CNN’s Clarissa Ward On “Watching History Unfold” In Afghanistan

CNN’s chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward has been on the ground in Afghanistan as the country fell — from an abandoned U.S. military outpost in Ghazni province, to a teetering position in Kandahar with Afghan troops under constant sniper, to today’s dramatic ion the streets of Kabul.

Chaos ruled at the airport of the Taliban-captured capital with desperate Afghans looking to get out and more U.S. troops dispatched to oversee an an evacuation. But the Islamic militants have been “bending over backwards to appear a mature diplomatic political force. That is the image they want to convey,” said Ward this afternoon in an interview with Deadline. “They have been welcoming to us on the street… with a few incidents,” she said, like when “they asked me to stand aside, said why did you bring a woman?” (Clip below)

Her footage showed groups of curious men gathered around Taliban, who were on patrol everywhere after taking the city Sunday without a fight. The real story, she said, were the people not visible, inside hiding, to afraid to come out on the street.

She was wearing an abaya, or full-length black robe, and a hijab, or headscarf, and said that only a week ago she had not needed to dress like that. She explained as much to Senator Ted Cruz in a Twitter exchange today after he used the image of her to slam CNN for “cheerleading” the Taliban.

A Taliban spokesman today denied reports that operatives are going house to house – and said if it is happening it’s not the Taliban doing it.

“For a people who have been living in this country for a long time, it’s hard for them to take the Taliban at their word. They have been petrified for a decade. Not an hour goes by where I don’t get a phone or text or WhatApp or tweet saying please can you help, please can you help. The desperation is real.” In fact, she said, Taliban commanders have indicated to her that they will re-institute restrictions, including on women, but “gradually”

She said the Taliban is urging people not to leave the country now mostly because the scenes at the airport make them look bad. “When people are literally willing to hang off of the fuselage of a plane to get out, it doesn’t send a good message.”

It’s a fluid situation and a dangerous assignment. But, “For most news organizations that have a big footprint here and a bureau here the main concern is their local staff. I feel pretty confident that, when push comes to shove, Uncle Sam will find a way to get me out of here, but if I am an Afghan that is much more complex,” she said.

Ward has been reporting with Afghan filmmaker Najibullah Quraishi (a UK citizen) producer Brent Swails and cameraman William Bonnet.

President Joe Biden in his first public address on the unfolding crisis earlier today acknowledged the speed of the Taliban’s takeover of the country was faster than anticipated but stuck by the decision to withdraw troops and focus on present threats.

“It’s not my place as a journalist to opine on [U.S. strategy decisions]. But what Afghans are asking — while understanding that the U.S. could not fight this war forever, and accepting that [Afghans] had to take responsibility for their country — is why did it have to done like this, so hastily? Why weren’t more concession extracted from the Taliban? These are the questions being asked.”

She said in a many cases Afghan soldiers abandoned their positions when they ran out of food or ammunition.

Ward was putting together a last package, said she planned to be “up all night doing live and get up tomorrow and do it all again.” 

CNN’s @clarissaward reports on what Afghanistan looks like as the Taliban take over.

— New Day (@NewDay) August 16, 2021

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