Return to Transcripts main page
Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Desperate Afghans Cling To Planes In Attempt To Escape Kabul; Biden: Americans Should Not Be Fighting And Dying In A War The Afghan Military Isn't Willing To Fight; 700-Plus Afghan Allies Evacuated From Kabul In Last 48 Hours; Haitian Officials: At Least 1,419 Confirmed Dead From 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake; Pfizer Submits Data To FDA Showing A Booster Dose Works Well Against Original Coronavirus And Variants; Tropical Storm Fred Drenches FL Panhandle. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 16, 2021 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: All right, Polo, thank you very much for your reporting, and thanks very much to all of you.
"AC360" starts now.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Today, President Biden seek to defend his attempt to close the book on this country's involvement in Afghanistan. Tonight, we'll look at what happens now to all those still struggling to get out and to how or if the U.S. will live up to its promises to them.
We begin with the final fiasco. The images we've been getting all day tell the chaotic story. Rushing to the airport, Afghans desperate for a way out of the country, trying to get in any way they can. For all the talk from the administration that there will be no images like from the fall of Saigon in 1975, well, these pictures are certainly bad enough.
Crowds mobbing the tarmac, climbing onto jet-ways trying desperately to board outgoing flights, clinging on to the outsides of planes.
[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]
COOPER: That's an Air Force's C17, people grabbing on to as it taxis off. There are people holding on to the aircraft as it takes off, and as it flies away at least two people were seeing falling several hundred feet from one of the planes. It is sickening.
Haunting as well, this photo posted on the website Defense One, about 640 people according to Defense One on an aircraft designed to carry 102 troops, Afghans desperate to leave.
Right now, according to The Pentagon, there are 2,500 U.S. troops securing the airport. Late today, the President said their number will rise to as many as 6,000, but only to secure the evacuation. Before that, in words laying blame squarely on our former ally, the President justified his decision to end all military involvement. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I'm left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay. How many more generations of America's daughters and sons would you have me send the fight Afghanistan's Civil War where Afghan troops will not? How many more lives -- American lives is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The President also spoke to the mess we're seeing now saying the buck stops with him. He had less to say though about precisely how the administration got things so wrong.
Just six weeks ago, you'll recall President Biden called the Taliban takeover of the entire country, quote, "highly unlikely." We'll talk more shortly about how in the space of just few days unlikely became inevitable.
First, CNN's Clarissa Ward with the latest from Kabul. Clarissa, where do things stand right now with the evacuation of U.S. and allied personnel?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, basically, what we're hearing is that hundreds of U.S. personnel from the embassy have been moved by a helicopter to the airport. Evacuations have been going on pretty much nonstop. At least 700 Afghans SIV card holders or visa holders have also been evacuated, but there's a lot more work to be done.
The Americans have also reportedly now secured the perimeter of the airport. Of course, those harrowing, devastating scenes that I think none of us will ever forget, Anderson, of people spilling onto the runway indeed flooding onto the runway climbing onto the fuselage, desperate to get out of Afghanistan, everyone desperate to avoid that happening again. But they do say they have now secured the perimeter.
It is a very different story, I should say in the center of Kabul than it is at the airport. Those chaotic scenes are not being replicated here. We went out on the streets for the day, keen to see what life felt like in this new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and we found a mixture of emotions. There was heartache, desperation, fear, and also some jubilation. Take a look.
WARD (voice over): As soon as we leave our compound, it is clear who is now in charge. Taliban fighters have flooded the capital. Smiling and victorious, they took the city of six million people in a matter of hours, barely firing a shot.
WARD (on camera): This is a sight I honestly thought I would never see, scores of Taliban fighters and just behind us, a U.S. Embassy compound.
WARD (voice over): Some carry American weapons. They tell us they are here to maintain law and order.
"Everything is under control. Everything will be fine," the Commander says. "Nobody should worry."
WARD (on camera): What's your message to America right now? "America already spent enough time in Afghanistan. They need to leave," he tells us. "They already lost lots of lives and lots of money."
People come up to them to pose for photographs.
GROUP: Allahu Akbar.
WARD (on camera): They are just chanting "Death to America," but they seem friendly at the same time. It's utterly bizarre.
WARD (voice over): Almost everywhere we go, it seems the Taliban want to talk.
WARD (on camera): A lot of people are very frightened that you might engage in revenge attacks against security forces. "Since yesterday, we've proved that nothing will happen and we give assurance to everyone that they will be safe," Mauri Mortaza (ph) tells us, "And we follow our leaders. Once we make a promise, we stick to it."
Maintaining law and order is top of that list of promises. At the Presidential Palace, the Taliban are now guarding the gate. They say they're here to fill the vacuum left when the government fled.
But the welcoming spirit only extends so far, and my presence soon creates tension.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's because of you.
WARD (on camera): They've just told me to stand to the side because I'm a woman.
WARD (voice over): The Taliban have yet to implement their draconian version of Islamic law, but many are already preparing for it.
WARD (on camera): You can see this beauty salon and many others have actually painted over images on their storefronts of uncovered women.
WARD (voice over): Taliban Commander Assad Massoud Khistani says Islamic rule will be implemented gradually.
WARD (on camera): How will you protect women because many women are afraid they will not be allowed to go to school, they will not be allowed to work.
ASSAD MASSOUD KHISTANI, TALIBAN COMMANDER: The female -- the woman can continue their lives and we will not say anything for them. They can go to the school, they can continue their education, but with Islamic hijab.
WARD: So like I'm wearing.
KHISTANI: Not like you, but covering their faces also.
WARD: Cover the face.
WARD: So you mean niqab?
WARD: Why did they have to cover their face?
KHISTANI: Because it is in our Islam.
WARD: Is it in Islam, though, that you have to wear a niqab?
KHISTANI: Of course, of course. It is in Islam.
WARD (voice over): Most ordinary Afghans we meet are in a state of shock struggling to process the last 24 hours. Fayzula (ph) tells us his father was in the Afghan Army and was killed this summer. Now, he doesn't know what to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday. I have lost everything. Like I don't feel secure in here.
WARD (on camera): You're afraid? You're afraid?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm afraid. I lost my dad. I lost my mom in Logar Province like two months ago.
WARD: I'm sorry to hear that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just I'm with my little sister. We are living at home. That's why I'm afraid from everything. It's a big problem. This is the big problem for us.
WARD (voice over): It's a feeling shared by so many. Walking along, one has a sense that the real story may be the people who are not on the streets, those too afraid to leave their homes, waiting to see what tomorrow will bring.
COOPER: Clarissa, we heard in your report -- first of all, it's fascinating how the Taliban say you know, when we make a promise we stick to it. Obviously, things were said in the Doha, Qatar negotiation table that did not turn out to be true on the battlefield, and their track record as you know better than anybody is pretty horrific in Afghanistan when they were in power before.
Women -- you know, the Taliban making statements on women being able to continue their education. Is there really any reason to believe them? Because it's one thing to, okay, allow a girl to go to school. It's another thing what they actually are allowed to learn. WARD: Yes, and I think there's also an important distinction between
what they say and then their ability to implement it. So, on the topic of women's education, for example, every Taliban Commander I have spoken to over the course of the last couple of weeks, and there's been a lot of them has said the same resoundingly, the Taliban has changed, we learned from our mistakes. Women will be educated through high school, through university, and even beyond if they want that.
However, when you start to talk about the logistics of what that actually looks like, you run into problems because then suddenly, they say, once women hit puberty, they can't actually be educated in the same building as men, as boys because they need to be segregated. So, then there needs to be girl schools, which haven't actually been built yet, ergo, these women don't end up getting educated.
The other thing you see a lot, Anderson, particularly not in a place like Kabul, but in these rural areas, is that there's just a different mentality. So, people think they're just supposed to send their daughters, their little girls to a Madrasa, a religious school for a few years, maybe she'll learn the numbers, a few letters of the alphabet, and she'll learn how to recite Quran, but beyond that, there isn't really an appetite to educate girls.
WARD: And so even if the Taliban did say that it was permissible, will they actively promote it in the way that the Afghan government and the U.S. here to the extent of its presence has been actively trying to do for the last two decades? Or will we, as the fear is, the very real fear and probably the more likely scenario is see a huge decline in women's education once again.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, the fear in that young man's voice talking to you, staying at home with his sister, his parents dead, it's -- it's just so sad.
Clarissa Ward, thank you for being there. Please be careful.
Let's get perspective from Thomas Friedman, "New York Times" foreign affairs columnist, bestselling author of many books, including the revised edition of "From Beirut to Jerusalem."
So Tom, I mean, you see Clarissa's reporting, you see the images, President Biden's speech today. What do you make of how things are unfolding?
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, you know, you just have so many crosscurrents right now, Anderson, I think I would be just really humble about making any predictions.
The thing that really strikes me is the Taliban clearly, initially, are being very careful what they say, what they try to impose. I think that's partly because they want first the Americans to leave and get that process over. But secondly, I think they don't know. You know, they're taking over a
country that is very different from the one they left 20 years ago, left power from, I should say. Millions of women have been educated. People have been working with the West, universities have opened. And I think they've got to really figure that out.
I'm not particularly optimistic. But I think they also realize they broke it, they now own it. And if the sun doesn't shine, if the rains don't come, if the plumbing doesn't work, if the sewers backup, they're going to be responsible now. And for that, they're going to need a lot of foreign aid and investment, replace the money the Americans put in.
I think they're just feeling their way right now trying to figure out exactly where they land.
COOPER: In terms of their basic ideology, though, they -- I mean, they haven't changed their interpretation of the Quran, they haven't changed the kind of medieval mindset that they ruled under, you know, some 20 years ago.
FRIEDMAN: No, there is certainly no sign of that, and I wouldn't expect it. This is a really isolated country if you've been there. You know, it really always struck in the times I've been to Afghanistan just isolated it is, and that's Kabul, and when you really get into the outside the big cities, it's even more isolated.
This is a medieval country, it's going to find its own course.
COOPER: You write tonight about the Biden administration in "The New York Times" and you say in part, "Its failure to create a proper security perimeter transition process in which Afghans who risked their lives to work with us these past few decades could be assured of a safe removal to America, not to mention an orderly exit for foreign diplomats, human rights activists, and aid workers is appalling and inexplicable."
Do you think the president fully owned that today? Because, you know, they are still claiming that they're going to be able to get out the tens of thousands of Afghans and their families who have sacrificed themselves and helped the Americans over these last 20 years. That seems hard to imagine.
FRIEDMAN: Well, he certainly made clear that they had made mistakes, and they weren't prepared. It's interesting to read some of the stories that the Taliban were prepared. They clearly were bribing, intimidating, and inducing officials in the central government, and in the provincial governments to take this thing down much faster than we realized. That's an Intelligence failure.
Why and how it happened, I don't really know. But I do get the sense in from what the President said today, Anderson, that they're going to put whatever troops they need in there. I think there is an understanding with the Taliban, you lay a finger on any one at the airport, and you'll pay a heavy price, I think the Taliban don't want to do that. And so I hope that we've seen the worst of it. Again, the worst was
not expected. It was not tolerable. It was embarrassing, but I hope we won't see any more pictures like we saw at the start of your show today.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, it is interesting whether the Taliban would allow, you know, this group of people who have helped the U.S. to leave. There are arguments really arguing for that, that they want them to leave, but also at the same time that if there's a lot of educated people leaving, and you know, people with management experience, et cetera, they might at some point decide they don't want those people leaving.
But you brought up a really central and fraught question in a column that you wrote tonight and you write, "Was the U.S. mission there a total failure?" You go on to say: "When big events happen, always distinguish between the morning after and the morning after the morning after. Everything really important happens the morning after the morning after with the full weight of history and the merciless balances of power assert themselves."
It's an interesting idea the morning after the morning after, to that end, we've seen the morning after and it hasn't been pretty. Do we know what the following metaphoric morning after looks like?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, we don't, and that's why I think people should be really careful about either praising or damning Joe Biden. You know, a friend wrote me this evening, Anderson, he said, you know, if you could talk to Lyndon Johnson today -- and he watched Joe Biden's speech -- would Lyndon Johnson be saying today, boy, I wish I'd given that speech in 1967 about Vietnam. I wish I had cut the cord.
So, this is going to play out over a long period of time. And I think when I talk about the weight of sort of geopolitics, I'm talking about the Taliban regime now in Afghanistan. It is surrounded by Iran, a Shiite country hostile. It's got Pakistan in the north, very worried because Pakistan is worried about the Pakistani Taliban now. The Chinese are worried that this will energize their own Uighur Muslim population.
They are going to have to navigate a balance of power there. I wouldn't be surprised. In fact, I would encourage them to keep Joe Biden's phone number on their speed dial. Because, you know, going forward, they may need the American help, American balancing, and not to mention American aid, a million things can happen, and I think always respecting the morning after the morning after, when everything settles in -- the power and the weight of responsibility -- that's when you'll really see the real story.
And so I'm keeping my powder dry. You know, Afghanistan has been the graveyard of empires and a lot of commentators.
COOPER: That's -- yes -- and I mean, we are watching just a really historic moment. Tom Friedman, I appreciate you being with us. Thank you.
We're going to look ahead to the political price to be paid for the President, as well as the potential reward for doing what none of the past three Presidents would do.
And later, a live report from the devastation in Haiti as the toll from this latest earthquake continues to rise and a tropical storm now on its way.
COOPER: We are talking tonight about two stories as troops continue flowing into Kabul Airport to secure the American and allied evacuation, ones is how the administration could have misjudged or mishandled the endgame badly. The other is the justification both domestically and geostrategically for ending our 20-year commitment there and what happens now?
The President so far has done little to explain the first, but a lot on the second, the question of pulling the plug.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: There are some very brave and capable Afghan Special Forces units and soldiers and if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance of the Taliban now, there is no chance that one year, one more year, five more years, or 20 more years, the U.S. military boots on the ground would have made any difference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: In a moment, a senior adviser to one of the three Presidents who decided to stay in Afghanistan, first CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House. So, what is the sense of the White House where things stand tonight? Clearly, they were concerned enough that President Biden came back to make this speech today. Do they think it went well?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they realized that there was no option, Anderson, besides making some kind of address given that on replay over the last 72 hours, it has been the President's comments from six weeks ago where he said it was quote, "highly unlikely" that the Taliban would take over.
And given they have not only taken over, but the former Afghan President has fled, they really believed that he needed to come back and make a statement. But I was told they wanted to wait until they believe the situation had stabilized some before the President was addressing the nation.
My colleague, Jeff Zeleny has told they didn't want it to be or they did want it to be at nightfall, so there weren't images that were playing out next to the President speaking about this. And so today, when he did come, Anderson, really the focus of President Biden's speech was advocating for this withdrawal overall, something that we have long known was going to be his position, though he did acknowledge that their expectations were not what actually happened. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We planned for every contingency, but I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: What was missing from following that, Anderson, is why it changed differently -- why it was different? Why it unfolded differently than they had expected? Because that's been a big question facing the White House is, was this an Intelligence failure? Was this a strategy failure? Was it a combination of the two?
Because it is put a lot of scrutiny on his foreign policy and the way they withdrew, not the fact that they withdrew, which is what he spent a majority of the speech today defending.
COOPER: If in fact, it was an Intelligence failure, if the U.S. did not know that the African National Army wouldn't fight, that things would fall as quickly as they did, I guess supporters of the policy, and now the White House would say, well, that shows the difficulties operating there, and one more reason why the U.S. shouldn't be involved there. If we don't know who it is, you know, the capabilities of the people that we've been funding for the last 20 years, that's certainly a sign of something.
COLLINS: Well, and I think that raises the question, well then, why did the President say it was highly unlikely the Taliban would take over? I mean, he did talk about their competency. He talked about how equipped and trained the Afghan Security Forces were, though, we know, we've heard from colleagues like Barbara Starr, with The Pentagon that when you talk to us soldiers, they knew that there were a lot of complaints actually within the Afghan Security Forces over whether or not they were even actually on the payroll, whether they got time off, whether they were actually properly supplied, properly fed -- complaints like that, that were real complaints that they had.
And so I think that's part of the question that's facing the White House over this decision is given that, you know, they say they've prepared for every possibility, every contingency, clearly not, given we saw the airport overrun overnight. There was a scramble to evacuate U.S. personnel who were still at the embassy in Kabul, a really expensive embassy that the United States had built there that now the State Department says is not being guarded.
And so, I think those are the questions facing them, is what exactly -- how was this plan, why was this not done sooner to where it wasn't where you saw a helicopter hovering over the U.S. embassy trying to get U.S. personnel to the airport.
[20:25:13] COOPER: Kaitlan, let's just briefly, do you know what the plan is now?
I mean, are they -- does the White House still claim that they are going to be able to get out the tens of thousands of Afghans who have helped us over the years?
COLLINS: President Biden said today that they are going to work to do so. They sound confident about it. But if you look at this situation on the ground and the deterioration there, the question is whether or not people who are -- who do want to leave are going to come forward, and they're going to be able to get out of their given, look what's happening at the airport.
Imagine the people who aren't actually at the airport yet, how do they get there? Of course, it's not really popular right now to make known that you were someone who helped the U.S. for the better part of 10 decades (sic), given of course, it's now being run by the Taliban, the people who are targeting those very people.
And so that's really the big question, and that really is going to be a big point for the White House going forward.
COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it. CNN senior political commentary, David Axelrod joins us now. He served as senior adviser to President Obama.
David, what do you make of President Biden's speech today? Did he do enough to take responsibility? How do you think it played?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I thought, the part of the speech, the bulk of the speech in which he made the case for why we had to leave Afghanistan was very powerful and very compelling and it was familiar to me because I heard Biden make similar arguments 12 years ago when President Obama was formulating his policy.
But I do think, Anderson, he could have done more to take responsibility for what was manifestly a failure. Everyone who is watching these horrific images on the screen, and everyone remembers what the assurances that he gave the country back in April. And I think there is nothing wrong with saying, we got that wrong and I own it.
You know, John F. Kennedy, after the Bay of Pigs, said, victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan and I am the responsible officer of government for -- you know, so he took full responsibility, actually benefited from that.
But clearly things went wrong, and he kind of glossed over that today. And I think he made a mistake doing that. I think people would have accepted if he had said, yes, we got this wrong. We've got to find out why. But mostly, what we have to do now is make up time that we lost here.
COOPER: You know, you worked, obviously, in the Obama administration. President Obama, with Iraq sent troops back in, which was not very popular among -- certainly among a lot of the President's supporters at the time. Joe Biden was Vice President from there, and do you see any potential for a similar repeat? Because I mean, as you said, Joe Biden was then as Vice President, I assume he wasn't for sending troops back in?
AXELROD: Well, look, the policy drifted for seven years, because the attention had shifted to Iraq, and so President Obama was trying to formulate a strategy for Afghanistan that was missing. The Pentagon felt strongly that to stabilize Afghanistan, we needed to have a surge, and this was a huge debate within the administration.
And Joe Biden was concerned that the mission was shifting away from its intention, which is what he talked about today, which was to disable al-Qaeda and go after the people who had attacked the U.S. And he felt that we should limit our mission there, because we would get bogged down endlessly.
He turned out to be right about that, and I think most Americans accept that argument. You look at polling, and by something like a two to one margin, Americans supported the idea of getting out of Afghanistan.
But, you know, I do think that these images today are going to have some impact on that. In the long pole, I think Biden was right about that 12 years ago, and he, you know, clearly feels strongly that he is not going to send troops back, and I don't think the American people are of a mind to send troops back.
COOPER: From your experience in the White House. I mean, how does a President get information? I mean, Biden, you know, a month ago was saying he doesn't think the country is going to fall so quickly that they're going to take over, clearly, I guess that was based on information he had been given on the capabilities of the Army from Intelligence sources or from the military. How does a President get information that just turns out to be wrong?
AXELROD: Well, look, I think, first of all, we're going to get the answer to that question, because it seems clear that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are eager to find out the answer to that question and they should because if the Intelligence was really deficient, that's a big concern. You make life and death decisions based on that Intelligence. So, what went wrong?
The other thing, Anderson, is the President said today we're going to continue to fight terrorism where we find it in Afghanistan and elsewhere and we're going to keep eyes on what's going on there. Well, they kept eyes on what was going on in the last year and got it completely wrong.
AXELROD: So this is a big -- there's a big reason to want to know this. And I think some acknowledgement that there was that mistakes were made on the part of the President today would have been appropriate.
COOPER: David Axelrod, appreciate it. Thanks.
Coming up, as we digest chaotic scenes like that at Kabul's airport, we'll discuss the question of what is next specifically, what one top U.S. general believes that could mean for terrorist groups in the region.
COOPER: Thousands in Kabul Afghanistan desperate to get out still many at the airport many in their homes afraid to try to make it to the airport. The images on the ground in Kabul they're repeating and surely raised the question of exactly what comes next for those people and for the country or areas once secured by U.S. forces like this one outside the evacuating U.S. Embassy in Kabul, now patrolled by Taliban forces celebrating their decades long return to control the country.
Perhaps more concerns what the Taliban's takeover means for us counterterrorism efforts General Mark Milley, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff told senators in a briefing Sunday that because of quick takeover terror groups like al-Qaeda could reconstitute Afghanistan sooner than the two years that U.S. defense officials had previously estimated to Congress according to a Senate aide briefed on the comments.
COOPER: Want to get perspective now from Peter Bergen, a national security analyst who spent decades chronicling al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. He's the author of the new book, The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden. Peter and I have traveled in Afghanistan together. Also retired General Mark Kimmitt, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs during the second Bush administration.
General Kimmitt, you wrote, today, the route of the Afghan national defense and security forces will go down in history is one of the greatest military defeats of the past century. In the end, despite the billions of dollars, the 20 years of training by U.S. Special Forces and others, what happened?
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, (RET.) U.S. ARMY: Well, I think what we couldn't calculate, what we couldn't measure is the fact that the average Afghan soldier was surrounded by corruption, didn't really have a cause that bound him to either his unit or his country. And candidly, the Taliban had a tremendous strategic communications campaign that kept their people together, and the psyops that was executed on the average unit inside of the Afghan military caused them to just either give up or melt away into the sunset.
COOPER: Peter and the way the U.S., you know, botched the evacuation of American allied citizens clearly didn't expect this to happen so fast. Is there any good reason why intelligence agencies would have missed signs that the Taliban was poised for a rapid, you know, control of Kabul?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Like the Taliban, probably surprised by how well they've done. I'm not excusing the intelligence community, but I mean, whenever there's some significant event, think about the events of the Arab Spring, you know, the agency, the CIA tends to, to miss it. Not and the people involved in a revolution don't often understand how successful they're going to be.
So -- but as soon as, you know, when we started seeing canoes falling, and then also Ghazni, which is on the crucial Kabul to Kandahar highway, it was clear the game was up and the intelligence assessment of 30 to 90 days should immediately have been adjusted to several days.
As General Kimmitt says, you know, the, the collapse of the Afghan army is also I think one other element here is the country has been at war since 1978, even before the Soviets invaded, and most Afghans want to retain their heads on their bodies, and they will switch sides, not because they're bad people. But because they've seen so many people -- so many forces come and go. And they want there's a strong desire for survival.
COOPER: Peter, do you share the concern that al-Qaeda could reconstitute in Afghanistan quickly?
BERGEN: Yes, I mean, General Milley. I mean, he's, he's in a pretty good position to make that assessment. And, you know, every Jihadi group in the world, it's not just al-Qaeda, but ISIS and the 20 other foreign terrorist groups that are already in Afghanistan, they're all going to be pouring in to celebrate this great victory.
COOPER: General Kimmit, just in terms of, you know, the fulfilling any obligation that the U.S. feels to Afghans who have helped them and to their families and people who are understandable, you know, having understandable fear tonight about what may happen to them. Just logistically, the U.S. has the airport, they're sending, it's up to 6000 troops, which seems like an awful lot to be able to, you know, enough probably, I assume, to secure an airport, at least from direct attack. I don't know about, you know, mortars or shells coming in from distances.
But what do you make of the ability? Is the U.S. able to, given all that's going on actually fulfill promises made to people have helped us?
KIMMITT: Well, I'd ask the Taliban, the simple fact is that the Taliban will now have to let those potential U.S. citizens up into the air. While we have control of the airport, we don't have control outside. And well, it'll be a very simple logistics effort to bring those people that are inside the airport perimeter now into a series of airlifts. What about the tens of thousands that aren't at the airport. And the only way they're going to get there is if the Taliban open the doors and let them come in. But I think that's going to be in problematic.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, Peter, I, you know, I guess, you know, some might, I guess, you could argue the Taliban, you know, would not want to antagonize, you know, if they want foreign aid from a lot of countries they might let foreign citizens and other Afghans leave. The flipside is, as they may not want an educated class of Afghans who are civil servants or whomever leaving and taking with them, you know, the ability to actually help from that country.
Do you, Peter, do you -- you know when you hear the Taliban on the streets of Kabul telling coalition award (ph), oh, girls can go still go to school, things like that. We've changed. Do you buy any of that?
BERGEN: I don't. I have a great deal of skepticism. I spent a fair amount of time and Taliban controlled Afghanistan when they were in power, and, you know, you know exactly what they did. I don't think there's a great deal of countervailing evidence and claims that they simply make that we've changed.
Let's see how they you know, they're going to declare their Emirate. They're going to wait us out till we leave. And then they have a free hand and I, you know, anticipate ethnic cleansing. I anticipate reprisals against anybody who have had any help with the Americans or that allies, and a pretty bleak future.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, General Kimmitt, these are thugs with a very medieval ideology.
KIMMITT: No, absolutely right. I think both Peter and I would agree that we would expect this country to be in a pre 9/11 state within the next year. They have a wonderful strategic communications campaign as I said, bringing flowers to the negotiators and (INAUDIBLE), using social media very, very well. The Taliban spokesman was over all the channels you would have thought these were the Sundays he was on so many channels today, trying to tell everybody how things would be safe, things would be better.
KIMMITT: But, you know, behind all of this, their ideology hasn't changed and their objectives haven't changed.
COOPER: Yes. Peter Bergen, retired General Mark Kimmitt, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Just ahead, a tragedy unfolding in another country with long ties the U.S. We'll have a live report of the rising death toll and destruction after massive earthquake in parts of Haiti.
COOPER: More breaking news tonight. The death toll from their massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti has risen. In the last few hours, Haitian officials now report that at least 1,419 people have died. Thousands more injured with tens of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed. Haiti tonight is also facing the prospect of flash flooding and mudslides as a tropical depression threatens a country still reeling from the chaos caused by the assassination of its president. Matt Rivers is in Haiti for us with the details.
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Getting to the hardest hit area of this earthquake means a helicopter ride, 100 miles away from Port-au-Prince. Land and the reality of Haiti's latest trauma greets us on the tarmac. A waiting truck filled with people injured over the weekend still waiting to be evacuated.
First to come out a young child held by a relative carried into a waiting plane. Next up, an elderly woman in a wheelchair unable to walk. Lifted out of her chair she's carried up step by cautious step on her way to the help that still eludes so many.
Things are out of control the hospital, he says, not enough doctors, not enough medicine, serious injuries. We need urgent help before things get worse.
At least 1,400 have been killed and thousands more injured in the worst earthquake to strike here since 2010. Not far from the airport, this is what remains of a multi storey hotel. Officials say there could still be bodies in this rubble, some here digging trying to help, others digging for scrap metal and air conditioners.
(on-camera): What you don't see here are Haitian authorities. There is no police presence. There's no firefighters. There are no search and rescue crews here, there's just people from the community. And this lone excavator that is not currently in operation. It's very indicative what we're seeing as we drive through this area near the epicenter.
(voice-over): Aid simply isn't arriving quickly. Part of the reason blocked roads like this one impassable for some convoys.
JERRY CHANDLER, DIRECTOR, HAITI CIVIL PROTECTION AGENCY: No response effort is taking time to actually get there. I mean (INAUDIBLE) and we should have been there already. We're getting started. But we're not satisfied.
RIVERS (voice-over): Back at the airport, first responders desperately look for a way to get this young girl out. She's stoic, but her leg is gravely injured and she's clearly in pain. This plane is full. Another helicopter takes off without her. And so, after walking around the tarmac she's placed in another truck, a painful wait for help goes on.
COOPER: And Matt joins us now from Port-au-Prince. Matt, there's concerns now about the Tropical Depression Grace's impact on the search and recovery efforts. Thousands without homes tonight. What's the weather situation there right now?
RIVERS: Yes, the fact is Anderson, there's -- there could be some parts of these communities that were hardest hit, they could receive five, 10, maybe 15 inches of rain overnight tonight into tomorrow. That of course raises the risk of flash flooding, of mudslides, makes it harder for search and rescue teams to do their work. And you're also talking about thousands and thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes, who are spending the night outside Anderson during a tropical depression.
COOPER: It's just awful. Matt Rivers appreciate you being there. Thank you.
Up next, what Pfizer told the FDA today about its COVID booster shot? What it could mean for how quickly they're available.
COOPER: Tonight, as COVID cases surge in 40 states, Pfizer submitted initial data to the FDA from a clinical trial showing that a booster or third dose of their vaccine works well against the original coronavirus than the beta and delta variants. And this is part of their application seeking authorization of a vaccine booster for everyone16 and old are not just those with a weakened immune system.
Joining us talk about a senior medical analyst Leana Wen, the former Baltimore Health Commissioner, she's the author of the new book Lifelines, The Doctors Journey In The Fight For Public Health.
So Dr. Wen, how significant is the news from Pfizer's initial data is one thing actually getting the FDA to authorize boosters in a wide scales and others. Do you think they will?
LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know. But here's what I think based on the data that it's good news, but actually, it's not really surprising, because what they found is that a third dose increases your antibody levels, and that the antibodies appear to be effective against the Delta variant. All of that is pretty common sense.
I mean, we know that the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are effective against delta. So why wouldn't a third dose, why wouldn't that be better? That's actually though not answering the key question that we have remaining right now. The key question is, how quickly does immediately wane after the first two doses? How soon after your first two doses do the rates of hospitalizations begin to increase? And I think not only that, even if you don't have severe illness, is it more likely that immunity to symptomatic disease also begins to wane.
That's the question that I think will really determine when a booster is going to be needed.
COOPER: How do you square this data from Pfizer with the fact CDC, NIH have said they've not yet seen proof their boosters needed for the general public?
WEN: I think that's the thing. There are two different questions being asked right now. One is the question of is a booster going to be effective? I think we can all say yes, a booster is going to be effective. But do we need a booster is a separate question.
For example, right now, we don't know there are data coming out of Israel that say maybe you need a booster because the protection against symptomatic illness may be decreasing from 90 something percent to even 40 or 50%. But I think the CDC, FDA are saying that these -- the vaccines still protect very well against hospitalization and death. We haven't seen that decline yet. And maybe we'll wait until then.
So I think it's a different question that's been asked, although I do think that the data from Pfizer are promising, even if they're not surprising.
COOPER: So we don't really know the length of time by which a booster might be necessary. This but there's not enough data you're saying or conflicting data.
WEN: Right. I think there are conflicting data and also maybe conflicting values, as in some people might say, I don't want to get to a vaccine, unless it turns out that, that I'm more likely to be hospitalized or die. But other people will say, well, I don't want to get sick at all. And so if the likelihood of symptomatic illness begins to increase, I want to get a booster at that time. So it's not just the science, but also the values.
COOPER: All right, interesting. Dr. Wen, appreciate it.
Still ahead tonight, Tropical Storm Fred strikes part of the Gulf coastline with two other storms in the Atlantic. Latest forecast ahead.
COOPER: Tonight, Tropical Storm Fred is moving inland after making landfall along the Florida Panhandle. Part of the region could see flooding, dangerous storm surge and possible tornadoes. Now the storms heading north into Alabama and Western Georgia with rapid weakening expected by tomorrow morning. Fred is one of three Atlantic storms that's being watched. Tropical Storm Henri is now threatening the Bahamas and as we touched on earlier, Tropical Depression Grace is off the coast of Haiti.
We also have a quick programming note, the pandemics far from over but New York City has come a long way in the fight. This Saturday on CNN don't miss "We Love NYC The Homecoming Concert." A lot of big names in music take the stage Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, LL Cool J, Patti Smith to name a few. You'll see it only here on CNN, Saturday night at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
News continues right now. Let's think -- hand things over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: All right, thanks Coop.
I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.
It's good to be back. Some of you reached out about my brother's situation and I do have a note on that.