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Erin Burnett Outfront
Biden: No Way To Have Exited Afghanistan "Without Chaos Ensuing"; Top. U.S. General On Afghanistan's Fall: Nothing "Indicated A Collapse Of This Army And This Government In 11 Days"; Interview With Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI); Biden: Get The Booster Vaccine Eight Months After The Second Shot; Afghans Desperate To Get Out, Fear Death If Left Behind. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired August 18, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, we have breaking news, President Biden defiant and defensive saying the sudden collapse of Afghanistan was not a failure and insisting there was no way to leave the country without chaos ensuing. Why didn't he tell that though then to the American people before Kabul fell?
Plus, we more breaking news, the President also saying U.S. troops could stay in Afghanistan past the August 31th deadline.
And the Biden administration announcing plans to start rolling out COVID booster shots next month. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC Director is OUTFRONT. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight breaking news, President Biden defiant and unapologetic about his decision and the execution of the plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Speaking to ABC News, Biden saying the mayhem playing out in Afghanistan is not a failure and that there was no way to withdraw without chaos ensuing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Back in July you said a Taliban takeover was highly unlikely. Was the intelligence wrong or did you downplay it?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there was no consensus. If you go back and look at the intelligence reports they said that it's more likely to be sometime by the end of the year.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You didn't put a timeline out when you said it was highly unlikely, you just said flat out it's highly unlikely the Taliban would take over.
BIDEN: Yeah. Well, the question was whether or not it - the idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that somehow the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped was going to just collapse. They were going to give up. I don't think anybody anticipated that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We've all seen the pictures. We've seen those hundreds of people packed into a C-17. We've seen Afghans falling.
BIDEN: That was four days ago, five days ago.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you think when you first saw those pictures?
BIDEN: What I thought was we have to gain control of this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take control that airport and we did.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't think this could have been handled this (inaudible) it could have been handled better in any way, no mistakes?
BIDEN: No. I don't think it could have been handled in a way that we're going to go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing. I don't know how that happens. I don't know how that happened. So for you that was always priced into the decision. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Always expected chaos. That is certainly not what the President himself has been telling the American public for months.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We'll do it responsibly, deliberately and safely. And we will do it in full coordination with our allies and partners.
Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31th. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart. There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And we know the administration was caught by surprise, Biden himself admitted it two days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And listen to the nation's top defense leaders, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley. Today, they were clear there was no indication they said that the Afghan government and military would collapse in 11 days. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The intelligence clearly indicated multiple scenarios were possible. However, the timeframe of a rapid collapse that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure. There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army in this government in 11 days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: So was it an intelligence failure? Was the intelligence ignored or was the failure simply in the execution? Those are just some of the pressing questions for the Biden administration tonight as it continues to try to explain the situation unfolding in Afghanistan to the American people and the people of Afghanistan. We are continuing this story and we'll be covering it from the White House to Afghanistan now.
I want to start with Kaitlan Collins. She's OUTFRONT live at the White House. Kaitlan, the President, he was defensive tonight.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he was. And Kate, this is the first time the President has been pressed on that claim he made just about six weeks ago when you he said he believed it was highly unlikely that the Taliban was going to be taking over and running everything.
Which, of course, which is what we have now seen was the result and happened incredibly quickly, much faster than the President or his top aides, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that they anticipated that could happen.
And so I think this is going to be a massive question that lawmakers on Capitol Hill have is how this intelligence was so wrong, given he says there was no consensus and they believed it was more likely that it wouldn't be until later until the end of the year when you saw something like what we are witnessing right now.
And we know that Congress wants to start investigating this. There are going to be hearings beginning as soon as next week by Democratic-led committees. And we've seen several Democratic senators who are typically allies of this White House, Kate, say that they have a lot of questions about the shortcomings and the way the U.S. has left Afghanistan.
We know that it's something that major U.S. allies are questioning tonight as well as the way the nature of this departure and just how chaotic really it has been, even though President Biden said tonight he did not foresee a way where you could leave Afghanistan and it wouldn't be chaotic.
That is not what he had been saying just a few weeks ago when he was saying he believed it would be a safe and orderly drawdown. Of course, we've seen aides say this week that they were planning for every possible contingency, but it clearly was not the contingency and the situation that they are now being faced with.
And so what we're told internally, though, is that maybe people on the outside lawmakers, reporters, allies are questioning how this happened. But right now, they are just focused on ending the mission, which is getting those American civilians out of there, getting those endangered Afghans out of there as well.
And so President Biden saying tonight, they will keep us forces there if needed past the August 31th deadline to get American civilians out. But Kate, he was much more equivocal, when it came to those Afghan nationals not guaranteeing that the forces will stay until they are out as well, given there is such a higher number of those people we believe that the U.S. wants to get out of there.
So that is the big question going forward and I think a lot of this and how this ultimately ends up in the President's legacy hinges on how the next few days go, how this departure goes and how they end this evacuation that is still underway.
BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely. Kaitlan, thank you so much from the White House.
I want to go to Clarissa Ward now. She's on the ground in Kabul continuing her great reporting. Clarissa you heard President Biden say tonight there's no way that we could have gotten out without chaos, despite obvious statements to the contrary, recently. What is the latest you saw on the ground?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty chaotic. I mean, I should say there's sort of a tale of two cities thing going on here, Kate. Right where I am in the sort of downtown in the city center, things are definitely calm.
The Taliban knows that the world is watching. They want to show that they can govern. They want to show that they can implement law and order. And there's fighters on many street corners, checkpoints and things have been relatively calm, normal life sort of creeping back in.
However, the scenes at the airport where we were today are completely different. It is absolute chaos there. You have Taliban fighters who have formed a cordon around the perimeter to try to stop that crush of people pushing in. But what's actually happening is they're stopping anyone from going in and they're doing it in very crude ways. They're using makeshift truncheons, whips.
We saw a fighter who got very angry with us and asked me to cover my face before I could speak to him. He actually took the safety off his AK-47, and held his gun up as if to fire in the crowd. He didn't. But we heard other Taliban fighters firing into the ground, so totally chaotic situation. A very dangerous situation.
And the problem you have and I should add as well, by the way, U.S. forces also firing up to try to scatter the crowd also firing off volleys of tear gas to try to prevent these chaotic scenes from getting any worse. And the fear really becomes, Kate, that if this continues, you have a scenario where it's like a powder keg and one small thing could happen and it could turn into a very serious conflagration indeed.
BOLDUAN: Yes. We're showing some of the video of exactly, yes, powder keg, what you kind of came upon today and how quickly things really went from strange to really scary and dangerous. Joint chiefs Chairman, Gen. Mark Milley, he said today that U.S. government had no indication the Afghan military and government would collapse in 11 days. You've been on the ground many times throughout this conflict, was there any indication?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think anyone could have predicted that this would happen in 11 days. I was on air about three days before Kabul fell and there was a news bulletin from our colleagues in D.C. intelligence officials had said Kabul could be surrounded in 30 days.
And my actual response on air was I think that might be hyperbole because it is still relatively calm and stable in Kabul. Three days later, the Taliban took this city of 6 million people in a matter of hours without firing hardly a shot. I mean, you could never conceive of something like this.
Now, the argument that a lot of people here on the ground would make is, OK, maybe you couldn't have conceived of that. But when you're executing a withdrawal like this, when you're planning to end a 20- year war, you plan for every eventuality from the sublime to the ridiculous in order that when the sort of absurd or unexpected does happen, you're able to respond, you're able to jump in, because there's a sense here on the ground from Afghans who have been relying really desperately on the US to protect them to guarantee their security those I'm talking specifically who worked with the U.S. that there wasn't a plan in place. And frankly, that there still isn't a clear plan to get them out safely.
BOLDUAN: That's the terrifying fear here. Clarissa stay with me if you could.
I want to bring in also retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe and David Gregory, CNN political analyst. David cover the entire Presidency of George W. Bush was at the White House when he announced this war. He's also been on the ground many times in Afghanistan.
Gen. Clark, you heard the Commander-in-Chief, he doesn't know how the U.S. could have gotten out of Afghanistan without chaos. He didn't think it could have been handled any better, what do you think?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think we're going to have to really look at this. First of all, remember, we did get our troops out. So our troops got out safely. Our problem has been, we didn't understand how quickly the Afghan Army was going to fold. So could we have anticipated that? Yes. Could we have had backup plans to do that? Of course, we could have had backup plans. We probably wouldn't have taken our troops out so quickly without some quid pro quo. We could have worked with the Taliban.
There are many things that could have been done had we anticipated that. But I'm sure what you're going to find when you unravel this is that the intelligence agencies made their checks, the military talked to their counterparts and it looked relatively solid. What we didn't appreciate was the fact that Afghan is not, number one, Afghanistan is not really a country. It's a tribal, group of tribes inside a geographic area.
Number two, the loyalty is to the tribes. Number three, these people have been at war for over 40 years. They want to survive. So there were people in the Afghan Army who they took money, they would fire their weapons. If the Americans were leaving, they would follow. But they're not going to lay down their lives for the Afghan national anthem, because they don't see Afghanistan that way. They are survivors and maybe we didn't take that fully into account.
The most important thing right now, though, is not to find out why it happened. It's to deal with the humanitarian situation, put that together, get the Americans out, all the people that supported the Americans and our allies and the people that supported them out. We've got to leave with our reputation intact and that's the way to do it.
BOLDUAN: And that's in question right now. I mean, David, the fact that the President is saying that chaos was already priced into the decision as he was talking to Stephanopoulos today. I mean, in April, he said that this was going to be done deliberately and safely. In July it was secure and orderly. I have to say, hearing him tonight, his response, frankly just doesn't make sense to me. What do you think?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I don't think it makes sense. But I also think there's a danger in getting caught up too much in the kind of gotcha, wait a minute, you said this back then and then this happened, what went wrong? I mean, I think there's a nuance here that the General is speaking to, that Clarissa is speaking to with her experience on the ground that we do have to appreciate.
Yes, I think at the end of the day here, we're going to say there should have been a better extraction plan. You could have anticipated that as quickly as the Taliban melted back in 2001 and retreated to the countryside that they could emerge again that quickly. It is not a newsflash for anybody who's paid attention that the Afghan government has been rife with corruption, dishonesty, frankly, incapacity to stand up democratic institutions and a functioning army without major support from the United States and other supportive NATO countries.
And what the General speaks about, I think, is so important to underline which is the tribal nature of the country. The Taliban in my reporting experience in Afghanistan are so in meshed in the fabric of that country. They are cousins. They are brothers. They are uncles and they are brutal.
But they are part of this society and the fact that they marched back so quickly, to me is so tragic that after this kind of investment on the part of the United States and our allies, lives lost, Afghans laying their lives down and supporting the United States that it could fall so quickly.
I think the President could have done a better job preparing the American people for how difficult any kind of extraction would look like, in a country like Afghanistan after this long and willing to level with the American people saying something has gone wrong here, we never want to have this kind of care.
You can't say that it doesn't look like Vietnam when the pictures look that much like Vietnam. Come on.
BOLDUAN: Right. Yes, leveling with the American people and that's exactly it, David.
Clarissa, Biden put some of the blame tonight, again, on now former Afghan President Ghani. He fled over the weekend. He turned up in the UAE now and released a video statement today saying that basically what he said is that he had to flee, he would have been hanged in the street. And he said if he had in office, the country would have faced a 'dreadful disaster'.
This is a dreadful disaster, what we're seeing. I mean, what do you make of that after seeing what you have on the streets of Kabul?
WARD: Well, I don't think that speech from Ghani will go down very well with many Afghans who frankly are disgusted by him and his behavior and his decision to flee. And, of course, allegations that we haven't been able to confirm them that he took quite a bit of money with him when he fled.
It's not just that he abandoned his own country in the sort of hour of need. It's about his role in this sort of whole decline, because it was about a week ago as Kandahar, the second city was on the verge of collapsing to the Taliban and Ashraf Ghani was still talking about hydro dam projects that were being conceived of and 5G networks.
And so there was always the criticism with Ghani that he was completely detached from reality that he was delusional about the seriousness of America's decision to pull the ripcord and really leave. And then as a result, he sort of abdicated his responsibility to start those talks with the Taliban at a much earlier stage and try to extract more concessions than, of course, he was able to.
BOLDUAN: Yes. And Gen. Clark, you talked about leaving with America's reputation intact. I mean, Biden didn't speak with any other world leader until his call with Boris Johnson yesterday. Today, he spoke with Germany's Angela Merkel. The NATO Secretary General said today on CNN, he hasn't spoken to Biden yet at all. Did that surprise you? Is that a problem?
CLARK: Well, I think that the first order of business was to get our own house in order. As your Gen. Milley had said and Lloyd Austin, there were contingency plans. They put the troops in, the troops are there. They're establishing order around the airfield. That being done now it's the time to coordinate with the allies to be able to tell the allies exactly what we're doing to come up with a concerted plan.
Could he have talked to the allies sooner? Certainly he could have. Is it going to make a difference in the long run? I don't know. The thing about this is right now we're so caught up in the Vietnam memory of what happened there and this looks the same as David Gregory said. But the fact is, it isn't the same.
We have to put this in the full perspective of history. We did get Osama bin Laden. We have strengthened our defenses against terrorism. We have been there for 20 years. We've learned a lot. We've made an impression. We weren't attacked at all.
Now, as the President said, the terrorists have metastasized. They're all over. We've got to focus on the future of going after those terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere and we've got China and Russia to worry about. So we've got to step back a little bit from the Washington (inaudible) what we call a circular firing squad where everybody's in the blame game.
Yes, we're going to have to establish accountability, but we've got to look ahead. And when I say America's reputation is important, look, there are people in Georgia, in Ukraine, in Taiwan, in NATO, they're looking at United States. They want to see us pull together this evacuation. That's what they want to see. They know Taliban are in there. What will America do now? So we got to focus on moving forward.
BOLDUAN: Yes. First, we got to fix the mess and get out of there and then there's a lot. As Milley said today, then we can look at regrets and the after action reports. General, thank you. David, it's great to see you. Thank you. Clarissa, thank you. Keep up the great work as always.
OUTFRONT for us next our breaking news continues, President Biden says U.S. troops will stay until all Americans are out even if that is past the August 31st deadline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: If there's American citizens left, we're going to stay till we get them all out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Plus, Biden also is announcing booster shots for all adult Americans eight months after their second dose. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is my guest.
And thousands of Afghans desperate to get out of the country with messages like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are going to cut our heads off if they find my location. Please help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Breaking news, President Biden committing to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan as long as necessary even if it is past the August 31st deadline to get all Americans out of the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: All troops are supposed to be out by August 31st, even if Americans and our Afghan allies are still trying to get out, they're going to leave?
BIDEN: We're going to do everything in our power to get all Americans out and our allies out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean troops will stay beyond August 31st if necessary?
BIDEN: It depends on where we are and whether we can ramp these numbers up to 5,000 to 7,000 a day coming out.
If that's the case, they'll all be out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Because we've got like 10,000 to 15,000 Americans in the country right now, right? And are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out is out?
BIDEN: Yes. Yes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So Americans should understand the troops might have to be there are beyond August 31st.
BIDEN: No. Americans should understand that we're going to try to get it done before August 31st.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if we don't, the troops will stay.
BIDEN: If we don't, we'll determine at the time who's left.
BIDEN: And if there are American force, if there's American citizens left, we're going to stay till we get them all out.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT now, Democratic Congressman Jim Langevin. He also
just put out a brutal op-ed about Afghanistan titled I'm a Democrat Who Opposed the withdrawal. This Catastrophe is Why.
Congressman, first you sit on the Armed Services Committee, first your reaction to President Biden saying that U.S. forces will stay in Afghanistan until all Americans are out even if it is beyond the August 31st deadline.
REP. JIM LANGEVIN (D-RI): I think that was a very important statement for President Biden to make. Yes, U.S. forces, they should stay there until every last American is out of Afghanistan safely. And we should extend that also to those Afghans who worked with our forces as interpreters to keep our troops safe. No doubt they save lives. We should stand by and make sure that those Afghan partners and their families arrive safely as well. But I'm glad that the President made that announcement.
BOLDUAN: Yes. He was not as certain about the second aspect of what you're talking about, about to extend this promise to Afghan partners that's for sure. But you call this withdrawal a catastrophe. What do you think of President Biden tonight saying that this withdrawal was not a failure and that he does not believe it could have been handled any differently?
LANGEVIN: Well, I haven't been shy at all about my thoughts on our withdrawal from Afghanistan. This has been a catastrophe and it did not have to be this way. But right now, my focus is doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that every American citizen is out of Afghanistan safely and, again, we extend that also to our Afghan partners (inaudible) ...
BOLDUAN: Right. But do you think the President is leveling with the American people? I mean, how do you get it right now if you can't be honest about how it's gone already?
LANGEVIN: Well, the President has a different view on how this could have been handled and I think it could have been handled very differently. First of all, why in God's name would you leave when in the middle of the Taliban fighting season they are at their strongest during the spring and summer months. I'm a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I've watched our troops be there over 20 years, I've been to Afghanistan myself, I understand that in the winter, the Taliban basically hibernate and they're at their weakest and they're not coordinated and things are much calmer, if you will.
But in the spring, in the summer, they're at the strength and that they're fighting season. If we're going to withdraw, we should have done it in winter. But, again, that ship has sailed right now, the bottom line is we have to do everything we can to get our American citizens out safely. I have high confidence in our well-trained troops to do that. They're extraordinary in their service. I'm grateful for them.
But I would just say that we owed a better plan to our men and women in uniform, especially those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in carrying out this mission and their families (inaudible) we owed all of them a better plan and our Afghan partners than this plan right now.
BOLDUAN: Well, less than a month ago, the Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said that the Afghan forces have the capacity to sufficiently fight and defend the country. But that is not what he is saying today. Let me play what he said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MILLEY: The Afghan security forces had the capacity. And by that I mean, they had the training, the size, the capability to defend their country. This comes down to an issue of will and leadership.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Do you think it does come down to will or leadership or do you think that's been (ph)?
LANGEVIN: Absolutely. No, Gen. Milley is spot on. We gave the Afghan security forces every advantage over the last 20 years to really step up and become a very powerful, very strong security force to make sure that they could maintain a stable security force, maintain a stable Afghanistan.
But you can't fight or train will or leadership and here we had a lack of will and a lack of leadership and that's why the Afghan security forces unfortunately collapse so fast and that's really a hard thing to gauge. They're going to really step up when push comes to shove and fight for their country. I mean, you could imagine every American would do everything possible to defend our country here at home.
If the Afghan security forces weren't ready to step up and fight with everything they have to protect their country, you can't buy or train leadership, and that's what General Milley is saying and I think he's spot on.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you for your time.
OUTFRONT for us next, President Biden announcing booster shots will soon be offered to all Americans. The director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, is next.
Plus, the heartbreaking pleas from inside Afghanistan obtained by OUTFRONT.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
AGHAN INTEPRETER: Why are you leaving us behind? I don't want to be killed by the Taliban.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:35:10]
BOLDUAN: Tonight, this is no time to let our guard down this is the message for President Biden as his administration announces booster shots will be offered to all Americans eight months after their second dose of a COVID vaccine. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will boost your immune response. It will increase your protection from COVID-19. It's the best way to protect ourselves from new variants that could arise. This is no time to let our guard down.
(END VIDEO CLIP
BOLDUAN: The CDC backing up this plan with data today in New York protection against infection declined from 92 percent in May to 80 percent in late July and another study looking at nursing homes saw a drop from 75 percent effectiveness in March to 53 percent in August.
OUTFRONT with me now is the CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, thank you for being here. Thank you.
We heard from administration multiple times including as recent as last week the third shot is not needed because the vaccine protects against severe disease. So, fundamentally, why are boosters needed if it does protect against severe disease?
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Right, thank you.
So we are monitoring this data in real-time and against the delta variant, and in cohorts across the country, and what we are finding now, in data just released today, as you noted, is that we're starting to see waning against infection, not yet against severe disease and hospitalization, but against infection.
We're also seeing that you need more protection when it comes to the delta variant, that you might have, compared to what you might have needed for other variants.
So what we're doing now is we are seeing that waning happening, we are seeing what's happening in other countries, as they are seeing it waning against severe disease, and we're acting now to prepare.
So, now is not the time to go out and get your booster. Now is the time to recognize that we are preparing for boosters in late September.
BOLDUAN: Just yesterday, members of the CDC vaccine task force seemed to contradict exactly what you all were saying today. Let me play this for folks.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) DR. NEELA GOSWAMI, MEMBER, CDC VACCINE TASK FORCE: We do want to clarify right away that the need for and timing of a COVID-19 booster dose has not been established.
DR. KATHLEEN DOOLING, MEMBER, CDC VACCINE TASK FORCE: Other fully vaccinated individuals do not need an additional dose right now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: This was on a call of doctors just yesterday. And this was the CDC's vaccine task force. That's confusing. What changed overnight?
WALENSKY: Indeed. So we released new data today, and again, I want to reiterate, we are not saying that you need a booster dose right now, we are saying that we are starting to see waning in effectiveness, vaccine effectiveness against mild to moderate disease, and that we are preparing for the month ahead, because we've seen in other countries that that could portend waning for severe disease.
So, not the time to go out and get your booster now, but we are planning for late September to make sure that we always stay ahead of this virus.
BOLDUAN: So staying ahead of the virus, are you also then saying that without this booster, whenever, you know, your eight months comes up, without this push to, more vaccinated people are going to end up in the hospital, are going to end up dying from COVID? Is that a real possibility?
WALENSKY: We are following the data -- boost data carefully. One thing I do very much want to reiterate is that these are data that we are releasing to inform the nearly 170 million Americans who are fully vaccinated. But the 100 million Americans who have not yet started getting vaccinated are the ones who are at the highest risk now of severe disease, severe COVID hospitalization and death.
So while we're simultaneously working to boost the vaccination of those and planning for boosting at the end of September, we're also really working to ensure that those who aren't yet fully vaccinated continue to get vaccinated.
BOLDUAN: But then -- I mean, it kind of has to be a possibility that vaccinated people without a booster could end up sick in the hospital and dying. I mean, we're hearing reports of vaccinated people showing up in hospitals.
I was talking to a doctor in Florida day saying she saw -- she's seen like 20 percent of the people in the hospital now are vaccinated.
So, that -- is that part of, kind of, leveling with the American people, that when your time comes up for the booster, you have to get it, or the vaccine might not protect you from going into the hospital?
WALENSKY: So we are starting to accumulate those data exactly right now, but that is exactly the issue that we're trying to prevent. So far, in this country, we have not seen a lot of hospitalizations associated with vaccination. When you look at the public health departments that are reporting this, generally less than 5 percent of people who are in the hospital are fully vaccinated people, and oftentimes, they are immuno-suppressed fully vaccinated people.
But we need to recognize that if we are starting to see waning immunity in disease, that we may soon see starting waning immunity in hospitalizations, especially, among those who are most vulnerable, our nursing care -- our nursing home patients, our elderly patients, those with comorbidities.
So, that is exactly why we made this announcement today, as we started to see the waning of this effectiveness in symptomatic disease. And why we really want to get ahead of it and make sure that we don't see increased vaccination -- hospitalizations among those who are vaccinated.
BOLDUAN: Today, I heard you say that booster -- you anticipate a booster being needed for the 13 million Americans who received the J&J vaccine. But no word of that data has come in yet. At this point, do you still recommend people even get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if you don't know yet how durable the vaccine really is?
WALENSKY: So, those data are coming out. I think we need to recognize that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was over two months behind mRNA vaccines in terms of its data when we started to vaccinate people. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that we are a little bit behind the data there as well, and we are collecting those data actively.
I believe that by the time the folks with Johnson & Johnson need a boost, we will absolutely have the data to inform that and we'll get that in real time as we have today, to the American people.
What I will say though is the American people need a choice, and many people for whatever reason may choose Johnson & Johnson over mRNA vaccines. There were some people who would choose mRNA vaccine over Johnson & Johnson, given risk profiles and preference profiles, the desire for one dose rather than two.
So, I do think there is an important role for Johnson & Johnson in our vaccine armamentarium.
BOLDUAN: Okay. What is the latest on the timing of first shots, for moving past boosters, on first shots for kids 12 and under? Because at this point, we hear a lot of kids in the American Academy of Pediatrics included, urging that this authorization come sooner.
How do you answer to parents who are wondering why is this taking so long?
WALENSKY: Right, this is a really important point that I want to reiterate. And that is that the timing of what we are saying for boosters today has absolutely nothing to do with the timing of when kids vaccinations will be available. I am a parent myself. I understand the importance of getting our younger kids vaccinated.
We are evaluating those studies. Those studies are going to be with the FDA and the FDA will make those determinations. But one is not slowing down the other by any stretch. We are moving quickly for vaccinating young children as well, younger children as well. We anticipate those with the FDA in the mid -- mid to late fall.
BOLDUAN: Mid to late fall, and then authorization after that.
Dr. Walensky, thank you for your time.
WALENSKY: Thanks so much for having me.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, the chilling voice mails that we are hearing from Afghans who fear for their lives.
Plus, the military's top leaders have a message for veterans like this who are watching the Taliban takeover after 20 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like, what was all of this for? Why did I work so hard?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Tonight, at least 3 people killed and more than a dozen injured in anti-Taliban protests in the Afghan city of Jalalabad. "Reuters" reporting that.
Desperation is growing also among Afghans on the ground, like one man who only want to use his first name, Abdul, to protect his safety.
He worked for 5 years as an interpreter for U.S. Special Forces. He's a visa applicant stranded inside Afghanistan right now and he's frightened, leaving this voice mail with my next guest, just this morning.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
AFGHAN INTERPRETER: Why are the American soldiers for getting us about us after everything we did, the sacrifices we made? We are they leaving us behind? I don't want to be killed by the Taliban. They're going to cut our heads off if they find my location. Please help!
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT now is Kim Motley. She's an international human rights attorney with 13 years of experience inside Afghanistan.
Kim, it was really painful to hear that man's voice mail. Just the fear from his voice when he says, like, why are they leaving us behind? And he is not alone. What are you hearing from of Abdul and so many other Afghans?
KIMBERLEY MOTLEY, INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, thank you for having me. You know, I'm hearing a lot of desperation and just people literally begging for their lives. The air trying to make sense of why did the Americans and the international community abandoned them? And frankly, it doesn't make sense to me either.
They're trying to -- you know, people are being, by terrified that they are going to be arrested, detained, or even worse, because of this very swift change of power. There's many Afghans that I talked to that our pilots that worked as military soldiers and briefly fought alongside our military that are being abandoned.
I mean, frankly, some of them are just, it doesn't make any sense. They're SIV applicants. You know, I know a man who actually was approved for his SIV, and has his passport at the U.S. embassy, and he can't get it. And I don't even know that he exists anymore.
And he was a military, worked with the military. So it's just -- it's just heartbreaking.
BOLDUAN: Yeah. And President Biden, tonight, he was asked about this human tragedy that is unfolding. You know, it's a heartbreaking pictures showing bodies falling from U.S. cargo, U.S. military planes that were leaving Kabul airport. And also, that that photo, that kind of iconic photo now of a cargo plane packed with people.
Listen to this, listen to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: And we've all seen the pictures. We've seen these hundreds of people packed into a C-17. You've seen Afghans falling -
BIDEN: That was four days ago, five days ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: It was actually, that was actually one day. I'm just -- what is your reaction to President Biden's response to that?
MOTLEY: I mean, it's just -- it just gets worse and worse it seems with every interview that he does, or talking point that he does. I mean, I just don't understand. It sounds, just, so callous and inhumane. I mean, it was just four days ago? Are you joking?
I mean, people are, you know, literally begging to be, you know, put on an airplane to fly out of Afghanistan. You know, we went to Afghanistan and we talked to them about, you know, democracy and rule of law. And we sold this to them.
We gave them the audacity to hope. And now what are we doing? You know, frankly, I think the world generally believes they know who the Taliban is. But I don't know who we are anymore.
You know, and I think that's what hurts the Afghans, and that come in contact more than anything, is that the Americans at the international community, they feel like we are completely abandoning them and we have broken our promise.
BOLDUAN: Well, let me ask you, Biden is committing to keep all U.S. troops in Afghanistan until every American who wants to evacuate get out. When asked if he'd make the same commitment for Afghan partners and families, here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The commitment holds to get everyone out that in fact we can get out and everyone that should come out. And that's the objective. That's what we are doing now, that's the path we are on. And I think we'll get there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: How is that going to land with the Afghans you talked to?
MOTLEY: Well, I mean I think they definitely think that they are the ones that are supposed to be, supposed to get out. I mean, this was a contract that a lot of these Afghans entered into with our government is that if they work alongside us and bravely fight with us, that, you know, we would, they would qualify for the SIV program. And frankly, many have and do, and have been in this bottleneck of bureaucracy. And you know, should be giving visas to America.
So I certainly hope that the president is considering them, because they did so much work to promote this dream of democracy and rule of law, and they certainly are entitled to our protections. If we don't help them, you know, we also lose, stand to lose credibility in the world.
BOLDUAN: Kim, thank you.
MOTLEY: This is a disastrous foreign policy mess.
BOLDUAN: Kim, thank you for bringing us their stories. Really appreciate it.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, America's top military leaders telling Afghanistan veterans their sacrifices are not in vain. But is that what veterans think?
BOLDUAN: New tonight, the chairman of the joint chiefs of the defense secretary telling U.S. troops who fought in Afghanistan the sacrifices were not in vain as a fierce debate erupts among veterans over the chaotic withdrawal.
Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid the turmoil, panic and amid the turmoil, panic and the shattering end to 20 years of combat, U.S. veterans of the Afghan war are struggling, some taking calls around the clock from Afghan allies trying to find a way out.
Mike Breen is a former army captain.
MIKE BREEN, FORMER ARMY CAPTAIN: We made promises to people because we were told that we made promises that we would protect them, that they stayed with us. And the deepest, you know, most core beliefs that many of us carried out is that no one gets left behind.
FOREMAN: This feels like a personal thing for many veterans.
BREEN: Of course, it is. It's deeply personal.
FOREMAN: The administration has acknowledged that impact.
LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I know that these are difficult day for those who lost loved ones in Afghanistan and for those who carry the wounds of war.
FOREMAN: (AUDIO GAP) bad feelings.
Post-9/11 veterans have a significantly higher rate of suicide than other vets, and a study from Brown and Boston University's estimates over 30,000 active duty veterans in that age group have died that way, many more than the roughly 7,000 killed in combat. Why? In part, the study suggests the length of the Afghan and Iraq wars took a terrible toll, subjecting troops to multiple deployments and repeated traumas, and now, this.
Cherissa Jackson is a retired Air Force nurse who has dedicated her life to helping vets. She nearly died in Afghanistan.
CHERISSA JACKSON, RETIRED AIR FORCE NURSE AND CHIEF MEDICAL EXECUTIVE, AMVETS: It was like, what was all of this for? Why did I work so hard? Why was I gone for six months away from my family?
FOREMAN: Jason Kander, former Missouri secretary of state and previously a CNN contributor, works to help vets as well, and he served in Afghanistan, too.
JASON KANDER, PRESIDENT, NATOINAL EXPANSION, VETERANS COMMUNITY PROJECT: A buddy of mine said to me, said, you know, Vietnam veterans and others had it really bad, too, but at least the war's ended.
FOREMAN: And so it is with so many who went there, who fought, who believed, or still proud, like former Green Beret and NFL player, Nate Boyer. NATE BOYER, BRONZE STAR RECIPIENT AND FORMER NFL PLAYER: We get what
we could. We fought for those that can't fight for themselves, and we still do that today, and we are still going to do that in the future, moving forward.
FOREMAN: Now they are all watching and wondering, after all the years the victories and losses, the fighting and grieving. What will their legacy be, and how will we all live with it?
BREEN: This is the question, this is the last act of an American soldier in Afghanistan going to be pushing a refugee, pushing an American ally, pushing a former interpreter away from an airplane that they get on? Or pulling them aboard?
FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
BOLDUAN: Tom, thank you for that.
A quick programming note before we go. On Saturday, don't miss the "We Love NYC" homecoming concert, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, exclusively on CNN.
Thanks for joining us.
"AC360" starts now.