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At This Hour

Major Afghan Cities Fall to Taliban at Alarming Speed; Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) is Interviewed About Afghan Cities Falling to Taliban at Alarming Speed; CDC Advisers Meeting Now on Need for Additional Vaccine Doses. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 13, 2021 - 11:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Dana Bash in for Kate Bolduan.

Here is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR:

Brink of collapse. The Taliban seizing half of Afghanistan's key cities as the U.S. sends troops in to get Americans out.

Hospitals at breaking point. Running out of ICU beds. Doctors and nurses exhausted. The delta variant is raging among the unvaccinated.

And big news on vaccines. A key vote soon on when the CDC will recommend getting another dose of the COVID vaccine. We have it all covered for you.

We begin with the breaking news: Chaos in Afghanistan. The Taliban is defeating Afghan security forces at an alarming rate, taking control of large swaths of the country. So far, 17 provincial capitals, including Kandahar the second largest city with strategic and symbolic importance now fallen to the Taliban.

The Pentagon is sending 3,000 U.S. troops to help evacuate and as fears grow the Taliban could soon seize the Afghanistan capital. It is unraveling faster than President Biden and many of his national security advisers anticipated.

In fact, this is just over a month ago. Listen to the president.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The jury is still out. But the likelihood there is going to be the Taliban over running everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


BASH: We have every angle of this breaking story covered. Let's begin with Nick Paton Walsh on the latest in Afghanistan.

Nick, as the United States prepares to leave that country, thousands of American troops are headed back in. They're going to help with a really complicated and potentially dangerous process of evacuating American diplomats. Tell us what is going on there.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, right about now, any point tomorrow, we'll see 3,000 Marines landing at Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Well, the U.S. had a presence for quite a long time but it seems as though this is the focus of the security operation providing a bit more of a security blanket into the rest of Kabul towards the embassy. Quite a big area potentially there. The marines are going to have influence over and with likely air cover and other enablers too.

That may ease some of the concerns about the Taliban maybe choosing to pressure Kabul imminently, although the marines will themselves be a substantial target. And make no mistake, Taliban have penetrated Kabul very successfully over the past 10, 12 years.

But their operation is meant to last two to three years -- two to three weeks. So get the U.S. diplomats still at the embassy out and a skeleton staff just at the airport but also to begin possibly getting out the tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with the United States who feel threatened by the Taliban advance who may be able to apply for special visas.

That is a mammoth task with lots of moving parts and a potentially dangerous part of the city at the same time I imagine and we're getting indications that the diplomacy is trying to kick in at some point.

We've just seen today now half of provincial cities being in the Taliban's hands. The key one being Kandahar, sort of the birthplace of their movement back in the '90s. And the question I think is whether or not the United States' pipeline dream, I have to call it that, because for years, they've been selling the idea that they can get a grand deal with the Taliban.

Today or tomorrow or the days ahead, we may learn whether there is any grain of truth to the idea that Taliban would like to negotiate a settlement. Would it involve a transitional government or involve no siege of Kabul. We'll have to wait and see. But there is panic in the capital right now.

BASH: Yeah, understandably so. Thank you so much.

And let's get over to the Pentagon with more on what the U.S. troops are doing as part of what is clearly a rescue effort.

Barbara Starr is there.

Barbara, what are you hearing from your sources? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I think right now all bets

are off on any predictions. Officials are privately saying they don't have a perfect sense of the intelligence about what is going on inside of Afghanistan in part because things are moving so fast.

As Nick just mentioned, the fall of Kandahar absolutely critical in U.S. calculations because Kandahar sits on highway to Kabul and that has appeared from the very beginning to be the Taliban strategy. Seize the highways, the major access points to the capital city, make it appear a sense of inevitability that the Taliban will be able to take over the country.

So you now have U.S. troops moving in to help get the Americans out. You have U.S. troops wanting to be physical, to send a message to the Taliban, don't mess with us while we're in Kabul. Just don't do it.

So there is a lot of tension over the coming days about what will happen.


But I think very rapidly there are also long-term strategic questions emerging. You know, President Biden said the U.S. could get out of Afghanistan because it was no longer a safe haven for terror groups to plan and execute a homeland attack. But clearly, all of this movement by the Taliban great uncertainty in the region and on borders and not all clear who is operating now in some of these ungoverned spaces.

And from the Pentagon and from the U.S. military, another country with billions of dollars of effort, years and years of trying to train their military force to look after their own affairs, and no answers right now why once again it just did not work -- Dana.

BASH: Stomach churning. Barbara, thank you so much for that reporting.

I want to go to State Department. Kylie Atwood is there.

And, Kylie, what are you hearing from your sources about the diplomatic efforts going on right now.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the pace at which the security situation is deteriorating has taken U.S. officials by surprise.

And I think it is important to note that as this unfold, this is a situation that threatened to permanently strain the President Biden's foreign policy legacy. He has repeatedly said that the U.S. is going to leave Afghanistan. He knows that Americans are with him in that. But the U.S. State Department has also said they are engaged in talks with the Taliban. Those talks have, however, gone nowhere.

And in the situation that the Biden administration is facing right now is alarming. Of course, there is expectation that there will be more Taliban atrocities, human rights for women and girls are clearly under threat as the Taliban come in and take over areas where they have some rights provided to them because of what happened over the last 20 years. That is now all going by the wayside.

And there is also the situation of the Afghans who worked alongside U.S. diplomats and U.S. forces over the last 20 years. It is not assured that all of those folks are going to get safely out of the country as the Taliban continues to make these gains.

Now it is our reporting that the White House is continuing to stick by the president here. They don't see grand political implications for the president and his efforts to double down on his decision to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. That is because the American people are largely with him in this.

The other thing that is fuelling their determination here is if you take a step back and look at foreign policy broadly, they see China as the long-term threat to the U.S. when it comes to foreign policy, the big long strategic threat. They want to put resources toward that.

The question now is if there is a civil war that unfolds, was that really the right move to make? That is something that we will watch as the Biden administration makes their decisions over the next few days.

BASH: No question. That is the long-term question for the Biden foreign policy, but short-term, there are U.S. embassy officials still there and also the symbolism, a lot of people looking back to Saigon hoping that there isn't too much of a mirror going on between these two situations.

Kylie, thank you so much.

And I want to go to Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado who serves on the intelligence and armed services committee and is also a former Army Ranger who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining me. I know you came back here to Washington to try to get a better handle on what's happening in Afghanistan. What are you learning?

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Yeah, thanks for having me, Dana.

As you mentioned, I'm a member of Congress now. But before that I was an Army Ranger and served two combat tours in Afghanistan and fought with the Afghans -- and like many veterans, my fellow veterans, that pieces of their heart in Afghanistan, this is a very heartbreaking moment.

But, clearly, this is not going well. There is a disaster unfolding on ground here that we have to make sure that we're getting our arms around. We have three immediate missions right now. The near-term mission over the next couple of days is to protect Americans, the U.S. citizens, and to evacuate those that need to be evacuated as quickly as possible.

The second mission is to evacuate Afghans and partners -- and I'm calling on Biden administration to conduct a speedy and robust and broad evacuation of our allies and our partners and democracy workers and others who are at great risk over the next couple of weeks. And the third and longer term mission is making sure we don't see the

reconstitution of ISIS and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

BASH: I want to ask you about that point in a second. Just so our viewers have an understanding of what you know implicit and you experienced, of course. Since 2001, the U.S. has spent over $2 trillion, trained more than 350,000 Afghan troops and lost over 2,000 U.S. service members.


So, how is it possible that the country that where you said you left a piece of your heart seems to be almost where it was 20 years ago?

CROW: This is a tough pill to swallow. There is no doubt about it. And we're going to have decades to come where books are going to be written about this, debates will be had about this, what went well and what didn't go well.

There is no doubt about the fact that after hundreds of millions of dollars, lives lost, tens of lives altered, decades to help build a 300,000-strong Afghan army to see the manner in which that is collapsing and as fast as it is collapsing is really tough. It really is.

And we're going to have that debate and how did we misread the intelligence and not seeing this coming and what do we have to do better in the future.

BASH: Well, we're going to have that debate. But you have such a unique perspective as somebody who was on the ground serving alongside Afghan troops for two tours. So given that, and your experience, how surprised -- I know you're clearly saying you're surprised. But what should we know or what did you know about the Afghan troops that people missed, given the fact that they're just melting away at the mere threat of the Taliban without the U.S. presence there?

CROW: Well, Dana, first, it's important to say that not all of them are melting away. There are elite special operation and commando operations that are fighting very, very had right now. But it is true overall that the rank and file is not holding in Afghanistan and we're seeing large formations of Afghan military units simply dropping their weapons and going home.

So I think one of the lessons for us here is there is a difference between arming and equipping and training and giving resources to an army and actually that army and that force's will to fight. And their leadership or lack of leadership and in the issues of governance and corruption, and also the issue of their identity.

I mean, Afghanistan is a largely tribal country and always has been. So when you look at where the loyalties of rank and file, soldiers of the Afghan army where they reside, it's largely with tribes, with their provinces, not necessarily at the Afghan government.

And I do think there has been a large scale leadership failure within Afghanistan because they have failed to actually create a sense of cohesion, morale and loyalty to the Afghan government and the Afghan military.

BASH: You mentioned that there's still an intelligence failure that will have to be assessed.

Here's what President Biden said about his assessment of how the withdrawal would go. This is just a month ago.


BIDEN: You have the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped, as well-equipped as any army in the world, and an air force, against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable.

The jury is still out. But the likelihood there is going to be the Taliban over running everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


BASH: So, you were there. You were on the ground. You're on the intelligence committee now. Why did the administration and the more broadly the U.S. government get it so wrong?

CROW: I don't think we know yet. We're in the middle of this mission. This mission is unfolding right now.

Let's not forget that Kabul, a city of 6 million, is still secure and holding. And there are other cities that are too.

It is definitely not going well. And there are very tough questions that I'm going to ask and that others are going to ask about how we misread the signals in the intelligence here. But this mission is ongoing and that is why we have to stay focused what we could control now.

And what we could control is the protection of U.S. personnel, U.S. citizens and our allies. There's still some honor to be had here in evacuating the tens of thousands that stood by us and bringing them to safety and showing we'll stand by them. That really absolutely has to be the focus and we're going to have plenty of time later to have the debate about what went wrong.

BASH: Congressman, I'm out of time but I have to ask you real quick -- we are just very close, less than a month away from the 20th anniversary of 9/11. And the U.S. went to war there largely because of al Qaeda having a large presence there.

Are you concerned that al Qaeda will reconstitute itself in Afghanistan?

CROW: I am concerned, Dana, because it's my job to be concerned. I am not somebody that sent to Washington elected by my constituents to rubber stamp assessments or get a good night of sleep, which I really don't any more. My job is to conduct oversight and ask tough questions and figure out

what assumptions we're making, and I'm going to continue to do that and we're going to have those hard discussions, there's no doubt about it.


But I'm going to do everything necessary to make sure that we're responding to ISIS, to al Qaeda, to the threats to the homeland and U.S. citizens wherever those threats might exist.

But I will say one thing that is really important, Dana, as we look at the 20th anniversary of September 11th, to all of my fellow veterans out there, you should be proud of your service. And regardless of what happens to Afghanistan, you stood up and when your country needed you. You answered the call. Be proud of your service and what you did for our country. And we'll have the policy debates later.

BASH: Hear, hear. Very well said and I'll add you to that. Thank you for your service, Congressman Jason Crow. Appreciate it. And we'll get back to you as you get answers to the many questions you still have. Thank you, sir.

CROW: Thank you.

BASH: And coming up, hospitals on brink. Critical shortages of beds and staff as coronavirus surges across the south.

And vaccine advisers to the CDC are meeting right now, how soon could they recommend booster shots for Americans? I'll talk to Sanjay Gupta, our Dr. Sanjay Gupta next.



BASH: No beds. There are no beds. Those startling words from a hospital administrator in Tennessee on the overwhelming impact the delta variant is having on his state. Hospitals across the south are at a breaking point.

Nearly 80,000 Americans are hospitalized with coronavirus right now, the most in six months. Half are of the COVID hospitalizations are in eight states which have lower vaccination rates.

Louisiana and Mississippi are seeing the highest number of COVID hospitalizations ever.

CNN's Adrianne Broaddus is joining us from Jacksonville, Mississippi.

So, Adrienne, you are inside of those field hospitals. What are you seeing there?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, I'm standing in a spot that is reserved for a parked car. But as you could see there is a hospital bed here. This garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center is being transformed for COVID-19 patients.

Behind me you notice this green line. This is where oxygen tanks will be connected. This area will be reserved for those low acuity COVID-19 patients. It is like deja vu for some of the medical staff that I've talked to. They said they've been here, but this is a path they didn't want to travel again.

I spoke with the vice chancellor, Dr. Alan, a short time ago, and he and the lieutenant governor say they are nervous and they've had to call on the federal government for help.


LT. GOV. DELBERT HOSEMANN (R), MISSISSIPPI: Our ICU beds are full from COVID. We're treating people in the emergency rooms and in the waiting rooms in some cases in some of our hospitals. To determine why this last wave has occurred, unfortunately I think we only have to look in the mirror.


BROADDUS: And you know what, Dana, it is not just Mississippi, but Florida is one of the state's leading the nation in COVID cases.

Some tough news out of Broward County. Four teachers there died from COVID complications and they were not vaccinated. And if you look at this map, there are low vaccination rates in southern counties. Half of COVID patients are in eight states.

But back here in Mississippi, the State Department of Health released new numbers a short time ago, the number of new COVID cases have gone up to more than 5,000 and that is a number that frightens the vice chancellor.

Back to you.

BASH: Understandably so. Adrienne, thank you so much. What a stark report you just gave. Standing on what should be a -- is a parking lot where cars should be and now there are hospital beds.

So vaccine advisers to the CDC are meeting right now to discuss the need for additional coronavirus vaccine doses.

So we have a lot to discuss with our own chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, good to see you this morning. Unfortunately, we have a lot of very dire things to talk about.

So I want to take a step back. New cases are rising in 47 states. We're seeing tents in front of the hospitals like we just saw trying to handle the over flow. Schools, some are going remote because of outbreaks.

So, in some ways, I feel like this is a time warp -- like we're back in 2020. DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a time warp

and it is even in some ways more disturbing frankly, Dana, because there is the vaccine. Right?

I mean, we spent so much of the time last year saying if there were only a vaccine that could get authorized and there is. And 99.99 percent of people who are getting severely sick with this disease are unvaccinated. I mean, the data is really clear on that.

So it is really frustrating and I agree seeing those sorts of images from Adrianne's report, I see those things in other countries, not here in the United States.

I have to tell you, that when you talk about hospitals being full, that is has a direct impact on everybody. Hospitals like mine even have gone on diversion. Meaning they're not taking any new patients. Elective cases are getting canceled. Operations that would routinely be done get postponed. You get in a car accident, people get shot, there's trauma and sometimes they have to find hospital beds however they can.


It lowers the standard of care for an entire society when this happens and, sadly, that affects everybody, vaccinated, unvaccinated, all of society is affected when this happens.

BASH: Such an important point. Let's talk about the vaccine and the CDC's advisory committee meeting right now as I mentioned. They're going to take a vote on whether certain immunocompromised patients need a dose, a booster dose after the FDA authorized that last night and discussing a possible booster for the general population that is vaccinated already.

What are they looking at specifically and what are you looking for?

GUPTA: Well, I think this is mostly about the folks who are immunocompromised today and we're looking forward them to strictly define who those people are. How are they going to define that?

What the FDA is basically said, we could show you their language. But people who received organ transplants in particular are going to have be immunocompromised because they take medication to prevent the organ being rejected by their body. That's by tamping down their immune system.

But there's other like that, people who may have recent chemotherapy, may take certain medications for auto immune disease, certain patients with HIV. So I think they have to define that. It is likely they'll say 28 days at after your second dose, you could now take a third dose.

I don't think that there is going to be a lot of discussion about the rest of people who have normal immune systems getting a booster at this time, because, as we were just saying, the vaccines work so well -- 90 percent plus effective at keeping people out of the hospital and 100 percent effective at preventing death. So we may have that conversation eventually but probably not now.

BASH: Let's take a listen to what Dr. Fauci told last night about this very thing.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We are assuming that sooner or later, we're going to have to give boosters. So what we're doing right now, the decision is we don't need to do it right now. It's not imminent.


BASH: You know, a lot of people in my circle are saying, okay, it is not imminent, but how do we know if people got the vaccine in January, that it is not running out, so how is that being tested and looked at.

GUPTA: Yeah. Well, I spoke to Dr. Fauci this morning because I wanted to make sure I understood what he was saying specifically, because it could be confusing. But let me make this as easy to understand as I can.

When we talk about immunity, people look to antibodies. Immunity is made up of different things many of which we don't measure regularly so antibodies are one thing to follow. But with the immunocompromised, we know they were 500 times almost more likely to end up in the hospital as well.

We're not seeing that with a general population. If people who are healthy and vaccinated end up getting severely ill, and hospital starting to see some signals of that, that's when I think it may trigger the discussion of having a third shot for everyone else.

I think following antibodies alone is hard to do. And, again, those are the numbers right now. You have a vaccine out there that almost 90 percent for both vaccines prevent hospitalization and 100 prevention of death. If you see those numbers start to go down, that may be the indication that a third shot is important for everyone else.

BASH: Always learn so much from you, Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BASH: And coming up, we see a CNN exclusive reporting on what Russia is doing to interfere with the upcoming 2022 election. Why intelligence officials believe Russia is expanding its efforts, next.