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U.S. Officials Admit Miscalculation as Taliban Take Kabul; Taliban Tighten Grip on Afghanistan After Fall of Kabul; Pakistan Reopens Crucial Border Crossing with Afghanistan; Fears for Women and Girls Under Taliban Rule; Haiti Braces for Storm Days After Devastating Quake. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 16, 2021 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: The Biden administration is fending off criticism over America's chaotic departure from Afghanistan. On Sunday, America's top diplomat defended the withdrawal but admitted the U.S. miscalculated how quickly Afghan forces would fall. His office is set to hold a briefing later today.

One voice we haven't heard from so far, U.S. president Joe Biden. He is expected to address the nation in the coming days. CNN's Jeremy Diamond has more now from Washington.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as the U.S. backed government in Afghanistan crumbled in Kabul on Sunday, and the Taliban swept in to the presidential palace, President Joe Biden was nowhere to be seen or heard. Instead, it was Secretary of State Tony Blinken who was the administration's top spokesman on this issue.

And for the first time admitting that the U.S. at a minimum miscalculated the situation in Afghanistan. Saying that he expected that the U.S. administration expected that those Afghan security forces who have been trained and equipped for nearly two decades now by the United States, that they crumbled in the face of this Taliban offensive far quicker than the United States expected. He said more quickly than we anticipated were the words of Tony Blinken.

As for the president, plans are underway for him to address the nation at some point in the coming days but it's not clear yet exactly when. The president on Sunday was at the presidential retreat at Camp David where you can see in this picture the president on Sunday morning alone at Camp David at this big conference table, but on the screen in front of him, you can see the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State and as well as the national security adviser and dozens of other national security officials in Washington and around the world.

Certainly, the White House's effort to show that he is on top of the situation even as we're seeing this pretty chaotic scene unfolding in the streets of Kabul. And certainly, at the airport where foreigners as well as Afghanis were trying to flee the country as the Taliban entered the country. Of course, this question of a miscalculation is something that the

president will have to address. Here is President Biden just over a month ago talking about the fact that he believed Taliban taking over Afghanistan was highly unlikely.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Afghan troops have 300,000 well equipped, as well equipped as any army in the world, and an air force, again something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable. The jury is still out. But the likelihood there is going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

DIAMOND: Now officials have made clear that President Biden has not had second thoughts about his decision to withdrawal U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but clearly the security situation rapidly deteriorating in that country. Not only did the president on Saturday decide to send an additional thousand troops on top of the 3,000 that he had ordered in the day before, but on Sunday the Department of Defense announcing that another thousand will go to Afghanistan.

That will bring the total U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 6,000 to assist with securing the airport in Kabul and assisting with the evacuation of U.S. personnel, as well as many of those special immigrant visa applicants, some of those Afghan translators for example who have helped the U.S. military and are now desperately trying to get out of that country. So certainly, a rapidly unfolding situation and the president expected to address the nation in the coming days.

Jeremy Diamond, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: And CNN's Anna Coren has reported extensively from Afghanistan including on a recent trip there. She joins me now from Hong Kong with the latest on the Taliban takeover. So, Anna, what is happening at the airport right now in the midst of very chaotic evacuation process and of course on the streets as the Taliban take over the country?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, I've been talking to a number of Afghan interpreters who missed out on special immigrant visas. And they believe that their only hope in getting on a plane was to get to the airport. One of them actually entered inside the airport. He saw other families there. So, he called his own family, told them to come. He went out to meet them. And then the Taliban they were at the gates and they would not let him back in.

Other footage that they have sent me, you can hear gunfire in the background.


And we are getting reports that there has been a shooting, we are trying to obviously verify that. But there is a real sense of desperation from the hundreds of people if not thousands of people who have raced to the airport in the last 24 hours. Last night we saw those chaotic scenes of people just on the runway. And even today, there are pictures of Afghans running under these military planes as they are coming to land and takeoff on the runway.

You have to remember at Kabul International Airport, you have the military airport and you have the civilian airport. The military airport is where all the embassies have evacuated to including the U.S. embassy. And this is the area that the 6,000 American troops will be protecting. They will be looking after air traffic control as well as the perimeter. And we're seeing pictures of U.S. soldiers.

One of those Afghan interpreters said he went up to the Americans and they told him to get back, to move back. He did not see the Americans firing, but he did however see the Taliban firing into the air to scare people away.

But this is causing huge problems because we now know that the civilian airport has been closed, commercial flights have been closed. So, for all the Afghan journalists, Rosemary, who have worked with U.S. media organizations, you know, many of them have sent their people to the civilian airport to get on commercial flights. Those flights have now been canceled.

So, there are people there calling human rights lawyers, whom I am in touch with, are in tears saying what do we do because all those people who have worked for U.S. companies, for the U.S. military, for foreign organizations, they fear they will be targeted by the Taliban -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: It is a terrifying situation for those people trying to get out. Anna Coren joining us there, many thanks.

Well, the region is already feeling the effects of the Taliban takeover. Uzbekistan says it detained 84 Afghan military personnel at the border. Some of whom were wounded. And Pakistani officials say that they are closely following what's happening in Afghanistan. Officials fear the instability could affect their own country's security situation. Pakistan reopened its busiest border crossing with Afghanistan Sunday afternoon after briefly closing it earlier in the day. But it is only open for the transfer of goods and supplies and not for pedestrians and travelers.

Well, CNN producer Sophia Saifi joins me now live from Islamabad. , Good to see you, Sophia. So, what will Pakistan's role likely be in trying to stabilize Afghanistan given its close relationship with the Taliban and what will all this mean for refugees?

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Rosemary, it's been a very busy couple of weeks here in Islamabad as well. In which Pakistan has been sending out a lot of signals about what it wants ideally to happen in Afghanistan. It said that it's unfair the way the United States has pulled out so abruptly. It has also said that it is looking for an exclusive government. There was a Afghan delegation that arrived just last night as the events in Kabul were unfolding. There were senior Afghan delegates who were arriving in Islamabad last night. And I attended that meeting myself yesterday. There were many senior leaders, a speaker of the Islamic family was

there. I spoke to Karim Khalili who is a senior Hazara leader out of Afghanistan. And he himself said that they are looking for an inclusive government in Afghanistan, that all ethnic groups need to be respected. They are flying out to Qatar after meeting the foreign minister here in Islamabad.

Pakistan's information minister spoke to me yesterday and he said that Pakistan just wants to support an inclusive peaceful solution in Afghanistan. There is a meeting of the Pakistan security committee a little later in the afternoon here in Islamabad which will consist of civil leaders as well as the military leadership which has been very quiet over the past couple days.

The last time we heard from Pakistan's powerful and influential chief of family staff was about four days ago when he reiterated that Pakistan has done its best with whatever could have been done with the situation, with the peace talks in Afghanistan. So, we're just going to have to see with trepidation what lies ahead for security in Pakistan and what steps will be taken in the day to say come -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Sophia Saifi joining us live from Islamabad in Pakistan, many thanks.


Well, after 20 years of progress, the future looks bleak for Afghan women. The Taliban say they've changed. But their actions indicate otherwise. That discussion ahead.



MAHBOUBA SERAJ, WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST: All of those women that they are living in the provinces of Afghanistan, all the way back in the districts and nobody hears their voices and they are in dire need of help. They are poor. They are not educated. Their children are dying because they are sick. You should have heard what the man -- how the man talked to the women today. When in Herat, the women went to him and told them about their lives, their work, the permission that they should have to go to school and to go to work. The man absolutely refused them everything, everything.


CHURCH: An activist there talking about the bleak future women can expect under the resurgent Taliban. Fears are growing that the militants will revive their misogynistic and archaic rule from the '90s. Girls and women were barred from almost all work, the right to vote and access to education. And despite Taliban claims that they have changed, there is evidence that it's happening again. Kimberly Motley joins me from Charlotte, in North Carolina. She is an international human rights attorney with Motley Consulting International. Thank you so much for talking with us. KIMBERLEY MOTLEY, INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Thank you for

having me.

So, you recently returned home from Afghanistan. But as you watch how rapidly the Taliban have been able to take over the country and now of course the capital Kabul with so little resistance from the Afghan military, what's been your reaction?


MOTLEY: Well, I mean I've been watching it in shock and horror quite frankly. I have been significantly surprised that they have been able to take over the country in such a short amount of time. I mean, I'm really, really concerned for the people there particularly the women who are terrified at what they have to face moving forward under Taliban rule.

CHURCH: And yet, you have called the situation in Afghanistan a humanitarian nuclear bomb that we can change. What do you mean by that exactly and what can and should be done to change that particularly for women?

MOTLEY: Well, I mean, there's a couple things. First of all, I don't understand why the White House made this decision to withdraw its troops so swiftly with literally no plan. I mean, I think that is abominable and I think that's something that definitely should be dealt with and there should really be looked at if there needs to be a change in leadership with regard to those that are advising the president. Because I don't know what his intelligence was telling him.

I think it in terms of women, it's really important to know whether or not they're going to allowed to continue their education. I mean, there's many sort of groups that I represent like the Afghan women's robotics team who were in the White House not that long ago, who are now terrified for their lives. And so I think we really need to look at ourselves and frankly evaluate what we can do to continue to support Afghanistan and as well as Afghan women.

Frankly, I think as many women as that we can get out of the country, we have a responsibility to do that. And I'm hoping that, you know, that the governments including the U.S. government and other governments loosen some of their very rigid immigration standards that they require of people and really think about inviting -- allowing Afghans to come in under different schemes than are traditionally available.

Because this is a problem that was created unfortunately by the international community. I mean I know there has been talks about, you know, Saigon. I mean, this is really Saigon on steroids. It's insane what is happening there now. And you know, we really have a responsibility, a humanitarian responsibility, to make sure that we continue to support the women, to support those that support democracy, freedom and rule of law and figure out how were going to move forward together. But before we do that, the U.S. government has the responsibility to make sure that everyone that they can is safe. And safely gets out of the country. CHURCH: And what do you think life will be like for Afghan women under

the Taliban and how much did a change in the last 20 years while U.S. troops were there?

MOTLEY: Well, I mean I'll say that while the troops have been there the last 20 years, that there were, you know, millions of girls that have gone to school. Before we came there 20 years ago, there were no girls in school. And now there were millions who have gone through school and with the Michelle Obama program, for instance, the Let Girls Learn Program, there are 80,000 girls that benefited from that school that are supposed to be entering the 12th grade this year. We're hopeful that that can continue to happen, but we don't know.

The infant mortality rate significantly was decreased within the last 20 years. We saw more women that were represented on virtually every sector, the health sector, the law sector, the political sector, the education sector. There were women were going to work, more women reading.

You know, virtually there was such an amazing advancement of women in a very short period of time that there was kind of -- there was sort of this turnaround that was happening in the country. And also, it's important to note that Afghanistan is relatively a young country. Over 70 percent of the country is under the age of 24. And so, you have a lot of that population that is educated that prior to us going there 20 years ago did not have the benefit of education and a free press and things like that. So, it's really, really concerning what this new normal looks like.

CHURCH: Kimberly Motley, thank you so much for talking with us, we appreciate it.

MOTLEY: Thank you for having me.

CHURCH: Multiple storms are churning in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean right now. One is expected to make landfall in the U.S. The other is set to bring heavy rainfall to Haiti just days after a devastating earthquake.



CHURCH: You are looking at some of the massive devastation left by Saturday's powerful earthquake in Haiti. The death toll has now jumped to nearly 1,300 people and more than 5,700 are injured. The disaster compounds problems already facing the island nation. Haiti is still reeling from a political crisis following the assassination of its president last month and now a tropical depression is approaching the country.

Meanwhile there are also multiple storms churning in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico right now. Haiti is bracing for heavy rain from Grace while Fred heads toward the Florida panhandle. CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is tracking it all for us -- Pedram. PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, Rosemary. This

is a story a lot of people looking at very carefully. And of course, you notice across portions of the Gulf into the western Atlantic, also areas around Bermuda. We've got a trio of tropical systems to tell you about. And Grace in particular, one watching it carefully because of course of the impacts across Haiti and the island of Hispaniola.

This is a system that in the past few hours had begun breaking apart a little bit, has weekend down to a tropical depression, and a lot of it has to do with interaction across a very rugged and mountainous terrain in this region. And mountains here rise to as high as 10,100 feet. That is higher than mounds found on some 37 U.S. states. So, it's certainly one of the more rugged areas you'll see and often breaks systems apart.

Unfortunately, they're doing this at the expense of Haiti and Dominican Republic and with it, as much as 4 to 6 inches of rainfall widespread. Potentially some areas could exceed 10 inches. And we know the tremendous amount of deforestation in this region.


So, a lot of this is going to lead to flash flooding, potentially additional landslides. We know these search and rescue operations are underway at this hour not going to certainly be helping the situation with amount of rainfall in store through Monday afternoon and Monday evening.

But look at the model consensus here moving forward. We do expect the system to quickly pull away come Tuesday morning, potentially end up somewhere south of Cuba, maybe make landfall in Yucatan area of Mexico. And then eventually late this week, early next week could see that approach areas of northern Mexico and southern Texas. So here is the track of what could end up being, once again tropical storm Grace.

But here is what is happening with tropical storm Fred. A system that is approaching the Florida Panhandle, we think landfall this evening around Pensacola. Not going to be a big wind maker, Rosemary, winds around 60 miles per hour, but rainfall amounts could be extensive, 3 to 4 inches along the Florida coast. Could see higher amounts once you get into the north Georgia mountains and also into the Appalachians. That's for later on towards the latter half of the week. A lot of rainfall in store around the southeastern U.S. -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Pedram, appreciate that.

And thank you for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Be sure to connect with me on Twitter @rosemaryCNN. "EARLY START" with Laura Jarrett and Christine Romans is next. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a lovely day.