Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) Is Interviewed About U.S. Evacuation At Kabul; White House Faces Dueling Crises With Hurricane & Afghanistan; Hospitals In FL, SC, TX, LA Running Out Of Oxygen Supply. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 30, 2021 - 12:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: The Pentagon confirms the U.S. thwarted a rocket attack from ISIS-K at the airport in Kabul overnight, as many as five rockets fired on the airport. There are just hours remaining still ahead of President Biden's deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. And those evacuations and operations continue as we speak.

CNN's Sam Kiley is live in Doha, Qatar with much more on what is happening in these final hours. Sam, the Pentagon becoming more and more opaque, if you will, on the information they're handing out in these final hours. What are you hearing about this, about how this operation is winding down?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, their opacity is absolutely deliberate because of course they don't want to give any kind of information to those who wish them ill notably ISIS-K at this crucial time when their numbers are rapidly being driven down, they're moving people out, they're also in the end going to be have to collapse their defensive systems and that is the tipping point. That is the crucial piece of secret information that they will not release ever, I imagine.

And the defensive systems have been in action today, Kate shooting down with the anti-rocket rocket systems that they have on the airbase in all probability an automated system using a very high powered rapid fire machine gun systems to knock down homemade rockets or at least foot rockets fired from the back of a saloon car. The saloon car destroyed by the rocket back blast a woefully inaccurate, but nonetheless, potentially lethal attempt on the airport, there was absolutely no effect on the airport itself. All of those rockets, incoming rockets were destroyed before they could impact anywhere in the air.

So no casualties of any kind because this will being a another attempt on the airport, from yesterday's thwarted attempt claimed by the Pentagon in which they say they attacked a vehicle with a drone that was carrying what they believe to be explosives that were being transported towards the airport for an attack there. Unfortunately, 10, no less than 10 Afghan civilians were killed, including six children in that drone strike. That drone strike being condemned by the Taliban, most angry the Taliban, it would appear over that drone strike in the previous one in Jalalabad, the previous day, also against an ISIS-K group, because they were not informed. They're not objecting to it in principle, but they want to be informed because the Taliban are going to play an absolutely crucial role actually, in protecting the rear, if you like, of the United States Forces as they finally withdrawn, that is the point at which they're most vulnerable. That is what ISIS-K is trying to exploit with this kind of rocket attack. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Sam, always appreciate your reporting on this. Thank you so much. We are watching as this final, the final moments of this operation, tick down. Thank you so much.

Joining me right now for more on this is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono. She serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, thank you for being here. As Sam was talking about as many as five rockets were fired at the Kabul airport overnight. What's your reaction to that?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): It's very clear that the threat level remains very high in the final moments of our evacuation process.

BOLDUAN: And that's exactly what we heard from the Pentagon briefing today. And the way they put it is that the threat steeps -- the threat stream is still real, active, and in many cases very specific. You wanted the President to extend past the August 31st deadline in order to get more people out, more Americans, more Afghan allies. Does this very clear and present danger that we now see this threat stream? Is that change your view on the deadline?

HIRONO: Well, I know that Secretary of State Tony Blinken in answer to one of the questions that I have for him during one of our briefings. He said that our goal of getting as many U.S., the rest of the U.S. citizens as well as our Afghan partners and their families and Afghans at risk out of Afghanistan does not end on August 31st.

So we will continue to use everything in our means in order to enable these people to get out. But I do know that 122,000 people were able to be evacuated. I think that is a tremendous thing that they -- our military accomplished.

BOLDUAN: Is that good enough for you and what you heard from the Secretary of State, so you no longer think that America should stay long -- should stay there longer to get more people out?

HIRONO: Well, I would have liked for us to be able to stay longer provided that it is under safer conditions than what we're facing right now. And so that is why it was very important for Secretary Blinken to say that we have a continuing commitment to enabling the others to get out and we will use diplomatic, economic, any other means that we have to enable all these other people to come out and I will definitely be discussing with him about what that's going to look like going forward.

[12:35:14] BOLDUAN: Are you at this moment kind of working under the impression that Americans who want to get out there are some that are not going to be able to get out in time.

HIRONO: There will be some who will not be able to get out in time. That's why the continuing goal has got to be in place. And Secretary Blinken has said that he will give us more information as to how that is going to be accomplished, going forward.

BOLDUAN: Would you have liked to have that information, you know, more -- have the all of that information before this deadline happens? Because it's kind of -- it gives you the information after the fact.


HIRONO: Kate, this is an ongoing goal that we will have. So it is not after the fact that it is what's going to be happening after obviously first, and I do understand that this remains a very critical time. And so as you mentioned, the Pentagon is very opaque about what's happening on the ground in particular in the last hours of our evacuation.

BOLDUAN: I want to play for you with a National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said yesterday about assurances that they have received from the Taliban, that after the deadline, they will allow safe passage for folks. Listen.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The Taliban have both communicated to us privately and publicly that they will allow for safe passage, we're not just going to take their word for it. We've rally dozens of countries from around the world to stand with us in saying that the Taliban that if they do not follow through on those commitments, there will be significant consequences and the leverage we have, the economic leverage and the other forms of leverage we continue to possess, we believe will be effective in ensuring that we can get out other people who want to come out after the 31st of August.


BOLDUAN: Is that enough for you, Senator? I mean, do you trust that pressure from the White House is going to be able to hold the Taliban to their word.

HIRONO: It's not just the pressure from the White House, but it is our allies who are standing with us as mentioned. Let's be clear, though, that there are a lot of Afghans who were applying for the Special Immigrant Visas and of the Trump administration still walk these visas to the point where it was not even happening.

And so the development of a lot of our Afghan partners and their families who are not able to get out is not something that just happened overnight that this is a situation that was very much on in my view in Trump administration. But we're going to move forward and do everything we can to get all of these people out in the coming months and however long it's going to take with partners across the world.

BOLDUAN: Senator Hirono, thank you for your time.

HIRONO: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Ahead for us, Afghanistan is one of many crises that President Biden is facing right now. The White House is now navigating a deadly storm, a surging pandemic, and a dangerous end to America's longest war. That's next.


BOLDUAN: President Biden and his administration are facing dueling crises at this hour. The President is expected to be speaking this afternoon about the relief efforts following Hurricane Ida as it hit Louisiana and parts of the Gulf Coast causing huge wind damage and flooding and also leading to widespread power outages that are still a major problem right now. And this is just hours before President Biden's deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and days after a terror attack at the airport in Kabul killed 13 American service members.

On top of this and in the backdrop throughout, the ongoing threat of the pandemic surging once again, across the country, as millions of Americans still refuse to get vaccinated, major crises all of them individually, but all of them happening at once. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is joining me now from the White House with this, how is the White House handling all of this, Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it's a lot to balance. And of course, they're essentially triaging this based on what is of the utmost importance at that given hour. It's really an hour by hour basis here. But President Biden's schedule for the last several days has been filled with briefings that are revolving around those first two things you mentioned, the hurricane, of course, and now it's going to be the damage that has been caused by Hurricane Ida, but also the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, which has been a very chaotic final hours as we are approaching this deadline, of which all U.S. forces are expected to be out of Afghanistan, according to the White House.

And so those are two things that President is balancing. He was briefed this morning by his top national security aides on Afghanistan. We are still waiting to hear from them on what exactly this exit is going to look like and whether or not President Biden is going to mark that moment.

As we heard from the Pentagon earlier, they've been very hesitant to share details, given the precarious security situation on the ground, which they have said would enter its most dangerous phase, as they were at the very end of this evacuation. And they've been talking about the numbers that they've gotten out. Obviously, we've seen those numbers of evacuees reduce in the most recent days, given there are -- it's less of a focus on getting people out of there and more of a focus on drawing down the military presence in Afghanistan so we could hear from President Biden on that. Kate, we should note that this afternoon it is going to be a hurricane focus. And he does have a virtual briefing with the FEMA Administrator here in about the next half hour or so where he is going to be giving an update on where this stands of courses, they are trying to assess the amount of water damage and flooding that is happening.


And is -- then this virtual meeting, Kate, we should note with the FEMA Administrator, there are also going to be governors from these Gulf Coast states that are now affected by this, as forecasters are warning about tornadoes and flooding and Alabama and Mississippi in those other states around Louisiana. So two issues on the President's plate, of course, two major issues where they are trying to carefully make decisions about their response here today.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Good to see you, Kaitlan, thank you so much.

We're bringing those remarks for the President when they do happen. Coming up for us, some hospitals in the south, they're now at risk of running out of oxygen because of coronavirus cases and the number of cases are soaring and the number of people in the hospital is surging. Plus the European Union making news at this hour on American visitors, the latest on the pandemic next.



BOLDUAN: They are hungry for oxygen and they are dying. That is how an ICU doctor in Florida is describing the dire situation that COVID patients are in there, most of them unvaccinated. Nearly 100,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with coronavirus, filling more than 30 percent of all ICU beds in the country.

Joining me now is Dr. Jonathan Reiner for more on this, it's good to see you Dr. Reiner. So this reporting that CNN has that some hospitals in the south now have a shortage of oxygen to treat COVID patients and that some hospitals are at risk of running out completely. This fits into one of those categories like this should not happen in America. I mean, what does this mean?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It means that the pandemic is out of control in the south. In parts of Florida, for instance, I think there are 27 counties in Florida, where there are no open ICU beds, 27 counties out of about 60 or so counties in the entire state. So a third of the counties have no open ICU beds. Think about what's happened in Louisiana. The fact that we have so many patients in the path of the storm is a consequence of having nowhere to movement. All the hospitals in the south are filled with patients. And this is what we're seeing. This is the aftermath. BOLDUAN: And you mentioned Louisiana, I mean, it is seeing when you kind of look at the stats of Louisiana right now the highest case counts per capita in the country, 92 cases per 100,000 people. And medical staff we learned because of the storm, they're having to manually ventilate patients when backup generators went down. I talked to one doctor of the Children's Hospital earlier on the show.

And he says that he's really worried about the staff not only dealing with a hurricane which they're trained to do, but these are staff -- the employees and the workers, they have been already pushed to the limit with what they're saying with COVID. I mean, how do you handle it?

REINER: These are the best people we have, the military and the people who work in our hospitals. If -- when you want to look at what's worked in this country over the last 18 months, when you want to look at the people in this country that have worked together, regardless of party affiliation, or the color of their skin or socio economic status, it's happened in our hospitals, our hospital workers, our nurses, and respiratory therapists, our physicians have linked arms to protect their fellow citizens.

And the work that has gone on in Louisiana during the storm is really the stuff of heroes. When a hospital loses power, all the ventilators stop working. And you have moments to start manually, what we call bagging with an ambu bag, providing oxygen by squeezing oxygen into the lungs of these patients. And that's what the staff in that hospital had to do. It's a remarkable work. They then move patients off of the floor down stairwells.


REINER: That's something that I've never seen done. It is remarkable work. But all of this is a consequence of having to keep patients in those hospitals because there was no place to move them. And that's a consequence of the fact that we have poorly managed the pandemic in this country. Now I will say that prior to the storm, the numbers of Louisiana were starting to get better. There were signs that the pandemic was starting to recede in Louisiana. And now with folks in shelters, I worry about a resurgence.

BOLDUAN: I think officials there are really worried about that as well. I want to ask you also about the European Union. We just learned during the show that they are now recommending to reinstate travel restrictions on unvaccinated Americans. What does this say about how the U.S. has been handling this?

REINER: I think that is a very reasonable strategy to restrict unvaccinated Americans from travelling. I think the federal government should restrict unvaccinated Americans from travelling by air in this country. Our Canadian cousins have already done that. But if you want to limit the movement of virus around the country and you want to incentivize people to become vaccinated, to get vaccinated, one way to do it is to show them that their actions have consequences.

[12:55:07] And if you are going to remain unvaccinated in this country, then one of the things you will not be able to do in my opinion, or should not be able to do is fly by air or travelled by train. And our European colleagues look like they're going to impose that on the United States.

BOLDUAN: Yes, good to see you Dr. Reiner, thank you very much.

REINER: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: CNN continues to cover the breaking news unfolding at this hour. That picks up with Ana Cabrera after this quick break.