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The Lead with Jake Tapper
White House Defends Withdrawal Of U.S. Troops From Afghanistan; White House Estimates 11,000 U.S. Citizens Remain In Afghanistan; Pentagon Confirms U.S. In Communication With Taliban Leaders; Migrant Surge; Booster Shots?; Tropical Rains Compound Misery In Haiti's Disaster Zone; White House: Hard Calls, No Clean Outcomes For U.S. To Leave Afghanistan After 20-Year Civil War. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired August 17, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: They served the U.S. and now, they feel betrayed.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Thousands of Americans and allies left behind frantically trying to get on flights out as the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan. We're live in Kabul with the life or death situation.
Then, the Biden administration about to back boosters for more Americans. When should you get your third coronavirus shot?
Plus, a desperate and unprecedented surge at the U.S./Mexico border. We talk to migrants who told us why they've continued to make this incredibly dangerous journey.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We start today with our world lead. The White House this afternoon attempting to defend how it handled the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban solidifies its grip on that country, and Americans and allies rush to try to safely evacuate.
This afternoon, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the Taliban has agreed to give civilians safe passage to the Kabul airport where the U.S. military is hoping to speed up the pace of evacuation flights within the next 24 hours. This striking image obtained by Defense One shows nearly 650 Afghans packed inside a U.S. military cargo plane. They were safely evacuated on Sunday to Qatar.
The White House estimates that at least 11,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan. But those figures do not include the tens of thousands of Afghan allies who helped the U.S. during the war, and their families, who could be killed by the Taliban if they are not promptly flown out of the country.
Let's begin our coverage today with CNN's Clarissa Ward who's live in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
And, Clarissa, you're getting a sense of just how quickly life is changing for ordinary Afghan citizens who are once again under the cruel rule of the Taliban.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. There is a sense that this is the new normalcy and there are signs of normalcy creeping back onto the streets. The Taliban announced that government workers should be returning to their posts. Today, we saw traffic policemen on the roads guiding traffic.
As I've mentioned before, the Taliban really wants to show that it can effectively govern, that it is not just a fighting force. But walking around the streets, Jake, it was impossible to ignore that women were not as visible, and we went out looking for those women to hear their stories.
Take a listen.
WARD (voice-over): At the central Kabul market today, stores were open and people were back on the streets, or at least some people. It was impossible not to notice that women here seemed to have largely melted away.
One store was doing better business than usual. For more than a decade, Mohamed has been selling burqas, the head to toe coverings once imposed by the Taliban. Business was good but now, it's been even better, he tells us. More sales.
Why do you think you're selling more burqas right now?
Because the Taliban took over and all the women are afraid, he says. So that's why they're all coming in and buying burqas.
Do you feel abandoned?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, exactly.
WARD: In an apartment downtown, we saw that fear firsthand. Until last week, Fazulah (ph) was working for the U.N. That's not her real name, and she asked we not show her face. She's petrified that the Taliban will link her to Western organizations and says she hasn't gone outside since they arrived in Kabul.
You look very frightened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly. It is not easy for a person to have worked a lot with international organization having more than ten years experience of working with international, and now not one of them help me. Just sending emails to different organizations that have worked with you, but no, no response.
WARD: Are you angry?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I'm not angry. But as a person who worked for them, now I need their supports. It is not fair.
WARD: You look very emotional as well.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah. Because I'm thinking about my future, my daughters. What will happen to them? If they kill me, two daughters without mother.
WARD: The Taliban says they have learned from history and that women's rights will be protected. But many fearful Afghan women remain to be persuaded.
We're on our way now to the home of a prominent female Afghan politician.
She's told me that there are Taliban fighters outside her front door, so she's asked that I go in alone.
Fawzia Koofi was one of the Afghan government negotiators during peace talks with the Taliban and has dealt with the group a lot. She says that promising change is not enough.
FAWZIA KOOFI, AFGHAN POLITICIAN: They have to really prove it in the provinces, across Afghanistan. They have to show it by example. It's very easy to issue statements, but people need to see that in practice.
WARD: Koofi has every reason not to trust. Last year, she was shot by unknown gunmen. The Taliban denied they were behind the attack.
You have children.
KOOFI: I have two daughters.
WARD: And are they here?
KOOFI: They're in Kabul.
WARD: And are you concerned for them?
KOOFI: I'm concerned for my daughters and all the girls of Afghanistan. I don't want history to repeat itself on them, very brutally.
WARD (on camera): Jake, we heard for the first time in person from the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid. He gave a press conference tonight. And it was really interesting to see the types of questions that were asked by Afghan journalists particularly. It really goes to show you how much has changed here in two generations or two decades, I should say.
These journalists were not pulling any punches. They pushed him on women's rights. They pushed him on whether women would be able to continue working as journalists, continue working on television. And he was sort of struggling to answer and give a direct and coherent response.
But the one question that really just stuck with me, it was so extraordinary. He was talking about this blanket amnesty that the Taliban has granted to everyone. And this journalist stood up and says, but will the Afghan people forgive you for all the people, the innocent civilians who have been killed in your car bombs, to which Mujahid replied, well, that's collateral damage, it happens.
But the courage of that journalist to ask that question, to look him squarely in the eye and ask that, I think it speaks to the real changes that have happened here in the last 20 years, Jake. And whether the Taliban has changed or not, the people here certainly have.
TAPPER: Right. The existence of social media, a whole generation of girls, women, and boys and men educated in the last 20 years.
Clarissa, what was the mood like when you were walking around Kabul earlier today?
WARD: It's a very strange mood because it looks normal, it feels secure. There isn't that same as a journalist even, there isn't the feeling that you could be kidnapped or shot or blown up. And that's partially because of the people who might've done that to you before are now the people who are in charge of the place.
But the market was open. It was bustling. I would say about a third of the stores, if not half of the stores, were open. And traffic was moving.
This is this moment the Taliban knows they have to get it right. They know that they have to get things moving along again. That if there is any vacuum or any kind of violent crackdown of any sort or chaos that they will lose the momentum that they have on their side. They're keen to show now that they're benevolent as well as being able to provide law and order.
But you heard it from those women, and particularly from Fawzia Koofi, an extraordinarily brave politician. The proof will be in the pudding. And it's not what you say, it's what you do.
TAPPER: Right. And we've seen the Taliban as they took over the country grabbing young girls forcing them into these, I don't want to call them marriages, but forcing them into these hideous relationships with their fighters. You just mentioned that the Taliban claimed today that they've pledged amnesty to former Afghan forces. They also said there would be, quote, no violence against women.
I mean, can anybody trust anything that they have to say?
WARD: I think that for the most part people have a really hard time trusting. And I asked Fawzia Koofi, I said you've dealt with them, you've been with them, you've negotiated with them, do you believe what they're saying? And she said, for now, it's hard for me to trust. She doesn't rule it out entirely.
But here's the thing, Jake. It's not enough for the Taliban just to say women can be educated. It's about leading by example. And so if the Taliban wants to really know that they have changed in this respect from their fundamental ideology, then they need to actively campaign for women's education, to make it clear to all the people in this country that there is a new direction.
Because the other woman Fazullah (ph), as we called her, she told me that her sister went out to buy some milk the other day and the grocer at the grocery store said you should be wearing proper hijab, proper covering. He never would've said that two weeks ago. But now because the Taliban is in town, people adopt their posture.
They change their behavior to please what they think is the sort of prevailing lord or ruler at the time.
And that's the real problem here. The Taliban can't just say these things in passing. They have to actively show by example that there have been fundamental changes in the way they're going to govern. And I would say from people I have spoken to, not many have a huge amount of faith that that is really going to happen.
TAPPER: Yeah, Clarissa ward live in Kabul, Afghanistan, thank you for your brave reporting, as always.
Joining us now to discuss, General David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.
General, I'd like to know what your reaction has been to what we've seen out of Kabul the last few days.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER OF U.S. AND NATO FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: Well, I think it's hard not to observe that it's just heartbreaking. It's tragic. And whatever you may think of the previous Afghan government, its replacement by a group that has been fighting against us for 20 years and has killed civilians left and right that has done all the things that you described in the rural areas that they have entered prior to getting to Kabul, it's very hard to see that as anything but disastrous.
The previous government, again, for all of its shortcomings and flaws, wholeheartedly supported our effort to ensure that al Qaeda could not re-establish the kind of sanctuary that it enjoyed when it planned the 9/11 attacks on Afghan soil under the control of the Taliban.
TAPPER: General, what do you say to critics who argue that one of the problems has been that the pentagon, the generals, were never forthcoming about how fragile the Afghan army, writ large, was. And that has come into evidence in the last week or so.
PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, I will stand by everything that I said when I was the commander of U.S. Central Command -- the region included Afghanistan -- as the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and frankly as the director of the CIA after that.
And I believe that we will find out that there were some warnings given, that there were concerns voiced that if we state that we are going to withdraw, the sheer psychological blow of that and then the actual withdrawal and of course as we have discussed before, the withdrawal of the contractors that kept the most important element of the Afghan forces operating, their air force, which is how they have the back of soldiers.
And soldiers realize that neither we nor their own air force because its operational readiness is degrading could have their back, deliver reinforcements, emergency resupply and close air support, then they do what soldiers in that situation do, do.
By the way, I should point out 25 times as many Afghans have lost their lives as U.S. soldiers over the course of the past 20 years. They have fought and very much died for their country. It is their country. They should fight for it clearly. And what they did obviously is very disappointing.
But at the end of the day, they were put in a position where they did not have much choice other than to flee or to surrender, cut a deal. And the Taliban were very skilled in putting pressure all around the country simultaneously using assassinations, using various media to communicate and intimidate, really quite a skillful campaign.
And they found the weaknesses and the weakness was that if you lose trust in those above you, then you're not going to continue to fight. So, again the fact that a government now about which we have so many concerns, but let's see. And by the way, people have actually asked me, what would the Taliban have to do to show you that they are sincere?
I would say invite us back to Bagram Air Base, say let's reopen it. They don't have an air force to keep an eye on al Qaeda. We will be more than happy to do that.
That would convince me, and obviously also the demonstrated behavior that Clarissa highlighted very appropriately as well as did those she interviewed.
TAPPER: So, there is an argument that president Biden makes, which is after 20 years, if the Afghan army cannot defend itself and if the soldiers, today's soldiers, not the up to 57,000 who have already been killed trying to defend Afghanistan, but if the soldiers, if the army falls apart this quickly, that is reinforcing to him of his decision to withdraw U.S. forces.
How do you respond to that? It's probably compelling to a lot of Americans to think if the Afghan soldiers won't even fight to defend themselves, why should one more American son or daughter risk or sacrifice his or her life in that mission?
PETRAEUS: No, it's a very, very fair point and I think it's the most powerful argument for the course of action that was adopted.
But the fact is that Afghans did fight when we provided a modicum of air support, advisors, joint tactical air controllers and liaison teams in their headquarters. And we have not lost a soldier in 18 months on the battlefield in Afghanistan. So, why it was that we felt constrained by an agreement made by a previous administration many of whose other agreements have already been reversed such as the withdrawal from the WHO, from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal -- again, I did not find particularly compelling.
Nonetheless, that was a very powerful case. The question is, is this situation preferable to one that might've been maintained with 2,500 or 3,500 troops? Ironically, about the number that Vice President Biden would've preferred many years ago but were never possible because we didn't have the armada of drones and other precision air capabilities that we have now. And I think that is actually the real question.
TAPPER: We're running out of time, but I do want to get your response because Jake Sullivan did address the very point you're making. There is this argument it would not have been such a big deal to leave behind 2,500 or so U.S. counterterrorism forces and others to support the Afghan military. Sullivan argued just this afternoon the previous administration drew down from 15,000 troops to 2,500 troops, and even at 15,000, the Afghan government forces were losing ground.
Your quick response to that.
PETRAEUS: Well, there was an erosion of security, no question. You provide more enablers. There were 8,500 coalition forces still on the ground, and the 18,000 contractors that were critical. But if I could very quickly make a point, let's shift all of that for the time being and focus on the imperative of what really is a Dunkirk moment in Kabul.
And that is to do everything humanly possible to rescue those who put their lives and the lives of their family members in jeopardy by serving alongside our troops and working with our various endeavors in Afghanistan.
I am heartened very much by the aggressive way that the administration is seeking to do that. I have enormous confidence in the men and women in uniform, including that air crew that took 650 people out in one single flight. Very safe, by the way. That aircraft can lift that and much more.
But that's what we need to focus on right now. We need to use every means necessary. And this is the first test of the Taliban.
PETRAEUS: If they truly will allow safe passage to American citizens and those who qualify for the special immigrant visa, that would be a step forward.
TAPPER: General David Petraeus, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it, sir.
PETRAEUS: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: American adults may soon be told to get a third COVID shot while young kids still can't get their first. Details behind the delay, ahead.
Plus, desperation at the border due to frustration back home. CNN talks to new migrants and the new reasons they're coming to the U.S. for a new life.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our world lead, the Pentagon says today U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are in communication with the Taliban and hope to speed up operations at the airport in Kabul. Their new goal, get between 5,000 and 9,000 passengers out of Afghanistan every day. For context, the Pentagon and the White House said there are more than 11,000 Americans in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands, of course, of Afghan interpreters and their families waiting to get out.
Let's bring in CNN's Barbara Starr in the Pentagon and Kylie Atwood at the State Department.
Barbara, the Pentagon says so far, they have not had any hostile interactions with the Taliban, but, of course, this is still a very sensitive mission.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's a very sensitive mission and they are struggling at the moment still to ramp it all up. Getting that promise of safe passage from the Taliban for people to get to the airport is a big step forward. That should help in order to get people there in the first place. They want to ramp up to 5,000 to 9,000 a day, but the latest figure we had for a time frame over the last day or so was that they got some 700 out and less than 200 of those were Americans.
Still, the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby putting an optimistic face on it just for the moment.
(BEGIN VIEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: The best judge of how we're doing is how we're doing. And the results that we're achieving and I think I'd leave it at that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: They've also put a commander from the elite 82nd airborne in charge of coordinating everything at the airport with the goal of getting 6,000 U.S. troops on the ground. They have to get that organization. It's key to getting everything moving at a faster pace -- Jake.
TAPPER: Kylie, let me bring you in.
There is this circle of blame inside the Biden administration about what has gone wrong in the last few days. The Pentagon says that they've been urging the state department to move faster when it comes to the special immigrant visas, to the evacuation of staff.
The State Department is blaming U.S. intelligence, who they claim they suggested they had more time. The intelligence community insisting that the Taliban would quickly take over. You've been talking to American diplomats who were in Afghanistan. What do they have to say?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, American diplomats that I've talked to who spent time there are gutted for two reasons. First of all, they're concerned that all of their work in the country is going to be completely eroded as the Taliban take over. Their work to advocate for women's rights organizations, for education, all of that, they're concerned about that.
Now, the Secretary of State Tony Blinken sent a memo to the entire workforce just earlier this week, explaining that he understands that they must be wrenched as they watch what is happening in Afghanistan but talked about the mission at hand right now. He couldn't, in good faith, frankly, tell them that everything that they had done was for naught.
The other thing that these diplomats are really frustrated over is just how this has all happened.
They think that at least some of this chaos could've been avoided if there was better advanced planning and there were earlier actions taken to get more of these Afghans who worked alongside the U.S. out of the country earlier. They talk about a lot of meetings happening. They don't talk about a lot of action being taken earlier.
TAPPER: All right. Kylie and Barbara, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up, some breaking news on masking. Where will you have to keep masking up? That's next.
TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now in our health lead.
The TSA is expected to announce that the mask mandate on planes and trains in the United States will continue through at least mid- January, according to a source. As the debate on masks rages on, sources tell CNN that the Biden administration as soon as tomorrow is going to recommend a COVID booster shot for most American adults.
CNN's Erica Hill looks into the big booster rollout.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With an extra dose of protection the horizon for fully vaccinated Americans, new concerns about the administration's priorities.
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think the bigger question is, with the existing immunity that people already have from two doses of the vaccine, how much does that protect them?
HILL: About 60 percent of the eligible population is now fully vaccinated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We squander an opportunity in our country to vaccinate people.
HILL: While the push continues to encourage more shots in arms, requiring them is a different story. Arizona's governor now threatening criminal misdemeanor charges for local officials who mandate the vaccine, as health experts eye a number of new hot spots.
In the past week, new cases in these states up more than 50 percent. Not far behind, these seven, where they're up more than 40 percent. New cases in children also continue to rise, more than 121,000 reported in just the last week, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
WEN: The unvaccinated are at much higher risk because the Delta variant is so contagious. So, it's not surprising that we're seeing an increase in cases among children.
HILL: As for how many kids are sick enough to end up in the hospital, that's not clear.
ADM. BRETT GIROIR, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Only 23 states in New York City actually report the number of children in hospitals. Talking about flying blind relative to children, we need better data. And that's got to be the basis for action.
HILL: Meantime, more state digging in on masks and politics, as governors battle local officials.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not Republicans vs. Democrats. Or at least it shouldn't be. This is human beings vs. the virus.
HILL: In Tennessee schools, they're now optional, thanks to a new executive order.
GOV. BILL LEE (R-TN): Districts will make the decisions that they think are best for their schools. But parents will have the ultimate decision-making for their individual child's health.
GIROIR: We don't know how few math we can get away with in schools, but we have a raging pandemic. And we do know, with good data, that, if children wear masks in school, they can be safe.
HILL: Just five days into the school year, at least 1,000 Nashville students and staff are now isolated or in quarantine.
In Florida's Hillsborough County, it's nearly 5, 600 students and more than 300 staff.
NORMA MAIZ, PARENT: Put a mask mandate. Even if you have the same positive cases, there will be less quarantines.
HILL: One parent's plea ahead of an emergency school board meeting and concern of what's to come.
HILL: And, Jake, as you mentioned, CNN just learning that the TSA is expected to extend that mask mandate for travel through January 18. It had been set to expire September 13.
The TSA saying in a statement they don't yet have a timeline. We have also reached out to the CDC, but have yet to hear back.
TAPPER: All right, Erica Hill in New York, thanks so much.
Let's bring in Dr. Peter Hotez now.
He's the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital.
Dr. Hotez, I want to get your reaction to this breaking news, the TSA extending the mask mandate on planes and trains until mid-January. Why not a vaccine mandate? Would that not be a more science-based approach, if we're going to start requiring -- keep requiring people to do things to be on the nation's planes and rails?
DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, ideally, both.
But let's go through each. So, for the masks, I mean, that's a no- brainer. Right now, Jake, we're at a screaming level of virus transmission in the United States. We're pushing up to 150,000 new cases a day. We will soon probably be up to 200,000 new cases a day.
So, if you look at the slope, it's practically vertical. So, this thing is really raging. And it's going to -- it looks, in terms of new cases, almost as bad as it did last January, February. So I would imagine that was the reason for extending the mask mandate. It makes a lot of sense.
I would certainly prefer a vaccination mandate. I think that's been a tougher -- tougher nut to crack, but that would be ideal as well. But that's been fraught with a lot of political difficulties.
TAPPER: Well, let's be honest. It's not the science that's precluding a vaccine mandate for planes and trains. It's the politics.
HOTEZ: That's right. This is all politics. And it's self-defeating politics, because, right now, when you have a virus that's this transmissible with a reproductive number of six to eight, we know from past epidemics what that means. The best way to do this is to vaccinate your way out of it, in collaboration with masks.
And we can't be either/or. The only way we're going to defeat this viruses is with both.
TAPPER: Tomorrow, the Biden administration is expected to recommend officially COVID booster shots for most American adults.
What's more important, in your view, getting people who already have the shots this booster, or getting unvaccinated people and unvaccinated children their first dose?
HOTEZ: Jake, as a nation, we have to figure out a way to do both. And here's why.
These -- when these vaccines were rolled out in December and January, both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccine had a three- to four-week interval between doses. That was done because we had to fully vaccinate the American people as quickly as possible.
At that time, there were 3,000 Americans losing their lives every day. And we did that with the knowledge that the durability of protection would probably not be very long, because, when you immunize, and then give a boost three, four weeks later, that doesn't give you long- lasting immunity typically.
You usually need a six-month to a year interval. So we always anticipated a booster coming. And now, with data coming out of the Mayo Clinic, data coming out of Israel showing sharp declines in protection against infection, going from over 90 percent to 40 to 50 percent, with uncertainty in terms of protecting against hospitalizations, although that's still looking good, that's the reason for the booster.
In parallel, we have got to walk and chew gum at the same time. We have got to get the younger kids vaccinated. We have got to get -- and if we're really serious, Jake, about interrupting this virus transmission with this kind of reproductive number transmissibility the virus, we're talking about 80 to 85 percent of the U.S. population vaccinated, not 80 to 85 percent of the adults, but 80, 85 percent of the population.
Pretty much all of the adults and adolescents have to be vaccinated in the U.S. And given what's going on right now here in the South, you can imagine what high a bar that is right now.
TAPPER: Your home state of Texas leads the nation in the number of children hospitalized with COVID. How worried are you?
HOTEZ: Yes, I'm very upset about this. And we're also seeing a lot of combined COVID-19 respiratory syncytial
virus infections, which is interesting. But, Jake, all of these terrible numbers we're hearing about pediatric hospitalizations from COVID, not only in Texas, but Louisiana, all the way to Florida, Jake, this is happening before school starts.
HOTEZ: So, schools are opening now.
So, the Houston Independent School District opens August 23. That's going to be a huge accelerant. So this is just the warmup act. This is just the beginning, unfortunately.
Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.
Coming up: an unprecedented surge. We went to the U.S.-Mexico border to speak to migrants, among them a mother who fears that gangs will kill her and her toddler.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: In our national lead, another foreign policy crisis for the Biden administration, with Central American migrants fleeing to the U.S. border at record numbers.
More than 212,000 migrants were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in July alone. That's up 12 percent from June. And it's the highest number of migrants detained in one month in more than two decades, among them, babies, families, teenagers making the risky crossing.
CNN's Nick Valencia went down to the border to find out why. Why did they make this dangerous journey?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the young faces of those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border day after day, sometimes hour after hour.
They're coming to the U.S. in record numbers in groups no smaller than this.
VALENCIA (on camera): What are you guys running from?
VALENCIA (voice-over): The unprecedented number of illegal crossings include this 21-year-old single mother, who tells us she was too afraid to show her face, fearing retaliation from the gangs in El Salvador, who she says want to kill her and her toddler daughter. VALENCIA (on camera): Why are you crying?
VALENCIA (voice-over): For years, the U.S. has seen Central American families like this come looking for asylum. But many of the migrants we spoke to, like this young father, say, between existing gang violence, a hurricane in November and the pandemic, there's no future left for his infant son. So, now he's here looking for work and a new life.
It's the same for this group of teen boys, who tell us the pandemic gave them no choice but to look for a better future here in the United States. Each of them came alone without their parents.
VALENCIA (on camera): This 16-year-old crossed without his parents. His name is Marco Tulio (ph). And he says this is all he crossed with, the clothes on his back and this.
VALENCIA (voice-over): The boys tell me they know there are those who don't want them here. This 16-year-old said he wishes those people would see the life he fled.
VALENCIA (on camera): If they go over there, what would they find?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Few opportunities for work. Because of the pandemic, some of the schools have closed. There's lots of crime.
VALENCIA: This is a large group that was just processed in the field by Border Patrol agents. About half of them are small children. One of them is still nursing.
From here, this group will be taken and tested for COVID-19. If they test positive, they will then be taken to a tent that's been put up at Anzalduas Park, where there are already thousands of others.
VALENCIA (voice-over): Eleven miles away, inside Anzalduas Park, we meet Sister Norma, who along with the city of McAllen is running a tent camp, which is a temporary home for more than 1,500 migrant families, after complaints from residents about the risk of COVID among the migrants.
Sister Norma says despite the concerns, migrants are testing at a lower positivity rate than the state average.
SISTER NORMA PIMENTAL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CATHOLIC CHARITIES: The people that are arriving here are arriving the majority without COVID. So those that do are then contained and isolated to help us make sure that we proceed correctly.
VALENCIA: Those who test negative are busted downtown to the Catholic Charities Respite Center where volunteers and staff help them reconnect with families and wait for pending immigration court hearings.
PIMENTAL: They're human beings. They're in distress, hurting. We cannot lose sight of that just because we fear the fact that they're here because they're bringing COVID. No, they're coming here as people fleeing violence and needing help.
VALENCIA: And as the pandemic adds to other pre-existing factors, more migrants will come day after day, hour after hour.
VALENCIA (on camera): The Biden administration has been reluctant to call this a crisis, but it's clear that this is a problem that they've not yet found a solution for -- Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Nick Valencia, thank you so much.
Coming up, at least 1,900 people are dead in desperate need for medical supplies. And now a storm in the earthquake zone.
We're going live to Haiti, next.
TAPPER: In our world lead, a humanitarian disaster unfolding in Haiti. Overnight, what is now tropical storm Grace dumped nearly a foot of rain on some parts of the earthquake disaster zone in Haiti. Officials just updated the overall death toll at least 1,900 people are confirmed dead.
CNN's Matt Rivers has made his way to Jeremie, which is on Haiti's southern peninsula near the epicenter of the quake.
And, Matt, you arrived a short time ago, but you're already seeing plenty of destruction.
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Jake. We really only got here within the last I'd say two hours or so after taking a helicopter ride. We hitched a ride with the U.S. Coast Guard, which is actually ferrying one or two helicopters and a plane back and forth to this area because it's really the only way to get to this area. It took us about an hour in that helicopter to get here.
And in the town of Jeremie, it's really the fifth largest city here in Haiti. There is destruction on every single block that we saw. We drove through the town, people in different sections of the town going through rubble finding whatever they can in that rubble. They obviously had to deal with a tropical depression that came through here last night.
At least from what we've seen here so far, Jake, it's been limited. But what we've seen so far, no major signs of flooding and that was a huge concern here. However, we did drive past the hospital here in Jeremie. It was very bad. We saw dozens of people outside the hospital.
Clearly, this is a situation where doctors and nurses are going to be overwhelmed because these victims from this earthquake just keep coming in. How do they get out of here, Jake? That's the big question. There are no medical evacuation flights really happening. It's very piecemeal.
And in the short time that we've been here, we did not see any Haitian government presence, no search and rescue teams, no first aid convoys because it's such a remote place these people out in this part of Haiti have a long way to go in terms of keeping their people safe, taking care of those who are injured and also trying to begin this cleanup process.
TAPPER: An unfolding tragedy, Matt Rivers, thank you so much for your reporting.
Coming up, we're going to go live outside the Kabul airport as Afghans are frantically trying to get out as the Taliban take over. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
This hour, backing boosters. A plan coming together for you to get your third shot. When should you book your appointment? That's ahead.
Plus, life after the Trump presidency. The niece of Donald Trump joins us live explaining the lasting effects that she sees from his time in office.
And leading this hour, the crisis in Afghanistan. The Taliban taking over in a frantic attempt to get Americans and Afghan allies out of the country with the fear that their lives are on the line. In minutes, we're going to speak to an Afghan interpreter who is now safely in the U.S. but has more family left behind desperate to get out.
But, first, today, top Biden administration officials insist they knew there would be chaos in Afghanistan as Americans tried to leave this 20-year war. And that contingency plans were always in place.
But as CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports, growing criticism is coming from all sides, blaming the administration for ignoring intelligence and warnings and for the potential fallout to come.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Facing mounting criticism over the chaos in Kabul, today, President Biden staying out of public view, holdup at Camp David while his national security adviser trying to contain the fallout. JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: When you conclude 20 years
of military action of civil war in another country with the impacts of 20 years of decisions that have piled up, you have to make a lot of hard calls, none with clean outcomes. There are going to be scenes of chaos.
DIAMOND: Even as desperate scenes have unfolded in Kabul, Sullivan insisting the U.S. planned for every contingency. But he said the administration will conduct a review of what went right and wrong. Biden acknowledged his administration miscalculated how swiftly Kabul would fall.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.
DIAMOND: But no one in his administration has explained how the U.S. was caught so flatfooted after nearly two decades at war. Sources told CNN it's a question Biden put to his team during briefings, answers have been harder to come by, amid internal finger-pointing.