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Border Afghan City Falls to Taliban; Tanker Hit by Iranian Drone; Greece Wildfires; Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired August 7, 2021 - 03:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. Appreciate your company. I'm Michael Holmes.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, the Taliban, on the offensive. CNN's Clarissa Ward, going inside an Afghan base, on the front lines of the fight.

Plus, fighting wildfires in Greece. We are live in Athens, seeing what's being done to get the flames under control.

And, aiming for gold in the men's basketball final, after France beat the U.S. in their first meeting. We tell you who walked away with the gold.




HOLMES: America's long promised withdrawal from Afghanistan, of course, almost complete. But peace, nowhere to be found there. Instead, the Taliban are advancing relentlessly and brutally, seizing swaths of the country and displacing hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians.

On Friday, the key city of Zaranj, near the border with Iran, becoming the first provincial capital to fall to the Islamist militants. Hours later, the Afghan defense ministry says, its air force killed the Taliban shadow governor for the province.

We got word that a second provincial capital, one in the north, has just fallen to the Taliban, too, but the fighting there is said to be ongoing. The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan had a strong warning.


DEBORAH LYONS. U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: In the past weeks, the war in Afghanistan has entered a new, deadlier and more destructive phase. The Taliban campaign during June and July to capture rural areas has achieved significant territorial gains. From this strengthened position, they have begun to attack the larger cities.


HOLMES: Kandahar is one of those larger cities currently under attack. It is strategically and symbolically vital. And Afghanistan's national army is fighting, desperately, to try to maintain control of it. But Kandahar's half million residents have few routes of escape and even fewer options. Clarissa Ward, taking us behind the front lines.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the road to Kandahar's front line, there is still civilian traffic, even as the Taliban inches deeper into the city. Afghan commandos have agreed to take us to one of their bases.

WARD: This used to be a wedding hall. Now it's the frontline position.

WARD (voice-over): Most of the fighting here happens at night. But Taliban snipers are at work 24 hours a day.

WARD: From snipers?


WARD (voice-over): The men tell us the Taliban are hiding in houses just 50 yards away from us.

WARD: And they shoot from people's homes? They shoot from civilians' houses?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you see this is all civilians' homes. We cannot use, you know, the big weapons, the heavy weapons.

WARD (voice-over): Up on the roof, Major Habibullah Shaheen wants to show us something.

WARD: So you can actually see the Taliban flag just over on the mountaintop there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are flag.

WARD (voice-over): It's been nearly a month since the Taliban penetrated Afghanistan second largest city. Since then, these men haven't had a break. U.S. airstrikes only come in an emergency. The rest of the time it's up to them to hold line.

"We feel a little bit weak without U.S. airstrikes and ground support and equipment," he says, "but this is our soil and we have to defend it."

GUL AHMAD KAMIN, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, KANDAHAR: Bombardment using heavy weapons. WARD (voice-over): In a villa in the eastern part of the city,

Kandahari lawmaker Gul Ahmad Kamin is hunkered down. In decades of war, he says he's never seen the fighting this bad.

KAMIN: Millions of people in this city are waiting for when they will be killed, then someone will kill them, when their home will be destroyed. And it is happening every minute.

WARD: Just spell out for me here.

The Taliban is basically surrounding the entire city of Kandahar now, is that correct?

KAMIN: Definitely yes.

WARD: And so, where is there to go?

KAMIN: Nowhere.


KAMIN: So there is only two options do or die.

WARD: Do or die?


WARD: And what does do look like?

KAMIN: That is the thing to convince different sides to ceasefire, to work on peace, to convince them to not to fight, not to get.

WARD (voice-over): But that is a tall order, in a city where war has become part of everyday life.

WARD: You can probably see there's a lot more cars on the road than there were previously and that's because in just two minutes at 6:00 p.m., the cell phone network gets cut across the city and that's when the fighting usually starts.

WARD (voice-over): Throughout the night the sounds of gunfire and artillery pierce the darkness. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban. They are intent on taking it back and the government knows it cannot afford to lose it.

By day, an eerie calm holds. The U.N. says more than 10,000 people are now displaced in this city. On the outskirts of town, we find 30 families camped out in an abandoned construction site.

WARD: (Speaking foreign language).

He's saying that none of these children have fathers, all of their fathers have been killed in the fighting.

WARD (voice-over): Thirty-five-year-old Rubbina fled with her two daughters to escape the fighting after her husband was shot dead. But still, it gets closer and closer.

"Last night I didn't sleep all night," she says, "and the fear was in my heart."

In the short time we are there more families arrived. Street vendor Mahmad Ismael says they fled the village of Malajad after an airstrike hit.

"Three dead bodies were rotting outside our home for days but it was too dangerous to get them," he says.

"The Taliban is attacking on one side, the government is attacking the other side. In the middle, we're just losing."

Back at the base, dust coats the chairs were wedding guests would normally sit as the siege of Kandahar continues, life here is in limbo with no end in sight -- Clarissa Ward, CNN, Kandahar.


HOLMES: And as an example of how things are going in Afghanistan, the U.S. embassy in Kabul, now, is officially urging U.S. citizens to leave the country. Quote, "immediately," a statement on the embassy's website, saying that the embassy's ability to help citizens is, quote, "extremely limited," even within the capital of Kabul.

They're advising citizens to leave the country via the earliest available commercial transportation. Again, the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan, it is advising U.S. citizens to get out.

Now the United Nations is calling for restraint from both sides after Hezbollah militants fired a barrage of rockets toward Israel. Israel, responding immediately, firing back across the border and stoking fears that the confrontation could spiral out of control. CNN's Hadas Gold is in northern Israel, with the latest.


HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm in Metula, which is just 1 kilometer away from the border with Lebanon, where it has been relatively quiet, despite the fact that, earlier on Friday, 19 rockets were launched from Lebanon, toward Israel.

Although rockets have been launched from Lebanon, toward Israel's recently just a few days ago, those have largely been attributed to Palestinian factions.

On Friday, Hezbollah, the militant group that is backed by Iran, largely controls southern Lebanon, just took responsibility for these attacks. The first time they have launched rockets, from Lebanon, toward Israel, since 2006.

It is being seen as a very serious escalation, in the tensions along the border.

However, the Israeli Defense Forces saying, while they did respond to these rockets by striking what they, said were the rocket launch sites in southern Lebanon, they do not want a further escalation although they are prepared to do so, if necessary.

They said they noted, Hezbollah targeted these rockets toward open areas, not toward populated civilian areas and that the IDF believes, this is part of Hezbollah's way to try to show, they still control southern Lebanon.

The real question will be, what will happen next?

Will Israel strike further targets in southern Lebanon?

Will Hezbollah in some, way respond?

Right now, a very tense and potentially very volatile situation -- Hadas Gold, CNN, Metula, Israel.


HOLMES: Meanwhile, the U.S. military has concluded that last week's deadly drone attack on a tanker ship, near Oman, was carried out by Iran. On Friday, the G7 foreign ministers issuing a joint statement, condemning the attack by saying, quote, "all available evidence clearly points to Iran."


HOLMES: The Pentagon says, its investigation found the drone was made in Iran and armed with the military grade explosive. Iran insists, it had no role in the attack.

The Biden administration is expected to unveil a new round of sanctions against Belarus. It is the latest action in response to crackdowns on protesters and dissidents by president Alexander Lukashenko.

A congressional source telling CNN to expect an announcement on Monday, the one year anniversary of the country's disputed presidential election. The Belarusian opposition leader meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden last, week in Washington.

She provided a list of companies, close to the Lukashenko regime, that she would like to see sanctioned.

Greece is facing a continued and growing threat, as scorching wildfires spread across the country. Some of the most dangerous blazes are just outside of the capital. Hundreds of firefighters are working around the clock to try to bring the flames under control and evacuate residents in harm's way. At least 20 people have been hospitalized and a volunteer firefighter has died. Journalist Elinda Labropoulou is joining me, live, from Athens.

What is the latest on where these fires are and the state of the battle?

ELINDA LABROPOULOU, JOURNALIST: Unfortunately, one of the worst developments is that the winds are simply picking up. They are making the circumstances extremely difficult for firefighters.

Also the winds are changing direction all the time. It's been a very difficult night for firefighters all across Greece, particularly, here, in greater Athens, where the biggest fire is, now, still raging.

Hundreds of firefighters are continuing the effort; international assistance has poured in. But areas continue to be evacuated. You may be able begin to see the haze behind, me even some of the smoke.

Basically, it is -- the temperature that is so high at the moment and the smoke, so powerful, that you can, really almost, taste it. The extent of devastation, is really visible, everywhere. Let's have a look.


LABROPOULOU (voice-over): Smoke-filled sunrise over a charred farm in Greece. Many of the animals who once grazed in these fields did not live to see the new day. Those that did look shell-shocked, some of them burned.

The farmers says wildfires engulfed everything. The wreckage still steaming from the ferocity of the flames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): A catastrophe. The fire came around midday with swirling winds and homes were burned. A lot of animals burned to death, rabbits sheeps (sic), dogs, everything.

LABROPOULOU (voice-over): Dozens of fires are burning throughout the country, fueled by temperatures topping 40 degrees Celsius. Officials say it is a dangerous and unpredictable situation.

Countries like France, Sweden, Switzerland and Israel are sending manpower and equipment to help in the fight.

But for firefighters north of Athens, that aid cannot come soon enough as they battle town by town to try to stop the spread of the blazes, a struggle made tougher as the fires have reignited from hot temperatures and high winds.

Thousands of people have been evacuated. There has been intense aerial campaign in some areas, with helicopters streaking through the smoke and unleashing torrents of water on the flames. Some residents on the ground also pitching in to beat back the fires with brush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The House is behind here. You can see the roof. I'm not leaving. I sent my kids away. Whatever I can manage. This is a life's work. I just can't leave it.

LABROPOULOU (voice-over): The Greek Coast Guard mounted a major rescue operation by sea with the help of tourist boats to pick up more people, stranded on an island near Athens after wildfires cut them off and left them with nowhere to go.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LABROPOULOU: At the moment more evacuations are underway on an island

that is popular with both tourists and locals alike, they're being evacuated by boat as the fire there is getting closer.

HOLMES: Just devastating. Elinda Labropoulou, in Athens, thank you so, much I appreciate it.

Now in France, what some analysts call a bold political bet by president Emmanuel Macron, going into effect on Monday. The French will have to start using new COVID health pass, to go to many public places, including cafes, restaurants and intercity trains.

The pass proves someone is vaccinated or has had a recent negative COVID test. France, fighting its fourth COVID wave, with some regions starting to see an uptick in hospitalizations. A government spokesman calling that "a problem that is knocking at the doors of our hospitals."


HOLMES: When we come back on the program, the Olympics got off to a rocky start for the U.S. men's basketball team. We tell you whether they redeem themselves with the gold medal, that is coming up.

Also, a tropical storm, threatening to dump heavy rain on the Tokyo games. We have the latest from the International Weather Center as well, when we come back.




HOLMES: It is Saturday afternoon in Japan, the last full day of the Tokyo Olympics. We have been seeing a flurry of finals and new medals across the board. China, leading the gold medal count with 37, the U.S., with the most medals overall. And, there is still lots of action to see.



HOLMES: A big storm heading toward Tokyo, could impact the final days of the Olympics.


HOLMES: Now the U.S. military has concluded that last week's deadly drone attack on a tanker ship, near Oman, was carried out by Iran.


HOLMES: The foreign ministers of the G7 nations, issuing a joint statement on Friday, saying, quote, "All available evidence clearly points to Iran."

Iran said it had no role in the attack. We get the latest from CNN's Fred Pleitgen.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. military, now says that it has evidence that the drone that was used to attack the Israeli-managed ship Mercer Street was manufactured, in Iran.

Essentially, what the Pentagon is saying is that a forensic, team from the U.S. military, went on board that ship after it was hit and what they managed to do, is they managed to recover some of the parts of the drone, which they say was a suicide drone. In other words, one that crashed into the chip, killing two of the

sailors. And they managed to recover some parts of that drone.

They said, looking at those parts, it became clear, those were parts that were usually used by Iran. They also said, that drone had used military grade explosives.

Now of course, before all of this, the U.S. and Israel had blamed the Iranians for the attack. Iran denies all of that. However, the Israelis have come out and have, said they will be able to retaliate against Iran, on their own.

This has caused some angry reactions here, from the Iranians. You have the spokesman for Iran's foreign minister, saying, quote, "In another brazen violation of international law, the Israeli regime now blatantly threatens Iran with military action. Such malign behavior, stems from blind, Western support. We state this clearly, any foolish act against Iran, will be met with a decisive response. Don't test us."

Of course, all of this comes just on the heels of a new president, taking office here in Iran, a hardliner, Ebrahim Raisi, who has said that Iran will continue to act boldly, here, in the Middle Eastern region -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Iran.


HOLMES: I'm Michael Holmes, thanks for spending part of your day with me, more CNN NEWSROOM in about 30 minutes, with Kim Brunhuber. "AFRICAN VOICES" next. Thanks.