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G7 Allies to Press U.S. to Extend Afghanistan Withdrawal Deadline; Biden Decides to Stick to August 31 Deadline for Withdrawal; Fauci Says, U.S. Could Return to Normal by Spring 2022 if Vaccinations Rise. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired August 24, 2021 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sam, if I could bring in, if you can still hear me, I don't know if this is a complicating element to this. But I just saw across into my email that the Taliban spokesperson held a press conference and was asked about the August 31st deadline. And the Taliban says it is not in favor of allowing Afghans to leave and said we won't -- and saying that they won't allow it. That seems to be -- that seems like a very real problem right now.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate. It may just be an issue over the use of language because it is very nuanced here. The Taliban has said all along they would reluctantly allow the Afghans that chose to leave. They didn't see why they were leaving but they could leave. It is not clear, and we're seeking clarity from the Taliban themselves, as to whether they are now saying they can't leave.
There are Afghans here at the gates. There are Afghans getting through to the international airport here. They mostly have visas issued to them either by the United States or other countries as part of the coalition. So there clearly hasn't been a total block on it but we're not clear to us yet whether it is a absolutely new policy or simple a rephrasing of the existing policy, which is that they don't like the scenes of these mass movement of people running away from their regime. They keep saying, stay. There has been a general amnesty. There will be no retribution.
Of course, some of the facts on the ground, particularly in the outlying areas of Afghanistan with human rights organizations, including the U.N. pointing to Taliban-driven atrocities and other attacks against members of the government and former members of the security forces, particularly in outlying provinces of Afghanistan, something that the Taliban say that they will investigate and punish, Kate.
So that is not yet clear. But they are absolutely clear and repetitively so about that August 31st deadline, that might be or might have been extended being completely nonnegotiable as far as they are concerned. And may be why, so far, from the Pentagon, we're still hearing that their instructions from the commander-in-chief are absolutely to try to meet that August 31st deadline. The numbers here though are down in terms of the numbers of people actually needing to be evacuated from this airport. There has been this massive airlift over the last 48 hours in particular, Kate.
BOLDUAN: And to your point on the deadline, we now have an important breaking news just coming in, go back to Jeremy Diamond, if I can, Jeremy if you can hear me at the White House. It sounds like the president has made his decision on this deadline.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Kate. The president has indeed made a decision. According to my colleague, Kevin Liptak, a senior administration official says that President Biden has decided to withdraw U.S. troops by that August 31st deadline. He made this decision according to this official in consultation with his national security team and mindful of the security risks that would be posed to U.S. forces the longer that they stay in country, particularly after that August 31st deadline which the Taliban have said is essentially a nonnegotiable for them.
That being said, this official also told my colleague, Kevin Liptak, that the president has asked for contingency plans in case he determines at a later date that U.S. forces need to remain in country. So that is a notable caveat there. But that being said, the U.S. military officials were very clear with the White House, with the president, that if he wanted to stay in country longer, that he would need to make in a decision by today. And for now, at least that appears to be the president's decision, to withdraw U.S. forces by August 31st, as planned previously.
And we should note, Kate, that while the U.S. has dramatically stepped up the number of people they are evacuating from Kabul, 12,700 on U.S. military flights alone in the last 24 hours, experts say that it is doubtful that the U.S. can complete particularly the withdrawal of those Afghans who have helped the United States in just a week in addition to withdrawing those nearly 6,000 U.S. troops who will need to get on planes by August 31st. Again, that is just seven days from today.
And it is notable because the president last week, not only committed to bringing every American who is in Afghanistan home, who wants to come home, he said that commitment extends to those Afghans who have helped the United States. It is difficult to see exactly how he will pull that off. But, again, those numbers of evacuations have been increasing, which is certainly a good sign.
BOLDUAN: General, let me get your reaction to this because two important things happen. Not only do we now have this important and a huge decision by the president of the United States that he is sticking with this August 31st deadline, we also heard from the Pentagon today. In this briefing, John Kirby said very clearly that they have the capability to get this done by the end of the month. But what he was saying they can get done is get all Americans out who want to get out.
Not clear if he means get all of the Afghan allies out, the SIV applicants and such. Your reaction.
MAJ. GEN. DANA PITTARD (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Yes. What the president committed to was getting all American citizens out and the Afghan allies who fought side-by-side our U.S. military and their families for the last two decades. So as long as that can be done by August 31st, I think that is fine. But if not, then what are we saying? That we will leave before the mission is done? My hope is that the president and his advisers have looked at this and determined that they can get everybody out.
BOLDUAN: To that point, it is a decision, yet the caveat that Jeremy is reporting, I think, it is important and I will admit is a little bit confusing in the reporting that he's asked for contingency plans in case he determines at a later date that the U.S. needs to remain in the country longer. That seems in direct conflict with the need to decide today because they have to make plans to retrograde, General?
PITTARD: Correct. But you always have contingency plans, which is good. And I know that, and I assume that there are courses of action as far as with the U.S. military to go get American citizens and/or Afghan allies who can't get to the Kabul airport. So, having contingency plans, I think, is good.
But let's talk about if we go beyond the August 31st date, the Taliban have said that is a red line. Well, the Taliban want to ensure that U.S. forces leave their country. That is what their goal is. The last thing that Taliban want to do is provoke the U.S. military to stay longer just because of an artificial deadline.
BOLDUAN: And part of Jeremy and Kevin Liptak's reporting is part of what is leading to this decision is that the president, as it is written here, is mindful of the security risks and remaining in the country longer, General. You are very familiar with the threat of ISIS. You've written an entire book about your experience in fighting ISIS. How real do you assess the threat of ISIS-K on the ground to Americans, to American troops as well as what the Taliban would do if U.S. would go beyond this deadline?
PITTARD: Well, the threat of ISIS and ISIS-K in particular is very real. So that is understood. And our U.S. military has the capability to protect themselves. But, again, the reason why the U.S. military is doing the noncombatant evacuation operations is to get American citizens and Afghan allies out. So that must be done despite the threat.
BOLDUAN: Sam, if you're still with me, I'm curious how you think this is going to be received on the ground for the people beyond the gates.
KILEY: Well, they do know that there is this deadline. They may hope that it gets extended. There is a pretty aggressive effort, I have to say, being conducted not just by Americans but other coalition partners here involving the Special Forces to reach out and find people to whom they owe a debt of loyalty to people who are in danger to bring them here into the airfield. Those are the small numbers that have been arriving, I suspect. And we've seen quite a lot of that sort of activity going on. The real issue, though, is how many people out there who are really genuinely in danger or have a good reason to feel that they're in danger need to get on to this airfield. There is still perhaps time to do it. There is still a massively improved processing system here. They're moving huge numbers people out of the airfield. Today, the numbers as of lunchtime were around 9,000. By now, they must be, this is just on the American side, up to perhaps 11,000 or 12,000 just in a day.
So they're almost running out of people to move. And, ultimately, that means that there will be space for others to come in. The issue would be whether or not now with this harder language emerging from the Taliban, people who want to get into the airfield will be able to do so. Kate?
BOLDUAN: Sam, talk to me still about -- I mean, and we heard this from the briefing, as I think General Taylor said it in the last 24 hours there has been an aircraft taking off every 45 minutes. I mean, the improvement, yes, it may have started in the basement in an abysmal level, but the progress that the military on ground has been making in the harshest of conditions has been remarkable. What is it -- you've been there. You've been on the ground in Kabul for quite some time now. How does it look to you?
KILEY: Very briefly, what happens is once people get through the gate, they're prescreened before through the gate.
They then go through a series of screening process that are now pretty rapid. You do see large numbers or relatively large numbers, at least yesterday, of people, of families sitting on ground and improvised shade. The Marines and others have built kind of large -- the almost look like kind of boxes for people to sit in to get out of the sun. This has all been done on the fly using the resources available on the ground, recycling pallets and so on, creating these impromptu kind of holding areas. And then they are processed through to consular department, from the State Department, that go through it very rapidly and then they are issued with the great -- the white wristband with a bar code on it. That effectively is their ticket out. And by then they'll have a computerized personnel, if you like, on the --
BOLDUAN: It looks like the signal for Sam just locked up. We'll try to reconnect. Sam Kiley is on ground for us in Kabul.
I believe we connected with Barbara Starr, who was in that Pentagon briefing. We're listening to your questioning, Barbara. And just as you're coming out of this briefing, we now have word from sources at the White House that the president is sticking with this August 31st deadline.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. Well, what we knew is that he was going to need to decide by today in order to give the military enough time to finish getting as many people out as it could and also get itself out of there. There are 5,800 U.S. troops on the ground, a considerable amount of equipment, weaponry, defensive measures around the airport. They need to pack up as much as they can. And they need, we are told, to really be able to start packing up their own stuff by the end of this week, even as they try and continue to evacuate people, Americans and Afghans, third party nationals out of the airport in Kabul.
This is going to be a very complex and very sensitive operation. Because, look, they are in a situation where they are going to be dependent somewhat on the goodwill, frankly, of the Taliban who want them out by August 31st, don't want them to stay. But the U.S. has been talking to the Taliban, which has been providing some minimal measure of assurance that security will be assured at the airport. And I say minimal because, of course, there has been a good deal of Taliban, what we believe is Taliban-inspired, if you will, by their own people, violence around the airport. There is also an ISIS threat. So that is considerable.
The U.S. troops, as they pack and go, think about the last 48 hours, last two days, maybe the 30th and 31st, that they will be on the ground, it will be a minimal amount of U.S. troops, a minimal amount of ability to defend themselves perhaps, and they will be in the middle of Taliban territory as well as that ISIS threat that the U.S. strongly believes is out there in Kabul looking to try and attack the airport.
So, what we're already hearing is this whole withdrawal, essentially the second withdrawal from Afghanistan will be very close hold. They are not going to want to talk about it. They're not going to want it to be visible. But we are coming up on a situation whereby the end of this week all the way into the 31st, the U.S. military, the U.S. forces on the ground will be in a very tough situation, trying to get people out, trying to get themselves out in the middle of at least two potential threat situations, the Taliban and ISIS. Kate?
BOLDUAN: Barbara, you pressed on this during the briefing. Is it clear to you if they -- if the Pentagon thinks they could get everyone out by the August 31st deadline, and by everyone, that is not only Americans but it is also these SIV applicants, Afghans who fought alongside of Americans throughout the two decades of war? Is it clear to you?
STARR: No, it is not. It is a pure time and space is evaporating right in front of the world's eyes at Kabul airport in Afghanistan. The clock is ticking, to use a very well worn cliche. They only have so much time left. I think you're seeing a very slight softening of the language that they will get out as many people as they can. I think it is very clear there are no guarantees in this situation.
So let's take the Americans first. They continue to talk about, from all of the podiums, if you will, in Washington, how they're not sure how many Americans are even in Kabul, because Americans are not required, of course, to register with the embassy and they're not required to tell the embassy or the U.S. government when they come into the country necessarily, although it is on their passports and when they leave.
The U.S. is trying to contact as many Americans in Afghanistan as it can.
There is still a sense, if you will, that there are some number of Americans outside of Kabul. Whether there are missions to go out and get those people outside of Kabul, Americans, and Americans at some distance from the airport in Kabul is understandably something that the administration is not talking about because those would be very close hold missions. So they're not talking about how they're getting Americans to the airport. They're not talking about how many Americans they estimate, but can't guarantee are left.
Now, for the Afghans, we were told today that the crowd of Afghans around Kabul airport is smaller. But that may be because the Taliban is not letting people approach. There are the special visa folks that are trying to get through and there is any number of Afghans that are also trying to get out. One of the interesting things we learned today at the briefing is the several hundred Afghan security forces who are on Kabul airport for the last several days trying to help the Americans, they will be airlifted out.
But there is no guarantees. I mean, I think it is very fair to say for the Afghans, there are people who are going to want to get out who will not be able to, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Well, there is a lot of reality that really needs to start setting in of how little time is left to get people out, how these evacuations are -- I mean, you said it, they're up against the clock now when you think about everything that has to happen now.
Barbara, if you could stick with me and your great reporting, I want to bring in CNN's David Chalian as well. David, this is not only -- this is a huge decision that the president is making here, sticking with this August 31st deadline, and it has ripple effects far and wide because he's going against the request and the urging against the urging of G7 allies.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He is going against the urging of some allies here. But this is a precarious moment of politics here for Joe Biden, right? Because throughout this entire process, for the last couple of weeks, he has every time recommitted to where he believes the country needs to be going with regard to its involvement in Afghanistan, which is to bring it to an end. And he is firmly committed, as he says day in and day out when he talks to the American people about this, Kate, that bringing an end to this 20-year war is paramount. So, anything that sort of would delay what is obviously a self-imposed deadline would have some political calculation in there as well. That is one.
Two, a little less important is going to be, of course, the criticism that will come his way that it could be seen, let's say, by some who are on the right and very much want to see a continued presence of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, that somehow Joe Biden is accepting terms being dictated by the Taliban, right, that they say you must be out by August 31st. And now, the U.S. president is here saying, well, we have to be out by August 31st. That is not -- that, of course, is not how Joe Biden will portray this decision when we hear from him. But, certainly, his critics on right will. And I don't think that is what is driving the calculation inside of the White House as much as it is to end this, and that with the ramped up evacuation, a belief that they can get this done by next week and get to the place where Joe Biden is comfortable in having all forces out.
The problem will come, of course, if indeed there is any American left behind who wanted to get out, and perhaps in danger's way, that will have real political repercussions for President Biden, no doubt, he is aware of that as he made this decision, Kate.
BOLDUAN: And if you don't have full eyes on how many Americans are in country, and you don't have full eyes on how many Americans you've evacuated, that is a hard thing to plan for at this moment.
We're going to have much more on this David. If everyone can just stick around with me to cover this breaking news coming into CNN that President Biden has decided to stick with the August 31st deadline to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. We're going to have much more on this after a quick break.
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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If we can get through this winter and get really the majority, overwhelming majority of the 90 million people who have not been vaccinated vaccinated, I hope we can start to get some good control in the spring of 2022.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Turning now to the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci there saying spring of next year is the timeline for when he believes the United States could get the pandemic under control if many more people get vaccinated. That comes on the heels of the big announcement from the FDA, full approval Pfizer's COVID vaccine. The hope is that convinces at least some of the 90 million people not vaccinated yet to get the shot. So, will it be enough?
Joining me right now, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins, thank you for being here.
I want to get to Dr. Fauci's timeline in a second. But, first, do you see full approval of the Pfizer vaccine as a game changer in the fight against the pandemic?
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I do. I think it was clear that something like three out of ten people who are still not vaccinated were concerned about the emergency status of the vaccine and indicated full approval would sway them in the direction of rolling up their sleeves. And I hope that is what is happening today, because those 85 million people are at risk of getting infected, getting in the hospital, getting in the ICU or even dying. That virus is looking for them. This delta variant is extremely contagious.
So, I think it's a big deal having this full approval, a ray of sunshine in the midst of all these dark COVID clouds, and let us hope that that both inspires people to do this and maybe also encourages businesses and universities, and we've heard the military to start requiring vaccinations since we have now clear evidence of full approval by the gold standard in the world, the FDA.
BOLDUAN: But how many people will -- this will convince does remain a question. I mean, my colleague, Donie O'Sullivan, he's talked to a lot of Trump supporters kind of all over the country for months, some vaccinated some not. And I want to play for you an example of what he has been hearing from them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, don't want it.
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No? Why?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They ain't tested it enough, from my opinion.
O'SULLIVAN: Yes. The Pfizer shots is about to get full FDA approval. Will that change your opinion on it at all?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not until they do a whole lot more investigating in on it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing is going in me until then.
O'SULLIVAN: Right. Do you think that would take a long time?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About ten years or so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: If full approval isn't enough for some, what is the next step, Dr. Collins, from a public health standpoint? I mean, throw in the towel?
COLLINS: No. We're not throwing in any towels now. We have got to try to get this safe and effective vaccine in all the places where it needs to be. And I do think at this point the growing momentum for businesses and universities and now the military to make this a requirement is the other tool we've got right now to try to get the attention of those 85 million Americans who are still at risk and who are putting the rest of us at risk too.
I think you'll see more of the mandates now that any concerns about whether emergency use made that a little less viable, it's now totally viable. I'm a federal employee. I run an organization of 45,000 people. I'm glad to see this as well, as one more reason we're going to require vaccinations for federal employees or those who will refuse will have to be tested once or twice a week, which is real a big pain for them to do. So, I think this may be a turning point, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Do you -- I mean, do you think the -- I mean, do you think -- I know that you're kind of -- you're promoting businesses and government agencies and the military requiring vaccines. Would you like to see all private businesses, all schools and all agencies requiring vaccines? Is that what you would wish right now?
COLLINS: Scientifically and as a doctor, yes. We have the evidence. These vaccines are what we need to get our country through this. It is heartbreaking with all of that evidence to see so many people still standing back. If it means becoming a little bit more directive, then I say let's do that.
BOLDUAN: So, Dr. Fauci and what he said last night, that if there's a big push and an uptick in shots, that he hopes that we can get some control of the virus in the spring of 2022. What does getting good control mean to you? What is the measure?
COLLINS: Well, I'm sure Dr. Fauci would agree. All of these models about what happens in the coming months are hard to be really sure of. A lot of this is going to be up to Americans. It's not just about getting the vaccinations done but also those mitigating measures, like wearing masks, all of us, when we're indoors, in crowded spaces, keeping that physical distance. None of those things have gone away.
If we could actually as a country agree that we were going to stop politicizing all of those points and try to do what we can to tackle the real enemy, which is not those people on the other side of this argument, it's the virus, then I think we could get to this point of having the kind of life that we are all hoping for with perhaps some restrictions.
But what we don't want to do is to have shutdowns, lockdowns, schools closing, all of that. That's going to be up to all of us to take these other somewhat simple measures, decide not to fight about them, just do what the public health data says we should do.
BOLDUAN: Dr. Collins, thank you for being here.
COLLINS: Glad to be with you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
Coming up for us, we have more on the breaking news this hour. CNN now learning that President Biden does not -- is sticking with the August 31st deadline to withdraw all troops, all forces from Afghanistan. We'll have the very latest. Stay with us.