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U.S. Military Evacuation Flights Paused; Soon: Biden Addresses Afghanistan Collapse; U.S. Pauses Afghanistan Evacuation Flights as Processing Facility Nears Capacity; Soon: Biden to Speak on Kabul Evacuations; Over 1M Vaccines Administered Thursday, Highest Since Early July. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 20, 2021 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington a very busy consequential news day, agony in Kabul. Desperate Afghan parents are begging American soldiers to literally take their children.

Next hour, the President of the United States addresses this crisis. Plus, a glimmer of COVID hope 1 million Americans got a vaccine shot Thursday, but intensive care units around the country are filled to the brim with COVID sick.

And a bit later, a close look at the conservative talk radio host who wants to be California's next Governor, what he believes about women about climate change and his flip flop on the big lie.

We begin the hour though with Breaking News the United States now searching for new locations to land military evacuation flights leaving Afghanistan. Qatar, where most Afghans are being brought right now is nearing capacity. And there is still a massive crush of people who need to get out and they're waiting.

CNN's Clarissa Ward has been at the field Hamid Karzai Airfield and says not one flight, not one has left Kabul in the last 8 hours. Let's get to CNN's Kylie Atwood with this breaking news. Kylie needs some place to go where?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the U.S. is pretty urgently examining other locations that they can fly out these evacuation flights because most of them have been going to Qatar, they are now close to capacity there.

So they're looking at other locations, including in Europe, including potentially Germany for these flights to go. What this tells us is that capacity is hampering these evacuations. You can't get these people out if these flights have nowhere to go of course telling that on the ground Clarissa Ward hasn't seen any flight takeoff from the Kabul airport in the last 8 hours.

Now, one thing complicating this is the fact that the U.S. was in discussions with multiple countries to relocate Afghan SIVs that's just one group of these Afghans that they're now going to be flying out of the country because it's not just the folks who applied for those special visas but there are also other groups of Afghans that are flying out so that is complicating things because they have to go back to those countries and discuss some of the nitty-gritty as a crisis is unfolding, John.

KING: And Kiley, to this point. They're doing this after the fact as opposed to knowing the number of Afghans that would need to be evacuated. If Qatar has a capacity of 8000 you knew you're going to need another more locations, right?

ATWOOD: Yes, I mean, they definitely were in active discussions with a lot of these countries over the last few months. But none of them solidified were fortified. And that is the problem that they're facing right now.

We know that some of these flights are going to Kuwait as well. But clearly not enough of these flights are getting out of that airport.

KING: Kylie Atwood at the State Department. I appreciate the hustle on the breaking news. The president will offer his take on the crisis most likely to address this issue as well next hour from the East Room in the White House.

The pace of the American exit quicken Thursday, 3000 people were evacuated from Kabul's Airport, but outside the perimeter, you see the pictures, disarray, a tangle of humanity all pushing toward the airport gates through a near constant pulse of gunfire. Inside long lines in the hot sun, children sleeping on gravel, and what you just might call bureaucratic cruelty.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): When you see the few people that come in, and oh, I've started the application, but it hasn't been finished yet. And you see them being escorted back out through the very gate, that they got rushed in for 7 hours just to get their chance to leave.

So if your paperwork isn't in order, and you don't have a sponsor with you, it is very tough to get to this stage where you're finally on the airfield and ready to go.


KING: We'll keep a track of all these developments globally CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Qatar CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Kaitlan, let's start at the White House. We'll hear from the president in about an hour, obviously a crisis unfolding. What new are we going to hear?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big question is what the president himself says to address the chaos of this because that is a subject John, he has largely avoided over the last week. He's only done one interview on this. And of course, there are a lot of questions about what's underway logistically why it's been over 8 hours since any plane is taken off from that airport. As Clarissa who is actually at the airport has noted of course, there are a lot of complicating factors in this, as Kylie just noted, which is where to send these people?

We knew that the White House has been aware of basically since Saturday that they have very limited third country party options right now. And so they were really working on that over the last several days to try to figure out how to make this happen?

And we are seeing how the White House is monitoring this essentially hour by hour just like we are John because they have just changed President Biden's schedule because after those remarks that he is giving this afternoon. He was initially scheduled to go to Delaware for the weekend.

But the White House has just informed reporters he will not be traveling there this weekend, which is notable in and of itself as they are facing these questions about why they did not move to evacuate people sooner?

We heard the president in his address to us on Monday say that part of that was because they didn't want to trigger the panic that you're seeing now and have this crisis, confidence in the Afghan government when it was still in existence, of course. And that's a line that his top aide echoed earlier today on CNN.


KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Whenever we began a mass evacuation like this, it was going to trigger chaos. It was going to signal that the Afghan government was on in its final legs. It was going to bring people rushing into the airport.



COLLINS: And one big question John about all of this is right now the U.S. is still facing this August 31st deadline. And President Biden has said he would extend it if Americans are still in Afghanistan if needed, he would keep troops there longer.

But they have not formally or officially in any capacity actually extended that deadline, or say whether or not it does specifically apply to those endangered Afghans as well that Clarissa has been showing, you know, lining up outside the airport.

That is something that we've heard today, NATO allies are calling on the U.S. to extend that as well. Whether or not he does though, of course, John remains to be seen.

KING: Kaitlan Collins live at the White House important several hours ahead. Let's get to Nick Paton Walsh, who is right now, in Qatar for us. Nick, you just left Afghanistan. One of the big questions is sort of what is the state of play as we are several days into this?

We keep seeing the pictures at the airport clearly chaos there. But you hear gunfire from time to time. You hear Afghans saying that many of them are hassled at the Taliban checkpoints on the way to that airport.

And then in the pictures we see coming in from around Afghanistan occasional protests, people marching with the Afghan flag the old Afghan flag protesting against the Taliban and some reports of recriminations by the Taliban even though they promised there would be no such thing.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, certainly the situation in Central Kabul is worsening. We've seen the crackdown against protests that people carrying the old, say old Afghan national flag still the Afghan national flag.

We've also heard that a family member of somebody working for the German news agency, Deutsche Avella was in fact killed by the Taliban that news agency themselves reported. So isolated incidents, but the suggestion that possibly that initial week's-worth of bonhomie we saw from the Taliban their desire to look like they were calm in control and not vengeful, may be fraying at the edges.

But obviously the focus is at the airport, we have an extraordinary situation now John, where there is a logjam outside of the airport still in evidence now from videos we've just seen from tonight, hundreds of people cramming, these gates are locked down inside the airport grounds itself.

I've spoken to Afghans who are supposed to be going through, but are actually being held on the outer edges of the airport in secured areas, but not being brought in because the inside of the airport was referred to as a dumpster full of trash.

So obviously, they have a problem with the number of people who are on the airport. And there's Clarissa has been saying they can't get planes off the airport to reduce that backlog, as they begin to have success that isn't going to do anything to slow down the number of people trying to get on the airport.

So they are essentially in lose-lose here where their own ability to move people will in fact probably worsen the conditions outside. To speak to Kylie's reporting about the airbase in Qatar, when I flew in on Wednesday morning, they were already having chaos around them, frankly, seeing the volume put upon them.

Since then, they could have had something in the region of another three to four to 5000, done clear, descending on that base, and therefore they are most likely unable to fit any more. You cannot put people off C17 after 24 hour journey into the 50 degree heat here, way into the hundreds in the baking sunlight and expect them to come out of that well.

So a lot of problems to be fixed here and even if they do begin to fix them, they're likely just to get more Afghans coming to that dangerous airport, John.

KING: Every time you hear new reporting, it adds to the list of problems, list of challenges for the president. Nick Paton Walsh in Qatar for us Kaitlan Collins at the White House, we'll see if the president addresses this.

And as we wait new evidence today, the Biden Administration did receive a clear warning that chaos was coming and that it needed a better plan. Remember, the president told ABC News, "The intelligence community did not say back in June or July that in fact, this was going to collapse like it did" that from the president the other day.

Today proof that American diplomats in Afghanistan meaning Americans' closest to the crisis point, in fact, did warn of a possible collapse. "The Wall Street Journal" breaking news of a classified cable dated July 13th warning of the Taliban's rapid advance and Afghan forces folding as the American forces withdrew.

Joining our conversation, the reporter who broke that story, "The Wall Street Journal" National Security Reporter Vivian Salama, Vivian again, it puts the president's credibility in question. And more importantly, it tells us that those closest to the crisis saw this coming and warned the Secretary of State.

VIVIAN SALAMA, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: John, this is something that we've been asking now for a couple of weeks is who knew what and when did they know it? Obviously, the administration sort of pressing words and saying, well, you know, this cable said that probably Kabul could collapse shortly after the U.S. deadline of withdrawal, which was August 31st.

And so they say, well, we've been saying that all along. But actually the diplomats in this cable, according to my sources had said that it could come at very shortly after the withdrawal deadline. Obviously they were a little bit off because it happened even before that.

But more importantly, John in that cable, they were calling for swift evacuation, saying that they needed to get moving on getting these Afghans who have worked with the U.S. Embassy, as well as with other organizations, including news organizations like yours and mine to get them out beginning on August 1st.


SALAMA: Now the administration says, well, we started doing that before August 1st, and we have been moving kind of, you know, processing those people trying to get them out. But we haven't really seen any significant numbers of Afghans being removed from country until the last few days.

And as Clarissa and our correspondents on the ground are reporting, even that has been mired in chaos, because of the situation on the ground, obviously, Kabul falling last Sunday. And so the situation is just getting harder and harder.

And so a lot of questions now about why did you not start those mass evacuations a month ago, before things were falling apart in Kabul and before things - before the Taliban was getting that close to the city?

The diplomats that resigned the cable, two dozen in total, saying that it was imminent, the Taliban were moving very quickly, the Afghan military was very weak to stop it. And so they were really sending this urgent plea to the White House to the State Department pardon me to say get us out of here quick.

KING: And you see some of the ramifications are what they warned about in that cable playing out right now. When you hear the reporting at the top of the hour, the airbase in Qatar nearing capacity, so no flights had left in at least 8 hours because the United States now scrambling Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Maybe other locations as well places to bring these Afghans that was part of the cable, was it not that we need a better plan? Because when this collapses, it's going to be quickly and then you will get and we see it chaos.

SALAMA: The diplomats that drafted and signed the cable really offering some very detailed recommendations on how to process these people faster get them out and like highly reported, also my own reporting that the administration has been speaking to Columbia about possibly taking 4000 of these Afghans temporarily until they're processed.

Now we see a scramble happening, where to send them what to do with them, how can we process them when the Embassy is sort of on bare bones - functioning on a bare bones capacity? And so now we have to deal with this sort of chaotic situation where you have the Taliban standing right outside the airport for now here that they're not firing at U.S. or at these people.

But that could change anytime. And so a very dangerous situation so long as all of these people are on the ground.

KING: Vivian Salama, a very important reporting. Thank you for sharing it with us and sharing your time we know you'll stay on top of the story. We'll see you soon. I want to remind you remember at the top of the hour, we showed you those photos of the baby being handed to the United States Marine.

The Marine Corps now tells us that baby scene in that video was handed to the Marine and then taken to a medical treatment facility at the Kabul Airport cared for by medical professionals. This comes of course, President Biden facing a test of judgment and credibility. That's up next for us, the president's test as the chaos continues in Afghanistan.



KING: Important breaking news this hour, the United States now scrambling to find new places to fly Afghans who have been processed and are ready to go as Qatar, where most of those Afghans have been brought so far nears capacity Clarissa Ward reporting for us from the frontline that no flights no evacuation flights have left Kabul in the last 8 hours.

And in just minutes President Biden will deliver an update on what his public schedule today refers to as the, "Evolving situation in Afghanistan". With me to share their reporting and their insights Olivier Knox of "The Washington Post" Sabrina Siddiqui of "The Wall Street Journal" and CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us at the White House.

Kaitlan, let's start there. This news that the United States is now looking to use Ramstein Air Base in Germany and then perhaps other locations around the world. That's part of diplomacy on the president's part to try to alleviate this crisis, find me new places to send these Afghans.

COLLINS: Yes, and that's why the coordination with other world leaders has been such a big focus this week and why it kind of had raised some questions why it took a little bit before President Biden was actually on the phone with other foreign counterparts.

I don't think his first one was until Monday evening, actually Tuesday evening, excuse me with the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. But this is what the White House says they are focused on right now, instead of looking back, as you've seen some critics of the White House even some democratic allies of this White House, talking about how this was carried out?

They're focused on trying to get this done and get everyone out of there in a safe way because so far, they have been working, of course, with the Taliban to facilitate passage to the airport. That obviously is a precarious situation, because they are counting on the goodwill of the Taliban, to let people through who are in essence, fleeing the Taliban.

And so I think a lot of this, obviously, is a massive logistical undertaking. And that is something that White House officials have stressed behind the scenes of just how chaotic it is to get everyone on planes and get everyone out.

And that has been really obviously the focus of the president's briefings on this and how he's been telling people. He doesn't want any of these planes leaving Kabul to have empty seats on them. But the issue also appears to be not only once those planes take off, which is where they are going. And so that is a big issue that the White House is focusing on dealing with at the moment.

KING: Normally, the president's time would be valuable time as in - the president doesn't come out to give you the routine update. To give you the numbers, the president comes out when the administration has something to say.

Do we have any indication that they have something new to say, either about we have found these locations or we have streamlined this visa process that these Afghans who heroically served with Americans with NATO forces with other Western organizations say it's so bureaucratic, it's leaving them at life's risk? SABRINA SIDDIQUI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, the White House has been very tight lipped about what exactly the president is going to say today. But they do say they are singularly focused on evacuations.

And a big question is whether you'll hear the president make more of a case about the moral obligation that the United States has to take in more Afghan allies and their families that has been something that has been missing, frankly, from his remarks so far.


SIDDIQUI: Also, you know, there are a lot of questions about how many people may be left behind? You know, a White House official says that in the last 24 hours, there have been about a dozen C17s containing more than 2000 people that have taken off as CNN's Clarissa Ward points out, no flights have taken off in the last 8 hours.

So, you know, the president is committed to keeping troops there as long as needed to get Americans out. But, you know, he - it's kind of leaves the door open to potentially leaving Afghan allies behind and that's something that I think we'll see if he addresses more clearly today.

KING: What are the - what are the big questions for the president? You see, number one, you know, can you find a way to streamline this application process that is just cruel; it's frankly, bureaucratic cruelty? Number two, can you do this all out of the Kabul Airport?

There are some people saying you need to either retake the Bagram Air Force Base, or do something else, to have a second processing facility, the second airlift capacity, what else?

OLIVIER KNOX, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the big one for me is weather and how you get Americans from all over Afghanistan to Hamid Karzai International Airport? That's a big question. We saw a big source of criticism from Democrats and Republicans on the Hill saying, you know, I've got constituents in far flung places, even in Kabul with a challenge.

But people who are outside of Kabul or parts of Kabul that are not safe, how do they get to the point of evacuation? One of the repeated messages from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul operating out of the airport is that they can't guarantee safe passage.

So one of the lines of criticism has been, look, why are the French the Brits and the Germans able to go into Kabul and get their citizens and get them to the airport and we are not? And the line from the Pentagon is no, we don't have - we don't have the-

Well, the real one has been that we don't have the authority to do this yet. But that's a really, really big question. The other one, I think has to do - I think you're right about the Afghan interpreters and other helpers. The other question has to do with the deadline, the August 31st deadline? Obviously, he's staked out a public position that that will not hold if there were still Americans in Kabul, in Afghanistan. But there's real questions of how many Americans are in Afghanistan?

People don't - Americans don't always register with the consulate when they enter, they almost never de register with the consulate when they leave. And so there's a real question of how many Americans are still there. And that's part of it.

Let's just listen. Several administration officials said again, you cut them some slack, because this is chaotic. And to the point Olivier makes not everybody checks the ledger, if you will. But you're evacuating all Americans, one way to do that to know you're done, you have to know the number.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many Americans, American citizens remain in Afghanistan?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. government doesn't actually know the precise answer to that question.

BEDINGFIELD: We don't have a precise number. So what we're doing is working to identify how many Americans are there?


KING: It's part of the challenge, Kaitlan Collins, and again, because you have chaos unfolding, it's a much more difficult challenge than it could have been, or some would say should have been.

COLLINS: It is. But it also raises the question of how do you know when this mission is over, that you can't have U.S. troops all leave if you don't know that you've gotten all the Americans who are in Afghanistan out?

And one thing the White House has said repeatedly and this is true is that they have warned for months that Americans who were in Afghanistan needed to leave because they could not secure safe passage for them. And that is a warning that went out.

But of course, that was when the situation was very different. And the president was saying publicly that he thought it was highly unlikely the Taliban was going to be able to take over and be running everything.

And so this is an issue and Jake Sullivan, the National Security Adviser actually explained it well, I thought yesterday by saying that when you're an American and you go to Afghanistan, you have to register with the Embassy, but they don't always de register when they're leaving. So it's unclear the roles. And this is something that I know other nations have struggled with, as well as figuring out how many of their citizens are exactly there? And of course, that's a big headache adding to a much bigger headache of trying to get these evacuations underway.

KING: Now, a long list of questions for the president at the top of the hour, we covered some of them here. We'll see what we get to? I appreciate everybody coming in up next to us - next for us. Excuse me, the COVID crisis back to school for some quickly means back to COVID quarantine and hospitalizations of children get this with COVID now at an all-time high.



KING: There is one somewhat encouraging data point in the latest COVID numbers, but most of them sadly, are bleak and on troubling trajectories. Let's take a closer look. And this is - this is the one bright spot if you want to call it that new vaccine doses administered to Americans two times higher than just a month ago.

You see right here Thursday more than a million doses right. The administration says it wants to keep it above a million we will see if they can as that plays out? Americans initiating vaccinations nearly four times higher than one month ago again, the public health pros will tell you it's still too low.

But a month ago 157,000 Americans on average initiating their vaccinations up Thursday, the average is above a half million 562,000. So those are positive data points or at least data points heading in the right direction.

If you think about it this way when vaccines became available, first responders people in nursing homes, then as they became more available the public you see the people who are very eager to get a vaccination, then you start seeing the numbers go down.

This is vaccine hesitancy. Here's where we are in August. Let's see if that number can be boosted up, boosted up because of this. The case trend is going up at a dangerous level. And at that point, let's bring in to share his insights and expertise Dr. Carlos del Rio Executive Associate Dean at the Emory University School of Medicine at Grady Health System, Dr. Del Rio thank you for your time today.

The vaccination numbers are more positive after a bleak stretch they're getting a little bit better. The question is too late in many ways in the case - in the sense that as of yesterday 141,000, 141,000 new infections a day is the average one month ago it was at 35,000.