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Chaos Erupts at Airport After Taliban Takeover at Kabul; Biden to Deliver Remarks on Afghanistan This Afternoon; NIH Director Warns Children "Seriously at Risk" from Delta Variant. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2021 - 11:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

We begin with breaking news on the collapse of Afghanistan. The Taliban now in control of the country.

This morning, we are seeing truly chaotic images coming out from Kabul airport. Clear signs of just the desperation among Afghans now. Even some of them as you see there in these images clinging on to a U.S. military plane as it taxied.

Evacuation flights just resumed a few minutes ago actually after the U.S. today was forced to temporarily halt air operations as they work to secure the airport.

And CNN has just learned that U.S. forces killed two armed men at that airport after they fired on American troops. The U.S. believes it was an isolated incident.

The situation in Afghanistan spiraling so quickly that President Biden deployed -- has deployed an additional 1,000 troops to help evacuate Americans and others. The total number now is about 6,000 troops, and we just got word that President Biden will speak this afternoon.

The White House this morning, though -- this morning defending its exit strategy from America's longest war.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We went to Afghanistan for one reason, which is to get the people who attacked us on 9/11. A decade ago, we got Osama bin Laden. We degraded al Qaeda. We stop terrorists attacked against the United States from Afghanistan for 20 years.

But what the president not prepared to do was enter a third decade of conflict, throwing in thousands more troops which was his only other choice to fight in the middle of a civil war that the Afghan army wouldn't fight for itself.


BOLDUAN: That is the president's national security adviser this morning and CNN has learned that President Biden's plans today are changing.

We have every angle covered. Let's begin with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's live on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Nick, you actually tried to make your way to the Kabul airport today. What did you see?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I got to the first entry point, the main entrance which was under Taliban control, the streets outside of it. And bizarrely that one patch remaining in Afghanistan after 20 years is under American control, well, there were Taliban in fact trying to stop those crowds from getting towards the airport. Crowd control essentially often done with the Humvees and security vehicles they've taken off the Afghan forces that they have clearly into the lightning move into the capital kicked out of here.

Just to let you know. You mentioned the flights resuming, I heard a plane and we saw flares of what was most likely a protective helicopter, and about a minutes worth of what could have been tracer rounds, possibly may suggest gunfire but was something else, but clearly activities, but certainly the road to the airport as we saw today was an extraordinary sight. Possibly not as crazy crowded as it has been in previous hours but densely packed.

People walking in that direction carrying what they could because for many here who have affiliations with the Afghan government or the U.S. presence here, they think that is the ticket out. Civilian flights stopped a while back but the sight was startling.

People pushing towards gates and being pushed back by the Taliban as I said, rushing on mass towards a remarkable scenes in this symbol of the American modernization here. And into in and out, diplomats flew in enormous number of flights every day and now people clamoring over walkways, stairwells, simply trying to get on to a cargo plane however they possibly could to get out.

So shocking scenes that I think tell you one thing, there are so many more people here who want American help to get out of here than will likely get it. The instance in which a couple of individual appear to have been shot, we simply don't know what happened whether they were part of the crowd rushing towards here, we saw some armed Taliban trying to keep the crowd back.

But the chaos here is what is so startling and, frankly, it makes an incredibly difficult for those even who have a confirmed seat on an American flight to get near the airfield itself. Remarkable chaos at the end of this 20-year war.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Nick is going to stick around for us. Nick, stick by with me if you can just for a second.

CNN is also just learned that President Biden will be heading back to the White House soon today to address this, the fall of Afghanistan.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live at the White House with these breaking details.

Kaitlan, what are you learning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kate, this is going to be the first time that we have heard from President Biden publicly on Afghanistan since last week. And of course he did issue a statement over the weekend talking about the additional troops he was authorized to secure the airport given the chaos that we are seeing unfolding and now that government has collapsed.


President Biden is returning from Camp David to the White House this afternoon. He's scheduled to speak around 3:45 from the East Room.

And, of course, a big question is going to be, what does the president say? Because one big thing that his top aides including the secretary of state yesterday and his national security advisers today had been pressed on is what was behind the confident statements he made just about six week ago to reporters in the same room on Afghanistan. When he said he did not believe that the takeover of the Taliban was inevitable and, of course, we've seen how swiftly it happened this weekend.

And he also pushed back on comparisons that there could be any chance that what is happening right now in Afghanistan could look like what happened in Saigon in the 1970s. Those are questions that so far President Biden's top aides have had to answer including his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan this morning.


SULLIVAN: To be fair, the helicopter has been the mode of transport from our embassy to the airport for the last 20 years.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: But you know the -- it is not the helicopter. It's not the mechanism.

SULLIVAN: That is how we move people back and forth. So --

GUTHRIE: No, no, it is the last minute scramble. You know that. It's the last minute scramble when the assurances from the president himself were this is not what we're going to see.

SULLIVAN: It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated, including the Afghans, including many of the analysts who looked hard at this problem.


COLLINS: Now, Kate, we should note that one thing we do not hear from President Biden is a reversal on his position on this, because so far, his top aides have made clear he does stand by the idea that he wanted the U.S. to withdraw. He did not want this conflict to go on any longer but now, the questions are facing him regarding how this went down and how this transpired.

Because while Jake Sullivan and the other aides were saying this morning that they did have contingency plans in place, obviously, no one expected it to go down the way that it is, where there are people that are so desperate to leave, they are clinging to the wheels of U.S. aircraft that is leaving the airport in Kabul. And, of course, you've seen from our reporters on the ground the debacle and the chaos there now.

And the questions are not just about getting U.S. staff out, there are big questions also facing the White House about getting those Afghan nationals who have served alongside U.S. troops for the better part of two decades safely out as well so, they do not become targets for the Taliban. Those are going to be big questions facing President Biden when he does return to the White House in a few hours.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, stick with me. Thank you so much for that reporting. Important reporting.

The State Department is also scheduled to hold a press conference in just hours. As now the United States government faces the prospect of needing engage with a Taliban government now running Afghanistan.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department. She has much more on this.

Kylie, what are you learning?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: So, one question that we're all looking at right now is what is the Biden administration going to do with the Taliban? Are they going to recognize them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan? How are they going to be in contact with them frankly? How are they going to handle the situation?

Now, the State Department has previously said that any group that takes Afghanistan by force using the barrel of a gun will not be recognized by the U.S. or any international government. Now, we are seeing some countries stepping up and saying they are going to recognize the Taliban. The State Department, the Biden administration have not yet ruled that out.

And I think that's significant, because Secretary of State Tony Blinken was asked yesterday, as all of this was unfolding, as the Taliban was taking over Afghanistan, and also coming in to Kabul, he was asked if the U.S. would recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government of Afghanistan. What he said is that any government that the U.S. would recognize would have to uphold U.S. values, right -- human rights, the rights of women and also not harbor terrorists. But he didn't say that the U.S. has definitively made a decision on this.

And I think it is important to note that the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan who has been the top negotiator with the Taliban is still in Doha. We're trying to learn a little bit about what his conversations with the Taliban have looked like in recent days. Presumably, he's still talking to them.

But the other situation is that the unfolding chaotic, and the very scary nature is what is happening in Afghanistan is really front and center for the administration to try and get out these U.S. diplomats, to try and get out these Afghans who worked alongside U.S. diplomats and soldiers.

So that's what they're focused on now. But there are real questions about what they're going to do, how they're going to interact with the Taliban going forward.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Kylie, thank you very much for that.

I want to bring back in now CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's live in Kabul. CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House, and CNN military analyst, General Mark Hertling.

General, let me start with you on the news that Kaitlan was just breaking for us, that the president will be speaking this afternoon.


This will be the first time. And there was a lot of talk this morning of where is President Biden? Why hasn't he addressed the nation?

What do you think -- I -- what would you like to hear or what would you expect to hear from a president at this moment with what we're seeing play out in Afghanistan now?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think it is what Kaitlan said. It is going to be a tough conversation. I'm glad he's speaking sooner rather than later. He's probably going to double down on his decision. But he's also going to have to address the lack of planning and collaboration with -- within the government in terms of getting this right.

You know, this is what is called a NEO operation. Although the State Department and the DOD have not called it that, I've seen these before. I planned them before.

The noncombatant evacuation operation that this is is one of the tougher missions that the military executes. It is geared toward getting embassy staff and expats and American citizens and then local nationals out. What you've seen is a planning assumption that's failed. The U.S. government planned on having more time. They said the intelligence community -- said that they would have six to 12 months before the Taliban would be in Kabul. Unfortunately, it came within hours as opposed to months.

So that threw the planning off for the vaccination operation. And it is -- I hate to say it, but it is a Saigon moment. And the president is going to have to deal with that and the cat aft catastrophe and the chaos that exist there.

And I got to tell you, Kate, I think it might get worse better than -- than better. Primarily because the majority of people that Nick Paton Walsh is probably seeing on the tarmac there at the airfield are not those who have the immigrant visas, are not those who have been put in the system to get out. They are just people flooding the airport wanting to get the hell out of Kabul.

BOLDUAN: Nick, as Kaitlan is reporting, President Biden is going to be addressing the nation. But that's not -- just not Americans who will be listening in of course. It is going to be the international community, is going to be anyone in Afghanistan who could hear what Joe Biden is saying will be listening in, as well as the Taliban leaders now will be listening to what Joe Biden says.

What's your sense of kind of what people want to hear?

WALSH: I think it has to essentially be an explanation. I mean, everybody knew there was going to be likely a very fast Taliban move. No one thought it would be this fast once Joe Biden said he would unconditionally withdraw. The U.S. said it was leaving as part of the new policies but I think there will be a desperate need to explain how confident he was with his trillion dollars 300,000 strong Afghan security forces remark about a week ago now.

That is essentially the key part of all American failure here, the belief that Afghan security forces, the vast amounts of money they spent actually made a difference here. And also, there is an institutional memory that fades here. I heard an earlier talking about how the mode of transport to the airport had always been the helicopter. That is just nonsense. That came into effect when it deteriorated inside of the capital.

So, we're going to have to a very serious way of explaining the reality on the ground which is changing lives of people who have fought in Afghanistan for America and for Afghanistan too. And exactly the speeches and the policy which he's pegged the last weeks and then some.

BOLDUAN: And that was Jake Sullivan, the president's national security who said that earlier this morning, Nick.

And, Kaitlan, I want to play something else that Jake Sullivan said when he was asked by George Stephanopoulos simply if the intelligence about the likelihood of the Taliban taking over was wrong or if Biden disregarded it. Listen to this.


SULLIVAN: The president did not think it was inevitable that the Taliban were going to take control of Afghanistan. He thought the Afghan national security forces could step up and fight because we spent 20 years, tens of billion dollars training them, giving them the best equipment, giving them support of U.S. forces for 20 years. And when push came to shove, they decided not to step up and fight for their country.

And so, the question facing the president back in April and again as we've gone forward is should U.S. men and women be put into the middle of another country's civil war when their own army won't fight to defend them? And his answer to that question was no and that is why he stands by this decision.


BOLDUAN: So, Kaitlan, Jake Sullivan did not really answer the question. So what are you hearing about this?

COLLINS: Well, we know that as this debate was going on, because his top national security officials, people at the Pentagon, the highest levels of the Pentagon knew this is a position that President Biden has had since long before he became president, when he was vice president, he was the voice advocating to get out of Afghanistan. It has been very clear for a very long time what his position on this was.


So that is why this big question facing the White House is not an argument on the merits of a withdrawal because that is clearly where President Biden wanted to go but it is on the planning of this. And we do know that in the discussions that were happening earlier this spring, that President Biden's top aides as the White House likes to say did not give him a sugar-coated view of what they expected to happen if the U.S. did ultimately withdraw in the way that President Biden later authorized as we now know.

So it is not like he was unaware that there were possibilities that this could happen. What Jake Sullivan was trying to argue earlier was that they did not believe it was inevitable that the Taliban would take over. They just thought it was a possibility. Now, that, of course, is an argument that President Biden will have to square, how he weighed those risks and how he decided this was the option that he believed was a better one to take.

But I do think it goes back to the planning. Because we're seeing here is not the safe and orderly withdrawal and evacuation that you've seen the White House talking about in recent days. And the reason that now, there are 6,000 U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan to help make this a safe withdrawal is going to be a big question facing this White House.

And repeatedly what we've heard from officials is them pinning this back on Afghan security forces saying they did not expect that they would lay down their weapons so easily to the Taliban. But that is what is happened. And it does fly in the face of what President Biden was saying just in recent days which is that he thought that they had a competent security force.

And so, those are going to be the questions of how are they so wrong on the idea that they believed they could hold off the Taliban for a little bit longer. And so, it's a lot of questions about that, it's a lot of questions about the former Afghan President Ghani and the fact that he was in the White House not that long ago. And so, those are explanations that President Biden is expected to say.

And, of course, it's not just going to be those people listening, it's also going to be his foreign counterparts listening to what his explanation is for this as well because this is something that the White House talked about being done in coordination with allies. So we're hearing from other world leaders but other people are waiting to see what it is that President Biden says this afternoon.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Kaitlan, thank you.

Nick, thank you as always. Please stay safe.

General, thank you as well.

Coming up for us, coronavirus cases are surging still. Why some school districts in Texas today are going forward with mask requirements despite a ruling from the state Supreme Court. The latest on a live report, that's next.



BOLDUAN: Developing this morning, the Texas Supreme Court has temporarily blocked local mask mandates in San Antonio and Dallas, even as cases of coronavirus are surging across the state.

But the superintendent of the Dallas Independent Schools is still pushing ahead and requiring masks. Here he was on CNN earlier today.


MICHAEL HINOJOSA, SUPERINTENDENT, DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: Parents will forgive us if we commit educational mal practice, they will never forgive us if we let something happen to their kids' safety and health.


BOLDUAN: Speaking to Rosa Flores there.

And Rosa Flores joins us now live in Dallas with much more.

Rosa, today is the first day of schools in Dallas. What is the very latest?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well you know it is really a showdown here, Kate, between local government and state government.

I grew up in Texas. Very early on in elementary school, we learned the phrase "don't mess with Texas". Well, that's what local officials are telling the governor of this state. They're putting up a fight. Even after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Governor Greg Abbott on his ban against mask mandates.

But these local officials have good attorneys. They're taking a look at that ruling very carefully. They're looking at the details. The Texas Supreme Court's ruling is very narrow according to officials here and so, it's allowing for hearings in lower courts to continue. There is one going on right now in San Antonio and according to the

Dallas superintendent, it doesn't include his specific school district. So he said that the mask mandate here in Dallas ISD continues and parents that we talked to are on his side. Take a listen.


MATT LOW, FATHER WHO SUPPORTS MASK MANDATE: We're super excited that Dallas ISD has taken the initiative and making sure our kids are safe at school and keeping their mask on.

SHERRI DOUCETTE, GRANDPARENT WHO SUPPORTS MASK MANDATE: I feel like whatever is necessary to keep the children safe, we have to do it, regardless of the mandates. So I support the superintendent. And we have masks, where is her mask? We have masks, we little bitty pre-K mask, and we'll encourage her to wear it and we'll wear ours as well.


FLORES: Now, Kate, those parents and the superintendent, what they're looking at are the number of hospitalizations in the state. More than 11,500 people are hospitalized in the entire state of Texas that has about 30 million people. There are 322 ICU beds in the area. Where I am in Dallas County, there is 83 ICU beds available in this region -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Rosa, thank you so much.

There are also new warnings about how dangerous the delta variant could be for children. Let me play for you what the director of the National Institutes of Health has said about this.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH: More than 400 children have died of COVID-19 and right now we have almost 2,000 kids in the hospital, many of them in ICUs, some of them under the age of four.


So, anybody who tried to tell you well don't worry about the kids, the virus won't bother them, that's not the evidence and especially with delta being so contagious, kids are very seriously at risk.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now is Dr. Megan Ranney. She's an emergency physician and associate dean of public health at Brown University.

Dr. Ranney, we heard from Francis Collins right there.

We also have this graphic I want to show for folks that shows that COVID hospitalizations among kids under the age of 18 is back up to the levels that we saw at really peak in December and January. And you put all of this together.

What does that say to you about this moment and what it should mean to kids, parents and everyone?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE: You know, I'm a parent myself. I have one kid who is vaccinated and one who is not. So, both as a physician, as a scientist and as a parent, I have been watching this data so closely.

The biggest takeaway is that kids are not immune. There has been this drivel fed to us saying that kids don't get sick. Kids are less likely to get sick than older folks. But they can get really, really sick.

And just as we as parents put seat belts on our kids or put them in car seats, just as we would never drive drunk with our kids in the car, similarly, we have to stand up and protect our kids particularly the unvaccinated ones right now in the midst of this transmissible delta surge that is sickening children across the nation.

BOLDUAN: Collins also projected that we will see something like 200,000 cases a day in next couple of weeks. You know, back to the case numbers that we saw in January. I mean, Collins was saying that we're going to be back in a place that we never thought we would be again.

Why is hearing that number, if you will, why is it so alarming?

RANNEY: So it is horribly sobering for two reasons. First is yes we thought we were through this. We thought we were done and could go back to normal. The virus had other ideas. This new variant is putting us all much more at risk. It's just exhausting and frustrating.

The other thing that's really tough right now is because the politicization of these very basic preventive measures, it's putting people at risk who shouldn't be at risk. Everyone over the age of 12 has the chance to get a vaccine.

I could tell you, I worked this weekend in the ER. The only people admitted were people that had not been vaccinated. So, there are folks getting sick and being admitted who could have avoided it.

And then, of course, for our unvaccinated or for immuno-suppressed, masks and ventilation work against this airborne virus and thing like what we're hearing from Texas where they're forbidding schools to mandate masks, that's putting kids at risk unnecessarily which is also frustrating and unfair to our most vulnerable citizens.

BOLDUAN: The biggest populations of unvaccinated people remain in the south right now. But you are also becoming more concerned about what this could mean kind in the northeast where you work. And you mentioned that you were working this weekend, you were in the hospital this weekend working.

What are you seeing that is concerning you?

RANNEY: So, there are two things. First is that our hospitals in the Northeast are tremendously full. We're facing many of the same pressures that the hospitals in the South are facing, with other diseases and injuries and illnesses and with understaffing. Our nurses are so burnt out. They are leaving bedside nursing. We simply don't have enough, whether it's in the South or in the North.

We're also starting to see the surges of COVID hospitalizations in the North and Northeast. And if and when those hit here, when kids go back to school, when we start spending time indoors again in the Northeast, I worry that we're going to see surges and our hospitals are not going to be able to handle them. We're going to be back where we were last fall despite the fact that we now have vaccines.

I just can't emphasize it enough. Now is time to wear a mask when you're out in public situations and if you have not gotten a vaccine yet, get it now.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Ranney, thank you very much.

RANNEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us. More than a thousand people dead at Haiti after a devastating earthquake. So where are the rescue and recovery efforts? A live report from Haiti, next.