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CNN Goes Behind Enemy Lines for Rare Access to Taliban. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 26, 2019 - 14:30   ET



[14:33:26] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Just in, Republican Mark Harris announcing he will not run in a new election for the Ninth congressional district in North Carolina. This coming after the bombshell hearing into alleged election fraud held by the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Campaign workers testifying that a political operative harvested absentee ballots to benefit Harris. Harris said he knew nothing about it. Harris saying in a statement that, after consultation with his doctors, he needs necessary surgery next month. His rival, Democrat Dan McCready, says he will run.

And now to a CNN exclusive here. Chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, with extremely rare access, journeying behind enemy lines in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. After more than 17 years of war, the United States is now trying to negotiate an elusive peace deal with the Taliban.

Clarissa and her camera crew spent 36 hours with the Taliban giving us this remarkable glimpse into that country's shadow government and how the extremists are trying to present a friendly face to Afghans and to the world.

We should warn you that some parts of her reporting may be disturbing.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what the Taliban wants you to know, their moment is coming and they are ready for victory.

This is a world you have probably never seen up close. We are some of the only Western journalists to enter it.

America's enemy in Afghanistan is best known for harboring Osama bin Laden as he planned the 9/11 attacks, for its brutal repression of women, and for meeting out harsh justice under a draconian interpretation of Islamic Sharia Law.

[14:35:17] We want to find out who the Taliban is today and if, after 17 years of war with the U.S., their Islamic Emirate has changed.

Our journey begins in the northern city of Mazar-I-Sharif. The Taliban was forced to withdraw from here after a bitter battle in 2001. Now, they are just a few miles away.

(on camera): We're heading out now to meet up with our Taliban escorts. As you can see, I'm wearing the full facial veil. I'm wearing it to keep as low profile as is possible because there are no Western journalists in the areas we are headed to.

(voice-over): The government controls the highway out of the city, but once you turn off the main road, you are quickly in Taliban territory.

To reach our host, we have to cross a small river on a ferry. Billions of U.S. dollars have been poured into building up Afghanistan's infrastructure. But little of that has trickled down here.

(on camera): That's our escort just there on the other side of the river.

(voice-over): After months of negotiations, the Taliban leadership has agreed to give Afghan filmmaker, Nigel Karashi (ph), myself and producer, Salma Abdul Aziz, extremely greater access into the group's territory.


(voice-over): As women, we are ignored, seemingly invisible beneath the full veil that is mandatory in public.

The Taliban has allowed us to visit these areas because it wants to show that it is in control. But in our first moments --

(on camera): Whoa, that's a lot of helicopters. One, two, three, four, five.


(voice-over): Our escorts tell us to stop. We are now on the other side of America's war.

In recent months, the U.S. has dramatically stepped up the number of airstrikes on the Taliban. The militants' flag makes us a conspicuous target.

We have no choice but to push on.

Our first stop is a clinic that has been run by the Taliban since they took control of this area almost two years ago. A plaque at the door reveals it was a gift from the Americans in 2006.

Suddenly, a young girl outside is hit by a motorcycle.


WARD: A boy rushes over to help her.

The driver is a Taliban fighter. (SHOUTING)

WARD: He slings his gun over his shoulder and wanders over, apparently unconcerned.


WARD: Life here is brutal.

The girl is rushed inside. A frantic mother following behind.

(on camera): Is she OK? Is she OK? Are you OK?

(voice-over): But no one seems as shocked as we are. The doctor gives her mother some pain killers and sends her away. After years of fighting here, he has seen much worse.

(on camera): Who is in charge of the hospital? Who is managing it?


WARD (voice-over): He explained that the Taliban manages the clinic, but the government pays salaries and provides medicine. This sort of ad-hoc cooperation is becoming more and more common.

And there have been other changes.

(on camera): This is something you wouldn't expect to see in a clinic under the control of the Taliban. It looks like some kind of sexual health education talking about condoms and other forms of birth control.

(voice-over): Twenty-two-year-old midwife, Fazala (ph), has worked under the Taliban and the Afghan government.

(on camera): What has been your experience working under the Taliban here?


WARD (voice-over): "The Taliban never interfere in our work as women," she says. "They never block us from coming to the clinic."

In the waiting area, these women say it's war and poverty that makes their lives miserable.

(on camera): Has life under the Taliban changed now from what it was before?



WARD (voice-over): "We are trapped in the middle," the woman says, "and we can't do anything."


[14:40:02] (on camera): It's just so sad to see how desperate people are here. The women telling me they don't have enough food to eat. They don't have the proper medicines to treat their disabled children. All they want is peace and some improvement in their quality of life.

(voice-over): It's getting late and we need to get to our accommodation. The Taliban turn off cell phone service after dark. This is when we are most vulnerable.

(on camera): (INAUDIBLE)

(voice-over): The next morning, we are taken to a madrassa, or religious school. Under Taliban rule in the '90s, girls were banned from going to school. But we find boys and girls studying.

(on camera): Raise your hand if you know how to read.

OK. One, two, three. You can read and write?


WARD: Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?



What's your favorite subject in school?


WARD: Math. You're smart.

(voice-over): The teacher, Yar Mohammad (ph), splits his time between the front lines and the classroom, his A.K.-47 never leaves his side.


WARD: "The emirate has instructed education departments to allow education for girls of religious studies, modern studies, science and math," he says.


WARD: But there's a catch. Once they reach puberty, girls cannot go to school with boys. And the sad reality is few in rural areas like this see women's education as a priority.

The Taliban's focus now is on showing it can govern effectively. Across the country, the group has appointed shadow governors, like Mawlavi Khaksar.

For his security, Khaksar is always on the move.

When the villagers hear that he is visiting, they quickly lineup to air their issues.

There are disputes over money and land ownership.


WARD: "Your petition will be dealt with tomorrow," Khaksar says.

Corruption is rampant in the Afghan government. The Taliban has a reputation for delivering quick, if harsh, justice.


WARD: "The Islamic Emirate has laws", this man says. It has an Islamic Sharia system in place.


WARD: Khaksar agrees to sit down with us. His bodyguard listens for security updates on the radio.

We start by asking about the Taliban's brutal attacks and the U.S. concerned they could once again offer haven to terrorists?

MAWLAVI KHAKSAR, TALIBAN SHADOW GOVERNOR (through translation): Whether it's the Americans or ISIS, no foreign forces will be allowed in the country once we start ruling Afghanistan.

WARD (on camera): Are there real efforts being made to stop killing civilians?

KHAKSAR (through translation): Those responsible for civilian casualties are the ones that came with aircrafts, artillery, B-52 and heavy weaponry.

WARD (voice-over): In reality, the Taliban is responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in the last three years alone.

WARD (on camera): And what about the suicide bombings at polling stations, for example? These kill many civilians?

KHAKSAR (through translation): We deny this. This accusation is not acceptable to us.

WARD (voice-over): There are small signs that the Taliban is moving with the times.

KHAKSAR: I listen to the radio. Also Facebook and other media.

WARD (on camera): You're on Facebook?


WARD (voice-over): But it's clear that the ideology has not changed.

(on camera): So if someone is found guilty of stealing, you cut off their hand? KHAKSAR: Yes. We implement the Sharia. We follow Sharia


WARD: And if someone is found guilty of adultery, you will stone them to death?

KHAKSAR: Yes, the Sharia allows stoning to death.

WARD (voice-over): As we're leaving the interview, the military commander for the district arrives and a dispute breaks out about us.


WARD: "They should have brought a man," one of them says.

(on camera): So the issue right now is they don't want us to walk outside because I'm a woman. They think it's inappropriate.


WARD (voice-over): We agree to follow the men at a distance, something I've never had to do in my career.

The commander, Mubariz Mujahed, takes us to a nearby safe house to be interviewed privately. We are warned that political questions are off the table.

[14:45:02] (on camera): Do you want to see peace between the Taliban and America?

MUBARIZ MUJAHED, TALIBAN MILITARY COMMANDER (through translation): It would be better if this question was put to the spokesperson of the Islamic Emirate.

WARD: Do you feel like the Taliban is winning the war?

MUJAHED (through translation): God willing, we are hopeful. We are supported by God.

WARD (voice-over): He wants to show off his forces for our cameras. His men are gathering just outside the village. It is exceptionally rare and dangerous for dozens of fighters to congregate in one place.

(on camera): I have been coming to Afghanistan for more than 10 years. I never imagined that I would be reporting from here in the heart of Taliban territory. But we're not going to stay long here because gatherings like this can be a major target for airstrikes.

(voice-over): But the commander says America's military might can't keep them from victory.

MUJAHED (through translation): We are ready for any sacrifice. We are not scared of being hit. This is our holy path. We continue our jihad.

WARD: Most of these men have been fighting U.S. forces since they were old enough to carry a gun. The question now is, are they ready to put those guns down?

Our visit with the Taliban is coming to a close. It's time to leave.

For a large part of Afghanistan, the prospect of a Taliban resurgence remains horrifying. But for many here, it makes little difference who is in charge. After decades of war and hardship, they'll turn to anyone who promises peace.

Clarissa Ward, CNN, northern Afghanistan.


BALDWIN: How incredible.

Clarissa is here in New York today. She will join me on set. I have a lot of questions for her. What was the experience like for her, especially someone who had been to Afghanistan for 10 years? More on the extremist group the Taliban, what the future holds for them, and how she did this as a woman journalist.

We'll be right back.


[14:51:48] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You just watched that extraordinary piece with Clarissa Ward in Afghanistan, really embedded with the Taliban for 72 hours?

WARD: For 36 hours.

BALDWIN: For 36 hours, 36 hours. But still, as a new mother, if I may just say --

WARD: Yes.

BALDWIN: -- just that whole experience for you. You've been around the world in all kinds of crazy situations, but I know that added a dimension for you personally. Can you just as a woman, in the veil, you talked about feeling invisible and how perhaps that helped you.

WARD: Yes.

BALDWIN: Tell the story.

WARD: Yes. I mean, some people are like, oh, gosh, how awful, you had to wear the full facial veil the whole time. And certainly, it's not fun. It's not something I would want to do if I was forced to do it on an everyday level. But for this project, it was a huge help to us because it is like having a little bit of a cloak of invisibility. You put it on and, suddenly, it's not just that people don't look at you, they ignore you.

So my producer, Salma Abdul Aziz, who's Egyptian-American, would say shalom aleichem, and they would not acknowledge.

BALDWIN: Acknowledge. WARD: There would be no aleichem shalom, no reply at all. And it was a blessing and a curse. Because it allowed us to move around and it allowed us into the women's territory, which is a domain completely cut off for my male colleagues. And it's fascinating always, and you know this, Brooke, from your reporting and your travels, you get such a different story --


WARD: -- when you sit with women and children and you hear their perspective. And it's not about the Taliban and it's not about power and politics. It's about, listen, who's going to put bread on the table? How do I get enough medicine to treat my child, who's disabled? Like these are the things that interest them, not who's in charge.

BALDWIN: The question too, when you were sitting with those men with all those A.K.-47s.

WARD: Yes, a lot of guns.

BALDWIN: Your line was something to the effect of they've had guns since they were old enough to hold a gun. And the question is, will they put those guns down. What was your sense?

WARD: My sense is they don't really know a culture where there isn't fighting. This predates the war even with the U.S. This goes -- the commander who we interviewed, he didn't know -- he said he was somewhere between 30 and 40 but he's not sure exactly how old he is. So that gives you a sense of what we're dealing with here.


WARD: And he fought -- he remembers the Russians being around. He remembers the civil war. He knows obviously the Americans. The Afghan government. So he has never in his 30 to 40 years known anything other than war. What exactly do you expect that commander to do? He's going to, like, reinvent himself and open, you know, a well care clinic? No. That's not going to happen.

BALDWIN: This is who he is.

WARD: And this is who a lot of people are in these areas. And if you don't have other jobs, then it's difficult to see what exactly fighters are expected to do in peace times.

BALDWIN: So 36 hours with the Taliban, you brave, brave woman, and Salma and your filmmaker. Thank you so much for sharing. We'll all jump on and share it because it needs to be seen.

WARD: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you. Thank you.

Michael Cohen, meantime, the president's former fixer, right now testifying up on Capitol Hill. Hear what Senators are telling us about the, quote unquote, "extensive grilling" he's getting and why his testimony is surprising.

[14:54:54] Plus, halfway around the world, President Trump arrives in Vietnam for his second summit with Kim Jong-Un. New details on their relationship and what the president told Kim last go-round in private.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We begin with Michael Cohen. This afternoon, the president's former attorney is undergoing, quote, unquote, "extensive grilling" as he kicks off three days of testimony on Capitol Hill appearing before one committee after another. Right now, it is the Senate Intelligence Committee talking to him behind closed doors. There are no limits on questions. That's according to a source. And then fast-forward to Thursday, he will do the same with House Intel.

[14:59:57] But it is tomorrow and his time before the House Oversight Committee that will be in full public view. And it is there for the very first time, according to a source, that Cohen is expected to publicly discuss President Trump's role in some of the crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to last year.