NEW YORK – Clarissa Ward described on Wednesday how a member of her CNN crew was nearly pistol-whipped by a Taliban fighter as they were covering a tumultuous scene outside the airport in Kabul.
“I've covered all sorts of crazy situations,” Ward said in a report that aired on CNN. “This was mayhem. This was nuts.”
The network's chief international correspondent has been probably the most visible reporter covering the rapid fall of Afghanistan to Taliban fighters. Perhaps inevitably, that has made her words and even her wardrobe a topic of social media conversation.
In one report Wednesday, Ward said it was extremely chaotic near the airport, where people were pleading for help to get out of the country. At one point, she said, a Taliban fighter shouted at her to cover her face or he wouldn't talk to her. He was carrying a makeshift whip with a heavy chain and padlock.
The CNN producer, Brent Swails, was taking video with a cellphone when two Taliban fighters approached him with their pistols and seemed about to strike him, Ward said, making a motion with her arms to simulate it.
Another Taliban fighter stopped them, saying not to hit him because they're journalists, she said.
“It's very dicey, it's very dangerous,” Ward said. “It's completely unpredictable. To me, it's a miracle that more people haven't been seriously hurt.”
Ward has worked at CNN since 2015, after joining from CBS News. She's also worked at ABC News and Fox News, covering a succession of the world's hot spots.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted a portion of one of Ward's Monday reports, where she described an “utterly bizarre” scene of people shouting “death to America” while also appearing friendly.
“Is there an enemy of America for whom @CNN won't cheerlead?” Cruz tweeted.
That earned him a sharp Twitter response from CNN's public relations department: “Rather than running off to Cancun in tough times, @clarissaward is risking her life to tell the world what's happening. That's called bravery.” It was a reference to Cruz's Mexican vacation during a cold spell last winter that caused widespread power outages in Texas.
An Internet meme showcased pictures of Ward during two different reports this week, one where she wore a tight black headdress that covered her hair, and another where her hair went uncovered.
Some on social media suggested the two pictures illustrated a contrast in life before and after Taliban rule. Rep. Vicki Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, said they showcased “just how crushing Joe Biden's incompetence will be for the future of Afghan women.”
Ward has explained that the picture without her head covered was taken while she was in a private compound. When she was in public amid Taliban fighters, she dressed more conservatively.
“My job is to get out on the streets and hear what people are thinking and see what's going on,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “So I have to be willing to wear whatever it takes, honestly, to be able to go out and do my job and respect the tradition of whatever culture it is I'm reporting from."