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News Brief: Kabul Security Threats, Haiti's Quake Aid, Biden-Bennett Meeting

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Early this morning, Kabul time, the U.S. Embassy gave a warning.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The embassy told U.S. citizens to stay away from the international airport in Kabul unless they get specific instructions to go there. What they're not supposed to do is join the crowds outside the gates because of security threats. Other nations have issued similar warnings. An evacuation of Americans and their Afghan allies now seems to be in its final days. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said yesterday that 4,500 Americans were out. Another 500 or so were being guided to the airport, and an additional thousand may or may not want to go.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We're operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack. We're taking every precaution, but this is very high risk.

FADEL: "PBS NewsHour" special correspondent Jane Ferguson left Kabul late yesterday. She joins us now from Doha in Qatar. Jane, I'm glad to hear you got out safely.

JANE FERGUSON: Thank you.

FADEL: So let's start with the security warning. Do you have any sense of what led to it?

FERGUSON: We've been hearing for some time, for several days now, that there was a fear of this ISIS in Afghanistan attack that could take place. But it's not clear what the intelligence is. I mean, we've just been told that the intelligence assessment is that there's a high risk of it. We know that the head of the CIA, in a pretty dramatic turn of events, flew into Kabul and met with Mullah Baradar, the head of the Taliban there. And so it's not clear where this is coming from or whether the intelligence is independently coming from the United States or whether we're hearing from the Taliban that they believe that ISIS could attack. Don't forget. ISIS and the Taliban are, of course, sworn enemies. So it's worth taking into consideration that ISIS would very much so like to make the Taliban rule, or this new kind of Taliban grip on the capital, look extremely insecure. And the situation outside the airport is very, very difficult to really stabilize. It's very hard to provide any kind of security out there.

FADEL: Well, let's talk about that. We're seeing just devastating scenes of people desperate to get into the airport in Kabul and being turned away. When you left, what was the situation like in and around the airport?

FERGUSON: It had become desperate in the sense that people couldn't really grasp what the system was, who was allowed in and who wasn't. This is - what people in Kabul are grappling with is very, very mixed messages. You've got the Taliban saying nobody's allowed to go who is Afghan, then rumors coming out that the Taliban are saying, oh, it's fine if you have papers to leave. Then you have - at the gate, if anybody can even make it to the gate because of the crowds - although those have dissipated slightly from a few days ago - once you get there, it's really a game of chance. People don't know if they have to have the visa physically in their passport or if, as has been the case earlier in the week when it was a little bit more understanding, when there was more leeway, if you didn't have the visa in your passport, they might say, well, we understand because the embassies have been shut for some time. So if you have visa approval via email, you know, these sorts of things have caused such confusion over who qualifies, who can get in and - to such an extent that more people have decided that they would just chance it.

FADEL: Yeah. PBS NewsHour special correspondent Jane Ferguson in Doha. Thank you so much for joining us.

FERGUSON: Thank you.

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FADEL: Eleven days after an earthquake struck Haiti, it's hard to get aid to many in need.

INSKEEP: The quake killed more than 2,200 people. For survivors, the trouble is that rubble blocks some roads, so some places are only accessible by helicopter.

FADEL: NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and saw the relief efforts firsthand. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Carrie, let's start with what's slowing down distribution of this badly needed aid.

KAHN: Well, there are a lot of communities in very remote areas near the epicenter that are just in dire need. Many didn't have great roads to begin with, and now you're talking about them being blocked by rockslides and cracks from the quake. Also, there are gangs along many road routes. And there has been looting of aid trucks, so charities need that air support. And they get it from the U.S. and other countries that are here. They're sending food, but also, like, water purification systems and medical supplies. I was able, with our producer Christina Cala, to jump on a flight yesterday with the U.S. Army.

FADEL: So what was that like to take these helicopters into the quake zone?

KAHN: It's a challenge. These are remote, mountainous regions. These communities are very poor with homes made of blocks of concrete, at best, with tin roofs. And so you're landing this huge Chinook helicopter with rotors that stir up hurricane-force winds. But the U.S. pilot safely landed twice on this trip to distribute 10,000 pounds of rice. The rice crop here has been devastated by the quake in a recent tropical storm. Here's 14-year-old Edwin Lobobouin in the community of Baraderes. He says five in his family members were injured in the quake.

EDWIN LOBOBOUIN: (Speaking Haitian Creole).

KAHN: He says so many houses were destroyed and people hurt, but there's no hospitals to go to. Some flights have taken back injured Haitians. And now evacuees, they have wounds infected after not getting proper treatment more than a week since the quake. And those are the ones that are going back to the capital on some of these flights.

FADEL: That's hard to hear. What else did you hear from residents that you spoke to there?

KAHN: We went to the hard-hit coastal community of Anse-a-Veau, where soldiers dropped off the second delivery of rice. Forty-year-old Pierre Jacques Mackenzy said everyone is desperate, and they need more than just rice.

PIERRE JACQUES MACKENZY: (Speaking Haitian Creole).

KAHN: He says that we - what we really need now are tents. That's what he wanted were tents. He says, "Homes were flattened, and we have too many people still sleeping under the stars."

FADEL: So who decides if they'll get those tents? Who calls the shots on how this aid gets distributed?

KAHN: Well, USAID, the United States international aid agency, has taken the lead, and the military delivers what USAID tells them to. Also, international charities are handing out supplies. All is - are supposed to be coordinated with local officials. But we heard complaints of the opposite. In one village, a local official said charities were walking right past the mayor's office and handing out supplies on their own. But, you know, that was just one village we visited. Many here say they have learned lessons from past disasters, especially the 2010 earthquake, and insist - and they told us that - that they are working better together now.

FADEL: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Thanks, as always, Carrie, for your reporting.

KAHN: Oh, you're welcome, Leila. Thanks.

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FADEL: Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is visiting President Biden at the White House today.

INSKEEP: And they're likely to strike very different tones than their predecessors did. Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu made the U.S. relationship with Israel more partisan and more divisive, while Biden and Bennett want a reset.

FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin flew to Washington with Bennett and joins us now. Good morning, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning to you.

FADEL: So how do the president and prime minister hope to change the relationship between the U.S. and Israel?

ESTRIN: They want a change in tone. Prime Minister Bennett calls it a new spirit of cooperation. And when you think back, Netanyahu, his predecessor, once lectured Obama in the Oval Office about a Palestinian state. It was a really stunning moment. And then later, Netanyahu famously gave a speech in Congress denouncing the Iran nuclear deal that Obama was seeking. Bennett actually holds similar views to Netanyahu on those two issues, but his message to the U.S. is, let's find ways to work together. That is the whole spirit of Bennett's own government, which is an unlikely coalition of left and right that need to find ways to work together, if only just to keep Netanyahu out of power. And Biden has those same desires. He does not want to see Netanyahu return to power. He wants a good relationship with Bennett, you know, despite the issues that they don't agree on.

FADEL: One of the big issues, Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories - where do they stand on that?

ESTRIN: Every time we reporters ask Bennett's staff about that, they kind of sigh. Bennett is right wing. He wants to set expectations right off the bat. He does not believe in a Palestinian state, and Biden does. Bennett told the U.S. on his trip here that Israeli settlement growth in the occupied West Bank will continue. The U.S. opposes that because it takes up the very land that Palestinians want. Bennett says peace talks are not going to happen now, but he will help the Palestinian economy. And Biden is actually on board with that, even though progressive Democrats in the U.S. want to see Biden put more pressure on Israel. They see Palestinian rights much through the lens of the movement for racial justice in the U.S. Biden, I do not think, will push Bennett on anything like that. That would be so controversial in Israel, it could topple Bennett. So today at the White House, we should not expect any big pronouncements for Palestinians.

FADEL: The other big issue is how to approach Iran. How do Biden and Bennett plan to handle that?

ESTRIN: Right. The Iran nuclear deal has been a major point of contention between Israel and the U.S. The deal, of course, limited Iran's nuclear program and gave Iran some relief from sanctions. Then Trump left the deal. And since then, Iran has ramped up its uranium enrichment a lot. That worries both governments. And Biden, though, has sought to return to the deal. Bennett sees that this is the time to pressure Iran and not to make deals with it. So he opposes a return to the Iran nuclear deal. He wants to have a seat at the table with the U.S. on this issue, so he is proposing a joint committee with the U.S. to reach conclusions on the nuclear deal and plans of action on it and ways to to curb Iranian support of militants in the region. I mean, in general, Bennett wants to make sure that the U.S. does not lose sight of Iran as it deals with the Afghanistan crisis and China and so many other issues.

FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin covering the visit of the Israeli prime minister to Washington. Thank you, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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