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Second Largest Afghan City, Kandahar, Falls to Taliban; 3,000 U.S. Troops to Help with Kabul Embassy Drawdown; Britney Spears' Dad Intends to Step Down as Co-Conservator; Mexico Reports 24,700+ New COVID Cases Thursday; Second Largest Afghan City, Kandahar, Falls to Taliban; Belarus Accused of Using Migrants to Pressure E.U.; Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-Yong Released on Parole; Onboard JetBlue's First Flight to Europe; Villages in Evia Coming to Grips with Devastation. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired August 13, 2021 - 01:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm John Vause at the CNN Center with breaking news this hour from Afghanistan with the second biggest city, Kandahar, has now fallen to Taliban fighters. They claimed to control the governor's office and police headquarters. Afghan national forces appeared to either surrender or flee.

Thirteen provincial capitals are now under Taliban rule, but with the similar fate possibly just weeks away from the national capital of Kabul.

In the meantime, 3,000 American troops are being sent to secure the U.S. embassy, almost all American diplomatic staff are evacuated.

CNN's international security editor Nick Paton Walsh is live this hour in London -- Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: John, I mean, it's startling every morning to wake up to a scene in Afghanistan, which you previously would've thought had been impossible after 20 years. The fall of Kandahar is not something that happened overnight. It's important to point out that it's the second largest city in Afghanistan, the birthplace of the Taliban, the most symbolic moment so far in the 20-year history of American involvement in Afghanistan, has been under pressure for a number of weeks and that pressure has been building.

Now, as you've seen over the past week only, and we are literally at a week here since the first provincial capital fell, and now we are inching towards seeing almost half being under Taliban control. It's important to point out that Kandahar in itself has found depression building as the outlying other 11, 12 now, provincial capitals have slowly fallen. That is mostly enabled the Taliban to adjust where the resources are and focus on two important key southern cities. Now, the situation for Kandahar worsened yesterday when Ghazni fell.

That was already for a problem because of the intense fighting in that city, which is on the main highway between Kabul, the capital and the south, essentially Kandahar having been isolated, cut off for quite some time. The scene inside the city exceptionally bleak. There are some videos uploaded by the Taliban of empty streets. They are showing pictures of themselves inside key government buildings there.

It seems as though the remnants of Afghan government and security forces, those who have not surrendered, which is an exceptionally risky judgment to make -- some Afghan soldiers have been taken prisoners and abuse. And some extreme cases, executed. The remnants of government control appear to have gone to the airport there, and international airport built by the Americans actually, quite some time ago back in the seventies if I'm not mistaken. So, an extraordinary scene there, and one that caps a week in which the unimaginable has happened in Afghanistan really.

We have not seen a period of change like this since the Americans invaded in 2001 after 9/11 and ousted the Taliban government there, and it is extraordinary to observe how the narrative has changed in a matter of days from -- well, at some point, are they going to gain control of more cities to when exactly are they going to stop pressuring the capital Kabul?

I mean, I'm not there. I'm in London, but I can tell you certainly that there is an atmosphere of panic amongst many in Kabul at the moment which was considered inconceivable, a matter of weeks ago, that we would be in this position. I hate to say it, John, but we're talking about a very damning indictment of the Afghan security forces, the U.S. support of them, just as little as 72 hours ago, Presidential Biden was extolling again, like we've heard over 10 years from the same American officials, that the Afghan security forces would be able to do their job of using phrases like 300,000 strong army, et cetera.

It's clear that they have not been able to. It is not an indictment of the Afghan commandoes, special forces call who've been overstretched rushing between countless fires now trying to get some semblance of control over key cities. But it is sadly an indictments of the Afghan army's conventional soldiers. We've seen them ourselves over the years, ramshackle, not particularly good when it comes to meeting at that it dedicated ideological army in the insurgency. So, startling turn of events today.

VAUSE: One thing which is clear it seems that the White House does not have a lot of faith in the Afghan national forces. There are deploying 3,000 additional troops to secure the embassy in Kabul, all those evacuations get underway. Exactly how is that deployment expected to work? We don't know how long they'll be there and what will the mission be? Because the Pentagon is adamant. This is not a combat deployment.

WALSH: No. I mean, it's a remarkable decision, one practically makes total sense.

[01:05:04] The U.S. has pretty much seen this coming now. They have thousands of staff in country. They have got to slowly remove them. And they have promised to thousands of Afghans who worked for them and who worked for affiliated organizations, too, the chance of leaving before the possibility if the Taliban do move into Kabul, their lives could be under threat.

So deploying 3,000 marines at any point now, they could start arriving in Kabul international airport. It's the logical move in providing security towards the embassy so they could begin to reduce the staff -- watching these buildings go up over the last 10 years and now hearing their essentially going to have skeletal staff or be deserted. It's startling -- John.

VAUSE: Nick, thank you. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh there, pulling all day duty for us. We appreciate it. Thank you, Nick.

CNN military analyst Lieutenant General Mark Hertling was the commanding general of the U.S., Europe and 7th Army. He is with us from Florida.

Thank you for coming back.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, U.S. MILITARY ANALYST: You're quite welcome, John. Anytime.

VAUSE: OK. So, last hour, we spoke about the redeployment of 3,000 U.S. troops back to Afghanistan and they will be there for the past evacuation of the embassy -- the Afghans who work with U.S. forces.

Here's what the past few months have been like looking at the fate of those who helped him in his colleagues. Listen to this.


KRISTEN ROUSE, AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERAN: I am one of many veterans who are sitting here in the United States who are talking, messaging with our Afghan interpreters and allies who cannot get out. It is gut- wrenching. These are -- these are people we relied on. We promised that we would not leave them behind. And we have abandoned them through bureaucracy, and through failing to have a plan to get them out. And they are being hunted.


VAUSE: How confident are you right now that these Afghans along with their families will be evacuated before the Taliban takes over and realize they're in serious jeopardy?

HERTLING: That individual voice is a concern of many. I was in that situation myself with Iraqi interpreter, that you want them out. You want them to gain that special immigrant visa. There are a lot of them, John.

As the Taliban have created momentum for themselves, this momentum has created problems that were not anticipated earlier on. I believe, to answer your question, that the majority of the Afghan interpreters are going to get out under special visa programs. I actually think the plan that was voiced today through John Kirby is a spokesman, was setting the conditions both with the program that is going to be going on in Qatar, the guarding of the airfield to protect the Afghans that are attempting to get out, as well as the potential for already reaction brigade of things really start breaking now.

Those interpreters, those special immigrant visa holders, in my belief and in my faith in the U.S. government, are going to get out. We will see what happens, but truthfully, John, there are probably a lot more than our anticipated right now.

Early numbers said anywhere from 2,500 to 7,500. I know for a fact there are literally tens of thousands that would want to get out under this program.

VAUSE: The Taliban have tried to give an impression that there are days of tallying around with terror groups like al Qaeda have come to an end. Maybe not so. Listen to this.


WAZHMA FROGH, AFGHAN WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Our reports show that al Qaeda, on a tactical level, their operatives are helping the Taliban, you know, with the rocket launchers. Haqqani Network is considered a terrorism organization under the U.S. law. Haqqani is the deputy, you know, the leader of the Haqqani network is the deputy of the Taliban, you know, leader. So, imagine how much they are offensive on the ground. These are global terrorism right now unfolding in our promised land.


VAUSE: There's a headline in "The Washington Post" in an opinion piece, which is pretty blunt and direct. It said the Biden administration's response to the Taliban offensive is delusional. It also seems delusional to trust that the Taliban will keep its word when it comes to it will not take up again with terror groups like al Qaeda.

So, it's been 20 years. More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers have given their lives, a trillion dollars in the military alone. Is this the end result of that operation? All these lives lost? All the money that was spent?

HERTLING: Hey, look, John, what I would tell you is the United States and its NATO allies made an awful lot have mistakes going into this. Over the last 20 years, there have been mistakes made and strategy, operations and tactics. As we draw to the end, however, I really would put the onus back on the Afghan government and the Afghan military.


You know, we used to have an expression, whenever I was in combat, that our allies, our friends have to want it more than we do. And with the number of forces that were trained over the years, with the number of attempts made in building an Afghan government, and the interesting pieces right now. How bad do the Afghans want it?

And, unfortunately, what we've seen over the last couple of days as they are surrendering. The government is not doing well. They are attempting to stop this momentum by the Taliban. It is very hard, but yes, I think we made the final mistake during the previous administration when we decided to make diplomatic efforts with the Taliban alone, knowing they are liars, knowing they would go back on their deals, and not having the Afghan government at the table.

So, yes, there is some blame that could be put on the Biden administration, but I got to tell you, there's a lot of blame over the 20 years for various mistakes that have been made, the biggest one I think though, is what was done during the last administration when negotiating with the Taliban.

VAUSE: Yeah. It does seem to, in hindsight maybe not a great choice.

But Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you so much for being with us, sir.

HERTLING: Thank you, John. Appreciate it.

VAUSE: Hundreds of thousands of Afghans fearful of what life under the rule of the hardliners Islamic militants have tried to outrun this Taliban offensive. This year alone, 400,000 Afghans have been displaced according to government officials. More than 5 million have been forced from their homes in total. Many leaving the country altogether, finding safe haven in neighboring Pakistan which hosts almost one and a half million Afghan refugees. Almost 800,000 are living in Iran.

For now though, many are heading to Kabul, but the capital seems unlikely under government control for much longer.

CNN's Michael Holmes has the details.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR (voice-over): Families sleep on the hard ground outside this school in Afghanistan. It may not look like the most comfortable place to rest, but at least for now it is safe, away from the trail of violence left behind by the Taliban's advance.

Many bombs were dropped on our village, one woman says. The Taliban came and destroyed everything. We were helpless and had to leave our houses.

One Afghan official in Kunar province, where the school is located, says there are thousands of displaced families in his province alone, trying to escape the fighting, but for some it is too late.

The Taliban were firing guns next to our house, one man says. Many bullets came our way. In the end, my wife was killed.

A hospital filled with wounded civilians shows just how pitched the battle is. One patient says, I was on the side of the street. I was hit by a mortar, and one of my legs was injured.

Some people taking refuge in the country's capital, Kabul, thinking it was one of the safest bets with the Taliban on the move. This man left the besieged city of Lashkar Gah two weeks ago but hopes to return one day.

If you ask most people in Afghanistan, 99 percent of the people will say the fighting is not the solution, he says. The only way its peace. And the Afghan people want peace.

A peace that seems more elusive as more civilians are forced from their homes.

Michael Holmes, CNN.


VAUSE: At least 5 people have been shot dead and a mass shooting in Plymouth, England's southwest. Police say the shooting is not terror- related. The suspected gunman has been found dead. First responders arrived, they found two females and two males dead at the scene. A local member of parliament says one victim is a child under 10 years old. Another woman was treated for gunshot wounds but died later in hospital.

We will bring you more details as soon as we get them, that mass shootings are rare in the U.K. after gun loss were tightened in the wake of mass shooting in Scotland which left 16 children dead 25 years ago.

Still to come, Mexico reporting a record number of daily COVID infections as the delta variant shows a worse some surge. We're going to Mexico City for the very latest.

Plus, hundreds of thousands of people attended the lollapalooza music festival in Chicago two weeks ago, but the number of people who caught COVID is relatively low. We'll tell you why officials say they think the event did not become a super-spreader.



VAUSE: According to a court filing, in the Britney Spears long running legal battle, her father intends to step down as co- conservator of her estate. Britney Spears's attorney says, it is vindication.

Jamie Spears came under enormous public pressure after revelations from his daughter of years of abuse of treatment.

CNN's Stephanie Elam has more.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: While Jamie Spears says that he does not think there is any grounds for his removal as conservator of his daughter's estate, he has indicated that he will step aside, and help her current lawyer, find a new conservator.

That said, he said he doesn't necessarily believe that it is going to be in the best interest of Britney for him to step aside, at this point. But, he also believes, a very public battle with his daughter would definitely not be in the best interest. For their part, Matthew Rosengart, who is Britney's new, current lawyer, says that this is vindication for his client, and that they plan to continue their investigation into Jamie Spears' behavior while he has been the conservator of her estate.

They even claim he has profited millions of dollars, while in this position, and continue to investigate that. If you remember in July when Britney Spears was part of a hearing, in court, about this very issue, she said she wanted to press charges against her father, and she says that he is guilty of conservatorship abuse.


VAUSE: Messages of support from some celebrities. Paris Hilton tweeting: I am so happy to hear this news. It's been long overdue, but glad that Britney is on her way to financially being free.

And pop icon Cher tweeted: If I was Britney, I would get in a forensic accountant. Couldn't be happier for her if I was twins.

Mexico reported almost 25,000 new COVID cases, Thursday. That's a second day in a row that the nation is broken down its new infections.

CNN's Matt Rivers reports now from Mexico City.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Public COVID-19 testing centers packed in Mexico City as, yet again, the pandemic spirals out of control in Mexico.

This week, yet another new record set: the highest number of cases reported in a single day since this all began. The seven-day average of new cases, about as high as it's ever been. Experts blame loosening restrictions and the Delta variant.

DR. FRANCISCO MORENO SANCHEZ, DIRECTOR, COVID-19 PROGRAM, ABC MEDICAL CENTER: We have one patient that infected eight. So the exponential growth is just because you have more severe, more contagious variant.

RIVERS: Multiple doctors told CNN more and more young people in their twenties and thirties are now filling ICU wards across the country. And as beds fill up, once again, to the morgues.

About as many people are dying of COVID each day in Mexico as in the U.S., despite the U.S. population being more than two and a half times larger.

Mexico's testing rate also remains among the worst in the world. Experts say that means the true number of deaths and cases is inevitably far higher.

And yet, life around the country goes on as normal in many places.

SANCHEZ: There is one world in a public hospital and another world outside the hospital. Because you go outside, and it's like nothing is happening.


RIVERS: Part of the reason: continued mixed messaging from the government. Go to the health ministry website, and Mexico City is at red level, the country's highest COVID-19 alert.

But the city's mayor says, no, things aren't that bad, and insists on keeping the city at orange level, a notch below, meaning fewer restrictions are in place.

The good news in all this, a vaccination campaign continues. Just over 21 percent of the country has been fully vaccinated, and more than 40 percent have received a first dose. U.S. and Mexican officials announced the U.S. would donate millions more vaccines to Mexico in the coming weeks, crucial, experts say, in curtailing a pandemic that respects no border.

DR. CARISSA ETIENNE, DIRECTOR, PAN AMERICAN HEALTH ORGANIZATION: But this strategy is also dangerous. There is no path to recovery for any country while its neighbors remain vulnerable and while variants circulate and multiply.

RIVERS: Medical experts have speculated Mexico might follow a similar path to what we saw recently in the U.K.: a huge spike in cases followed by a swift decrease.

But a complicating factor looms. Mexico's millions of schoolchildren head back to the classroom on August 30. Some fear it could keep driving cases higher and push medical systems to their absolute limits.

SANCHEZ: We're now at completely because of the time and the stress of having younger people very sick, with young children, we -- I am really frustrated.


RIVERS (on camera): And so with the numbers released by the government on Thursday, that marks two single-day records for coronavirus cases recorded in a 24-hour span.

As of now, hospitalization rates across the country remain at manageable levels, but that doctor you just heard from in that piece told me that, if these numbers continue to go as they have been, continue to rise, that ICU space will begin to run out very quickly.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.

VAUSE: The Food and Drug Administration has authorized a booster vaccine shot for some immunocompromised Americans. Next, a panel of independent experts, meaning in the coming hours, to decide on whether to recommend a booster shot.

The FDA, and some public health officials, saying that the general population does not need boosters, at least not yet. In the meantime, the delta variant continues to hit the U.S. hard. This is a map of the U.S. a month ago, and 19 percent of U.S. residents, and of high, or substantial coronavirus transmission.

Take a look at where it is today, with a huge change, right across the border it seems, and it means high transmission almost everywhere.

Anne Rimoin is a professor of epidemiology in the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, and she's live this hour in Los Angeles.

Welcome back, Professor. Good to see you.


VAUSE: Now, in the midst of this COVID surge, which is some of the first on the vaccine era. It's being driven by the delta variant, and it's almost certain that vaccines, alone, will not bring an end to this pandemic.

Everywhere around the world, it looks a lot like it did, this time, a year ago. We listen to the CDC director on the situation, here in the U.S.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, U.S. CDC: We continue to see cases, hospitalizations, and deaths increase, across the country. And now, over 90 percent of counties in the United States are experiencing substantial, or high transmission.


VAUSE: We are not quite back to square one, at least not yet, but it seems that exactly where are we in terms of the timeline for the pandemic? Is it the beginning the end? Is the end the beginning? How do we see it?

RIMOIN: Well, you know, it is going to be quite difficult to predict exactly where we are, and we don't know when we're on the other side of. It but what I can say, is we are so much better off than we were at the beginning. We have all of these tools available to us, number one being vaccines. Vaccines are doing a fantastic job, and what they were tested to do, and with the hospitalization, and death.

There are breakthrough cases, or cases where they see people who are vaccinated, getting infected. But, these people are largely staying out of the hospital. They're in a much better place, and there are lot of people who are unvaccinated, so this virus, which is now so much more contagious than the original virus that we were facing, a year ago, is really, just burning through people, very quickly. It got a lot of places to go, and we also have to remember, we only

have a small proportion of the world vaccinated, less than 16 percent of the world vaccinated. Many countries, less than 1 percent of the population vaccinated. So, we really do need, too if we want to get in front of this, we need to do well here in the United States. We're going to have to get as many people vaccinated as we can, use all the protections we can, and get the rest of the world vaccinated, so we don't see more variants coming up, that will be even more difficult to contend with.

VAUSE: You may recall back in May, U.S. President Joe Biden, had a mission accomplished moment. That was the day the CDC ended mask requirements of vaccinated people, case numbers are falling, all the models were predicting a normal-ish summer in, the coming months.

Here is Joe Biden, listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: This country is proving, what we've known, what we've all known for so long.


And there's nothing we are able to do. We put our minds, our hearts, and our souls into it, and we do it together. We all made this possible. Now, let's finish the work of beating this virus and getting everything back to normal.


VAUSE: Back in May, beating the virus, zero COVID, total elimination, seemed impossible. But now that we have the delta variant, has everything changed? Are we looking at a situation where the coronavirus, or COVID-19, will be endemic?

RIMOIN: Well, that's likely to be the case. The thing is about the science, it is constantly of all vaping. All of the models we had, early on, we're based on the assumptions that we had a virus that was only so infectious, and that the vaccines were going to hold out much longer, against symptomatic disease, and against infection, for people who are vaccinated, to be able to spread it to others.

So now we know the game has changed. And it's very -- going to be very difficult to get what we were looking for, which is herd immunity, early on. We thought maybe 70, or 80 percent of people. I mean, right now, these estimates, and these are only estimates, suggest we have more than 90 percent of the population vaccinated. We know that that will be difficult to do.

So, the bottom line is, we're going to be continuing to learn about this virus, it will continue to evolve, and we have to do it we know we can do to get vaccinated. Wear masks, and really, make sure that the rest of the world is vaccinated, to be able to have some traction here, and get in front of it. VAUSE: We are well over a year and a half, around 20 months into all

of this, and at this point, for many people out there, there is a mix of anger, as well as frustration, and this feeling of being stuck in half, piecemeal measures that never quite get the job done. Hang in there, were all in this together, doesn't seem to cut it right now. Clearly, we aren't in this together. There is a lot of COVID deniers who keep this thing going.

RIMOIN: Well, you know, I think -- I think that you are right, I think that the bottom line, is that everybody is tired. Of course, this is a difficult situation for them to be in, and our entire society has had to change how they do things. They really have to rethink what they want to do, and what people want. You have to think about your risk threshold, and then we have the politics that are surrounding it. Of course, it is exhausting.

But I read that same article in "The Atlantic", and that quote, was really, about the fact that these half measures that are being taken or not, quite, doing the job. And, we have to do everything we can to be able to reduce the spread of the virus. As you mentioned at the beginning, we have it spreading at substantial, or high transmission rates, throughout this entire country.

The only way we can get in front of it, is to do all of the things that we need to do, that we can't do. That is the masking, the social distancing, to hand hygiene, the vaccination, all of these things. Anything we do that is a half measure, really, is not going to get us in front of the variant that -- where people have 1,000 times more viral shedding capacity. It just isn't the same game. We have to do more. I know people are tired, but it's just the truth.

VAUSE: Appealing emotionally, and there's also the mental health issue as well, continuing to drag on. It just gets harder, and harder each day.

But, Anne, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

RIMOIN: It's my pleasure.

VAUSE: Well, it appears that the lollapalooza festival in Chicago did not become a COVID super-spreader event that many feared it would. The city health commissioner, says only around 200 new cases have been linked to the event. Almost 400,000 people, attending the festival two weeks ago, and about 90 percent of them were vaccinated. The reason, officials say, they think the cases were relatively low.

More on our breaking news just ahead. A major win for the Taliban, claiming control of Afghanistan's second biggest city. What that means, what comes next.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

We have breaking news this hour.

The Taliban now control Afghanistan's second biggest city, Kandahar. The militant group released video of victory celebrations in the city.

CNN though cannot independently verify the authenticity of these images.

Another video apparently shows Taliban fighters taking over the governor's building. Afghan National Forces appear to either surrender or flee.

Kandahar is now the 13th provincial capital to fall in just the past few weeks. The Taliban had been on a roll in gaining momentum since the U.S. announced a complete withdrawal of combat troops by mid- September. And that has many in Afghanistan fearing for their lives and their safety.


WAZHMA FROGH, FOUNDER, WOMEN AND PEACE STUDIES ORGANIZATION: The fact that, you know, tons (ph) of Afghan girls, you know, right now, they have no future, just thinking about, you know, no school, or even survival right now is a major question.

Imagine you have built a community. We have built -- you know, we have media. We have (INAUDIBLE) to the society, all these institutions. Of course, we have fields (ph) in many areas. We have a lot of challenges.

But the fact that all these young people right now, you know, like I keep getting calls from like all over who just keep asking, can you help us? Can you help us get out of our (INAUDIBLE)?

And that hurts me so much because this country -- we put our blood, our sweat in building it. And we thought that, you know, the United States for the times we stood by you when America was attacked by the same, you know, terrorist groups that the Taliban had given the country (ph). We thought the Americans too would actually stand.

And I'm not asking for American troops to fight our war. No. It is not even our war. You see the composition of the militants on the ground, you know, you would understand that it's not our war.


VAUSE: And here is how quickly the tide has turned in Afghanistan. This is how the country was divided April 13. the red areas you see indicate Taliban control. And that is a key date because the next day came this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's time to end America's longest war. It is time for American troops to come home. April 14th, Joe Biden announcing U.S. troops would withdraw from

Afghanistan. Come May 15th, U.S. troops were winding down their presence at Bagram air base. One month after that the Taliban started making significant territorial gains and it quickly spiraled.

By July 17th, the Taliban had more than doubled the territory under their control and that was before the provincial capitals started to fall, including this one.

This is the streets of Kunduz, the devastation in the wake of the Taliban's relentless offensive. And this is what Afghanistan looks like right now. The speed with which Taliban has seized territory has been stunning.

It's just one day shy now of four months since Biden's announcement. You can see how much it has changed.

CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen has summed it up this way. "Now, Biden is presiding over a debacle entirely of his own making in Afghanistan. One that has unfolded more swiftly than even the most dire prognostications could've predicted.

You'll find much more on our Web site

Belarus is facing accusations of refusing refugees and migrants to settle scores with the E.U. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania say Belarus is purposely sending migrants across their borders. They say it's part of a scheme by the President Alexander Lukashenko to retaliate for E.U. sanctions against his authoritarian regime.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh went to Lithuania to show us the escalating crisis first hand and he managed to speak with the migrants who are caught in the middle.



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice over): This is a new frontline between dictators and democracies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a most dangerous route.

WALSH: A tiny crackle in the silence or a heat signature in their scope how border guards look for desperate migrants risking all to get here -- the European Union.

With a backdrop that is darker still, this is all about a dictator getting revenge.

(on camera): You can see the almost impossible job of policing. This fenceless border --

(voice over): that group he saw has made a run for it. The migrants top stumbling in the pitch black not using flashlights to stay hidden, spiked by branches.

What is happening here is even more cynical than trafficking and fighting souls (ph).

The dictator of Belarus across the border is accused of organizing this crossing for thousands to here, Lithuania and the European Union in retaliation for sanctions.

(on camera): This has played out every night for weeks. Migrants allegedly paying fixers in Belarus thousands of euros to come, and now it is hitting Belarus's other E.U. neighbors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, 2, 3 -- 6? You're six.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. Eight -- eight.

WALSH (voice over): A father and young son, still out there. They call out to them.

They say they are Yazidis, the Iraqi ethnic group murdered and raped brutally by ISIS. However you judge, they're choice to pay to run to here, the waves of their panic and relief echo between the trees.

The amount it likely cost to get here, heightening their fears.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I cannot go back to Belarus.

WALSH: A dog follows their trail. They were headed in the wrong direction.

On the radio, the helicopter above has spotted heat signatures of another 15 waiting to cross. Another 13 will be caught here later. And this July, day and night, a record total along the border of 171.

The surreal search for Iraqis in Lithuania's thick forest picked up in June. These say they are also Yazidis, and claim they got a taxi to the border and just followed Google maps across.

The Lithuanian's say there is often an organized guide to show the way. She shows her $500 plane ticket from Baghdad.

A crackdown by Lithuania this weekend to see migrant numbers fall off, but pick up dramatically in neighboring Poland and Latvia. A western intelligence official told CNN, Russia used an identical scheme on their border with Norway in 2015. And Russia's ally Belarus likely benefited from Russian advice.

And Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko explicitly said after the E.U. imposed sanctions over the forced landing of a Ryanair jet that he would allow migrants to cross.

"We won't hold anyone back," he said. "We are not their final destination after all. They are headed to enlightened, warm, cozy Europe."

But on Wednesday, Belarusian officials took CNN and other media to their border. They insisted migrants came to Belarus' tourists and paid no money crossing the gaps in their border fence.

Officials presented several videos, which they said were evidence Lithuanian guards were using force to repel or return migrants and denying them medical treatment.

And they introduced this migrant Hussein, who said he had been forced back and tasered by Lithuanian border guards. Lithuania denies using force, yet suddenly its border villages have a migrant crisis. This facility now full.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have children and babies, you know. And the sun is so hot.

Here, they feel abused though, waiting for any news with more and more joining them in cramped spaces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people they have money. That's why they come to pay like directly between Minsk and Germany. They have deal like 5,000 euro, 6,000 euros -- they use us like we are like guns. They push us in Lithuania and the European Union.

WALSH (on camera): Like you're weapons?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Like weapons. And what lies ahead, caught between and E.U. overloaded with migrants and an authoritarian dictator, accused of using them as a tap he can turn on and off.

At the weekend Lithuania tried new tactics, it seems, and broadcast messages to migrants telling them not to cross the border. That seemed to briefly, at least, drop numbers off to significantly low levels.


WALSH: But in Belarus's other neighbors, Poland and Latvia, numbers suddenly picked up of migrants that they detained. In fact Poland on Sunday got record figures.

Iraq too, has been pressured to stop the flights to go direct from it to Belarus. That seems to be happening but at the same time they also sent a plane to Minsk to collect Iraqi migrants to bring them home. That plane returned two-thirds empty.

And there was even accusation from Lithuania now that in fact Belarus is talking to Pakistan and Morocco about speeding up their ability for their citizens to get into Belarus.

All the while though, Belarus insists it is being unfairly maligned and these are simply migrant tourists turning up and getting a taxi to the border. Remarkable though, how this has come out of nowhere.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN -- London.


VAUSE: He was found guilty of multiple corporate crimes, released early from prison after a controversial pardon. And yet, so many seemed happy the heir to the Samsung empire is out of jail and a free man for now.

Also ahead, JetBlue is now flying New York to London. Find out what CNN's Richard Quest thought of the new service.


VAUSE: Cheers from the supporters as one of South Korea's top business tycoons walked out of prison. Lee Jae-yong, vice president and de facto leader of Samsung was released on parole just a few hours ago. He was convicted of bribery and embezzlement and a scandal that reached the highest echelons of power that led to the downfall of South Korea's first female president.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live this hour from Seoul with more. Who are these people cheering and why?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, he does have many supporters. There are many who believe that he should not have been imprisoned in the first place.

Now, clearly some would have been Samsung employees, others would have been businesspeople. There is a school of thought that he should not have been put behind bars because it is not in the national interest.

The fact that there is an economic crisis because of the COVID 19 pandemic, there have been calls for him to have this early parole to try and help push Samsung forward in its future investments, which in turn, given the influence and the size of Samsung when it comes to South Korea's economy, would help the economy as a whole as well.

And that has been the reason that we have heard in the past for these big chief executives being let off early or let out of jail early because it is in the national interest.


HANCOCKS: So he does also have his opponents, though. There've certainly been those who don't believe that he should be treated any differently to the rest of South Korea.

In fact we heard from the opposition party, the Justice Party saying that they were furious to find out that South Korea is a republic of Samsung, saying that this decision means that they are trumping on fairness and he is getting different treatment to everybody else.

So he has served more than 18 months of his 30-month sentence in all back in 2017. He had a 5- year sentence for these crimes, and that was -- he was let out after less than a year as an appeals court suspended that sentence and dropped some of the charges. So he has served a certain amount of time in prison.

There is also the fact that this isn't the end of his legal woes. There are two more cases that are going through the courts at this point. One which deals with a controversial merger about six years ago which is believed to have helped him gain control of more of the Samsung empire. So certainly this is not the last time that we will be seeing him in court, John.

VAUSE: Paula, thank you. Paula Hancocks in Seoul. We appreciate the details.

Stocks on Wall Street keep hitting records high. Both the Dow and the S&P 500 reached new records on Thursday for the third day in a row. Markets edged higher despite rising COVID numbers in the United States.

The climb was driven by technology stocks and a recent jobs report suggesting a continued steady economic recovery.

U.S. carrier JetBlue is now offering flights from New York to London. Possibly a risky move right now with the vaccinated Americans allowed to travel to Europe but most Europeans still not able to fly to the U.S.

Our Richard Quest was on board the round-trip flight and spoke to JetBlue's CEO.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN MONEY EDITOR AT LARGE: After years of planning and the pandemic that devastated the industry, JetBlue is finally a transatlantic carrier.

For the company and the British expat chief executive, Robin Hayes, it is a moment to savor.

ROBIN HAYES, CEO, JETBLUE: Well, London is really the biggest market. We fly out of New York and Boston today. So obviously we needed a different type of airplane. You know, we needed to get certification to fly across the Atlantic.

That took a lot of work, but London really was -- made sense, because it's a large market. Our customers want us to fly there.

QUEST: JetBlue's decision to continue with the launch of this route to London has raised some eyebrows in the industry.

Firstly, of course, the delta variant has changed all the calculations on what demand is likely to be.

And then you've got the fact the corridor across the Atlantic is one way. Americans are welcome in Europe, but so far Brits and Europeans are not allowed to come back.

HAYES: I'm frustrated about that, because I think that U.S. government should take a risk-based approach to travel. I mean COVID infection rates in Europe are lower than many other countries in the world where you can fly from today.

But as a U.S. Airline, we always knew most of ourselves were going to be out of the U.S. so the opening of the U.K. by U.K. government is great news.

QUEST: So it doesn't affect you as much in the sense of the westbound traffic?

HAYHES: It will a little bit of an impact, but we still feel it's the right time for us to go.

QUEST: On the question of mandates for masks and for vaccinations of staff, the United have said it is vaccinating as a mandate. The others haven't.

You are sort of -- I get the feeling you are all waiting and watching but not prepared to go there where Scott Kirby's gone.

HAYES: Right now, we are talking to our crew members. We are talking to our unions. We are talking to our crew members at JetBlue, see what we should do.

Right now, we are still strongly encouraging people to get vaccinated, but I don't rule out that at some point in the future a mandate may be something that we look at.

Tonight's JetBlue flight is full. But it is the normal service after all. The problem for the industry, is that the transatlantic is still a one-way street.

As I arrive at Heathrow, the hope is America will reopen its doors soon.

EMMA GILTHORPE, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, HEATHROW AIRPORT: We need the U.S. government to review its border policy. Really critical. The U.K. government is taking the ambitious step of opening our borders, but we must have the U.S. government doing the same reciprocity and putting in the ability for vaccinated passengers to travel to the U.S.

QUEST: Heathrow is seeing some of the best passenger numbers it's had in more than a year. But the rate of growth both here and in the European airport is still much less than that seen in, for example, the United States or China.


QUEST: What the airports and airlines really want, of course, is for the U.S. administration in Washington to allow vaccinated travelers to cross the pond. And so far, unfortunately, Washington doesn't want to play.

I'm barely in Britain for five hours as I board the same aircraft for the return journey across the Atlantic.

The clearest indication of what a change in U.S. policy would mean could be seen on the return flight to the United States.

Because Brits, even those fully vaccinated are not allowed into the United States, well this plane, it's about a quarter full.

Richard Quest, CNN -- somewhere across the North Atlantic.


VAUSE: For more than a week, huge fires have been engulfing forests and villages in Greece. Now many of those who fled are returning to see what is left.


VAUSE: An explosion of anger in the Turkish capital of Ankara, a mob has been ransacking shops and homes belonging to Syrian migrants. Windows are smashed. Cars overturned.

The arrest followed a street fight between young Turks and Syrians which resulted in the fatal stabbing of a Turkish national.

State media reports two foreigners have been arrested in connection with that death and Ankara police say 76 people were detained for either taking part in the looting or for making incendiary remarks on social media.

Nearly four million Syrian refugees live in Turkey and anti-immigrant sentiment is high.

Just days ago southern Turkey battled more than a hundred forest fires which had killed at least eight people and now comes another disaster. Flash flooding in the northern Black Sea region with water and debris gushing through streets of towns and cities.

least nine people have died so far,. More than 900 forced to evacuate. The flood damaged the power infrastructure leaving 200 villages without electricity. Several bridges have collapsed and that has left road closures as well.

And in Algeria, a period of national mourning is underway for at least 69 lives lost this week in wildfires which swept across the country. Authorities say arson is to blame. They've arrested 22 people accused of lighting the deadly fires. The president says the investigation is still ongoing and justice will take its course.

Fires tearing across the Mediterranean region has killed dozens of people and reduced entire villages to ash. Greece is dealing with its worst wildfire disaster in decades.

CNN's Eleni Giokos has more now on the situation on Evia Island.


ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Baked for a celebration now turned to ash. Here in the village of Rovies (ph) Evia unimaginable damage.

Last week escaping by sea, today counting losses.

ZOI HALASTI, BAKERY OWNER, ROVIES, GREECE (through translator): We fought all our lives. 38 years to build this business. Huge loss. I don't know how it can be rebuilt. Lots of money needed. Pain, sadness, rage, despair -- a mix of emotions.

GIOKOS: I asked her if the prime minister apologizing for any weaknesses in the response meant anything to her.

HALASTI: He needs to apologize to everyone for what they went through. It is not only us who lost a business. Many people left unemployed. The ecological disaster is huge. One apology is not enough.


GIOKOS: The fire then moving to a neighboring village Limni, flames engulfed forests and homes. 40 years of work wiped out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A big part of the family is gone. It's my father's business. This is where I grew up. This is where I spent my summers, my winters, everything. So it is gone.

GIOKOS (on camera): The damage is extraordinary. I mean --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything is gone.

GIOKOS: Everything is gone.

There's nothing left to save. These are -- a bike you were working on?


(INAUDIBLE) -- most of them. Some of them melting beyond repair.

GIOKOS: Spending time with the locals here and hearing their stories, they say that destruction like this could largely have been avoided if help arrived in time. They say they were left to fend for themselves. Local mayor Giorgos Tsapourniotis (ph) says volunteers took on the heavy load.

GIORGOS TSAPOURNIOTIS, MAYOR OF MANTOUDI-LIMNI, AGIA ANNA, GREECE: The fire fighters were ordering us to evacuate. If I don't think this is a strategy, people leaving their houses and letting them burn.

Thankfully, many volunteers stayed behind and helped, saving 80 to 90 percent of the houses while endangering their lives. We did not have much help on the ground or from the air. We were left to fight this monster fire with water pistols.

GIOKOS (voice over): According to the Athens National Observatory, about 465 square kilometers have been burned on the island of Evia. It will have a lasting impact on the community here.

Evia produces 80 percent of the country's resin, cultivated from pine trees, that need to reach 30 years before they can be harvested. Now -- gone.

TSAPOURNIOTIS: More than 3,000 people were dependent on the resin, honey making, livestock and tourism that is now destroyed.

GIOKOS: Despite the pain and despair, locals cling to any glimmer of hope. She says it still smells sweet a week later.

Eleni Giokos, CNN -- Evia, Greece.


VAUSE: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

CNN NEWSROOM continues after a short break with my friend and colleague, Michael Holmes.

I'll see you next week.