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CDC Recommends Boosters for Immunocompromised; Taliban Control Half Of Afghanistan Provincial Capitals; Los Angeles City Council Votes In Favor Of Vaccine Passport; Pakistan Calls For International Plan For Refugees; New South Wales Reports Record New Daily Cases; Intense Wildfires Burn Across Siberia; State Of Emergency In Parts Of Florida As Fred Approaches. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired August 14, 2021 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hello and welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and all around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber.

And we're keeping an eye on Kabul this hour, where Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani is set to address his troubled nation. There's no word on what he will say but it comes as fears grip Afghanistan's capital and Taliban forces continue their largely unimpeded advance.

More than a dozen major cities have fallen in the past week, with the Taliban now controlling at least half of the country's provincial capitals. Kandahar is the latest to be captured. Many observers say it's the beginning of the end of the U.S.-backed government.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul isn't taking any chances. Staffers are being told to destroy sensitive materials while several thousand U.S. troops will be arriving to provided security and possibly evacuate personnel. A spokesman says the Afghan forces need to step up their response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly deeply concerning, the speed with which the Taliban has been able to move. What has been disconcerting to see is that 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: And what you're seeing right now is live pictures of the Afghan president speaking live to the nation from Kabul. We don't have translation right now, so we will tell you once we understand what he is saying to the nation. And we'll bring you developments as they warrant.

We're just watching as he addresses the nation in these troubled times in Afghanistan.

Now the U.S. and Canada are among countries working to help Afghans flee the Taliban. The U.S. is focusing on translators, who worked with American troops. A source tells CNN that a deal is being finalized with Qatar to house thousands of interpreters and their families while visa applications to the U.S. are processed.

Meanwhile, Canada says it will take in 20,000 Afghans. The country is introducing a special program to help resettle Afghanistan's most vulnerable groups, including women, leaders, journalists, LGBTQ individuals and persecuted religious minorities and family members of interpreters.

While the Taliban are 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 is raising disturbing questions about what America achieved in 20 years of conflict.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

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WARD (voice-over): 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: All right, we've been monitoring the Afghan president. We've waiting for translation but we understand he said they are under consultations to end the war. We understand he did not resign, which was one of the preconditions the Taliban had put to continue peace talks.

We know that so far; we're going to bring more as we get it. In the meantime, we have Cyril Vanier, tracking developments for us from London.

Cyril, I want to go back to that last line from Clarissa's excellent report, an all but certain victory.

Is that the way it looks?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, there is further fighting today, the Taliban have all the momentum at the moment. The Afghan national army says it has increased the pace of air raids against the Taliban, especially in the south of the country. Unclear if that's making a dent in the Taliban advance.

This morning, Taliban claims it has breached the defenses of another provincial capital, Sharana, that's in Paktika province, south of Kabul. Also fighting in Wardak province, even closer to the capital.

Again, the Taliban gaining ground. It is not clear whether they can be stopped. It is not clear whether the Afghan army is making any inroads into their advance.

Now a senior U.S. administration official, who is familiar with the thinking of the intelligence community on this, told CNN earlier this week, it was expected Kabul could fall within one to three months.

However, the U.S. has severely miscalculated the speed of the Taliban in the last few days.

Could this be another miscalculation, Kim?

We don't know. Certainly the U.S. fears a possible Taliban advance on the capital, since they are sending 3,000 men as we speak, men and women, three infantry battalions, to help draw down the embassy personnel in Kabul -- Kim. BRUNHUBER: And as always, the civilians here are caught in the middle.

VANIER: Absolutely. And many are choosing to flee their homes in the face of the Taliban advance.

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VANIER: Now 10,000 civilians have arrived in Kabul since the beginning of this month, the first 12 days since August 1st, 10,000 civilians. Others have gone to other provincial capitals, to cities, fleeing what they fear may be Taliban violence or Taliban reprisals.

And the U.N. estimates a quarter million people have fled since late May, 80 percent of them women and girls. What's important to note, is the Taliban said they're disciplined and chastened. They're not the Taliban of old, not the murderous gang depicted in the media.

However, as you saw in Clarissa's report, that the reality does not seem to match their words. And 80 percent of the people who have fled are women and girls because they fear the treatment at the hands of the Taliban.

There are also those who worked with U.S. security forces, interpreters. I met one who currently is trying to evacuate his family and hopefully get to Kabul, because he fears Taliban reprisal. So there are many groups of people in Afghanistan who fear they will not be safe under Taliban rule. Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Thanks so much, Cyril Vanier in London.

Still ahead, how the Taliban advance could impact the rights of women and children. Later, I'll speak to a board member of Women for Afghan Women, the largest women's rights organization in Afghanistan.

And we'll take a look at how the Taliban takeover could affect neighboring countries, later on CNN NEWSROOM.

Health officials tell some Americans to get a third shot of the vaccine. We'll look at who they are and why they need it, just ahead.

Plus, Los Angeles wants to get more of its citizens vaccinated. But the way it plans to do that, well, it might invite a lot of pushback. We'll talk about that straight ahead. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: A small part of the U.S. population is now eligible for booster doses of the coronavirus vaccine. On Friday, the CDC voted to recommend a third dose for some people, whose immune systems have been weakened. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at some of those who qualify.

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DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The CDC to recommend now a third shot for a very specific population of people here in the United States. These are people who have moderate to severe immunocompromised.

That basically means their immune systems are not working as well and more importantly, when they receive a vaccine, their immune systems can not generate the same level of antibodies and immunity because they are immunocompromised.

That's a really important point. And the CDC did define who we're talking about here, 7 million to 9 million people in the United States, about 2-3 percent of the population. They are people who may have had organ transplants. They're taking medications so they don't reject their organs.

People who are on chemotherapy, people who may have autoimmune diseases and are taking medications for that, like high-dose steroids. There's a long list. You can look at the list.

Most people who are immunocompromised do know it because they've had this conversation with their doctors. What we know is people who are vaccinated and immunocompromised versus those in the general population, those immunocompromised are more likely to get sick versus the general population.

Those are the things that influence this decision. You can see of the breakthrough infections, a significant percentage that ended up hospitalized were immunocompromised. Let me show you the bar graph here published in "The New England Journal of Medicine."

Basically showing people who had organ transplants, when they got their first two shots, they did have some response, they generated some antibodies but not very many. But the good news was, in that trial, when they got a third shot, they actually had a significant response and their neutralizing antibodies there, you can see, went up quite a bit higher.

So it was that sort of evidence that led to this recommendation by the CDC. So again, it's going to be a situation, where now, at least for this population of people, as soon as this weekend, in the next several days, they could get a third shot.

It's likely mostly on the honor system. You don't have to show up with an antibody test. You don't have to show up with a prescription. You just have to attest to the fact that you are, in fact, immunocompromised. And you should be able to receive that third shot.

What does it mean for the rest of us?

Well, nothing for now. There's not third shots recommended for the rest of the country. What they're looking for, to see if that is going to be necessary, is evidence that the vaccine is starting to lose its protection for the general population.

And so far, the news has been good. The vaccines continue to work well for the general population at this time. We'll keep an eye on it. As we get more details, we'll certainly bring it to you.

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BRUNHUBER: So this week, Los Angeles city council voted to require a coronavirus vaccine passport, meaning people will have to show proof of their vaccinations to enter most public indoor spaces.

Right now, Los Angeles County is seeing a surge in cases and hospitalizations. Most of the spread is among unvaccinated people. Around 54 percent of people in the county are already fully vaccinated.

But city officials are trying to make that number even higher. Now their vaccine passport ordinance isn't a sure thing yet. It still has to be drafted and receive final approval.

But as of this week, it's one step closer to reality.

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BRUNHUBER: Paul Koretz is a Los Angeles city council member and joins us now.

Thanks for being here with us. Just to start off, what pushed you and your fellow council members to make this decision?

PAUL KORETZ, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL: I think we're tired of seeing so many unnecessary deaths over the course of the pandemic and we realized, unless we get everyone vaccinated in society, we're just going to see more of them.

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KORETZ: Especially with the new Delta variant. So we are mandating that everyone in the city workforce must be vaccinated, with some minimal exceptions. That should start in September.

And we're mandating that folks in indoor entertainment venues and other similar places also must be able to show proof of vaccination to enter, so that we can catch folks in various ways to motivate them.

BRUNHUBER: As you know, it's a subject that many people feel passionate about, as you know from the protests. Plenty of opponents that say, you know, it's un-American. It's limiting their freedom.

Is there a danger that adding yet another requirement for people who are already suffering from pandemic fatigue will lead to a wider backlash here?

KORETZ: I'm not concerned about a backlash. I'm concerned about saving lives. People have said the most outrageous things. Their actual elected officials have compared this to the label that Jews had to put on in Nazi German of Juden to identify themselves, to be taken away to be executed, like many of my relatives. That is just an outrageous comparison.

The fact is that we're doing this to keep people safe. And if people push back, if they can't take a painless shot in the arm and wear a mask, my reaction is boo-hoo. I feel so bad for you.

If that's the sacrifice you have to make, that's nothing. And that's from the greatest generation of World War II, although the life- threatening sacrifices they had to make. And here you're doing almost nothing and you can save society and prevent thousands and thousands of deaths. So --

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BRUNHUBER: Sorry to cut across you but there has been legitimate pushback from the business community. Some say it will be devastating for them to be forced to limit their clientele, in a time when they're trying to dig themselves out after a horrendous COVID year.

Many worry about enforcement, you know.

Will they have to hire vaccine bouncers to police this?

What have you said to them to get them on your side?

KORETZ: We got more pushback earlier in this disease's history. I don't see the same level of pushback. Now indoor businesses, everyone is masked. I don't see a lot of protest. I don't see a lot of anger. It's now become the norm. I think this will become the norm, too.

And, frankly, it's a little bit like anti-smoking rules that we implemented 30 years ago. People initially were mad that you couldn't smoke in restaurants. A lot of people quit smoking as a result. Once they weren't smokers anymore, they didn't care.

And I think once people have taken the shot, I don't think that anger is going to continue. And at some point, we will hit a point where maybe 90 percent of our population will be vaccinated.

And if we combine that with still wearing masks until this disease has passed, I think we will be able to knock it out. We just have to do that. As elected officials, keeping people alive is certainly your first responsibility. And I think we can't allow ourselves to be intimidated by people that circulate conspiracy theories and disinformation.

BRUNHUBER: About this becoming the norm, I'm wondering, you know, looking, taking a larger look across the country, I mean, we've seen plenty of Republican governors passing laws to prevent this sort of thing.

It doesn't seem like a coincidence that the first jurisdictions to do this type of vaccine passport are basically New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, some of the most progressive cities in the country.

Do you think it will end there?

Will it be limited to sort of the bluest cities?

Or for our viewers watching across the U.S. here, do you think it's something they'll have to get their heads around, this will eventually be the new normal?

KORETZ: Well, I think if we're entirely successful and we are able to knock the numbers down again to very low numbers, I think the rest of the country that is having massive case increases will have to look at us and say, well, you know, maybe they're doing something right. I believe that's the case.

I know we're doing something right. Whether it will spread to the areas that are more resistant, I can't totally predict. But success breeds success. So I think if we are able to knock out this disease, I think the rest of the country and the red states will eventually follow suit.

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BRUNHUBER: Yes, polls nationally suggest there is, you know, a majority of Americans do agree with this type of thing. We'll see whether it expands beyond those cities. Thank you so much for being with us, L.A. city council member Paul Koretz, really appreciate it.

KORETZ: My pleasure, thank you for having me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: Still ahead, the latest from Afghanistan, the Taliban have seized huge swaths of land, risking major instability across the region. CNN's Sam Kiley will explain.

Plus, thousands of Afghan women and children are fleeing. I'll speak with Afghanistan's largest women's rights organization about what their future holds. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. And this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Back to Afghanistan and the Taliban's stunning advance across the country. Just a few minutes ago, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani address the embattled nation. He said the country is facing serious threats of instability and he's fully aware of the situation and also said he is consulting with Afghan leaders and other international allies to prevent further destruction.

And he didn't resign. It took just one week for the Taliban to seize at least half of the country's provincial capitals and that includes the second largest city, Kandahar. The U.S. embassy has told the personnel to destroy all sensitive materials, as cities continue to fall to the Taliban.

There are fears the capital might soon be next. About 3,000 U.S. troops have been sent there to help evacuate embassy employees.

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BRUNHUBER: And the crisis in Afghanistan isn't contained within its borders. For years neighboring countries like Pakistan have been home to Afghan refugees fleeing decades of war. But a new surge of Afghans trying to find refugee has led Pakistan to call for an international plan to how to manage the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pakistan is very, very worried because we are the only country, apart from Afghanistan, that cannot afford a protracted conflict. We have been the victim of this war next door for over four decades. Over four million refugees in Pakistan, still in Pakistan.

But the world needs to come together to find a way to stop the violence. And the only way to do that is an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan. Afghans are dying every day. And I'm sorry to say but a lot of times the Western conversation treats them as commodities. These are people who deserve peace.

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BRUNHUBER: For more, let's bring in CNN's Sam Kiley, who joins us from Suffolk, England.

Sam, let's start with the Afghan president's comments to reassure the nation.

What did you make of what he said?

And more significantly the fact that he didn't resign.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the key here, Kim, it's clearly a holding statement, trying to reassure the population that still supports the government that something that is being done.

But he said he was going to be consulting with elders and other leaders, both inside and outside of the country. And I think the way to interpret that is that he's canvassing opinion on two things.

One is whether or not he should personally step down. And second, I think in all probability, whether or not they believe the time has come and whether or not it's even possible, in their view -- this is the view of the government -- to do some kind of a power-sharing deal with the Taliban before the final attacks begin on the capital city, Kabul. That would be a protracted conflict, in all probability. But there

have been some lessons here, too, Kim, from the behavior of other famous warlords, like Ishmael Khan (ph), the man who's presided over Herat during the last Taliban administration more than 20 years ago.

He held out against the Taliban, fought against the Taliban but, just in the last few days, appears to have done a deal with the Taliban that guarantees his own safety and perhaps even his own political position in the future, causing the whole Afghan army corps there to either change sides or lay down weapons.

If that's the pattern we're likely to see in Kabul, it could lead to a peaceful resolution but not one ultimately that people in the West would be comfortable with because it would give the Taliban effectively the whip hand in any future political dispensations in Afghanistan.

But I think that's probably what the Afghan president is canvassing among his colleagues -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: What of the neighbors of Afghanistan, what role are they prepared to play, especially with the refugees trying to flee across the borders?

KILEY: Well, there are a large number of refugees, Pakistan has been host to some 4 million. But it's a bit rich or viewed as a bit rich, coming from the national security adviser that we heard just from, speaking about Pakistan and speaking about the international community's responsibility with regard to potential instability along its borders.

Of course, Pakistan has been blamed -- and there's a lot of evidence to support this, particularly by NATO but also by the Afghan government -- repeatedly for its long-term support and interference for the Taliban and in the affairs of Afghanistan.

Many critics of Pakistan will say, this instability is a direct consequence of your malicious and malign activities over many decades, not just in terms of supporting the Taliban but also working with druglords, warlords and trucking mafias, all of which has added to the long-term instability in Afghanistan.

Pakistan would strategically counter that Afghanistan is critical in interest is to keep , maintain influence there because they want to keep India out. Of course, the Pakistan-India rivalry really defining, particularly from the Pakistani mentality, their outlook on the whole world, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Sam Kiley, always appreciate the excellent analysis. Thanks so much.

As the Taliban swiftly gain ground, hundreds of thousands of Afghans are desperately searching for safety. The United Nations says nearly 400,000 Afghans have been displaced. Nearly a quarter of a million just since May. The U.N. secretary-general said humanitarian needs are growing by the hour. [05:35:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONIO GUTERRES, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: Even a country that has tragically known generations of conflict, Afghanistan is in the throes of yet another chaotic and desperate chapter, an incredible tragedy for its long-suffering people. Afghanistan is spinning out of control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: The U.N. says Afghan women and children make up the majority of those displaced in recent months as the Taliban advance. Nonprofit organizations are left grappling with how to help the women and girls left in the country.

Masuda Sultan is a board member of Women for Afghan Women, the largest women's rights organization in Afghanistan. She joins us live from New York City.

Thank you so much. Give us a sense of the sit on the ground for civilians in Afghanistan right now.

MASUDA SULTAN, BOARD MEMBER, WOMEN FOR AFGHAN WOMEN: Well, as you heard, the Taliban are making rapid advances across Afghanistan and have captured at least 15 cities, have effectively surrounded Kabul.

And it sounds like there's a question of whether a deal could be worked out in Kabul. As has happened in a lot of other cities that have been taken in the past week, that's not to say there isn't heavy fighting in certain places.

There certainly was in Helmand and Lashkar Gah and there's fighting around Mazar and there is the possibility that Kabul will either experience heavy fighting or that the leaders will work something out.

And we know that war is unfair to women and children because they're more vulnerable. And we know there have been hundreds of thousands of people displaced in the past couple months.

But Afghanistan has 3 million displaced people internally. And our organization has been working with these people, particularly in the northern provinces, where we exist in the west and a bit in the south.

And, you know, just to tell you, the situation for civilians, it's a very scary time, obviously. There's so much change so rapidly. But we're being told that international NGOs can function, that women can work. The Taliban have told us this.

They have had meetings in Kunduz with folks that we know on the ground and have told us that we can continue our operations. And so we hope, we really are hopeful, that we can continue our work and that the transition in some of these places will be smoother than expected.

And for us, you know, we know, while lots of people are trying to get out of the country, which is very difficult right now, that there are around 20 million women and girls left in Afghanistan that we want to continue to serve within the Islamic rules and Afghan culture.

BRUNHUBER: I mean, you say your hope is that the women and girls will be able to do these things and that the gains won't be lost.

But is there reason to believe the Taliban in this case?

I mean, we saw from our correspondent, Clarissa Ward, talking to girls and they were no longer allowed to be going to school.

SULTAN: So I'm aware of reports, in certain areas. I'm also aware of reports of girls going to school. I think we're seeing, because of this rapid advance, we're not seeing policies being implemented formally.

At least sometimes there's a gap between what's being said and what's happening on the ground.

But there are areas where women are still able to work. And there's instability. I mean, there's a lot of kinetic activity still in a lot of places. So we need to continue to press the Taliban on this issue.

The international community should absolutely make aid -- women the focus of aid and girls' education, the focus of the programs that we have. And, you know, what I really want to say is, as we're withdrawing militarily, when I think of abandoning Afghanistan, I don't think of the troops leaving, to be honest.

I think of the aid going with it. And that is the biggest concern because there has been a drop in aid. About half of the population is in need of emergency aid. So we need to think about ways in which we can stay engaged with the Afghan people, that we don't abandon them in their moment of need, that we haven't spent 20 years building a country that is starving and desperate for a way out, that we keep people in Afghanistan, because the best way to avoid what the countries around the world don't want, is more refugees, is to make the country safe and a livable country for the 40 million people there.

[05:40:00]

BRUNHUBER: Speaking of international response, you were among a group of signatories to a letter asking for a U.N. peacekeeping force in the country to protect the lives and gains made by women and girls. That seems very unlikely at this point.

So what else can the international community do to further what you were just saying, if it's unwilling to have any further military role going forward?

SULTAN: Well, we really believe that the use of diplomacy -- I mean, just watching the past -- the past week or so, these kinds of rapid gains are not just about military prowess or just about the other side collapsing. There's also negotiation at work. There's also diplomacy at work in a

lot of these places. So we see that the Afghan -- you know, groups are able to negotiate their way out of this into a peaceful solution at the local level.

We would -- hoped that it had happened at the national level, which is why I personally went to Doha to meet Taliban a few years ago. And we formed a group, encouraging peace efforts, including Afghan women, Afghan youth, 9/11 family members as well as Common Defense, which is an American veterans' organization because we do believe in diplomacy. We realize mistakes have been made and opportunities for diplomacy have been wasted.

So I think what the international community can do is to press for those kinds of solutions and to use the aid. And the fact that we know the country needs aid. No one who runs that country is going to survive as a government if it doesn't get the aid to run the country and governance.

We need to encourage good governance. But we should not be positing this black and white picture that if certain people rule, we're not going to help because the Afghan population is not at fault for what is happening to them. I mean, the majority of people have nothing to do with the elites that are in power or the war.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. There have been so many gains made in the last 20 years. Let's hope they aren't all lost. Thank you for all of your great work, Masuda Sultan, thank you.

SULTAN: Thank you.

BRUNHUBER: All right, coming up, new COVID infections are spiking in Australia's most populous state. After the break, a live report on how New South Wales officials are dealing with the surge. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: Australia's most populous region has just entered a snap seven-day lockdown after reporting a record number of new COVID infections. Authorities in New South Wales say they've recorded 446 new cases earlier today.

Police and soldiers will be deployed again on Monday to enforce tightened restrictions in the greater Sydney area. I'm joined now by Paula Hancocks, in Seoul, South Korea.

Paula, you had another serious lockdown in Australia reflecting the growing concern over this huge spike?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kim. We heard from the state premier as well of New South Wales saying this is literally a war to try to fight against the Delta variant, this is the most concerning day as well.

As you say, a record number of new cases there. Sydney itself, a city within New South Wales, has been on lockdown for seven weeks already and yet the numbers are still rising. The state premier saying if that lockdown hadn't happened, they would probably be talking about thousands of new cases a day rather than the hundreds they are talking about.

But they are enlisting the military as well to help the police, to make sure the people are following the rules, the stay-at-home orders. They had more than 500 military personnel patrolling the greater Sydney area. And 200 more will be added on Monday.

They're also increasing the fines of noncompliance. One of the fines is something in the realm of $3,600 if you're found to be breaking the rules. So they're really trying to crack down on anybody who is not doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Now we spoke to the chief medical officer in Australia recently, that this is a pandemic for the unvaccinated. It's what we're hearing around the world now. But the problem is, in Australia, the majority of people are unvaccinated.

The latest figures from Johns Hopkins University, is less than 20 percent, that's a fifth of the Australian population is fully vaccinated. And prime minister Scott Morrison has come under criticism for not doing it quicker, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Paula Hancocks in Seoul.

And we'll be right back, please do stay with us.

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[05:50:00]

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BRUNHUBER: Well, huge areas of Siberia are under a state of emergency as intense wildfires burn across the vast Russian province. Thick smoke is blanketing towns and cities even reaching all the way to the North Pole.

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BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Charred whiskers, burned skin, a victim of the wildfires tearing through parts of Siberia. As the fires ripped through this village in the Yakutia region, people fled their homes in a rush, leaving their pets behind.

With no time to spare, these rescuers are on a mission. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We did not have time for

emotions, we just running around trying to pick them up as fast as possible. They had been sitting there for a day already, calling for help. They were hurt and in pain.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Fueled by extreme heat and record drought, wildfires are burning across northeastern Siberia. A forestry expert with Greenpeace Russia says the fires are larger than those fires burning in Greece, Turkey, Italy, the U.S. and Canada combined.

Images captured by NASA shows smoke from the wildfires have reached the North Pole more than 3,000 kilometers away, a first in recorded history, releasing more than 450 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

The wildfires forced the evacuations of at least two villages. And people living in cities cannot escape it, either, as smoke engulfs skylines. The deputy head of the Russian federal forestry agency first described the situation as controllable and manageable.

But now the air quality is so poor, the leader of Yakutia is urging residents to stay home from work for health reasons.

Firefighters are doing their best but strong winds and smoke are hindering attempts to put out the flames and lack of resources is making their job even tougher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are short on aviation, we are short on local fire units, we're short on people. We lack constant monitoring. It all costs a huge amount of money. For some reason, the region just doesn't have enough money for this.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): The fires in Siberia happen every year. But climate experts are worried about the scale of these wildfires. They fear that the intense heat could thaw Siberia's permafrost, sending even more carbon into the atmosphere.

Civilians are joining the effort to put out the fires; armed with shovels, some have jumped in to save what they can.

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BRUNHUBER: Tropical depression Fred is bringing heavy rain to northern Cuba and triggering states of emergency in 23 counties in Florida.

The National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for the Florida keys. And a new storm was just named in the Atlantic, Grace. Tropical storm warnings have been issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

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BRUNHUBER: That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. International viewers, stay with us for "CONNECTING AFRICA." And for U.S. viewers, "NEW DAY" is just ahead.