Clarissa Ward of CNN Looks Back on the Afghanistan War

Clarissa Ward had 4 days to catch up on sleep and see her two sons, ages 1 and three, at her mother and father’ house in France. Then she was off once more, again to work, making her method by Qatar to Pakistan, the place she reported from the Afghanistan border.

Ms. Ward, CNN’s chief worldwide correspondent, was a center-stage broadcast reporter in the final days of the conflict in Afghanistan as she delivered her accounts, typically with gunfire ringing in the background, on what it was like in Kabul in the typically chaotic remaining days of America’s longest conflict. Along along with her crew, she subsisted on eggs, cookies and Clif Bars whereas protecting the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban’s sudden return to energy. At instances, she couldn’t assist displaying emotion on the air.

“I can’t go and sit with an Afghan woman crying her heart out that her daughters are going to have to grow up in Taliban-led Afghanistan and be just unmoved by it,” Ms. Ward, 41, mentioned in a video interview from France final week. “And I don’t think it makes me a lesser reporter that I am moved by it.”

Her job has included assignments in different battle zones, together with in Baghdad and Aleppo, Syria, typically placing her in peril — and at a fantastic distance from her privileged youth.

As she recounts in her 2020 memoir, “On All Fronts,” she was born in London to an American mom, an inside designer, and a British father, an funding banker. She had 11 totally different nannies by age eight. Home, for a time, was a sequence of townhouses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which her mom renovated and flipped. Then it was onto the elite British boarding faculties Godstowe and Wycombe Abbey.

The thought of pursuing a profession in journalism occurred to her on Sept. 11, 2001, when she was in her senior yr at Yale, the place her main was comparative literature. The assaults made her notice there was a world radically totally different from every little thing she knew, a world that appeared poorly understood in the United States and Europe.

“It sounds presumptuous, but I knew I had to go to the front lines, to hear the stories of people who lived there and tell them to the people back home,” she wrote in her ebook.

After an internship at CNN, she studied Arabic and bought on-camera expertise in Beirut, Lebanon and Baghdad as a reporter for Fox News. She left for ABC, the place she labored out of Moscow and Beijing, and was employed away in 2011 by David Rhodes, then the president of CBS News. She posed as a vacationer to slide into war-torn Syria, capturing video herself and sneaking the footage out of the nation on reminiscence playing cards stitched into her underwear. Her protection earned a Peabody Award.

“It’s an art and a skill, and it requires a lot of experience to make the judgments that you need to make to do this coverage safely, frankly, because you just need to be able to read a difficult situation,” mentioned Mr. Rhodes, who’s now a gaggle director of the British media firm Sky.

“There are single-digit numbers of people globally that are really good at this,” he added. “She is one of those people.”

Ms. Ward joined CNN in 2015 and returned to Syria, once more undercover, making her one of the few Western journalists behind insurgent strains. In 2018, she was promoted to chief worldwide correspondent, changing Christiane Amanpour, who had moved on to an anchor function at CNN and PBS. Ms. Ward was quickly reporting from Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled Balkh province. For her newest reporting tour, Ms. Ward arrived in the nation on Aug. 2, with a plan to remain two weeks.

“I never would have guessed that those two weeks would have turned into three weeks, and we would be there for the fall of Kabul, and the fall of Kabul would take place in a matter of hours, with hardly a shot fired on a sort of quiet Sunday afternoon,” she mentioned in the interview.

At the begin of the month, she was at the entrance strains with U.S.-allied Afghan troops in Kandahar. Three days later, the Taliban took the metropolis.

“I reached out to one of the soldiers on WhatsApp, saying, ‘What happened to you?’” she mentioned. “He just wrote: ‘We left.’ I think that was the beginning of me really understanding that the reason this was unraveling so quickly, in no small part, was because Afghan security forces were just not interested any longer in fighting this fight.”

By Aug. 14, Ms. Ward and her crew had moved on to a fortified compound in Kabul. They had been hoping for a break in the motion when Taliban troops arrived.

Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan ›

Latest Updates

Updated Sept. 2, 2021, 5:49 p.m. ETAs Afghan evacuees are screened for safety dangers, only a few have raised issues, the navy says.The final U.S. diplomat to go away Kabul has examined optimistic for the virus.The White House rejects easing sanctions on the Taliban.

“By breakfast time, we knew they were at the gates,” she mentioned. “In the afternoon, they started to make their way into the city.”

On Aug. 16, wearing a full-length black abaya, she reported from a avenue stuffed with Taliban revelers exterior the U.S. embassy. “They’re just chanting ‘Death to America,’” she mentioned, dealing with the CNN digicam, “but they seem friendly at the same time. It’s utterly bizarre.”

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, rapidly pounced, posting a video of Ms. Ward’s report on Twitter with the remark, “Is there an enemy of America for whom CNN won’t cheerlead?” (The CNN company communications division rapidly responded from its personal Twitter account with a reference to Mr. Cruz’s choice this yr to go away his Houston house throughout a winter storm when a lot of the state misplaced electrical energy: “Rather than running off to Cancun in tough times, @clarissaward is risking her life to tell the world what’s happening.”) The shading of her work by the senator and different conservatives highlighted how journalists could discover their work or statements became political speaking factors whereas reporting from battle zones in a time of deep polarization.

“As a person who is emphatically not involved in political coverage in any way, shape or form, I’m always a little uncomfortable when you get kind of shoehorned into the narrative somehow,” Ms. Ward mentioned.

Another report, broadcast dwell as she stood amongst Taliban members in Kabul, underlined a specific problem she had handled earlier than in Afghanistan: “They just told me to stand to the side because I’m a woman,” she instructed viewers.

As the days wore on, she interviewed ladies too fearful to go away their homes and others frantically looking for a method out of the nation. From exterior Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 18, Ms. Ward reported that Taliban fighters had beat individuals attempting to flee with truncheons and fired on crowds.

Ms. Ward protecting the fall of Afghanistan, from Kabul, final month. Credit…CNN

Her current stories from Afghanistan introduced her new consideration: Her Instagram follower depend shot as much as 250,000, from 60,000, in every week. With the elevated visibility got here the scrutiny of critics on social media and elsewhere, who discovered fault along with her Aug. 20 report expressing skepticism that the United States might pull off the deliberate mass evacuation.

“I’m sitting here for 12 hours in the airport, eight hours on the airfield and I haven’t seen a single U.S. plane take off,” she mentioned on the air that day. “How on earth are you going to evacuate 50,000 people in the next two weeks? It just, it can’t happen.”

Days later, President Biden mentioned the United States had helped evacuate greater than 70,000 individuals from Aug. 14 to Aug. 24. The New York Times reported final week that greater than 123,000 individuals had been airlifted out of the nation since July.

Understand the Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan

Card 1 of 6

Who are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994 amid the turmoil that got here after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, together with floggings, amputations and mass executions, to implement their guidelines. Here’s extra on their origin story and their report as rulers.

Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the prime leaders of the Taliban, males who’ve spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. Little is thought about them or how they plan to control, together with whether or not they are going to be as tolerant as they declare to be. One spokesman instructed The Times that the group wished to neglect its previous, however that there could be some restrictions.

How did the Taliban achieve management? See how the Taliban retook energy in Afghanistan in a couple of months, and examine how their technique enabled them to take action.

What occurs to the ladies of Afghanistan? The final time the Taliban had been in energy, they barred ladies and ladies from taking most jobs or going to highschool. Afghan ladies have made many positive aspects since the Taliban had been toppled, however now they worry that floor could also be misplaced. Taliban officers are attempting to reassure ladies that issues might be totally different, however there are indicators that, no less than in some areas, they’ve begun to reimpose the previous order.

What does their victory imply for terrorist teams? The United States invaded Afghanistan 20 years in the past in response to terrorism, and lots of fear that Al Qaeda and different radical teams will once more discover secure haven there. On Aug. 26, lethal explosions exterior Afghanistan’s fundamental airport claimed by the Islamic State demonstrated that terrorists stay a risk.

How will this have an effect on future U.S. coverage in the area? Washington and the Taliban could spend years pulled between cooperation and battle, Some of the key points at hand embrace: tips on how to cooperate towards a mutual enemy, the Islamic State department in the area, generally known as ISIS-Okay, and whether or not the U.S. ought to launch $9.four billion in Afghan authorities forex reserves which can be frozen in the nation.

Ms. Ward defended the Aug. 20 dispatch, saying it needs to be interpreted in the context of “live, in-the-moment reporting.”

“We had been at the airport since 7 a.m. local,” she mentioned. “From 7 to 10 a.m., we saw three U.S. planes take off with evacuees, but then they abruptly stopped for approximately 10 hours.” At the time, she added, she didn’t see how the United States might full the evacuation in the time it had set for itself.

CNN’s president, Jeff Zucker, praised her reporting, citing not solely her Afghanistan protection, however her dispatches this yr on the poisoning of the Russian opposition chief Alexei Navalny, a navy coup in Myanmar and the affect of the pandemic on India.

“I’d be hard pressed to say Clarissa wasn’t the most important hire I’ve made,” he mentioned. “She’s willing to go where most others won’t go.”

Ms. Ward left Kabul on Aug. 20, alongside along with her crew and Afghans who had labored for CNN, on a flight to Qatar. Prevented from going straight to her London house as a result of of pandemic restrictions, she was reunited in France along with her kids and husband, Philipp von Bernstorff, a German depend and businessman whom she met at a Moscow feast in 2007.

She mentioned she views herself as a reporter who tries to offer viewers with an understanding of what is going on in battle zones, whereas additionally capturing the experiences and reactions of these immediately affected.

“It’s not my job to say whether it has been handled well or not,” she mentioned of the troop withdrawal. “It’s my job to give a voice to those people and say this is how they feel.”

She mentioned she would proceed protecting Afghanistan. The Taliban, for now, are “talking the talk” in phrases of not violating ladies’s rights, she mentioned.

“Our jobs as journalists is to stick around for long enough to find out if they are walking the walk,” she mentioned. “If we do start to see retaliation, reprisal killings, walking back of women’s rights or women’s education, we need to be telling that story. And I feel very, very strongly about that.”