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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

U.S. Embassy In Kabul Again Warns U.S. Citizens To Leave Airport Gates "Immediately"; U.S. Military Conducts Airstrike Against ISIS-K Planner; Judge Rules Against Florida Governor's Ban On Mask Mandates. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 27, 2021 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening again. Chris is off tonight.

With the Pentagon bracing for a second attack, the first American victim of yesterday's suicide bombing, in Kabul, has now been identified.

He is Marine Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum, from Wyoming. He was only 20 years old. He has a baby, due in just three weeks, according to his older sister, Royce. She tells us he was on his first deployment, helping get people out of the country, manning the airport checkpoint, where the suicide bomber struck.

She said he wanted to be a Marine his whole life. He was living his dream. That even as a toddler, he carried on a toy rifle, in his diapers, and cowboy boots. She says he wanted to teach history, and be a wrestling coach, when he did finish his service and, of course, a new dad.

There are 12 other names, 12 other heroes, whose stories are yet to come.

And even as the President is preparing to make condolence calls, to the next of kin, as we've been reporting tonight, he's warned - he's been warned that another attack is likely. Only days now, remaining in America's longest war, and they could easily be the darkest.

Perspective now, from CNN Military Analyst, from retired Army General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

General Clark, as we begin to start learning the names, and seeing the faces, and hearing the stories, and meeting the family members of the U.S. service members, who gave their lives yesterday, it's - it is just - it really comes home, just the pain of what has happened, and also the pain that's going to have ripple effects, and linger in these families' lives, for the rest of their lives.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Anderson, it is just heartbreaking to see these losses, to think about what it means, to the family members, to think about the impact, on your service members, who were there, in the same unit, who are doing this, right now, who know they're at Ground Zero, of a terrorist attack that they may not be able to foresee coming.

It takes enormous courage. It's an enormous sense of sacrifice. And my heart goes out to the men that are there, and women, working, in that airport, but also, to the family members, of all those, not just those who were killed, but those who know their loved ones are on that mission. This is a dangerous important, vital mission.

And I guess the final heartbreak for me is having watched this operation unfold, from the beginning, in 2001, and watch us go in there, and the early successes, and then to see it evolve the way it did, knowing it was coming apart, and then the sudden collapse, at the end, and finally, our men going and women going back in, and having to face this. It's just tragic. It's heartbreaking.

But I'm so proud, of the men and women, in uniform, for having the courage and fortitude to do this.

COOPER: Yes, fortitude. I mean, it's such a good word. And courage as well, it's so on display, in every one of them.

The warning from the White House today that it's likely that another terrorist attack will happen, in Kabul, how imminent does a threat have to be, or strong, does the information have to be, for them to issue that kind of a warning?

CLARK: Oh, they've got - they know. They're hearing chatter on the net. People are telling them that a known person said he's assembling a group.

There's a facility somewhere, where are the resources, I mean, the code words to talk, and there's chitchat going back and forth. And someone's bragging about the last attack, and saying, "And we got more to follow."

And I mean it's that kind of talk that you're picking up from credible sources that correlate to this same people that we're talking before the last attack. Yes, it's credible. Can we find them, identify them, take them, out? You can bet we're trying to do that right now.

COOPER: The difficulties, I mean, of an evacuation like this have been much discussed. The difficulties, as those, who are executing the evacuation, begin to evacuate themselves, I assume, that only just - the difficulties just get - just increase.


CLARK: Sure. I mean, they - we've got to start packing up now. It takes longer to get out of a situation, like this, than it is to sort of land, and unroll everything. You got to do it in sequence. You got to pack it up.

You got to get everything out of there, trucks, helicopters, drones, command and control units, comms. You got to figure out the sequence, it's going in. You got to get the aircraft marshaled. You got to get the load plan set.

It's a complete operation. And it's being done under duress, while they're still trying to bring people out.

And my understanding today is that gates were mostly closed. And from the chitchat I picked up, on my networks, there's a lot of people, who've tried to get in, who couldn't get in.

And that's a heartbreak, in itself, not only for those of us watching it, and knowing some of these people, on the outside. But I'm sure for the Marines and soldiers that are in there, they want to do that job.

And we're relying on the Taliban, for the defensive perimeter on the outside, sure. But we gave them the list of the names of the people that we want in there. And those are probably the same people the Taliban wants to harass and maybe kill.

So, we know from chitchat also that there's a network out there, going after the people that worked with us. So, you can imagine the fear, and the trepidation, inside apartments in Kabul, and other neighboring areas, where people are sort of saying, "Do I take the risk? Do I get out? If I get to the airport, what am I going to do? How do I get past the Taliban?"


CLARK: It's just really a tragic time.

COOPER: We are just learning right now that the U.S. embassy in Kabul again warned U.S. citizens, at a number of gates, at the airport, to quote, "Leave immediately," citing security threats.

The alert, advised U.S. citizens quote - to quote - and I'm quoting, "To avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates."

Do you think this will - this will just keep up, until the 31st, essentially not being able to go to the gates?

CLARK: Well, I think we've got to find some other means. And certainly, there are still people working on the ground, in Kabul.

There are contractors. There are people, who are Afghans, who worked for us, got some Americans, still on the ground, and they're plain- clothes guys, who are able to pick people up, and get them to the right locations.

And yes, the gates are closed. I mean, under the right circumstances, of course, they could be opened, and, just to lot a group through. So, we're going to do everything we can, obviously, to get people out.

But Anderson, think of the enormity of this task. Now, we've evacuated over 100,000 people. That's pretty commendable. And we did it, boom, we put those troops in there, and we got this thing going, in a hostile environment.

But we probably have 1 million to 2 million Afghans, who want out. They are trying to get out, through Pakistan. They are trying to get out through Uzbekistan. But no matter how many we take out, there'll be many more.


CLARK: There are judges, we trained, administrators, we worked with, people who speak English, people who worked with the government, they don't trust what's going to happen next. They and their families need to leave.

COOPER: Yes. General Clark, I appreciate you being with us tonight. Thank you.

CLARK: Thank you.

COOPER: For a closer look at what it's like, right now, in Kabul, we turn next to someone, who's seen this final chapter unfold, up close, "Los Angeles Times'" Foreign Correspondent and Photojournalist, Marcus Yam.

So, Marcus, what is the mood like, in Kabul, after yesterday's attack, especially as the White House's warning of another possible terror attack, in Kabul, that being likely?

MARCUS YAM, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT & PHOTOJOURNALIST, LOS ANGELES TIMES: The mood, so far, I mean, is Kabul's pretty quiet today.

I mean, like we drove around, and went - actually went to the airport today, to see what it looked like. I mean, there were still more - there were still Afghans standing around, outside, looking to, get into the airport.

But as we get - make our way towards, even the main civilian entrance of the airport, or even towards the East gate, the Taliban fighters have actually moved away, from their checkpoints, and actually have moved out altogether.

And, as you walk, through the entire area, leading up to, like, these gates are emptying out, basically, and devoid of people, basically, for the most part.

COOPER: Is that because the Taliban - I mean, you said they've moved away from checkpoints, but are they stopping people from going up?

YAM: No. I think they've actually moved away, in a sense, they've created a bigger circle around the airport. So, I think they've just given - are giving airport security forces, American Security Forces, space, in a way.

COOPER: I knew you were at the airport, in the days, leading up to the explosion. You took pictures at the Abbey Gate, where the - where the attack happened. And we're showing some of them.

Can you just describe the scene and the security there before the blast?


YAM: I mean the scene was like any other scene. I mean, like, refugees were flowing in. It was very calm. It was somewhat orderly. Everybody was hopeful. Everybody was happy to be there, calmly, patiently waiting, for their turn.

In terms of security, it was kind of all over the place. I mean, like nobody was checking anybody's bags, or doing any checks, on the way, into this area. And the area - and civilians have to go through a Taliban checkpoint, before coming in here. And the Taliban wasn't really - didn't really do any security checks, coming in.

COOPER: So, these people were basically unchecked?

YAM: So, the--

COOPER: I mean that nobody had really done a thorough search of them, until the U.S. did?

YAM: Correct.

COOPER: And in this area, you said people were happy to be there. Is this an area, where people, they knew that they were going to get out? Or are these people, who still were not sure, if they would - if their documents would be accepted?

YAM: I mean, I think there's a sense of uncertainty. But I think - I think there was a common belief that once you got past the Taliban and, into past British and the American military checks, I mean, checkpoints, you have to - basically in the airport, even though this was not part of the airport yet.

COOPER: You've returned, after the explosion. And I just want to show some of what you - some of the images that you took. I think some of these are also from outside the hospital.

What did you hear from people on the ground?

YAM: I mean, we spoke to - I spoke to one survivor that basically was about, he said, he was about seven to 10 meters away, from the blast. And all he saw was a flash. And he blacked out.

And I guess he fell into the canal part of that area. I mean, he fell into the canal. And he was also - and his brother had to pull him out. And he didn't remember much after that. And he remembered - but he did remember waking up with a piece of human flesh on his shoulder. And it was just utter madness.

COOPER: And obviously, the death toll went up today, from an Afghan official.

Last week, you were - you were punched, you were beaten up, by members of the Taliban. You wrote about it for the "L.A. Times."

And in part of that account, you said, "Someone tugged on my camera strap, and I felt the kinetic-energy connection of a fist to the side of my head.

A Taliban fighter had emerged out of nowhere and sucker-punched me. He was a tall, burly man, with a well-groomed thick beard. He started screaming in Dari, the local language, pointing at our cameras."

I mean, it sounded terrifying. What happened next? And do you fear that this is a specter of things to come?

YAM: I mean it's a sign of how volatile things can get, ultimately. I mean, I had - I brought up a complaint to the Taliban spokesperson.

And, for the most part, he seemed pretty unapologetic, and mentioned that we should just use, and they had introduced this new accredited - media accreditation system. And it's basically a big white placard that we have to carry around now, in order to do our work.

And we've - I've tried this a couple - for a couple of times now. And it's, I've had mixed results with it. Some Taliban fighters recognize it. Some don't really care about it. And just, most tell me not to take pictures.

COOPER: Marcus Yam, I appreciate you taking the time, to talk to us. Thank you.

YAM: Thank you for having me on.

COOPER: Well, now we want you to meet a U.S. Army veteran, and a Gold Star Wife, whose husband died, while serving in Afghanistan, in 2012.

She has family members, who've been working with the U.S. military, in Afghanistan, for the entire war, she says. And, as you might imagine, they are now desperate to get out.

Her name is Fatima. And we're not going to provide her last name, or her location, because we want to keep her family members, as safe as possible.

I first spoke to her, earlier today, on my show, "FULL CIRCLE." And we were so struck by what she had to say, and her situation that I wanted to continue that conversation with you here.

So, Fatima, thanks so much, for coming back. I appreciate you, giving us the time.

You emigrated to the U.S., from Afghanistan. I believe it was in the late 90s. You eventually joined the U.S. military, in 2008, after you graduated high school. You served overseas. That's where you met your husband, who was killed, while serving in Afghanistan.

Talk about your family. They have spent, you say, decades, helping the U.S. military, as well. How many family members are still now trying to get out?

FATIMA, GOLD STAR WIFE, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: Right now, I had at least two different family members, from my mother's side, come to me, and say, "Hey, I had eight years in Kandahar. And I have no paperwork, or I have my paperwork, and it was burned."

And there's a lot of people, that are, just, kind of, in search of the certain paperwork that you need, because they're being told, "Well if you don't have this specific thing, that they're not going to accept you." And some of them kind of take that, and take that as a broken heart, and kind of keep it moving.

But especially, thank you for having me here again.


And, I think, my family, I know, is not going - like I said before, we're not going to be able to get everybody out. We can't get everybody out of the country either. And we just need to take a breather, and understand kind of our capacity, but--

COOPER: You're--

FATIMA: --I think, top off my head, 20 people, sorry.

COOPER: Your brother has a U.S. passport, and was in - was in Kabul. He stayed longer. He could have gotten out now. But he stayed longer, in order to help other family members, who were in the process, to get a Special Immigrant Visa.

Was he able to get them out?

FATIMA: He was able to get them out. And that's something really happy about, is he waited weeks, and he went with them to the gates, every single day.

And every day, he got an opportunity that was like, "Hey, well, you're an American citizen. We can get you on a plane." And he was like, "No, no, no, no, no, because I know, once I leave, these guys are going to be left."


FATIMA: So, just going to go on there--

COOPER: How many days was he at the gate for? Or where he - was he going to gates?

FATIMA: He was going to gates for five days.


FATIMA: And he, every day, early in the morning, because that's when everybody gets there, early in the morning, and they leave at night.

He told me he took pictures of one of the nights. And he was like "I was that - at that gate for 24 hours. And we still didn't get anywhere." And it was because he was an American citizen, but because they were SIV applicants that it would just - they were like, "No, well, we're not accepting that right now." And it just kind of - the gates, as the nation - like different nations, take over the gate control, they also say, "OK, well, no, we're only accepting this person. We're only accepting these people." So it's like - the acceptance kind of goes.

It's very fluid, and nobody really knows when. So, that's why there is a slew of people out the gates, I feel.

COOPER: You know?

FATIMA: My personal opinion.

COOPER: When I talked to you first, earlier today, you talked about heartbreak. And I was thinking about it afterward. And I wanted to ask you about it tonight, because, in some ways, I can imagine your heart breaking in all different kinds of ways.

I mean, as a veteran, hearing of the deaths of 13 service members, 12 Marines, and, believe, an Army soldier, your heart must break, as a veteran, as somebody, who lost a husband in Afghanistan, there's that heartache as well with the - what's happened now, to Afghanistan, to have family members there, some who haven't - won't be able to get out.

And as a Afghan, yourself, someone who was born there, I mean, it's, how are you doing?

FATIMA: I am very tired. I was just going to say I'm very tired. But it's, you got to kind of push through, because I know they're - my tiredness doesn't matter.

I was actually just talking to one of the extraction teams. And they're like, "Hey, man, I'm going to take an hour nap." And I know that girl has been up for the past 18 hours, because I've been up with her.

So just, I think that is keeping me going, the amount of - the amount of support, and the amount of hard work that the veterans, on ground, are really working on, and the military that's on ground that I'm in contact with that are doing their own different extractions. It really helps you kind of get some motivation, and you see past your - you see past your feelings.

My heart is absolutely broken for the 12 families that are going to get the worst knock on their door.

I know when I got that knock, I shut the door back, in my first veteran's (ph) face, and then I felt awful about it, because I would have never shut a door, in someone's face. I just I didn't want to believe it.

My heart aches for those kids - my heart aches for those families.

COOPER: You know what, that knock on the door is like.

FATIMA: Yes, it's terrifying. You see that car, and you're just like, "No!" I said "It was just a dream. It's going to go away. It's a dream." I did that to myself for a year, thinking everything was a dream.

But the issue, that - sorry.

Those Marines that we lost, they, I was in contact with people that were on ground. And the Marines were the only ones, who were outside the gate.

No story is going to tell about the amazing things that they did do, and how they really were trying to make things easy, for the Afghan people, to get through. And these are like, my, these are my people. And it makes me - it breaks my heart that they lost their lives, trying to help my people, get to safety.

That's, yes, my - the veteran in me is crying. The Afghan in me is crying, because I'm - all of the innocent lives that were lost, and the fact that why is there continuously lives being lost.


The Gold Star Wife in me is sad for all the people that have to get that phone call, and they have to get that face-to-face meeting, with two officials that just show up at your door. It's very jumbled.

It's - and then having to tell my family members like, "I can't help you. I'm so sorry. I cannot help you. I have no capacity to help you."

And my cousin had sent an email about my first day, "Hey, can you get my daughter out? Please get my daughter out." And I'm just like, I wish I could. I really do. And I think that's a million broken pieces, but--

COOPER: Well, Fatima?

FATIMA: --it's very good.

COOPER: I appreciate you, you talking to us, tonight, and giving us a window, into what, what you and so many families are going through. And I appreciate your service. And I'm sorry for your losses. And thank you for being with us.

FATIMA: Thank you so much. Thank you very much.

COOPER: Sadly, we've just learned the name of the second of 13 service members killed yesterday.

He is Marine Corporal Daegan Page. He was just 23-years-old. He was raised in Red Oak, Iowa and Omaha, and Nebraska as well. His family tells us he was a longtime "Boy Scout," a hockey fan, with a fondness for hot dogs, and they say, a real soft spot for dogs as well. He was a dog person.

Daegan, they say, will always be remembered for his tough outer shell, and his giant heart, and for being a jungle gym, to his younger brothers and sisters. Marine Corporal Daegan Page. Next, Biographer of President Biden, Evan Osnos, joins us, talking about the - what's driving the President, even as the second Kabul attack is likely, and a new embassy warning has just gone out, to Americans, to get away from the airport gates, now, and stay away from the airport, right now.

We'll be back.



COOPER: As we reported, before the break, the U.S. embassy, in Kabul, is once again, warning Americans to immediately leave the gates, outside Hamid Karzai International Airport. Others are being told to avoid the airport and not go there.

This, of course, a chilling repeat of the warning that preceded yesterday's bombing, and it's yet more pressure on the administration.

Here to talk about how this president operates, in moments like this, CNN Contributor, and "New Yorker" Staff Writer, Evan Osnos, Author of "Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now."

So Evan, we spoke briefly yesterday, about how personal these deaths often are, for the President and his family. Obviously, his son, Beau, was an Army Major, who later lost his battle with cancer. He talked about yesterday, the black hole that's left, after a death like that.

How do you think he plans to approach these conversations with the - with these family members? I mean, it's something he has certainly obviously has experience with.

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He does. This is the first time he's doing it now, as Commander-in-Chief. But it's been a part of his public life, for a long time.

And he's sort of developed some techniques that he really uses, when he talks to people, in this situation. One of things is he never says, "I know exactly what you're feeling," because he doesn't. As he says, "You know, I can say I know some of what you're feeling."

One thing he often recommends to people, he did it in his own life, is he says, "Keep a pad and pen by your bed. And, as the time goes by, you will make a mark. And rate your date. Give yourself an assessment of how you're doing, how are you struggling? How are you recovering? Because only then will you be able to sense, if there's any improvement over time."

He's given that advice, for instance, to parents, who lost children, at the Sandy Hook massacre, in Connecticut.

The other thing he does, sometimes, is he will draw on his own experience.

He will say, as he did to a woman, named Amanda Berry, in Cleveland, who had been kidnapped, and then released, he said, "You know, I was basically your age, about 28-years-old, 29 years old, when I lost my wife and my daughter. And here I am. I'm still here."

And she said later, that experience, just hearing him say, "I am still here," she said, "There is something valuable in that. And if he could get through it, then maybe I can too."

COOPER: You pointed out earlier tonight that the card, the President carries around, in his pocket, this is the first time of his presidency, that it's been updated. It's a card with the number of U.S. troops, killed, on his watch.

OSNOS: It's true. I mean, this is the first time, since he's taken office that he has now deaths in Afghanistan that will be reflected on that card, he carries. It's, there is this very personal piece of this for him.

And one of the things that I think gives form, in his mind, how to deal with grief, is something that came to him, a few years ago.

Actually, it was Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Ted Kennedy, who gave him a letter that had been written by Joseph Kennedy who, after all, lost four of his children, including John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy.

And he gave advice to people, who said, "Look, when you've lost a loved one, you should think about the years that they might have had, what they might have done, with those years. And then, take that on as your own mission, and say, "I will do and I will advance those causes."

And in a way you've heard that language, in the way Joe Biden talks about this country, about grieving, about trying to find purpose, as he so often says.

And there's a - there's a larger meaning in there, about trying to find your way forward. It's not only a method of survival, but it's also about finding something bigger than what has - what has fallen.

COOPER: This is also probably the biggest challenge he has. I mean, well I don't know. I mean you know his career very well. Would you say this is the biggest challenge he has faced in his entire career?

OSNOS: I think it is. I mean, look, he has had moments of political failure, in his career, moments where his political career might have come to an end.

But this is something of a much higher order, a graver order. This is about trying to fulfill the expectations, people had for him, as a candidate, as a president, somebody who ran, of course, on foreign policy and national experience.

And then also, it is a period of anguish, for the country, of coming to terms with all of the things that we have put on the line, in Afghanistan, for 20 years, a war that as we now know, of course, he was - he was deeply opposed to, for a long time, tried to get out of there. And now is still in the - in the teeth of it. The storm is still raging, Anderson. As you said, they are giving - they are giving warnings, to people, in Kabul, to stay away, because of an imminent attack.

And so, the next four days may bring more names of the kind that we've already begun to hear tonight. And this is going to be a process really for the whole country, to be thinking about the cost, the sacrifices that the United States has made, over the last 20 years.

COOPER: Yes, Evan Osnos, I appreciate it. Thank you.

OSNOS: Of course.

COOPER: We've just learned the identity of a third U.S. service member, who was killed, in Thursday's suicide attack, in Kabul. U.S. Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak. Maxton Soviak. We don't have pictures yet.

His parents say in a statement that Maxton was "Proud to be a Navy Corpsman and a "Devil Doc" for the Marines."

They say, his final words were to his mother, over FaceTime. He was telling her goodbye. She told him to be safe. And he said quote, "Don't worry, mom. My guys got me. They won't let anything happen to me."


They say that when Maxton was younger, he was part of a state champion wrestling team, and state playoff final football team, two years in a row.

In the statement, the family also writes that Maxton leaves behind 12 brothers and sisters that are all hurting terribly.

Our thoughts and our prayers are with them, and all those suffering.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: As we reported, White House officials say that another attack in Kabul is likely, and that the next few days of the mission may be the most dangerous.

The attack in Kabul and the pullout of troops have come, as Republicans and Democrats position for bruising midterm election that could flip either or both Houses of Congress. Already calls from some Republicans for the President's resignation.

Earlier tonight, I spoke with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who's working with Democrats, on the House Select Committee, investigating the Capitol riot, about his criticism of President Biden's actions, in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): I think there needs to be accountability. And I think, frankly, President Biden needs to take better ownership of this.

People have used the Kennedy "Bay of Pigs" analogy, where he took full responsibility, and actually his poll numbers recovered. Because that's what Americans want, they want leaders who take responsibility.

So, a firing, or a removal, or a resignation, of a national security leader team, should not be a kind of a scapegoat. I mean, ultimately, President Biden owns this. But we need to know what happens.


COOPER: CNN Congressional (ph) Correspondent, Jessica Dean, has more now on the reaction on Capitol Hill.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): There will be a day of reckoning.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republican criticism of President Joe Biden intensifying, over the crisis, in Afghanistan.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promising to hold the administration accountable, but pushing back, for now, on his fellow Republicans, who are calling for Biden's resignation, or impeachment.

MCCARTHY: Right now, in the next five days, everyone's responsibility should only be focused on getting the Americans out.

DEAN (voice-over): With Democrats in the majority, Republicans lack the power, to launch investigations.

But the GOP is already looking ahead, to the midterm elections, and trying to make Afghanistan, a permanent stain, on Biden's presidency, with the number three House Republican, Representative Elise Stefanik, writing in a tweet, Biden is quote, "Unfit to be Commander-in-Chief."

Democrats, largely sticking with the President, and pushing back against Republicans.


SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): There are a lot of people, in this body, who wanted the military, to stay in Afghanistan, more, another year, five years, 10 years, 20 years, forever, and they're critical.

They didn't - they didn't like a decision, by President Biden, to end this war. They tended to be quiet, when President Trump did the deal, with the Taliban, to pull out in May. But now that President Biden is in place, they think we should stay.

DEAN (voice-over): But some Democrats are more critical.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey Democratic Senator, Bob Menendez said in a statement, the United States, quote, "Cannot trust the Taliban with Americans' Security."

Pennsylvania Representative Susan Wild, writing in a tweet, "The evacuation process appears to have been egregiously mishandled," calling for, "Answers and accountability."

The White House, saying it does not have any direct response to members of Congress.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is easy to throw stones, or be a critic, from the outside. It is harder to be in the arena, and make difficult decisions.


COOPER: Jessica Dean joins us now, from Capitol Hill.

So, is it clear what Minority Leader McCarthy has in mind, when he says "There'll be a day of reckoning for President Biden's actions on Afghanistan?" Because we should also point out, it was President Trump, and McCarthy backed him, on the deal with the Taliban.

DEAN: Right. And he was kind of pushed on that, earlier today, Anderson. And he said, "Well, this was different. There were specifications, and that sort of thing," kind of went back and forth on it.

But the bottom line is we don't know the specifics of what this day of reckoning might be. It is worth noting that he did not call for Biden's resignation, or for his impeachment.

And it's also worth noting how we saw so many House Republicans, and even Senate - some Senate Republicans banding about impeachment, kind of, we're seeing it weaponized, and just kind of used almost flippant - not flippantly, but kind of bandied about and weaponized in this way, which is something we really haven't seen that's been evolving over the years. So, that was worth noting as well.

What is important here though is no doubt Republicans want to make this an issue in 2022.

As we noted in the piece, they don't have the power, right now, to set up any investigations, to get any investigations going, because Democrats control both the House and the Senate.

But that could shift in 2022. And there's no doubt that they want to zero-in on this issue, as they move toward the midterms, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Jessica Dean, appreciate it. Thank you.

Want to get perspective now from CNN Contributor, Garrett Graff, Author of several books, on 9/11, as well as the fight against terrorism. Garrett, you heard Minority Leader McCarthy say there'll be a quote, "Day of reckoning" for President Biden's actions on Afghanistan.

What do you think Republicans will actually do, after the August 31st deadline?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's hard to say. But I think it is fascinating to try to watch the incoherence of their policy, right now.

In that press conference, today, McCarthy both simultaneously said that there should not be any troops left in Afghanistan, but at the same time argued that we should actually be sending more troops, to hold the Bagram Air Force Base.

I mean, there is no coherent policy that we are seeing from any of the President's critics, on the Democratic side, or the Republican side, right now.

COOPER: This has been certainly chaotic, messy, for the Biden administration, tragic, 13 service members killed yesterday.

I was talking to Congressman Kinzinger, last hour, and he was saying that the President needs to take better ownership of this.

GRAFF: Well, he has - by the time President Biden inherited this problem, in January, there were nothing but bad options left.

And I think that that's really important to understand that so many of the pundits and critics that we have seen, over the last two weeks, failed in their own attempts, over the last two decades, to bring any of this problem, to a conclusion.

And they have kicked this down the road, for four presidential administrations now, all of whom have sort of tacitly admitted that the reason that we are staying in Afghanistan, is that we know that this will happen, the moment that we tried to leave.

And so, there are some tactical critiques that you can make of the way that Biden has handled the last couple of weeks. But, at the end of the day, everyone, for the last 18 years, has known that this is where this problem was going to end up that we were going to lose Afghanistan someday.

COOPER: Democratic Congresswoman Susan Wild, on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says, has vowed to investigate what happened, in terms of any Intelligence failures.

How do you think investigations and hearings, into all this, are going to play out, in the coming weeks and months?

GRAFF: Well, obviously, they're going to try to use this as a bludgeon, against the President, to try to call into question, his administration's competence.

However, I do think it is also important to understand the - and Jessica Dean was just talking about this, a moment ago, just how poisonous and partisan this criticism is, at this exact moment.


I mean, you don't have to go back too far, Anderson, to see a moment, where if terrorists had killed 13 Americans, the Republicans' complaint would be with the terrorists, and not with the President of the United States.

COOPER: Garrett Graff, thank you very much.




COOPER: We are just learning now that American forces have conducted an airstrike against what's described as an ISIS-K planner in Afghanistan.

For more, I want to go to CNN's Oren Liebermann, at the Pentagon.

What do you know, Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just got a statement from U.S. Central Command, which governs Afghanistan.

And this after, of course, President Joe Biden vowed he would respond to ISIS-K, and the attack they carried out that killed 13 service members, wounded more than a dozen others, as well as killing scores of Afghan civilians.

That statement is a short one, but it is to the point, and I'll read it in full here.

"U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties."

Biden had promised that there was some information about ISIS-K, and who was behind the planning of the attack, the carrying out of the attack. And here, the military says they have found that ISIS-K planner, and carried out a drone strike, from over-the-horizon, to kill that ISIS-K planner.

The administration had said all along, it would retain over-the- horizon capabilities, the ability, the capability, to carry out strikes, from outside of Afghanistan, on counterterrorism missions. Here, the Biden administration showing the force of that capability.

In terms of where this was carried out, in Nangarhar Province that is just essentially East, Southeast, of Kabul, where the attack was carried out. It is a province we've heard of before, in a very specific ISIS-K scenario. It was here, in April of 2017 that the Trump administration, and Central Command there, carried out a strike, using what was called, or what is called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, otherwise known as the "Mother of all bombs," also against ISIS-K.

So, this area being a bit of, at least in the past, and it seems now again, an area where there is an ISIS-K presence.

And that, perhaps, feeding into some of the information, the Intel that led the Biden administration, to carry out this strike, fairly quickly here, within 36 hours of that terrorist attack, at the Abbey Gate, of Hamid Karzai International Airport, the one that killed 13 U.S. service members.

The administration has at least shown that it will respond. It has responded. Now we'll wait to see what more information there is. And if there's any indication, the administration plans on carrying out more strikes against ISIS-K, as the evacuation is ongoing.

COOPER: Oren, is it likely that the U.S. would release information at some later time, more about who this, who the target of this was?

LIEBERMANN: I think that might be very likely. They clearly knew who they were looking for, in terms of an ISIS-K planner. That's a specific individual. This isn't a generic strike against ISIS-K assets, forces, capabilities. It seems the military knew, who they were looking for, knew where he was.

And remember, it's not just as easy as finding somebody, at a specific moment, at a specific date. You need to establish some person's patterns, habits, where to look for them, especially when you're only based in Kabul, essentially, and then the capability of carrying out that strike.

Not only the carrying out of the strike, but the acknowledgement of it, so soon after it happens, I would think, seems to indicate that the Administration may be putting out more information, on who they struck, at this point.

COOPER: It's interesting that we got word just before this, that they were telling any Americans, at the gate, to leave immediately, perhaps linked to the knowledge of this strike, taking place.

Oren Liebermann, appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, some of the other headlines, what a Florida judge said today, about the order from Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, banning mask mandates in schools, that's next.



COOPER: A Florida judge ruled today that Governor Ron DeSantis did not have the authority to impose a ban on mask mandates, in the schools. The ruling comes after a four-day hearing, in the case of parents, from several Florida counties, who filed a lawsuit, challenging the governor's executive order.

Carlee Simon is the Superintendent of Schools, in Alachua County. Her school district fought the governor's ban. And she joins me now.

Superintendent Simon, the judge in the case said that the governor didn't have the authority for a blanket mandatory ban.

A spokesperson with the governor fired back, saying the ruling was made on, quote, "Incoherent justifications, not based in science or facts."

I'm wondering what your reaction is tonight?

CARLEE SIMON, SUPERINTENDENT, ALACHUA COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Well, we're actually very pleased with Judge Cooper's decision.

Many of the points that he brought up, align with our concerns, and the points that we are also looking at, when we have to have our response to the Governor and to the Commissioner of Education.

COOPER: The governor says he's going to appeal the ruling. 10 school districts, in Florida, more than 50 percent of students, in the state, have mask mandates, like yours, with no opt-out option.

Do you think the governor, I mean, is he out of touch with the state?

SIMON: I think the fact that over 50 percent of Florida students are now in the same mask mandate that we have within our district, says something.

I also think that based on time, and how our schools are having to respond to COVID, I would assume that many other districts are going to take a hard look, at their own mandates, and decide if they need to switch from optional, to a mask mandate, to help slow the spread of COVID.

It's impacting our learning. It's impacting our quarantine rates, and our student positivity rates. And those of us, who need to run school systems, are very much concerned, about the safety of our children, and our staff.

COOPER: We've obviously seen a lot of school board meetings, screaming parents, yelling at doctors, who have testified, as they pull away in cars.

What are you hearing from the majority - I mean, what is the - I don't know if you've heard from the majority of parents. But do most parents back the mask mandates?

SIMON: In our community, most parents are supporting the mask mandate.

We have the support of our medical professionals. We have the University of Florida here, with medical professionals, who have been advising us, on how to respond, to COVID, and our safety for staff and students.


The parents, the majority of parents are in agreement.

We have a small group, that are, very upset and they are very vocal. And it is obviously unpleasant, many times, in our board meetings, when we have people share their frustration, in an unpleasant way. But, for the most part, the majority of our families are happy. And

they want their kids in school. And this is how we keep them in school. And we have the direct instruction. And that's working for us right now, although we still are concerned with the amount of positivity rates.

We have over 420 students, right now, positive. That number keeps growing. And we have over 1,600 kids, who are quarantined. And that means, if they're quarantined, they are not getting that direct instruction, and it will impact their learning.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, just the logistical challenges that you have to face, if a student, in a class, turns, tests positive, what then happens? What are the ripple effects of that?

SIMON: So, our principals are supposed to be instructional leaders. And we do have school nurses. But our school nurses are dealing with the responsibilities of being a school nurse, but now, they are taking on the role of also testing for COVID.

So, with those two, the principal and the nurse, they are testing. They are contact-tracing. They are quarantining. We bring our students back after five days, to test them again. Hopefully, they are negative, and they can get back into the classroom, and get into instruction.

Our principals are, needing to, make sure that we have plans, on our campus platform, so students who aren't in school, can have access to instructional material online. It's really taken on a whole another aspect and job responsibility.


SIMON: And everybody's stretched thin.

COOPER: Superintendent Simon, I really appreciate your time, and all you're doing. Thank you.

SIMON: Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead, the latest, on the California recall election, next month. Governor Gavin Newsom already had a tenuous lead, when Vice President Kamala Harris had to cancel her appearance, at a rally today. It's not just the Democratic candidate with major issues tonight.

The details, in a live report, when we come back.



COOPER: Want to give you an update on the California recall election, for governor, which just over two weeks away.

Vice President Kamala Harris canceled a campaign rally with Governor Newsom, this week, after the troop pullout, and terrorist attack, in Afghanistan.

The concerns aren't just with the Democratic candidate, however. The LAPD is now investigating domestic violence accusations, against a high-profile Republican opponent.

Kyung Lah joins us now, from Los Angeles, with the latest.

So, Harris was scheduled to campaign with the governor, canceled after the terror attack. How badly does Newsom need a boost, from the White House?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a double- edged sword here Anderson, because the last thing Governor Newsom, the California Democratic governor, wants right now, while he's fighting for his job, in this recall election that's now about two weeks away, is to talk about Afghanistan.

What he is missing though, by this canceled rally, is he is missing a chance, for an optimistic, enthusiastic rally, targeting the Democratic base, here in California.

He would be able to stand beside the favorite daughter, among the Democratic base, here in California, and that's Vice President Kamala Harris. He doesn't get that anymore because this rally has been canceled. And Anderson, we're not getting any word of whether or not this rally will be rescheduled, before the election.

COOPER: And I know you've got some early ballot return numbers. What do they show?

LAH: This is very interesting. And I want to emphasize that one word you just used, "Early." And the reason why is because we're looking at only about 13 percent of the ballots being returned.

This is from the PDI, Political Data Incorporated. It is a Democratic tracking firm. So, with 13 percent of the ballots returned so far, because the mail-in ballots are out, 55 percent of those ballots returned, are from Democrats, 23 percent, Republican, 22 percent, Independent.

It is a reminder Anderson that the numbers are on the side for the Governor of the State, and for the Democrats, that there is a two-to- one voter registration advantage for Democrats. And right now, they are looking like they're keeping up.

COOPER: And Larry Elder, the frontrunner, certainly has the best name recognition, in the field, of 46 candidates who's looking to replace the governor, is having problems with past allegations. What are those? LAH: It's a little complicated here, because you are talking about Larry Elder. He is known here, as a conservative radio host. He has been on the air here, for decades, in California, syndicated nationally.

The LAPD says that it has received a recent report, about something that happened in 2015.

Now, in an interview, with CNN, Elder's former fiance, Alex Datig tells us that this involved an incident, in 2015, when she and Elder broke up. She says that he brandished a weapon at her. And in the report that she filed with the LAPD, she says that he also pushed her.

Now, the Elder campaign says that these charges are salacious, ridiculous. They vehemently deny it, and they say that what they're going to do is to simply focus on the election.


COOPER: Kyung Lah, appreciate the update.

It has been a very busy night, and it is certainly not over.

The news continues now with Don and "DON LEMON TONIGHT."




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. Thank you so much for joining us.

We are going to begin with Breaking News. The U.S. has conducted an airstrike, against ISIS-K, an ISIS-K planner. That is our Breaking News tonight.

Central Command Spokesman, Captain Bill Urban, says in a statement, "U.S. military forces conducted an over-the-horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties." And again, that is a quote.