Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Taliban Take Control of Afghanistan As Citizens Scramble to Flee the Country; U.S. Military Helicopters Evacuate Personnel from American Embassy in Kabul; Consumer Confidence Drops Below Early- Pandemic Levels. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning everyone, it's Monday, August 16th, it's 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks for getting an Early Start with us, I'm Laura Jarrett. Welcome back, an awful lot of --


JARRETT: Strange --

ROMANS: Stranger to you, a lot to talk about today, I'm Christine Romans, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, it is 5:00 a.m. here in New York. But we begin with the collapse of the Afghan government and the chaos unfolding this morning. The situation deteriorating by the hour. America's longest war ending 20 years later, the way it began after 9/11 with the Taliban in control.

We have brand new video just in to CNN that shows gunfire at the Kabul airport. We're monitoring the situation, we'll keep you updated throughout the morning. And these dramatic videos appearing to show Afghans desperate to flee the country, jamming the Kabul airport tarmac, climbing over one another, hoping to fill any seats on remaining planes out of the capital, out of the country. CNN cannot independently verify these images, but the U.S. Embassy is warning Americans this morning, do not travel to Kabul's airport due to the security situation.

This as stunning video shows heavily-armed Taliban fighters in the abandoned presidential palace hours after former Afghanistan's president fled the country, panic setting in across the country.

JARRETT: U.S. military helicopters scrambling to evacuate diplomats and personnel from the American Embassy in Kabul. Embassy staff racing to destroy sensitive documents. The American flag no longer flying overhead. French Embassy officials as well leaving their posts, forced to relocate. Meanwhile at home here, President Biden was briefed at Camp David over the weekend as criticism mounts over his administration's handling of this crisis. He is expected to address the nation within a few days we're told, but for now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is handling the blowback. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: And the fact of the matter is, we've seen that, that force has been unable to defend the country and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated. Remember, this is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission, and that mission was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11, and we have succeeded in that mission.


ROMANS: There is deep concern this morning over the fate of women and girls in Afghanistan. Two decades of progress fighting for their rights reversed in the blink of an eye. These developments have got to be agonizing for the family, friends and loved ones of the more than 2,400 Americans who lost their lives in Afghanistan, leaving behind mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters who are hearing this news and perhaps hearing it with a different ear than we are.

Thousands more who brought a piece of Afghanistan home with them by the way in the casualties and injuries sustained in that country. CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward live in Kabul. Clarissa, where do things stand right now with the evacuation of U.S. personnel?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it looks like most of the U.S. personnel from the embassy have actually been moved out. We're not hearing nearly as many choppers overhead this morning. There is however quite a backlog of people still at the airport. You described those scenes of really just absolute chaos at the airport, images appearing on social media of hundreds of desperate Afghans desperately trying to climb on to any airplane they can to get them safely out of the country. We also -- CNN has spoken to witnesses who heard gunfire. I spoke to an American yesterday who also heard gunfire.

Not clear what that gunfire was. Yesterday, it appeared that it was essentially trying to disperse the crowd because they were becoming so huge, it was getting too chaotic. And so, they were trying to disperse the crowd. The U.S. has now sort of taken charge of the airport, they've laid out a new perimeter with razor wire to try to prevent ordinary people from sort of flooding in on to the airfields. And then here on the streets of Kabul, it's a completely different story. It's eerily different story. It's Taliban on every single checkpoint. The minute you leave our compound, Taliban everywhere.

They're jubilant, they're relaxed, they're smiling. They want to be talking on camera even. I've never seen anything quite like it in my life, and they're saying that their primary task right now is to protect the capital, to stop chaos, to stop looting and violence. And for now, it feels quiet. Certainly quieter than usual. There are some stores open, but relatively calm. I think people are in a state of shock honestly. I think that they're just trying to digest the warp speed events of the last 24 hours.


JARRETT: It's all happening just so quickly. And I think, as you mentioned, that they're saying they don't want violence, they want to stay calm, but I think the question for so many women and girls in that country is --

ROMANS: Yes --

JARRETT: How true will that be and for how long? Take a listen to this, Clarissa.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: What are you going to do about girls' education, will they be able to stay in school past 12, up to 18, will they be able to go to university?

SOHAIL SHAHEEN, SPOKESMAN, TALIBAN: On that, our policy is clear, and they -- women can continue their education from primary to the higher education.


JARRETT: So, that's our Nic Robertson doing an interview with the Taliban about this very subject. How trustworthy is that?

WARD: Well, I mean, what you're hearing from Sohail Shaheen there, who is, you know, the spokesperson, he is in --

JARRETT: Right --

WARD: Doha, he's the kind of articulate pragmatic mature voice of the Taliban is not necessarily what you'll hear and find on the streets. They want to show that they're adapting a more reasonable approach particularly on the issue of women's education. But when we were just out on the streets and we went to the presidential palace to see what the situation was there, and my presence was definitely causing something of a stir and they shooed me away, and they were angry with the Afghan filmmaker that I'm working with, saying, why would you bring her here, she's a woman, she has to stand to the side. And I thought that really goes to show you that old habits die hard.

I wouldn't expect any major transformations, but certainly, it's something that the Taliban is at least officially articulating a more progressive approach.

JARRETT: And that's certainly noteworthy. Thank you for being there for us, Clarissa and --

ROMANS: Stay safe.

JARRETT: Stay safe and we really appreciate your reporting as usual. Let's bring in CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Sir, good morning to you, so important --

ROMANS: Morning -- JARRETT: To have you on a morning like this. As you look at this

entire situation unfolding so quickly, take a step back for us. So much money spent, so many lives lost, was going into Afghanistan worth it? Help folks at home try to understand this.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, good morning, Laura. Yes, that's one of the most difficult questions that anybody can ask about this. Obviously, you know, when you see those scenes, those riveting scenes from the Kabul airport, you are thinking, you know, gosh, if we turn the clock back 20 years and you know, now, where do we go from here? I think that we have to look at it in two ways. You know, one of the big things that we're looking at here is not only did we go in to take care of what happened on 9/11 20 years ago, and that is the terrorist attack from an organization al Qaeda that was hosted by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Attack and the planning for the attack emanated in many ways from Afghan soil. So we did that, we prevented terrorists attacks emanating from Afghanistan for almost 20 years. And that sense of mission was a success. On the other hand, the other aspect of the mission that we got ourselves involved in, so-called nation-building efforts, the idea that we could change Afghan society, had some partial successes initially especially with women and girls, with girls going to school, women having jobs and businesses, that was a huge deal.

All of that is at risk now. And that is I think what probably one of the saddest things for many of us to look at because we did want that society to progress, we did want that society to make a difference. And then on the military side of things, Laura, what you're looking at is a complete collapse of an army that we had trained and equipped, that we had outfitted in so many different ways. And that really means that there are a lot of lessons learned for the U.S. military. There is the counter insurgency aspect of what we did, which was relatively successful, and in some cases very successful, but the other side of it, is, you know, we didn't build a viable state and then an instrument of a viable state is a military, and that military of course melted away and --

ROMANS: Yes --

LEIGHTON: So significantly.

ROMANS: It's interesting, more than a few people have said, on the one side, you have, you know, religious zealotry, that's what's driving the Taliban, right? On the other side, it was American money and one of those things turned out to be more powerful in Afghanistan than the other, and that is the religious zealotry. You know, this happened so quickly, colonel. Talk to me a little bit about how quickly this happened and the mistakes made by the Americans honestly, how quickly each of these provincial governments folded here. What do we think Afghanistan is going to look like and does the U.S. have any leverage at all?

LEIGHTON: Well, Christine, Afghanistan is going to look, you know, basically like an Islamic emirate. In other words, what they're going to do is, they're going to create a very -- almost from our point of view, medieval society out of this or at least they'll try to do that.


The way things folded was a complete disaster from an Intelligence standpoint. We did not anticipate exactly what would occur nor how quickly it would occur. You know, some of us looked at this and said, yes, this government because of its corruption, because of its inability to really lead and the fact that it acts in an equivalent zealous message --

ROMANS: Yes --

LEIGHTON: Also made a significant difference. And that fact that they didn't have that zealotry really hurt them quite a bit and made them lose.

JARRETT: So, on -- one of our reporters is actually -- has actually been talking to the Taliban, did an interview with the Taliban just a short time ago, and they're claiming that not a single American force has been attacked at least so far. Take a listen to this.


SHAHEEN: They should trust us. When we signed the agreement with them during -- from the beginning up to now, we have not attacked the American forces. Not a single American soldier has been killed because of our promise and commitment.


JARRETT: That's from an interview with our Nic Robertson. What's your reaction to that, colonel?

LEIGHTON: Well, it's a -- there is a possibility here that we can actually work with them at least in a tactical sense. And you know, so I'll take some positive from that. However, you know, you have to look at the old adage, "trust but verify" that Ronald Reagan made famous. In this particular case, this could be a degree of trust that we can protect the airport and we can protect the people that are trying to leave Afghanistan. On the other hand, we have to be really careful with these people. There are a lot of things that they have done a lot of promises that they've made that they have frankly not kept.

So, which side is it? And that's the big question that we're going to have to look at. Is it the side that we can trust where they're not going to attack us, and it's true, they have not attacked us as of yet. Is it the side that, you know, we saw for the last 20 years where they in fact, they did attack us and extracted significant casualties from our sources.

JARRETT: All right, Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you so much for getting up with us this morning, really appreciate it.

ROMANS: And for your great insight --

LEIGHTON: You bet, thank you for having me -- ROMANS: Thank you so much. All right, President Biden is expected to

address the nation in the next few days about the crisis in Afghanistan. The White House will likely attempt to explain how security unraveled so quickly especially since the administration insisted it wouldn't happen, there wouldn't be a Saigon moment. CNN's Jasmine Wright live in Washington with more. Jasmine, any insight about when the president will make these remarks and what he might say to explain what many are calling a diplomatic disaster?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, I think we can look to what his officials and aides have said over the last day. We saw Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the top of the show where he basically admitted that there was a miscalculation in U.S. Intelligence, but he did not say that President Biden bears the brunt of responsibility for this hasty exit yesterday when he talked to our own CNN's Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION". And he really mounted a forceful defense coming back and back to it again about the U.S.' need to withdraw from Afghanistan. Take a listen.


BLINKEN: Like it or not, there was an agreement that the forces would come out on May 1st, had they not -- had we not begun that process, which is what the president did and the Taliban saw, then we would have been back at war with the Taliban and we would have been back at war with tens of thousands of troops having to go in.


WRIGHT: And Christine, we can also take a look at President Biden's own statements, and that really robust statement that he released on Saturday as things were starting to tick up, he said in a statement, "when I became president, I faced a choice -- follow through on the deal with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies' forces out safely or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country's civil conflict. I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan -- two Republicans, two Democrats, I would not and will not pass this war on to a fifth."

So that is a really forceful defense, really putting a lot of the blame on the situation right now back on former President Trump, and that deal that he made before. So, as aides deliberate on when to bring President Biden back -- remember, he's at that presidential retreat in Camp David or what he will say, there are real questions mounting about what impact this will have on President Biden's legacy.

And as we talked to officials, they will tell you that the public is behind them, they support withdrawing. But when you see these images of folks climbing up on planes and the helicopters soaring, there is a real question of how long that can last.

ROMANS: All right --

WRIGHT: Christine?

ROMANS: Jasmine at the White House, thank you so much, nice to see you this morning.


JARRETT: All right, still ahead for you, new warnings this morning about COVID and children. It's what's on the mind of every parent right now. What the director of the National Institutes of Health is now saying, details just ahead.



FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I think traditionally, people kind of considered, well, you know, kids aren't going to get that sick with this. More than 400 children have died of COVID-19, and right now, we have almost 2,000 kids in the hospital, many of them in ICUs, some of them under the age of four. So anybody tries to tell you, well, don't worry about the kids, virus won't really bother them, that's not the evidence, and especially with Delta being so contagious, kids are very seriously at risk.



JARRETT: That was Dr. Francis Collins; the director of the National Institutes of Health warning that we may be entering the most dangerous moment in the pandemic for children as the Delta variant rapidly spreads. Let's bring in Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez; she's a primary care pediatrician at Columbia University Irvin Medical Center. So nice to have you this morning, doctor.

ROMANS: Nice to see you --


ROMANS: So, the NIH is saying that we could be seeing soon over 200,000 new COVID cases a day. How are we back in that position here and what should we be doing to keep our families safe?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: I -- you know, I think we're all asking ourselves the same question, how did we get here again? And I think what we have in our hands is a situation where a lot of us relaxed our precautions, a lot of us sort of put down our guard, and at the same time, we have a very contagious variant that is spreading. And I think the combination of those two things and unfortunately the amount of people in this country that haven't gotten vaccinated got us here where we are today.

ROMANS: Yes --

JARRETT: You know, one of the things that I felt like we were always saying as parents throughout this entire pandemic was, well, at least, the children are OK, to, Dr. Francis Collins point, right? And now it appears maybe the children are at least not as safe as we thought they were. They are certainly not getting sick at the same rate as adults, but they are very ill at least in some cases. What should parents be doing right now, how are you supposed to manage the situation when our young ones are not able to get vaccinated yet?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Yes, and I have to tell you, Laura, it's been hard to communicate the nuance here because we've learned month by month, week by week, that this can be very serious in children. And so initially when this was just in Wuhan, everyone was saying the kids are not getting sick. The kids are not getting sick. And then we've been trying to tell people, actually, no, the more this goes country to country, community to community, the kids are getting very sick. And I think now, what the Delta variant, you know, the data is still to come, we can't make any conclusions before we have actual studies and data.

But something here is different. Something here is very serious, and it could just be that this is just very contagious, that this is spreading to the unvaccinated as we mentioned, but something here is different. You can't ignore the numbers and you can't ignore the people on the frontlines that are saying, you know, this is different from anything we've seen before.

ROMANS: But you hear from people who are hungry to move forward, they don't want schools closed, they don't want kids, you know, learning on Zoom calls. They want them --


ROMANS: Going back to school, a lot of places in this country, kids will be going back to school probably full-time. The same time the Texas Supreme Court has upheld this ruling by Governor Abbott in Texas there, that temporarily, basically bans mask mandates. For us who have kids going to school this Fall, should they all be wearing masks in school?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: One hundred percent. I'm going to say that again, 100 percent --

JARRETT: Even if they've been vaccinated?

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Even if they've been vaccinated. And I think we need the adults around them to be vaccinated and the adults around them to be masked. I don't understand why this is even a question. To tell you the truth, I think at this point, we know what works, we know how to protect children. It is time we get honest and we get real with ourselves and actually do the things that we know are going to keep children in school. I mean, the timing of this is so horrible. I mean, so many kids who are anxious about going back to school, who are behind academically, who have really, you know, suffered trauma.

Kids have lost care-givers in this pandemic. And the least we can do is protect them and it doesn't seem like we are prioritizing them.

ROMANS: So grown-ups need to be vaccinated, kids need to be masked. Everyone needs to be masked --

JARRETT: Yes, the best way to protect kids is for all grown-ups to get vaccinated --

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: That is exactly right --

JARRETT: That is sensible -- all right, Dr. Bracho-Sanchez, thank you so much --

ROMANS: It's so nice to see you --

BRACHO-SANCHEZ: Thank you --

ROMANS: Thank you so much. All right, record highs on Wall Street, despite inflation worries, stocks have been up six months in a row, the Dow and the S&P record highs again Friday. The Dow -- look at this, up 16 percent this year, the S&P 500 is up nearly 19 percent. GDP back to its pre-pandemic size, growing at a rate of 6.5 percent in the second quarter, that's the fastest economic growth since last Fall, the economy has added back 4.3 million jobs just since the beginning of the year.

Labor market down 5.7 million since the pandemic began. The risk now, the Delta variant. Data shows consumer confidence fell below where it was in April last year when the pandemic slammed the brakes on the economy. It's that disconnect between Wall Street and main street. Investors flying high, consumers starting to worry again even as coronavirus cases rides, stocks have stayed at record highs with investors focus on the optimistic outlook of the recovery.

JARRETT: All right, coming up, a devastating earthquake hits Haiti, the death toll soaring over 1,000 people, and now a tropical storm on top of everything else could cause more damage. That's next for you.



ROMANS: To Haiti now where the death toll is rising overnight from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the country this weekend. Nearly, 1,300 people have died, more than 5,700 reported injured. Haiti's prime minister declaring a state of emergency in the affected regions. The epicenter is some 60 miles from the disastrous 2010 quake that killed as many as 300,000 people. We get more this morning from CNN's Matt Rivers, he is on the ground for us in Haiti.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're not far from where the epicenter of this earthquake was, and we're here at the rubble of what was a multi-story, relatively luxury hotel in the Les Cayes region, which is where we are right now. And you can kind of get a scale for what happened here. If you look to the right, that would presumably be part of the roof, a part of this building that collapsed into the swimming pool. That was there. If you look further to the left, you can see kind of a teetering set of columns up there that is basically very precariously perched.

And then back down here, you can see an excavator, that was presumably part of any -- the search and rescue efforts that took place.