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U.S. Completes Evacuation Of Embassy As Flag Comes Down; Afghan Women Face Uncertain Future As Kabul Falls To Taliban; More than 700 Dead After 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Haiti. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired August 15, 2021 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Breaking news out of Afghanistan, at this very moment, Taliban fighters are taking over the capital city of Kabul and the Presidential Palace. An eerie quiet as the U.S. Embassy there is close for business. It has now been evacuated. The American flag on the building intentionally taken down by American direction this morning.

And hours earlier, you could see smoke rising from the building as Embassy staff destroyed important documents. Choppers have been seen shuttling Americans to the Kabul Airport for flights out. Sources also tell CNN that Afghanistan's President, Ashraf Ghani has now fled the country.


Thousands of other Afghans are also seeking refuge and long lines of people at the banks, at ATMs this morning trying to withdraw cash as the Taliban closed in on the capital city.

Meanwhile, we have yet to hear from President Biden today. This morning, his Secretary of State defended the President's timeline on the U.S. troop withdrawal.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: When the President came to office, he had a decision to make. The previous administration negotiated an agreement with the Taliban that said that our forces our remaining forces, only about 2,500 would be out of the country on May 1st, and the idea that the status quo could have been maintained by keeping our forces there, I think is simply wrong.


WHITFIELD: We have team coverage on the ground in Afghanistan and across the globe tracking the latest developments. We begin with CNN international security editor, Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul, Afghanistan. So, what is the situation right now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: It is comparatively quiet. I actually have just heard a couple of crackles of gunfire over there. About an hour ago, we saw trace of fire, it looked like directly possibly helicopters passing above. The sky is a little bit quieter, but there have been consistent helicopters moving, we think probably American personnel around towards the airport where they are mostly headed.

Developments in just the last hour, though, we've been seeing pictures broadcast by Al Jazeera Arabic from inside the Presidential Palace itself, and from what looks like possibly one of the key offices of former President -- I should say President Ashraf Ghani.

Taliban fighters, calm, one of them addressing the camera in English, saying that he'd been in Guantanamo Bay prison for eight years, but essentially not feeling any deterrent to interact with whoever it was filming those images, just wanting the world to see them in control of that building -- a building, frankly, with so much American wealth that has passed through in trying to rebuild or keep their presence in Afghanistan functioning.

Also, too, in just the last hours or so, we have heard from Ashraf Ghani. I think it's fair to say probably now the former President of Afghanistan, given how his office appears to have his enemy sat in it. He says in a Facebook posting -- and it isn't quite clear where he has landed at this point. There were suggestions he'd fled to Tajikistan, it may in fact be somewhere else where he's ended his journey.

A source, a senior Afghan official saying to me, quote, "They just ran away." Referring to him and officials close to him and the departure at some point this afternoon. But he said, he will always continue to serve Afghanistan in this Facebook post. "And today I came across a hard choice. If I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the Palace or leave the deer country I dedicated my life to protecting the past 20 years." He essentially seems to say he was faced with either fleeing or dying.

Now, there will be some saying that there were discussions underway for some sort of transitional government, perhaps which may have allowed the Taliban into power with other parties in Afghan's body politic represented. I think it's fairly clear to say the Taliban weren't that interested from the start in sharing power.

And it's very clear that President Ghani -- former President Ghani was right, that there were armed Taliban who wanted to get into the Presidential Palace because we've seen them right there themselves.

Now, it is utterly stunning to see the insurgency that frankly kept America stretched for 20 years, despite the over trillion dollars they threw at this military campaign here walking freely around the inside of that Palace.

There was, as they say, a comparative calm here in the dark of Kabul, but we can't tell the full picture in the city. There are reports from NGOs administering medical care of dozens of injured because of the clashes, and we may see pockets of resistance possibly in the hours and days ahead here.

But startlingly, against all predictions, we have seen the Taliban walk in here relatively unimpeded, after the utter collapse of the Afghan government despite such U.S. diplomatic pressure and years of military support -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow, so that Facebook posting from President Ghani, I mean, that is stunning, too, because he says he will continue to serve, but then the global community will recognize the Taliban or possibly President Ghani, still as the leader of the country. I mean, he sounds like he's leaving an opening that he wants to still be recognized as the leader of a country, and perhaps this is temporary, his flight?

PATON WALSH: I mean, I really don't see him coming back. I mean, obviously, I don't have a crystal ball, but I think given the nature of how he has left, given strength of feeling about pretty much anybody you speak to about the covert nature of him sort of running away, frankly. That's the exact words of one of his staff speaking to me this afternoon, that I think it would be difficult for him to say, well actually hang on a minute, I'm the guy who's going to get the peace deal together.


PATON WALSH: I also don't see why the Taliban would have an interest in a transitional government or a peace deal at all. They are pretty much the dominant power here in the capital now. The question is, what kind of Kabul will everybody wake up to here? Are the Taliban, the moderates, they've said on paper or is there the possibility of something darker ahead? That's the key question when dawn raises here in about four or five hours -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Yes, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for that. Appreciate that.

So, we have seen this frantic rush to get American personnel out of Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul evacuated, the American flag has been taken off the building. With us now, Kylie Atwood at the State Department and Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

So Kylie you first. What more are we learning about the U.S. personnel that remain in Afghanistan and how others are getting out?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, rapid developments today on this front. We now know that all the U.S. diplomats that were at the Embassy in Kabul have been taken to the airport in Kabul, most of them are going to leave, and they're going to go back to the United States. A core group of them as of now is going to stay at the airport in Kabul, at the U.S. Embassy that has now been evacuated.

The only folks that are still there are a small number of security contractors. And I'm told that they are going to leave soon. And as you said, the U.S. pulled down the American flag. That was one of the final steps that they take before evacuating this embassy.

And in recent days, U.S. diplomats were charged with having to burn documents, get rid of classified materials, get rid of the American flag, which could be used as you know, negative propaganda against the United States should Taliban come in, should they take over, which appears now to be the situation. I just want to point out how rapidly this has evolved, because I think

it's important to note the context here. Just a few days ago, the State Department spokesperson said that there was going to be no evacuation of the embassy. Today, that has happened. Right?

Secretary of State Tony Blinken today defended how this has all gone down, calling it orderly, saying that there was a plan in place. U.S. troops have come in and they have supported this effort. As far as we know, no U.S. personnel have been harmed in any way as they are getting safely out of the country.

But the Secretary of State also made it very clear that the situation as it has unfolded, the Taliban gains have happened at a much more rapid pace than the Biden administration expected. And we should, you know, assume, therefore, that that is one of the reasons that a lot of the statements that they made in the last few weeks are not coming to fruition.

They have promised to keep diplomats in the country. That is now a promise that is broken to the Afghan people.

WHITFIELD: Jeremy, at the White House. Calls are growing louder, to hear something from the President. Yes, he put out a statement yesterday, but that was preceding what we're seeing now, which is Kabul seized by the Taliban. What is the White House saying? What is it preparing for?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is no question that this is a historic moment, nearly 20 years after the U.S. invasion to see that Taliban force that was ousted from power by that U.S.-led invasion. Now coming back to power, taking control of Kabul, walking through the halls of the Presidential Palace. This certainly could be a moment to hear from the President of the United States.

My sources have told me that as of now, there is no plan for the President to do that or to return from his presidential retreat at Camp David, but there are still discussions underway and no final decision has yet been made about whether or not we will hear ultimately from the President.

We do have a picture, though, from the White House of the President at Camp David meeting via video conference with his top national security advisers, as well as those diplomats who are in Doha meeting with those Afghan and Taliban officials. So, you can see there the President staying apprised of the situation, but of course, notable that he is there at this empty conference table with the other officials elsewhere.

The White House is mindful of those optics and we'll see whether or not the President eventually decides to return to the White House.

What the White House certainly is trying to do, Fred, is to try and portray all of this as a safe and orderly withdrawal. Those were some of the words that President Biden used in his statement yesterday. Of course, this is very clearly a rush for the exits, something that did not go according to that kind of orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces that the U.S. had initially anticipated.

But officials insisting that the fact that they were able to get those several thousand troops into Afghanistan quickly to help evacuate that U.S. personnel at the Embassy shows that even though they were not anticipating the speed of the Taliban advance and the lack of resolve it seems among those Afghan forces to hold back the Taliban from Kabul, that ultimately they did have these contingencies planned out for and that is why you have seen now, U.S. personnel from that embassy, evacuated to the airport.

Of course, a lot still to unfold over the coming days, as those U.S. personnel are still in country. And of course, there are now 5,000 U.S. troops who are or soon will arrive in Afghanistan, they too will eventually need to withdraw as well.

WHITFIELD: Jeremy Diamond at the White House, Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks to both of you, appreciate it.

So, this rapid collapse that we're seeing in Afghanistan is being compared to another infamous U.S. withdrawal, Saigon 1975. One of the most iconic and dispiriting moments in American history. On the left, we see U.S. officials hastily fleeing South Vietnam as the Capitol fell. And then on the right, we see the scene in Kabul today. Diplomats -- U.S. diplomats being rushed out of the U.S. Embassy as the Taliban enters the capital city of Kabul, Afghanistan.

This morning, journalists pushed U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken on whether there's a parallel here.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden is intent on avoiding a Saigon moment. That's a reference, of course, to the hasty and humiliating U.S. evacuation from Vietnam. But with this troop surge to airlift Americans out of Afghanistan, aren't we already in the midst of a Saigon moment?

BLINKEN: No, we're not. Remember, this is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission and that mission was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't that exactly what we're seeing now? I mean, even the images are evocative of what happened to Vietnam.

BLINKEN: Let's take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.


WHITFIELD: CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, joining me right now. He has reported extensively on the Taliban and was in Afghanistan on September 11. Good to see you again, Nic.

So, it may take a long time, you know, to know how history looks on this moment. But right now, it looks pretty bad. What do you see as the immediate impact of a full Taliban takeover and rule, again, of Afghanistan? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think in the

initial phase, there's going to be uncertainty in the international community about how to deal with them. We've already heard from Boris Johnson saying, you know, all countries should stand side by side, and not recognize, not rush to recognize the Taliban as legitimate government, because, of course, that was part of the negotiations with them that they would play by a set of international rules, negotiate with the Afghan government, which they didn't do, they stole the power through military force.

And we've also seen that the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has spoken with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan about the situation in Afghanistan. So, I think we're going to see on one part, some countries like Pakistan, potentially, as well, Turkey, want to recognize the Taliban as legitimate rulers.

Pakistan perhaps will be the front of that list to do that. China also has said that it would recognize the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. So, I think on one level, you see this international fracturing over what to do. I think you see the United States reputation on the international stage for right now, tarnished.

President Biden came to office saying that he wanted to stand up for human rights, his was going to be a presidency about democracy that enshrined those values. They've been trashed under foot, not by his hand, but they've been trashed underfoot essentially by the Taliban in their rush to power in Afghanistan.

And then I think the effect inside Afghanistan is going to be people will come out of their houses slowly and cautiously and see if they can go to market, see if they can get money from the cash machines, see if they can continue to put food on the table for their families. And it's going to go back to absolute basics for them.

Can they survive day by day? Feed their families? Not have their young daughters married off at a young teenage age? Not fear, for every time they send a son to the market that will be conscripted into some Taliban Army? These are going to be the very real concerns of Afghans now in the coming days and weeks.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And Nic, you just painted an extraordinary picture. I mean, the conflict among the international community of what countries would recognize the Taliban as the legitimate leaders of Afghanistan versus another segment of the world leadership, who says we're not going to recognize the Taliban.

And now look at these new images we're getting in from Al Jazeera and this is the images of the Taliban in the Presidential Palace. So Nic, if ever there was a statement being made by the Taliban, it is this one right here saying we're the ones in the seat of power in Kabul, Afghanistan.


ROBERTSON: Al Jazeera is based in Doha in Qatar. Qatar has been the host of the Taliban political leadership and the host for the negotiations between Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban between the Afghan government members and the Taliban. They were the hosts, they offered to host that core Taliban membership, who were set free from Guantanamo Bay, sent to Doha, given home in Doha so that ultimately, there could be this political reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan society.

So, you know, I think when we look at, you know, the countries that are going to want to recognize the Taliban, if we go back to the 1990s, Pakistan, the UAE were quick -- were very quick to recognize them. I think there were three countries total that actually recognized them slowly. That changed over the over the coming couple of years before 9/11.

But I think at the moment you have countries like Qatar that are going to feel they have some kind of influence over the Taliban at the moment, they've hosted that leadership for them. You're going to have countries like Pakistan that feel that they've got some kind of influence over the Taliban. They've released Mulla Baradar from jail in Pakistan, to send him as the lead Taliban negotiator with the U.S. and the international community to Doha for those talks.

So, I think you're going to see those nations feel that they have a stake, some leverage, potentially with the Taliban. The reality is, the Taliban in the past have shown that when they are militarily strong, they will ignore the countries that have aided and assisted them in the past.

So, I think this is a moment where we don't know, you know, the next moves and quite what's going to happen.

WHITFIELD: Wow, especially given this image now, Nic, what do you suppose is the message the international community wants to hear from this White House? When the President -- when President Biden does speak?

ROBERTSON: I think they're going to want to see a President Biden that can rationalize and explain. I mean, let's think about it this way, when -- you know, when the White House decided that it was going to follow through with President Trump's decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan, and this was done in conjunction at NATO, remember President Biden going to NATO in Brussels, remember Secretary Blinken going there as well for these meetings, and it was a discussion at NATO, we went in together, we'll all leave together.

But some of those NATO nations, British Generals, in particular, were pretty upset and voiced their concern about this rapid drawdown the implications of what it would leave behind in Afghanistan, the mess that it might create.

So, I think President Biden will be in a position where his allies, particularly his political allies around the world are going to be looking for some clear cast certainty about the recent decisions that were made, and what the steps are moving forward.

One would anticipate perhaps, that President Biden doesn't want to get ahead of whatever it is the Taliban come out and say, because he doesn't want to be wrong footed by them again. So there might be some hesitancy there.

And I think this is, you know, this is a moment where again, President Biden came in to office saying that this was going to be an administration that upheld the values of democracy, that he would hold this year summit on democracy.

But I think what the international community is witnessing in Afghanistan is essentially an undermining, an erosion of those values. So, they're going to want to hear some certainty. How does the United States rationalize what has happened? And in some way, make this right?

And I don't think perhaps at the moment that the words or the political space or the diplomatic space, yet is quite there, because, you know, all diplomats, all foreign nationals haven't been fully accounted for and taken out of Afghanistan and the ground is still changing in terms of what the Taliban's next moves are in Afghanistan.

WHITFIELD: Right. Because right now, these are the resonating images right here of what Al Jazeera says is the Taliban inside the Presidential Palace there in Kabul, Afghanistan. That, on top of all the other images that we've seen about how -- what the advance has looked like of the Taliban taking control in Afghanistan after this 20-year now war and the U.S. troop pullout.

All right, Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

All right, new warnings now from top military officials that terrorist groups may reform sooner than expected in that country.

Plus, concern for Afghan women and girls. Well, those concerns are mounting. I'll talk to one activist in Afghanistan. She says she feels hopeless about the future now for Afghan girls. That's next



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. We're following breaking news out of Afghanistan. New pictures into CNN. Al Jazeera Network showing video of the Taliban inside the presidential palace in Kabul. This as a top U.S. general issues an alarming warning, terror groups in Afghanistan could reform sooner than expected now that the Taliban is sweeping into power.

For more let's bring in Natasha Bertrand. Natasha, what more are you learning about this?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Fred. So, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, told senators this morning during a briefing that the timeline has been moved up in terms of how soon the U.S. Intelligence and defense community believes terrorist groups could reconstitute themselves in Afghanistan, and potentially launch attacks.

Now, in June, the defense officials had told Congress that it would be about two years. That's how long they believe that it would take these terrorist groups to reform in Afghanistan and potentially pose a threat to the United States.


ATWOOD: But asked this morning during that Senate briefing by Senator Lindsey Graham whether that assessment has now changed due to the collapse of the government there, and due to the rise of the Taliban and the fact that they now control virtually the whole country, Mark Milley did have to concede that, yes, that timeline has changed and it is now possible that that has been sped up.

Of course, one of the major questions that the Biden administration has been grappling with during this withdrawal is how they're going to keep their counterterrorism capability on the ground when removing all of the forces from the country that we've had there for the last two decades.

Now, they've said repeatedly that there are going to be those over the horizon capabilities that troops are going to be stationed in countries around Afghanistan, and we'll be able to launch operations from there. But this obviously raising new questions about whether the U.S. is prepared now and has answers as to how quickly they will be able to respond if these terrorist groups like al-Qaeda do reconstitute themselves in the nearer future than was anticipated -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And that is the biggest fear, Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much for that.

We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, it's hard to believe that this moment you're about to see was 20 years ago that President George W. Bush declared the beginning of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and the start of the war on terror.


GEORGE W. BUSH, THEN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.

This military action is a part of our campaign against terrorism, another front in a war that has already been joined through diplomacy, intelligence, the freezing of financial assets, and the arrests of known terrorists by law enforcement agents in 38 countries.

Given the nature and reach of our enemies, we will win this conflict by the patient accumulation of successes by meeting a series of challenges with determination and will and purpose.


WHITFIELD: Perhaps it's hard to believe we're at this juncture now, the Taliban regaining control of the country of Afghanistan, and Taliban fighters are taking over the capital city of Kabul, and new images of them doing so in the presidential palace.

The U.S. Embassy has been evacuated, the American flag on the building intentionally taken down at the direction of Americans.

Julian Zelizer is a CNN political analyst and a historian and professor at Princeton University. And Tim Naftali is a CNN presidential historian and the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. Good to see both of you, gentlemen.

So Julian, you first, you know, once the U.S. announced withdrawal, was this day inevitable?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's what we're going to learn. Many people will think and agree this was an unwinnable war and that this situation has been deteriorating over many presidencies. The second question will be, was the withdrawal done the best way possible? And I think it's too early to tell. I think we're going to see what happens in the next few months, frankly, and sort out the decision making in the Biden administration, but it's a political question that will confront Biden in the months ahead.

WHITFIELD: And Tim, we're hearing comparisons of this moment, what we're seeing in Kabul to the fall of Saigon, the iconic image of people fleeing the U.S. Embassy by helicopter as the city fell, just take a look at these, you know, side by side images.

I mean, here is what Secretary of State Tony Blinken said about that on CNN earlier today.


TAPPER: President Biden is intent on avoiding a Saigon moment. That's a reference, of course, to the hasty and humiliating us evacuation from Vietnam. But with this troop surge to airlift Americans out of Afghanistan, aren't we already in the midst of a Saigon moment?

BLINKEN: No, we're not. Remember, this is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission, and that mission was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't that exactly what we're seeing now? I mean, that even the images are evocative of what happened in Vietnam.

BLINKEN: Let's take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.


WHITFIELD: So Tim, is it a fair comparison? TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think it's a very fair

comparison. I believe that the Secretary of State -- I can understand the argument the Secretary of State is making, it's a fair argument, but as Americans, we know that there have been several missions in Afghanistan, that the initial mission, which was to destroy al-Qaeda, and to destroy the regime that gave a safe haven to Osama bin Laden. That that mission wasn't fully accomplished before we found ourselves in Iraq.

In a sense, Iraq allowed us to take our eyes off the ball in Afghanistan. And afterwards, we played catch up, and I think our series of Presidents never fully grasped, never fully decided what our mission would be. Was it nation building? Was it the creation of civil society? Was it destroying the Taliban after destroying al-Qaeda? I think there was strategic confusion. And then --

WHITFIELD: I think that confusion came because initially, the mission was to go after the head of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, but you're saying along the way, the mission got misconstrued?


NAFTALI: Completely. I mean, in 2011, let's not forget, we killed Osama bin Laden.

WHITFIELD: In Pakistan.

NAFTALI: In Pakistan, but we stayed in Afghanistan. And from that moment on for the last 10 years, our government has been trying to figure out what our mission should be, how to declare victory? And I think Joe Biden, what Joe Biden did was that he remembered a debate he had with President Obama when he was Vice President, he lost that debate.

And so as President, he decided to close down a mission he didn't believe in anymore. The problem is, what about the implications? And I think this is the key moment for us.

If Afghanistan returns to being a safe haven for Islamists, what have we spent 20 years doing there? So yes, we beat al-Qaeda, we beat that generation of al-Qaeda. But there is another generation which we saw with ISIS of Islamists who are willing to do harm to the rest of the world. Are they going to find a home in the Taliban controlled Afghanistan?

That is the great challenge. And if that occurs, this is the Saigon moment for President Biden and that this will be a legacy, an albatross around his neck for the rest of time.

WHITFIELD: Julian, Republicans are attacking President Biden over his handling of this withdrawal in Afghanistan. Listen to what a couple of them are saying.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): The catastrophe that we're watching unfold right now, across Afghanistan did not have to happen. And it's not just that people predicted that this would happen. Everyone was warned that this would happen.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): It's an epic failure on President Biden's foreign policy. He needs to take ownership of it, and take other steps to make sure this doesn't happen again. If he's not going to clean house, he was either widely misled by his own Intelligence, or he was misleading the American people deliberately.


WHITFIELD: So Julian, what will the history books say? Is it Biden who's to blame? Is there a shared blame with the prior administration for negotiating with the Taliban? How will it go?

ZELIZER: Shared blame. I mean, this is a war that has taken place across many administrations, I think the biggest debate will still center on President George W. Bush and the decision to go to Iraq, as this was really still unfolding, many Presidents Democratic and Republican, this includes Obama, Trump, Bush, and now Biden are all implicated.

I hope we have the conversation that Tim is talking about, about why we enter into these wars, how we conduct the wars, why we often double down on missions that are unclear or failed missions. That's another way to think of the Saigon moment.

It wasn't simply a moment that the United States faced defeat. It was one more reckoning with the failed policy in Vietnam. And I think that's going to be the bigger question and that goes beyond the Biden administration.

WHITFIELD: Yes, lessons learned. So, Tim, quickly, then, how should President Biden address the American public on this?

NAFTALI: I think President Biden should be as transparent as possible, about his expectations about the warning he had. And I think that he should -- I think he should take ownership of the chaos in Kabul. It's not America's doing. But the way in which this is ending, we played a role in that.

Did we know that our allies would run away -- as the President of Afghanistan apparently has done today? Did we know that? I think he needs to come to grips, he has to explain to us what he knew and what he did.

One more point, we need to debate in this country about our world role. We've been getting a little lazy and there has been a lot of opposition to the idea that there are moments when we are an indispensable nation. We're not always indispensable.

But the reaction to our withdrawal from Afghanistan shows that there are parts of the world where our presence matters. And I think we need a reckoning about that in a conversation. America First, putting our defense first often involves engaging with the world. I think the American people have lost that sense. President Biden has a chance in this defeat, to have and lead a very important national conversation.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and perhaps another question, what are the expectations when the U.S. is engaged on the world stage? All right, Tim Naftali, Julian Zelizer, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

And we'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, we are following breaking news out of Afghanistan. We've just got a new video capturing the chaos at the Kabul Airport right there as foreign nationals rush to try to leave the country as soon as possible.

Sources tell CNN that gunfire has been heard at the airport, and most of the staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul has been moved to the airport for flights, at some point out of the country. A U.S. military team is expected to arrive and set up an air traffic control system in order to increase the number of evacuation flights.

I mean, that is the scene right now. It was back in 2002 that I was on assignment in Afghanistan covering human rights advances for women after the fall of the Taliban.

Here are some of my reporting from December of that year.


WHITFIELD (voice over): Among the triumphs appreciated en masse, from Kabul to Kandahar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women, girls -- you see women on the streets, I mean I came here last December, you could hardly see any woman that was unveiled. Now, it is just unbelievable how many there are, women in offices working, teachers, university professors, lawyers, even women in the Army.


WHITFIELD (voice over): Now signs of rebuilding from the ground up, one brick, one person, one step at a time.


WHITFIELD: There was a lot of hope expressed then, and now, those gains are in real jeopardy, as the Taliban quickly recaptures control of the nation.

Joining me right now from Afghanistan is activist Pasthana Durrani, the founder and executive director of LEARN, a nonprofit focused on education and women's rights in Afghanistan.

Pashtana, so good to see you. So, you were forced into hiding after Kandahar fell on Friday. How are you doing? PASHTANA DURRANI, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LEARN: Thank you for

having me. As of this moment, I have cried so much that there are no more tears left in my eyes to even like you know, mourn. We have been in mourning after the fall of Abu al-Hasan (ph) for now quite some time. So, I'm not feeling very well. On the contrary, I'm feeling very hopeless right now.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. What are you fearing? What are you worried about?

DURRANI: See, I'm an Afghan, I never fear. I'm never afraid. I am worried though about all my students, all my staff, all my people that I have worked with, because their only mistake was to work with me. I'm afraid about all of that. And we're worried about the fact that there are 18 schools that I covered. And now, I'm not sure if all these students, 9,000 students will be able to go to school.

Every time I think about it, it breaks my heart and it gets me a little. So, yes, that's what makes me worried.

WHITFIELD: It is heartbreaking. And I mean, you were born as a refugee in Pakistan and grew up in a refugee camp. Your family was forced to flee Afghanistan to escape the Civil War and Taliban control happening then. It is history repeating itself, isn't it?

DURRANI: Oh, yes, definitely. Like for me, because I kept -- I keep on asking my mother, I was like, how did my father feel when Afghanistan fell in the hands of the Taliban? And she keeps on telling me that this is how he felt and this is how the emotion everyone was, how my grandmother wept throughout the day. And now I just keep I find myself in her shoes, I keep on weeping the only day because that's the only thing I can do.

I am worried and I'm emotional. My whole identity is taken from me, I'm betrayed. I feel betrayed. I feel lost -- all these different things.

WHITFIELD: Do you feel like the whole world and especially the U.S. should have seen this coming as soon as it was announced that there would be a U.S. troop withdrawal? That the Taliban was in a position to do this, move in so quickly?

DURRANI: I think that the troop withdrawal has nothing to do with the fact that the Taliban gained so much, right? It's the moralistic side of the story that where the morale went up so high when they made the infidels withdraw, that made them like, you know, get more people enrolled, and then they became Taliban, and they started gaining territory.

But at the same time, U.S. could have stopped all these human rights abuses. The U.S. could have ensured women rights, educational rights, not that I was just listening to one of your speakers and they said that it was not our responsibility. We went there for our mission. And we did it.

Yes. But like, as someone who calls themselves the leader of the world, maybe you should have ensured women's rights and education rights. Those are important things. Leaving a whole country in chaos, that's not a very dignified way of living.

WHITFIELD: And then what are the women and children feeling now? Was there a moment, I mean, like I mentioned when I was there in 2002, and even after that, there was a lot of hope expressed. There were schools that were set up, young girls. I remember profiling a couple of girls who were getting a chance to go, you know, advance their education. They were in school in college even.

But now, is there a feeling among many young girls and women who feel like it's all for naught, that they will not be able to advance, but instead, this is a giant step back and they feel hopeless.

DURRANI: I can show you my WhatsApp and I kid you not, not even the girls, the men, the people that I work with, they are all telling me, 18 years of studying and now nothing. It's all for nothing, all for nothing. That's the word they keep on repeating.

The girls keep on telling me you know, we started -- we wanted to work in girls education, and this is all for nothing. Every time I want to highlight this again, every time they talk about girls education that they have changed or they're willing to respect the women rights as Suhail Shaheen said, what sort of women rights are you talking about? Can you be less vague about it?


DURRANI: They're talking about educational rights that will let them study, then what sort of educational rights? I'm like studying Islamic Studies, that's normal in every household when it comes to Afghanistan because every one of them has to study, but what about the general education? Whatever the professional education?

After that, can they study? Can they work? What sort of work?

So all those things, if you think about it, it makes you hopeless because there is no answer for it. And even from evening, if you study and look at their decision making, once someone was going to be the interim President, now they are not letting him become our interim President. Can you trust a group who can change their statements like, you know, a million times in just few hours?

So I'm not going to be very much trusting them. And at the same time, I'm very much hopeless, along with many people that I have seen. And even if people are like, oh, no, but people are very welcoming of the Taliban, then why are so many people at the Kabul Airport? Why are people standing at the Kabul Airport? Why are they fleeing? Right?

There is a sense of, you know, this worrisome, and also at the same time, they're afraid for the future, not for their lives, but for the future. Because living is daily, death is one day, right? We have to live through it.

WHITFIELD: Is there a feeling of abandonment? That you have been abandoned? DURRANI: I don't think so. It's something that I feel like, yes,

because I didn't vote for Joe Biden so I don't expect anything from him. I feel abandoned by President Ghani, of course, because we voted for him. We worked for the fact that there should be a democratic process.

WHITFIELD: He has left the country.

DURRANI: And his team is corrupted -- yes.

WHITFIELD: President Ghani has left the country, so you feel abandoned by him?

DURRANI: Yes, yes.

WHITFIELD: Well, Pashtana, I wish I had more hopeful words, more than just saying I'm hoping and wishing the best for you and for all Afghans and let's hope that a better day is around the corner, even though today is a very big hard hit. Pashtana Durrani, thank you so much.

We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: Welcome back. At least 724 people are dead after a massive 7.2 earthquake hit Haiti yesterday morning. New images of the destruction there keep coming in as officials take stock of the damage. Buildings reduced to brick, streets covered in dust and debris. All while Tropical Storm Grace is approaching the area threatening to hamper their response.

Matt Rivers reports from near the epicenter.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. Yes, we are just not far from the epicenter, we just got here not that long ago. And what you see behind me, if we move forward a little bit here. This is the scene of a multi-storey hotel, but obviously has collapsed behind me. There's a lot of people here on scene.

You're seeing two things happening here at this scene. You're seeing some recovery efforts, which that excavator presumably was a part of. Now, that that's stopped, there is a lot of looting going on here at this scene. This was a relatively luxury hotel, a lot of people bringing out whatever they can find, dressers, air conditioners and all.

It goes to the desperation of what's happening in this part of Haiti right now. As I think you said in the beginning, at least 700 people have been killed as a result of this. So far, thousands of people are injured, but those numbers are going to go up, because in all likelihood, there are still bodies in that rubble behind me, there's a high likelihood of that. And this isn't the only scene like this around this area. We've all

been down the street that's just behind my camera and you can see damage that goes up and down the street. Is it as pervasive as what we saw in 2010? No, I don't think so at this point, just because this is not as crowded a place as Port-au-Prince, the capital, which sustained a lot of damage 10 years ago.

But the damage here, you can see why these numbers are as high as they are at this point, of why they are going to keep going up, almost assuredly. It seems like this that are very much active, are very much still happening. And there's also not a big rescue effort here at the moment. This is one of the more crowded scenes that we've seen here.

Where are the authorities? Where are the police? Where are security agents? Where are firefighters? Where are rescue crews? They're not here. If they're not here, where else would they be? And that's the open question that we have right now -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Matt Rivers, thank you so much for that.

And for more information about how you can help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti, go to

Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Jim Acosta.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington, we are following breaking news and right now it is the middle of the night in Afghanistan, but the Afghan people will be waking up to the new reality of a country completely controlled by the Taliban.

This is video just aired live on Al Jazeera of Taliban fighters inside the presidential palace in Kabul. Just hours before that, U.S. personnel took down the American flag at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the last step before they were fully evacuated.

With U.S. military choppers dotting the skies and reports of gunfire are breaking out at the airport, there are still Americans in country and they have been advised to shelter in place. Meanwhile, America's Afghan partners were scrambling to get out on to the last evacuation flights.