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Biden Extends Troop Withdrawal Past August 31st; National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan Warns Kabul ISIS Affiliate "Threat is Real"; Tropical Storm Henri Makes Landfall in Rhode Island, Causing Flooding. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: Good morning everyone, it's Monday, August 23rd, it's 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks for getting in EARLY START with us, I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: And I'm Christine Romans, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world to start the week. We begin this morning with the urgent evacuation effort in Afghanistan. President Biden now acknowledging U.S. troops may need to stay in the country beyond his August 31st deadline depending on progress evacuating those Americans. So far, nearly 28,000 people have been air-lifted out since August 14th, a source tells CNN, about 20,000 people remain at the chaotic Kabul airport. A number that hasn't changed much because more people keep coming.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: The evacuations of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful no matter when it started, when we began. There's no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss and heartbreaking images you see on television. It's just a fact.


JARRETT: U.S. Defense officials tell CNN, the military is establishing alternative routes to Kabul because of that threat posed by a self-proclaimed ISIS affiliate called ISIS-K.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent and it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal. We are working hard with our intelligence community to try to isolate and determine where an attack might come from. It is something that we are placing paramount priority on stopping or disrupting, and we will do everything that we can for as long as we are on the ground to keep that from happening. But we are taking it absolutely deadly seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: Our international security editor Nick Paton Walsh joins us

live from, Doha, Qatar. Nick, good morning. You know, you're arriving where many of these flights from Afghanistan are actually arriving. Just explain how urgent the task of getting people there is now. It feels like it's growing more urgent by the minute.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, I mean, we have this August the 31st deadline looming in just over a week now. And the Taliban have made clear noises though, they don't want to see U.S. troops staying after that. President Joe Biden hinting it's being discussed, but they need to discuss it with the Taliban, too. U.K. officials saying the Taliban, quote, "have a vote in all of this." And that makes the next week an exceptionally urgent time. Now, as I understand from a source familiar to the situation, there are still about 20,000 people on that airport trying to leave. There will be 33 cargo flights landing in the next 24 hours.

That could make a significant dent in that 22,000, provided there are not more who manage to get on to the base. Now, there is some confusion, I understand, as to how this number remains so high. And it might be that some of the Afghan security forces on the perimeter who are helping the Americans there secure the base, may be letting people in, too. There are of course, also two U.S. citizens being brought on in alternate routes, which U.S. officials don't want to go into more detail about. But I understand today, too, that the gates of that airport have been closed.

They're been closed in fact, though, for 24-48 hours because of the chaos outside. But it now appears to be more a sense of policy whereby it's essentially these alternate routes we'll be bringing U.S. citizens, NATO citizens, green cardholders on to that base, only. And there appears to be a pause at the stage and allowing SIV applicants on. That may change, but that seems to be where we are right now, and that will be very disappointing for those SIV applicants obviously in Kabul, and the hundreds of local embassy staff employed directly by the State Department who are eligible for that same program but are still left off the airport.

What now? If they make a huge dent in that 20,000 today and it doesn't fill back up again, then possibly, you're going to see scenes of greater calm on that airport. But the military operation to leave of those 6,000 troops on that base is in itself going to take a few days. And of course, people around and in that airport see Americans start to pack up and leave, that may cause panic if they don't feel they're on a plane themselves as well. The Taliban at this stage -- well, I understand they're actually assisting with filtration document checking.

So, to some degree, that takes some of the tension off around the edge of the airport between those U.S. forces and the insurgency they've been fighting for 20 years. But it does mean too, the Taliban potentially get to stop more SIV applicants trying to get towards the gate. They're shut anyway as it stands. But it just shows you the challenges for those allied Afghans that Joe Biden has talked so persistently about wanting to helping and physically getting them on to the airport, at some point in the next few days. The clock is definitely ticking. And there's incident we heard of today in which one Afghan soldier was shot dead by a sniper.


And in the confusion where his colleagues shot back, and it appears to have shot in the direction of U.S. Marines who shot back at them injuring four Afghans. No U.S. casualties in this. It shows you how tense it is. We don't --


WALSH: Know who the sniper was working for. It could be that it was ISIS-K as this threat consistently gets sort of loud speakers by U.S. officials at this stage. But the Taliban are in gray evidence around that airport. And you know, we just have to see how sustainable this operation is in the next few days. It does seem exceptionally tense and fraught as we speak.

JARRETT: All right, Nick Payton Walsh live for us in Doha, thank you Nick. President Biden says changes at the airport in Kabul are making it possible to air-lift more stranded Americans and allies out of Afghanistan. Our White House reporter Jasmine Wright joins us from Washington. Jasmine, did the president give any specifics, any details about what exactly is being done to increase these evacuations?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Laura. Well, the president said yesterday at the White House that they were extending access around the airport as they try to get more and more people out of the country. Because Nick is right, they are running really close to that August 31st deadline, where troops are supposed to be out of Afghanistan. And yes, President Biden said that there were discussions going and -- ongoing in the military about potentially extending that. He wouldn't say if those discussions went towards the Taliban.

But there also comes really -- and he said they were extending access and changing gate options around the airport, really as they are starting to come under major criticism about why they waited so long to evacuate so many people when warnings were coming more frequently about -- pessimistic warnings about the Afghan forces ability. Now, one note I want to say is our own Kylie Atwood reported yesterday that she spoke to an administration official and they said -- I'll read it for you, "U.S. military options at the airport in Kabul have not changed and instead the Taliban are going to be setting up some additional entry points along the outer perimeter" as they try to control and thin out those crowds.

Because one of the things that we have heard over the days and days and days, and that number 20,000 speaks to it, is that there are always mass and mass of people outside of the airport making it difficult and sometimes violent for folks to get to it. And now, that threat of ISIS-K that we just heard Nick bring up, president has been talking about it more frequently as has his aides over the last weekend after they really tried to be getting more people out. Because he said that this is a dangerous mission. But he says that he still remains convinced that he made the right decision.

As the government goes kind of outside trying to get more people out, trying to get these commercial airplanes in, trying to get more people out of the country as we're starting to see evidence that his poll numbers could be taking a hit because of his withdrawal actions in Afghanistan.

JARRETT: And Jasmine --

WRIGHT: Laura?

JARRETT: Tell me about those poll numbers because I know going into, obviously, last week, it used to be the case that most Americans supported the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Is that changing now?

WRIGHT: Well, that's the question. One thing that when you talk to officials, specifically have told me and they told other reporters privately is that throughout this is that, the American public was on President Biden's side. That they wanted him -- excuse me, that they were with him with that decision to pull out. But with all the chaos that has ensued and, frankly, the prospect of American citizens being under threat and the prospect of those Afghans who have helped Americans really throughout that course of the war. The question has always been, will those poll numbers tank?

So, we're starting to see some evidence of lower numbers than what he had last month. And the question is, will that continue? Will -- how will this withdrawal impact the president's legacy? Laura?

JARRETT: All right, Jasmine Wright, thank you so much, appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, to the American economy this Monday morning, the speed of the economic recovery has been record breaking. Now, all eyes are on the Federal Reserve and what it plans to do next. When the pandemic hit, the Fed started buying $120 billion worth of bonds every month to prop up the economy. Now, Fed officials are thinking about hitting the brakes on those purchases. Investors hope the Fed will provide clues about a timeline at its annual retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this week. A news the Fed is considering pulling back those purchases rattled markets early last week.

The stocks closed higher, Friday, the Dow up for some context here, folks, nearly 15 percent this year. The S&P 500 is up 18 percent. And the Federal Reserve of course has launched only two large-scale asset- buying programs in its history. One, after the 2008 financial crisis, and one during this pandemic, it makes it difficult to predict just how markets and the economy will respond to the so-called taper.

JARRETT: All right, some big news this morning from the FDA. Full approval of the Pfizer vaccine coming as early as today. What this all means for the future of vaccine mandates. That's next for you.



ROMANS: All right, 14 minutes past the hour. FDA approval of Pfizer's vaccine is imminent. A source telling CNN full approval could come as early as today. The U.S. Surgeon General says that may lead to a cascade of new vaccine mandates.


VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: People who have been waiting for this, I think and that's a small number of people, but I think so significant. I think this may tip them over toward getting vaccinated. But I also think that for businesses and universities that have thinking about putting vaccine requirements in place in order to create safer spaces for people to work and learn, I think that this move from the FDA, when it comes will actually help them to move forward with those kind of plans.



ROMANS: Let's bring in public health physician, Dr. Chris Pernell; a fellow with the American College of Preventive Medicine. Nice to see you this morning.

JARRETT: Doctor, thanks so much for joining us. So, if Pfizer's vaccine is approved today, as we believe it will be. What are you looking for? Do you think it's going to actually chip away at some of this lingering hesitancy?

CHRIS PERNELL, PUBLIC HEALTH PHYSICIAN: Good morning. I think there's a strong possibility that we will see that. We have polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation when it looked at those who were still unvaccinated, approximately 3 in 10 said that if their vaccine had full or primary approval, that they would go ahead and move out of that unvaccinated category. And if you look at those who were just wait and see versus a definitely no, that's a considerable portion of the wait-and-see.

And finally, this will give businesses, this will give educational arena, this will give those corporations and companies credence in mandating the vaccine.

ROMANS: Doctor, the Surgeon General said that Americans who received that J&J, of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, that they will likely need a booster as well. What should people who had the J&J vaccine be thinking about this, this morning?

PERNELL: I'm not surprised by that at all. You know, I can ask this question a lot in community. Actually, just got asked this question again yesterday. What about those of us who have had Johnson & Johnson, I think this would probably be welcome news to those who have been vaccinated because too often they felt a little bit left out of the conversation.

ROMANS: Yes --

PERNELL: And what we need to see is additional data from Johnson & Johnson for the FDA to authorize any of these vaccines, we need to see that official data for that third booster dose. JARRETT: So doctor, there's been all these back and forth about

masking in schools. In Texas, in Florida and other places, and a school district in Texas actually found a loophole around Governor Abbott's rule against having masks mandates by actually making the masks part of the school dress code. It just shows you the lengths that these schools are having to go to be creative. But if you're a parent in one of these districts where masks are essentially optional. What do you do? Do you send your kid to school? Do you keep them at home this year and risk some --

ROMANS: Right --

JARRETT: Sort of truancy violation? What is a parent to do?

PERNELL: Look, I really -- I feel for parents who are in this situation. And I discussed before with my family. We're in this situation with -- my niece is unvaccinated. I think parents should take the power in their own hands and protect their children. When politicians get in the way of science and get in the way of public health, we need people of good will, we need people who understand that safety lies in rational behaviors and action to do what's necessary. So, send your child to school with a mask regardless of whether or not that school is mandating that mask.

JARRETT: OK, so your position is, even if your kid is the only one in class wearing that mask --

PERNELL: Definitely --

JARRETT: It's better to have --

PERNELL: Definitely --

JARRETT: OK, all right.

ROMANS: Wear the mask, mask up. All right, Dr. Chris Pernell, public health physician, thank you so much, nice to see you this Monday morning.

JARRETT: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, to the top story this morning, Tropical Storm Henri making landfall across the northeast, leaving hundreds of thousands without power. More on that devastating storm next.



JARRETT: Welcome back. A very wet weekend with Tropical Storm Henri knocking out power for more than 100,000 customers in the northeast. The slow-moving storm drenched the region with heavy rain and sustained winds of 60 miles per hour when it made landfall. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is live in Newport, Rhode Island for us. Derek, is significant flooding still a concern this morning? DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, without a doubt, not

necessarily where I'm standing in Newport, Rhode Island, but just points to our west. In fact, at the initial onset of Tropical Storm Henri, it dumped over 8 inches of rain in New Jersey. That led to some localized flash flooding. Take a look at the video coming out of Middleton there, you can see cars just stranded in some of this flood waters as well, floods reaching even homes and businesses. Our fire personnel trying to assess the situation and make sure that everybody was safe.

It's these same areas that are actually getting hit hard now. You see Tropical Storm Henri once it's all said and done, written in the history books, it wasn't the wind, it wasn't the storm surge. It was the flooding that ended up being the real concern. Because now the storm has slowed down, it has no steering current, it's going to take its time kind of just meandering out of the northeast. So, the Weather Prediction Center, that's a site that the meteorologist used to determine the threats of flash flooding, they actually have a moderate risk of flash flooding for New Jersey, portions of eastern Pennsylvania, southern New York, including Long Island, parts of Connecticut, even western Massachusetts.

A slight risk here where I'm standing in Rhode Island in Newport. Another 1 to 3 inches of rain on top of what's already fallen. I checked some of the local river gauges across this area, there are 12 river gauges across the northeast, mainly in New Jersey and southern New York that are reporting either minor to moderate flooding. So, that will be the story going forward. We are trying to restore power here in Rhode Island, current tally, 44,000 customers without power. The concern here, and in fact, the Rhode Island governor mentioned this yesterday in his press conference that the temperatures are going to warm over the next coming days.

It's going to get very warm, very humid across New England, and without air-conditioning, of course, that can mean some problems for some people, especially vulnerable populations across --


VAN DAM: The northeast. So, that is going to put a priority in restoring that power very quickly.

JARRETT: All right --

VAN DAM: Laura, back to you.


JARRETT: Derek Van Dam, thanks so much for that update, appreciate it --

ROMANS: This is not in the rear view mirror here because of all this rain. July --


ROMANS: Was a really wet month for, you know, the mid-Atlantic and the northeast states. So it's still raining.

JARRETT: It's a pile on --

ROMANS: We've got all these -- you know, old -- you know -- old leafy neighborhoods where these trees are going to come down. So watch this space here in the northeast. Meantime, search and rescue efforts underway in Tennessee. Severe flooding there killed 21 people, left at least 20 still missing. Flash floods swept through Humphreys County, that's about 60 miles west of Nashville. On Saturday, more than 17 inches of rain drenched the area. And an unofficial state record for the most rainfall in a 24-hour span. Among those killed in this flooding, two toddlers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's houses moved off of their foundation. Cars and trees. I mean, this is -- this is almost a biblical proportions here, like a massive tornado come through here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They literally came in as -- it came in five minutes. Five minutes, it was in. It was flooded. It was so much more water than I've ever seen in my life.


ROMANS: The floods damaged numerous roads and schools and homes. A local official saying the community will need federal assistance to recover from the devastation. Nick Valencia is on the ground for us with more.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura and Christine, the governor of Tennessee called this a devastating event. And looking at the images, you could certainly understand why? We tried to make our way safely to the hardest hit area, but encountered washed-out roads and downed bridges, and the remnants of this severe storm system that swept through here over the weekend. And it's worst, according to the National Weather Service, there was 17 inches of rain that fell in Humphreys County in a matter of 24 hours.

But eye witnesses, those who lived through it say, it was something like someone outside of their home standing outside with a fire hose. The rain and water was just relentless and what's been left behind is just utter catastrophe. We spoke to residents who say that they know people among the missing, and say there was a lower income housing project right behind a Dollar General store that has many people missing. Still, they try to make their way up to the rooftops, but were swept away by that fast-moving water, according to eye witnesses.

And as the week starts, the recovery will continue, and there is certainly a lot of it left. Laura, Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Nick, thank you.

JARRETT: Nick, thanks for that. In just a short time ago, Vice President Kamala Harris addressing this crisis in Afghanistan.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: Right now, we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us, and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children.


JARRETT: She is set to speak to troops. That's next.