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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

At Least 1,297 Dead From 7.2-Magnitude Earthquake In Haiti; Taliban Take Control Of Afghanistan, Chaotic Scene At Kabul Airport; Turkey's President Pledges To Work With Pakistan To Stabilize Afghanistan. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 16, 2021 - 05:30   ET




MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And then back down here you can see an excavator that was presumably part of any of the search and rescue efforts that took place. According to authorities, there are very much -- there is very much likelihood that there remains bodies in this rubble. And yet, there's not really a lot of search and rescue efforts ongoing.

What is ongoing, as you can see people walk behind me here with metal, is looting. People are coming through this site taking basically whatever they think they can sell -- metal. We saw a dresser be taken out. This goes to the desperation in this area.

This is a very poor part of Haiti that has been devastated by previous natural disasters over the last decade. And these are opportunistic people coming here to try and take what they can get from what is no doubt a tragic scene -- something that collapsed during this earthquake.

There are people that have been here trying to help -- people trying to look for survivors. That is not the majority of what's happening here right now.

What you don't see here are Haitian authorities. There is no police presence. There's no firefighters. There are no search and rescue crews here. There is just people from the community and this lone excavator that is not currently in operation.

It's very indicative of what we're seeing as we drive through this area near the epicenter -- a lack of authoritative stance from the government trying to help people get control of this situation. Unfortunately, this is the reality on the ground at this moment.

Matt Rivers, CNN, in Les Cayes, Haiti.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks, Matt, for that.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. Still ahead here, our big story this morning -- chaos at the airport in Kabul. Afghans trying to climb over each other just trying to get out of the country now. The latest on the efforts to evacuate Americans, next.



ROMANS: All right, good Monday morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. It's about 36 past the hour here in New York.

And the breaking news this morning, chaos in Afghanistan as the government falls to the Taliban. The 20-year war ending the way it began after 9/11 under Taliban rule.

That's brand-new video we just have in to CNN. You can hear gunfire erupting in the background there at the Kabul airport. It's unclear where the shots are coming from exactly -- if they were at people or just into the air to disperse the crowds.

ROMANS: And dramatic new video this morning. CNN has not been able to independently verify these images but they appear to show Afghans fleeing the country, flooding the airport tarmac in Kabul, climbing over one another, clinging to hope of getting a ride out of the capital, out of the country.

U.S. military helicopters scramble to evacuate diplomats and personnel from the American Embassy in Kabul. Those images yesterday.

CNN's Kylie Atwood has more from the State Department.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (on camera): U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Kabul have evacuated that embassy. They are now at the Kabul airport. Many of them are flying out of the country. A small number, as of now, are going to be remaining at the airport in Kabul, but that could change. This is a very quickly developing situation.

And at the embassy right now, there are still a few security contractors. I'm told that they will be leaving soon.

The U.S. has pulled down the American flag at the embassy. They've also taken steps to destroy sensitive documents -- to get rid of classified material -- to burn them. To also get rid of anything, such as American flags or things that had the seal of the U.S. Embassy that could be misused in propaganda efforts against the United States.

Now, this has all happened tremendously quickly, tremendously rapidly, and frankly, in a chaotic fashion, it appears. But, Secretary of State Tony Blinken defended how this has gone down today, calling it deliberate and orderly. But he also acknowledged that the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan happened much more rapidly than the United States -- than the Biden administration expected that it was going to.

And he defended the fact that President Biden wanted U.S. troops out of the country. That he felt like he needed to get those troops out of the country because of the deal that was hatched between the U.S. and the Taliban for American troops to leave by May first during the Trump administration. So pointing a finger there at the Trump administration.

But ultimately, there are going to be questions for the Biden administration here about how this withdrawal was executed. About why there were so many challenges here and why it looks so hasty to many, not to mention the Afghan people who are watching America leave after President Biden had told them that America would not be leaving even though U.S. troops were leaving the country.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, the State Department.


ROMANS: All right, Kylie, thank you for that.

The blame game begins. Republican members of Congress heaping criticism on the Biden administration over the chaos in Afghanistan.

"The New York Times" reporting things got contentious between top members of the administration and lawmakers from both parties during a call Sunday night. Members of Congress questioning how intelligence could have failed so badly and urgently seeking answers on how long the U.S. military will help hold Kabul airport and who will be able to get out of the country.


Suzanne Malveaux has more.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): House lawmakers and senators were briefed for 45 minutes apiece in separate virtual briefings by the secretaries of Defense and State, as well as the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Really, a great deal of frustration and anger as the events unfolded very quickly. We heard from Democrats and Republicans, both quietly and publicly, saying that they were heartbroken, that this was gut- wrenching, that they -- we even heard language that was fatalistic. Why was it that this U.S. mission was inside of Afghanistan for the last 20 years? What did that accomplish here?

On the Senate side, it was Sec. Austin who really did try to outline the pace in which this would carry out the evacuation, trying to reassure folks who would be eligible, and that there were third-party -- third countries who would actually help with the refugees. On the House side, it was a bit more contentious. House Minority

Leader Kevin McCarthy really pushing back here on why this just unfolded the way it did. That there was just such a crisis situation.

Secretary Austin saying that they would, in fact, provide airstrikes, if necessary, against the Taliban to make sure that there was that kind of safe exit of Americans.

There were a lot of Democrats, of course, who were trying to defend the Biden administration. We heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that she commended the president for the clarity of purpose regarding Afghanistan. That all eyes were now on the Taliban. The world would be watching and seeing what they would do.

There were others who were saying we cannot and should not ask for the U.S. military to stay indefinitely.

But other Democrats saying this is a crisis and a national security problem here for Americans and potentially, for a terrorist attack leading in the future. We heard from Democrats and Republicans very critical of what is happening in Afghanistan.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Yes, I think it's an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. And I think the president -- this is going to be a stain on this president and his presidency, and I think he's going to have blood on his hands for what they did.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): I would have expected the Afghan government to be more stable. I would have expected the military to be more stable. But ultimately, what happens now is what was a foregone conclusion the moment that Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops on May the first. The Taliban simply ceased to negotiate and began to establish themselves and prepare for what has now happened.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): What we're seeing now is actually the opposite of ending war. What we're seeing now is a policy that will ensure that we will, in fact, have to have our children and our grandchildren continuing to fight this war at much higher costs. So, everybody -- you know, the Rand Paul, Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, Joe Biden view of the world here is fundamentally dangerous and irresponsible, and wrong.

MALVEAUX: Republican lawmakers Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger both very critical of the Trump administration as well as the Biden administration, saying that it was that initial deadline for pulling out U.S. troops that started this and, of course, this action that unfolded just over the last couple of days that have led to this crisis.

In the meantime, officials will be briefing lawmakers as they return to Washington after their recess. That will be a classified briefing that will occur in person.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, at the U.S. Capitol.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: All right, thank you for that, Suzanne.

JARRETT: Thanks, Suzanne.

It's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent John Harwood.

ROMANS: Good morning, John.

JARRETT: John, good morning. Appreciate you getting up with us.


JARRETT: Given where things stand this morning, it seems that President Biden's confidence in our exit from Afghanistan may come back to haunt him, and quickly.

Let's start with what the president said about the Taliban back in July.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So the question now is where do they go from here? That -- the jury is still out. But the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


JARRETT: And yet, that is precisely what has happened in just a matter of days.

How does the president explain this to the American people in a way that they can understand? How does -- how does he persuade the American people that he was right about his decision to pull out?

HARWOOD: Well, it's not going to be easy at all. This is obviously a tremendously embarrassing punctuation point to this 20-year commitment by the United States, and the president obviously got it wrong in terms of what was going to happen in the near term.

What I would expect him to do is to repeat what he did in the printed statement he put out over the weekend and say that this outcome shows that staying another one year, another five years wouldn't have made a difference. That ultimately, the United States is not responsible for that country.


Keep in mind, this has unfolded under four presidents and the last three of them -- Obama, Trump, and Biden -- have all wanted to get out. It doesn't really do much good to blame Donald Trump because Joe Biden wanted to get out. He could have reversed that decision but he did not. And the problem is, though, the -- when you have these images of defeat and failure for the United States, that falls on the person in the White House. It falls on Joe Biden. ROMANS: Yes. We'll have to hear what he says.

You know, a friend of mine, yesterday -- a teacher, who is not in the news business, said to me yesterday what time is the president going to address the nation tonight? And I was like he's not addressing the nation tonight. I mean, she assumed --


ROMANS: -- that the president would be speaking to the nation, and soon, and we don't know when that's going to happen yet.

And the backdrop here is all we're seeing, really, are these images of defeat that the White House, I'm sure, didn't want to happen. Frenzied evacuations of Americans in Kabul. These air -- the helicopters airlifting people out of -- out of the embassy.

Does this hurt him politically -- this president who has this long foreign policy credentials?

HARWOOD: It seems inevitable that it's going to hurt him to some degree politically, but what we don't know is how much. Public opinion on Afghanistan is pretty soft.

Remember, the burden of military service in our country, right now, is borne by a very narrow slice of the American people. So the most intense feelings, of course, are going to be on those military families affected by fatalities, by the wounding of American soldiers -- 20,000 -- over the course of that conflict. The continued deployment.

But for most people, life went on and they weren't highly conscious of the war in Afghanistan. I think many Americans didn't even realize we were still at war.

So the question is do they see images of humanitarian disaster that -- of people killed in Afghanistan that -- and associate that -- blame President Biden for that? Do -- does the threat of terrorism get reconstituted in a way that they can feel? All of that is in the future.

But in the near-term, a president presiding over a military defeat -- a rout, a debacle of this kind -- it doesn't seem possible that it won't take some domestic toll on him.

JARRETT: And, John, you mention the human side of this, right? The people who actually feel the real anguish and burden from the loss. You think about names Jalalabad, Kandahar. These are household names because of how long we were there.

How are the -- how are the moms and dads who lost children in those places --


JARRETT: -- supposed to process this, this morning? HARWOOD: That is the anguishing part of this. If you are somebody whose son or daughter was committed to conflict in Afghanistan, killed, wounded, traumatized by the events that took place there, how do you deal with the idea that it was all for nothing --


HARWOOD: -- and that all of these efforts to train the Afghan military to take care of their country came to this terrible end? I think that is -- it's hard for me to fathom how they process that. It's going to be very hard.

ROMANS: Me, too.


ROMANS: Me, too.

All right, John Harwood. Nice to see you this morning.

JARRETT: Thanks, John.

ROMANS: Thank you.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: Returning now to the breaking news in Afghanistan. Governments across the Middle East responding to the collapse of the Afghan government.

Turkey's president pledging to work alongside Pakistan to help stabilize the country and prevent a new wave of migrants.

Let's bring in CNN's Arwa Damon live in Istanbul. Arwa, what is President Erdogan saying about the Taliban takeover, and what is presumably hundreds of thousands of refugees?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has called it an occupation, but it's also worth noting that as of this specific moment we're not seeing that massive influx across Afghanistan's borders into neighboring countries. And why aren't we seeing it? Because the vast majority of the roads are blocked.

The airport, as you have been reporting, is not open to commercial flights. So even those Afghans who are perhaps fortunate enough to have a passport and a visa -- that choice that they could have had to flee -- to leave their country -- that has also been taken away from them by the United States.

But what Turkey most certainly does want to do and what a number of other countries do want to do is try to prevent any sort of influx from taking place. Remember, Turkey is still reeling from having millions of Syrian

refugees in the country, especially after Europe closed its borders. And so it doesn't want to see any sort of scenario that sees an additional number of Afghan refugees coming across the border. No country, right now, wants to deal with an influx of refugees.

But what this has really meant is that the conversations centering around what happens to Afghanistan right now have largely felt as if there are more conversations that focus on how do we keep Afghans trapped inside Afghanistan as opposed to trying to really secure safe passage for those who don't want to live underneath the rule of the Taliban.

ROMANS: A new moment beginning here, clearly, with the U.S. out of Afghanistan and definitely, the order there in the region changing.

Thank you so much, Arwa Damon, for that for us this morning.

All right, thanks for joining us on this big news morning. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" picks up our breaking news coverage from Afghanistan, next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I am Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman and we are beginning with breaking news.

The Taliban has taken over Afghanistan, seizing control of Kabul with hardly a shot fired. The U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsing swiftly after insurgents overran key provincial capitals in the span of the last week.

And this morning, commercial flights in and out of Kabul's airport have been canceled. The panic, as you can see here, among Afghans visible at the airport. People flooding the tarmac desperate to flee the country.

Embassy officials warning Americans not to travel to Kabul's airport because it is --