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Deadly Firefight at Kabul Airport, No U.S. Casualty; FDA Expected to Fully Approve Pfizer Vaccine as Early as Today; Trump Allies Now Denounce His Taliban Deal. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2021 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: At this point, we are told no Americans were injured in the gunfire. And then this just in, a Taliban spokesman telling CNN that all U.S. forces must leave Afghanistan by the end of the month after President Biden said he's considering extending the Afghan withdrawal deadline.

Also new this morning, I obtained some letters from the Taliban sent to the brother of an Afghan translator who worked with U.S. troops. In one, the brother is told that he has been sentenced to death in absentia and cannot appeal the verdict.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: All this very important reporting, very pertinent developments. We'll get to all of them.

At this point, we believe about 13,000 people remain at the Kabul airport. That, too, a brand new update. We'll get some information on that. Those 13,000 are waiting, hoping to be evacuated. 33 U.S. military transport jets are expected to arrive at the airport in the next 24 hours, each has the capacity, we're told, to take 400 passengers out.

A source tells CNN the United States, though, is changing its policy on who will be admitted into the airport. From today on, only U.S. citizens, green card holders and citizens of NATO countries will be allowed past the airport gates. This is a big change. Applicants and those who already have been approved in the special immigrant visa program, which gives Afghans who worked with the U.S. a way out of the country, as of now, it seems like they will not be allowed into the airport.

CNN's Sam Kiley is inside the airport at Kabul and joins us now on the phone. Sam, a whole ton of new information there, but let's start with this fire fight overnight, first. What happened?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): So, our understanding from the German authorities is that an unknown sniper opened fire killing one Afghan National Army soldier. These are predominantly Afghan Special Forces still working alongside the coalition, if you like, as their face to face very often with the Taliban. There's no suggestion that this was a Taliban sniper. In all probability, the suspicion is it could be the so-called Islamic State.

But following that, the Afghans opened fire back on his or her location, and as a consequence of that, there was a friendly fire incident possibly involving U.S. Marines for Germans in which four Afghan soldiers were injured. They are currently in the Norwegian hospital here on the air base in intensive care being treated by a combination of doctors from around the coalition.

Now, this really reflecting just how intense things are but also the first known attack on the coalition and their allies here at the airport.

KEILAR: And, Sam, I mean, this is -- there's been a threat of ISIS, an acute threat, as the national security adviser told us yesterday. Tell us about what it means. We saw so many people in those pictures who, no doubt, are -- some of them are special immigrant visa holders or applicants. These are folks who helped the U.S. troops during the war. What do you make of this news that they are not being allowed in at this point?

KILEY (voice over): Well, we're still seeking confirmation and clarity on the exact status of people entering the Kabul international airport, particularly with regards to those elements caused SIVs, the people who, as you know, been helping the U.S. forces and other coalition forces and other elements in the past. At the moment, I can tell you all of the gates are closed anywhere and there's no admissions at all into the airport, as they've been trying to clear a backlog of many thousands, crept all the way up to 20,000.

They're now understanding that they're moving people out and seen it with our own eyes really pretty rapidly. And this, of course, following a crush of two days ago, about seven people were killed at the only camp where people are being admitted, which is the British camp controlled by the air assault brigade where there's many, many hundreds of people cleared by the various nations that are going to evacuate them but they're not yet cleared to come on to the airfield because of the backlog of people here on the airfield.

So, at the moment, at any rate, whatever the paperwork of people on the outside, except in very exceptional circumstances, they're simply not getting in any way.

KEILAR: All right, Sam. Thank you so much for being our eyes and ears there on the ground at the Kabul airport. We'll be checking back in with you throughout the show.

BERMAN: I'm going to quote Brianna Keilar to me about this paperwork process right now happening in that country. It's like trying to fill out an application for a home mortgage during a hurricane outdoors.


Imagine the paperwork being hold up right now to get through, and even if you do it right at this point, it doesn't seem like you can get through that gate. KEILAR: That's right. All the places -- a lot of the places that they need, some of the confirmation they need, paperwork from, they're closed. Contractors might no longer be operating. They might be defunct. They might have fled the country themselves or be in another country and it's really impossible for a lot of people who are legally eligible to come to the U.S. to get everything together that they need. There's a lot of people in the U.S. trying to help them with that but, obviously, people are falling through the cracks, Berman.

BERMAN: So, we just heard from Sam Kiley inside the airport at Kabul. One of the places where these planes are going is Doha in Qatar, and that's where we find CNN's Nick Paton Walsh there. And, Nick, I understand you have got some news for us this morning.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. I have to say it appears to have been quite extraordinary 24-hour period of air lift off that airport. According to source familiar with the situation, there are now just 13,000 people still there, a drop from about 20,000 24 hours ago. I was told getting through 33 flights, as you reported earlier, not quite clear where they are in that procedure, but that will be something in the region of about 10,000 people, a few more having come on, which is utterly startling, very impressive, if that is indeed certainly the case.

Now, in terms of the SIV applications you were referring to, my understanding is, as of today, their focus was on U.S. citizens. And, practically, it was impossible for SIV applicants to get on because, as Sam was saying, the gates have been shut for 24, 48 hours. A couple may have sneaked in through unofficial routes. It's a bit mess there. There are holes in the fence, there are people doing favors for each other.

The hope, my understanding, is a lot of these 13,000 who remain are Afghans, some of whom not there entirely officially part of this unofficial who do you know what can you do situation we have been seeing over the past few days. Once they appear to processed these people, and they are doing a phenomenal job, it seemed, at this point, shifting people out, then understood that they will hope to try and get some SIV applicants in.

I should be cautious though because we don't want to start some sort of rush for those thousands of SIV applicants in Kabul who still want to make it on the airport. The situation is increasingly precarious. I understand the Taliban are providing document filtration and access checkpoints to the airport and the clock is certainly ticking. We are looking at probably a week until this deadline during, which they still have to pull off 6,000 American troops as well as whoever they want to evacuate to.

But, here is where we are at the moment.


WALSH (voice over): In Kabul, the desperate race to escape is growing more dangerous by the minute. A source close to the situation says nearly 20,000 people remain at the airport attempting to board flights to leave, just over a week after the Taliban takeover of the city, military planes on runways preparing takeoff with evacuees on board.

CNN's Sam Kiley spoke to a member of this group leaving for Qatar.

KILEY: You're about to leave. What is going through your mind and your heart at the moment?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Actually, I told this many times, that right now I have a mixed feeling being a journalist myself probably I'm lucky enough to leave because of a lot of traits that exist here, but I'm also leaving a family, a whole family behind. That's a lot of friends behind. And also most importantly my city, Kabul, that I've been raised and born here.

WALSH: The U.S. and its allies evacuating about 5,100 people on Sunday. A White House official says the United States has evacuated or facilitated the evacuation of more than 30,000 people from the Kabul airport. The Pentagon is calling on commercial airlines to help with the operation. 18 planes will transport people from transit locations, like Germany, to the United States. But for the thousands still at the airport, conditions are become deadly.

At least 20 people are believed to have died in the chaos outside the airport in the last week, including seven Afghan civilians on Saturday, according to the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense. Now, U.S. officials fear terror group ISIS-K could carry out an attack at the airport.

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.

WALSH: At the White House, President Biden noting the rising challenges to the evacuation.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: These troops and civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K from a distance, even though we're moving back the perimeter significantly. We're working hard and as fast as we can to get people out.

WALSH: Biden saying he may need to push back his August the 31st deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan.


BIDEN: Our hope is we will not have to extend, but there are going to be discussions.

WALSH: Meanwhile in Kabul, the U.S. aiming to evacuate 5,000 a day. And for many on board those military planes, it's a departure filled with conflicting emotions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's really it's -- it seems that I'm just picking one piece of my soul but leaving a lot of pieces just back at home. So, it's really strange. I don't know how to describe this. Am I happy? Am I sad? With this government, with these new rulers, I'm sure they will not leave us any space to be here. KILEY: That must break your heart?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, certainly. That has already broken. But that's the reality.


BERMAN: So, back with Nick Paton Walsh. And, Nick, our Washington team, Betsy Klein and Kylie Atwood, did just get confirmation from a U.S. official 10,400 people flown out of the airport in Kabul over the last 24 hours, 10,400. That's a very big number. They'll have to keep it that high for several days because of the other breaking news. It is. It is a very big number out of anywhere to evacuate that many people in one day.

The new problem, though, Nick, is the Taliban just put out a statement a few minutes ago saying they don't -- they're not in favor at all of extending the August 31st deadline. They see August 31st as the date when U.S. troops need to leave. How does that complicate things?

WALSH: Yes. I mean, look, I would be very surprised at this stage if the U.S., given how precarious that situation is, decided to roll the dice and stay past the 31st of August. Joe Biden has always -- President Joe Biden always wanted to be out. The problem, too, is the United States will now be the victims of their own success because that 10,000 figure is extraordinary. I mean, and it is also possible they could repeat it if they seem to have this logistical chain sorted out and the problems they had down the pipeline where they didn't have space on the basis to put these people when they were flown out of Afghanistan. That appears to have been rectified as well.

So, it is phenomenal operation, make no doubt about it with those numbers, absolutely extraordinary. So they appear to still have about 10,000, maybe more Afghans on that base. It isn't quite clear what status their paperwork is. Some of these could be the ones who were sort of obviously smuggled in, but that's unfair through loyalty from other Afghan security force on the base, may have got themselves on and also, too, there a lot of Americans helping get their old friends out as well.

The question is, they can probably move them out at some point in the next 12, 24 hours, what next? How long does this go on for? There are now Taliban manning the checkpoints on the way to the airport. Are people who are potential applicants for special immigrant visas want to go through a Taliban checkpoint to get to the airport? I suspect not. What on earth is going on with the sniper and the gunfire? I mean, I heard gunfire outside the ring when I was there on Tuesday last week. It's a present threat there but nothing quite like this that we've seen.

So, there are constant moving environments, a very strong narrative now from U.S. officials that ISIS is a problem. Well, I mean, I'm sure that is absolutely the case. But also, too, there's certainly a sign here they want to emphasize security issues that they're facing. So, there are certainly tens of thousands of SIV applicants who want to get on the airport. Their journey is very perilous. Does the United States ask the Taliban to let them on? Does the United States make a special corridor for them? And how long does the United States want to go on with this operation?

The important thing to remember, John, the final point is they've got 6,000 troops there and they have to leave. And that's not an easy task. So, they're going to need three, four days to start doing that. When they start doing that, those on the base, around the base will probably panic because they know the window for departing is closing.

And so we are in a situation where this extraordinary success will spark people thinking maybe they could be next in trying to get to the airport if that's indeed possible and in this week timeframe in which, realistically, I think we have three to four days maybe in which they can consider taking more people out until the troops themselves have to think about leaving. But that could change and it seems to change every hour. This 10,000 number of people departing utterly extraordinary, I mean, remarkable work.

BERMAN: Major developments this morning. Nick Paton Walsh, we're lucky to have you put them in perspective, thanks so much for being with us.

KEILAR: Turning now to the helpers, thousands of American soldiers, veterans and former contractors mobilizing to save the lives of Americans and Afghans in Kabul. They have come up with many names to describe these unofficial missions that they are conducting, but one is called Task Force Pineapple, after pineapple was used as a password to rescue an Afghan who helped American forces. The password has since changed, the mission of the group has not.

And joining me to discuss it is retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann. He served as a green beret.


He's an Afghan war veteran and he is a member of Task Force Pineapple.

So, Scott, this is one -- look, there are so many of these groups. I've heard of Digital Dunkirk, Allied Airlift, you have folks with different organizations, Like No One Left Behind, who are spearheading these efforts. You and so many others, you're working the phones night and day, you're using your personal networks to guide Afghans and Americans trapped in the region. Tell us about task Force Pineapple.

LT. COL. SCOTT MANN, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Yes. It started as a small group of special operators, retired and active duty who mobilized to get out one Afghan commando who was in severe duress along with his family. One of the things I want to point out, Brianna, and you probably know this, there's not much talk about our Afghan partners, the special operations forces.

You know, there's this narrative that the Afghan forces quit fighting. They didn't quit fighting. In fact, they mobilized harder than ever. And they were holding the line after their president abandoned them, even after senior leaders in that country left, they kept fighting. And these are people that are going to be summarily executed and terrorized along with their families.

So we came together and formed a public/private partnership and it's happening everywhere to do really what the government is not doing. I know the last report said tens of thousands flown out but there are more in severe duress who are counting us to get them out and we need to do it.

KEILAR: Okay. So, there are so many people. We see them in pictures outside of the airport. And then there are so many more who are holed up in Kabul and outside of Kabul. But you heard the new reporting this morning. It appears that folks who are special immigrant visa holders or they're eligible to be holders, they're eligible to have this relief from the U.S., they're not being allowed now into the airport. What does that mean? And do you worry that they have now been cut off maybe entirely from getting relief?

MANN: I absolutely worry about that. I worry about that as our credibility as a nation. I would implore the Biden administration to reconsider that. There are tens of thousands of combat veterans, U.S. combat veterans right now with a large chunk of the American people behind them saying this is the right thing to do. These people stood up for us. Not just our interpreters but the Afghan Special Operations Forces, women judges, women who worked in the bureaucracy, we made a commitment to get them out. And this is our chance to do the right thing. And I'm telling you, if we don't, Brianna, it's going to haunt us for a very, very long time.

KEILAR: How so? I mean, how -- I've heard that from so many veterans who say, you know, this isn't just about doing the right thing for the past, it also matters for the future. Can you explain that?

MANN: Absolutely. We're developing real nasty precedent in the United States for abandoning indigenous partners when we go to places, the Montagnards in Vietnam, the Kurds in Iraq, this most latest thing with the Afghan people. And the world watches that on two levels, one, look at the overtures that China is starting to make with Taiwan -- the Baltic States on that level.

But also, you know, when another event happens, and we know it will, and we need to work with partner nations, what do you they're going to be thinking about when we leave tens of thousands of people who we committed sitting on an airport or an airplane gate waiting to be executed. I mean, you don't get a relationship mulligan on something like that.

And I just really hope while we're there, the Biden administration will reconsider to push a corridor out, let's get those folks out of there. It can be done and we can switch the momentum if we'll just commit to doing it. There're already private/public partnerships, they're doing amazing work to help with it. This is a chance to bring the American people together in a way that hasn't been done in a very long time and I really believe that's what the American people want.

KEILAR: Yes. Look a lot of planes that went out especially on Saturday were charter flights, right? So, we know there are a lot of efforts by people outside of the military trying to mobilize people even as the military is certainly getting people through the gates here.

Scott, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

So as early as today, that is the administration's timeline for fully approving the Pfizer COVID vaccine. It would be the first vaccine approved by the FDA fully and hopefully bolster vaccination rates across the country, or will it?

Let's talk about this now with Dr. Peter Hotez. He's a professor. He's the dean of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. Peter, do you think that this is going to succeed? We heard people -- it's funny. They say like it's not fully approved so I'm skeptical of it. A lot of times you ask them, okay, well, if it is fully approved, are you then going to get the vaccine? They still say no.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes. That's right. So this is about a dozen disinformation talking points that's being pushed on people. And, you know, so they'll repeat it and say, okay, I'm waiting for full approval.


But it's not clear that that's really going to tip a lot of people to suddenly get vaccinated. I think it will have some impact, but I think on that respect, it's going to be modest. I think the far bigger impact is going to be on mandates. Employer mandates, military mandates, and if these vaccines are approved for 12 and up, then school mandates as well, which is going to be huge because we're just seeing so many schools insist on staying open despite people not having masked or vaccinate and having to shutter and close a week or two afterwards.

I think, Brianna, one of the unknowns is what age groups are we talking about for this approval. There's a little confusion among us whether this will be 16 and up and 12 and up and hopefully we'll get some clarification on that very soon.

BERMAN: We could quickly get those answers within minutes or hours. And, look, I do think this is a big deal in the sense that this is full FDA approval and it will at least check off a talking point that has been ridiculous among some anti-vaxxers.


BERMAN: And that will just go away. We'll have full FDA approval and now they won't be able to say that. And I do think there will be a few people who will say, okay, now I should go. But the idea that more entities will then issue some requirements for the vaccine, it could make a difference. We are seeing vaccination numbers, especially first vaccination doses, go up. Hopefully, we'll see that trend continue and maybe get a big boost as soon as today, Dr. Hotez.

HOTEZ: Yes, that's right. And especially if we can get some school mandates in place, that will be game changing. I think, John, the other piece to this that not many are talking about, this is an extraordinary validation of the work of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They worked so hard last year too when we were such in dire straits. 3,000 Americans were losing their lives every day to roll that vaccine out through emergency use and do everything humanly possible to approximate the full approval process through the EUA and they did it.

And the fact now that we're moving to full approval is an extraordinary statement about how hard people at FDA really work to make this happen. You know, we like to throw stones at our government agencies. This is one time where things went really well.

BERMAN: And I have to say, not a moment too soon, especially where you are, Dr. Hotez, along the gulf coast where these hospitals are all just filling up with COVID patients, almost all of them unvaccinated. Hopefully, this can help turn things around in the next few months. As always, thank you for everything you're doing. Thanks, Dr. Hotez.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

BERMAN: The disaster in Afghanistan, President Biden now dealing with the political fallout. Why are so many Trump officials lining up to blame their former boss? A reality check, next.



BERMAN: So, Joe Biden is the president of the United States, and as he says, that means the buck stops with him on the problems with the Afghanistan pullout. But there is a growing list of people blaming President Trump, including former Trump people. John Avlon with a Reality Check.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Most Americans seem to like the idea of withdrawing from Afghanistan but they don't like the way Joe Biden has done it. That's according to new CBS/YouGov poll. And that delta is a political problem for President Biden, given that his administration is predicated upon the promise of competence and compassion, but it's that humanitarian crisis that should really be driving American opinions.

As a logistical matter, this has been a disaster. It should be clear now that the benefits of a small residual force rather than complete abandonment of Bagram Air Base would have been a far better course. But context is key. And the fact that a growing number of Trump administration alumni are speaking out against Trump's capitulation with the Taliban speaks volumes about how we got here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our secretary of state signed a surrender agreement to the Taliban. This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. I mean, the Taliban didn't defeat us. We defeated ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP) AVLON: A surrender agreement. That's former Trump National Security Adviser and retired Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster slamming the former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, for his negotiations with the Taliban, that inexplicably excluded our Afghan government.

Trump's ex-secretary of defense, Mark Esper, also weighed in on CNN. While rightfully blaming the Biden administration for the botched withdrawal, he did not spare the ex-president.


MARK ESPER, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: President Trump, by continuing to want to withdraw American forces out of Afghanistan, undermined the agreement.

I objected that we not reduce below 4,500 troops unless and until conditions were met by the Taliban. Otherwise, we would see a number of things play out, which are unfolding right now.


AVLON: Which is a reminder that not only was the deal done with the Taliban no good but that Trump was calling for a complete pull out of U.S. troops by last Christmas, which would have been even more abrupt.

Now, one of the areas rightfully inspiring the most grief is the failure to have a streamlined process to save the Afghans who aided our military efforts. And on this front, former Pence aide Olivia Troye fired off a series of tweets accusing Trump adviser Stephen Miller throwing up roadblocks to stop the immigration of Afghan interpreters and their families, quote, there were cabinet meetings about this during the Trump administration where Stephen Miller would pedal his racist hysteria about Iraq and Afghanistan, she tweeted. He and his enablers across government would undermine anyone who worked on solving the SIV issue by devastating the system at DHS and state.

Stephen Miller blamed Biden despite his own clear record of advocating restrictions on immigrants and refugees. Not helped by the fact that articles had long been written about how the Trump administration has dramatically dropped visas for Afghan and Iraqi interpreters.

So, Trump's attempt to score political points in the Biden administration's failure ring more than a little hallow here, like when Trump's former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, tweeted, to have our general say they're depending on diplomacy with the Taliban is an unbelievable scenario. Negotiating with the Taliban is like dealing with the devil. I agree. But Haley's comments would have a lot more credibility if she hadn't vocally backed Taliban negotiations when they were being pushed by her former boss, saying, the U.S. policy in Afghanistan is working. We're seeing that we're closer to talks with the Taliban in the peace process than we have seen before.

Look, from whatever way you look at it, U.S. policy in Afghanistan has not working. And while the collapse finally occurred on Joe Biden's watch, the policy of abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban began under Donald Trump. And that's your reality check. BERMAN: Indeed it is. John Avlon, thank you very much.


KEILAR: I want to bring in Olivia Troye now.