristiana Chamorro, the only potential presidential candidate with a real chance of defeating Ortega in

the November elections.

So the release of the list of six presidential candidates that will be allowed to participate, including Ortega himself, doesn't change the fact

that the president will be running for re-election virtually unopposed.



ROMO (voice-over): This is how the government of Nicaragua treats working journalists.

And this is how it treats those who dare to defy the government of president Daniel Ortega.

Starting in June, the regime has been cracking down on critics and the opposition, including Cristiana Chamorro, the only potential presidential

candidate with a real chance of defeating Ortega in the November elections.

According to opposition leaders and human rights groups, the regime has since put behind bars more than 140 protesters, outspoken critics of the

government and members of the opposition, including seven presidential candidates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): And even those who at one point were his political allies and comrades in arms. The government has accused some of those

detained of using money from abroad to carry out activities to try to destabilize the country or other vague national security violations.

KITTY MONTERREY, NICARAGUAN OPPOSITION LEADER: There was no point in remaining there. I only had two options. Either they would take me to jail

or they could deport me. I didn't know which of the two.

ROMO (voice-over): Others like Kitty Monterrey, who led an opposition party, have sought political asylum in neighboring Costa Rica and other

countries, including the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): The Nicaraguan supreme electoral council released Wednesday the list of six candidates, including Ortega, that can legally

run for the presidency. Analysts say the other five are collaborators, who are aligned with the president, even if they have their own political


Monterrey says, although there are six presidential candidates, the November election is a foregone conclusion.

MONTERREY: It's going to be another farce, the same as in 2016. I'm not even going to say it's going to be a fraud. It's just -- it's a farce.

There's nothing there. I mean, the political party that are competing, let's say, with Ortega, they're all his allies. There's no opposition,

legal opposition remaining in Nicaragua.

ROMO (voice-over): Daniel Ortega is seeking a fourth consecutive term. The 75-year-old former revolutionary leader has governed the Central American

country since 2007 and previously ruled the nation between 1979 and 1990, the last five years as an elected president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): Journalist Julio Lopez (ph) is among those who have decided to seek asylum in Costa Rica. He says he fled Nicaragua after his

passport was confiscated and the government accused him of being involved in a corruption case, charges that he says were an effort to silence him.

"Regrettably," he says, "the situation in the country has become so extreme that there's no respect at all for freedom of the press in Nicaragua."

Costa Rican immigration authorities say the number of Nicaraguan nationals requesting asylum tripled from almost 1,500 in May to nearly 4,400 in July.

According to Monterrey, this is a direct result of the Ortega government's repressive policies.

MONTERREY: Definitely. It's been a dictatorship since the very first day. It's just that, unfortunately, many people didn't know or didn't want to

know. Now everybody understands that he is a dictator.


ROMO: And Isa, Ortega prevails in the November elections. By the end of his next term, he will have been running the country for 31 years

altogether. And, given the fact that he has managed to get a tight grip on all government institutions and that he will be virtually running

unopposed, it is very likely that he will remain in power. Isa, back to you.

SOARES: Rafael Romo there for us in Mexico City, thanks very much, Rafael.

And still to come tonight, the critical situation in the U.S. state of Louisiana. No electricity, extreme heat, food and gas shortages. We are

live in New Orleans with an update.





SOARES: Now an oil spill the size of New York City is spreading across the eastern Mediterranean. It's threatening to reach Cyprus in the coming


If the wind shifts, that could push the oil toward southern Turkey. Syrian officials say it came from a leaking tank at a power plant in the coastal

city of Baniyas. They said the leak is now under control. Turkish and Syrian crews are working to try to contain the slick.

One environmental disaster of a different sort is raging in California's Sierra (ph). The 83,000 hectare Caldor fire in El Dorado and Amador

Counties is now only 20 percent contained and wind gusts are strong; at 65 kilometers per hour today, are creating daunting conditions for


The flames are threatening the pristine forests around Lake Tahoe. Thousands of residents there and in neighboring Nevada have evacuated,

leaving the smoke-filled streets eerily empty. That is, except for bears. Wildlife officials say black bears are coming out of burning forests and

roaming the streets around the lake.

Now people in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S. are bracing for heavy rain, flooding and possible tornadoes, the remnants of storm Ida. Right now

conditions on the ground in Louisiana are critical following Ida's hit on Sunday.

Officials are racing really against the clock to try to restore electricity for nearly 1 million customers. This, of course, as the region deals with

extreme heat and shortages of essential items, like food, clean water and gasoline. CNN correspondent Brian Todd joins me from outside New Orleans.

And Brian, when you and I spoke yesterday, we saw lines of people queuing for food. Now tell us where you are. I'm guessing people needing fuel at

this stage.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Isa. We're in Metairie, Louisiana, just west of New Orleans. And we're going to show you how

desperate people are to get some of the basics still three days out from Hurricane Ida.

Check out this line. Our photojournalist, Mark Biello, will shoot out as far as he can. This line of cars goes all the way down. One member of the

team noted it goes all the way to the interstate and possibly onto the interstate.

Some of the people here have been waiting eight or nine hours for gasoline just to come up here and get some fuel here. Check this out as well. Look

at this. There's a separate line to get gas on foot, where you can line up on foot and fill up your cans.

Some of these people have been waiting three and four hours on foot to get gas. This is the first time we've seen kind of dual lines of cars and

people on foot, waiting to fill up their cans, people being pretty patient here. But it is getting a little tense.

I've talked to the managers. They're limiting people to $30 per purchase, whether you're getting it in a can or your car. They think they have enough

gas for the end of the day today. But they are trying to get some more supplies from refineries in Mississippi and Louisiana.

But again, it's kind of touch and go. They think they can get more gas by tomorrow but they are going to have to see. They also have got a sheriff's

deputy here, watching over things to make sure things don't get too tense.

But there have been some arguments and altercations here but still it's, overall, pretty peaceful. But you get the sense here, Isa, people just

trying to get the basics. As you mentioned, almost a million people in Louisiana without power.

We were in a neighborhood not far from here in Kenner, Louisiana, where they're struggling to get food and water. Some of them are running out of

food, running out of water. We were in a neighborhood of a lot of elderly people.


TODD: And one of them said, look, you know, when our team pulled up, she said, I thought you guys were FEMA. So they just want someone to come check

on them, is the bottom line. They want to tell someone that they're running low on this stuff. They want someone to maybe bring something to them.

These are elderly people.

That's who you worry about; some of these people who can get out and get to the gas stations you don't worry about so much. But it's the elderly that

are sitting there in their homes, not able to venture out and, of course, the heat index is a factor here, too. The heat is really rising to very,

very high levels. That's going compound the problem, Isa.

SOARES: Compound the problem and also health issues for the elderly population. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

We're also hearing the last few minutes that President Biden will visit Louisiana on Friday to survey the damage, of course, from Hurricane Ida.

That's from a White House official.

Still to come, an American athlete who survived unimaginable trauma and her inspiring journey, all the way to the Paralympics. You'll want to hear this

story. That's next.




SOARES: Now to a remarkable story. Haven Shepherd was 14 months old when her father detonated a suicide bomb, with the intention of killing the

family. She survived and became one of the U.S. athletes competing in the Tokyo Paralympics right now. And she spoke to our Selina Wang.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How does it feel to be here in Tokyo representing Team USA for the first time?

HAVEN SHEPHERD, PARALYMPIAN: I mean it's such an honor. I'm so proud of our country especially, you know, having just such a hard year, this is so

special. Having motivation to, you know, work towards something is hard but working towards something I didn't even know that that was going to happen

was even harder.

WANG (voice-over): You were born in Vietnam.

What happened when you were a baby?

SHEPHERD (voice-over): I was born in Vietnam to parents that had an affair and had me. And in Vietnam, women can't divorce husbands and so for their

circumstance they thought the best -- the thing that would be best for their family was to commit a family suicide.

And they strapped bombs onto themselves and they held me and I was thrown 40 feet away from the accident and all the damage was done to my legs.

I just think it's such a miracle that, you know, I survived. And that happened when I was 14 months old. And then I was adopted later when I was

20 months old.


WANG (voice-over): But the knowledge of such a traumatic incident happening when you wear a baby does that weigh on you?

SHEPHERD (voice-over): My mom was always really honest about what happened to me and it's definitely made me the person that I am now. I think of my

biological mom's sacrifice. I look at her sacrifice of her life for me, you know and I got to live this amazing life.

I'm here at the Paralympics, you know. I got to have an amazing childhood. And I just think about how epic my story has, you know, changed so many


WANG (voice-over): Was it difficult growing up with a disability and how did you become so confident and secure with yourself?

SHEPHERD (voice-over): My confidence just comes from choosing my day-to- day life of how am I going to see the world? You know, I could wake up every single morning and just be so offended that, you know, somebody

looked at me at the store. And oh, this person looked at me funny because I have my handicap sticker in the parking lot and my legs are covered.

I definitely take those moments and I have to choose what I'm going pick. Am I going to choose to be offended of them not knowing any better? But I

can also choose that oh, wow, they are staring at me because my legs are really cool and I usually choose that point of like well, they looking at

me cause I'm so cool.

WANG (voice-over): You also serve as an ambassador for other amputees. You've been a role model for so many. What advice do you give them?

SHEPHERD (voice-over): Going through like an amputation or just growing up without limbs in general makes you grow up really fast, because you need to

choose what the world is going to do to you.

Is it going to be somewhere where it's not safe and you never leave your house or you don't want people to look at you. Or do you want the world to

know that hey, we exist, you know.

I think it's so special too to be a learning tool for people, of educating them. And the Paralympics and the disabled community and, you know, my life

and how fulfilled it is by not having legs.

So I think that's one of the greatest gifts I've ever had in my life.


SOARES: What an incredibly strong woman.

That does it for today. I'm Isa Soares in London. Do stay with us. We'll be joining you for "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS." That's next.