Return to Transcripts main page


Taliban Take Fifth Afghan City as U.S. Completes Withdrawal; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) Says She Feared Being Raped During Insurrection; Canada Opens Border to Vaccinated Americans Today. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 10:30   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN NEWSROOM: Barbara, what are we hearing at this point from American officials?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGO CORRESPONDENT: Well, very little at this point, Erica. No indication of any change in U.S. policy. The withdrawal of U.S. troops is to completed by the end of August.

Now, the U.S. has been conducting airstrikes for many weeks now trying to push back against Taliban advances. The Afghans are concerned that those air strikes are going to end in August when all U.S. troops leave. But the U.S. is hinting pretty strongly that the airstrikes will continue limited because those aircraft come from long distances but that the U.S. is open to continuing to press the airstrike campaign.

But, of course, the big question is the Taliban are on the move. Look at the map. They've taken five provincial capitals, no indication of any rollback, no indication at this point that the airstrikes are effectively stopping any Taliban advance.

Afghan forces continue to fight in the field but it is very tough going for them. It does not seem really at this point that there is a solution to this. Erica?

HILL: Barbara Starr, thank you, as always.

Joining me now, Wesley Morgan, who is an independent journalist covering the Pentagon and military affairs, also the Author of, The Hardest Place, the American Military Adrift in Afghanistan's Place.

Wesley, when we look at this, what Barbara just laid out for us, I mean, what we're all waking up to this morning, the fact that the Taliban is now moving into cities where maybe there would be some pushback before among the Afghan forces with some help from the U.S., that is just not happening right now. What does all of this add up to for you?

WESLEY MORGAN, AUTHOR, THE HARDEST PLACE: Well, it is not the first time that the Taliban has taken provincial capitals, since the first time that they've taken a bunch at once. And I think that the big question is will they be able to hold them. When the Taliban takes one provincial capital, taking Kunduz City before, a few years ago, for instance, that presents a more limited problem for Afghan Special Forces, the units that they have that really could go on the offensive to go and push back in there and take it back. You take a whole bunch of provincial capitals and it is much more difficult for those limited number of Afghan Special Forces to do something about it.

And even if the Taliban isn't able to hang on to these provincial capitals, something that is accomplishing (ph) is really wearing down those Afghan Special Operations Forces, their commandos and other elite units to make it harder for them next time to respond, and that inspires (ph) all of them in the country.

HILL: And as we look at what support there is, what is still left, as Barbara just mentioned, as we've talked about earlier today, there is dependence on U.S. airpower, which, of course, may be going away. I mean, what kinds of international support realistically is there?

MORGAN: Probably the most important type of international support for the afghan military is the Biden administration thinks that this (INAUDIBLE), how to figure out how to keep the Afghan Air Force flying. Because, as you said, the Afghan military, and especially the three defensive units that they're so reliant on, really (INAUDIBLE) have been built by the U.S. military to rely on airpower.

And now they can't count on U.S. air support. Even if U.S. airstrikes continue, it is going to be in very limited numbers, not the kind of thing that they can just count on daily. So, the question is how to keep the Afghan Air Force flying when the Afghan Air Force is running low on precision guided bombs, it is having trouble keeping many of the aircraft in the air because it is so reliant on U.S. So that is something that the administration has got to be trying really hard to figure out.

HILL: I'm sure the administration too is showing no indication that it is going to respond to the Taliban's recent victories. Is that the right course?

MORGAN: I mean, whether it is the right course, I think it depends on what your priorities are, whether your priorities are keeping promise and ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan or whether your priorities are (INAUDIBLE) in Afghanistan. I don't see any indication that the Biden administration is going to reverse course and that just doesn't seem like something that is on the table.

HILL: Does it seem -- I mean, realistically, at this point, are we looking at a short time until Afghanistan is under Taliban control?

MORGAN: That is harder to say. I mean, I think the Afghan government forces, there is a whole lot of them. And in large part, they are very brittle, they're very susceptible to (INAUDIBLE). Whether that is going to be the case and that the Taliban gets closer to Kabul, I don't know. Kabul has much more robust defenses than many of these outlying cities.

Kunduz is a major city but some of these other provincial capitals are really places kind of out of in the middle of nowhere. Zaranj, the provincial capital in Nimruz, is a place that fell without a fight, I mean, in part because it is very, very far from the center of gravity for the Kabul government.


But it is possible that defenses will stiffen as the Taliban get closer to really major population centers. But something that the Taliban is doing and seems to be pretty successful at is isolating those population centers from one another so that it will be much harder for government forces to keep supply there even if they are able to summon their backbone to keep fighting for places like Kandahar and Herat.

HILL: Wesley Morgan, I appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you.

MORGAN: Thank you so much.

HILL: Yet another disturbing report involving January 6. After the break, you'll hear why Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez feared she would be raped during the insurrection on the Capitol.



HILL: Tonight CNN debuts a brand-new series, Being. Our own Dana Bash sitting down with some of the most powerful and influential people in American politics and culture, beginning with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So, here is part of their exclusive interview.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I think one of the reasons why that impact was so doubled that day is because of the misogyny and the racism that is so deeply and rooted and animated that attack on Capitol. White supremacist and patriarchy are very linked in a lot of ways.

There is a lot of sexualizing of that violence and I didn't think that I was just going to be killed. I thought other things were going to happen to me as well.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So it sounds like what you're telling me is that you didn't only think that you were going to die, you thought you were going to be raped?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes, yes, I thought I was.


HILL: CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash joining me now. She was clearly emotional at the end there as you're talking about her concerns about January 6th. I mean, as your sitting there, listening and you're there in Washington and you're covering so much of this. Hearing her account of that January 6 insurrection, I think it is so powerful.

BASH: So powerful. And it is just a reminder of the trauma that is still very much rippling through Congress, and not just members of Congress, but reporters, clerks, people who work in cafeterias, people who work in other services in and around the complex.

And that is just one example of the fact that what she was trying to say there, Erica, and you'll see more of this tonight, is that people bring baggage with them. And when there is a trauma, like she had and everybody there had on January 6, it brings up other things that happened in your life.

And for her, that is that she is a survivor of sexual assault. So when she was experiencing the fact that she was in her office in the Cannon Building, which is across the street from the capitol, it turns out that the person who was banging on the door to her office was a Capitol Police officer. But she says that he didn't identify himself. And so she heard very loud banging and she started to think that this was it for her.

And it's -- the reason she said she thought that rape is possibly what could happen to her is because of the fact that she was triggered by this experience she had. But the other thing that she talks about, Erica, is that she had been receiving so many threats leading up to January 6, in the short-term before January 6 and even since she got on the public scene. And the fact is that we didn't realize how dire that was. So, all of that was coming up as January 6th was happening.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. I'm so looking forward to this special tonight, Dana. And I know this is really sort of a different type of interview, this whole series is. So, what more can we expect?

BASH: It really is a different and I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time. You and I do hard-hitting interviews. We are a very hard news network. But I think it really behooves us and is really informative for the audience to get to know some of the people who they see in sound bites or see in hard-hitting interviews on a regular basis who is the human being behind them, especially those who are really influencing the public discourse, whether it is in politics or in culture, and that is the goal of this series, which will happen on an occasional basis.

HILL: I think it is great, and you're 100 percent right. So much of it, especially those people that can be so -- polarizing people have such a knee-jerk reaction for various reasons to get to know the person behind that is really key. Dana, always good to see you, my friend. Thank you, looking forward to it.

BASH: You too. Thanks, Erica. Thanks so much.

HILL: And just reminding you, could catch the new CNN series, Being, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joining Dana tonight at 9:00 right here on CNN.

Small towns in Northern California being burnt to the ground by the Dixie fire. Up next, the latest on the largest wildfire burning right now in the United States.



HILL: After more than a year of closure, the Canadian border officially reopens today to fully vaccinated travelers from the United States. So, what can you expect? Well, some new health measures will be enforced, including proof of a negative COVID test.

Paula Newton joining me from Cornwall, Ontario. So, this is highly anticipated, day one.


What do we need to know? How is it going so far?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you can say that again, Erica. I mean, what a relief for so many Americans and Canadians, a lot of family reunions going on at this hour. There was a big worry this may not happen given the sudden increase in coronavirus cases in the United States. Nonetheless, it is happening this hour.

And before you pack the car, here is what you need to do. You need to download an ArriveCAN app. And remember, in terms of downloading that, what do they want? They want your proof vaccination and your negative COVID test. You can't do a rapid test. It must be a lab test. You have to have negative test within 72 hours of trying to cross this border behind me or any one of them.

And you'll think about it, Erica, in terms of relief here, from 9/11, this border was only closed for two days. It has now been closed for nearly a year-and-a-half. There are family reunions happening this hour. I have spoken to people who were lined up at midnight ready for the border to open.

I should say, Canadians have been able to go to the United States through the pandemic but only flying. And in terms of Canadians being able to cross over, the Biden administration still hasn't reciprocated what Canada has done. They say they're still looking at it. But right now, a lot of relief that so many reunions are going on right now as Americans and U.S. residents can now, for the first time, come into Canada since the pandemic started.

And this is really interesting, Erica. If you have children under the age of 12, even though they can't be vaccinated, they can come to Canada and they do not have to quarantine for two weeks.

HILL: So important, cue the grandparent hugs. Paula Newton, thank you.

NEWTON: You got it.

HILL: Thousands of residents in California in Plumas County now under evacuation orders this morning, firefighters, they're battling what is now the second largest wildfire in state history. The Dixie fire, which we've been talking about, has now been raging for nearly a month. It has burnt close to 500,000 acres to this point. Hot and windy conditions on Sunday just intensified the blaze, which is far from contained.

CNN's Camila Bernal has more on this for us. So, where do we stand at this point?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, the problem is the fire just keeps growing and growing. And as you mentioned, weather is just not cooperating. So, the smoke has cleared but it has gotten hotter and drier and the winds picked up. And so what we are left with is 489,000 acres already burnt and containment still at 21 percent.

We have not seen progress over the entire weekend. We're expecting an update from authorities, but as of this moment, no progress. And that is what is making it so difficult. This fire has been burning for 26 days straight. And more evacuation orders had been issued.

We got the alerts on our phones and we've talked to people who have had to leave, people who have lost their homes because of a fire. And these evacuation orders, seeing the fire, smelling the smoke, hearing the sirens, that triggers this trauma and this anxiety. So it is really difficult for a lot of the people in this area.

On the other hand, you have the firefighters, many of them who say they are tired, they've never seen a fire like this one. They've never seen a fire season like this one. Governor Gavin Newsom using this weekend to go to Greenville, an area where we saw the loss and destruction and he used the visit to also talk about climate. He said the Dixie fire is a climate-infused fire and said that, basically, we need to do more in regards to climate change.

I've talked to so many people over the last couple of weeks who say, yes, it is hotter, it is drier, there is this collective fear, people who are worried about what's going to happen just over the next couple days and weeks. Erica?

HILL: And in terms of the crews, we know how hard they are working. Are there enough?

BERNAL: Well, look, there are about 8,500 men and women who are in the -- just in the middle of it, fighting these fires, doing everything they can to keep these flames away from homes. But the governors and local officials always say that more is needed in these states that are dealing with this severe drought. More help is needed from the government, more help is needed from the federal government and a lot of work is still to be done here.

So, even though there is 8,500 men and women here, there is still a lot of work to be done.

HILL: Yes. Camila Bernal, thank you.

Well, in Greece, hundreds of firefighters have been working to put out dozens of wildfires raging there. Officials say the priority now, saving villages on the island of Evia.

Strong wind are now pushing the flames toward a thick forest that could fuel the inferno. That could make it even more difficult for emergency crews to put out. At least two people have died in Greece from the wildfires. Thousands more have had to be evacuated to safety.

All of this as a landmark, U.N. reports disasters, like wildfires and extreme drought, are being fueled by climate change.


And the report says, there is no denying humans have caused the climate crisis. Some of those changes, it also notes, are irreversible. The planet is getting hotter and it is actually happening faster than we thought.

Right now, the planet is 1.1 degrees warmer than preindustrial levels. It could be a full two degrees warmer as soon as 2050. The U.N. secretary general calling this report a code red for humanity.

Thanks for being with us today. I'm Erica Hill.

At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts after a quick break. We'll see you tomorrow.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Hello, I'm Boris Sanchez in for Kate Bolduan.


Here is what we're watching at this hour.