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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Then Versus Now On U.S. Mission In Afghanistan; Culver City Schools: Staff & Eligible Students Must Be Vaccinated; Five FL Counties Now In Defiance Of DeSantis Mask Mandate Ban; FAA Proposes $500,000 In Fines Against Unruly Passengers; State Dept. Officials In Kabul Warned Of Taliban Gains, Need For Quick Evacuations Last Month; China Teams Up With Taliban In Unlikely Partnership. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 19, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The commitment holes to get everyone out that in fact we can get out and everyone should come out. And that's the objective.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yet so far the evacuations are moving slowly, more than 5000 American troops are in control of the airport. But it's the Taliban that decides who can make it there. The President defiant and defensive, but now leaving open the possibility of keeping U.S. forces longer than a self-imposed timeline of August 31.

BIDEN: If there's American citizens left, we're going to stay and we get them all out.

ZELENY (voice-over): But the guaranteed is not necessarily extend to all Afghans who worked alongside Americans. One, who spent years working at the U.S. Embassy telling CNN the journey was too harrowing to finish, saying, "I decided I would rather the Taliban shoot me in the head to being stuck in that situation."

In the past 24 hours, 2000 people have been evacuated, for short of the goal of five to 9000 a day of those the Pentagon says only 300 were U.S. citizens.

MAJ. GEN. HANK TAYLOR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, JOINT STAFF REGIONAL OPERATIONS: It's not about the math. It's about what's ready to fly. You know who's on the airfield ready to leave a holding area and get on the aircraft.

ZELENY (voice-over): The dangerous scene unfolding on the ground underscores just how difficult it may be for these words from the President to come true.

BIDEN: There are Afghan women outside the gate, I told them, get them on the planes. Get them out. Get them out. Get their families out if you can.

ZELENY (voice-over): Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley arriving at the White House to brief the President and Vice President.

The President spent the day out of public view after insisting in an ABC News interview on Wednesday that chaos was always inevitable.

BIDEN: The idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing. I don't know how that happens.

ZELENY (voice-over): Congressional hearings about what went so wrong are set to begin next week. But as the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches, Biden insisted that Afghanistan, where that terror plot began, has also changed.

BIDEN: I'm not going to look just like they were when we were attacked. There was a guy named Osama bin Laden, there was still alive and well. They were organized in a big way that they had significant health from other parts of the world.


ZELENY: Now a bipartisan group of senators, in fact, more than half of the U.S. Senate have signed a letter and send it here to President Biden at the White House, urging him to quickly evacuate those Afghan special immigrant visa applicants and their families. These are the people who have worked alongside American forces for some two decades, working with the military and embassy personnel. They're asking the White House to move faster on those evacuations.

Now, Jake, the State Department says there will be 20 flights going out of Kabul tonight. We should also point out the Pentagon said today, they're actually unsure of the exact number of Americans in the country.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

If you search for biographies of President Biden to better understand his thinking, you will not find a vast library. Let's bring in Evan Osnos. He's one of the very few Biden biographers. He wrote the book "Joe Biden, The Life the Run in What Matters Now." He's also a staff writer for "The New Yorker."

Evan, thanks for joining us. So President Biden says there was no good time to leave Afghanistan. We should note, he's long been a sceptic of the U.S. experiment there after the initial mission of defeating Al- Qaeda was complete. Here he is almost 10 years ago in 2012.


BIDEN: We've been in this war for over a decade, the object -- primary objective is almost completed. Now all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's.


TAPPER: In fact, Biden, then the vice president, advised against the troop surge in 2009 to President Obama. Do you see this withdrawal as finally following through on what he has long wanted to do, even though obviously, it's incredibly messy?

EVAN OSNOS, AUTHOR, JOE BIDEN, "THE LIFE, THE RUN, AND WHAT MATTERS NOW": I do. I think you saw signs of this and comments he's made going back. Exactly, as you said, going back a decade.

President Obama actually once described to me he said that Vice President Biden's biggest impact on the administration in total was on Afghanistan policy. And that was because they would get into these discussions, particularly with the Pentagon about what could be done, what could they achieve there. And then Vice President Biden's view was rigid, which was that he said, this shouldn't be an ideological question about what we seek to accomplish. It has to be about what we reasonably think we can get done narrowly, what it would cost us, what our investment would be.

And in that regard, he was pushing constantly for the idea that we shouldn't stay just because we think we can achieve something that we might not be able to. And that is -- and I said something similar to what he says now.

TAPPER: And then listen to what he told George Stephanopoulos in the interview that aired this morning about nation building, the idea that after Al-Qaeda was defeated, the Bush administration decided they needed to rebuild Afghanistan so there wouldn't be the conditions that had Al-Qaeda go there in the first place. Take a listen.



BIDEN: And what happened? Begin to morph into the notion that instead of having a counter terrorism capability to have small forces there or in the region to be able to take on Al-Qaeda to try to reconstitute, we decided to engage in nation building, in nation building. That never made any sense to me.


TAPPER: It's not true that it never made any sense. In February 2002, after the U.S. went to Afghanistan, about four months into it, this is what then Senator Biden had to say.


BIDEN: History is going to judge us very harshly, I believe, if we allow the hope of liberated Afghanistan to evaporate because we are fearful of the phrase nation building or we do not stay the course.


TAPPER: So, look, that's 2002 obviously, people change their mind over 20 years. What caused him to change his mind?

OSNOS: You know, I think there is, if he's being honest, you know, the thing that is the through line is that he is suspicious of this idea that Americans can ultimately implant or develop or cultivate democracy in another place in which it is having -- in which it is not predisposed to it. He said to me, at one point talking about Iraq, he said, we can't want democracy more than they want it.

And that statement more so I think than the one that you certainly captured at him saying that we have a responsibility to be doing their nation building, you know, that was the politician Joe Biden talking about what was the mission at the moment after 2002. But pretty quickly, you heard this resurging idea, something he'd been talking back really all the way back in the 1970s, this belief that the United States should not overstate or over imagine what it's able to do in other countries.

And, you know, whether or not the result is one that is -- whether or not the result works out, the reality is, is that this is something that he has believed in private and in public. And it was only now that he was in a position to be able to pull the levers of power to make it happen.

TAPPER: And in fact, speaking of public versus private, he has a lot of private skepticism of what the Pentagon has been telling the American people for a long time when running for president. "The New York Times" editorial board asked Biden quote, "Eight years as vice president, you know this issue very intimately. Have the American people have been lied to about what we're doing there" in Afghanistan? And Biden said to have replied, "Yes, yes." That was December 2019.

He has been pretty quiet. But he has a lot of feelings about that.

OSNOS: He really does. Actually, this is something that runs through a lot of his career, both as a senator on the Foreign Relations Committee. He often found himself on the opposite side of the table from generals, from American commanders. And he would often feel as if there was a sense of power dynamic between the people in uniform, the members of the military leadership, and civilians, and frankly, particularly Democrats.

He felt that he would often find himself in the position of being pushed around by generals and it bothered him. He thought that they pushed Barack Obama around. And he didn't like that idea that they were able to, in a sense, prevail in those debates, because they were the people in the room with military experience.

So he's been -- it's been a long time coming, Jake, that in a way this has been the thing that he has wanted to do for a long time, is to assert that civilian leadership is in a position to make an independent judgement. Couldn't do it ultimately, as vice president, he could do it as president.

TAPPER: I've heard it described that Biden and Trump, like in terms of their different views of their responsibilities, both of them view the presidency as being about primarily America and Americans, and less so about the world even when it comes to allies. How do you see his commitment to Afghan translators and others in the context of the 1975 remarks he made, quote, "I do not believe the United States has an obligation moral or otherwise to evacuate foreign nationals. The United States has no obligation to evacuate one or 100,001, South Vietnamese."

OSNOS: Yes, that is a through line that you hear even right up to his interview just with George Stephanopoulos just today, talking about the idea that it was, in a sense, almost in his mind inevitable that chaos would ensue.

Look, I think that there is a way in which he imagines that the United States has a commitment to its citizens, certainly to its nationals, to its troops. And he draws the perimeter narrowly around what it is that we can do abroad.

He is different from President Trump in a variety of ways, one of which is he believes that the U.S. has core alliances and commitments and it should try to re fortify those. But fundamentally, he looks at Afghanistan and he says to himself, we tried this in 2001, 2002, it didn't work.

And I don't think you can divorce the personal element of this, which is the fact is, Jake, as he will say he is the first president to have had a son in a combat role since Jimmy Carter and before that, President Eisenhower. He took that seriously. He had a lot of contacts with people in the United States who had sent their sons and daughters off to fight. And this looms large in his mind.


And in the end, when he had the opportunity to push the policy through over the resistance in many cases of military leadership, he did it.

TAPPER: Whether you agree with the decision or not, trying to make sense of where President Biden comes from on this issue.

Evan Osnos, thank you so much.

Joining me next, the first female Air Force pilot in the history of Afghanistan, we'll talk to her about the rapid collapse of the Afghan military and the future for women in that country left behind.

Plus, some schools are requiring masks but now more schools are going even further. What are those new measures? Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead in a growing number of reports of the Taliban getting increasingly violent outside of the Kabul airport stopping Afghans who are trying to reach evacuation flights.

Joining us now is Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Air Force pilot in the history of Afghanistan. She's been in the U.S. since 2018 when she was granted asylum. She's the author of "Open Skies, My Life as Afghanistan's First Female Pilot."

First of all, Niloofar, how are your family members in Afghanistan doing? Do you think they'll be able to get out of the country?

NILOOFAR RAHMANI, FIRST FEMALE FIXED-WING AIR FORCE AVIATOR IN AFGHANISTAN'S HISTORY: While this situation is definitely scaring everybody, and like any other families, my family and myself, I'm so worried about them. And it really scares me to see what their future is going to look like.

And of course, there's so many people that you will look and they are all scared. They're just trying to find a way to leave because they do not want to live under this government.

TAPPER: Do they have -- I mean, are they trying to get out of the country? Are they safe, at least at the moment?

RAHMANI: The situation is unknown. You know, it's just a little frustrating. It's just unknown.

But I can just say one thing that I am very thankful for the U.S. military and the civilian organization, and all the people that they are putting, like, so much of forward work, and they are working around the clock to save those people that have worked for Americans. And they've been interpreters, the families, and the girls and the woman that their life is in danger.

And I always been view a military people as a hero. And I think they are really moving it now as well.

TAPPER: As someone who fought in the Afghan military, what does it been like for you to watch the Afghanistan military? And we should point out, 10s of 1000s of members of the Afghan military have sacrificed their lives trying to defend that country. But beyond that, what does it been like to watch the military and the government collapse in such a short time?

RAHMANI: It was absolutely not something that I have been looking like a week ago, probably like, I would never ever think this would be the government now in Afghanistan and how quick the government going to fall.

You know, sometimes, like being honest about it, we lost so many lives, so many soldiers during this 20 years of war that they've been fighting Taliban, but they were happy. They had a confidence that there is a government, you know, they had an air support, they had a good logistic. They knew that they were supported by a government and they're not going to be left alone.

And this situation, it really scared everybody, because it happened and unfortunately, our president, the leaders, they abandoned the country, they just handed the country to the Taliban so freely, which broke my heart to just watch and see and just withdrawn (ph).

TAPPER: Yes, that reference to former Afghan President Ghani.

Obviously, the Taliban are the bad guys here. No question about that. But beyond that, and beyond President Ghani, who, as you note, abandon the country, fleeing, and some sources say that he had lots of money with him. Beyond that, who do you blame for the complete collapse of the Afghan government and military?

RAHMANI: Well, I am actually nobody to, you know, blame anyone to say who is right, who is wrong. But I would just say that the leaders, the people that they were in charge to make the decision, to make something better and avoid this disaster, they didn't do their job.

TAPPER: Now, the Taliban has a big propaganda effort, they're claiming that they're going to respect women's rights, quote, "within the framework of Islam," which is an important caveat, especially in terms of their very dark vision and version of Islam. Tell our viewers what that means in reality in terms of how the Taliban are going to treat women and girls.

RAHMANI: Well, as an African woman, I definitely was a child and I live under that life, under that government. I have seen my own mother get beat up by the Taliban. For a little girl that memory never ever goes away.

And I -- saw -- close my eyes, especially recently when they are, you know, creating their own government in Afghanistan, it just takes everything away from me. It brings into my heart and I have a hard time believing that because it does not make sense to me that people the government, that they prove themselves in the past, how they can change that way. How that's even possible.


Niloofar Rahmani, thank you so much for your time today, really appreciate it.


RAHMANI: Thank you.

TAPPER: A vaccine to go to school, that's the reality in one school district for kids who are eligible to get the shot. That story next.


TAPPER: In our national lead, as the debate over schools and coronavirus protection rages on, two states are now taking a definitive stance. Today, Oregon and Washington State both announced that vaccines will be required for all teachers and staff.

While in Florida, stand over masks, standoff between local school districts and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is escalating. Before yesterday only two school districts were defying DeSantis's blocking of masked mandates in schools. And now it's five after three of the state's largest counties, Miami Dade, Palm Beach, and Hillsborough all passed mask mandates.


CNN's Amara Walker joins me now from Miami.

Amara, has Governor DeSantis responded? AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, he has. He is criticizing these districts who are moving to impose these mask mandates that do not give parents the option to opt their children out. And he reiterated over and over that this is about protecting parents' rights.

Now, as you mentioned on Wednesday night, there were a total of three school districts here in Florida that voted to basically defy Governor Ron DeSantis executive order that prohibits mask requirements in schools, Miami Dade County, Hillsborough, and Palm Beach.

And I actually spoke with a school board member from Palm Beach, County School Board, Alexandria Ayala, she actually introduced that motion that was approved to impose these mask mandates in the schools. She tells me it's actually the strictest math policy that they're having in the state when school is back in session on Monday.

She said that it's strict because it does not give the parents the option to opt out. They were not allowed to use medical exemptions as well. The only way they can get out of these mask requirements is if they have a disability, and this will be determined on a case by case basis.

As for Miami Dade and Hillsborough, they also, last night, passed a mask mandate in their schools, although they do allow for medical exemptions.

Here's Ron DeSantis, the governor, today near Tampa criticizing these moves along with the White House.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: You have this obsession that a little five-year-old, you know should not be able to go to school without wearing that mask for eight hours a day. And just as a parent, you know, I'm offended that the federal government thinks that they know better than we do as parents.


WALKER: And as you are aware of Governor Ron DeSantis also digging in. He has been threatening many of these school districts with sanctions and some of the penalties could include removing the district officials along with withholding funds.

And Broward County along with Alachua are currently under investigation right now. It's unclear, however, when and if and when those penalties might be imposed, Jake.

TAPPER: And Amara, how have parents been reacting to these mask mandates?

WALKER: Well, as you know, Jake, this has been a highly emotional and politicized issue. This fight over masks, as you know, escalating to a fever pitch here in Florida. Alexandria Ayala, the Palm Beach County School Board member, she tells me that she's been getting a lot of angry messages, particularly on social media, but states, look for the five mean, angry messages I'm getting, I'm getting another 200 positive messages, especially from parents who are thanking her for putting the safety of children first.

TAPPER: Yes, the polling indicates that most Americans do support mask mandates, even if social media and angry phone calls don't suggest that.

Amara Walker, thank you so much.

Let's talk with CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta now.

Sanjay, first of all, some news made by Dr. Fauci telling me in the last hour that he strongly agrees with a decision by Oregon and Washington State to require that teachers, faculty and staffers in schools get vaccinated, to make it a vaccine mandate strictly as a medical physician. Do you agree with that?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, I think that that, you know, we're in a position now where we're seeing these significant surges. And we know that the vaccines do take a while to kick in in terms of offering their highest level of protection. But yes, at this point, you know, anything that we can do to sort of prevent the surge as we go into the fall, that's what the modelling is showing the vaccines are going to be really necessary.

So, places where you can really enforce these mandates get people vaccinated, I think is going to make a difference. Again, maybe not right away, that's where the masking comes in. But certainly looking forward for sure.

TAPPER: In Culver City, California went even further, they're requiring shots for all eligible students as well. Do you think that will become a trend?

GUPTA: I do. You know, this is the first public school district that we have been able to find here, you know, in the country that is doing this for students, mandating the vaccine for students.

It's interesting, Jake, because there's other vaccines that are required for school, pre pandemic, there was, you know, vaccines that kids got, and it wasn't really an issue.

I think one of the big things is going to be, there is a lot of data coming out now about how willing parents are to get these vaccines. We can show you some of that. You know, we talk a lot about the 12 to 17 year olds because obviously there are vaccines that are authorized for them.


But look, you know, when you get to the younger age groups, this may change. But you have a lot of people who say they definitely won't vaccinate their kids, a significant percentage that say they will only wait and see, and only about 20 to 25% that say they will absolutely do it in these younger age groups. So as much as we've talked about wanting the FDA to authorize these vaccines for younger people, those numbers on the screen, the hesitancy is something that's maybe going to be a bigger problem.

TAPPER: One of the reasons why Governor DeSantis is pushing back against mask mandates, his team says is because he says the data is not there when it comes to children being masked. There's obviously a lot of data when it comes to masking being effective at stopping the spreading among the general public, among adults. What would your response to Governor DeSantis be when he says, there isn't a peer reviewed, et cetera, et cetera study showing that this is better than the harm it might cause, emotionally, et cetera?

GUPTA: Well, yeah, the first thing I would say is the data on it causing any harm, or even less present, there isn't data to show that, so as much as people say we must have the data on masks because it could cause harm, there's not data showing that it causes harms. Having said that, there is plenty of peer reviewed articles out there about the benefits of masks, if what he means is that there's not randomized controlled trial showing a masked group of students having benefit and comparing them to a controlled group of students that are similar in the same environment, not having benefit.

Those are hard studies to do, that is true. But there's plenty of observational data. Remember this study from Wisconsin, we can put that up and show you what this was like when people wore masks, we saw significant decrease in transmission overall, so much so that the rates were lower in those schools with masks compared to the general population, and compared to schools that did not have high adherence to masks.

So, there's plenty of observational data like that. There's plenty of data from the laboratory. There's plenty of modelling data. And there's lots of data in adults. And, you know, I mean, I realized that the -- if you're going to say, hey, look, we -- the only way I'm going to do this masking in kids is to have a randomized control trial. I'm not going to accept anything less.

That's a pretty high bar to create there. There is plenty of data now showing the benefit in all these different ways. And we should do it because the schools that have masks, we see much lower transmission rates overall. And we see what's happening right now with kids getting sick, still low likelihood, but the more kids that get infected, the higher the absolute number of kids that are there to get sick.

TAPPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much for your time, your expertise as always, good to see you.

GUPTA: Yeah, thank you.

TAPPER: From throwing luggage to throwing punches, now the U.S. government wants out of control airline passengers to pay up. We'll show you the worst offenders next.



TAPPER: Our money lead now, new numbers from the U.S. government show that almost 4000 incidents of unruly airline passengers have happened so far this year in an effort to cut down on this problem. American Airlines just announced that they're extending their ban on alcohol sales on planes until next January. And as CNN's Pete Muntean explains acting up on a plane not only can lend you in some trouble, it can hit you in the wallet.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ugly incidents in the air are skyrocketing. And now federal authorities are detailing the most incidents yet of unruly passengers facing federal fines. Just released documents are giving the blow by blow of passengers allegedly punching fellow fliers in the face, snorting what appeared to be cocaine, storming the flight deck and even threatening to kill a flight attendant.

The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing more than a half million dollars in new finds, bringing the total to more than a million dollars since the agency enacted a zero-tolerance policy earlier this year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People need to understand that there are severe consequences here.

MUNTEAN: Flight crews have reported 3,800 incidents of unruly passengers to the FAA just this year, but the agency has initiated enforcement action and only 120 cases. Now some in Congress say the FAA's power to punish is too limited and the FBI should pursue putting passengers in prison.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO, (D) CHAIRMAN, TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE: The first time we take one of these jerks, who's, you know, assaulting flight attendants and or attempting to take an aircraft down then, you know, and they go away for a few years and they get a massive fine. I think that'll send a message to others out there thinking about acting out.

MUNTEAN: The largest new fine proposed by the FAA is against a passenger accused of throwing his luggage at another passenger, laying on the aisle for then grabbing a flight attendant by the ankles and putting his head up her skirt. That flight from New York to Orlando was forced to land early in Virginia. Two-thirds of new fines involve passengers violating the transportation mask mandate and about a quarter involve passengers illegally bringing their own alcohol on board. Now the FAA is pleading with airports to crack down on to go alcohol sales to help ground unruly passengers before they ever get in the air.

SARA NELSON, PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATE OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: When people start getting put in jail for their actions on the planes that are putting everyone in jeopardy, there's going to be some serious sobering up. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MUNTEAN (on camera): Just today American Airlines announced it will not serve alcohol onboard its flights until at least January 18, 2022. That's when the federal transportation mask mandate now ends. American also announced it is stepping up work inside its largest hubs Charlotte and Dallas to try and keep passengers from bringing their own booze onboard its flights. Jake.


TAPPER: Pete Muntean, thanks so much. We have some breaking news for you now. CNN has just learned about a warning sent to Secretary of State, Blinken, a full month before the collapse of Kabul. We'll bring you those details, next.


TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you in our World Lead, State Department officials tell CNN that more than a month before Afghanistan collapse to the Taliban, a group of U.S. diplomats in Kabul warned Secretary of State Antony Blinken of a possible catastrophe in the country and urge the Biden administration to do much more to get Afghan allies out of there. CNN's Kylie Atwood is live for us at the State Department. Kylie, what more can you tell us about this memo?


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this was a dissent memo that was written mostly by diplomats who were at the embassy in Kabul, telling the State Department, telling Secretary of State Tony Blinken that they thought that there should be more action taken on behalf of the State Department to prepare for what they saw as the eventual evacuation of these Afghans, these Afghans applying for visas and refugee status in the United States.

Of course, the backdrop being, they were on the ground, they were watching what was happening in the country, in the months following President Biden's announcement that the U.S. is going to withdraw their troops, these Taliban gains that were mounting across the country, they were urging the State Department to do more.

Now, the reason that this is significant is because, first of all, a dissent memo is only written by diplomats if they feel that their voice is not being heard. It is a way for them to descend to the Secretary of State with what is happening at that moment in time, hoping that changes can be made. Second of all, it is important because we hear President Biden, in his interview just recently with ABC, not saying that anything went wrong in terms of the U.S. withdrawal here.

It is very clear now, as we are seeing in this dissent memo, that there were State Department officials saying look, things are going to happen, it could get bad, but let's take steps now. So that we can mitigate against the worst-case scenario, against a case scenario where we are totally out of control, where it is chaos, and we're watching that chaos unfold right now at the airport in Kabul. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood at the State Department with that breaking news. Thank you so much.

Also on our World Lead today as the Taliban takeover Afghanistan, they might be turning to an ally of convenience, one with deep pockets but a very questionable history when it comes to dealing with Muslims. CNN's David Culver digs into the unlikely partnership between one nation that wants its citizens to embrace Islamic fundamentalism, and another that puts its Muslims in concentration camps and what the U.S. State Department has called a genocide.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just weeks before the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, China made a very public display of growing closer to the group's leadership. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, meeting the Taliban delegation in northern China in July, giving legitimacy and perhaps confidence the militant group long regarded with fear and suspicion by the rest of the world.

As many global powers now rush to escape Afghanistan, China claims it remains one of the few countries to retain its embassy in the capital. But China's support for the Taliban comes with strings attached, China's help with reconstruction in exchange for the Taliban assuring regional stability.

HUA CHUNYING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translation): They will never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to endanger China.

CULVER: A deal brokered between awkward allies, a militant group representing hardline Islam and a Chinese government accused of cultural genocide against and mass detainment of its Muslim minorities at home. But China's relationship with a Taliban goes back a long way.

SEAN ROBERTS, AUTHOR, "THE WAR ON THE UYGHURS": It established relations with the Taliban already in 1999 at the encouragement of Pakistan, which is one of China's closest allies.

CULVER: The relationship was seen as pragmatism to manage a potential threat as China shares a small border with Afghanistan through the Wakhan Corridor, and China's multi-billion dollar belt in road investments in neighboring Pakistan are at stake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they are very wary to get involved militarily. And so, at this stage, I think trying to cultivate the top rungs of the Taliban promised lots of foreign aid and investments that is really the least-worst option at the moment.

CULVER: The Taliban, for its part has not spoken out publicly against China's crackdown on its Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang, a silence replicated by many other Muslim majority countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Chinese government defends its Xinjiang policy and says it's trying to stamp up terrorism after several attacks, which it blamed on a group called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, or ETM, a tiny fringe group that began to dissolve when its leader was killed by the Pakistani military in 2003.

Sean Roberts, author of, "The War on the Uyghurs" says the Chinese government used George W. Bush's war on terror to justify its harsh policies targeting the ethnic Muslim minorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that shielded China from a lot of criticism for some of the draconian policies that carried out against Uyghurs.

CULVER: But other groups who could use the plight of the Uyghur cars to recruit Jihadist, a concern for Asia superpower as it tries to navigate the new political reality on its doorstep.


CULVER: Jake, publicly Chinese state media is feeding off of the images of desperation that we've seen coming out of Afghanistan. They're putting it out there and they're saying look to the rest of the world. This is what happens when you rely on the U.S. it goes right into their propaganda campaign. The reality is China benefited significantly from the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. And they are now deeply concerned that this is all going to rock the stability within this region. Jake.


TAPPER: Yeah, CNN's David Culver in Beijing. Thank you so much for that report. Let's bring in CNN's Counterterrorism Analyst Phil Mudd. Phil, these strange bedfellows, the Taliban and China, they've been working together for a while, I don't know how this works, given how the Chinese treat Muslims in their own country. But beyond that, how do you see this affecting U.S. interests and Western interests and the move for democracy in the Middle East?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I see it in pretty basic terms. If you look at what China has done in places like Latin America, Africa, South Asia, including Afghanistan, there's a pretty simple calculus. Americans tend to be idealists, we want to make other places better, or try to make other places better in forced democracy in Iraq try to replace the Taliban with a better system in Afghanistan.

The Chinese don't have that perspective. And again, there's a common border they have, as we just talked about with Afghanistan, their perspective, Africa, Latin America, Afghanistan is, we want to expand our economy. And part of that is minerals. Afghanistan has at a minimum, a trillion dollar, a draw dollars of minerals that the Taliban is sitting on.

So, if you're the Taliban, Jake, the Americans say we want you to change your way of life to deal with this. The Chinese say, we don't care about your way of life. We want to make a buck. If I were the Taliban, I think I know where I'd go.

TAPPER: Do you think that the threat of Al-Qaeda will definitively increase because of the withdraw from Afghanistan? MUDD: Boy, that -- OK, don't set me up here, Jake. Let me give you an answer. There's two sort of bookends here. The one is the people I've heard saying that this is a disaster for America. It is not. Others have said we can manage it. I'm not sure we can. It is clearly an increased problem for America dealing with the terror threat in Afghanistan.

That is indisputable. For one reason, terrorists depend on safe haven, whether it's Yemen, whether it's Somalia, whether it's Afghanistan back in the '90s. They need time and space to prepare plots against Europe and United States. They have more time and space now that increases the pressure on American intelligence military to collect and react, no question about it.

TAPPER: You, just change the subject to the breaking news, you heard Kylie's report on this group of diplomats sending what's called a dissent memo to Secretary of State Blinken. They did this in July warning of pending collapse, urging that steps be taken to help the Afghan allies in the country be able to escape more quickly. CNN reports that this warning, this dissent memo was labelled as "alarmist." What do you make of this?

MUDD: When you're dealing in the threat business, which I did for years, you get alarmist every day. Everybody's whispering in your ear. Here's where they're coming at you tomorrow, so you got to determine what to filter and what not to filter. I tell me I know this sounds odd, Jake, I tell you, this reminds me of January 6, the question is not whether the memo was perfectly accurate, whether it was perfectly predictive.

The question like January 6, is when you see a major event looming on the horizon in a week or two weeks or a month. And clearly, we saw the withdrawal from Afghanistan for many months ahead. Do you step back and say with memos like this in mind, how do we prepare for the worst- case scenario? I'm not exactly sure what the answer to that is, Jake. We should have anticipated things could have gone south as they did on January 6. It's a leadership question. Why didn't we anticipate I don't? I don't really understand it yet.

TAPPER: Phil Mudd, thank you so much, really appreciate that.

Two sides of the country with two very different disasters coming up next, the devastating floods and fires hitting the U.S. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Earth matters series today, disasters across the U.S. caused by the effects of climate change which is real and here, search and rescue teams are going along the Pigeon River which flows through the mountains of western North Carolina, at least two people are dead, and almost two dozen missing after the remnants of tropical storm Fred dropped nearly a foot of rain this week, homes floated down the river which suddenly rose to nine feet above flood stage. Often these storms are considered more intense because of climate. Change out west, a fire in Northern California grew 24 times in size over just two days. This explosive growth set up by record heat and a multi-decade drought, it's called the Caldor Fire and it's now burned at least 53,000 acres.

This weekend join CNN for, We Love New York City, the homecoming concert, the concert is a celebration of New York City's comeback in the wake of a challenging year marked by the COVID pandemic. This once in a lifetime event airs Saturday starting at 5 p.m. Eastern.

And it is exclusively on cable news network, aka CNN. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, the TikTok at Jake Tapper, you can tweet the show @theleadcnn and we actually do read them. Our coverage continues now with one, Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in the Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.