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Afghanistan Falls To Taliban, U.S. Races To Evacuate; NIH Director: "Kids Are Very Seriously At Risk"; Collapse Of Afghanistan Raises Concerns About Terror Threat. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 16, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: None whatsoever, zero. They're not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There's going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the -- of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable,.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Not at all comparable. With me to share their experience and their insights, Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, the Washington Post's Olivier Knox, and Vivian Salama of The Wall Street Journal. Let me add one more historical comparison. There just a few moments ago, I spoke with Leon Panetta, that's pretty unique resume in American government, the Defense Secretary, the CIA Director, White House Chief of Staff, also a budget director and a congressman, he compared it to this.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think of John Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs. You know, it unfolded quickly, and the President thought that everything would be fine. And that was not the case. But President Kennedy took responsibility for what took place. And I strongly recommend to President Biden that he take responsibility, admit the mistakes that were made.


KING: How serious, Susan, is the President's challenge this afternoon in the sense that he needs to tell the American people what's happening, he also has that credibility and a judgment question here?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Absolutely. John, I think this is no question the toughest week of his presidency. So far, it was something that not only was he and his top staff not prepared for. But they have not leveled I think yet with the American people about what their expectations were. You know, we're seeing these clips playing over and over again in a loop. But the bottom line is that on July 8th, Joe Biden said it was highly unlikely and really not going to happen that the Taliban would sweep across the country, and do exactly what they just did. So either Joe Biden was dangerously misinformed, to the point of being reckless and naive, or he wasn't leveling with the American people. Either way, that causes an enormous problem for his presidency. And by the way, this tragedy is still unfolding for millions of Afghan people who will now be living with the consequences of our actions.

KING: Right. So he has the American people to speak to today. But to Susan's point, if you're an Afghan woman, if you're an NGO, or one of the organizations that went in there trying to build an education system, you now have like that, the Taliban of the dark ages back in charge of Afghanistan.

VIVIAN SALAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And it was inevitable, because the Taliban has been gaining strength. And we've known for almost two decades that the Afghan military was not kind of gaining the capacity needed to take on this challenge of defending the country, securing it, and kind of maintaining the status quo going forward.

We knew that the administration knew that. And there's unfortunately, a contradiction in their talking points at the moment, because on the one hand, they're saying, we knew this was inevitable, maybe we didn't know how fast it was going to happen. But we knew the possibility of things getting really bad.

On the other hand, they're saying we are still committed to the Afghan government and the Afghan people, we will still continue to support them. The two don't align right now. Because unfortunately, on the ground in Afghanistan, we're seeing a very dire humanitarian situation that will only get worse by over time. And so the administration needs to own up to that and find a way forward to really secure that.

KING: Right. And that raises a critical point, Olivier in the sense that there's plenty of blame here to go around. President Trump didn't say we would get out and he set a deadline. And the Biden administration says they didn't make a plan to get out. The Taliban, billions of dollars spent to train them, they did not fight. But when you hear the Biden team now say, oh, it's Trump's fault, or it's the Afghans fault, they have access to all that intelligence. They could have said, they could have demanded the Taliban. We need six more months. Trump didn't leave us a plan. We need six more months, but they didn't. This is theirs.

OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. So when I watched the President make those remarks and when he was proven so spectacularly wrong, like I think it was this is now puts Joe Biden in that grand bipartisan tradition of feeding the American people a load of B.S. about the situation in Afghanistan.

It's not just Donald Trump. It's not just Joe Biden. We also had Barack Obama talking about how great the Afghan security forces were, how they were in charge, how they were leading all the operations. And prior to that, we had George W. Bush making similar claims. So this is a -- the reason this isn't a bay of pigs, the bay of pigs didn't take 20 years, right? This has been a slow morning -- to Vivian's point, the latest push by the Taliban is about 18 months old, when they started going to local leaders, going to local warlords and paying them off well before this final push. And the fact, we would be caught so completely by surprise, is very shocking. I think that's part of what Joe Biden has to explain.

I'm sure he's going to come out and be unapologetic about the policy writ large. And then he's going to explain both the execution over the last week and why he said what he said.

KING: Is this a one off, forgive the term. But is this about Joe Biden and Afghanistan or the United States and Afghanistan? Or is this a moment, there are a lot of bad actors in the world who see an American president maybe back on his heels a little bit, you know, should the eyes be looking around the world for some sort of a domino effect?

GLASSER: Well, the bottom line is if you want to understand how the world's bad actors are looking at this, you could do no better than look at the Chinese propaganda today. It's -- there's a lot of shot in Florida. You know, there's a lot of self-satisfaction at the idea that the Americans are being humiliated here. I think we'll see the same thing on Russian T.V. There's a credibility issue although of course, this is really a continuation.


I mean, John, for the last few years during the Trump era, what I heard consistently from foreign diplomats and officials was, you know, is Trump a one off? Or is Trumpism here to stay as American retreat here to stay? And I think that this idea of a superpower not just humiliated, but its credibility shredded, its competence and basic ability to tell the truth really has called into question. I think people who argue that Biden was really going to be a continuation of Trump, who was a continuation of Obama in terms of pulling the United States back, they're going to have a lot of support for that argument after this.

KING: It'd be fascinating to hear from the President a bit later today, grateful for all the insights and events for that Susan, Olivier, and Vivian, thank you very much.

Ahead for us, the Delta surge accelerates, more and more children now with COVID landing in the ICU.



KING: Some new data on the coronavirus crisis just in from the drug maker, Pfizer. The company says its booster shot works well against the original virus and the Delta strain behind the current surge in cases. Let's bring in to share her expertise and insights, Dr. Leana Wen, she's a CNN medical analyst and the former city of Baltimore Health Commissioner. Dr. Wen, what is the importance of this? We know Pfizer has been

recommending the booster shot. So part of this is a private business saying hey, our drug works. But in the middle of this case surge, how significant is it?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I actually don't think that there was a question that a booster dose would be effective against the Delta variant. I think the bigger question is, with the existing immunity that people already have from two doses of the vaccine, how much does that protect them?

And what is the added value of the booster dose as in, is this just protecting people a little bit more against symptomatic infection or are we getting waning immunity enough and with the Delta variant that need this additional booster to keep people out of hospitals?

I think that is the nuance that we're currently missing right now. Israel, Germany, the U.K., they are currently saying go ahead and get the booster dose because they clearly think that their data show there is enough of the benefit of the booster. We have not seen the U.S. data and that's really important for us.

KING: It is important and well watch for it. Let me just go through some of the cases, the case counts as we look number one, just this map. It's horrific. Ninety-nine percent of the population right now lives in communities with their high, that's the red or substantial coronavirus transmissions, which is why the CDC says even if you're vaccinated, you should put on a mask when you go indoors because of the threat.

The case count, look at the steepness of where we're going and make this comparison, 131,000 cases on average right now, two weeks ago, it was 80,000 cases. We were last at 130 cases on the way up last November. Look how steeply we went up. In a couple of weeks, we were at 200,000 cases. And Dr. Wen, the hospitalizations as you noted are up as well. On August 1st, it was 50,000 people, now it's 83,000 people.

And I just want to bring up this year to your point in your most recent op-ed piece in "The Washington Post," Dr. Wen, you talk about children going back to school, this collision, if you will, a surge in cases, children back in school, teachers back in school, staff back in school, custodial back in school, when with the Delta variant, the original coronavirus, just like a common cold. If you get sick on average, you infect two people. The Delta variant if you get sick, on average, you infect eight people. What is the challenge right now?

WEN: This is probably the most dangerous time for our children when it comes to the pandemic. And we are now getting our children back for in person instruction, which is essential and we need to make this happen. But we also have to think about how we can do this safely. And I think that's why so many of us in public health are so frustrated that there is still an argument about masking. Why wouldn't we want every single tool at our disposal to help to keep our children safe at this point? I mean, we wouldn't imagine bringing together 20, 30 unvaccinated adults, putting them in a single room together the entire day and have them not wear masks. Why would we say that, that's OK for our children? I mean, it's possible for us to get our kids back in school safely and to keep our schools open but masking and testing and ventilation, all these are important steps that we should use them all because that's really what it's about protecting our kids.

KING: You mentioned earlier about how important it is to follow the data. What more do we know? I saw Dr. Collins on T.V. over the weekend saying more children are now ending up in ICU. Is that just because more adults are vaccinated? Or is it because the Delta strain in particular is hurting children more?

WEN: I don't think we know the answer to this. We definitely know that the unvaccinated are at much higher risk because the Delta variant is so contagious and because children constitute a higher proportion of the unvaccinated. Thankfully our older adults are vaccinated but our children are among the unvaccinated. So it's not surprising that we're seeing an increase in cases among children.

There are some data to that suggests that people who get the Delta variant become more ill. And that may also explain why children are becoming more ill. And I mean more than 200 children are being hospitalized every single day across the U.S. And this is only increasing which is very concerning.

KING: A very concerning to say the least. Dr. Wen, as always grateful for your time and your expertise, we'll continue the conversation.


Up next for us, though back to the breaking news in Afghanistan, including an alarming warning from America's top general about the possibility of an al-Qaeda comeback


KING: The stunning fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban now raising a number of alarms about what comes next. Human rights activists already report Taliban abuses and warn of the deterioration in civil liberties especially for Afghan women and girls.

And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told members of Congress this weekend, the pace of the Taliban route could bring a resurges of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda more quickly than the Pentagon had believed possible. Let's get some perspective now from Anthony Cordesman. He's the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, grateful for your time today, Sir.


Well, let's start with General Milley telling members of Congress over the weekend that it is possible that al-Qaeda or some al-Qaeda like group could find safe haven and Afghanistan and reconstitute strength much more quickly than the Pentagon had originally thought. What does that mean 20 years after 9/11 in the sense that al-Qaeda today is not what al-Qaeda was then. But what is possible? What's the worry?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think the primary worry is really outside Afghanistan. We're not talking about one place and one movement. We're seeing other terrorist groups in many parts of the world, particularly the Middle East and North Africa, and focusing on Afghanistan as the terrorist threat ignoring Iraq, Lebanon, all of the other areas frankly, misstates the problem. Do we face a threat from terrorism that won't go away? Yes, on a global level.

KING: Let's go inside Afghanistan now. I was reading some notes you wrote about this earlier about why or at least where to go? You believe it was a strategic mistake for this President and his predecessor to put a date and then not demand clear metrics from the Taliban. If you're going to have a date for the U.S. withdrawal, that neither President and is this President Biden's the one who pulled out didn't get anything for that?

CORDESMAN: We had a much broader problem. We never had a peace plan. We never knew what our end state was, or even our goal. We've never indicated that we really had asked the Afghan government or the Taliban to agree on some workable solution. And when you have some 40 million people involved, and you have absolutely no plan for what happens next, saying you have a peace process is almost nonsense.

KING: There have been for years, we were talking about this before we went on the air, I've talked to people have been on the ground in Afghanistan, contractors, military people, they've been reports to Congress, essentially saying that for all the money spent, and for all the time spent trying to train an Afghan military force, only a tiny percentage of it was willing and ready to fight.

The President of the United States he's going to address the American people in a couple hours, he kept saying they were ready. There were 300,000. We can leave now, they will fight. It was -- is that naive? Is that misleading the American people? Is it ignoring the intelligence? What is it?

CORDESMAN: Well, you have to wonder what the President was told. Because out of that 300,000, some 60 percent were police, which really couldn't fight at all. You had about a 25 percent turnover in the army, which means a large part was inexperienced and untrained. And out of the rest, you had a few actual combat units, all of which were dependent on contractors, which were not Afghan on air support and forward advisors, which had been withdrawn in part even under the Trump administration.

So to say that they were combat ready, you have to wonder who on earth had ever given that briefing? Because certainly no one I know of in Afghanistan, would have believed it.

KING: One of the challenges now is like it or not the Taliban run Afghanistan. And so when you're trying to negotiate through diplomacy with the Taliban, I saw in your writings, you believe they have all the cards, do you believe it is possible, whether economic relations, military threats, what is the way to get the Taliban to say, OK, your country now, we don't like it. These are some lines, you must not cross and here's what we're willing to give you to keep you on the side of them.

CORDESMAN: Well, the question is whether you can use aid as leverage and whether the Taliban care, and whether you can compromise in using that aid on so many American principles.

But what we need to be careful about is blaming the Taliban, for a country that already is in a massive economic crisis, where the poverty rate has doubled over the last five years, where the population increase is far beyond the level of the economy, and where 80 percent of the government's income came from outside donors. This isn't a matter of simply have a Taliban failed state. It's a matter of the Taliban taking over a failed state.

KING: Very important perspective Tony Cordesman, grateful for your time, Sir, appreciate it very much.

CORDESMAN: Thank you.


KING: When we come back, a devastating earthquake hits Haiti, yes, more sad news, now the country preparing for a tropical depression that could cause even more damage.


KING: Some more sad and devastating news out of Haiti today, a tropical depression now bearing down on the island complicating recovery efforts from this weekend's 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Even further, heavy rain and flash flooding now worried.

The death toll from the quake now nearly 1,300 people and at least 5,000 more are injured. Hospitals are overwhelmed in tens of thousands, tens of thousands of buildings and homes have been destroyed. This weekend's quake comes of course as the country still reeling from the assassination of its president just weeks ago.


Thanks for joining us today in a very busy, very sober inside politics obviously. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere. Busy News Day, Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day.