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U.S. Afghanistan Exit; Israeli-Palestinian Conflict; CDC Says Schools Should Mask For Rest Of Year; COVID-19 Surge Impacts Mt. Everest Climbers In Nepal; Tiger Roaming Houston Now In Hands Of Authorities. Aired 2-3a ET
Aired May 16, 2021 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Robyn Curnow.
Deadly fighting overnight in the Middle East and news outlets are refusing to stop doing their jobs after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW (voice-over): High rise media building takes a direct hit from an Israeli airstrike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW (voice-over) As U.S. kids get their shots into arms, new guidance on what they should do to the masks on their faces at school.
Plus America's promise.
Will it keep it and protect military translators before it pulls out of Afghanistan?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.
CURNOW: Great to have you along this hour.
The Palestinian health ministry says Israeli airstrikes killed at least 170 people in Gaza, including 40 children. The Israeli military said it struck the home of Gaza's Hamas leader. This video reports to show that airstrike.
A IDF spokesperson says he was not hurt. Israeli warplanes on Saturday targeted this high-rise building in Gaza City. The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets had offices there and were given one hour to evacuate. Families living in the building also fled.
The Palestinian health ministry reports two more Palestinians were killed, more than a dozen wounded in airstrikes early Sunday. A ministry spokesperson says five children were rescued from the rubble.
The death toll rose to 10 in Israel on Saturday as a rocket killed an Israeli man in Tel Aviv. The Israeli prime minister vowed to keep up the military campaign until the rockets stop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Israel has responded forcefully to these attacks and we will continue these attacks until the security of our people is reinstated and restored.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: The Israeli military claims it blew up the high-rise building in Gaza City because Hamas intelligence assets were operating there. But the head of the Associated Press, whose bureau was destroyed, denies that claim. We get the latest from Ben Wedeman.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An Israeli airstrike in Gaza brings down the 12 story Jala'a tower, housing offices of the premier U.S. news agency, the Associated Press and Al Jazeera network.
Once more a massive building in Gaza is reduced by Israel's version of shock and awe to rubble and dust. The Israeli military warned that building's occupants, among them families, to evacuate before the bombing. The Israeli air force claims the building contained what it called, Hamas military intelligence assets, which, it alleges, were using media outlets as shields.
The air and artillery campaign against Gaza continues with mounting intensity as Hamas and other militant factions fire barrage after barrage of rockets into Israel. In Gaza's cramped confines, Israel's claims to be avoiding civilian casualties often seems to ring hollow as the residents of a crowded refugee camp bury their dead.
Early Saturday morning, Israeli warplanes struck a home in the crowded camp, killing at least 10 people, 8 of them children. Among them, 4 of Mohammed Hadidi's (ph) 5 sons and his wife. The only son to survive, found under the rubble, was 5 month old Armad (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).
WEDEMAN (voice-over): "They destroyed the house without warning at 1:30 in the morning," said Mohammed (ph). "People were sleeping, the children were sleeping."
Saturday saw more confrontations in the West Bank between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. May 15th is Catastrophe Day, marking the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948.
WEDEMAN: On the outskirts of a town, young men use slings to hurl stones at the soldiers.
WEDEMAN: With the West Bank now aflame, Hamas has called upon the people here, in their words, to "set the ground ablaze under the feet of the occupation."
WEDEMAN (voice-over): And indeed, the fires are spreading -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, Al-Bireh, on the West Bank.
CURNOW: Elliott Gotkine joins me from Ashdod.
What more do we know about the targeting of that building that was housing news organizations?
Is the IDF likely to offer proof as the AP requests?
ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Robyn, not at this stage. We reached out and they gave us a statement, saying, we're not putting out any more information at this time and can't comment on if there will be anything else in the future.
And it's not just the AP that is putting pressure on the IDF to provide evidence to back up its claims that that building housed Hamas military assets.
Also the foreign press association in this country has written to the IDF, expressing its concern and dismay, adding it raises questions about Israel's willingness to interfere with the freedom of the press to operate and saying it's urgently seeking a meeting.
What it shows, I think, is Israel's willingness to attack targets that it feels it needs to in order to fulfill its mission, no matter what the fallout might be, including in the international media.
And in terms of these objectives, these include reducing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and also taking out Hamas militants and infrastructure such as underground rocket launchers, the underground tunnel network and also weapons manufacturing facilities and the like.
The IDF and Israel want to get as favorable coverage as possible in the international media but they clearly in this instance feel the need to attack this target took precedence.
CURNOW: And as we watched these images, how has domestic politics played into this latest cycle of violence and recriminations?
GOTKINE: Yes, domestic politics is never far away. We were already kind of post the election. We'd seen prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to get a coalition together. And it looked like one of the right wing parties was in intense negotiations with the opposition bloc to try to form a governing coalition.
But to get over the line, to get that coalition, they were probably going to need support from the Islamist Ram party. Naftali Bennett felt he could no longer be in an opposition bloc and so he's seemingly gone back to Netanyahu's side.
The leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, still has a chance at forming a coalition, it just seems very, very unlikely at this stage, which means a new lot of elections are probably likely later in this year. And Avigdor Lieberman, who used to be an ally of Netanyahu's, he came out and said Netanyahu is a collaborator with Hamas, saying this operation is used to bolster his chances at the next election -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Thanks so much. Thank you for that report.
Now the U.S. is calling for a deescalation of violence in the region. Arlette Saenz is at the White House, where President Biden spent Saturday spearheading diplomatic efforts.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden spent most of Saturday here at the White House, where he spent the day working the phones, having separate phone calls with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
There's growing concern about these tensions regarding Israel. The president is trying to strike a very delicate balance in extending support for Israel's right to defend itself but also expressing concerns for the Palestinian people.
I want to read you a bit of the White House readout.
The White House says that, "The president noted that this current period of conflict has tragically claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children. He raised concerns about the safety and security of journalists and reinforced the need to ensure their protection."
This phone call took place late Saturday morning after that Israeli airstrike flattened that building in Gaza that was home to the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets.
But these readouts don't specifically say whether the president addressed that specific airstrike. Now it wasn't just the president making calls over the weekend. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reached out to his Israeli counterpart to talk about the situation there.
But right now the administration is taking this all hands on deck approach as they're trying to urge de-escalation in the region --
SAENZ: -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.
CURNOW: Ambassador Dennis Ross was a special assistant to former president Barack Obama and joins me now from Bethesda, Maryland.
Thank you so much for joining us. You've written that President Biden didn't want to be dragged into an Israeli-Palestinian issue but he doesn't have a choice.
What leverage does he have right now to quell the violence?
Is talking to the leaders enough?
AMBASSADOR DENNIS ROSS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think it's a step.
But I think the bigger issue here is going to be, how do you also affect what Hamas is doing?
And that really depends much more on the aegis. The Egyptians are the ones who have both leverage via Hamas because they can keep the border with Gaza open or closed. They have the history of having brokered cease-fires before between Hamas and Israel. So I think working closely with the Egyptians will be key but I think we also have to take a step back.
Israel is going to feel the need to re-establish a deterrent with Hamas because not only the rockets that have been fired but this precipitated and Israel will want to show if you think about a step like that the price is going to be very high for you.
And Hamas at this point will also have to decide how it explains it's ending it. Here again, I think Egypt can play a role.
But the real question is going to be, do Israelis feel they've exacted enough of a price on Hamas and is Hamas ready to end this?
I suspect both are moving close to that. But it's still going to take some moving parts to be sorted out.
CURNOW: A succession of U.S. presidents -- and you know this all too well -- have tried to various degrees tried to broker positive change and peace in the Middle East. So far it's pretty much eluded them all.
How does the toxic politics of the region impact an American president, particularly Mr. Biden, that's so early into his presidency?
ROSS: We're dealing with an area where the Biden administration not only wants to focus on domestic issues but it's the Indo-Pacific region, competition with China, focusing on how we restore alliances.
You can ignore the Middle East but it doesn't ignore you. So the administration at this point also has to think through how it's going to try to manage things. The reality that the administration is going to thinking through how it's going to manage its position, that also relates to countries in the region thinking, OK, how can we affect that?
I cite Egypt because it's important not only in terms of brokering a cease-fire now but Egypt also has an interest in reminding the Biden administration that the U.S. has an interest in Egypt.
And this is one example of why that interest is quite real. So a lot of -- a lot of what's going on right now is everybody's thinking about how does the current events affect what may be American policy over the next few years.
CURNOW: This has escalated quite significantly. It's widened, of course, from just even a week ago.
How much danger is there of this widening further?
What, for example, is there the risk of Hezbollah joining into this fight?
ROSS: If it were to expand to Hezbollah, this becomes a very different kind of war. Hezbollah has the capacity to cover all of Israel and, in a way, where the numbers are so large, Israel would eventually have to go in on the ground in Lebanon in a way they're unlikely to do in Gaza, that would really transform this.
Because it runs the risk of not only escalating vertically but also horizontally. Israel won't be hit with 2,000 coming out of Lebanon and feel that Iran can remain untouched. This can rapidly evolve into something that involves not just Israel in the south and Israel in the north but Israel and the Iranians.
For Hezbollah, they're dealing what is largely a failed state reality in Lebanon. The last thing Hezbollah wants is to suddenly find it's under real assault in Lebanon. It's not that it can't impose a price on Israel.
But at a time when there are plenty of others within Lebanon, who see any vulnerability of Hezbollah as creating an opening for them, this all suggests to me, at this point, Hezbollah find it in its interests to not see this war expand.
CURNOW: Some have suggested Mr. Netanyahu had nothing to lose.
Do you subscribe to that?
How does the impact of his strategic decisions impact his political reality?
And what does that mean for the U.S.?
ROSS: Well, I think there's a near term and an intermediate term reality here. In the immediate term, it makes it more difficult for what looked to be an alternative government to be formed.
Naftali Bennett, who heads the Yamina Party, was very close to an agreement with Yair Lapid. He's now ended that effort and says he's now negotiating with Netanyahu again. That won't produce a government.
What it could produce is another round of elections. So prime minister Netanyahu would remain prime minister until the next election.
But look at what's going on in Israel right now. Even though the focus will be on Hamas, there's also this sense that the real social fabric of the country is under assault with what's going on in these mixed towns and cities that are Arab and Jewish.
We haven't seen this kind of internal conflict, where the real social fabric of the country is being stressed fundamentally. We haven't really seen this but maybe once or twice in the past.
After the Hamas, after the fighting with Hamas stops, there's going to be a need to address this. The future of anyone, including prime minister Netanyahu, will be heavily influenced by how well they look like they can deal with these breaches.
CURNOW: Ambassador Dennis Ross, thank you very much for joining us. Great to have your expertise and analysis on the show. Thank you.
ROSS: My pleasure.
CURNOW: Now coming up on CNN, the CDC rolled back its mask guidelines this week for Americans fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. But layers of federal and local regulations are causing confusion.
And where does that leave then schools and students?
That's coming up.
Plus Taiwan hit a new domestic COVID case record and now grocery store shelves are empty in the capital as people stock up. We'll explain what is happening.
CURNOW: Welcome back.
So the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says schools should continue masking for the rest of the academic year in the U.S. Health officials say that's because there's not enough time for students to become fully vaccinated before schools let out for summer.
Schools will also need time to make potential adjustments in policy. The CDC says it'll update its guidance for schools in the coming weeks.
And the U.S. recently opened up the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for kids as young as 12. Here's how one newly vaccinated kid expressed how he's feeling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After the second shot, I kind of hope afterwards we can go swimming, go do many different things. but still keep 6 feet just in case because COVID isn't going to go away like overnight. So still wear a mask, still stay 6 feet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: Walt Disney World and supermarket chain Publix are among the latest companies to change their masking policies following this new guidance from the CDC. But some small business owners haven't decided yet what to do.
CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To take it off or to keep it on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't mind the masks but I definitely feel like it's liberating to not wear them.
BERNAL (voice-over): Trader Joe's, Walmart, Costco, Starbucks say no masks required for most of their stores for customers fully vaccinated. But many small business owners Like Jay Spangler...
JAY SPANGLER, BUSINESS OWNER: I love taking this thing off.
BERNAL (voice-over): -- still unable to make changes and unclear about what they'll eventually require from their staff and customers.
SPANGLER: I think everybody wants to take their mask off. When people come in the restaurant and sit down, the first thing they do is they want to rip their mask off.
BERNAL (voice-over): What makes it even more complicated, states in red in this map didn't require masks before the CDC updated its guidance. States in blue updated their guidance. And others, like California, still reviewing their mask regulations.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll continue to wear my mask around people that I feel are more vulnerable. I think it's the responsible thing to do.
BERNAL (voice-over): In the meantime, the Biden administration trying to answer questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What should I say when someone tells me they don't want to get vaccinated?
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: It's important to understand what you're putting into your body and this is especially important because we know there's a lot of misinformation swirling around.
These are rigorously studied vaccines. Doctors and nurses across the country are not only recommending them but taking them themselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERNAL (voice-over): The experts have been on defense after the new CDC guidance, saying fully vaccinated people can go without a mask in most cases, caused a great deal of confusion. The CDC says the change was based on new analysis of data from vaccinated health care workers.
SPANGLER: The rules change so much that we just wait until the day of and then adapt on the fly.
BERNAL (voice-over): Spangler believes there will still be confusion, changes and last-minute notices but overall --
SPANGLER: It's great to see peoples faces again.
BERNAL (voice-over): And he's hopeful about the future.
SPANGLER: The more we can fit inside, the better just because we've got a lot of recouping to do.
BERNAL (voice-over): Camila Bernal, CNN, Los Angeles.
CURNOW: China is halting this year's spring climbing season on the Tibetan side of Mt. Everest to prevent the spread of COVID. That's according to Chinese state media.
CURNOW: This comes after reports China was going to set up a line of separation on the mountain to keep climbers from the Nepal side from mingling with the ones of the Tibetan side. Climbers say COVID cases at the mountain's base camp, though, have been rising.
And India is reporting more than 311,000 new coronavirus cases and more than 4,000 new deaths. That brings the country's total deaths to more than 270,000. The virus is showing signs of easing in major cities and overall positivity rates are down.
But new infections are still soaring in many rural areas. Meanwhile, protests gripped the southern city of Chennai on Saturday over shortages of remdesivir, an anti-viral drug used to treat coronavirus. Police eventually stepped in to disperse the crowds.
And Taiwan is tightening social distancing restrictions for Taipei and nearby areas after a spike there in COVID cases. The self-governed island reported over 180 new transmitted infections on Friday, a record since the pandemic began. The restrictions will be in place through May 28th and many people started stockpiling groceries at the news.
Journalist Andy Lee joins us now.
Andy, hi, thanks for joining us. So far Taiwan has been pretty much a success story so how concerning are these outbreaks there? ANDREW LEE, JOURNALIST: Robyn, so far Taiwan is doing a good job but that is only so far. The situation right now in Taiwan is definitely very concerning. The local government has upgraded from level 2 to level 3 as of Thursday.
And right now the city of Taipei, the mayor has held a press conference and told people only three words, stay at home. Now all the facilities as far as entertainment are closed. No movie theaters, no karaokes, no gyms, no nightclubs, no bars.
However, schools are still open and offices are still open. So people can go to work.
Why is that?
Because if you close the offices and schools, the economy of Taiwan could be hurt too much but the situation definitely concerning -- Robyn.
CURNOW: And what's been the reaction then to these new measures?
How are people feeling about it?
LEE: Right, the people's reaction, well, people like me, Andy, is very worried. I told my wife to please go to the supermarket and she tried her best to stock up on tissue papers, groceries and many items.
However, she came home and told me that the shelves were gone in minutes, empty right now. So I went to the pharmacy about half an hour ago and stocked up on face masks. I bought 10 boxes but I still feel worried.
On the streets there were long queues outside of restaurants, because people are doing take-aways. And the people here in Taiwan, as far as Taipei city is concerned, they're not taking public transportation. They're not taking the subways, not taking buses.
Because it's a crowded space where there's no social distancing. People are taking their own vehicles such as cars and motorcycles. So the streets are jam-packed with vehicles.
And, Robyn, this is just breaking news. This is just in. As of yesterday, the confirmed cases in Taiwan was 180. However, just now, a press conference from the health officials here in Taiwan, the confirmed cases stands at 207 for today; 206 are local cases and one foreign case. And this foreign case is very worrying. It is from India -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Thank you very much for that update there, Andy Lee, appreciate it.
So coming up, inside a building destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. You'll see what it was like leading up to the attack as reporters scrambled to escape. Plus demonstrations around the world are showing solidarity for
Palestinians. We'll show you how.
CURNOW: Welcome back to all of our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Robyn Curnow.
Israel's military says it's bombed the home of the Hamas leader in Gaza. The official wasn't hurt when his home was hit. Explosions have been ripping through Gaza. New Israeli airstrikes have killed at least two people, wounded dozens of others.
Israel says it's targeted Hamas and Islamic Jihad as they launch rockets. CNN captured this footage of rockets streaking out of Gaza.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW (voice-over): An Israeli man was killed by rockets on Saturday near Tel Aviv. Meantime, Israel is facing heavy criticism on its attack on a building housing media offices. Nic Robertson has more from southern Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the Associated Press say that they have appealed to the Israeli government for more information about why the building their journalists were working in was targeted.
Complaints also from Al Jazeera, Israelis said they targeted the building because there were military installations with Hamas military intelligence. That's why Israeli officials say that they go out of their way to avoid casualties. And they gave warnings for everybody to evacuate the building.
That was repeated by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he had a phone conversation late in the day with President Biden. He said he laid out the actions they had taken out against Hamas and other groups in Gaza and also other planned actions.
Israel's defense minister Benny Gantz has also said that more actions are planned against Hamas. Hamas, from their point, have threatened to respond to the targeting of that building housing journalists, saying they will target Tel Aviv.
During the day, they targeted Tel Aviv with multiple rocket strikes. Most of those rocket strikes taken down by Iron Dome defensive system. However, some of those rockets to get through. A 50-year-old Israeli man killed when one of those rockets came down in a residential neighborhood.
Going into the night, in Gaza, concerns there that there could be an increased tit-for-tat because of the attack on the journalists' building. Certainly going into the rest of the weekend, concerns that diplomacy's not growing at a significant enough pace.
ROBERTSON: Despite President Biden speaking to Palestinian Authority's Mahmoud Abbas but the pace of diplomacy not picking up.
The door does still seem to be open to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government to continue their strikes against Hamas.
The prime minister noting support from the United States to be able to retaliate to attacks coming from Gaza -- Nic Robertson, CNN, Ashdod, Israel.
CURNOW: And as Nic just reported there, journalists had to flee their offices right before an Israeli airstrike. The Israelis say the building was a Hamas target but the Associated Press says it had no indication Hamas was present or active there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW (voice-over): This video captured those frantic moments leading up to the attack as journalists scrambled to evacuate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW: Here's what the president and CEO of the AP told CNN about this bombing. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY PRUITT, PRESIDENT AND CEO, ASSOCIATED PRESS: We did have one hours notice from the Israeli military that they were going to target that building with a missile strike. We didn't know any other details but we knew to get out.
And our folks then did get out and the missile strike ensued and leveled the building. So we didn't get all of our equipment out but, importantly, all we got all the people out. But our bureau, our offices, where we had operated for 15 years in Gaza, were completely destroyed.
CURNOW: And here was the response from the an Al Jazeera English anchor on-air after the strike.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This channel will not be silenced. Al Jazeera will not be silenced, we can guarantee you that right now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
CURNOW: We're seeing outpourings of rage and solidarity from Palestinians in cities in the Middle East and around the world. In Jordan, hundreds of people rallied for a second day near the King Hussein border crossing and called on Jordan's government to open the borders so they could, quote, "fight with their brothers."
And the Lebanese national news agency reports two Palestinian protesters in southern Lebanon were wounded by Israeli gunfire Saturday as they tried to climb a wall separating the two countries. Salma Abdelaziz was at the demonstrations along the Lebanese-Israeli border and joins us now from Beirut.
Tell us about those.
SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER: It did start as a rather quiet day, people being bused in but also families with their children, waving flags of some of the factions here, the political factions you see here; Hezbollah of course.
But also there were a small group of men that tried to climb that border fence. Several of them did make it to the top. Every person who did make it to the top planted a flag, it seemed. Eventually Lebanese troops did break this up.
We were there and we did hear what appeared to be the sound of gunfire coming from the Israeli side, of course. I know you mentioned that the national news agency here in Lebanon said that two people were wounded due to Israeli gunfire.
So that seemed to confirm that that was the sound that we heard. But ultimately it was up to the Lebanese troops to break this up, send everyone home. And it was a calm night in the end.
But you have seen these demonstrations in Lebanon and Jordan. But there's this sense across the region, by and large, that the Arab streets are quiet.
Why is that, Robyn?
There's a couple of factors in place. First, we're talking about the post-Arab Spring states, where a lot of government takes the fear of having mass gatherings in their big squares. And any human rights group will tell you some of these regimes are even more autocratic. They simply don't want to see big demonstrations occurring on their streets.
And, secondly, you have a big shift here diplomatically in the region, which is the normalization of relationships with the United Arab Emirates as these events unfold. So it really feels like, for those who I met on the streets yesterday in Lebanon, they felt they were sort of alone in this, that the Arab government was silent, that the powers that be, that should help with the diplomacy, were simply not there to stand up for the Palestinian people.
SAENZ: That's why they told me they were there to express their solidarity.
CURNOW: Thank you, Salma Abdelaziz, appreciate it.
Still ahead, a big question in Afghanistan ahead of a full U.S. troop pullout.
What will happen to Afghans who work for the U.S. that may not be safe after it leaves?
CURNOW: Welcome back. It's 43 minutes past the hour. Thanks for joining me.
So the U.S. withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan is raising big questions about those who could be left behind. We're talking here about Afghan citizens who work for the U.S. as interpreters and in other critical jobs, putting their own lives on the line in the process.
According to a former U.S. national intelligence director, the citizens saved thousands of American lives. Now they fear they'll be prime targets for militants when the U.S. leaves.
My next guest, former director James Clapper, wrote about this, about the translators in a recent CNN op-ed.
And he said, "What they did is they made a difference between mission success and failure and between being killed or surviving to fight another day. We can and must do the right thing here."
CNN national security analyst and the former director of U.S. national intelligence, James Clapper, joins me now from Fairfax, Virginia.
Good to see you, sir. Thanks so much for joining us.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Thanks for having me.
CURNOW: You've written this op-ed on cnn.com and, in many ways, it reads like a plea.
Why do you feel you needed to publicize the plight of Afghan interpreters?
CLAPPER: It's through the coauthor that I became aware of this situation, since I did not actually serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. My war, in air quotes, was Southeast Asia. And he got in touch with me and enlightened me as to the plight of these literally thousands of people.
CLAPPER: Both in Iraq and now more critically right now in Afghanistan, who worked for the U.S. military in a variety of capacities, probably, most notably, as translators or interpreters, from the highest levels of the U.S. Command down to the squad level in the field.
And they're in a real bad place right now because, with the fixed date for the departure of U.S. forces, their lives are literally in jeopardy because the Taliban have vowed many times in the past to want to get even with these people for assisting us.
So they are at risk, as are their families. And so I was engaged by a group called No One Left Behind, which is a group of service people -- former service people -- that served in Iraq and Afghanistan with these people and have taken up their cause. And I believe it's a worthy one.
CURNOW: You mention the delays and lags in processing these applications.
Are things getting at least better under a Biden administration compared to a Trump administration?
And how critical is it to speed up that process?
You of course, mentioned this end date of 9/11.
CLAPPER: Well, they do have an end date and there is a fairly rigorous 14-step process, as I understand it, that they have to go through to apply for what's called for a special immigration visa, an arrangement set up by the Congress in 2009 in recognition of the plight of these people.
And so, as the clock winds down toward the time when the U.S. is completely -- the U.S. military is completely out of Afghanistan, something needs to be done to expedite the processing for these people.
Due to COVID restrictions, there was, as we understand it, one person assigned in the embassy in Kabul to process these thousands of people. So there needs to be more effort put forth in terms of people and resources to process them.
And a related challenge, of course, is, once they're processed and moved to the United States, then the issue is settling them. And here, we've asked for -- No One Left Behind has implored the contractors, who profited over many years by hiring these people and employing them, just to remind them of the moral and ethical responsibility they have in helping to resettle these people in the United States.
CURNOW: So you talk about the security situation and how this needs to be sped up.
Do you think they will be targeted by the Taliban?
CLAPPER: I don't think there's any question of that. The Taliban have already targeted them. And so there are records of hundreds of these people that have been assassinated, murdered by the Taliban and retribution against their families as well.
So there's no question what the Taliban intent is. And the reason why these were crucial to the Taliban standpoint is, this was the bridge, the means by which U.S. forces in the field could communicate with the locals.
So if the translator is killed, which the Taliban regarded as critical, that then cut off the bridge of -- the conduit of communication between the U.S. forces and the local people and, you know, in a situation where they're trying -- to borrow an expression -- to win the hearts and mind of the local people.
CURNOW: So your worry for the Afghan interpreters, especially those who have moved to Kabul, I think, does it point to a broader concern about long-term security in the outlook for Afghanistan?
Because are you concerned then about the resurgence of the Taliban?
CLAPPER: Well, exactly, because many of these people sought safety and security, they thought, by moving from a rural area to an urban area; most notably, the largest urban area in Afghanistan, which is Kabul, thinking that, because there's a large American presence there and it's a big city with lots of people, they might be safer.
Well, that may not -- probably will not be the case once the U.S. military departs.
CURNOW: What can be done?
What else can be done?
How else can urgency be injected into potentially saving the lives of so many Afghan interpreters, who worked with the American troops?
CLAPPER: Well, there are two things here that need to be done. One is the processing by the State Department; perhaps the Department of Defense, I don't know, could lend a hand with resources. So the more people that are there to adjudicate cases in Afghanistan, to get them through the 14-step process, the better.
CLAPPER: Then the other thing that has to happen is, once they are processed and they're authorized to come to the United States, is settling them someplace that's safe and secure for them.
There's not sufficient government funding to do that. That's why No One Left Behind has called on the contractors, the companies who employed these people for many years in a variety of tasks, not just translators but construction workers, electricians, people that worked in dining halls, et cetera, any number of tasks, all of whom now are going to be at severe risk when we leave.
There's the two aspects, the processing and the settling.
CURNOW: James Clapper, appreciate you joining us here on CNN. Thank you very much.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Robyn.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) looking for this guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
But We got him and he's healthy.
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CURNOW: India, the tiger spotted roaming a Houston, Texas, neighborhood last week, is now safely in the hands of the city animal shelter. The nine-month-old Bengal tiger was surrendered to authorities Saturday. They say he appears to be unharmed.
Houston police say the big cat belonged to this man, Victor Hugo Cuevas, but his attorney denies that claim. The tiger will be medically evaluated and then delivered to an animal sanctuary.
And the late basketball legend Kobe Bryant was inducted posthumously into the Basketball Hall of Fame Saturday. Another superstar, Michael Jordan, walked Bryant's widow, Vanessa, to the podium so she could accept the honor.
Bryant, his daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash last year. The induction ceremony had been delayed nearly nine months by the pandemic. Vanessa Bryant gave an emotional tribute to her late husband, who played for the Los Angeles Lakers.
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VANESSA BRYANT, KOBE'S WIDOW: You did it. You're in the Hall of Fame now. You're a true champ. You're not just an MVP. You're an all-time great. I'm so proud of you. I love you forever and always, Kobe Dean Bryant.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CURNOW: Vanessa Bryant shared these images of her, a photo of her husband and other family members, at the Hall of Fame, writing, "Love you always."
Thank you for watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow.