Clarissa Ward had 4 days to atone for sleep and see her two sons, ages 1 and three, at her dad and mom’ residence in France. Then she was off once more, again to work, making her approach by Qatar to Pakistan, the place she reported from the Afghanistan border.
Ward, CNN’s chief worldwide correspondent, was a center-stage broadcast reporter within the final days of the conflict in Afghanistan as she delivered her accounts, usually with gunfire ringing within the background, on what it was like in Kabul within the usually chaotic remaining days of America’s longest conflict. Alongside along with her crew, she subsisted on eggs, cookies and Clif Bars whereas protecting the US 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 lady crying her coronary heart out that her daughters are going to must develop up in Taliban-led Afghanistan and be simply unmoved by it,” Ward, 41, mentioned from France final week. “And I don’t assume it makes me a lesser reporter that I’m moved by it.”
Her job has included assignments in different battle zones, together with in Baghdad and Aleppo, Syria, usually placing her in peril — and at an awesome 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 8. Residence, for a time, was a sequence of city homes on Manhattan’s Higher East Facet, 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 Sept. 11, 2001, when she was in her senior 12 months at Yale College, the place her main was comparative literature. The assaults made her notice there was a world radically totally different from every thing she knew, a world that appeared poorly understood within the US and Europe.
“It sounds presumptuous, however I knew I needed to go to the entrance strains, to listen to the tales of people that lived there and inform them to the folks again residence,” she wrote in her e-book.
After an internship at CNN, she studied Arabic and obtained on-camera expertise in Beirut, Lebanon and Baghdad as a reporter for Fox Information. 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 Information. She posed as a vacationer to slide into war-torn Syria, taking pictures video herself and sneaking the footage in another country on reminiscence playing cards stitched into her underwear. Her protection earned a Peabody Award.
“It’s an artwork and a ability, and it requires a variety of expertise to make the judgments that you have to make to do that protection safely, frankly, since you simply want to have the ability to learn a troublesome state of affairs,” mentioned Rhodes, who’s now a gaggle director of the British media firm Sky.
“There are single-digit numbers of individuals globally which might be actually good at this,” he added. “She is a kind of folks.”
Ward joined CNN in 2015 and returned to Syria, once more undercover, making her one of many 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. Ward was quickly reporting from Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled Balkh province. For her newest reporting tour, Ward arrived within the nation Aug. 2, with a plan to remain two weeks.
“I by no means would have guessed that these two weeks would have changed into three weeks, and we’d be there for the autumn of Kabul, and the autumn of Kabul would happen in a matter of hours, with hardly a shot fired on a kind of quiet Sunday afternoon,” she mentioned.
At the beginning of the month, she was on the entrance strains with US-allied Afghan troops in Kandahar. Three days later, the Taliban took the town.
“I reached out to one of many troopers on WhatsApp, saying, ‘What occurred to you?’” she mentioned. “He simply wrote: ‘We left.’ I feel that was the start of me actually understanding that the explanation this was unraveling so shortly, in no small half, was as a result of Afghan safety forces have been simply not any longer in preventing this combat.”
By Aug. 14, Ward and her crew had moved on to a fortified compound in Kabul. They have been hoping for a break within the motion when Taliban troops arrived.
“By breakfast time, we knew they have been on the gates,” she mentioned. “Within the afternoon, they began to make their approach into the town.”
On Aug. 16, wearing a full-length black abaya, she reported from a avenue full of Taliban revelers exterior the U.S. Embassy. “They’re simply chanting ‘Demise to America,’” she mentioned, dealing with the CNN digicam, “however they appear pleasant on the similar time. It’s completely weird.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, shortly pounced, posting a video of Ward’s report on Twitter with the remark, “Is there an enemy of America for whom CNN gained’t cheerlead?” (The CNN company communications division shortly responded from its personal Twitter account with a reference to Cruz’s choice this 12 months to go away his Houston residence throughout a winter storm when a lot of the state misplaced electrical energy: “Relatively than working off to Cancun in robust instances, @clarissaward is risking her life to inform the world what’s taking place.”) The shading of her work by the senator and different conservatives highlighted how journalists could discover their work or statements changed into political speaking factors whereas reporting from battle zones in a time of deep polarization.
“As an individual who’s emphatically not concerned in political protection in any approach, form or kind, I’m at all times just a little uncomfortable whenever you get sort of shoehorned into the narrative someway,” Ward mentioned.
One other report, broadcast dwell as she stood amongst Taliban members in Kabul, underlined a specific problem she had handled earlier than in Afghanistan: “They only advised me to face to the facet as a result of I’m a girl,” she advised viewers.
As the times wore on, she interviewed girls too fearful to go away their homes and others frantically looking for a approach in another country. From exterior Kabul’s Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport on Aug. 18, Ward reported that Taliban fighters had beat folks attempting to flee with truncheons and fired on crowds.
Her current reviews from Afghanistan introduced her new consideration: Her Instagram follower rely 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 US might pull off the deliberate mass evacuation.
“I’m sitting right here for 12 hours within the airport, eight hours on the airfield and I haven’t seen a single U.S. airplane take off,” she mentioned on the air that day. “How on earth are you going to evacuate 50,000 folks within the subsequent two weeks? It simply, it might probably’t occur.”
Days later, President Joe Biden mentioned the US had helped evacuate greater than 70,000 folks from Aug. 14 to Aug. 24. The New York Occasions reported final week that greater than 123,000 folks had been airlifted in another country since July.
Ward defended the Aug. 20 dispatch, saying it needs to be interpreted within the context of “dwell, in-the-moment reporting.”
“We had been on the airport since 7 a.m. native,” she mentioned. “From 7 to 10 a.m., we noticed three US planes take off with evacuees, however then they abruptly stopped for about 10 hours.” On the time, she added, she didn’t see how the US might full the evacuation within 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 12 months on the poisoning of Russian opposition chief Alexei Navalny, a army coup in Myanmar and the affect of the pandemic on India.
“I’d be laborious pressed to say Clarissa wasn’t an important rent I’ve made,” he mentioned. “She’s keen to go the place most others gained’t go.”
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 residence due to pandemic restrictions, she was reunited in France along with her youngsters and husband, Philipp von Bernstorff, a German rely 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’s taking place in battle zones, whereas additionally capturing the experiences and reactions of these instantly affected.
“It’s not my job to say whether or not it has been dealt with effectively or not,” she mentioned of the troop withdrawal. “It’s my job to provide a voice to these folks and say that is how they really feel.”
Ward mentioned she would proceed protecting Afghanistan. The Taliban, for now, are “speaking the discuss” by way of not violating girls’s rights, she mentioned.
“Our jobs as journalists is to stay round for lengthy sufficient to search out out if they’re strolling the stroll,” she mentioned. “If we do begin to see retaliation, reprisal killings, strolling again of ladies’s rights or girls’s training, we must be telling that story. And I really feel very, very strongly about that.”