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Erin Burnett Outfront
Secretary Of State Speaking After U.S. Pulls Out Of Afghanistan; Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) Discusses About U.S. Leaving Afghanistan Ending A Long War; Hurricane Death Toll Rises 1.1 Million Are Without Power; U.S. Military Exists Afghanistan As Biden Faces Multiple Crises. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired August 30, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I want to commend our outstanding diplomats who worked around the clock, and around the world, to coordinate the operation. They volunteered for duty at the Kabul Airport. They flew to transit countries to help process thousands of Afghans bound for the United States. They deployed to ports of entry and American military bases to welcome Afghans to their new homes.
They staffed a 24/7 task force here in Washington, overseen by Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon. And they built a list of Americans possibly seeking to leave Afghanistan, then worked to contact every single one of them, repeatedly, making 55,000 phone calls, sending 33,000 emails since August 14th. They solved problem after problem to keep the mission moving forward.
They did this because, for the thousands of State Department and USAID employees who have served in Afghanistan in the past 20 years, this evacuation operation was very personal. Many worked hand in hand for years with Afghan partners, many of whom became trusted friends.
We also lost cherished members of our Foreign Service community in Afghanistan; we'll never forget them. Helping Americans, our foreign partners who have been by our side for 20 years, and Afghans at risk at this critical moment, was more than just a high-stakes assignment for our team. It was a sacred duty. And the world saw how our diplomats rose to the challenge with determination and heart.
U.S. service members in Kabul did heroic work securing the airport, protecting civilians of many nationalities, including tens of thousands of Afghans, and airlifting them out. They're also providing vital support right now, caring for Afghans on military bases in Europe, the Middle East, and here in the United States.
We've seen pictures of U.S. service members at the Kabul Airport cradling babies, comforting families. That's the kind of compassionate courage our men and women in uniform exemplify. They carried out this mission under the constant threat of terrorist violence and four days ago, 11 Marines, one Navy medic, and one soldier were killed by a suicide bomber at the airport gate, as well as scores of Afghans.
Nearly all of them were in their early 20s, just babies or toddlers on September 11th, 2001.
These deaths are a devastating loss for our country. We at the State Department feel them deeply. We have a special bond with the Marines. The first person that you see when you visit an American embassy is a Marine. They guard our diplomatic missions; they keep us safe around the world. We couldn't do our jobs without them. And we will never forget their sacrifice nor will we forget what they achieved.
The most exceptional among us perform a lifetime's work of service in a short time here on Earth. So it was for our exceptional brothers and sisters who died last week.
Finally, I want to thank our allies and partners. This operation was a global endeavor in every way. Many countries stepped up with robust contributions to the airlift, including working by our side at the airport. Some are now serving as transit countries, allowing evacuees to be registered and processed on the way to their final destinations. Others have agreed to resettle Afghan refugees permanently, and we hope more will do so in the days and weeks ahead. We are truly grateful for their support.
Now, U.S. military flights have ended, and our troops have departed Afghanistan. A new chapter of America's engagement with Afghanistan has begun. It's one in which we will lead with our diplomacy. The military mission is over. A new diplomatic mission has begun.
So here is our plan for the days and weeks ahead.
First, we've built a new team to help lead this new mission.
As of today, we have suspended our diplomatic presence in Kabul, and transferred our operations to Doha, Qatar, which will soon be formally notified to Congress. Given the uncertain security environment and political situation in Afghanistan, it was the prudent step to take.
And let me take this opportunity to thank our outstanding charge d'affaires in Kabul, Ambassador Ross Wilson, who came out of retirement in January 2020 to lead our embassy in Afghanistan, and has done exceptional, courageous work during a highly challenging time.
For the time being, we will use this post in Doha to manage our diplomacy with Afghanistan, including consular affairs, administering humanitarian assistance, and working with allies, partners, and regional and international stakeholders to coordinate our engagement and messaging to the Taliban. Our team there will be led by Ian McCary, who has served as our Deputy Chief of Mission in Afghanistan for this past year. No one's better prepared to do the job.
Second, we will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals and Afghans leave Afghanistan if they choose.
Let me talk briefly about the Americans who remain in Afghanistan.
We made extraordinary efforts to give Americans every opportunity to depart the country, in many cases talking and sometimes walking them into the airport.
Of those who self-identified as Americans in Afghanistan, who were considering leaving the country, we've thus far received confirmation that about 6,000 have been evacuated or otherwise departed. This number will likely continue to grow as our outreach and arrivals continue.
We believe there are still a small number of Americans, under 200 and likely closer to 100, who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave. We're trying to determine exactly how many. We're going through manifests and calling and texting through our lists, and we'll have more details to share, as soon as possible.
Part of the challenge with fixing a precise number is that there are long-time residents of Afghanistan who have American passports and who were trying to determine whether or not they wanted to leave. Many are dual-citizen Americans with deep roots and extended families in Afghanistan, who have resided there for many years. For many, it's a painful choice.
Our commitment to them and to all Americans in Afghanistan, and everywhere in the world, continues. The protection and welfare of Americans abroad remains the State Department's most vital and enduring mission. If an American in Afghanistan tells us that they want to stay for now, and then in a week or a month or a year they reach out and say, "I've changed my mind," we will help them leave.
Additionally, we've worked intensely to evacuate and relocate Afghans who worked alongside us, and are at particular risk of reprisal. We've gotten many out, but many are still there. We will keep working to help them. Our commitment to them has no deadline.
Third, we will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.
The Taliban has committed to let anyone with proper documents leave the country in a safe and orderly manner. They've said this privately and publicly many times. On Friday, a senior Taliban official said it again on television and radio, and I quote, "Any Afghans may leave the country, including those who work for Americans, if they want and for whatever reason there may be."
More than half the world's countries have joined us in insisting that the Taliban let people travel outside Afghanistan freely. As of today, more than 100 countries have said that they expect the Taliban to honor travel authorizations by our countries. And just a few hours ago, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that enshrines that responsibility, laying the groundwork to hold the Taliban accountable if they renege.
So, the international chorus on this is strong, and it will stay strong. We will hold the Taliban to their commitment on freedom of movement for foreign nationals, visa holders, at-risk Afghans.
Fourth, we will work to secure their safe passage. This morning, I met with the foreign ministers of all the G7
countries; United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan as well as Qatar, Turkey, the European Union and the Secretary General of NATO. We discussed how we will work together to facilitate safe travel out of Afghanistan, including by reopening Kabul's civilian airport as soon as possible, and we very much appreciate the efforts of Qatar and Turkey, in particular, to make this happen.
This would enable a small number of daily charter flights, which is a key for anyone who wants to depart from Afghanistan moving forward.
We are also working to identify ways to support Americans, legal permanent residents, and Afghans who have worked with us and who may choose to depart via overland routes.
We have no illusion that any of this will be easy or rapid. This will be an entirely different phase from the evacuation that just concluded. It will take time to work through a new set of challenges. But we will stay at it.
John Bass, our former Ambassador to Afghanistan who returned to Kabul two weeks ago to help lead our evacuation efforts at the airport, will spearhead our ongoing work across the State Department to help American citizens and permanent residents, citizens of allied nations, Special Immigrant Visa applicants, and Afghans at high risk, if any of those people wish to depart Afghanistan. We're deeply grateful for all that John did in Kabul, and for his continued commitment to this mission, as well as the extraordinary consular officers who were serving by his side.
Fifth, we will stay focused on counterterrorism.
The Taliban has made a commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or our allies, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban's sworn enemy, ISIS-K. Here too, we will hold them accountable to that commitment. But while we have expectations of the Taliban, that doesn't mean we will rely on the Taliban.
We'll remain vigilant in monitoring threats ourselves. And we'll maintain robust counterterrorism capabilities in the region to neutralize those threats, if necessary, as we demonstrated in the past few days by striking ISIS facilitators and imminent threats in Afghanistan and as we do in places around the world where we do not have military forces on the ground.
Let me speak directly to our engagement with the Taliban across these and other issues. We engaged with the Taliban during the past few weeks to enable our evacuation operations. Going forward, any engagement with a Taliban-led government in Kabul will be driven by one thing only: our vital national interests.
If we can work with a new Afghan government in a way that helps secure those interests, including the safe return of Mark Frerichs, a U.S. citizen who has been held hostage in the region since early last year, and in a way that brings greater stability to the country and region and protects the gains of the past two decades, we will do it. But we will not do it on the basis of trust or faith. Every step we take will be based not on what a Taliban-led government says, but what it does to live up to its commitments.
The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our message is: any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned.
The Taliban can do that by meeting commitments and obligations on freedom of travel, respecting the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women and minorities; upholding its commitments on counterterrorism; not carrying out reprisal violence against those who choose to stay in Afghanistan; and forming an inclusive government that can meet the needs and reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people.
Sixth, we will continue our humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
The conflict has taken a terrible toll on the Afghan people. Millions are internally displaced. Millions are facing hunger, even starvation. The COVID-19 pandemic has also hit Afghanistan hard. The United States will continue to support humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. Consistent with our sanctions on the Taliban, the aid will not flow through the government, but rather through independent organizations, such as UN agencies and NGOs. And we expect that those efforts will not be impeded by the Taliban or anyone else.
And seventh, we will continue our broad international diplomacy across all these issues and many others.
We believe we can accomplish far more, and exert far greater leverage, when we work in coordination with our allies and partners. Over the last two weeks, we've had a series of intensive diplomatic engagements with allies and partners to plan and coordinate the way ahead in Afghanistan.
I've met with the foreign ministers of NATO and the G7. I've spoken one-on-one with dozens of my counterparts. Last week, President Biden met with the leaders of the G7 countries. And Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has been convening a group of 28 allies and partners from all regions of the world every other day.
Going forward, we'll coordinate closely with countries in the region and around the world, as well as with leading international organizations, NGOs and the private sector. Our allies and partners share our objectives and are committed to working with us.
I'll have more to say on these matters in the coming days. The main point I want to drive home here today is that America's work in Afghanistan continues. We have a plan for what's next. We're putting it into action.
This moment also demands reflection. The war in Afghanistan was a 20- year endeavor. We must learn its lessons, and allow those lessons to shape how we think about fundamental questions of national security and foreign policy.
We owe that to future diplomats, policymakers, military leaders, service members. We owe that to the American people.
But as we do, we will remain relentlessly focused on today and on the future. We'll make sure we're finding every opportunity to make good on our commitment to the Afghan people, including by welcoming thousands of them into our communities, as the American people have done many times before with generosity and grace throughout our history.
In this way, we'll honor all those brave men and women, from the United States and many other countries, who risked or sacrificed their lives as part of this long mission, right up to today.
Thanks for listening.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. And you have been listening as you saw there by walking out the door, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, speaking after the last U.S. military plane has left Afghanistan, marking an end to the bloody 20-year war, saying he believes right now 6,000 Americans have been evacuated and that there are less than 200 closer to 100 Americans, he says, who still want to leave the country who are still there.
He says America's work in Afghanistan continues as, of course, today the end of a war that cost trillions of dollars, a war in which 2,461 Americans died. Last U.S. C-17 to leave Kabul left just one moment, one minute exactly before August 31st, which is the formal deadline to withdraw that Biden said he would adhere to and left just four days after 13 U.S. service members were killed in a terror attack outside the airport.
A chaotic evacuation of more than 116,000 people, 123,000 according to the latest numbers the Secretary of State just shared happening in just about two weeks coming to a close. Secretary Blinken laid out his plan seven steps for what America is going to do next, including continuing diplomatic relations with the Taliban.
We're following the story tonight from the State Department and also from the White House. I want to start with Alex Marquardt, Kaitlan Collins is also with us at the White House.
But Alex, first to you, it is a monumental day. One minute before the stroke of midnight in Afghanistan that last U.S. military plane took off.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It did, Erin, 3:29 Eastern time, so 11:59 Kabul time the day before this U.S. deadline was reached. Erin, when we see Secretary Blinken were reminded today that he is the most senior Biden administration official to speak and that is to make clear that now they see this, when they look at Afghanistan, they see it as a diplomatic mission. The General of Central Command earlier today called this the
diplomatic sequel. And what Tony Blinken is doing here is trying to make clear that that diplomatic mission is no longer ending, not just in practice and in purpose, but also physically. They will be moving their diplomatic operations to Doha in Qatar to be led by the Deputy Chief of Mission, who was working in Afghanistan.
And, of course, Blinken is saying that one of the main priorities going forward now is going to be getting out those American citizens who still want to leave, as well as the Afghans who have worked alongside American forces and diplomats, and who would be targets of the Taliban.
But what was really remarkable, Erin, was how much seems to hinge on that coordination and cooperation with the Taliban, starting with how the airport is going to function, making the assumption, counting on the Taliban, to let people out of the country if they've got the right papers as they have promised to do so and then carry counterterrorism operations as well.
Blinken, by no means, said that they will rely solely on the Taliban for those things, but they are certainly going to be huge players in this. So much of this hinges on what the Taliban does, Erin.
BURNETT: Right. So much of it hinges on that. And of course, I know they're careful to say they don't trust the Taliban, but obviously to do certain things you do have to trust what someone says they're going to do or says they're not going to do. I mean, that's the reality. I don't want to use that word, but it is a word that's going to reflect some of what they're going to have to do with that government. All right. Alex, thank you.
I want to go to Kaitlan now. Because Alex made the point, Kaitlan, what we just watched there, that speech from the Secretary of State. He is the one speaking. It has become a diplomatic mission, but he is the one who we heard from tonight. The primetime address came from the Secretary of State Antony Blinken not from the President.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Even though this is a decision that is completely driven by the President, because he is the one who made the decision to withdraw the U.S. presence from Afghanistan, one that he announced that Back in April, one that he has now seen come full circle by August 31st in Kabul, of course, still August 30th here on the east coast in the United States.
And it's notable we have not heard from President Biden yet, but we will hear from him tomorrow afternoon, Erin. At 1:30 Eastern, he is scheduled to speak on this matter exactly. He did issue a statement earlier today touting the huge effort here that it took to get, which was led by the U.S. military to get over a hundred thousand people, 120,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan within a matter of just a little over two weeks that, of course, we have seen and we have monitored closely every single day with these military flights taking off up until that one, as you noted, that left one minute before that deadline actually hit that was the last plane going out.
COLLINS: And so the president says tomorrow, he'll explain why he did not want to stay in Afghanistan further. That is something that we've heard from other world leaders. It's something that we've heard from Democratic lawmakers who they said they believe that the United States should have stayed there longer and the President says he'll explain that he had an agreement from the commanders on the ground and from the Joint Chiefs that it was right to end this mission on August 31st.
But Erin, one question that the President will also face tomorrow is something related to what he said recently, in an interview with ABC News, where he said U.S. troops would remain on the ground until every single American who wanted to leave Afghanistan had left Afghanistan.
And what we just heard from the Secretary of State there is that not every American who wants to leave has left. He said he believes there are between 100 and 200 Americans still there. He thinks that number is closer to 100 and he talked about the efforts they took to try to get Americans out of there to assist them. But the bottom line is there are still Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave. That will be a big question for the President tomorrow as many others, of course, on where this goes from here, Erin.
BURNETT: Absolutely. And Kaitlan, thank you very much.
So I want to go down to someone in the thick of this, the Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, who is the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Obviously, one minute before the stroke of midnight in Kabul, Chairman, the United States completes its military mission.
Now, the Secretary of State takes over. He's the one who gives the primetime address. He lays out the seven steps of what comes next. Are you confident with where the U.S. goes from here?
REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Well, absolutely not. It is a very chaotic, very difficult situation. As you noted, the Taliban cannot be trusted. I mean, even the Taliban can't control the Taliban and they certainly can't control ISIS-K as we learned a few days ago. So no, I mean, no one should be confident about the situation in the chaotic situation that we have in Afghanistan.
Now, what I do think is the case as Secretary Blinken has made it clear that part of the plan, and look, they did not explain this clearly. We had a briefing last week and they said, "We will complete our mission by August 31st." And a number of us press them on, "OK, but what is that mission?"
And they were saying it was one thing when it was really something else. The mission really was we got to be out by August 31st, because if we're not the Taliban are going to turn on us and it becomes impossible. But we want to get as many people out as possible by that deadline and crucially put in place a situation where we have enough of a relationship with the Taliban to keep getting people out after. That was the mission even though it wasn't that clearly explained. BURNETT: So when you hear where they are, 123,000 people have come
out, 6,000 Americans, he laid out that the Americans remaining are in complicated situations, many of them have been there a long time have family ties, but he says fewer than 100, I'm sorry, the 200 closer to 100. Did that number surprise you with how low it was, how high it was, where do you stand on it?
SMITH: No, not really, not based on the conversations. You've had access to this information like we have as well. I mean, that was about what we would have expected and about what we were hearing about the last few days.
BURNETT: All right. So let me ask you then about some of these other numbers. First of all, the 123,000, OK, of people that have come out of Afghanistan as part of this mission. The United States has a history of resettling refugees, but never in the numbers, certainly not in any kind of recent history that we're seeing now and that we're about to see.
So where you stand, as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, where are all these people going to go? Are you confident from the briefings you've had that, that they're going to be vetted, we're going to know who they are, that there's a plan on where they're going to go or is this just going to be sort of, I don't know, hope in a prayer?
SMITH: It's an extraordinarily difficult situation, because they were brought out with no clear plan on where to take them. It was an emergency situation. So they were responding to that emergency and the mission was get them out. We'll worry about the details later, so yes.
Now, it is chaotic and it's difficult. I mean, right now as I understand it in Qatar where we have a fair number of these people, I mean, they're struggling just to make sure that they get enough food and water to take care of them. So this is a plan that is going to have to be developed from this point forward.
It's going to be difficult to care for these people. We do have other nations that have agreed to take some of the refugees. I think we can work it out, but it's going to take a lot of work and a lot of international cooperation.
BURNETT: Yes. I mean, in a sense, it seems like it's just the beginning of something really huge and people, it hasn't really sunk in. But let me ask you about one other thing in your role as Chairman of Armed Services. So Gen. McKenzie today said the United States in this final day, so one minute before midnight, removed, or demilitarized weapons or equipment that were at the airport at Kabul. But of course, we do know that sort of in the chaos and unexpected end of the Afghan government, a lot of things were left behind that they didn't think they were going to leave behind; helicopters, guns, ammunition, all sorts of things in the hands of the Taliban.
Are you aware right now of what was left and what wasn't? I mean, have you been given all the numbers and feel confident that you know, what's left there that could get in the hands of the Taliban or ISIS-K or some other group?
SMITH: We have not been given all the numbers yet. I mean, you've reported on it and shown us pretty clearly what happened. Because of how rapidly the regime collapsed, a lot of that stuff was left because we had left it for the Afghan government. But now the Taliban is the Afghan government.
I mean, look, if there is one sort of central failing in this exit, it was to not take a cold eyed look at what was going on there and say the Taliban are going to take over, whether it's weeks or months, it's not going to be years. It's going to be days, weeks or months. And if that's the case, what do we need to do?
And two big things one, we need to pull out more equipment out. Two, we needed to get people out sooner particularly the Afghan SIVs. That should have started much sooner than it did.
BURNETT: All right. Chairman, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
SMITH: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: And next, the death toll rising right now in Louisiana. We have a video in of the devastation left behind from Hurricane Ida and we're just starting to get a sense of how severe this damage is. This video was actually filmed by the State's Lieutenant Governor. So what did he see? He's next.
Plus, we're going to take you to one of the hardest hit areas of Louisiana where rescue operations are underway right now. An update to a story that we've been following here with you for the first time see one Afghan interpreter's dangerous journey to safety.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are heading to the airport, hope to make it and survive.
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ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Breaking news, a second confirmed death from Hurricane Ida. Louisiana's governor expects that number to rise, quote, considerably as they just begin to reach the hard hit areas that are still completely unaccessible. We are getting new images tonight of the catastrophic damage from storm. Entire neighborhoods under water, street after street littered with debris from the rain and wind. 1 million people currently without power.
More than 2,000 miles of transmission lines are down. Let me say that again. More than 2,000 miles of transmission lines down, and many without service, so they can't call for help. Already, more than 5,000 members of the National Guard are deployed to
help in the rescue and recovery efforts underway. The Coast Guard is also now on the ground. I'll be speaking with the man leading that mission in just a moment.
I do, though, want to begin President Biden today saying that the administration will do everything it can to help those affected by the storm. Here he is.
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JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to stand with you and the people of the Gulf as long as it takes for you to recover.
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BURNETT: Jason Carroll has more tonight from Houma, Louisiana.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Throughout much of downtown Houma, Louisiana, one can see the damage from Hurricane Ida in nearly every direction.
This was once a childhood home of Harrison Short (ph). His great grandmother lived here, now it's all gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My whole childhood is just gone now. All the memories left in one storm.
CARROLL: Across the street, the barbershop destroyed, the home next door is still standing barely.
Lionel Hawkins (ph) says part of the roof is damaged, his carport gone. He waited out the storm with his wife at home and at one moment, he says the wind was so bad they thought they would not survive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We was scared, you know. Me and my old lady pried and went on our knees and asked the Lord to take care of this house and protect us, you know what I mean? Give us the opportunity to breathe.
CARROLL: You got down on your knees and prayed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.
CARROLL: Lionel, what do you think, next time a category 4 comes, will you evacuate?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm getting out of here.
CARROLL: Winds topping 100 miles an hour swirled around Houma for hours as idea crawled around the southwestern section of the state. Portions of Houma, Terrebonne Airport destroyed, countless homes damaged under Ida's crashing wind gust.
Tim Fokier (ph) came out and found someone else's roof had landed on his car crushing it. Thankfully, it missed most of his home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard a big thump on top of my house and really scared me.
CARROLL: Trying to figure out --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roof here.
CARROLL: It could be from this building here or that one there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The restaurant in the backyard so we're not sure where the roof came from.
BURNETT: That's our Jason Carroll in Houma, Louisiana, tonight. I want to go now, as I said, to Vice Admiral Steven Poulin. He is the Coast Guard commander of the Atlantic area in charge right now.
And, Commander, appreciate your time. Where does your search and rescue mission stand right now?
VICE ADMIRAL STEVEN POULIN, COAST GUARD'S ATLANTIC AREA COMMANDER: Well, we're very well coordinated with the state of Louisiana. We work through and through the state of Louisiana to make sure we have a corporative and integrated search and rescue system and that's what we've been doing all day. We were able to get up at first light, the weather was still treacherous. I got on an over flight this morning from Mobile, Alabama, at 4:30 and the weather was still horrendous. But we were able to get the aircraft out and on scene to provide life saving service.
BURNETT: So, what are your crews seeing on the ground now?
POULIN: Well, I can tell you what I saw. I was able to do two overflights today and I saw utter devastation. It was catastrophic. My heartbreaks for the people in Louisiana.
We were able to fly over some of the hardest hit areas, LaPlace, New Orleans, Houma, Grand Isle, those places were it's hard to describe. The pictures don't even do it justice. It just a catastrophic scene and my heartbreaks for folks.
BURNETT: Some of these images that we've had, you know, as you say, it's hard to put words to it. We have images of horrible flooding. Are you rescuers even able to access all the impacted areas at this point when we think about the flooding and areas being completely blocked off and thousands of miles of transmission lines that are down, some of them of course in the water?
POULIN: Well, it's hard to access by boat right now because there are so many obstructions in the water. We've got reports of tugs that have sunk, barges that are a drift and may have been sunk. Vessels that are aground. So, our primary effort is wet helicopters. The helicopters have been able to get into locations where we've been able to save people or assist lives. Frankly, it was almost eerie. The weather over New Orleans in southern Louisiana sort of cleared at daybreak. Much different than what we're experiencing here, I think, in Mississippi and Alabama where I'm at right now.
BURNETT: So how long do you expect the rescue part of this mission to last? I mean, you know, we know of a couple of deaths right now. That's it. But we just don't know how many people are there, how many people need help, what condition they're in.
POULIN: I don't know how long it's going to last but I'll tell you that the coast guard will be here as long as it takes to save lives and assist property. That's what we do. That's what we've always done as the United States Coast Guard and America's Coast Guard stands ready to assist and help the people of Louisiana.
BURNETT: Commander Poulin, thank you very much.
POULIN: Thank you for having me.
BURNETT: Good luck with the mission and challenges that you're facing.
I want to go to the Republican lieutenant governor of Louisiana, Billy Nungesser. He joins me on the phone.
And, Lieutenant Governor, thank you very much for just taking a couple of minutes even to talk to us. You know, you heard what the Coast Guard commander said, that he doesn't have words for the catastrophe he's seeing and you've seen it, too. You took video that I'm putting on the screen right now for our viewers in Plaquemine Parish.
Do you have any sense at this point of how extensive the damage is to your state?
LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R), LOUISIANA (via telephone): No, that's just two small communities (INAUDIBLE) and Myrtle Grove are completely submerged in water. You saw the debris all over, the barge (ph) is up on the Mississippi River levee. It is devastating.
You've got other areas along the coast, Grand Isle, Morgan City, and then you got areas that flooded from rainfall. So, the rescue mission underway with the Coast Guard and the firemen and first responders and national guard is -- it's a treacherous thing to get into these communities, make sure people are not trapped in the attics and make sure we find everybody that rode it out, hopefully, alive.
BURNETT: So the governor said that you have about 1.1 million customers in Louisiana alone still no power that includes hospitals. Three hospitals across your state have been evacuated. A fourth I understand is in the process of that right now.
Two thousand miles of transmission lines in the ground down in water in some cases. How worried are you right now lieutenant governor that your state can handle medical needs and emergencies at this point? NUNGESSER: Well, it's being pushed to the brink. You know, I know the
federal government, FEMA and those teams will be here and support from the federal government is crucial. We have a major power line over the Mississippi River levee laying into that transmission tower into the river. So we're not talking about days, we're talking about weeks.
And getting the medical facilities, generators or moved to facilities where they have electricity is crucial and then we also have to make sure we're pressurizing the water systems and getting back to clean water to those hospitals and to people. Power --
BURNETT: Yes --
NUNGESSER: -- and clean water are two elements that will be a long time coming and really before we can get any kind of sense of getting people back in their homes and businesses and back to a working area.
BURNETT: So, Lieutenant Governor, I know your colleague the governor expects the death toll to rise considerably.
President Biden said today the federal government is there and they will provide any help that you're going to need. That's the quote from the president. Is that happening? Are you getting everything you need right now?
NUNGESSER: We're seeing the FEMA teams on the ground. They're moving. I just came from Plaquemines Parish, I'll be flying with the governor and his coordinators tomorrow to all the devastated areas and their moving command center where they can get. We still got a lot of flooded areas.
And the first thing is to make sure is we reach every area and we do a great search to make sure nobody is trapped and get these people safe and then we'll start the work of rebuilding. I think we've made a lot of progress since Katrina in working with the federal government to get through the process quickly. There is always room for improvement.
But it's crucial that we work as a team to get through this. Louisiana will get through it. We've been through it before. This is a horrible disaster. Wide spread, a lot of work but it's going to take a team effort to make it happen.
BURNETT: Lieutenant Governor, I appreciate your time very much. I thank you.
NUNGESSER: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, President Biden facing crisis on every front and it is pushing his White House to the limit.
Plus, you heard his pleas for help.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RASHID: They're going to cut our heads off if they find my location. Please help.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BURNETT: Tonight, see his family's dangerous journey.
BURNETT: Tonight, a withdrawal from Afghanistan marred by tragedy and chaos, destruction of Louisiana after the state is pummeled by one of the strongest hurricanes ever seen, grim warnings of possibly another 100,000 Americans dead in the next four months as COVID cases surge across the country. Remember when we first hit 100,000 deaths, right, "The New York Times" headline was an unimaginable death toll. Now, in four months, another 100,000? And North Korea appearing to restart a nuclear reactor.
These are things happening now with President Biden being tested on every front and pushing his White House to the limit.
OUTFRONT now, Matthew Dowd, he is the former chief strategist to the Bush Cheney 2004 presidential campaign and author, as well.
So, Matthew, look, president faced challenges they didn't plan for. And ye, this is on every single front and it is tragic and it is challenging to national security, and Americans are dying.
What does he need to do to emerge from this moment stronger and not weaker?
MATTHEW DOWD, CHIEF STRATEGIS, BUSH-CHENEY '04 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, he needs to do his job confidently and well, which so far I think he's done. He's done what nobody thought possible so far on COVID, obviously, he's faced with the delta variant and trying to make that work better. I think the Afghanistan thing went way better than most people expected two weeks ago when the best number of people gave was getting 40,000 out. He got three times that many out.
He has to handle the aftermath of the hurricane and the devastation in Louisiana. Well, my guess is he will. He's himself and people around him had the experience.
So the best thing he can do is not actually talk about it but actually make it work and if he does that, three months or six months from now, he'll be in a better position. But he has to make government work in response to all these things.
BURNETT: So he traveled to Dover, of course, to Dover Air Force Base this weekend to pay his respects to the 13 U.S. troops killed at the Kabul airport suicide attack and met with their families. "The Washington Post" is reporting one family felt Biden's interaction with them was, quote, scripted and shallow, a conversations that lasted only a couple minutes.
I bring it up because it's reminiscing of the public spat between President Trump and the wife of a U.S. soldier that died in Niger in 2017 when she said Trump called her and couldn't remember her husband's name.
Now, Biden's empathy is the thing that people turn to him for, that the country turns to him for that he can rely on, being put to the test. This isn't the sort of reaction to him that I would imagine he or those around him expect. How significant is this as a turning point?
DOWD: I don't think it's a turning point because I think he is so vested and he's such a person of empathy and he carries it with them on a daily, hourly basis. He's the first president in more than a generation that had a son or daughter that served in a war zone. We haven't had a president like and I can remember when we had a last time we had president like that. So making his decisions from a place of not only wisdom but heart in that.
I mean, obviously, there is going to be interactions that don't go exactly according to what the survivors or what people that are suffering the tragedy want. That's going to happen in any circumstance but I don't think Joe Biden, there is many things you can criticize him for, lack of empathy is not one of those. I don't think it sticks.
And the other reason it doesn't stick is because Republicans on one hand accuse him of being too weak when he's overly empathetic and now they're going to say he's not empathetic enough. I just don't think -- if I were somebody attacking Joe Biden, I would attack Joe Biden on empathy. It's something that is completely, credibly and instrumentally part of his brand.
BURNETT: And quickly before we go tomorrow, he's going to speak to the nation at some point during the day. What do you think he should say?
DOWD: Well, I think she should say that we're facing trying times and we'll continue to face trying times in all of these things, prove out that he's aware of it unlike some previous presidents that didn't seem aware of when circumstances were going on and I can think of what happened with Katrina, that he's aware of it, he's engaged and he's got the right people in place.
That's what he needs to say and prove out. Again, Erin, it's be going to be so much in what he says. It's going to be proved out in what he does and how he responds to all these crises that face the nation at this one moment.
BURNETT: Matthew Dowd, thanks for your insight.
DOWD: Thanks, Erin.
BURNETT: And next, the story we've been following of one Afghan interpreter's attempt to leave Afghanistan. Tonight, you're actually going to see it. You're going to see his family's dangerous trek to the United States. That's next.
BURNETT: Tonight an update to a story that we've been following with you of an Afghan interpreter who made desperate attempts to leave Kabul.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABDUL RASHID SHIRZAD, INTERPRETER: I went to the airport. My wife's -- my wife was beaten by the Taliban. My kids were beaten by the Taliban. And I myself, I was beaten by the Taliban.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: We introduced you to him as just Abdul to protect his identity. But his full name is Abdul Rashid Shirzad.
And now he wants you to know his full story. He wants you to see his family's dramatic escape from Afghanistan.
Anna Coren is OUTFRONT.
ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): his family piled into a taxi with just a bag of belongings, Abdul Rashid Shirzad hoped this was farewell to Kabul's dust-covered streets.
SHIRZAD: We are heading to the airport. Hope to make it and survive.
COREN: The 34-year-old former Afghan interpreter knew their chance for escape was slim.
SHIRZAD: That's a Taliban vehicle right there, with the white flag.
COREN: But as the father of three young boys, the alternative was not an option.
SHIRZAD: That's Ali Akbar. That's my wife right there. This is me. This is Ali Abbas. And that's Ali Omid right there.
COREN: Once at the airport, Rashid realized he'd made a mistake. His eldest child nearly trampled in a chaotic sea of humanity, also desperate for a way out.
SHIRZAD: That's the marine right there. There is no way to get inside.
COREN: This was the family's second attempt at the airport within days. And as darkness fell, reality set in.
SHIRZAD: With this crowd, it's impossible.
COREN: We met Rashid last month in Kabul while doing a story on Afghan interpreters who'd worked with the U.S. military only to be left behind. A number of them had recently been executed by the Taliban and Rashid
among others feared they would also be killed. Rashid had spent five years working for the U.S. Special Forces. SEAL commanders describing him as a valuable and necessary asset who braved enemy fire and undoubtedly saved the lives of Americans and Afghans alike.
These guys were your American brothers.
SHIRZAD: American brothers, yeah.
COREN: But at the end of 2013 his contract was terminated after he failed a polygraph test. So when he later applied for an SIV. to the United States, his application was automatically denied.
Rashid and I kept in touch after I left Afghanistan. And in a matter of weeks the country had collapsed and was now under Taliban rule.
SHIRZAD: 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.
COREN: CNN evacuated staff from Kabul with the help of a security team on the ground working with British paratroopers inside the airport. The channel established was now an opportunity for Rashid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assalamu alaikum. CNN, sir.
COREN: Before dawn on Sunday 22nd of August, Rashid, his family, and another nine people were picked up at a location near the airport. They were driven close to a Taliban checkpoint near the Baron Hotel back gate manned by the British.
SHIRZAD: We are at the back gate of camp baron. We are so close to the gate. If they just come to the gate they can see us. They can see us from the tower.
COREN: In less than an hour, British paratroopers let them in.
SHIRZAD: We're good. We are inside now. Thank you so much.
COREN: But celebrations were short-lived. U.S. Marines would not allow Rashid and his family past the checkpoint because they did not have a visa.
SHIRZAD: The Americans asked just for U.S. visa and U.S. passport. That's it.
COREN: A frantic seven hours ensued as messages and phone calls between London, Hong Kong, Atlanta, Virginia and Kabul were made, coordinating with security on the ground. Once his identity was confirmed, they were through.
SHIRZAD: We're at the airport terminal. We made it. We are really excited.
COREN: For almost two days they waited patiently at the airport as thousands of fellow Afghans were airlifted to a new life. SHIRZAD: Another aircraft about to take off. Lots of marines there.
COREN: Then it was their turn. Exhausted but happy. Aboard a C-130 to the U.S. base in Bahrain.
SHIRZAD: We are in Bahrain. Bahrain.
COREN: Less than 24 hours later they were on the move again.
SHIRZAD: Somebody knocked our door and said pack your stuffs up, you've got a flight now. We are so excited. We still don't know where we are heading to. So hopefully it's the U.S.
COREN: And sure enough, their wish had come true.
SHIRZAD: Our aircraft is landing in D.C. That's Washington. We are this close. Everybody is excited.
COREN: In the space of four days, they were on U.S. soil. How does it feel to be in America?
SHIRZAD: We are so lucky that we are safe. It is beautiful to be here. We are the luckiest people, you know.
COREN: Housed at Fort Lee military base Virginia while his SIV is processed, Rashid was reunited with a SEAL team member who he hadn't seen for nine years, a second chance at life for an eternally grateful family, whose hearts may remain in Afghanistan but his future now lies a world away.
Anna Coren, CNN, Hong Kong.
BURNETT: An incredible story, (INAUDIBLE) story.
Thank you for joining us.
Anderson starts now.