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Taliban Control Half of Afghanistan Provincial Capitals; New South Wales Reports Record New Daily Cases. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired August 14, 2021 - 03:00   ET




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

Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, half of Afghanistan's provincial capitals fall to the Taliban. An exclusive look at a former U.S. base, now in enemy hands.

Booster shots for COVID now available in the U.S. but not everyone is eligible.

And police and troops enforce an even tighter lockdown, after Australia's most populous state sees a record number of coronavirus cases.


HOLMES: Welcome, everyone.

Taliban forces meeting little resistance in their rapid advance across Afghanistan, as fears increase that the capital, Kabul, could soon be in their sights. In just a matter of days, the Taliban have claimed more than a dozen cities. The militants now controlling half of the country's provincial capitals.

The speed of the offensive catching U.S. officials off guard. The Pentagon spokesman says Afghan forces should have the advantage.


ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: What we couldn't predict was the lack of resistance that they were going to get from Afghan forces on the ground.

And as you heard the president speak just a couple of days ago, what is really needed is for political and military leadership in Afghanistan. No outcome here has to be inevitable.

But what has been disconcerting to see is there hasn't been that will, that political leadership, the military leadership and the ability to push back on the Taliban as they've advanced because, quite frankly, the Afghan forces have all the advantages they need. They've got more troops. They've got more equipment. They've got an air force.


HOLMES: They do not have the will, however.

Thousands of Afghan translators, meanwhile, who worked with U.S. forces, may soon get a temporary new home in Qatar. A source telling CNN that the Biden administration is working to finalize the deal. It would see the translators and their families sent to Doha while they navigate the cumbersome visa process to eventually move to the U.S.

If Qatar agrees, up to 8,000 Afghans could be sent to the country.

And Canada, meanwhile, says it is going to take in 20,000 more Afghans, who are fleeing the Taliban. The country introducing a special program to help resettle members of Afghanistan's most vulnerable groups, including women, leaders, journalists, LGBTQ individuals and persecuted religious minorities.

Cyril Vanier is tracking the latest developments in Afghanistan for us. He joins me now from London.

The onward march continues largely unimpeded.

What is the latest?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Michael. This morning, the Taliban are claiming that they have breached the city's defenses of Paktika, a provincial capital, a city named Sharana, which is just south of Kabul. So they're getting closer to the capital.

We are seeking confirmation from the Afghan government on this. This is what the Taliban are claiming. But so far, it's undeniable that they have all the momentum. They currently control half of the provincial capitals.

If they do take Sharana, that would bring them to over half of the provincial capitals. They control the second and third largest city. Really if you look at it, Kabul is really the only major city -- I would say there are three major cities that the Afghan government still controls.

And the U.S. assessment is that the Taliban have not been this strong since the beginning of the war 20 years ago. But, frankly, it does not take the resources of the U.S. intelligence committee (sic) to come to this conclusion. That by now is fairly obvious.

One more interesting U.S. intelligence assessment, however, comes to us from a senior administration official, who spoke to CNN, who is familiar with the intelligence community's thinking.

And he says Kabul could fall between one and three months from now. But there's a caveat to that, Michael. The U.S. has underestimated the Taliban's rapid advance in the last few days.

Could this also be an underestimation, Michael? HOLMES: Yes, exactly. Meanwhile, a demoralized Afghan army, neglected by its own government and without the ideological fervor of the Taliban to keep fighting. Cyril, I know you've been looking at this, too.

What's the latest with the civilian situation?

VANIER: Many are choosing to flee. Many are choosing to flee, Michael, even though the Taliban now say that they are chastened and disciplined and that they will let women work and girls go to school. There are many Afghans who just don't believe that they have a future under Taliban rule.


VANIER: The United Nations secretary-general says that 1,000 civilians were killed in the last month in wanton acts of killing, especially in southern provinces, by the Taliban as they advanced and took territory.

So 10,000 people since the beginning of the month of August have arrived in Kabul. Others are fleeing and are going to larger cities elsewhere around the country, trying to flee Taliban violence.

And there are all the -- I would say the priority or the most vulnerable groups we talked about, women and girls, who make up about 80 percent of the quarter-million people who have fled since late May.

But also there's the Afghan interpreters and anyone who worked with U.S. and Western forces. And those people are particularly at risk. I know one who has been in hiding for five years and is now looking for ways to make -- to take his family to Kabul, hoping to flee any potential retribution by the Taliban -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes, and that's one of the big problems, as you and I know, is that a lot of these translators and others can't get to Kabul anymore because the Taliban controls the territory and are at great risk. Cyril Vanier, appreciate the reporting. Thanks so much.

Now the Taliban are making full use of American military equipment they seized from Afghan forces or that withdrawing American troops simply left behind. And they're eager to show off their spoils of war.

They granted our Clarissa Ward exclusive access to a former U.S. base, that they now hold. And it is raising disturbing questions about what America achieved, if anything, in 20 years of conflict.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what remains of the U.S. presence in much of Afghanistan, the hollowed-out skeletons of sprawling military bases now under the control of the Taliban.

Once there were hundreds of U.S. and NATO troops at FOB Andar in Ghazni Province. The last Americans left a couple years ago but their memories still lurks, ghostlike.

WARD: It's just so strange to see this, you know.

WARD (voice-over): The Taliban granted access to CNN, along with award-winning Afghan filmmaker, Najibullah Quraishi, keen to show off the spoils of war.

WARD: So we're just arriving at another U.S. base. And already I can see a large number of military vehicles over there.

WARD (voice-over): According to the Taliban, Afghan forces here surrendered three weeks ago when their food ran out, leaving weapons and ammunition and more.

WARD: When the Americans were here, were you and your men attacking this base a lot?

MUHAMMED ARIF MUSTAFA, TALIBAN COMMANDER (through translator): Yes, many times we attacked this base when America was here. We did operations. We were using IEDs.

The Americans had their helicopters, weapons and tanks on the ground. We Mujahideen resisted very well.

WARD (voice-over): Now they roam through what's left of the tactical operation center. Anything of value will be stripped down and sold.

WARD: Walking through what's left of these American bases, you have to ask yourself, what was it all for?

WARD (voice-over): America's great experiment with nation building now vanished into dust.

MUSTAFA (through translator): It's our belief that, one day, Mujahideen will have victory and Islamic law will come not to just Afghanistan but all over the world. We are not in a hurry. We believe it will come one day. Jihad will not end until the last day.

WARD (voice-over): It's a chilling admission from a group that claims it wants peace, despite continuing a bloody offensive.

Since the U.S. began its withdrawal in May, the militants have advanced across the country at an alarming rate on the backs of American pickup trucks.

On the Ghazni Highway, we pass base after base, all flying the militants' flag.

At the Andar bazaar, it is a similar sight. The days of underground insurgency are over and the Taliban is poised to reestablish the very emirate America once came to destroy.

But Taliban governor Mawlavey Kamil insists the group has changed since then.

MAWLAVEY KAMIL, TALIBAN GOVERNOR, ANDAR DISTRICT (through translator): The difference between that Taliban and this Taliban is that the Taliban of 2001 were new. And now, this Taliban has experience, disciplined. Our activities are going well; we are obeying our leaders.

WARD: A lot of people are concerned that if the Taliban takes power again, women's rights will move backwards.

How can you guarantee that women's rights will be protected?


KAMIL (through translator): We assure this to people all over the world, especially the people of Afghanistan. Islam has given rights to everyone equally. Women have their own rights. How much Islam has given rights to women, we will give them that much.

WARD (voice-over): That is clearly open for interpretation. Next to the mosque, we find a classroom of young girls. But their teacher says they will only receive religious education and will not attend regular school.

At night, I am separated from my male colleagues and sleep in the woman's part of the house with the children.

WARD: I've been talking to some of the women in this room and I promised that I wouldn't show any of their faces. But it's interesting because, you know, the Taliban talks a lot about how it's changed and girls can go to school now.

But I asked if any of these girls will be going to school and I was told, "Absolutely not. Girls don't go to school."

And when I said why don't girls go to school, they said, "Taliban says it's bad."

WARD (voice-over): Here, what the Taliban says goes. This is now what Afghanistan's future looks like, far from what the U.S. once envisioned and what so many Afghans dreamed of, as the Taliban pushes on towards an all but certain victory -- Clarissa Ward, CNN, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.



HOLMES: Now Pashtana Durrani is the founder and executive director of Learn Afghanistan, a nonprofit organization, focusing on girls' education. She joins me now live from inside Afghanistan.

And I thank you for doing so, Pashtana.

How are women and girls in Afghanistan feeling, as they watch city after city fall to the Taliban?

What are you hearing from them?


I would say heartbroken. It's not just that we are losing access to all our rights; that comes the second. That's the later part. The first is that Afghanistan, the fact that it's my country, it's part of my -- it is my identity, right?

And we have done so much, we have given so many sacrifices. And yet city after city is falling apart. The whole country is falling apart. People are fleeing their own homes. They are abandoning whatever they have worked for. So every woman that I know personally has cried in front of me, is heartbroken.

HOLMES: Yes. The Taliban spokesmen, for what it's worth, have said they will protect women's rights and girls' education and so on. And you and I know what spokesmen say from the Taliban and what happens are usually very different realities; the Taliban lie.

Do you have any expectation that any of the gains of the last 20 years for women and girls will be preserved?

DURRANI: I don't think so.

Like, see, the fact is people don't look at it objectively, right?

Taliban say that girls' education access won't be harmed. But then the point here is that Afghanistan really needs in general doctors, scientists, pilots, right, to run this country, right?

That won't be possible because they are going to make sure that the girls' education is only limited to Islamic studies, right?

Like every Muslima born in Afghanistan has to go through that, has to study. There is no alternative to that.

But with that, you do need general education to survive in this world, right?

And women need that kind of education -- sciences, technology, engineering mathematics that are needed. We as a country, infrastructurally and also in capacity building, we don't have that kind of future, even now with all that aid money coming up, with all that capacity building.

In my school (INAUDIBLE) teacher, right, we still try to get models from all these other South Asian countries and we try to build it in (INAUDIBLE).

So can you imagine that after this, people will dare to teach mathematics or engineering or any other thing than -- like technology?

No. The point here is that you have to understand they are very vague when it comes to women.

Women can work.

What work? Islam says work. But then Islamas had, (INAUDIBLE) who literally finance the first admission of Islam, right, who financed the whole life of Holy Prophet, right, what is there, like, you know, that boundary or limit when it comes to women, when it comes to work?

The point, to be very specific, they're trying to be vague. They're trying to be accepted. But they don't know how to make sure the questions that are asked, if girls can study, can they study after when they start getting their periods?

If they can study after their periods, can they pursue work after grade 12?


DURRANI: If not, then what is the use of this education, right?

See, all these questions have to be asked. Women rights, girls rights are used as vague as possible. Islam has given them rights, we will let them have the rights that they have. It's not for you to decide who to give the rights and not to give the rights, right?

HOLMES: I have to ask, how are you personally feeling?

You are a strong woman. You're a strong advocate.

How are you feeling in terms of what you might lose?

I mean, what are your concerns if there's a knock on your door?

DURRANI: Of course, I've already lost. I lost my house. I am probably going to lose 18 schools that I work with. I'm not sure if they're going to let them function the way we want them to function. We focus on physics, biochemistry and technology, right?

So not sure if that's going to be something that we can do. Right now I have got in touch with all my principals and they're telling me, no, that's not possible.

You know, this is something that I'm going to lose. Apart from that, I am not fearful. I'm not afraid. I'm not going to say, oh, I'm afraid of them. Not afraid. I'm going to say it again and again. I'm not afraid.

I'm just so much worried about my students, about my principals, about my staff, about every person that I have known, when working in Afghanistan.

And apart from that, I feel hopeless about the future, about all the amazing girls that I have met, who wanted to be something, who wanted to be responsible citizens of Afghanistan. I'm worried about them.


What do you then say to world leaders, the Americans but others as well, your own government, now that those forces have left and the Taliban are rampaging through the country?

What do you say about the decision to pull out so quickly?

And what do you say to your own government?

DURRANI: See, the pullout isn't the problem. The pullout, I guess it was time.

They should have done it, right?

A few thousand troops cannot defend the whole country. They're not superheroes. The only thing that I -- makes me said is that fact that delegitimize of Dohari (ph). And even if they did that, right, they could have pressured us, both warring parties, be it the government, be it the Taliban.

They could have pressurized them into not abusing humans, not abusing civilians, not abusing Afghans, especially Afghan women. But they didn't do that. That's what makes me sad, that people are not accountable in 21st century for the lives of Afghans or any human being for that stance.

Right now Afghans' life don't matter a thing. It is something that the U.S. tried coming to Afghanistan and stayed here for two decades, claiming they were here for Afghan people, right?

Then if you're not here for Afghan people but you had the leverage, you claimed to be a human rights defender, right?

How couldn't you pressurize two warring parties into not abusing the humans?

That's what makes me sad. About my own government, they were corrupt. They had two decades. They had all the help they could. They had all the aid money that they had and they didn't try to still strategize, make themselves strong and even work for the sake of Afghan people. They came with their passports, they stayed here, they took all the aid money and they left us.

HOLMES: You are a powerful and courageous advocate. Pashtana Durrani, I wish you well and all the best as this unfolds.

DURRANI: Thank you.

HOLMES: You're a terrific advocate. You really are.


HOLMES: New COVID infections are spiking in Australia's most populous state. After the break, we'll take a look at how officials in New South Wales are dealing with the surge.





HOLMES: Welcome back.

A small part of the U.S. population is now eligible for booster doses of the coronavirus vaccine. On Friday, the U.S. CDC voting to recommend a third dose for some people who are immunocompromised, like organ transplant patients and those taking immune-suppressing medications. Boosters are not yet recommended for the general public.

The authorization applies to Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech vaccines. There is not enough data on the Johnson & Johnson shot yet, apparently.

Now Australia's most populous state enters a snap seven-day lockdown, as it reports record numbers of new infections. Authorities in New South Wales say they recorded 466 new cases today.

And on Monday, police and military will be deployed once again in the greater Sydney area to enforce tighter restrictions. For more, I'm joined by Paula Hancocks in Seoul, South Korea.

Worst day yet for New South Wales, despite lockdowns. And the state premier is forecasting a rough couple of months ahead.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Michael. In fact, today, she also said that it is literally like a war, talking about it being the most disconcerting and concerning day since this has begun.

So certainly the situation is getting worse in the most populous state in Australia, New South Wales, as you say. This snap seven-day lockdown has now come into place, which means that you have to stay at home.

You can go out for medical supplies or you can have one hour a day of activity and also going out for essentials. But that is pretty much it. All schooling going online. And the city of Sydney within that state has been on lockdown for more than seven weeks now.

And yet the numbers are still creeping up. But the state politicians saying, if they hadn't had that lockdown in Sydney, then you could be talking about thousands of new cases a day now rather than just hundreds of new cases a day.

But there is a great concern that they can't get around this Delta variant, that it seems to be running away from them. The chief medical officer said that it is a pandemic for the unvaccinated at this point.


HANCOCKS: And if you look at Australia, it is vastly undervaccinated. You've got somewhere in the realm of 20 percent of the population that is fully vaccinated; which means 80 percent is not.

So the prime minister, Scott Morrison, has come under criticism for not rolling out the vaccine program quicker.

I mean, quite frankly, there wasn't and didn't seem to be the urgency in Australia that there was in other countries, like the United States, the United Kingdom, places in Europe, because they needed the vaccine to try and keep the numbers down.

For example, the capital, Canberra, that has now gone into a seven-day lockdown a couple of days ago. They have their first cases in a year.

So for many people in Australia, this is coming as somewhat of a shock. It is something that they are not really used to. As you say, they will be seeing troops on the street. There's been some 500 troops that have been helping police to enforce these restrictions in the greater Seoul area.

An additional 200 will be deployed on Monday to make sure people are sticking to the rules. And they're also increasing the fines for noncompliance, which will be about $3,600 if you are found to be abusing the system and to be doing something you shouldn't be -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right. Paula Hancocks in Seoul, South Korea. Appreciate that. Thanks so much.

And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. If you're an international viewer, "AFRICAN VOICES CHANGEMAKERS" If you're here in the U.S. and Canada, I'll be right back with more news.





HOLMES: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.

Now back to Afghanistan and the Taliban's stunning advance across the country. One week was all it took for the insurgent group to gain control of half the nation's provincial capitals. That includes Afghanistan's second largest city of Kandahar.

Meanwhile, the American embassy in Kabul has told personnel to destroy sensitive materials as cities continue to fall to the Taliban. There are fears the capital could soon be next. About 3,000 troops are being sent there to help evacuate embassy employees.


HOLMES: Bill Roggio is a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, he is also the editor of the terrific "Long War Journal."

It's great to have you and your knowledge here, Bill. Even if the Taliban find it difficult to take Kabul militarily, it will imminently control the territory around the city, choke it off, create a siege situation.

What do you think is the trajectory of events as you're seeing it?

And is there any way for it to be stopped?

There seems to be zero incentive for them to negotiate.

BILL ROGGIO, EDITOR, "LONG WAR JOURNAL": Yes, thanks for having me on, Michael. And yes, the situation is dire right now. Just before we got on this call, I'm receiving word that the Taliban very likely took control of three provinces outside of Kabul, including Wardak and Paktika.

So this is -- they are starting to seal the approach to Kabul. I just don't see how the Afghan military can withstand this Taliban onslaught at this point in time.

HOLMES: And it's interesting when we look at your research, the maps on the "Long War Journal," the map of Taliban control -- and we can play it now for folks. And it is just so incredible to see the speed with which it swept the country.

And people are seeing now the map turn red, which is Taliban control.

When you see what's unfolding, are you in any way surprised?

Or was it entirely predictable after the West pulled out and pulled out with such speed and with no agreement in place with the Taliban?

ROGGIO: Yes, the -- I was not surprised that the Taliban launched this offensive. The Taliban had -- the West and the Afghan government have relied on diplomacy to try to resolve the situation. We keep hearing, their only solution is a diplomatic solution.

The Taliban disagrees. The Taliban has a military solution and it is implementing it right now. I have been tracking the Taliban's military operations for well over 1.5 decades and how it fights, its tactics, its strategy. So this didn't surprise me.

The only thing that is surprising has been the last 7 days and that is the speed of the -- I'm sorry -- the last eight days. That is the speed of the Taliban taking over the provinces. They've taken over -- this makes what the Islamic State did in Iraq in 2013-2014 look like child's play.

HOLMES: Yes. You've been following their movement for 10 years, which brings me to this, the speed and breadth of the advance, breathtaking. But you tweeted something, which speaks to why it shouldn't have been a shock. And I want to quote part of it now for people.

You said, "U.S. military intelligence leaders are directly responsible for the biggest intelligence failure since Tet" -- meaning Vietnam -- "in 1968.

"How did the Taliban plan, organize, position and execute this massive offensive under the noses of U.S. military, CIA?" et cetera.

And it is indeed on the face of a catastrophic failure of U.S. intel to misjudge Taliban capability and intent.

What does a failure on that level along with the naivete of even thinking the Taliban would share power, what does a failure like that mean?

ROGGIO: The U.S. particularly and NATO in general has to ask some very hard questions now.

How did this happen?

If what happens in Afghanistan stayed in Afghanistan, you could trump this one off and say, well, we had a bad showing and we will walk away and better luck next time.

If the United States could be fooled by a third rate militia like the Taliban, what happens if the U.S. actually has to come into conflict with China or Russia or some other adversary, that is actually sophisticated?

If you just watched what the Taliban was doing, as I have been doing for the last decade, plus, you would know that this was coming. Even if you don't have direct intelligence on it, you should've been able to predict that this was going to happen.

HOLMES: That is a great point about what it portends if there was a different conflict with a bigger foe.

I want to ask you this before we finish. We've seen the Taliban in its negotiations with the West, basically will lie about a lot of things.


HOLMES: But in particular its relationship with Al Qaeda. Instead of cutting off ties, they are in many places fighting shoulder to shoulder.

Do you see the Taliban giving Al Qaeda -- and perhaps ISIS -- freedom to operate, at the very least?

What leverage does the West have to stop that happening?

ROGGIO: The leverage -- the West has zero leverage to end the Taliban- Al Qaeda relationship. Right now the Taliban and the Islamic State, they're enemies.

There's some reporting out there including within the U.N. that the Taliban keeps the Islamic State on a leash so it can carry out attacks and give -- more heinous attacks and give it plausible deniability. But I think that once the Afghan government issues a settlement with the Taliban, the Taliban will turn on the Islamic State.

The West has no, the U.S. has no leverage whatsoever to stop the Taliban-Al Qaeda relationship which is as strong as it ever was. A recent United Nations report limit sanctions and monitoring team said that Sirajuddin Haqqani, who's one of few deputy emirs of the Taliban and the man behind this military operation, they named him as a leader within Al Qaeda.

What does that make the Taliban?

He is the most powerful Taliban leader, more so than the Taliban's emir.

If he's a member of Al Qaeda, what is the Taliban, what does that relationship -- how is the Taliban going to continue to support Al Qaeda?

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

HOLMES: I wish we had more time; we don't. A fantastic analysis.

Follow Bill on Twitter and "Long War Journal" if you want to keep an eye on what's going on in Afghanistan. Bill Roggio, great to have you on, thank you.

ROGGIO: Thank you, sir, it's a pleasure.


HOLMES: U.S. officials are concerned about a potential for violence around the upcoming 9/11 anniversary. Coming up, calls for violence from domestic extremists get louder. And they're reportedly just as bad as before the Capitol insurrection.

Also the U.S. facing a migrant surge, with record numbers of people trying to come in through the southern border. We'll have details on that as well after the break.





HOLMES: Welcome back.

The U.S. marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks next month. But security officials are concerned the event is becoming a rallying cry for domestic extremist groups.

Their online chatter calling for violence has not only increased but also it's very similar to what was seen in the run-up to the Capitol insurrection on January 6th. Jessica Schneider with more on that.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The Department of Homeland Security issuing a new threat bulletin and it's detailing a diverse set of potential threats. It ranges from domestic terrorism, which could include people participating in grievance-based violence, or even actors here in the U.S., motivated by foreign terrorists.

And the warning is coming out now because the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is just weeks away and DHS says that anniversary poses the potential for violence.

Plus the ongoing pandemic is inflaming anger from people, who are against government restrictions and against public health safety measures. So DHS is saying this in the bulletin.

"The reopening of institutions, including schools, as well as several dates of religious significance over the next few months, could also provide increased targets of opportunity for violence, though there are currently no credible or imminent threats identified to these locations."

Now this comes at the same time as our team learned in an exclusive interview with the Homeland Security intelligence chief, John Cohen, that they're actually seeing online extremist rhetoric that is strikingly similar to what they saw in the buildup to the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

They're seeing increasing calls for violence; that violence linked to conspiracy theories and false narratives.

And congressman Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, he released a statement, saying he finds it especially troubling that the terrorism threat now is increasingly based on grievance-based violence and conspiracy theories related to the election and former president Trump and all based on the Big Lie, which continues to permeate over social media -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: The U.S. Homeland Security Secretary is on the defensive, reassuring the public that the Biden administration is working to control the migrant crisis at the southern border.

It comes after Alejandro Mayorkas was heard in leaked audio, obtained by FOX News, telling Border Patrol agents, the current situation with migrants is, quote, "unsustainable.'


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We are not going to lose. We have a plan. We are executing our plan. It takes time but we will not lose.


HOLMES: The Homeland Security Secretary went on to say that the number of migrants trying to cross into the U.S. is unprecedented. CNN's Ed Lavandera in Texas with more.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For several weeks, U.S. Border Patrol officials have released images like these to sound the alarm over the historic numbers of migrants apprehended at the southern border.

Border Patrol agents in South Texas say they're often finding hundreds of migrants a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're experiencing now, with unaccompanied children, family units, migrants from countries that we traditionally don't experience these tremendous flows from, are what our Border Patrol agents are faced with each and every day.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): For months, the Biden administration has been reluctant to describe this as an immigration crisis. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it apprehended 212,000 migrants in July, the most in two decades.

During a visit to South Texas Thursday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged the situation presents a serious challenge and told Border Patrol agents in a private meeting, the migration situation is unsustainable and, if the border is the first line of defense, the U.S. will lose.

MAYORKAS: What I communicated to them -- and they very well understood -- is the fact that we are not in this alone as the United States government but we -- this is a regional issue. But we are also working together to interdict irregular migration and to attack the smuggling organizations.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The Biden administration says it resumed a fast-track deportation program of migrants, who don't qualify for asylum. They've also begun the controversial practice of deporting some migrants deeper into Mexico to deter them from immediately crossing back into the United States.

But some local border officials say it's not happening fast enough.

JUDGE RICHARD CORTEZ (D-TX), HIDALGO COUNTY: This is not sustainable. The best analogy that I can give you, sir, is that we have a huge water leak.


CORTEZ: You can't send people to mop the water. You have to send a plumber to plug the leak.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Hidalgo County judge Richard Cortez, a Democrat, says dramatic action is needed. He's calling for a moratorium on migrants seeking asylum.

CORTEZ: Because what it does, it stops the leak. It gives us time to recover. We have very tired customs and Border Patrol people. They're overwhelmed. LAVANDERA (voice-over): The border shelters in Texas are over capacity

with the number of migrants. And a park in Mission, Texas, has been converted into a quarantine camp for migrants, who have tested positive for COVID-19.

City officials say there are more than 1,000 people at the park. Critics of the Biden administration's immigration response are blaming the migrants for spreading the coronavirus.

But the Department of Homeland Security says the positivity rate among those migrants here is lower than the surrounding community.

LAVANDERA: The Biden administration says it is trying to rebuild the immigration system, left in shambles by the Trump administration. They say they're trying to do immigration in a more humane way and solve the root causes of migration.

But the bottom line is that takes time. And local officials along the U.S. southern border say, this is an urgent problem that needs to be resolved now -- Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


HOLMES: Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, deadly wildfires ripping through Algeria, killing dozens. The latest efforts to put out the blazes and why authorities believe arson is to blame. We'll be right back.





HOLMES: More than 5 million people are under evacuation orders in Japan, as parts of the country experience record levels of torrential rain. Officials warning residents to be ready for landslides and flooding.

Weather authorities describing the rain as unprecedented. They urge people to follow evacuation orders and not wait for an emergency warning.

And huge areas of Siberia are under a state of emergency, as wildfires burn across that vast Russian province. More acreage is burning there than -- get this -- in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the U.S. and Canada combined.

Thick smoke blanketing towns and cities and reaching to the North Pole. The country's forest service says it doesn't have enough resources to battle it. Officials say the climate crisis is to blame for the scale of the disaster.

Algeria in mourning, meanwhile, for victims of wildfires sweeping that country. At least 69 people killed since the fires began Monday. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh with more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As monstrous flames devour all that's in their path, villagers have been desperately trying to confront this fire, grabbing whatever they can find. But their tree branches and water hoses clearly no match for this ruthless inferno.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We don't have tools. We're trying with what we have to put it out. It will be hard with the wind. We will try with what we have. We can't do anything else, only try to protect the houses. May God be with us.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): On the ground and in the air, it's been a tough fight against some of the worst wildfires in Algeria's history. The country's military was deployed to help evacuate residents and battle the blaze that's claimed dozens of lives and destroyed countless homes and livelihoods.

The smoke that's engulfed many of these hard-to-reach areas has made this an even tougher fight. The near-record temperatures from the scorching heat wave are making it almost impossible to try and contain the flames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We were watching the fire to prevent it from spreading further. But it seems to be impossible. And now it has reached our zone. All our trees are burning. May God protect, because it is near the village.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): The government's blaming the fires on arson, deliberate and premeditated. But it is the scale and ferocity of these fires that has left this nation in shock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We saw the fire in the morning from a distance. And in two minutes, it arrived here. It's unbelievable. We can't understand it at all. Really, we do not understand how this happened, so much fire in one day. It's not normal.

KARADSHEH (voice-over): But experts have been warning, this is likely the new normal, the result of a climate crisis, severe weather conditions that transform seasonal wildfires into these vicious flames.

From Turkey to Greece, Italy and now Algeria, scientists say the Mediterranean has become a wildfire hot spot, where no creature is spared Mother Nature's wrath -- Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, Istanbul.



[03:55:00] HOLMES: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM and spending part of your day with me. Do stick around. You're going to have Robyn Curnow joining you with more CNN NEWSROOM after the break.