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Taliban At Gates Of Kabul As Helicopters Evacuate U.S. Embassy Staff; Biden Authorizes 5,000 Troops To Protect Afghanistan Drawdown; Taliban Seize Key Afghan City Of Jalalabad; Haiti Devastated By 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired August 15, 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, welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and all around the world, I am Kim Brunhuber. I want to get into breaking news.

The Taliban closing in on Kabul. The evacuation of embassy personnel is underway. A U.S. official says The goal is to get them out by Tuesday if not sooner. These videos shot by CNN show helicopters flying above Kabul. It is believed they are carrying U.S. personnel.

Sources say embassy staff are being flown to the airport. There are plans to leave a skeleton crew of embassy staff behind. Let's bring in our Clarissa Ward live in Kabul.

There are conflicting situations of how close the Taliban are to the city.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know they are at the gates of Kabul and have just released a statement saying they want to enter peacefully. The group's spokesperson delineating the rules of conduct inside Kabul, saying they'll not come and search your homes or extort money.

They'll not fire on you unless you fire on them, guaranteeing the protection, he said, of businessman and also Afghan soldiers and those working with security services, provided they do not try to stop the Taliban from entering the city peacefully.

Of course this has been greeted on the ground here with chaos. People desperately trying to get out of the city. We had a team at the passport office this morning, huge lines of hundreds and hundreds of people, trying to organize their paper work. The streets of the capital now clogged with traffic and people driving the wrong way down the street, desperately trying to get out.

At this point in time, there is not really anywhere to get out. The only way out is from the airport. I don't know if you can hear from the background there, the sound of the helicopters. There has been a nonstop stream of Chinooks, Black Hawks and helicopters all day.

Those are taking U.S. embassy personnel from the U.S. embassy to Kabul airport. From there, they could be evacuated out of the country. That operation has been hugely expedited.

It was a couple of days ago the State Department and DOD were saying this was going to be done by August 31st. Now they're saying it needs to be done by Tuesday. They should be running these evacuation runs 24/7 so going throughout the night as well.

In addition to the U.S. embassy personnel, who are the first people trying to get out, there are the thousands and thousands of U.S. nationals, including dual nationals and people who worked for the U.S. government or at the U.S. embassy. That's a massive operation that's underway.

Some 5,000 U.S. troops on the ground to help facilitate that. The main concern now for the U.S. contingency is trying to avert any kind of clash or conflict between those U.S. troops, who are facilitating that evacuation, and Taliban fighters, who appear to be poised to enter the capitol, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Clarissa, has there been any word from the Afghan government or its president?

WARD: So far, radio silence from the Afghan government. We did hear from president Ghani yesterday. He said he was trying organize Afghan forces and he was talking and consulting with elders across the country to avoid further bloodshed.

But many people compared this to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The time was months ago and now, with Taliban fighters poised to enter the capital, it becomes clear that the president's political future is uncertain, to be generous, and more than likely coming to an end, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: You spent some time reporting with the Taliban, speaking to them. This must beyond even their most optimistic projections to be here, surrounding Kabul so soon.

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BRUNHUBER: Can you give us insights into their mindset right now?

WARD: The Taliban have said that. They have been surprised by the incredible speed with which they have been able to rip through the country. And now to find themselves just outside the gates of the capital. They came to project an image, they say the more mature force than they were in the late '90s, more experienced with governance and less harsh.

But I think many people feel they are adapting that more pragmatic tune in order to extract what they want. And in actual fact, when push comes to shove, the real complexion of the Taliban has not changed fundamentally, which is why so many people here are now in a state of panic and chaos, desperately trying to get out of the city before they enter.

BRUNHUBER: And it is worth reiterating, you have not seen any signs of resistance from the Afghan Defense Forces so far?

I know we were commenting on how many of the cities recently fell without a shot being fired.

Oh, we have lost Clarissa there. We'll try to get her back a little later. That was Clarissa Ward in Kabul. We'll bring in Cyril Vanier.

The military recently were that it would take 30 days to 90 days for Kabul to fall. I mean, even those dire projections were not dire enough, as we now see the Taliban is at the gates.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the U.S. got this wrong and misread the situation and the ability of the Afghan security forces to actually resist and put up resistance against the Taliban.

Was it wishful thinking because the U.S. invested so many years and so much money and blood and bounty in actually training up these Afghan security forces?

Or was it a plain miscalculation?

I am not sure we'll ever know. Certainly from the administration, to the secretary of state and the Secretary of Defense, all these voices had been saying, it is up to the Afghans to fight now, it is up to them to secure their country and fight for themselves.

Well, they were not able to do so or not able or willing, again, that's going to be a question for the history books. But the momentum of the Taliban was that the biggest conquest they have had in the last 48 hours or so, they had them without having to fight.

The point you were making earlier. Morale and perception plays a huge role in that. If you ever covered one of those situations where the balance of power shifts so rapidly, when people stop believing that the government in place can protect them and hold onto power, then they stop having a reason to fight the insurgence or the rebels.

That's verified not only in Afghanistan but in other situations as well. It seems to be what is happening, in this case, if you look at Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north country, a big prize for the Taliban, it fell without a fight.

The security forces supposed to protect it made a beeline for the bridge leading to neighboring Uzbekistan. So they abandoned the population. Jalalabad was also surrendered without resistance. These are not exceptions.

This occurred in quite a few provinces. So the speed t which the Taliban have advanced is very surprising, has taken everybody by surprising and we started by saying the U.S. intelligence community and military strategists were taken by surprise.

But where they are now, given the events of the last two or three days, I think was to be expected. Now they're surrounding the capital city, Kabul, and they're putting out this message, as Clarissa was saying, that they are, they want to project this image, that they are a new Taliban, they're not the murderous zealots that the world has known from their previous stint in power.

They're saying don't protect Kabul and just lay down your weapon and we'll forget what you have done in the past and there will be no bloodshed. That's where we stand at the this moment, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Thank you so much, Cyril Vanier in London.

I want to bring in Nick Paton Walsh, who's live in Kabul.

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BRUNHUBER: Nick, you've been reporting from Afghanistan extensively. I want to get your latest reaction at the events here, Taliban at the gates.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: It is important to remember how much panic is spreading inside Kabul and that is fomenting fears that maybe the Taliban are edging in, moved in some direction closer now.

Every side involved in this is going to have their message to give out. And speaking to a senior official from the presidential palace, they insisted that the Taliban have not entered Kabul. They may be on the outskirts, the Taliban saying they're not going to come into the capital when they were seeking negotiations.

They said the trigger for a lot of the panic was a clash at a bank in the city, a moment where it appears somebody wanted to get their money out -- and everybody is trying to do that and getting it out as fast as they can.

That sparked a back-and-forth; local security shooting and of course then panic ensued around that. But it was not an instant involving the Taliban. So the palace is trying to roll back the idea of the Taliban already in the city. I am sure any act of unrest or violence is heard in the next two or three hours is going to make people feel the insurgency.

Negotiations have been in the background for a matter of days. Fundamentally, over taken by the turn of events on the ground. I have been told there are ongoing negotiations happening urgently and the president is in the presidential palace with his national security advisers and other senior officials.

He said Americans were involved in the conversations; this is where it's not entirely clear. Then there were contacts with the Taliban. So whether or not there are talks happening in Kabul, involving members of the Taliban, unclear.

Happening by remote, that's also unclear. And I was told the president is about to have a video call with his minister of interior. So the president's elite giving off the idea that they're still very much here and very much in control. The Taliban are not in city.

It does sound likely or possible that they are looking at some sort of negotiation here to prevent a Taliban onslaught into Kabul. The Official went on to say, our aim is to avoid further bloodshed and unrest in Kabul or harm to the people of Kabul. Our aim is to make sure there is no violence.

Now I have to tell you with the insurgency stacked up around Kabul, the only way to achieve that is to give the Taliban politically what they want. This goes back to the broader question of where they want to go and what they want to do.

The U.S. have always rested on this plank that there's a moderate element to the Taliban that would quite happily have international recognition and be in need of international aid if they come to power.

Multiple statements pinning them, if they come to power by force, it will be problematic for them. So inevitably, these negotiations, given they're happening with the threat of force, reports of many more provinces and cities falling as well. Some troubling reports unconfirmed but adding to the sense of panicking here.

Hence why I mentioned their presence on the outskirts may not be that secure at this point. I think that sense of momentum is building and you do run the risk at some point in the next hours or so that president Ghani has to reconsider his position to allow this transitional moment to occur.

But how that looks is utterly key for the 6 million inside this city. People literally carrying their luggage on the streets in the direction of the airport, trying somehow to get out. Apparently, it's impossible to get near the airport.

It is just so crammed full of individuals and so startling scenes and I never thought I would see in this city, always called the ring of steel and the place which the Americans and Afghan government thought would simply never be touched by the Taliban.

Hours ahead, which will be key and quite possibly elaborate the nature of any deal going forward.

What's so important for the Taliban is the control of the government here. It's obviously important for Ashraf Ghani, they say, is an inclusive source of settlement and a transitional government going forward. But I have to tell you, in the absolute reality of all this.

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WALSH: The transitional government, whoever the figurehead is, it is sort of a place holder as they move slowly, the Taliban, that is, toward getting more of what they want, which is control.

Distant sounds of gunfire, not abnormal in Kabul. People literally running down the wrong way of one-way streets in their vehicles, trying to get to places that they otherwise can't. So there is chaos here. An extraordinary time to be here. BRUNHUBER: Unbelievable scenes there.

The Taliban can give all the assurances they want, that they want to enter Kabul peacefully. And you talk about the fear and panic among the people there and especially among those, like the translators, who worked with the U.S. military, must be feeling vulnerable.

And women and children who have lived through years of the Taliban rule, who described it being living like in a prison, talk to me about that.

WALSH: Yes, I will give you one piece of news. After speaking earlier of the state of the prisons of the city, Bagram has many deeply concerned where there are thousands of high level Taliban and Al Qaeda and even ISIS prisoners. It's sort of where the Americans held the worst of the worst.

There have been reports running around of possibly being compromised in some way. I received word from a senior Afghan intelligence officials who says that's not the case at this stage. It would surprised me, it the jail had been penetrated by the insurgency. It may change in the hours ahead.

But a piece of good news if this official is correct. But for those here in Kabul, it is a terrifying time because literally everybody in the city, some way or another, has had a hand, received money from the vast amounts of resources the Americans poured into here.

There were times it was hard to find enough English-speaking people to interact with the Americans. So it has been a starling 15 years for many Kabulis. Some have seen their city transformed from a small village to this enormous location.

None of it particularly sustainable without American money. So we are into a dark few hours for them. So many of them have made their plans or have tried to make their plans to leave. Some were executed for those plans. So many are trying to get of the right now. Civilian aircraft are running. I just came in one. Another one has just landed. So it is clear that the airport is still very much functioning.

But how long that can be sustained with the sheer volume of people trying to get to it is a key question. And if that becomes complicated and the Taliban are still around the city.

The fall of Jalalabad is a vital piece of news for those in the capital because it is essentially the way out, east toward Pakistan, not a great direction but the only one that appeared to be left.

And so, yes, we are seeing here people I have known for years coming up to me saying they're trying to leave and they want to get out. But it is hard. It is a fearful moment for them. And I never thought, when I would hear the noise of helicopters in the sky here, always redolent of the American presence here, always about moving the IP people around, choosing not to use the roads because it wasn't secure.

To hear them in the skies now, thinking it might be them packing up getting out, is an utterly extraordinary moment.

BRUNHUBER: Nick, we have some breaking news here, which I want to get your reaction to. It could be quite monumental.

The Afghan interior minister says Kabul will shift power to a transitional administration. They said that Kabul will not be attacked and they'll shift power peacefully to a transitional administration.

So what could this transitional administration look like?

WALSH: It is likely a transitional administration and the exact makeup of it will be important to calm Kabulis here. It's likely it will contain senior Taliban figures.

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WALSH: It is likely it will contain some remnants of the Ghani administration and you will probably have figures, power brokers or technocrats, to keep things ticking over. Important point, just because we heard one official talk of a transitional government does not necessarily mean that's absolutely where it is going to go.

We have been hearing reports repeatedly over the past days that some sort of deal was in the offing. Two days ago, there was suggestions and Ghani had even left. All of these are proven nonsense.

So important to take these reports with a lot of caution. You may find some American officials pleased that their long-term goal at some point, of something they never wanted to have happen under these conditions, that plan may actually be coming into evidence.

But it is not a permanent fix to the problem here. The Taliban know what they want and they have always used diplomacy to push things in the direction they sought. It is quite a dark moment for Kabulis here, to work out who's going to be in this transition, if this is a longer term solution and comes with a cease-fire -- because that's always been a key tenet of the U.S. plan.

You can't simply hand power away from the government here to a looser transitional government if the fighting is raging. We don't know about that now. So one official speaking about this, if true, a monumental moment in America's presence here. But it is startling to see this government land here and Kabul is being debated as how secure is simply is right now.

BRUNHUBER: Absolutely stunning, as you say. Glad we have you there for your expertise on these amazing developments. Nick Paton Walsh in Kabul. Thanks so much

We'll be right back. Please do stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: We are tracking breaking news, the evacuation of U.S. embassy personnel in Afghanistan is well underway as the Taliban close in on Kabul.

This video shot by CNN shows U.S. helicopters flying above Kabul. A U.S. official confirms the news to CNN that the goal is to get them out by Tuesday if not sooner. It is believed they're carrying U.S. personnel. Sources say embassy staff are being flown to the airport.

There are still plans to leave a skeleton crew of embassy staff behind. CNN has crews on the ground in Kabul. Please do stay with us for the latest updates.

Now to Haiti, where the country is waking up to the extensive damage left by Saturday's devastating earthquake. At least 304 people are confirmed dead. Thousands of others are injured or missing. And as the sun comes up, crews will be searching through the enormous piles of rubble to find those still unaccounted for.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake hit about 78 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. A state of emergency has been declared.

Let's turn to Margarett Lubin, she's the country director of Haiti for the charity CORE, which was founded by American actor Sean Penn in response to the Haiti 2010 earthquake. She joins us now from Haiti.

Thank you so much for joining us. You have teams out assessing the damage.

What are you seeing?

MARGARETT LUBIN, HAITI DIRECTOR, CORE: I can tell you it brings back the memories of the 2010 earthquake, when our organization first arrived in Haiti. We are seeing a lot of damaged homes and churches and roads that are blocked, lots of live shock in the eyes of the people trying to get people from under the buildings where they are stuck.

You know people just suddenly becoming homeless. And we are working very hard to get them the basic services they need, families separated as people went out of houses trying to get shelter. It just brings you back to the 2010 earthquake that affected Haiti in 2010, where the most vulnerable and marginalized communities are hit again.

BRUNHUBER: The damage there is not severe as the 2010 earthquake.

How is the response complicated by so many challenges, the aftereffects of the hurricane, ongoing COVID and a tropical storm on the way?

LUBIN: It's very much complicated because, in the midst of all this, we are expecting a storm to hit Haiti soon. We are watching that and we have to prepare for that. And we have COVID-19 in an environment with very high vaccine hesitancy.

We have to work, our team on the ground is trying to work with the ministry of health to address that as well. So that makes the whole response quite complex. But we do have four teams on the ground conducting assessment and we are receiving lots of information. We are working alongside the government to bring the aid to our people.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, I just want to ask you, how hard is it to get aid there because of the geographic challenges, especially of the threat posed by armed gangs?

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LUBIN: Well, it is pretty hard. We were able to get our team on the ground onto the south. We are also working with the U.N. aviation service to get some people out. This morning, we are flying another medical team out.

We have two medical teams in the south to provide medical support to the affected communities. But it is not easy at all. Because of the roadblocks, only armed gangs and such but there is also access to the cities that have been blocked by rubble. So we have heavy equipment on the ground as well to help open roads so the aid can get through.

BRUNHUBER: All right, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you so much, Margarett Lubin of CORE.

And we'll have more coming up on the breaking news out of Kabul as the Taliban surrounds the city and the U.S. scrambles to get its personnel out. Please do stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to the program. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN.

A rush to evacuate the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan as Taliban forces are at the gates of the city, Kabul. In a statement the Taliban said they were in talks with the opposing side for a peaceful surrender of Kabul. Afghanistan's acting interior minister says Kabul will not be attacked

and they'll shift power peacefully to a transitional administration. A U.S. official says their goal is to get American personnel out of the country by Tuesday morning if not sooner.

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BRUNHUBER: Video shot by CNN crews just a short time ago shows what appear to be U.S. helicopters flying above Kabul. It's believed they're carrying U.S. personnel from the embassy to the airport. Sources say there's concern about a distinct threat against Americans. Within the last 12 hours, Taliban forces have seized the cities of Jalalabad and Nili, leaving Kabul the only major city still under government control. It is unclear how long that control will last. Let's bring in our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, live in Kabul.

Can you give us an update?

Do you know how close they are to Kabul?

WARD: We are hearing the Taliban are at the gates of Kabul, they are just on the edge. What they are saying is they don't want to enter the city violently. They want to enter it peacefully.

They are saying there are continuing negotiations as to how that may happen. We just heard from the Afghan defense minister who said that they are sending a contingency to Doha tomorrow, continuing to be in control of Kabul, that they have secured promises of international forces to help them keep control of Kabul.

He said, quote, "I am assuring all Afghans, no one can enter the city."

I think it is fair to say that those assurances are unlikely to stop the real feeling of panic and chaos on the streets of the capital here. We have heard a steady stream of helicopters all morning as U.S. embassy personnel are evacuated.

We just saw an Apache gunship which gives you a sense of how tense things are. It was accompanied by three Chinooks, probably evacuating someone who might be a VIP at the embassy. That's just speculation but the fact that there is a gunship speaks to the fact that there are fears about that threat against U.S. personnel.

And meanwhile on the streets, as I mentioned, absolute chaos, gridlock, traffic and people driving on the wrong side of the road. There were shots fired earlier outside a bank after a run on the bank as people are desperately trying to organize themselves and prepare for an imminent invasion.

As I said it does not appear that entry to the city is imminent. There do appear to be last ditch efforts and talks to prevent any bloodshed here in the capital because of, of course, this is a large city.

It would be a very, very ugly pitched battle indeed and the Taliban's saying they want to enter peacefully and guarantee amnesty to anyone who essentially does not fight them and offers to surrender. But that doing little to assuage the fears of most residents of Kabul.

BRUNHUBER: One can imagine. I want to get to the comment from the interior minister who said they'll shift power to a transitional administration. If true, that's a significant development.

What are we to make of that and what may that transitional administration look like? WARD: Well, I mean this is what's being hammered out right now in these talks. As I said, these are very last ditch talks and it is difficult to know what real leverage the Afghan government has at these talks.

But certainly, they are trying, with the Taliban, to work out some kind of a transition of power or what the Taliban, actually in their latest message, by their spokesperson called of a peaceful transfer of power to some kind of an interim government.

It is not clear who may be a part of that. I think you can be sure that president Ashraf Ghani would not. A lot of people expecting his resignation to be imminent. But the details just being hammered out at the moment. One can hope to get more information soon because this is the last attempt and effort and opportunity to avert a real catastrophe.

BRUNHUBER: In a week of surprises in terms of the advance of the Taliban, this may be the biggest one, that they're already at the gates. The military projections from the U.S. were something like they would surround the city between 30 days and 90 days from now.

The fact that they are here now, I mean you spent some time with the Taliban reporting there. So give me a sense of what they must be feeling right now, the sense of victory and maybe surprise that it came so quickly and easily.

WALKER: I think they are definitely surprised, even they are. Of course, they believe that are being given this victory by God.

[05:40:00]

WARD: So there is a conviction they have that they'll always win. But what you said, Kim, I was standing, doing a live shot here three or four days ago. And U.S. intelligence officials were saying Kabul could be surrounded within 30 days.

And I was saying that's ridiculous, how could that be possible?

And here we are, three days later, saying that they are knocking on the door. They are just outside the gates and they're ready to enter and reestablish their Islamic emirate.

I don't think anyone could possibly have predicted this. That's why you are seeing such a desperate last minute scramble to try to work out what to do in this situation because people really believe they had more time.

And whether that's ordinary civilians here, who thought they had more time to get the paperwork or book their flights out or whatever it may be, or people in government, who thought they time to hash out a deal. Now we are at this pivotal moment and it is clear there is no more time.

BRUNHUBER: You spoke of the fear and panic among the people of Kabul -- and it must be heightened among women and girls, many of whom who'll have experienced living under a Taliban regime. Tell us a little bit more about that and the fear they must be feeling now.

WARD: I mean to be honest, I think the people who are feeling the most fear right now are anyone who worked with the Americans and anyone who's involved with the government, the security forces and particularly the NDS.

Those are the people who are being shot at dawn. Those are the people, when we see videos on social media being shared of extrajudicial killings, those are first up on the line, so to speak. Of course, women are also aghast at what's happening, particularly and most prominently among educated, middle class women, who have gotten used to a better life and had great hopes for their future.

There is this concern that Afghan -- the Taliban would close down schools again for women. The Taliban claims they are more sophisticated and they've learned their lessons from their time in power in the late '90s and the early 2000s. But I think many people have trouble believing that.

BRUNHUBER: Clarissa, great to have you on location in Kabul, reporting on this story. Clarissa Ward in Kabul, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

We'll be right back. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: Breaking news: a U.S. official says the evacuation of the U.S. embassy personnel in Afghanistan is well underway with the Taliban closing in on the Kabul. In a statement the Taliban said they were in talks with the opposing side for a peaceful surrender of the capital.

Afghanistan's acting interior minister says Kabul will not be attacked and they'll shift power peacefully to a transitional administration.

These videos shot by CNN appear to show U.S. helicopters flying above Kabul, it's believed they're carrying U.S. personnel. Sources say embassy staff are being flown to the airport. There are still plans to leave a skeleton crew of embassy staff behind. CNN has crews on the ground in Kabul. Stay with us for the latest updates.

For more on all these breaking developments, let's turn to Weeda Mehran. She is an expert in Afghanistan and violent terror groups as well as a lecturer at the University of Exeter in England. She joins me live from Toronto, Canada.

Thanks so much for joining us. You have a deeply personal connection to the story which I would like to get to. But first, I would like to lean into your expertise on the Taliban. You've studied the group. I want to start with your reaction to what we are seeing.

The Taliban at the gates of Kabul, quickly taking over so much of the country with so little resistance from the Afghan armed forces.

WEEDA MEHRAN, LECTURER, UNIVERSITY OF EXETER: Thank you for having me, Kim, in your program. Yes, it is quite surprising for all of us that the Taliban could advance so fast, at such a fast pace and reach the gates of the city, which didn't leave time for Afghans to process the whole situation.

Many have planned on leaving the country but could not execute those plans. The way that the Taliban, the manner that the Taliban advanced so fast raises a lot of questions. The Afghan national security forces appeared that there was no will amongst them to fight the Taliban in some areas.

It appears that there has not been much political will to fight the Taliban, particularly the north and west parts of the country. And the manner that they hold peace process was handled both at the national and international level and has contributed to the advancing of the Taliban at a fast pace.

The way the peace process has been handled has undermined the Afghan government. On top of that, the troops withdrawal and the manner the troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan also contributed to demoralizing the Afghan national security forces, who saw on one hand that there is not political will amongst the Afghan and amongst the Kabul elite to fight the Taliban because of such fragmentation there in politics and national politics.

And they saw that their former counterparts essentially left the country, sometimes overnight. The manner the Bagram Air Base was left and abandoned without the proper handing over to the Afghan officials.

All of that contributed to this whole process. And the Taliban have also been actually accompanied by a number of other terrorist organizations, many of former and current Al Qaeda affiliates, such as the Taliban of Pakistan and the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan and many other regional terrorist groups, who have been fighting alongside the Taliban against the Afghan government.

BRUNHUBER: Among the cities they have taken over is Herat, where you grew up under a Taliban regime. Take us through what happened to women and girls after they swept into your city.

[05:50:00]

MEHRAN: Yes, I grew up in Afghanistan and in Herat city. And essentially the Taliban back in '95, they took over the city of Herat. It all happened. There were fights going on nonetheless, it all happened over night.

Next morning, we were all -- as a schoolgirl, I went with my school bag, I went to school but the doors were closed. We were told to go back home. And women could not go out without being accompanied by a male member of their family. Women could not occupy and have any jobs apart from limited jobs at

the health sector. Music was not allowed, TV was not allowed. Anybody caught with any videotapes or even sometimes photos, photos of family members, that -- some of them were even kids and adults were shamed publicly and beaten up.

Women were beaten up even to -- for reasons such as wearing white shoes because the Taliban at the time say that and announced that nobody is allowed to wear white shoes because the color of their flag was white. And that would have been a disrespect to their flag.

It was a live -- I would describe it as living at the bottom of the well in utter hopelessness. And as life progress under the Taliban, they imposed more and more restrictions on everybody.

BRUNHUBER: Well, the Taliban made vague promises to respect women's rights but many are frankly skeptical of that. We'll have to see what happens in the days and weeks to come.

We'll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for coming on with us, Weeda Mehran, appreciate you joining us.

MEHRAN: Thank you for having me.

BRUNHUBER: And we'll be right back. Please do stay with us.

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[05:55:00]

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BRUNHUBER: We're tracking breaking news. A U.S. official says the evacuation of the U.S. embassy personnel in Afghanistan is well underway as the Taliban close in on Kabul. In a statement the Taliban says they were in talks with the opposing side for a peaceful surrender of the capital.

Afghanistan's acting interior minister says Kabul will not be attacked and they'll shift power peacefully to a transitional administration.

These videos shot by CNN appear to show U.S. helicopters flying above Kabul, it's believed they're carrying U.S. personnel. Sources say embassy staff are being flown to the airport. The goal is to get them out by Tuesday at the latest.

There are still plans to leave a skeleton crew of embassy staff behind. CNN has crews on the ground in Kabul. Please do stay with us for the latest updates. That wraps up this hour of NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "NEW DAY" is just ahead.