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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin
U.S. Ends 20-Year War with Final Evacuation Flights Out of Kabul; Hundreds Rescued from Floodwaters in Louisiana, 1 Million Plus Without Power; Hurricane Ida May Push Gas Prices Even Higher. Aired 5- 5:30a ET
Aired August 31, 2021 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's Tuesday, August 31st.
It's 5:00 a.m. here in New York.
Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to our viewers in the United States, and around the world. We have reports from Qatar, Virginia, New Orleans, the White House, Beijing and the Pentagon as only CNN and EARLY START can.
But we begin with America's longest war. It is over. Twenty years, 2,400 American service members killed, more injured, $2 trillion, taking Afghanistan from the Taliban and then handing it back.
What comes next for Afghanistan, the U.S. and the world? The last U.S. military planes left Afghanistan Monday, a day ahead of President Biden's deadline. The last two U.S. officials to step out of the country were top U.S. diplomat and General Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division. He is pictured here boarding an American jet.
JARRETT: When all was said and done, 122,000 people were evacuated in just the last few weeks, really an incredible number. The State Department has suspended diplomatic operations in Kabul and will now operate out of Qatar.
And that's where we find CNN's Nick Paton Walsh at an air base used in evacuations.
Nick, good morning.
Overnight, the Taliban celebrating the U.S. withdrawal. Tell us what is actually happening in Afghanistan now and can the Taliban hold this control?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, that will be the ultimate question for them in the weeks ahead frankly. They are already seeing obviously a security threat from ISIS-K. The question is how that sustains once the American presence has gone, which it now has finished. And it is extraordinary after 20 years of this war to think of the American presence in Afghanistan in the past tense.
So many of the final aircraft which were involved in yesterday's departure landed in the distance behind me over there at the Al Udeid air base here in Qatar where 55,000 of the evacuees have also arrived, 39,000 have now made their way on to other countries we are told. Importantly, they weren't able to tell us how many of those are SIV applicants and now, of course, begins the scrutiny, the questioning of exactly who the United States has managed in that extraordinary 100,000-plus evacuation to take out.
But you are seeing now pictures in Afghanistan of Taliban militants in the hangar in an airport clearly reveling in their control of this place which was once the sort of shining jewel frankly of what America had brought to Afghanistan. Talking of course about their desire for international relations, but it is clear that the U.S. is going to have its diplomatic presence for Kabul here in Doha.
But also important to remember the scene yesterday, that lone singular American commander getting on to a C-17 and leaving Afghanistan, leaving behind him a project, a presence, a war which took so many Afghan and American lives, got so many families torn apart over the endless tours, a small fraction of America who was asked to serve in that war had to endure.
And now in this remarkable final month of evacuation chaos, logistical extraordinary feat, questions now of what was it all for.
ROMANS: Nick, and the U.S. and allies discussing ways to reopen the airport to facilitate safe travel out for Americans and Afghan allies. We'll have to see how that goes. But we know behind the scene, this volunteer group of veterans worked to rescue allies in secret. It's called the pineapple express.
Here is one of the organizers.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't right. We need to honor this promise, honor the promise that this administration made to these people and that's what we're doing. We are now committed to this. We've gotten out over 650 Americans, Afghan veterans, allies, interpreters, numerous VIPs and we're continuing do it. We've had to make a shift now, obviously, with the U.S. government pulling out. This is going to get much more difficult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Tony Blinken says there are still 100 to 200 Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave. But can something like this program continue now do you think?
WALSH: Yeah, I think that it will be increasingly hard frankly because getting people to the airport was hard enough if there were American planes to take them out. Now they will be relying on whatever civil infrastructure exists if the Taliban manage to make agreements possibly with Qatar, possibly with Turkey to get that airport running.
And it is vital of course the humanitarian aid is vital frankly for the people of Afghanistan to be able to fly people out for medical assistance. So, this is an urgent task certainly for Taliban, and it shifts from being an ensure against city to being a government, a government with an incredibly full inbox, enormous challenges of health, economy, security, just in their opening weeks, and they have still yet to announce their full government.
Can those remaining Americans be taken out?
I have to say it is hard to imagine how there are still 200 Americans in Afghanistan who still want to be evacuated given the shear volume of efforts that the United States has put in with special forces, with other operations to try to find them and get them out.
And this may be possibly a part of I think the U.S. leverage to try to keep that airport open for whoever else wants to get out as well. So, always, the State Department numbers around who is left have been hard to follow. But the hopes for them I think is the civilian airport hoping back up soon and that that possibility who have Taliban around it who are open to the idea of those who are allies or American citizens, allies of the Americans too, of leaving to another country.
JARRETT: Nick, this war is over but I wonder about future missions. Because the law that allows U.S. troops to be deployed without approval from congress, that, of course, is still in effect. And so I wonder from the standpoint of American allies, how is this all going to work, how are they viewing the situation this morning?
WALSH: Yeah, I mean, look, the American military presence is over but it doesn't necessarily mean that all the networks, intelligence agencies, have had disappeared. It is important to remember counterterrorism as it was in 2001 is completely different, transformed by 20 years of day in, day out chasing down people who they consider to be a threat to the United States. You only have to look at the drone strikes we've seen awful one of them causing civilian casualties according to local reports.
But they are a sign of how things have changed since 2001 where you simply put men on horse back to chase down bin Laden.
So it is entirely feasible that in neighboring countries secretly or even over the horizon from places like here that you could see the U.S. continue its counterterrorism mission. But the precision of it will of course be massively impacted by not having bases on the ground, embassies on the ground, intelligence officers on the ground, diplomats, the ability to collect information and to have an enormous Afghan security force doing it on your behalf too has been so vital.
So, yes, no doubt particularly given the prevalence of al Qaeda figures we're seeing now regularly popping up in Taliban meetings that there is a security threat there and that is something the U.S. will have to deal with.
ROMANS: Yeah. Nick Paton Walsh, nice to see you this morning from Qatar. Thank you.
JARRETT: Thanks, Nick.
ROMANS: All right. In the southeast of the United States, a flood threat remains as remnants of Ida keep moving. Weeks of clean up ahead and power may not be back on anytime soon.
JARRETT: This morning, widespread destruction across Louisiana from Hurricane Ida, leaving some neighborhoods submerged by floodwaters. At least two reported dead from the category 4 hurricane but officials expect that number to rise. More than a million homes and businesses are without power this morning, and many could be in the dark for days or even weeks.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You lose power, you can't really use phone service, you can't talk to nobody, see how people are. You lose power, you don't have anything.
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ROMANS: Even after the storm passed, other dangers emerged as people ventured out of their homes Monday. Authorities are investigating an apparent fatal alligator attack on an elderly man who was walking in the floodwaters.
Meantime, a massive rescue and recovery effort still under way, nearly 350 people trapped by the flooding were rescued by Louisiana National Guard.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was also very, very scary because you didn't know if the levees would hold because the wind at some point was actually shaking the house. So we were very, very much afraid.
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JARRETT: If there is any good news here, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards says none of the state's levees failed though some were overtopped.
CNN's Nadia Romero is live in New Orleans for us.
Nadia, when we saw you yesterday morning, you were in the pitch black on Bourbon Street. How's it looking today?
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is still pitch black. It is hard to tell that we are now in the morning hours. Everything in the city is dark. And this is day two or three for people in New Orleans to be in the dark.
And so you can see behind me why, those power lines are tipped over. We saw a transformer on top of a car in a neighborhood not far from here. And so, we have now more than a million people in the dark here in Louisiana. And also, 32 million others in Louisiana and Mississippi under a heat advisory by the National Weather Service because it is august, it is almost -- the end of August, almost September, here in Louisiana. Days are running together for me. But it's hot.
And you don't have power, you don't have AC, and you a don't have hot water. So you are taking freezing cold showers. But at least we have water. And that is what people are dealing with in these states after Hurricane Ida made her way through.
Now, people in New Orleans tell me, they feel pretty lucky especially when you look at a place like Laplace where they had floodwaters rising so quickly that they had to flee to their roofs on top of their houses. The National Guard went out and rescued almost 350 people.
Listen to some of the folks in Laplace talk about what happened during the storm.
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ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Were you worried that you were going to end up in the attic?
DON DOTTOLO: No, if it went past that, God take me. Seriously.
KAREN DOTTOLO: And we were afraid because it was coming up the stairs.
D. DOTTOLO: I wasn't afraid of the water, but the wind kept going. And I felt the walls in the house move.
LAVANDERA: What's the last night been like that for you?
SEAN EPPINETTE: Hell, man. Trying to get out last night, winds just weren't allowing us to. Power lines are down. Trees are down in the street. You know, kind of hard to see at night with no lights.
LAVANDERA: Were you up in your attic?
GAVIN GOINS JR.: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. The water was just coming in so fast that, you know, it got to about knee level so quick, I didn't know if it was going to stay there or rise. So I just went up to the attic. It didn't get too much higher than that, but it was scary. It came in all at once.
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ROMERO: It came in all at once. Doesn't that remind you of Hurricane Katrina?
Sixteen years ago to the day is when Hurricane Ida landed in Louisiana and swept through the state, still bringing drama and a lot of water and wind and rain to east of us here in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast still dealing with the storm.
So we know that people here will be without power at least the next couple days, even weeks for some folks because of that power system, the power grid was so severely damaged. And we're receiving new pictures from power companies showing us that power grid. There is also a boil water advisory because water systems were damaged, some 18 of them throughout the state.
A host of problems here all throughout Louisiana and now Mississippi and neighboring states for people to deal with. A lot of folks here tell me that they feel lucky, that they survived, that things weren't as bad as Katrina when it comes to the lives lost, but they are still dealing with floodwaters. They're still dealing with roofs that were damaged or ripped off, and that will continue to be an issue here for the next couple of days, even weeks for some folks -- Laura, Christi.
JARRETT: Yeah, those floodwaters can be really tricky can live power lines and you have to be really careful. Officials always reminding folks.
Stay out there. Appreciate you, Nadia.
ROMANS: All right. Even if you don't live in Louisiana or the affected areas, you may feel Hurricane Ida's direct hit on the heart of America's energy industry, at your gas station. More than 95 percent of U.S. oil production in the Gulf of Mexico shut down ahead of one of the largest storms to ever land in Louisiana. Officials say they will stay shut until further notice.
Now, the storm has passed but flooding or longer power outages could keep refineries and pipelines offline. And that could drive up gas prices.
Gas prices already up 41 percent since last August, that's because Americans started driving when we came out of our shell from COVID. The need for gas is critical for people in Louisiana.
CNN's Brian Todd spoke with drivers who have been waiting hours to fill up.
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BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How desperate are you for gas?
ALEX GEORGE, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: Very desperate.
GEORGE: There is no resources. Don't have any resources for gas. Only would that have it, Shell. That's it, nobody else's.
TODD: You need it for your car, for a generator at home?
GEORGE: Generator, yeah.
TODD: What's your situation at home? Does your family need to survive?
GEORGE: Oh, yes, sir, yes, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Gas prices rose 46 cents the week after hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. It stayed high for two months. Today, the average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.15. Analysts say that kind spike is a worst case scenario. What we saw in Katrina would be a worst a case scenario.
JARRETT: More ahead for you this morning on the effort to get hundreds of thousands out of Afghanistan. Among those who helped, volunteer flight attendants, some with a deep personal connection to the hardship. That's next.
ROMANS: Thousands of Afghan refugees are now in the U.S. next chapter of their story started after they stepped off planes at Dulles Airport outside Washington.
CNN's Pete Muntean talked to flight attendants had a firsthand look at history.
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, this is where thousands of Afghan refugees are arriving in the U.S. for the first time on commercial airlines just like you and I fly on, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines all say that they will keep operating these special missions.
These planes are filled to the brim with the essentials, not only meals but also baby formula, diapers, wipes. Also volunteer employees who have risen to the occasion for this job. Thousands of them for United Airlines alone volunteered to do this. They are flight attendants who scrambled to learn a little Farsi, they're volunteer medics, even pilots who fled Afghanistan during previous wars.
United Airlines says that it has brought about 4,000 Afghan refugees into the U.S. on its flights, about 400 refugees per plane. And many of them are traveling with just the clothes on their backs. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This was unlike any other. These were people who
had stories of what they left behind, the people they left behind, the uncertainty where they were going. There were a lot of language barriers so the communication was more, you know, unfortunately not with the face because we have masks but with the eyes just trying to give people comfort and, you know, a friendly face take care of them to not make them so apprehensive as to what was waiting for them once they arrived.
MUNTEAN: United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby came here to Dulles to thank the employees who have been involved in these special missions. He said this is very important to the refugees arriving here in the U.S. and he call this is their Ellis Island -- Christine, Laura.
All right. Pete Muntean, thank you so much for that.
JARRETT: Thanks, Pete.
Still ahead for you, after 20 years of fighting, the U.S. leaves Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban. What it all means for the future of both countries' national security and the Americans left behind?
JARRETT: This morning, thousands of people are doing everything they can to get out of South Lake Tahoe, California. A mandatory evacuation order has been issued because of the fast moving Caldor Fire.
Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency and traffic was gridlocked Monday as people fled.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully, there's going to be a home to come back to. If there was ever a fire around here, it's going to be bad and sure enough, it's -- it's not good right now.
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JARRETT: Barton Memorial Hospital was forced to evacuate all of its patients and the U.S. Forest Service says all national parks throughout California are now closed starting today through September 17th.