Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

Evacuations Continue at Kabul Airport for Those Fleeing Afghanistan; Taliban Denies Extension of Deadline for All Americans to Leave Afghanistan; FDA May Grant Full Approval to Pfizer Vaccine For COVID-19; Ex-G.O.P. Health Official Sounding Alarm on COVID Threat to Kids; Taliban Issue Death Sentence for Brother of Afghan Translator. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2021 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Claire McNear, as I said, the reporting is terrific. I know a lot of people now waiting for a call, and my phone line continues to be open. If you're not going to call me, call Laura Coates. Do this right finally. Claire McNear, terrific reporting, the book is also wonderful. Thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: NEW DAY continues right now.

Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. It is Monday, August 23rd. And this morning, just a few minutes ago, White House officials confirmed the largest number so far of people evacuated from the airport in Kabul in a 24-hour period. It's a really big number -- 10,400 people, 10,400 airlifted out of Kabul on Sunday by U.S. military aircraft.

Now that, again, is a big number. It will have to continue to meet the clear need that is there. And it has been complicated by a whole slew of other developments. The airport, the scene of a deadly firefight overnight involving U.S., German, and Afghan forces. An Afghan guard helping to secure the base was killed by some kind of fire. Unclear whether it was opponent fire or friendly fire. No Americans were injured in that attack. After President Biden said he is considering extending the Afghan withdrawal deadline now, new this morning, a Taliban spokesman tells CNN that all U.S. forces must leave Afghanistan by the end of the month. They don't want to see any extension.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And that's raising questions about whether Afghan allies, people who helped U.S. troops over the course of the war, are going to be left out in the cold here in the coming days as that potential deadline is nearing.

Also new this morning, I have obtained letters that the Taliban sent to the brother of an Afghan translator who worked with U.S. troops, and in one the Taliban says to the brother that he is sentenced to death in absentia and cannot appeal the verdict. In the meantime, some 13,000 people are remaining at this point at the Kabul airport waiting to be evacuated. There are 33 U.S. military transport jets, we are told, expected to arrive there in the next 24 hours, and each can carry 400 passengers.

Our Sam Kiley is there at the airport in Kabul. He is joining us on the phone. Sam, give us a sense of what it is like there and how this may be changing now that we understand there are some folks who might not be let in going forward.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the first thing to note is this confirmation from the U.S. State Department that, indeed, earlier CNN reporting that the so-called SIVs, the special visas issued to people that have worked alongside the U.S. and other coalition partners, will not be able, at least for the time being, to enter the airfield.

That said, the airfield now has been closed for several days, all the points of access with the exception of one through the British camp has been closed. The British camp, though, is filling up and is unable at the moment to filter people that are heading to other nations through into the airport as the airport authorities have been struggling to bring down a backlog here of 20,000. It's now down to about 13,000. There are no more being added to that number. And that's going to come as a massive, massive blow to the people outside the gates who've been pressing up against the walls. We've seen the most appalling situations occasionally with lots of crowd control among the Taliban particularly who are supposed to be monitoring the security on the outer perimeter. Seven people killed a couple of days ago during the crush. There's been reports of another incident overnight.

But at the same time, clearly, there is now a much more efficient process for getting people out of the country so long as they are in the airfield where I am here at Kabul international airport. But this is all amidst continuing threats from ISIS that have been confirmed by the national security advisor to CNN, but also here on the ground, military very anxious about the potential for a terrorist attack to really stymy what is already an extremely complex process.

BERMAN: Sam, first of all, it's terrific to see your face. I know the reporting conditions there have been difficult at the airport. It's nice to see you there inside the airport grounds. The news that we also have confirmed from White House officials, this enormous number, this 10,400 evacuated in the last 24 hours, what are the implications of that? How many more days do you think that the U.S. and NATO can manage numbers that high?


And how does it play into this real threat, honestly, from the Taliban that the August 31st deadline is real? They want the U.S. out by August 31st.

KILEY: Yes, I think that's a very key interview with CNN, reaffirming the Taliban position that they're not going to give any kind of extension to the U.S. or the coalition to continue these evacuations, which adds to the urgency, but comes at a time when the U.S. is saying they're not going to admit, for the time being, anybody other than green card holders, foreign nationals carrying passports, and of course American citizens carrying passports.

That means that those who don't fall into that category simply cannot get into the airfield. So there's going to be some bitter disappointment. It's conceivable, perhaps, that over the next few days they may reverse that decision. A lot of it, I think, have been informed by this ISIS threat, and also real concern that if there is this 31st August deadline, U.S. nationals could be left behind.

But it's not all misery. This is my report from yesterday about what it's like for people who are going to make it on to a plane.


KILEY: A massive multinational air evacuation is crowding the airspace above Kabul. This Qatari flight is one of many coming to the rescue of thousands. The airplane brings its own security as the airport is now under threat from ISIS terror.

We've landed just a few moments here at Kabul international airport, and clearly the pace of evacuation has been picking up. There are planes leaving pretty regularly now, and large numbers of refugees, of evacuees getting ready to get on those flights. This is a group that are heading into Qatar, where they're hoping then to either stay there or move on.

Qiam, you are about to leave. What is going through your mind and your heart at the moment?

QIAM NOORI, JOURNALIST BEING EVACUATED FROM KABUL: Yes. Actually, I have told this many times. Right now I have a mixed feeling, being a journalist myself, and probably I'm lucky enough to leave because of a lot of choice that exist here. But I'm also leaving a family, a whole family behind, and lot of friends behind.

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?

NOORI: Of course, certainly. That is already broken. But that is reality.

KILEY: Your heart is already broken?

NOORI: Yes, yes. Yes.

KILEY: Good luck.

It's not just the personal tragedies that are so heartbreaking here. It is the tragedy of Afghanistan itself. For 20 years so many millions of people believed that they would receive western support. They believed in the evolution of female education, of the arts, of cinema. They thought they had a future.

Now that future is getting on aircraft and leaving. As one of the evacuees just said to me, Afghanistan is seeing a total brain drain.


KILEY: The consequences of that brain drain here in Afghanistan, of course, will be felt down the line, but also there are a lot of consequences here for the troops involved in this process, who have all found that, according to the Qatar 82nd airborne division I had been speaking to, saying she has been talking to combat veterans who found this among the most traumatic experiences they've had to face, particularly soldiers who had been on the perimeter, seeing people who are not going to make it into the air base and are going to get left behind.

KEILAR: That's right. They are guarding the perimeter, and they are watching people on one side of the line, which is life, and people on the other, which may very well be death. And that is incredibly traumatic to the service members who are serving there.

Sam, I do want to ask you, our colleague Nick Paton Walsh, was pointing out if this August 31st deadline holds, you have to back time from that. We're talking about 5,800 U.S. troops that are there on the ground at the airport. They have to get out. It could take days for them to get out. So then you're looking at back timing from that. And it's really a question then of how many days, maybe only a few for American citizens, green card holders, and it sounds like maybe not even any of these Afghan allies anymore getting out.

KILEY: Yes. I mean, the window is absolutely closing pretty rapidly. It will take at least 48 hours for the coalition forces here, led by the U.S.


But there's 1,000 Brits here, for example. There are Norwegians, all kinds of forces around. There's some question as to whether or not the Turks may stay on to try to help secure the airport for civilian traffic so that others may be able to leave in the future. That will largely depend on the permission of the Taliban and the capability of the Taliban to actually get an international airport up and running where the air traffic controllers themselves have mostly fled.

So there is going to be an extremely difficult process. But you're absolutely right. Nick is absolutely right. There will start to be what they call a collapsing process in the coming days, inevitably in order to make that August 31st deadline, because of the strategic catastrophe that could follow some kind of Taliban attack, or making good on the threat to attack forces here after that day could be absolutely catastrophe, even more catastrophic certainly for the U.S. than the scenes we've seen on the outskirts of the airfield so far. And that has been been bad enough.

KEILAR: The president leaving open a little wiggle room on August 31st, but the Taliban making it clear today, they do not see it that way. Sam Kiley live for us at the airport in Kabul, thank you.

BERMAN: Other major news this morning. A source tells CNN the FDA could grant full approval for Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine as early as today. Till now, the shot has been administered under an emergency use authorization. The approval could help get the vaccine to more people. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. What are we hearing, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, in some ways this doesn't make a difference, right? This was a shot that you and I got that was approved after 40,000 people took it -- or authorized, I should say, given emergency authorize authorization. But we are hearing that approval, full approval is imminent, perhaps even today. What that means is that the FDA has had a longer time to look at safety and efficacy data.

And it's hoped, it is hoped -- I emphasize the word hope, that some people who have not been vaccinated will see the full approval and say, ah, now I feel comfortable taking it. So let's take a look at that advantage and another advantage of having full approval. Again, could be today, could be very soon. So, approval could be imminent. One advantage is that people will say, ah, finally, now I'll take it. I feel much better about this. Another advantage is that schools and businesses might feel more comfortable mandating the vaccine once it has full approval.

Let's take a look at vaccination rates and how that's been going. If you take a look at this on the far right of the screen, you can see vaccination rates are starting to go up. They kind of tanked over the summer, and they have just recently started going up as people get scared by the Delta variant.

Now let's take a look at the folks who have not been vaccinated. About 82 million Americans have still not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine shot. They're eligible, they're 12 and up, but they haven't gotten the shot. That's about 29 percent of Americans. That's a pretty big chunk. Every vaccinated body counts. Every warm vaccinated body counts. And it's really hoped that this approval will work. Probably not going to see a tsunami of people saying now I feel better, it's approved, but everybody counts.

BERMAN: It's one less excuse to not get vaccinated and is a new tool in the arsenal of people looking to get vaccinations out there. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

A former health official for multiple Republican governors is sounding the alarm about a potential increase in child hospitalizations that could overwhelm Tennessee's hospital system and others in the region. He says on Facebook, "Regardless of how individual parents feel, our lives require vaccinations in schools, car seats for infants and toddlers, seatbelts for kids, and we don't let parents decide not to do these things because their freedom is being infringed upon."

Joining us now is Alan Levine, chairman and CEO of Ballad Health in Tennessee. He served as secretary of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals as well as a senior health policy adviser to Florida Governor Jeb Bush. You've been everywhere, in all these hotspots, playing key roles. I want to get what you wrote on Facebook because it's getting a lot of attention. But first, the FDA very possibly granting full approval to the Pfizer vaccine today. How much of a difference do you think that will make?

ALAN LEVINE, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, BALLAD HEALTH: John, good morning. I think Elizabeth is right in what she said. It doesn't change much in terms of the fact that we've had the out there. But now one of the biggest reasons we've heard from people why they don't want to get vaccinated, and certainly in our region less than 40 percent of people are fully vaccinated, is that they're concerned that it wasn't approved by the FDA.

So certainly if the FDA approves it today or this week, we will do everything we can to educate people that it's now fully approved and that they should reconsider whether or not to get vaccinated.

BERMAN: Alan, I read your Facebook post with interest. And again, you have been everywhere down in these states that there are key hot spots. And it really does sound like you're concerned about kids. What's your concern?

LEVINE: There are several issues. First of all, as children are back in school, here in our backyard today, we have a school system that's closed because there's not enough teachers or bus drivers.


And that's because of the virus.

And as so as kids have gotten back into school, we've started to see an increase in the volume of children, more than a third of the positive tests that we're doing now are children under the age of 18, and as that continues to happen, and they're spreading it in schools, some of them are bringing it home to their families.

Just since Friday, our census of COVID inpatients has gone up 20 percent. Our ICU census is up to almost capacity right now.

And so kids are spreading it and bringing it home. Secondly, because of the sheer number of children that are now being exposed, we're going to see an increase in the number of ER visits and the number of admissions.

We now have up to seven children this morning in the hospital. Two of them are on ventilators right now in the pediatric intensive care unit, which is terrible.

And then third, the thing that we are concerned about is with the spread of RSV, and apparent influenza that's happening now with COVID on top of it, what's going to come in the next six to eight weeks is what's called multisystem inflammatory syndrome where children -- which can be deadly -- it needs to be treated in a hospital, and I shared those symptoms that parents should look for on my Facebook post.

But what the C.D.C. has said they don't necessarily understand how this is happening, but they do see that children who have been exposed to COVID-19 tend to be the ones that end up with MIS-C. And so, we obviously have concerns.

The system of care for children in the United States was not built for this type of surge. There's only five children's hospitals in Tennessee. In our region, we only have 10 pediatric intensive care beds.

So, part of our advocacy for vaccinations, for children wearing masks is not only to protect your own child, but to protect other children so we could slow the spread of this down and sustain our capacity so kids can get the care.

Because keep in mind, it's not just kids with COVID, there are other children who have traumatic injury, who have other types for healthcare that can't get it.

BERMAN: And I want people to know -- and I don't want to make this a partisan thing, but just so people understand where you are coming from, you are someone who has advised largely Republican governors and administrations, but COVID shouldn't be political, which is why when I was talking this morning to a doctor from an ICU in Florida, I was asking him, is your government helping or standing in the way now of you saving lives? And he very much feels that the government is standing in the way.

LEVINE: You know, look, I don't think it's any secret. I'm a pro-life, pro-gun, conservative Republican and Governor Lee in Tennessee is one of the most compassionate people I know.

I do believe there are governors who are all trying to do what they believe is best. I also believe that as a CEO of a health system, I have a responsibility to advocate for our nurses and our doctors who are frankly, fatigued. They are overwhelmed, and it's a threat to the public.

If our nurses begin to develop PTSD and other things that lead to them departing the bedside, then the public is going to feel that. We're seeing it right now with 10 to 12-hour ER wait times as we get backed up because of the short staffing that we're all experiencing all over the country.

So, I understand the frustration on the one hand, I don't think we should be political about it. I think we should do our best to give good advice to our leaders and to provide good advice and input and data and facts to the public, so they can make the best decisions for themselves.

BERMAN: Alan Levine, I have to say, you have an important voice and you're using it well. I appreciate you coming on this morning and speaking out. Thank you very much.

LEVINE: Thank you. God bless.

BERMAN: Just ahead, a fully vaccinated man who died of COVID. His family is now pointing the finger. Plus, brand new reporting about the brother of an Afghan interpreter who has been sentenced to death by the Taliban.

That's breaking news from our very own Brianna Keilar, and an Afghan journalist tells how she and her family were crushed in a stampede outside the airport in Kabul.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. Embassy says the Kabul Airport is now closed for those with Special Immigrant Visas, applicants, or people who are eligible for SIVs, and this is coming as we have some new details this morning about apparent retaliation by the Taliban against Afghans who worked alongside U.S. forces and also their family members.

I've obtained letters from the Taliban to the brother of an Afghan interpreter who worked with U.S. troops and the Taliban accuses him of helping Americans and providing security to his brother. A final letter -- there's three letters here-- notifies him of his guilt, and that he has been sentenced to death. And it says this, quote: "These court decisions are final and you will not have the right to object. You chose this path for yourself and your death is imminent, God willing."

The letters contradict assurances made by a Taliban spokesman at a news conference last week that they would not retaliate against Afghans who helped America as they're trying to project a more moderate image to the world that many Afghans and many observers American observers as well are very much questioning.

And at least seven Afghans are dead after a frantic scene this weekend saw crowds of people outside the Kabul Airport involved in a stampede in a desperate rush to leave the Taliban-controlled country. One woman, an Afghan journalist and interpreter recording this chilling message of the scene.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody stepped on me and I saw the baby's leg break in front of me. I'm not going anymore. I'm not going. I don't even know where's my baby. I don't even know where is my family. Oh, please, I'm not going anywhere. I would rather die than see my family die like this.


KEILAR: And joining us now is Lynsey Addario. She is a photo journalist who has been covering Afghanistan for more than 20 years. Lynsey, it is heartbreaking to hear this voice memo.

Tell us about this, tell us about, you know, what you think and what you feel when you hear this.


LYNSEY ADDARIO, PHOTOJOURNALIST WHO COVERED AFGHANISTAN SINCE 2000: Hang on, I need a minute. These are the messages I'm waking up to.

KEILAR: No, take your time

ADDARIO: Time is running out. I mean, we're asking these girls to go day after day and we need to get them in the gate.

KEILAR: You know, Lynsey, take your time. Take your time. I'm taking a moment myself here. It's -- you know, Lynsey, I think we're hearing that Special Immigrant Visa holders or applicants may not be allowed in.

I know you're hearing that. They're not being allowed in right now. And obviously, your concern is that they may not be allowed in from here on out.

ADDARIO: Yes, this is the message we woke up to today, that the gates are closed, and no one else can get in. So, if you were lucky enough to get in before today, then you can get out. But we have people like this journalist who is gone, she's been trampled, and for us to ask her to go back again, day after day. I mean, it takes a lot, you know.

I mean, we're asking them to risk their lives. They're with their children, they're with their families. So, I don't know, I have no idea how to do this.

KEILAR: So, what do you know about -- we hear her talking about -- I mean, she's seen a child injured. She's talking about not knowing where her baby is. What can you tell us about that?

ADDARIO: She found her baby, she found her baby. She has a two-year- old baby. We're still trying to get her out. We've been working since five o'clock this morning with a group of women and a group of journalists who have worked with various publications, including "National Geographic."

And, you know, we're trying, but when you hear the gates are closed, and every day they go, they get trampled. There are shootings. People are getting killed. It's a lot to ask from us sitting in New York and Washington, London, hey, just go to the gate again, bring your family.

You know, we're trying to do this in the right way. We have all sorts of people who want to help on the outside. We have people who want to donate for charter planes. That's great. We need your help, but we also need to get them into the airport.

KEILAR: Okay, so when you mean hearing --

ADDARIO: I mean --

KEILAR: Yes, sorry, go on.

ADDARIO: Well, the translator who got this death threat, this is the beginning. We've been waiting for this. I mean, it's no surprise. If anyone is surprised -- if anyone is surprised this is happening, I mean, this is what we've been waiting for. KEILAR: And so as we -- look, I think the question now is, and

perhaps, currently, this is what the embassy is saying. Currently, they're not letting SIVs in. So just to be clear, these are Afghans, many of them are translators who have -- they are legally eligible. Right? This is the promise that was made to them by this country, but they're not currently being allowed in.

ADDARIO: Correct.

KEILAR: Do you think that the U.S. government needs to be clear if that is a current thing? Or if this is -- if that's the end of it?

ADDARIO: Look, I think with every day that passes, the chances are less, so if you're saying SIV, people who risked their lives for the American government, for the American military, people who fought alongside Afghans, I mean, alongside Americans, to tell them that they are no longer allowed into the airport when every day, more and more people are getting threatened and killed outside that airport is astonishing to me.

KEILAR: What does it mean, Lynsey, for those folks to not be rescued? What does it mean for not just for them? What does it mean for the American promise that has been made to them?

ADDARIO: Well, I mean, first of all, I think the American promise right now is obviously, you know, people are taking that with a grain of salt. It doesn't make our foreign policy look very good if we evacuate our military before we evacuate all the people who helped us in our own Embassy.

I think that for the immediate, our focus should be more on how to get people out, not telling SIV visa holders that the gates are closed and they can't get out. I think people -- what does it mean for people who can't get out? It means two things. Either you die, you will be executed, or your life is pretty much over, relegated to a life sitting behind closed doors living in fear.

And I think, you know, that letter that that translator got is the first of many, and I think it's not the 31st of August. That's obviously the cut off time. But I think after the 31st of August, all bets are off, and we have no one on the ground and we have no leverage, so I'm not sure what we're waiting for.