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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Security Threats Outside Kabul Airport, Americans Told To Leave Immediately; Iceland Proves Vaccines Work With No Deaths Since May; U.S. Intel Officials Not Confident Origins Of Covid-19 Can Be Found; Baby Born On C-17 Evacuation Flight To Germany Named In Honor Of The Call Sign Of The Aircraft. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 25, 2021 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Even as we're digesting the news tonight and more than 82,000 people have now been airlifted out of Afghanistan, which is however you look at it, a remarkable number, we're being reminded of how dangerous it is and how difficult things could turn.

Right now as we speak, Americans waiting to get into the airport in Kabul and eventually on to flights out of Afghanistan are being told to leave the airport area for their own safety. The U.S. Embassy now based at the airport issued the warning shortly before airtime advising Americans who still have yet to actually enter the airport, who might be outside among the crowds outside the airports east, north, and abbey gates to quote, "leave immediately."

The Embassy further cautions against traveling to the airport unless specifically instructed to by a U.S. government representative. Now, this follows CNN's reporting earlier of a quote, "very specific threat stream" from ISIS-K against the crowd.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us now with the latest on this. So, what do we know about this warning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this is a specific warning to U.S. citizens to get away from three gates to Hamid Karzai International Airport, the north gate, the east gate and the abbey gate citing a security threat.

We know having spoken about the threat that ISIS-K poses to that area that The Pentagon believes they could well target the crowds around there as a tempting target for them, whether that would be through suicide bombings or vehicle borne improvised explosive devices, The Pentagon, the U.S. government, and the Biden administration views this as a threat.

And now, we very much see how seriously as the U.S. races to get people out as quickly as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LIEBERMANN (voice over): In the span of 10 days, the U.S. and its

allies have moved nearly the equivalent of a packed giant stadium out of Afghanistan. Flights leaving Kabul International Airport every 39 minutes.

But there are possibly as many as 1,500 Americans who remain in the country. The Biden administration is still working to keep its solemn promise to evacuate every American who wants out, but also saying it's difficult to track in real time every U.S. citizen in Afghanistan.

But how the U.S. will ensure passage for Afghans after the last U.S. plane leaves remains a question.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They will not be forgotten. We certainly have points of incentive and points of leverage with a future Afghan government to help make sure that that happens.

But I can tell you, again, from my perspective, from the President's perspective, this effort does not end on August 31st.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): When asked who shoulders the blame for this frantic effort up to the deadline? He said this.

BLINKEN: I take responsibility. I know the President has said he takes responsibility. There will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years, and to look to see what we might have done differently.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): The Taliban now imposing even tighter restrictions on Afghanistan one day after warning it wouldn't allow Afghans to reach the airport.

In this video shared on social media, this man says he was beaten by the Taliban. His face bloodied. He says, "They hit me bad. This happened to me when I was crossing to the airport."

Now the Taliban telling working women to stay home until security is in place for them. They say their fighters don't know how to treat women yet.

ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, TALIBAN SPOKESPERSON (through translator): We want to make sure women are not treated in a disrespectful way or God forbid, hurt. So, we would like them to stay at home until security is in place for them in the offices.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): The founder of an Afghan girl school burning school records for her students' protection. She fled with her students to Rwanda.

Taliban checkpoints limiting movement in Kabul and beyond. In the crowds outside the airport, one Afghan woman tried about a dozen times to get through so she could join her husband in the United States he told CNN's Kylie Atwood.

Finally, she dressed her baby in yellow and managed to send a photo through to Marines who were able to spot the baby in the crowd. The family made it in.

On Tuesday, the first U.S. troops began leaving Afghanistan, a mix of headquarter staff and maintenance no longer required in Kabul.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.) PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: In those last couple of days, we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out.

LIEBERMANN (voice over): For now, the mission remains focused on the evacuation, but with time racing down, it'll soon transition to the withdrawal of U.S. forces and equipment before the August 31st deadline.


COOPER: So, Oren, The Pentagon has acknowledged three separate helicopter operations to pick up U.S. citizens in Kabul. Is it possible to do that for every American who can't make it inside the airport? That would seem to be very difficult.

LIEBERMANN: Incredibly difficult, if not perhaps nearly impossible. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby pointed out that those three helicopter missions were both short distance and short duration, meaning those Americans were very close to where they needed to be, the Kabul International Airport, to go deeper into Kabul and certainly to go deeper into Afghanistan in the territory that's held either by the Taliban or contested with ISIS-K or others.

That may be too much with the clock winding down here, which opens up the question and that's a question we'll keep on asking: How is the U.S. going to get potentially 1,500 people out of the country?


COOPER: Oren Liebermann, appreciate it. Let's go next to Doha, Qatar. CNN's Sam Kiley has just arrived there in a flight out of Kabul. So Sam, the Embassy warning, you obviously know that airport well, how concerning is it?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very deeply concerning. It's been something that's been top of everybody's minds, in terms of the Intelligence Community and the security of the airport. These enormous crowds pose or present an absolutely delicious target for the vicious sorts of tactics that are employed by ISIS-K.

In the past, they have gone in for the sort of spectacular murders that we've seen ISIS are notorious for in its founding zone in Northern Syria, but this poses an absolutely catastrophic threat because it could utterly stymie efforts not just by the American led coalition to get people out, but also the Taliban efforts to get a level of security at least around the airport.

Yes, they have been very brutal recently towards Afghan citizens whom they've said, should not be leaving, but those crowds are still there. They are still pressing up against those three gates, and they still present a target. Now, we have specific Intelligence being an urgent message that is

going out from the United States, and the United Kingdom, urging their citizens to get away from those gates, in the case of the United Kingdom, get away from the airport altogether.

So, this is a very unusual level of anxiety to have such specific Intelligence and then to appear to be relatively powerless at this stage anyway, to do something about it. So the only thing that they can really do is to get people away so that the target itself, the mass murder potential of innocent civilians, is not being presented to ISIS-K.

And I can tell you that the Taliban have been working to try and catch people and they claimed to have arrested four just the other day -- Anderson.

COOPER: Sam, how would American citizens who were outside the gates trying to get in who are in the crowd, how would they find out about this warning from the U.S.?

KILEY: There is a network, a warning system, quite a sophisticated system in place with the State Department that have been able to reach out to all of those American citizens who've reached into them or whose location they already knew or who would have been preregistered with the U.S. Embassy, and they are being communicated with verbally and by text, message and e-mail not just on this matter, but on all of the other issues associated with trying to get them out of the country.

But it is fraught and ultimately, even though they might know where groups of individual Americans are, now, the issue, obviously as Oren was pointing out is how on earth do you get them from where they are not just through Taliban checkpoints, which for American citizens are reasonably benign, but away from this terrorist threat, which at the moment means that there are all the ways in -- the official ways into the airport are now blocked.

And there are still our people there. There are still people so desperate that they will ignore Afghans. I mean, Afghans will be ignoring in large numbers, these threats from ISIS-K because they are already so fearful of the Taliban -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Sam, what about your journey out of Afghanistan?

KILEY: Well, it was long and hot. I was on an American C-17 with 451 other passengers, almost all of them Afghans or Americans being flown here to Qatar. They were shepherded on -- I mean, the now the systems are pretty well understood. So they, we all move on and a great mass of people, then we line up in pretty neat rows and then asked to sit down because of the takeoff and landing there. There are seatbelts or anything. You're just sitting on the floor, like being in a school gymnasium, except for this thing flies.

An awful lot of people were very, very afraid on takeoff. There was a little bit of cheering and clapping at the beginning and a sense of relief when the aircraft actually took to the air, but these are people at their wit's end anyway. And yes, they are relieved to be getting out, but they are also very fearful. The Afghans among them, those without American passports, many of them with American visas, so they know where they're going to end up as in what country, but they don't know where in that country where they're going to be able to find food, jobs, accommodation, all of the strains and stresses of a refugee population now weighing on their minds for the next stage in this very arduous journey.

But the staff, the servicemen and women on the aircraft are extremely kind and gentle with them. Very, very respectful. There isn't -- what you see so often, actually, when you're dealing -- when people are dealing with refugees, there is nothing horrible that happens to a refugee, they become a kind of nonperson almost. They get herded around like cattle very often. I've seen this all over the world, but in this instance, they were being treated with great respect, great manners.

I've seen similar things on a Qatari flight. So at least that stage of them, they are still hanging on to their dignity as tight as they are hanging on to the very small bags that they're able to carry with them on this long and hot flight -- Anderson.


COOPER: Sam Kiley, I appreciate your remarkable reporting. Thank you.

Just before air, I spoke with a permanent resident of the U.S. who is trying to leave Kabul right now. Najibullah, who asked us not to use his last name, says he traveled to Afghanistan for his father's funeral, we should say we do not know that much about him. But they will verify his identity, he did provide us with his driver's license.

We looked at his LinkedIn and Facebook pages as well and did a background check as well. It seems to line up. Again, I spoke to him just before airtime.


COOPER: You're heading to the airport now? What's the situation?

NAJIBULLAH, U.S. PERMANENT RESIDENT TRYING TO GET OUT OF AFGHANISTAN: Well, there are thousands of people around the airport. They are trying to get in and there is no evacuation right now. They don't let anybody inside the airport. So there are thousands of thousands of people here. Women and kids --

COOPER: Have you been there before? Have you tried to get into the airport before?

NAJIBULLAH: Since 16th August, I'm coming every day, every day, three times to four times a day, but --

COOPER: What is the difficulty?

NAJIBULLAH: The difficulty -- the first difficulty is the rush of people. You can see, you know, hundreds of people are standing there, they are making you know fake documents. They don't kick you out.

COOPER: So, let me understand -- what documents do you have?

NAJIBULLAH: I am a permanent resident of the United States. I have my documents in my hand. The problem is twice I got close to the gate. I talked to the international forces. Once I talked to British force, they said we are sorry, we cannot get you in. Only Americans, they can get you in

We know that you have documents, but we can't get you inside the airport.

COOPER: How long have you lived in the U.S.

NAJIBULLAH: Six years.

COOPER: And I understand your mom is in Afghanistan? Why did you go back this time?

NAJIBULLAH: My father. My father died and I came here for funeral. I have no one here. So I have to be here because my mom she was alone here. So, I came to attend the funeral.

COOPER: So, if you get to the airport and you're able to find somebody, will you just try to -- will you go to the airport -- will you into the airport now and try to get on a plane if they let you in?

NAJIBULLAH: Of course, yes. Once I get inside the airport, they will check my documents. I believe that some of my friends that they work with U.S. organizations here, they got in. They say that there are three checkpoints. Obviously, you know the first checkpoint is with Taliban. The second checkpoint is with the Afghan Force, previous, you know, Afghan force. And the third checkpoint is international forces.

So they check your document and they get you inside. This is what they say.

So, there are thousands of people inside the airport. Some of them as you guys can see also in media, they don't have documents. I don't know how they got inside and how they put them in the plane. So, we have documents. We filled the form, you know, evacuation form also.

I haven't heard anything back from U.S. Embassy to contact me and ask, but there are some alternative ways that they are picking up you know, U.S. citizens and --

COOPER: And is it just you trying to get out or is your mom trying to get out as well?


NAJIBULLAH: It's not only me that I have, you know, documents. I know -- I know a few people that they came from U.S. to visit their families and they stuck here. My flight was on August 15th, exactly, you know, the day that Taliban entered Kabul City. So, my flight was canceled because of, you know, the rush inside the airport, you know, people were running away, you know, especially the politicians.

So they blocked, you know, the airport, the airlines, you know.

COOPER: What happens if you aren't able to get in right now? Today?

NAJIBULLAH: Well, well, today -- well, what happens, we are concerned about, you know, the, the target, which is 31st August. So, obviously, we don't know what's going to happen every time, every seconds, you know, change, you know, everything here.

COOPER: You said, you've tried to reach out to the Embassy? Have you heard at all from the U.S. government?

NAJIBULLAH: I did hear, you know, they called me in 48 hours to I.C.E., and they were just asking me, you know, if I'm safe -- in a safe place. Well, actually, you know, everywhere is not safe in Kabul.

COOPER: And did they give you any advice about how to get to the airport?

NAJIBULLAH: Well, the advice -- the only the only way that they are doing right now, which is very good idea is calling people. They're calling people and they are picking them up from specific, you know, places. That's the only and best way for people to get out of, you know, this crowded people.

These cars and these buses all coming in through the gate and they get escorted, you know, some of these buses or escorted by Taliban because they want to -- they want to bring them safe, you know, to the airport.

COOPER: Najibullah, I wish you the best. I appreciate you talking to us. And good luck to you.

NAJIBULLAH: Well, thank you so much. God bless you, and we're trying to get in. We'll see.

COOPER: I hope you do. Thank you.


COOPER: Next, more on this Embassy warning to Americans outside Kabul Airport. By the way, we have not heard back from him to see how he did. We'll be joined by two experts on the region and the people that are looking to hurt Americans and what this means for the rest of the evacuation.

And later, how the COVID pandemic is unfolding in one of the most vaccinated countries on earth.


COOPER: More now on our breaking news. The warning within the hour to Americans waiting outside Kabul Airport. The Embassy in Kabul telling them to quote, "leave immediately," and those not there yet to stay away unless otherwise instructed. The danger not specified. But for now, the stated concern from the President on down has been

potential attacks on crowds by groups like the local ISIS affiliate.

Joining us now, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, author of a new book "The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden." Also with us, CNN intelligence and security analyst and former C.I.A. officer Bob Baer.

So Peter, given what we've already heard from U.S. officials about the threat from ISIS-K and their desire to create mayhem in the airport, does a warning like this surprise you?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Not really, and you know, this is a sort of hostage crisis of the Biden administration's own making where on the one side, you have the day set of August 31st. And now, you have this credible threat advance which could be from ISIS-K, but we can't also discount al-Qaeda, which has presence in 19 of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan according to the U.N.


BERGEN: The U.N. is also reporting that several months, thousands of foreign fighters have poured in to support the Taliban or al-Qaeda. ISIS-K has an ability to strike at will in Kabul. It bombed a girls school, dozens of kids died in May.

So unfortunately, it's not just the ISIS-K, but there are other groups that would love to carry out an attack that would embarrass the United States and also kill Americans.

COOPER: Bob, how difficult is it for the U.S. now to kind of gather information about potential threats in in a timely manner given they're now isolated at the airport. And it's -- there is no longer an Afghan government that they're dealing with?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Anderson, there's no way to meet agents right now in Kabul or any part of Afghanistan. So, what we're left with are airplanes and intercepts. And so undoubtedly, what the Biden administration is picking up, the National Security agencies intercepted phone calls, where you've got people calling each other looking for Americans, and they know what the ISIS numbers are and this is what has alarmed them at this point, because the Taliban is not a unified movement. It doesn't have full control of Kabul.

And one of these radicals zealot groups very easily could grab an American, take them hostage or worse.

COOPER: Peter, I think what -- Bob raise an interesting point and it's an important one. I was talking to a reporter on the ground who has spent a lot of time with the Taliban over the years. There are a lot of divisions within the Taliban. We imagine them as sort of this monolithic organization. This reporter yesterday had been talking about Talibs from the east as opposed to those from Helmand Province, those who have spent time in Doha with foreigners and women, and that they're kind of competing groups and factions inside the organization. BERGEN: Yes, that's all true. I mean, there's the Doha Taliban, the

political face Mullah Baradar who met with C.I.A. Director William Burns, according to "The Washington Post," you know, that's the kind of acceptable face of the Taliban, then there's a real power, which is Siraj Haqqani, who, by the way, right now has got an American hostage in his -- you know, his group have taken an American, Mark Frerichs who has been held for some period of time.

Siraj Haqqani, you know, he's a designated foreign terrorist. He has a $5 million bounty on his head. He has just orchestrated one of the great military victories of all time, which is the Taliban taking over the country in two weeks, and I think he is the real power behind the throne here. We still don't have a government in Afghanistan. But I think whatever the acceptable political face of the Taliban, in that government behind him, will be people like Siraj Haqqani who have a long record also, by the way of carrying out terrorist attacks in Kabul, the most militant arm of the Taliban.

COOPER: How credible do you think the threat has to be for the U.S. Embassy, which is based at the airport to issue a warning for any Americans outside the airport to leave?

BAER: Well, like Peter was saying, for the administration to make a public announcement like this, it has to be very serious because they don't want to panic people. So, they've picked up something extremely, you know, substantive. And, you know, they can pick up the Islamic State.

The Haqqani Network, on the other hand has rarely spiked, but they're extremely dangerous, as Peter said, and right now there is nothing they'd love than to grab a couple of Americans because they would have -- it's a hostage crisis, and they would have a lot of control over what the administration you know, what can it can do and what it can't.

COOPER: Peter, this all comes on the heels of more than a hundred prison inmates loyal to ISIS-K escaping from two prisons near Kabul. Is that -- how significant do you think that is potentially?

BERGEN: I think, it's usually significant. I mean, it's not just ISIS-K people who got out. It's a lot of Taliban. It's a lot of al- Qaeda. I mean, I've been in the prisons and Pul-e-Charkhi. It's an enormous prison that has a capacity to house thousands of prisoners. And also there were prisoners at Bagram Air Base just to the north of Kabul.

So this is going to replenish -- every jihadi group is going to be replenished by these prison breaks. It is very similar to what al- Qaeda in Iraq did in Iraq and then ISIS, which was release prisoners who then join either al-Qaeda in Iraq or ISIS.

COOPER: Peter Bergen, Bob Baer, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up next, the question of how we got to this point? I'll speak with the columnist who asked what might have better Afghan policy have looked like. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


COOPER: Along with tonight's security warning to Americans outside Kabul Airport who are waiting to get there, there is also the unqualified good news that more than 82,000 people have now been airlifted out of Kabul. There was also a qualified admission of responsibility from Secretary of State Blinken for their shortcoming so far, especially at the outset of the evacuations.

Secretary Blinken also alluded to the months and years and decades frankly of mistakes and -- well, mistakes leading up to this moment.

"New York Times" columnist David Leonhardt has been exploring the subject, the complexities of it as well in a fascinating new piece, which is titled "A better Afghan policy: What would it have been?" He joins us now.

David, thanks so much for being with us. So in your piece, you argue that while the Biden administration deserves blame for mistakes, there probably was no clean way for the U.S. to get out. Why do you say that?

DAVID LEONHARDT, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So, if you think through here what's the big problem? The big problem -- the immediate problem is that we're not evacuating not only Americans, but also the Afghans who worked with the United States military and NGOs and the media in recent years.

And if you say, well, we should have evacuated them before the military withdrawal. But actually, when you think that through, you realize it was just absolutely impossible. In fact, it was a request of the Afghan government that we not evacuate them.

If the Biden administration had begun evacuating thousands or tens of thousands of Afghans before the government fell, it would have led the government to fall and we would all be saying, President Biden caused the Afghan government to collapse.

And so I think as you said, Biden made mistakes here. But I think when we think through the actual choices that they faced, I don't think there was an exit from Afghanistan that wasn't messy.


COOPER: One of the criticisms has been, frankly, that the prior administration, as well as I assumed this administration, kind of was slow walking, or at least the prior administration was slow walking, this administration didn't really pick it up to speed up processing the applications. Because you talk to Republican and Democratic Congress, people who say, look, we've been working for years to try to get certain people visas, special immigrant visas.

So that's certainly -- you know, the other criticism from which we've had on the show from Ryan Crocker, has been that, that essentially the, the process was undercut by the previous administration, dealing directly with the Taliban, which undercut the Afghan government and the Biden administration continued that policy, essentially.

LEONHARDT: I think that's a fair criticism. But I also think it's worth remembering, we were never going to get out everyone who deserved to get out before the government fell. I mean, there's sort of a catch 22 here, right. The United States and the Afghan government, obviously one of the Afghan government to survive, there is no way for it to survive if we are simultaneously airlifting out the thousands of people who are running that government.

And so, so long as the U.S. and Afghanistan wanted to take a shot at an Afghanistan that wasn't run by the Taliban, there was no way to accomplish a most of the airlift in advance.

COOPER: I'm so struck by just how, you know, we, the United States, and, you know, countries like to believe that they know what the effects of their involvement and in other places is going to be. You think you're doing one thing, but it can have ripple effects that you don't really anticipate, you know, just the corruption that exploded in Afghanistan, with all the money that was being poured into it by the U.S. And the regime itself, that which we were supporting was known for its corruption.

LEONHARDT: I think -- I mean, I think Anderson, that's the key point here, which is, if you look at history, look at the United States and Vietnam, look at France and Algeria, look at the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. It is full of instances of big, big powers, going into small poor countries, and thinking that they can overhaul them and run them and put in the government they want. And, you know, this is exaggerating only slightly, it never works ever.

And so the U.S., I think had to attack Afghanistan in order to go after al-Qaeda in 2001. The question is, why didn't the United States, which is really the George W. Bush administration, at the time, have a plan that was something other than we're going to remake this entire society? Why didn't they accept the surrender of the Taliban when it was offered to them? Why didn't they see that a permanent war that seeks total victory is actually more likely to end in defeat, as we've just seen, then a more limited mission in Afghanistan?

COOPER: To the point that the Afghan government, which as you talked about this earlier, and you've written about this, the Afghan government asked the U.S. don't start pulling these people out, because it's going to just make it's going to totally collapse our government. I mean, it's a tricky situation for the U.S., and they decided to acquiesce. I mean, after essentially cutting the Afghan government off at the knees by negotiating directly with the Taliban, they decided to listen to the Afghan government on this one.

LEONHARDT: Yes. And so, the reason they decided to listen to them was that U.S. intelligence said that the Afghan government would likely survive for months. And I think one of the key mistakes here of the Biden administration was they took that forecast as gospel. They said, oh, they are experts say they're the Afghan government is going to survive for months, well, then that's what's going to happen. They didn't do enough contingency planning. They didn't say to themselves, well, wait a second, what are the chances that actually the government's going to collapse within weeks or as happened days? And what's our plan for that?

And I think if they had taken seriously the possibility that the government would collapse within days, and they had reasons to take it seriously. I mean, as you've talked about, there were people saying, look, this, this government is not going to survive. It's too weak. They weren't the consensus. But there were people saying that, if they had taken that seriously, I think they would have sped up the visa processing, as you were just talking about. I think the U.S. would have maybe not been quite so certain about the date that we were leaving, knowing that we might have had to leave troops there for a few weeks longer to oversee an evacuation process that was going to need to be much more rapid.

COOPER: Yes, that's good point. David Leonhardt, appreciate it. Thank you so much.

LEONHARDT: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Still to come, Iceland's COVID surge but with far fewer ICU patients and no fatalities in months. Take a look at why that is, next.



COOPER: A troubling trend in this nation's COVID surged more than a million new confirmed cases in the U.S. this past week, the most of any country and more than 1,000 people dying every day. Cases in the U.S. are up nearly 10% when compared to one week earlier. Death surging more than 55%, some good news, though, however, records vaccine doses up 15%. Still another concern the Biden administration says hospitalizations nearly tripled in the past month, with more than 100,000 people now hospitalized with COVID. And that's a level we have not seen since January.

Of course it doesn't have to be this way. If more people got vaccinated, all those numbers would be much, much lower. And if you want to know what that would actually look like, look no further than Iceland. Iceland the country like the U.S. is in the middle of its fourth COVID surge but the differences they are really staggering and they're instructive.

Gary Tuchman went to find out.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Come to Iceland for the splendor and for the vivid proof of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

(on-camera): How many people have died in this country during this way from COVID? THOROIFUR GUDNASON, CHIEF EPIDEMIOLOGIST, ICELAND: None.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Zero.


TUCHMAN: Dr. Thoroifur Gudnason Iceland's chief epidemiologist.

GUDNASON: I think the widespread vaccination in Iceland has for sure prevented serious consequences of the infection.

PALL MATTHIASSON, CEO, LANDSPITALI NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: I feel grateful and I think it's a testimony to the -- this population.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Dr. Pall Matthiasson is the CEO of the largest hospital in Iceland, Landspitali National University Hospital, he says a nightmare scenario during this fourth and worst wave of COVID has been averted because of his fellow Icelanders.


MATTHIASSON: If it hadn't been for the vaccinations in our population, I think it would have been catastrophic.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Health officials say nobody has died from COVID in the small country since May, 30 died before that almost all before the vaccine was available. And just how vaccinated is this nation now?

MAR KRISTJANSSON, CHIEF INFECTIOUS DISEASE DEPT, LANDSPITALI HOSPITAL: If you look at the age bracket, 16 years and older, it's above just above 90%. If you take from 12 and over that's 84%.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Superlative percentages. Finding people in the U.S. who haven't gotten the vaccine is easy. Here, not so easy.

(on-camera): Have you gotten vaccines?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, of course. Yes.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Of course. Why do you say of course?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just, because it's like our civic duty to get vaccinated.

TUCHMAN (on-camera): Civic duty?


TUCHMAN (on-camera): Do you have friends who haven't gotten vaccinated?


TUCHMAN (voice-over): We go into the hospitals (INAUDIBLE) the Icelandic word for Intensive Care Unit, because the high number of vaccinations also means fewer patients, despite the surge of infections.

(on-camera): Last year before the COVID vaccines were available to the Icelandic public, they were typically between 65 and 75 COVID patients in this hospital. On this day, there are 18 COVID patients.

(voice-over): Some are very ill. Three of them are in the section of the ICU behind this black and yellow tape. But patient numbers do continue to drop.

KRISTINN SIGVALDASON, INTENSIVE CARE PHYSICIAN: It was absolutely crazy last year, but it's more calm at the moment. There are fewer patients and they get well sooner than they did in the first wave.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Notably, the U.S. State Department issued its most serious COVID advisory earlier this month, stating do not travel to Iceland. Iceland's COVID surge is for real. But so is the sense of optimism.

KRISTJANSSON: I think we are -- we're sort of a proof of this principle that that the vaccination is working wonders.


COOPER: And Gary joins us now from Reykjavik, Iceland. Gary, I think I know the answer to this question. But what do health authorities in Iceland know what caused this latest COVID surge?

TUCHMAN: Well, they're not 100% sure, Anderson. But what we do know is this back in June, they lifted COVID restrictions here in the nation of Iceland because things had gotten better. But just a few weeks after that, things got worse again. And a few weeks they brought back the restrictions. One of them is here in Reykjavik and the rest of Iceland bars have to close at 11:00 p.m. This is a party city, so people have nowhere to go and the bars close. So they're just hanging out with us right now. But they don't want those bars to be crowded after 11:00 p.m. Also, they are no longer allowed to be any public gatherings of more than 200 people.

One very important thing to point out Anderson, excuse me, gentlemen, the bars are close like I said. Give me a break. But friend, the respectful. One very important thing to point out Anderson is that not one person in the country of Iceland has died from COVID after getting vaccinated. Anderson.

COOPER: I mean, how great was it to hear that lady say, oh, it's our civic duty as if like, duh, it's our civic duty. Yes, I mean, the number of people. I just wish that was just something that people said everywhere. Yes. I mean, this is what you do to be a good citizen. Gary, I appreciate you on there. Thank you very much.

Perspective on Iceland and new details in vaccines in this country now from CNN Chief Medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, I'm sure you had the same thoughts civic duty. I mean, that's -- is what it is all about. I want to get to the latest news in the vaccines here in the moment. What do you make of what's going on in Iceland?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that was that was a that was a great piece because it sort of shows what life can be like if, you know, we had higher vaccination rates. It's interesting, Anderson because you go to a place like Vermont, and I think Vermont's probably about twice the population of Iceland, just small (INAUDIBLE) like 350,000 people, Vermont is pretty similar in terms of vaccination rates. Sixteen plus, you know, getting close to 90% vaccination rate. So you got these pockets of that sort of civic duty, as you and Gary were talking about.

But obviously, if you look at overall, the status in the country, we got about 52% that are fully vaccinated 9% more that are partially vaccinated. And it's that red in the upper left corner, the eligible unvaccinated that that percentage is just too high Anderson and that's the problem, 98% of people who are in the hospitals COVID in June and July, were from that red part of that pie graph there. So, you know, that's the issue that continues to be the issue.

COOPER: By the way, how is Vermont doing in terms of COVID?

GUPTA: Well, they, you know, it's interesting, so they still have higher spread than they did a couple of weeks ago, or about three or four weeks ago now. But the overall hospitalizations and deaths are quite low. I mean, that that's the thing.

We look at cases, and then we look at hospitalizations and deaths. I think this is going to be a big topic of conversation. If we focus on cases alone, we realize we're dealing with a very transmissible virus, but overall in terms of protecting against hospitalization and death, if you have a higher vaccinated population, you're going to have a much lower hospitalization rate as they saw on Iceland, as they see in Vermont and Connecticut and Maine and other states like that.


COOPER: So let's talk vaccines. According to CDC, more than half of those fully vaccinated against COVID in the U.S. received Pfizer, and today they started submitting an application for their booster dose at the same time, the almost 14 million people received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they've been waiting for news about a booster. They got some news today. What happened?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, the 14 million people I mean, they're frustrated. I think I've probably heard from just about every one of them through e-mail or social media. It's understandable. I mean, because but because they were, they were authorized later, because it's a smaller segment of the population. There's less data.

Let me show you what they talked about today. This, these are small studies, basically looking at what happened if they got a booster of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They found, first of all, that it's pretty effective against moderate and severe disease. When they got the booster six months later, they found that antibody levels went up about nine fold compared to after the first shot. The big question, Anderson, this would be a question I think we're going to be asking for some time is, what does that translate to get more antibodies? Does that actually equate to people doing better more protection against hospitalizations and deaths, more protection, even against severe illness? I don't know that we can say that yet. And I think that's going to be a topic of discussion with all the boosters Johnson &Johnson but also Pfizer and Moderna.

COOPER: All right, Sanjay, thanks very much.


COOPER: Given that President Biden has already gotten the long anticipated intelligence report on the origins of COVID and didn't give him that a reportedly reach no clear conclusion. The question now is what we could learn when the unclassified version comes out. White House says it should be released soon.

But investigators are not even confident they'll ever know for sure whether the virus came from that Wuhan lab or from animal to human transmission.

Joining me from our perspective is Jamie Metzl, World Health Organization Advisory Committee member and a former national security staffer in the Clinton administration.

Jamie, we haven't seen the full contents of this report yet, from what we've seen, even after 90 days review by the nation's intelligence experts that it's still unclear how the virus started. What does that tell you?

JAMIE METZL, WHO ADVISORY GROUP MEMBER: It doesn't tell us much. This was a very important first step. But this review was always a first step. Now we need a full investigation to get to the bottom of this. There's a lot of evidence that's fully available, and it should be available in China. But even if the Chinese government continues to not participate and prevent any kind of investigation inside of China, there are many other resources which we need access to. And that's why this is a first step we need to authorize a continuation of this Biden intelligence review. We need a national COVID commission a bipartisan commission, and we need to ramp up international efforts to have the kind of full investigation. It's never even to date been mandated.

COOPER: I mean, isn't the bottom line though, that if China doesn't cooperate unless there's, you know, human intelligence, connections or signals intelligence? It doesn't seem I mean, is it possible to actually learn the truth, what happened?

METZL: Yes, well, it definitely makes everybody's job harder. But I don't think necessarily impossible because there are a lot of things that we can do. There are resources available outside of China. There are materials that were submitted, for example, to scientific journals before the Chinese iron curtain when curtain went down early last year, they could be accessed. There are whistleblower provisions. I'm guessing there are hundreds of people inside of China who have highly relevant information about the origins of the pandemic, who I'm guessing are probably afraid for their lives. They've seen people in prison for asking basic questions, we need to do that.

But the core point is no international investigation has ever been mandated. If we can't not have an investigation and then say we'll never find something. Let's have the best possible investigation and see what we can get.

COOPER: Why hasn't that been mended?

METZL: The big issue is last year, it's a little technical, the World Health Assembly, which is the governing body of the World Health Organization of the Australian Government proposed a full investigation, China punished Australia with trade sanctions and a Chinese supported resolution eventually passed, that essentially did not authorize a full investigation into the origins of the pandemic, but mandated a Chinese controlled joint study into one single hypothesis that it jumped from animals to humans in the wild, not associated with any kind of laboratory research. And so that's what's been done. And that's where the real fight is.

So Dr. Tedros, the WHO Director General has been incredibly courageous, calling for a full audit of Chinese labs, calling for the Chinese authorities to share raw data and China has flatly refused. They've attacked Dr. Tedros in the media. And that's why again, this is the beginning of a process and we all the United States government, governments around the world need to be pushing for the best possible investigation. And again, we don't have one, we need one.

COOPER: Since early last week, you've talked about your belief that a lab incident is the most likely origin of the pandemic versus the other theory that it naturally jumped from animal to humans. If these intelligence experts are inconclusive, what is it at this stage that makes you believe the lab theory?

Oh, we just lost the guest. Will try to get him back if we have time a little we're almost at the end of the program. So another time. It's always great to have him. We're going to continue the following that from Jamie Metzl.

Up next, the baby born to Afghan refugee parents on an evacuation flight out of Kabul. We'll hear the name that they chose. We'll be right back.



COOPER: A baby born to Afghan refugee parents on an evacuation flight from Qatar to Germany has a new name. The head of European command told reporters today the baby girl has been given the name Reach. Now as unlikely as that may sound to us General said the girl's parents agreed to the name and honor the call sign of the C-17 that carried her and her parents to safety, Reach.

Officials on social media said she was born in the cargo bay of the aircraft. Two other babies were delivered successfully at American Military Hospital after they landed and they are both doing well. As is the infant born on the plane Reach.

Congratulations to all.

That's it for us. The news continues. Want to handover Chris for "CUOMO PRIMETIME." Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: We need a lot more happy endings, Anderson, thank you very much for the reporting.

I'm Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Primetime."

You know we really need to figure out what we are about in this country. Our government learns there are terror threats at the Kabul airport. And their reaction is to tell Americans who are desperate and dying to get out to leave. Are you kidding me? Here's the U.S. government warning issue just now because of security threats outside the gates of Kabul airport, we're advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so. Those who are at the Abbey (ph) gate, East Gate or North Gate now should leave immediately.


Question, why isn't the answer to bring Americans into the airport to keep them safe?