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Haiti Devastated By 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake; Taliban Seize Key Afghan City Of Jalalabad; Biden Authorizes 5,000 Troops To Protect Afghanistan Drawdown; Some States Running Out Of ICU Beds As COVID Cases Surge; U.N. Agency Warns Of Crisis As Taliban Advance. Aired 4- 5a ET

Aired August 15, 2021 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The Taliban take two more provincial capitals, without a fight, as the U.S. announces a new troop deployment.

A powerful earthquake shakes an already battered Haiti, killing hundreds. Now the country faces a new threat.

Plus the back-to-school battle over masks in Texas, as districts defy the governor's ban on mandates. You will hear what one doctor in Houston says health care workers are facing.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to all of you watching us here, in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM. This is CNN NEWSROOM.


BRUNHUBER: Another, key Afghan city, Jalalabad, has fallen to the Taliban. That makes the capital, Kabul, the only major Afghan city, still, under government control. We are also learning the Taliban have seized Nili. That means at least 24 of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals are in Taliban hands.

Now the loss of Jalalabad is among the government's most crushing defeats, yet.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): This video appears to show the militants in the city but CNN can't independently verify it. A local official says the city was surrendered without resistance. The Taliban have been waiting on this moment, for almost two decades.


BRUNHUBER: U.S. President Joe Biden announced, last April, all U.S. forces would withdraw by September 11th. And in just four months, the Taliban have Kabul, largely, surrounded. U.S. lawmakers want answers on how this was allowed to happen and may

get their chance to ask them. A source says, the Secretaries of State and Defense will brief the entire U.S. House, later today.

Meanwhile, President Biden has authorized sending a thousand more troops to Afghanistan. They're meant to help get U.S. personnel and their allies out of the country. CNN's Arlette Saenz has more from Washington.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Biden is increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as he and top officials have watched the Taliban seizing control of parts of the country with alarming speed.

The president on Saturday from Camp David announced he would send an additional 1,000 American troops into Afghanistan to help with what he's describing as a safe and orderly drawdown. This would bring the total U.S. presence on its way or in the country already to 5,000.

As the president says, they are trying to ensure the safety and evacuation not just of American personnel but also Afghan allies, who have helped the U.S. military over the course of that decades-long war in Afghanistan.

The president, also in a statement, said they have sent a warning to the Taliban that any on-the-ground action on their part that would risk American lives would be met with a swift and strong military response.

President Biden broke his silence on Afghanistan, releasing that statement on Saturday from Camp David. He had not spoken on Afghanistan since Tuesday. And the president further defended his decision to pull American troops from country by the end of the month.

The president writing, "One more year or five more years of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country."

He added, "And an endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me."

The president also made the argument that he was hamstrung by decisions made by his predecessor, former president Trump, whose administration had negotiated a deal with the Taliban that the president now says ultimately empowered the Taliban and assured them that the U.S. would be withdrawing by May 2021 of this year.

But right now, everything that is taking place is happening under the current president's watch. And there will be many questions for this administration and for the president going forward about how exactly the U.S. reached this position and whether more could have been done as this situation has become more and more dire -- Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


BRUNHUBER: CNN's Cyril Vanier has reported from Afghanistan and, for the latest, he is tracking events from London.

Cyril, let's start with what we just saw there, the U.S. response.

And I understand, you have some new details to share?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, some updates. A CNN -- a U.S. official has told CNN that the U.S. embassy evacuation is well underway and they hope to start doing it around the clock; that's to say, throughout the night, as well, very soon.

They hope that embassy personnel will, all, have been evacuated by Tuesday morning. Only a skeleton crew will remain and they will be working from Kabul International Airport.


VANIER: So you know, that means going back to what the Pentagon told CNN 48 hours ago, that this would not be a total embassy evacuation, just a drawdown. It is looking increasingly like a total embassy evacuation with that skeleton crew, as I said, remaining but will be working from the airport.

Now the evacuation should, also, concern, after the embassy personnel has been moved, evacuation will then target U.S. citizens. There are quite a few dual citizens in Kabul, U.S. and Afghan.

And then, will concern SIV; that's to say, special immigrant visa holders. That's the Afghans who helped and who sided with U.S. forces during this war. Now I stress to say that some will be evacuated; that is not to say that all will be evacuated. Many are just not far along in that process, yet, to be considered for evacuation -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, not surprising that they're expediting the -- the evacuation, considering what's going on in the country. So let's get to that, the military situation. The Taliban control every major city, except Kabul. And in that city, there is growing panic.

What's the latest?

VANIER: Well, the Taliban's momentum, at the moment, is such that they are winning without even having to fight.

If you look at their biggest prizes over the last 24-36 hours, they -- they really haven't had to fight for them. So think of Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city up north, which is a region traditionally resistant to the Taliban insurgency.

Well, the security forces there fled ahead of the Taliban advance. And they actually made their way or tried to make their way to neighboring Uzbekistan. If you think of Jalalabad, which you mentioned earlier, that was surrendered without resistance.

Add to that, the fact that all the border controls in the country are now under Taliban control. It's, really, down just to Kabul, where the government, still, has reportedly or, in theory at least, some -- some modicum of control.

The Taliban, currently, control -- I beg your pardon -- they don't control the capital city; they surround the capital city.

Would they commit their forces to a pitched street-by-street battle in Kabul?

We don't know but they might not have to, Kim, because, right now, the Afghan government is in no position to make demands, let alone dictate their terms to the Taliban.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. All right. Thank you so much, Cyril Vanier, appreciate it.


BRUNHUBER: Carter Malkasian is a former senior adviser to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. He, also, is the author of the book, "The American War in Afghanistan: A History."

Thanks so much for being with us. I want to start here. After the U.S. spent more than, you know, some $80 billion equipping and training the Afghan Defense Forces, Biden administration officials are now saying they just couldn't have predicted the lack of resistance from the Afghan forces in the face of this Taliban assault.

Here's Pentagon Press Secretary, John Kirby, speaking earlier on CNN.


ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: 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 have advanced because, quite frankly, the Afghan forces have all the advantages they need.

They've got more troops, they've got more equipment, they have got an air force.


BRUNHUBER: And he went on to say that money can't buy will.

Is that what this comes down to, the Afghans' Defense Forces have the capability but lack the will?

CARTER MALKASIAN, AUTHOR AND MILITARY ADVISER: Yes, I mean, I -- I do think the argument about will is highly, highly compelling. There are a few other factors at play.

But the Afghan forces, for a long period of time, have had problems with their morale and problems with their willingness to fight the Taliban. There's a variety of reasons for this, some of them, they can come up

really easily right now, are, first of all, the Taliban can paint themselves as those who are resisting and fighting occupation, which is something that is kind of near and dear to what it means to be Afghan; whereas, it's a much harder thing for the government to claim or the military forces fighting for the government.

And we should probably, also, layer on top what's happened in the past few weeks. I think there's no doubt that morale suffers when a force facing defeat after defeat. The more defeats that are suffered, the worse morale is going to get.

So they have been suffering this kind of chain reaction for the past -- really, the past three months. And on the other side of the fence, the Taliban are getting emboldened by success after success. And these kind of compounding effects make it even harder for the Afghan forces to hold ground.

BRUNHUBER: How much of this is a political problem?

It's one thing, we hear most often from Afghans, themselves, that the rot comes from the top, that the leadership is seen as either corrupt or incompetent or both.

MALKASIAN: That is, also, part of the fact -- one of the factors that's at play here.


MALKASIAN: And I think some of the factionalization that occurs is particularly damaging because it means that the Afghan forces, sometimes, don't operate in a coordinated and a cohesive way.

And sometimes, it can take too long to get everyone into the fight that -- that might have helped push things back. The corruption and -- and the issues with leadership can also be a problem where forces may not feel that they have the best support from leadership.

And they're not getting the kind of support that -- that they would -- that would be most important for them. All these factors come into play into what we are seeing here, today.

BRUNHUBER: So all of that leaves many asking the U.S. presence here, 20 years of war. I mean, what did it achieve?

In your book, you wrote, "The U.S. must confront a moral reality that the U.S. may have done more harm than good in Afghanistan."

Why is that?

MALKASIAN: Well, the reason for that is, you know, we went into Afghanistan to try to protect ourselves from -- from terrorism. And there's -- there's other reasons there, too. But that's the big one.

And we, fairly effectively, did that for 20 years. It's unclear if -- if whatever happened there is going to last. And I am a little bit skeptical, myself. But for 20 years, that was to some degree, achieved.

But the cost was continued war in Afghanistan. The cost was instability. The cost was the civil war that's been playing out for -- for -- for 20 years, now and is now just escalated.

So we have to ask ourselves, at this point, would it have been better for the Afghan people if they had just been under the Taliban, all this time and not them suffering death, loss and -- and destruction?

Now I'm not sure what the actual answer is because we are -- U.S. interests and the preservation of U.S. lives is, also, important. But this is a moral question, more than a question of -- of money or weighing what -- what we achieved in -- in -- in pure, hard interest.

It's more of a moral question about what is a right and wrong and what do we value?

BRUNHUBER: Yes, it's -- it's all very depressing to -- to contemplate. Really appreciate your analysis, Carter Malkasian, thank you so much for being with us.

MALKASIAN: Thank you very much. Have a great evening.

BRUNHUBER: Haiti is under a state of emergency, following a major earthquake that's killed hundreds of people. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the 7.2-magnitude quake struck about 78 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, on Saturday morning.

At least 304 people are now confirmed dead and thousands of others injured. But there's fear the death toll could rise much higher, possibly into the thousands.

The earthquake is, yet, another burden for Haiti, a nation that seems to be in the constant state of crisis. Its president was assassinated just over a month ago and it's still recovering from the devastating earthquake, back in 2010, that killed hundreds of thousands of people. CNN's Michael Holmes reports.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A powerful earthquake rocks Haiti, some of the video circulating on social media showing just how devastating it was.

This man saying he was lucky to be in a building that didn't collapse. But with streets filled with dust and rubble scattered on the ground, others were not so fortunate.

For Haitian prime minister has declared a state of emergency. One hospital in the southern city of Jeremie said that it is overwhelmed with patients and has set up tents outside.

"When it comes to medical needs," said the prime minister, "this is our biggest urgency. We have started to send medications and medical personnel to the facilities that are affected. We have sent more personnel to help out."

The country's civil protection service says, so far, hundreds of people have died but experts say that death toll is expected to be much higher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to say at this point. The USGS is currently projecting that the number of fatalities will likely exceed 10,000, which is an incredible number.

HOLMES (voice-over): Saturday's quake registered a magnitude of 7.2, that's stronger than the 7.0 earthquake that struck in 2010, which left between 220,000 and 300,000 people dead.

One aid agency with a team on the ground near the epicenter says that it's a mainly rural area, already hit by poverty and food insecurity. They say people are already in need of assistance and they're going to need a lot more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're anticipating the needs, you know, to be around essentials, right?

Making sure people have the basics, water, electricity, food for the time being. But we are still trying to assess.

HOLMES (voice-over): Search and rescue teams will need to work quickly. A tropical storm is headed for Haiti that could bring strong winds, heavy rain and possible flooding.

The country already in crisis, a little more than a month ago the president assassinated.


HOLMES (voice-over): And it is struggling with challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and food insecurity, a punishing list of problems for Haiti.

But right now the biggest priority is to search out and help anyone who can be saved -- Michael Holmes, CNN.


BRUNHUBER: As if Haiti didn't have enough to deal with, a relentless onslaught of natural disasters, COVID, political upheaval and the threat of a tropical storm will make rescue efforts challenging, to say the least.

Earlier, CNN spoke with a representative from Catholic Relief Services about what the situation, on the ground, looks like.


AKIM KIKONDA, HAITI COUNTRY REPRESENTATIVE, CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES: The reports from my team on the ground are that there is a lot of damaged homes, schools and churches and hotels and, of course, our road infrastructure has also been impacted. And as you can imagine, with such a level of destruction, there have

been a lot of casualties and injuries. And the hospitals are overwhelmed as we speak now.


BRUNHUBER: Tropical storm Grace could bring heavy wind and rain to the already-devastated nation on Monday. But they could feel the effects, even before that. And bad weather could further complicate relief efforts, since many of the roads leading to the worst-hit areas are impassable.


BRUNHUBER: And if you want to find out how you can help the people of Haiti who are suffering in the earthquake, go to

All right. Coming up, some U.S. children are heading back to school in states where the governors have banned mask mandates, like Texas. But local leaders are speaking up for them. We'll tell you all about it, coming up. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: The Delta variant is ripping through the United States. This week, the U.S. surpassed 36 million total cases of COVID-19, the most in the world. And the new cases are overwhelming healthcare systems in the country.

Half of the hospitalization come from just eight states, mostly, concentrated in the South where the vaccination rates are the lowest in the country. Now this doctor says the situation is, quickly, spiraling out of control.


DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN OF THE SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: This is starting to look really ominous in the South where I am. I mean, we're now, if you look at the rates of transmission in Florida and Louisiana, they're actually probably the highest in the world. That's how badly things have gotten out hand.


BRUNHUBER: And some of the states with the highest-infection rates have Republican governors who are banning mask mandates and other public-health measures. Now one of those states is Texas.

Last month, governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order to ban mask mandates. But several local officials are fighting back. In Hays County, which includes parts of the city of Austin, a judge is defying the ban.

Now students, staff and visitors at Hays County schools will be required to wear masks. Houston's mayor is, also, pushing back, ordering city employees to mask up and he explains why, here.


MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D-TX), HOUSTON: The numbers continue to rise. So to sit back and to do nothing and to watch this situation occur, when there could be healthcare measures put in place, that, at the very minimum, slow it down, while we continue to encourage people to get the vaccine, would just -- would -- it's just not an -- an acceptable thing to do.

So I have a responsibility to protect the people in the city of Houston. And I will do whatever I can to do that.


BRUNHUBER: Dr. Owais Durrani is an emergency medicine physician and he joins me now, from Houston, Texas.

Thanks so much for being here with us. In Texas, hospitalizations are increasing faster than at any, other time, I understand.

What's the situation at the hospitals where you work in east Texas?

How bad is it, compared to -- to last year?

DR. OWAIS DURRANI, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Yes, thanks for having me. I think, I -- if I give you an example, that'd be the best way to demonstrate it.

Two days ago, in San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States, there were no emergency medical services for 30 minutes. And so, that means, essentially, if you were in a bad car wreck and you called 9-1-1, no one was going to show up.

The reason for that is because of how overwhelmed our hospitals are with COVID-19. So when I go into the emergency department for one of my shifts, it's totally common to see a patient that I admitted three, four days ago, still, in the emergency department, because there is no ICU or floor beds for them.

And so, what happens is, when those EMS units come to the hospital, they then offload their patients and they are stuck there. And that leaves the system really depleted.


DURRANI: On top of that, critical access hospitals and freestanding emergency departments, some hospitals that I work at as well, are in the same situation. They stabilize the patients but can't get them transferred to tertiary centers in places like Houston and Austin.

And that's, all, while we have a COVID-19 Delta surge, an RSV surge amongst children and we are pulling back on any type of mask mandate. And we are lagging behind, when it comes to vaccinations, as well.

BRUNHUBER: Wow, that's incredible that -- that there aren't, you know, ambulances available, at certain times. There aren't beds available.

Are you having to -- to transfer patients to -- to other states, as well?

DURRANI: Yes, that has been something that, you know, previously, was unheard of and something that we've done quite frequently. I, personally, have, you know, transferred patients six, eight hours away from the initial hospital. Some, you know, patients have needed to be airlifted to other states.

And that has its own set of issues. You know, family members can't go with the patient. It's a scary situation. There's, obviously, kind of, downstream cost issues related with that. And so that's something that we have never been doing and now we are, on a common basis.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Family can't go with them, with the patients.

I mean, if they're kids, what happens?

DURRANI: Yes. Unfortunately, you know, there was a 1.5-year old that we had transferred from one of the hospitals I work at to another state. And the parents had to drive about 6.5 hours to meet that baby. Obviously, it was a traumatic situation, for all parties involved.

But in order to make sure that that baby was getting the care that they needed, that was our only option, at that point.

BRUNHUBER: Oh, that's just heartbreaking.

The patients you're seeing, is it right to assume, at least the COVID patients, right to assume that most of them haven't been vaccinated?

DURRANI: Yes. I, personally, have not admitted anyone to the hospital that had completed a vaccination series. Now obviously, there are the rare occurrences that happen. But for the majority of the cases that get admitted to the hospital, they are unvaccinated.

They are also much, much younger compared to the patients that I was seeing a year ago. They're, you know, in that 4055 range. They may have one medical condition but they're requiring high levels of oxygen and close monitoring.

BRUNHUBER: And the -- the fact that in -- in Texas, the local officials and -- and schools have had to clash in court with your governor just to be able to try to stop the spread of COVID by having mask mandates, it must add to the frustration, then, as a physician, who may, eventually, have to treat some of those same folks out there, who are yelling at those meetings against mask mandates.

DURRANI: Yes. There's been a lot of frustrating policy decisions over the last 1.5 years. And, you know, this one with banning mask mandates and recent guidance from the Texas Education Agency, which doesn't require schools to notify parents if there's a COVID-positive student in the class. It doesn't require contact tracing.

And even if they do contact trace, the parents can decide for the child to go back to class, without any repercussions. And so, that, combined with this kind of culture war happening around masks and vaccinations, is really kind of spilling over into our emergency departments.

In San Antonio, there was a report of, you know, healthcare workers being assaulted over arguments when it came to masks. I, personally, have thankfully not had to deal with anything like that.

But I do have to continuously remind some mask-hesitant patients and a family member or two to put their mask on. And it's something that is, unfortunately, spilling over into our hospitals.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. It's -- it's really sad to see. We will have to leave it there but thanks so much for coming on. Thanks for all your work, you and all the healthcare workers out there. Dr. Owais Durrani, really appreciate it.

DURRANI: Thanks for having me.

BRUNHUBER: Breaking news: U.S. helicopters on the move, getting American citizens out of Afghanistan, as the country is on the brink of total Taliban takeover. Stay with us.





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

BRUNHUBER: And 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.

We are following fast-moving developments out of Kabul, Afghanistan.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): CNN crews shot this a short time ago. It's believed the helicopter you see there is one of the U.S. choppers shuttling employees from the embassy to evacuate them from the country.

A U.S. official tells CNN that evacuations are well underway with the goal to get U.S.-embassy personnel out by Tuesday morning, if not sooner. The embassy says it expects to be running evacuations, 24/7, very soon.


BRUNHUBER: All right. We're going to bring in our Clarissa Ward, who is in Kabul.

Clarissa, we're hearing conflicting reports of how close the Taliban are to Kabul, itself.

Can -- can you give us an update of -- of what you know?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So it's a really fast-moving situation, at the moment. The Taliban has just released a statement, essentially, saying that they don't want bloodshed, that their fighters, when they come into the city, will not be permitted to search businesses, to fight or kill or hurt people.

They said that they want this to be a peaceful transition, essentially, that they guarantee the rights of those who do not fight them. They warned people who would fight them, that they should not attempt to do so, that they should, simply, try to leave with other ordinary civilians and that they will be forgiven, essentially, indicating that there might be some kind of an amnesty.

We know that the Taliban are at the gates of the city of Kabul. There have been numerous reports suggesting there may be pockets of them, already, in the capital though, CNN has not been able to confirm that.

But certainly, the effect here, on the ground, is just one of absolute panic and chaos, real gridlock on the streets, unbelievable, choked with traffic. People with luggage hanging out their windows, trying to get out of the city, trying to figure out what their next move is.

We have heard reports from a team, who was at the airport this morning, again, of just chaotic, long lines, as people, desperately, try to get out of the country. And you mentioned those U.S. evacuations.

Sources familiar with that saying, there is a concern that there could be a distinct threat against Americans. So they had, rapidly, expedited those evacuations. A U.S. official saying that they hoped for those evacuations to be going 24/7.


WARD: All through the day and all through the night, within the next 24 hours. The goal is, in the next 72 hours, to get everybody out of that U.S. embassy and then, from there, looking at getting out, as well, all U.S. citizens, including a number, of course, of dual nationals.

Then, looking at people who have their SIV paperwork, people who worked with the U.S. military here or the U.S. embassy here and from then, also, looking at getting out Afghan employees of the U.S. embassy.

So you're looking at, potentially, tens of thousands of people who need to be evacuated. And it's difficult, really, honestly, just to describe how quickly this is happening, how chaotic the situation is becoming and how much panic there is, as it becomes increasingly clear that the Afghan forces and Afghan army are not going to be able to defend Kabul.

BRUNHUBER: Are there any signs that they're making any attempt to do so?

Is there any sign of resistance?

After all, we saw so many cities, lately, falling without shots being fired.

WARD: And that's what the Taliban is saying they would like to see repeated. We saw an image -- a very striking image from Nangarhar of the governor, the Afghan republic governor, sitting with the Taliban governor, together, at the governor's residence.

And -- and this is the model that the Taliban would like to see replicated. No need to fire any shots; we're coming in. We're taking over. And then, we can start to hash out some kind of a deal.

From the government's response, we've heard shockingly little. I would just say, yesterday, Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, made a statement. He said that he was working on organizing Afghan forces, that he was in consultations with the elders.

But you know, what many people here are saying is that, essentially, he's rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, that the moment for consulting with village elders is far behind us, now. And it became -- becomes rapidly unclear what Ghani's political future will be.

BRUNHUBER: The most dire military predictions had been that Kabul would be surrounded and fall between, you know, 30 and 90 days. Well, the enemy, as you say, is -- is basically at the gates, right now. You said that they -- they -- the U.S. was trying to get its personnel out, by Tuesday.

I mean, will they have that long?

WARD: Well, I mean, this is exactly what people, like the U.S. envoy -- special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is in Doha right now, are trying to negotiate with the Taliban, basically, let us get our people out over the next 72 hours and do not do anything to try to harm them.

And that is why this has now been expedited -- expedited in such a dramatic fashion. You've got 5,000 U.S. troops, either, in or on their way into the country. So the potential for some kind of conflagration or clash between the Taliban and those U.S. troops is very real.

So efforts are underway, earnestly, now in Doha, to do everything possible to try to avert some kind of a crisis or some kind of a clash. As I mentioned before, sources familiar with what's going on say that there is a very real and direct threat to Americans, at the moment.

But from the Taliban's side, based on conversations we've had with them, they simply just want Americans out and they're unlikely, in their words, to do anything that could jeopardize that exodus. So again, a very fluid situation, on the ground; very difficult to

predict, exactly, what's going to happen. But certainly, a lot of panic and chaos on the streets of Kabul, now.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. To that, I want to ask you because, certainly, in addition to the population of the city, thousands of refugees have been streaming into the city, trying to -- trying to avoid the Taliban. Now they're here.

Talk to me, a bit, about the -- the feeling there on the streets and, especially, from women and -- and girls because, clearly, many of them have lived through when the Taliban controlled the country.

And -- and certainly, they -- they wouldn't want to see all of the gains that they've made in the last 20 years disappear. But certainly, that must be the fear, right now.

WARD: So more than 15,000 internally displaced people have entered Kabul just in the last few months, during the fighting. And we, actually, visited a park yesterday that is, sort of, become an informal IDP camp.

People living in tremendously harsh conditions, sleeping in tents. There's no running water. There isn't really an official infrastructure because it's not really an official camp. And there's more and more people arriving, every day, just putting up tents, in different parks across the city. Now, of course, these people have nowhere to go.


WARD: And as you mentioned, for many of them, the fear is so high, right now. If you have had anything to do with Afghan security services, with the U.S. embassy, with U.S. NGOs even, a lot of charities, trying, desperately, to get their local people out of the country.

And I should mention, that right now, the only way out of the country is through Kabul airport because, essentially, with the city surrounded, with much of the rest of the country taken by the Taliban, border crossings on all sides, under the control of the Taliban, that really is your only option.

And for most Afghans, getting on a flight is not an option. We had a team, this morning, at the passport office; absolute chaos, thousands of people, desperately, jostling, waiting for hours, trying to get the appropriate documentation that might afford them, then, the opportunity to get out of the country.

The question, of course, also, becomes, when do civilian flights stop running?

When does the threat become so high, that the airport shuts down?

And again, that only contributing to the -- the sense of chaos and sense of people just not having any idea where to turn to, where to go, what the plan is. Absolute silence from the Afghan government, in this really dire, historic moment.

BRUNHUBER: Unbelievable developments in Afghanistan. Such a fast- moving story. We'll ask you to -- to stay put. We'll come back to you, chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward there in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Well, we'll have more on our breaking news out of Afghanistan, as the Taliban are at the gates of Kabul when we come back. You're watching CNN. Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: All right. We are following fast-moving developments out of Kabul, Afghanistan.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): CNN crews shot this video, a short time ago. It's believed that the helicopter you see there is one of the U.S. choppers.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Shuttling employees from the embassy to evacuate them from the country. A U.S. official tells CNN that evacuations are well underway, with the goal to get U.S. embassy personnel out by Tuesday morning, if not sooner.

The embassy says it expects to be running evacuations, 24/7, very soon. Now the current plan is to try to evacuate the embassy personnel, followed by American citizens, then special immigrant visa holders.

They are also looking into expediting people who are in the process of getting those visas and are looking to get Afghan nationals, who work at the U.S. embassy, out. And there will be a handful of embassy staff, who will remain as a skeleton crew. And they are being moved to the airport.


BRUNHUBER: Now this comes against a backdrop of the Taliban continuing a stunning sweep across Afghanistan. The militants have now seized the city of Jalalabad, according to a local Afghan official, leaving the capital, Kabul, the only major city, still, under government control. And that is questionable, right now.

Chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Thanks for coming back with us here. I'm wondering, you spent some time reporting with the -- the Taliban there. You -- you -- I remember, in your report, you said that they learned from their experience the last time that they were in control of the country.

Do you think that might help prevent bloodshed, now, that it might prevent, sort of, a street-by-street battle for Kabul and inform sort of what -- what -- what happens next?

WARD: Well, listen. The Taliban is, definitely, keen to project this kind of more mature image, "we learned from the mistakes of the past. We're, now, much more effective, not just as fighters but as governors. We understand that we need to be accepted by the international community. We don't want to be a pariah. We don't want Afghanistan to fall into the, sort of, same, old trap of becoming a safe haven for terrorists."

But you know, it's really easy to say those things and it's another thing, entirely, to put them into practice.

And, of course, the concern becomes, when you have lots of fighters marauding around, how do you control them?

How do you ensure that you don't have revenge killings?

How do you ensure that people don't sort of go beyond the boundaries of -- of what's expected?

It becomes very difficult. Now the Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid just put out a statement, essentially, saying we don't want to enter Kabul, by force. We want to come in peacefully. We guarantee your protection and your rights. We're not going to disrupt businesses, we are not going to seize your wealth.

Fighters will not be allowed to come and conduct searches in your homes or your businesses and also, warning people, if you do think that you would want to fight the Taliban, we recommend that you don't do that.

But if you, sort of, surrender, if you like, then all will be forgiven, essentially, offering some kind of a blanket amnesty, to anyone who agrees to sort of put down their arms -- although, I would say we have seen plenty of situations, in the recent past, where Taliban fighters have carried out extrajudicial killings of military and security services personnel.

So you can understand, for that reason, a lot of people might be reluctant to surrender.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, that's the big fear. And again, it's -- it's worth noting, we've not heard anything from the Ghani government.

WARD: No, the silence is really deafening. We did hear, yesterday, something from president Ashraf Ghani. He basically came out and said that he's working on organizing and ordering Afghan forces and that he is consulting with elders to try to prevent further bloodshed.

But you know, as I said before, this is all ex post facto, that the time to be working on that sort of thing was months ago and that now, there's a very real, political reality, on the ground, facing the government, which is that the Taliban have won.

They have taken, you know, an incredible amount of territory, in a very short time. And recently, we see them sweeping through major cities, without even having to fire a single shot.

Now they're at the gates of Kabul. They've made it clear that they intend to come in. They want to come in, peacefully.

So the question becomes, what kind of a deal can be hammered out?

And can president Ashraf Ghani be a part of that deal?

I think, a lot of people speculate that it's only a matter of time, before his resignation will be forthcoming. There are reports that he's, sort of, looking for an exit ramp that would allow him to -- to save face. But again, we may well be past that point.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. I wouldn't imagine they would allow him to stay in any capacity, given that they refuse to even negotiate with the government, as long as he was at their head.

But I -- I -- I want to pick you up on -- on that, you know and see -- it's hard to say what happens, next.

But if -- if the Taliban have won, you know, how do they go forward here?

Do they -- do they, you know, form a government?


BRUNHUBER: What about all of the other ethnic groups that belong to the -- you know, this country?

How do they bring all of those disparate groups together?

WARD: Yes, I mean, they're going to have their work cut out for them because it's one thing to be a guerrilla insurgency or to be very effective fighters on the ground. It's another thing to be governors.

And particularly, when you embody this sort of very, you know, strict Islamist -- many would argue medieval form of Islamism, that doesn't create a very large tent. It doesn't embrace a lot of people.

You mentioned, the many minorities in Afghanistan, the people who are not Sunni Muslim but Shia Muslim; women; the list goes on.

So there is, of course, a very real fear that things will revert to what they looked like in the late '90s and early 2000s, when women were shuttered at home and girls' schools were closed and people lived in fear of the Taliban.

And you had a mass exodus of -- of refugees pouring into neighboring countries, like Pakistan. It's not clear, at all, that the Taliban will be able to effectively govern. But the primary concern, right now, I would just say, is aversion of

bloodshed, trying to stop carnage, trying to stop street-to-street battles and most importantly, for the Americans, trying to stop some kind of a direct conflict between U.S. forces and those personnel they are trying to evacuate, right now and Taliban fighters.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. Let's -- let's hope. We'll leave it there, for now. Clarissa Ward in Kabul, Afghanistan, really great to get your reporting there, on the scene, as this breaking story develops. Thank you so much.

And we have more on our breaking news out of Afghanistan, as the Taliban are at the gates of Kabul, when we come back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.





BRUNHUBER: The Taliban have swept across Afghanistan to the gates of Kabul and say they want to enter the city, peacefully. And people who don't trust the militants and want to flee have just lost one way out.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): CNN crews shot this video, a short time ago. It's believed that the helicopter you are seeing there is one of the U.S. choppers shuttling employees from the embassy to evacuate them from the country.

A U.S. official tells CNN that evacuations are well underway, with the goal to get U.S. embassy personnel out by Tuesday morning, if not sooner.


BRUNHUBER: Pakistan has sealed its largest border crossing with Afghanistan. A Pakistani official says that's because the Taliban took over all the facilities on the Afghan side.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): And have a look here, at this video of people lining up to withdraw cash in Kabul. The United Nations Refugee Agency says more than a quarter-million Afghans are now internally displaced.

They say Afghanistan could see a record number of civilian casualties, if borders aren't open.


BRUNHUBER: All right. That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber and I will be back, in just a moment, with more news. Please, do stay with us.