Lily Dorstewitz, Staff Photographer

On Sept. 16, the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs presented the first installment of their Virtual Discussion Forum on Afghanistan, titled “Afghanistan: A View from the Frontlines” with Clarissa Ward ’02, CNN’s chief international correspondent. 

During the webinar, which was open to all, Ward first described her experiences as a frontline reporter in Afghanistan then answered questions from the audience. The webinar had more than 250 live participants and was moderated by Rory Stewart, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute and a former United Kingdom secretary of state for international development. 

“I think one of the unique roles [Ward] plays is providing the granular reality that lies behind the abstract jargon of international policymaking,” Stewart said. 

Stewart described Ward’s almost twenty-year career as an international correspondent as an “attempt to actually get to those voices on the ground.” 

Edward “Ted” Wittenstein, a lecturer at the Jackson Institute, introduced the forum. He wrote over email that Ward was chosen to speak at the forum because she is “such an inspirational Yale alum given her riveting reporting from Afghanistan and other conflict zones worldwide.”  

Ward went on to describe her rare opportunity to report from Taliban-occupied territory in great detail. 

“The convoy of Taliban fighters came to greet us, which is a very striking moment, particularly as a Western journalist, since you haven’t been exposed for a long time to the Taliban, and they’re on their motorcycles,” Ward said. “They had these white flags that they flew with the Shahada written on it, this Muslim declaration of faith. And they were playing nasheeds very loudly on their radios, which are Islamic acapella recitations. I just remember looking at the car window and thinking, ‘Oh, boy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.’”

Later in the talk, Ward spoke about her conversations with women in Taliban-occupied territory. The general consensus she found was that many women were not “ideologically fixated,” but instead looking for any group that could provide stability and an end to the “unmitigated horror show” that was — and is — conflict in Afghanistan.

The question and answer session that followed focused more narrowly on the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan this past summer.

In Ward’s opinion, the Afghan military was not acting out of “cowardice” when they hardly defended Kabul during the Taliban takeover last month.

Stewart added that in his opinion, supply shortages and difficulty fixing vehicles such as automobiles and planes contributed to the loss of Afghan soldiers’ morale. 

When asked for her take on the United States’ role in the fall of Kabul, Ward said that the takeover was not caused by one policy misstep, but rather from the United States’ misaligned viewpoint. She recalled talking to a U.S. official who described the “twenty-year war instead as twenty one-year wars,” since many officials and soldiers cycled through one-year rotations during this time.

“There was a kind of a slightly myopic viewpoint of the trajectory of the country and how things were changing,” Ward said. “Very clear roadblocks were persistently recurring because everybody had in their mind, I get to the end of my year.”

Wittenstein commented on the large audience size which he said “underscored the Yale community’s deep interest in the tragic situation in Afghanistan.”

The second and last installment of the Virtual Discussion Forum on Afghanistan series will feature Stewart, Jackson Senior Fellow Anne Patterson and Jackson alumna Wazhma Sadat ’14, LAW ’19. 

Charlotte Hughes reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she is a freshman in Branford College majoring in English.