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Taliban Commanders In Afghanistan Want Peace Talks; Tropical Storm Warning Issued For Parts Of Southeast U.S.; Embattled D.C. Cardinal Faces Protests During Mass; "RBG" Premieres Tonight On CNN At 9:00 P.M. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 3, 2018 - 07:30   ET



[07:31:51] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: A new U.S. commander is taking the reins in Afghanistan at a pivotal moment in America's longest war. His predecessor, in his departure speech, called for an end to this conflict.

Now, in a CNN exclusive, Taliban commanders who are on the ground are signaling that they are willing to talk.

CNN's Sam Kiley is live in Afghanistan with more of his exclusive reporting. What have you learned, Sam?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's kind of been fascinating Alisyn because just as Gen. Miller is taking over here in Afghanistan -- he is a former special forces operator and it has been indicated he's going to focus his attention very firmly on trying to rid this landscape of the so-called Islamic State.

That, it emerges from our reporting, is exactly what the Taliban are seeking and this is what they told us.


KILEY (voice-over): Emerging the desert, a glimmer of hope coming from Taliban commanders on the ground to offer to talk and to talk about peace.

In this exclusive video, Mullah Sher Agha laying out the terms.

MULLAH SHER AGHA, TALIBAN COMMANDER (translated by Kiley): These negotiations should be among Afghans and for Afghans. We should not wait for Pakistan, Iran, Russia or America to bring peace to Afghanistan.

MULLAH SHER AGHA, TALIBAN COMMANDER (translated by Kiley): If people from government die, they're Afghans. If Taliban die, they're Afghans. Foreign countries are playing in Afghanistan to weaken Islam, he says.

KILEY: Taliban leaders outside Afghanistan have inched towards peace talks but it's a rare offer from fighting commanders.

Just weeks ago, the Taliban overran Ghazni, a city only 81 miles from the capital. It was recaptured and is being rebuilt.

But this brief Taliban victory has shown that they may enter negotiations if they have a position of strength, an increase in violence -- a prelude to talks recognized by the outgoing U.S. commander --


KILEY: -- as he handed over the NATO mission to the former head of the American Special Forces.

NICHOLSON: I believe that some of the Taliban want peace also but they are being encouraged to keep fighting.

KILEY: His successor suggesting that the focus should be directly on fighting terrorist organizations.

GEN. AUSTIN MILLER, COMMANDER, RESOLUTE SUPPORT: There are groups in Afghanistan who want nothing more than to harm others. These groups thrive on ungoverned spaces. They raise money, they recruit, they plan, they inspire attacks. We must maintain pressure on them.

KILEY (on camera): There's a degree of optimism being shown inevitably by the generals' handing from one command to the other here but the experience of 17 years, they acknowledge, means that the Taliban have to be brought in from the cold.

They have to join the political process and that leaves ISIS -- so- called Daesh -- as the main focus both for the international community and ironically, also for the Taliban.

AGHA (translated by Kiley): Our enemy is first ISIS and then government.

[07:35:00] KILEY (voice-over): A common enemy is ISIS does not make the Taliban friends with the Afghan government or the U.S., but it may be a rare platform for agreement in future talks.


KILEY: Now, there are no future talks set at all. There have been attempts by Russia and there have been backchannels by the United States to try to bring the Taliban in from -- in from the cold because ultimately, as far as the West is concerned, the Taliban effectively is a sideshow.

They are creating the ungoverned space for much more militant international terrorists to exploit the landscape. And in the long- term, that is what they're afraid of, particularly John, given the Trump administration's rather whimsical approach.

There is a sense here that they're one tweet away from being shot down -- from the Afghan campaign being stopped by the Trump administration. And they are concerned that if that were to happen, international terrorism would enjoy what they call a terrorist super-state here in Afghanistan -- John. JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Sam, fascinating report from Afghanistan. Thank you very much.

And joining us now is CNN military analyst, retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling. He served as an Army commanding general in Europe and Seventh Army, among other distinguished posts.

General, it's great to have you here.

You heard the previous report. General Nicholson leaving after almost three years in Afghanistan. Did not meet with President Trump once during his term, to date -- 20 months.

How do you see the Trump administration's Afghan strategy?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: Well, I listened to -- or actually read Mick Nicholson's change command speech yesterday John and it was really pretty interesting from a strategic perspective.

Mick has been put in charge basically not only of the military increase over there but remember, the Trump strategy was to increase both the military and the political engagement with the Afghan government. There hasn't been that much on the political side so that kind of fell to Gen. Nicholson, and now falling to Gen. Scott Miller.

So the Trump strategy per se has been to not go with withdrawal, not do specifically a counterterrorism strategy, but improve both the military and the political approach to Afghanistan. That hasn't happened to the full degree.

And the use of the term whimsical by your reporter on the scene is an interesting description because while the Trump administration has rightfully focused on things like North Korea, Iran, and others, he has somewhat ignored the Afghan combat operations that we're conducting right now.

So it is a critical time for Afghanistan. The Afghan government is attempting to provide this kind of security and stability which they've been looking for for the last 17 years as America has been helping them not only to provide that security but also to have somewhat of a regional stability as well.

It is a difficult time and it's continuing to be very complex to the military commanders on the scene.

AVLON: And, you know, you've seen reports obviously. The Taliban actually having talks in Doha in July.

Do you see that as a hopeful step or a seeding of more control of the spheres (ph) to the Taliban, ultimately?

HERTING: Well, I think the Taliban are in a very good position for negotiations, truthfully. And we've also seen, by the way -- let's add to that -- the Russian attempt to get the Taliban to come to Moscow to start talks. Of course, the United States and the Afghan government refused to do that.

So there are all sorts of states to include Pakistan, Russia, China -- attempting to interfere with the peace process within Afghanistan. The Russians would like nothing more to do extend and cause more confusion for the American forces there.

So, yes -- to go back to your question, the Taliban are actually negotiating, I would say from a position of strength. They know that there's a lack of support for this continued operation in the United States' administration -- in the Trump administration -- so they are looking to gain the upper hand.

The Afghan government is having challenges in pulling all of their provinces together and that's what Gen. Nicholson has been attempting to forge in a very unique way over the last 31 months that he's been in command.

AVLON: You also heard from that package that at least one thing seems to be uniting the Taliban and the Afghan government and the U.S., which is a focus on killing ISIS. An ISIS local leader was killed last week, we recently found out.

How significant is that?

HERTLING: Well, first of all, I'm not sure that that's an honest comment by the Taliban representative. Remember, they are the ones, 17 years ago, that were giving a safe haven to al Qaeda in that country.

So where they might say hey, we're up for fighting ISIS, I'm not sure that's a truthful comment by the Taliban leaders.

AVLON: Got that.

HERTLING: But the killing of the ISIS leadership that occurred about 10 days ago that was reported over the weekend always a good thing.

[07:40:00] But truthfully John, having fought terrorism you know as a commander on the scene that as soon as you hit one target -- a key target -- you're probably going to experience someone else rising up to take their place.

I think it was stated in a "New York Times" article that we have killed the head of ISIS in Afghanistan three times over the last 10 months.

AVLON: And just a final question.

We've got Gen. Miller coming in. He is the 18th American commander in Afghanistan.


AVLON: Tell us about him.

HERTLING: Well, Scott Miller is a special operator. He's been in the -- what we call in the military, the dark side, so he's been in special operations forces.

Sometimes we call -- the conventional force calls those guys the pipe swingers. They are the ones that take out targets. They focus on -- they have focused on counterterrorism over the last 17 years in these fights against terrorism.

Mick Nicholson, on the other hand, truthfully, is a conventional guy. I know him well. He commanded under my command as a brigade commander. And he was really involved not only in the combat but also the political and the economic engagement in Afghanistan.

And all leaders in these kind of counterinsurgency fights know that you can't kill your way out of these situations. You've got to do more than just kill the enemy and that's what Mick's been trying to do and he's done a magnificent job.

And by the way, his wife is there, too. She was an expert on Afghanistan when they met. And they have been engaging with the Afghan government and they are seen as part of the Afghan solution.

So I think the transition to Scott Miller -- he's a good commander, he's a good soldier -- is going to be a challenging one over the next couple of weeks. But he'll get his feet under him and start conducting operations the way he should as soon he gets a feel for the land.

AVLON: General, thank you very much for your insight in what is still America's longest war.

HERTLING: Thanks, John.


Catholics are demanding action, protesting Washington's embattled archbishop. Up next, what they did when he asked for forgiveness.


[07:45:39] CAMEROTA: OK, a weather update for you now because the National Hurricane Center says it expects a disturbance in South Florida to become a tropical storm later today. A tropical storm warning is up for portions of the southeast.

So let's get right to CNN's meteorologist Chad Myers with what he is seeing. What's the latest, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The latest is actually the 8:00 advisory is already in. They've taken the storm from 30 to 35 and now moving just to the west of Key West, Florida.

On-shore flow today. There could be some tornados on the ground in South Florida. Small, waterspout-like tornados but certainly, the potential is there. Very heavy rainfall and wind gusts to around 45 miles per hour.

But it looks like it's going over land in South Florida, but if you look at the Everglades from above there's not much land there. So this is still going to be over mostly water and developing into what will be Gordon, the next tropical storm of the season, and it will make its way right toward New Orleans.

Now, this is about 40 hours from now. The hurricane center saying 60 miles per hour by then. But there's enough warm water and there's enough time in that warm water that we could see something here. We could see 75 miles per hour.

We certainly could be a cat one. We'll have to keep watching it.

The big threat is storm surge -- two to four feet of storm surge. Also, very heavy rainfall. We will see in some spots there will be eight inches of rain in places that have already been very wet John, and we could even see some flash flooding from this.

AVLON: Stay safe, everyone, especially New Orleans.

All right.

Coming up, the father of Mollie Tibbetts, former University of Iowa student murdered allegedly by an undocumented immigration, is speaking out against politicians and pundits for using Mollie's murder as a weapon the fight against illegal immigration.

In an op-ed in the "Des Moines Register" Rob Tibbets writes quote, "Do not appropriate Mollie's soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist. At long last, show some decency on behalf of my family and Mollie's memory. I'm imploring you to stop."

CAMEROTA: Well, the embattled archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was confronted by parishioners on Sunday as he addressed the priest sex abuse scandal.


CARDINAL DONALD WUERL, ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINTON, D.C.: We need to hold close in our prayers and our loyalty our father, Pope Francis. Increasingly, it is clear that he is the object of considerable animosity.


WUERL: At each Mass we pray for him by name.


CAMEROTA: All right.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Washington with more. What else happened there, Rosa?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a very emotional moment, Alisyn.

I spoke to the man that spoke out, yelling at that cardinal, saying "shame on you" and he said that he was just very frustrated because of what he called the lack of accountability and transparency in the church.

I've talked to multiple people here in Washington, D.C. in the past week who say the exact same thing.

Now, he's not the only one who made a loud statement during Mass yesterday. There was a woman who made a very loud statement with her silence. She stood up, she crossed her arms, and then she gave the cardinal her back.

Take a listen.


MARY CHALLINOR, TURNER HER BACK ON CARDINAL WUERL IN PROTEST: I think he should resign. I think he should understand that just because you didn't mean to do something doesn't mean that there weren't terrible consequences for lots of people. And I feel he should resign as cardinal.


FLORES: And we asked the archdiocese for a response to that protest and here is what they said in a statement.

Quote, "Cardinal Wuerl has spoken extensively over the past two months, conveyed his profound sadness, apologies and contrition, and addressed every issue as it has arisen in a straightforward and transparent manner."

Now, we need to give you some context here because, for the most part, that mass was very uneventful. People did welcome the cardinal warmly. There were some applause.

But John, it was when he started about the sex scandal at the end of that mass, that's when emotions boiled over.

CAMEROTA: So that's very good context for us to know because we will be having that woman, Mary Challinor, on our program coming up to hear more about why she made that very visible statement against the cardinal.

[07:50:04] AVLON: Fascinating -- a fascinating and important story.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Rosa.

AVLON: Coming up also, how has Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gone from Supreme Court justice to the notorious RBG? One of her biographers joins us next.


CAMEROTA: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed a historic legacy, particularly for women's rights. She's also become an unexpected pop culture icon and her story is chronicled in a new CNN film "RBG" premiering tonight.

Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just the thought that I might catch a glimpse of her is overwhelming. I have a mug of her in my room that says "Herstory in the Making."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a sticker on my computer.

[07:55:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just ordered tons of merch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. She's notorious -- I have a book signed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's easy to take for granted the position that young women can have in today's society and that's a lot in thanks to Justice Ginsburg's work.

IRIN CARMON, CO-AUTHOR, "NOTORIOUS RBG: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF RUTH BADER GINSBURG", SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Who is more disdained or told to go away than an older woman? But here's an older woman who people really want to hear everything that she has to say.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now is the woman you just saw in that clip, Irin Carmon. She's the co-author of "Notorious RBG" and "New York" magazine senior correspondent.

Irin, great to have you here.

CARMON: It's lovely to be here. Good morning.

CAMEROTA: Explain how -- those young women sound like groupies, OK? They're buying all the merch, they said.


CAMEROTA: All the RBG merch.

How is it that she has become more than just obviously a legal scholar and icon, but this pop culture figure for young women?

CARMON: Well, long before Justice Ginsburg sat on the Supreme Court she was transforming American law for women, which it wasn't really so well-known until my co-author Shana Knizhnik started the "Notorious RBG." She was inspired by the Notorious BIG and the contrast with this 80-year-old woman and her fierce dissents.

I think that there's a real hunger to see women really representing from positions of power and really speaking up for equality and for civil rights. It was her voice of dissent. It was the fact that she DGAF'd, to use a word that you can't spell out on television. That she was really standing and speaking her choice to power at a

moment where there was so much at stake.

AVLON: I mean certainly, there's even more at stake now from the perspective of many people who support her and her politics on the court.

It is stunning. I mean, I can't recall a Supreme Court justice becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Maybe one "Simpsons" joke about Warren Burger which doesn't really rise to the same level.


AVLON: But people really are rallying around her and actively praying for her health.


AVLON: She seems pretty sturdy to me.

How do see her jurisprudence and her commitment to the court going forward?

CARMON: Well, she's known on the court for her stamina and she's also known in the gym for her stamina.

CAMEROTA: She can like bench press John Avlon, right?


AVLON: I think she could -- she could lift me which is --

CARMON: And one of my favorite parts, yes.

I mean, we interviewed her trainer for the book "NOTORIOUS RBG" and one of my favorite parts of the documentary is that you actually get to see Justice Ginsburg in the gym and you get to see that she can, in fact, do 20 push-ups.

As it happens, Justice Ginsburg is 50 years older than me and my co- author and I tried to do her workout. She's formidable.

So yes, she is an 85-year-old two-time cancer survivor. On the other hand, her stamina, her legal reasoning, her thoughtfulness and speed on the bench are unchanged, and she can do a mean push-up.

CAMEROTA: Let's listen to one more clip from the film about what she means to so many people. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, VMI GRADUATE: VMI fought very hard to keep women out. I had an alumni walk up to me and he says I'm not going to shake your hand. I want to know why you're here and why you decided to ruin my school. RUTH BADER GINSBURG, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that there were some people who did not react well to the change and my response to this was wait and see. You will be proud of the women who become graduates of VMI.


CAMEROTA: That captures sort of, I think, what she stands for -- fierce decisions, yet understated in her -- the way she explains things to people.

CARMON: Well, she's always been taken -- she's always been underestimated. She's really somebody who has a quiet style that, in fact, is really fierce.

What she was asking the Supreme Court to do when she was the co- founder of the ACLU Women's Rights Movements was radical, but she did so in a way that was incremental and really led the justices along.

And I think her vision has always been about liberating both men and women from gender stereotypes. And that's what's so cool that you really do get to see through the story of her life is how she overcame so much and had an extraordinary marriage and an extraordinary life that lived out those ideals.

AVLON: There's a great love story in there, too.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that is great, too.

Well, Irin Carmon, the book again is "NOTORIOUS RBG." Very timely.

AVLON: Very cool.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for sharing all of your research with us.

CARMON: Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Tune in tonight for "RBG" at 9:00 p.m. only on CNN.

OK, we're following a lot of news so let's get right to it.


MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Trump administration, overall, was very engaged. You had an important speech that the vice president gave.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He never doubted the other man's sincerity. When all was said and done, we were on the same team.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: John McCain was an extraordinary individual. He is irreplaceable in the United States Senate. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's really no good news for the president in this poll.

JOHNSON: Over the next two months, Republicans have to point out the success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you run with an outlier poll you're warming up for the same kind of disappointment --