CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward and her team were reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, when they were confronted by armed Taliban fighters on Wednesday.
The team was near the airport, surrounded by desperate Afghans and their families hoping to escape on an evacuation flight, and Taliban fighters firing shots in an attempt to control the crowd.
“We had Taliban fighters all around approaching us, one man shouting at me to cover my face or he wouldn’t talk to me,” Ward told CNN after the incident,.
The team also spotted a man “carrying this huge makeshift whip — it was a bicycle lock that had basically been split in two, so the heavy metal padlock was in the middle,” she said. “And he’s just using it to just get anybody out of his way who gets in his way.”
At one point, a Taliban fighter took the safety off his AK-47 assault rifle and pushed through the crowd, gun lifted into the air as if he were about to begin firing, prompting the CNN team to run for cover.
Taliban confronts CNN: But the “most frightening moment” came when two Taliban fighters spotted a CNN producer filming video with his phone, and charged toward the team, pistols raised and ready to strike.
“They were ready to pistol whip him,” Ward said. It was only when another Taliban fighter intervened, telling the others that Ward’s team were journalists with permission to report, that they were allowed to pass through.
Desperate crowds at the airport: Before the confrontation, Ward and the CNN team had spoken to desperate and angry Afghans waiting outside the airport in Kabul, some of whom said they felt abandoned and lied to by US leaders.
“I’ve covered all sorts of crazy situations. This was mayhem. This was nuts. This was impossible for an ordinary civilian, even if they had their paperwork … There’s no coherent system for processing people,” Ward said.
The Taliban are stationed outside the airport, occasionally firing into the air and into the throng for crowd control.
“It’s so heartbreaking,” Ward said. “Everybody (was) coming up to us with their papers and passports, saying, “Please, I worked at Camp Phoenix. I was at this camp. I was a translator. Help me get in, help me get to America.”