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Pentagon: Biden Must Decide Today on Extending Evacuations Past End of Month; Fauci: U.S. Could Return to Normal by Spring; More Than 20,000 People Evacuated from Kabul Airport in Last 24 Hours. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2021 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman on this NEW DAY.


President Biden expected to make a decision today that could seal the fate of thousands of Afghans who helped U.S. troops. Will he keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan past the August 31 deadline?

Plus, the president's trying to get his own party on board with his economic agenda. The Capitol Hill battle growing more heated by the hour.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A big step in the fight against coronavirus as the FDA fully approves Pfizer's vaccine. But a stunning new time line for Dr. Anthony Fauci on when this pandemic will be over, with Americans asking this morning, that long, really?

And breaking overnight, New York has a new governor, but Andrew Cuomo has one last message for his critics about his record as governor and as a dog owner.

KEILAR: A very good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Tuesday, August 24, and overnight, the U.S. reporting major progress in the evacuation efforts in Afghanistan.

An estimated 4,500 people are now waiting for flights inside of the Kabul Airport zone, which is more than 15,000 less people than when we went on the air yesterday.

A source telling CNN the majority of those who are waiting for flights are Afghans. CNN has also learned that special immigrant visa applicants, those Afghans who helped U.S. troops during the war, are now permitted onto the airport after being told not to come there on Monday. Still, the gates to the airport remain closed.

BERMAN: A huge decision point for President Biden in the next few hours. The U.S. military says he needs to decide by today whether to extend the U.S. troop presence at the Kabul Airport beyond August 31. The military needs to know by today, because they would need to start withdrawing the some 6,000 U.S. troops that are there and all the equipment. U.S. allies want an extension. Democrats in Congress want an

extension. Afghan allies to the U.S. on the ground, they want an extension.

Right now, the major hesitancy seems to be coming only from the Biden administration and the Taliban. The Taliban saying August 31 is a red line.

So there's tons going on this morning on COVID, on infrastructure. Are Democrats going to scuttle the president's plans this morning, and Afghanistan, which is where we begin. We have reporters standing by on the ground in Kabul and in Doha, where evacuees are being taken.

Let's start at the Kabul Airport. CNN's Sam Kiley.

Sam, give us a sense of the situation. How many people are getting out? What are you seeing?

SAM KILEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the number of people down from when I was on the ground in the flight line yesterday afternoon was 10 and a half thousand. There's now 4 1/2 thousand people waiting to get out. That's less than the number of U.S. troops of 5,800 here at Kabul Airport, and there's also a thousand British and numerous others from the wider coalition.

A lot of them, of course, Special Forces all trying to get their particular people out that they've had a relationship with whilst the gates are still closed.

There are efforts being made on an almost individual basis to get people through the gates, if they've got these SIV visas, but this is all being conducted during a period of extreme tension.

At about 5 a.m. this morning, previous for about 45 minutes or longer. Just off to the west here, there was a substantial fire fight. We don't know who this was between, but there was a very sustained exchange of gunfire.

There is also now large crowds coalescing around the Serena Hotel downtown in Kabul. This is because the Qatari embassy there, it is announced as being helping small numbers of people, even the ambassador himself, driving people to the airport to help with the evacuation.

And on top of that, the Taliban have now told CNN on the ground inside Kabul that they are now actively hunting for ISIS, because they have caught, they claim, four ISIS or alleged ISIS operators filming possible targets on the streets of Kabul.

This against the background, of course, of the national security adviser in Washington, D.C., saying that there is a persistent and real threat from the Islamic State.

And that is going to play very heavily into the minds of both the military and, of course, President Biden, who will be discussing today whether or not it is worth trying to extend the deadline here, which would extend the period of risk of Islamic State attack, either on refugees trying to get out and become evacuees or indeed on U.S. and coalition troops here in the airport.

The Taliban have said that they absolutely see the August 31 deadline as an immovable limit, and anything after that will be seen as a persistent occupation with unknown consequences that may follow.

There should be diplomatic wiggle room there, because the Taliban, at least at the moment, is trying to integrate itself into the international community. The spokesperson telling myself and others at CNN that they actually want to be able to do trade, get legitimacy, have enough aid to keep this country rolling forward.

They're also facing a relatively small insurgency being conducted by runt elements, particularly of the tacit (ph) former Northern Alliance, led by Ahmad Massoud, a British-trained former army officer here in Afghanistan. His father, of course, known as the Lion, or the Panjshir, assassinated by al Qaeda in 2001.


All of this coming into play at this critical time in this crucial decision. But as we speak, aircraft are still taking off and landing, trying to clear the decks of these 4 1/2 thousand people.

But at the moment, very few more people are coming in, and the fear must be that, at some stage, particularly if the extension is not made, the U.S. operation will start to withdraw into itself to prepare for its own withdrawal, and those gates may never open formally for the large numbers that have been evacuated so far.

The figure now must be well over 40,000, but there are many more thousands on the outskirts of the gate. Local reports of estimates here on those close to the gate at about 9,000.

KEILAR: And Nick, you know, a lot of those folks are Afghans who have a legal claim to emigrate from Afghanistan, because they did help U.S. troops.

But look, I think a lot of people look at this day that we're at and they say, Well, we're still a week out from the deadline. But the fact is, this operation doesn't turn on a dime. So there are a lot of logistical considerations that are very much pivotal today.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, while special immigrant visa applicants are getting on, I understand it is ones and twos that they are having, essentially, to find their own way into the airport, through their own means, through it seems, this unofficial channel that maybe Afghan security forces have had rolling for quite some time.

So it's very small numbers, and the idea of bringing larger numbers in is exceptionally complicated. No matter what Sam was saying, I understand from a source familiar with the situation, that those on the airport consider themselves to be at pretty high risk, if they stay after August the 31st. That is essentially because Taliban leadership have made it very clear

directly to a senior U.S. military official that the 31st of August is nonnegotiable for all uniformed personnel.

Now, there may be some diplomatic presence that endures in Kabul, but the military have to be off, in the mind of Taliban, by the 31st of August, unless of course, President Joe Biden makes a decision to change that timetable, which I have to say, it sounds like the advice he's getting from the ground will make that a very tough call indeed.

If that timetable is stuck to, I understand from this source, that the military will begin what they call their retrograde, their packing up, their sort of withdrawal into themselves tomorrow. That could, of course, change but that is what they will probably have to start doing if, indeed, they want to leave by the 31st.

And in fact, if they do want to be totally clear, they'll probably finish that departure by late the 30th, just to be sure there's no misunderstanding.

I'm told also, too, by the source, they expect the, quote, "departure" to be messy, because of course, you'll have a moment when the images of U.S. troops departing will get out, all the news that they're beginning to think about will get out, and all those thousands of people at the gate, certainly, that are closed, but also in the city who are hoping for some last-minute moment to get to the airport will realize that maybe their time is up or certainly running very short indeed.

So it's -- essentially, the source tells me down to the Taliban to keep security while this evacuation gets underway. So I think, unless we see some radical change during this G-7 meeting when President Biden talks to his counterparts, and they begin to work out whether they have the ability to move this slightly further down the line.

And I have to say all of the indications are that they cannot simply do that, then we may start seeing the Americans looking at leaving, being seen to leave, and that small window for those they still have out in Kabul, radically shrinking.

Remember, there are thousands of local Afghan employees of the U.S. embassy still out there who have to get on the airport. Possibly tens of thousands of SIV applicants. The Taliban in force.

Sam talked about scenes at Serena Hotel trying to get on, you know, there was always going to be the moment where the panic turned into worse panic, because the chaos at the airport was beginning to disappear and withdraw. And we have to be, obviously, very hopeful that the days ahead remain calm and that those who can get out do manage to, and that those 5,800 U.S. troops leave slowly, in an orderly fashion, with as many as they can possible take.

Important to remember, though, the last 24-hour airlift was startling. So it seems like they can do it. They just have to get people on the airport first. BERMAN: Yes. We're waiting to hear a complete number over the last 24

hours, but it could be well over 10,000 again, which is a very big number getting out each day.

Nick Paton Walsh, Sam Kiley on the ground in Kabul, say safe. We'll check back in with you, because again, we're waiting on this major decision from the Biden administration.

In the meantime, Dr. Anthony Fauci telling CNN in a new interview that he doesn't think the coronavirus pandemic will be fully under control until next spring.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If we can do that, with the people who have been infected, get them revaccinated; the people who are unvaccinated now, that 90 million people, get them vaccinated, I think we can get a degree of overall blanket protection of the community that, as we get into the early part of 2022, getting through the winter, which could be complicated by influenza, by respiratory syncytial virus, that as we get into the spring, we could start getting back to a degree of normality.


BERMAN: Degree of normality next spring? That's a long time from now. That time line comes after the FDA fully approved Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for people 16 years old and older.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. Elizbeth, nice to see you. Obviously, FDA news, the full approval of Pfizer, very big.

But when Dr. Anthony Fauci says a degree of normalcy by next year. I mean, President Biden came out July 24 and basically said we're back. Not really? What are we supposed to think about this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: One word for you, Delta. And July 4th, that wasn't really such a big deal, and now it is. You see the toll that it's taken. And that is all the more reason why people need to get vaccinated, and as John mentioned, Pfizer now, as of yesterday, has full approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Before, it was emergency authorization, which is something that basically is temporary, and full approval, that's just like any other drug that you take.

Let's take a look at the difference full approval could make. First of all, it could encourage some people who have not gotten vaccinated to say, OK, now I feel better. There's a full approval. Like other drugs that I take, I'm going to roll up my sleeves. I don't think many people will necessarily feel that way, but some will, and every warm vaccinated body is a good thing.

Second of all, what could happen here, and what's -- what's hoped will happen here is that Pfizer will advertise. They say that they will. They couldn't do that with emergency authorization. You'll notice, you didn't turn on your TV and see ads for Pfizer's vaccine. Now, you can. Pharmaceutical companies very good at marketing their products.

But this last one is really the most important one. Employers, restaurants, universities, they will likely feel more comfortable, requiring the vaccine now that it has full approval, and that's a big deal. It's one thing to say, No, I won't get the vaccine.

Then your boss says to you, OK, you're fired. That might make you roll up your sleeve.

And let's take a look at the people who haven't rolled up their sleeves even for one shot. Eighty-two million Americans 12 and over have not gotten even one shot. That's 29 percent of the U.S. population 12 and over.

So 29 percent of people who could get a COVID-19 shot have chosen not to.

BERMAN: Right. Well, let's see if some of them change their minds --

COHEN: That's right.

BERMAN: -- when their bosses tell them they have to. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for being here.

COHEN: Thanks.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

So this morning, Nancy Pelosi doesn't have the votes. The infrastructure bill, the budget, they don't have the votes this morning. Moderate Democrats threatening to derail the president's economic agenda. We're waiting to figure out how Pelosi can get this all over the finish line.

KEILAR: Plus, I'm going to speak with a prominent Afghan journalist who is begging the Pentagon to do more to help Afghan women.



BERMAN: We have breaking news concerning the situation in Afghanistan. Moments ago, the White House told us that, within the last 24 hours, more than 20,000 people were evacuated from the Kabul Airport.

More than 20,000 flown out in a 24-hour period. That follows a day when 10,000 were evacuated. That 20,000 number is huge. It is a gargantuan number.

We're going to get much more information about the shape and who that involves coming up.

But right now, it seems the U.S. and its NATO allies able to withdraw people at a very quick rate. This is all happening as President Biden faces a major deadline. The U.S. military says he needs to decide by today whether to extend the troop presence at the Capitol.

And the president today meets with leaders from the G-7 nations, all of whom, pretty much, want the U.S. to extend its stay at the airport, as well.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond joins us now, live from the White House. Jeremy, first of all, breaking news. Twenty thousand, just a huge number, but also, President Biden going to face pressure today, a lot of pressure from countries that want the U.S. to stay longer at the airport.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, John, and on those numbers, listen, it is very clear that the U.S. -- the U.S. is picking up the pace of these evacuations.

The real comparison point that we should be looking at here, between that 10,000-plus number yesterday. Today, that is actually 12,700. That 20,000 number includes all coalition flights, not only those U.S. military planes, which was the number that they provided yesterday with the 10,400, but still, an increase of about 2,300 people from one day to the next. Clearly, they are picking up the pace.

And this is happening at a time when President Biden is going to come under pressure from these G-7 allies today about the deadline for which U.S. troops are supposed to be getting out of Afghanistan. That is August 31. The Taliban making very clear at this point, at least, that they see that as a drop-dead date.

Those G-7 allies expected to press the president to extend that. So far, he has not said whether or not he is willing to do that. He has said that the military has been looking at this possibility. And so far, the Pentagon says we are trying to execute the mission to get everything done by the 31st.

But it is hard to see how that's possible, given the tens of thousands of Afghans, in particular, who still are hoping to get out of the country.

And you'll remember, President Biden last week said that that commitment that he said to get every American out of Afghanistan who wants to get out of Afghanistan, he said it also applied to those Afghan allies.


Now, an administration official has said the president's decision could come today in that G-7 meeting. And we should also keep in mind that military officials have said that they have advised the president that he needs to decide today, as well, whether or not he wants to extend that deadline, because of all the logistics involved in getting those troops out by the 31st, if indeed, that is the case. So we'll have to watch for this G-7 meeting at 9:30 today to see whether or not the president has a decision.

BERMAN: As we said, the president facing a lot of pressure. The military says the decision has to come today. And Jeremy, thank you for clarifying the news on the numbers.

Just to reiterate, more than 12,000 people flown out on U.S. planes, which is the highest number that we have seen. Yet another 8,000 on NATO and other planes. But 20,000 people getting out of the Kabul Airport. A very high number, indeed -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. That really is, certainly, an accomplishment.

Joining us now is freelance Afghan journalist, Nazira Karimi. She has faced harassment and death threats in the past from the Taliban, having covered them as a journalist throughout the 1990s.

And recently, she has been pressing the Biden administration about America's responsibility to the Afghan people, especially when it comes to women.

Nazira, thank you so much for being with us today in studio. I know that you have a number of extended family members who are still in Afghanistan that you're considerably worried about and that you're hearing from a lot of Afghans. What are they telling you?

NAZIRA KARIMI, FREELANCE AFGHAN JOURNALIST: Sure. First of all, good morning to your audience, Afghan audience. Thank you for having me.

Good question. Everybody know Afghanistan's situation. They don't need me to explain again.

But believe it or not, many, many Afghan people from different category, they keep calling me, nighttime, daytime, 24 hours, but I have to answer them. Some of them, they are hiding theirself. Some of them calling from the airport.

It's the worst stuff (ph). They all complain. Women crying, young generation also crying. And they ask me to -- how should I leave Afghanistan? They think that I'm somebody. I told them I'm -- I'm not extraordinary person. Just a regular journalist. I just can't raise my voice because of you.

They're crying, I'm crying with them. That's why I lost my voice. Look at my voice. It's really terrible. Every single minute people call me, and they're crying. And they remind me, 1996 when I was in Afghanistan, and I was young journalist. Now, everything a repeat and repeat and remind me of the darkest time in Afghanistan.

KEILAR: It reminds you of the dark, of the time in Afghanistan. And let me ask you about that, because you've heard the Taliban trying to project a more moderate image, promising that there won't be retributions, although we have already seen, you know, facts that contradict the promises that they're making.

No one really knows the Taliban like you know the Taliban, having covered them. What do you think about these promises the Taliban is making and what this is going to mean for women and girls in Afghanistan?

KARIMI: Good question. I doubt it, because Taliban is an -- Taliban is an ideology. How can, you know, change someone's ideology? Taliban is the same Taliban, although they promised that they are going to be a modern Taliban.

If it's the new generation, I welcome them. I'd be more happy. I go to Afghanistan one day, and I, you know, make a report from my beloved country, but I doubt it. I think it's too soon. Time will show that.

But based off my experience, the Taliban shot women at the Kabul sport stadium. And I have so many, unfortunately, negative experience, but as I told you, it's too soon.

But if they are really keep their commitment, and really change, because we are living in the 21st century. It's a different time. But I hope so. We shouldn't lose the hope, but I doubt it. But still.

KEILAR: You really brought the human element of this story to the Pentagon briefing, which can be, you know, sort of a stale place where information is, certainly, importantly grabbed by reporters, but you brought the human element of this to a briefing there the other day, as you questioned about the departure of the former president.

What is your message to Americans? What is your message to Americans about the plight of Afghans and what you want to see from Americans?

KARIMI: You want me to cry again? It was not my voice. It was equal of million of Afghan people. It was equal of million of kids in Afghanistan. It was not easy. That moment was very tragic, very strong moment for me, as I told them, as I asked Mr. Kirby that overnight, Taliban captured, again, all Afghanistan.


But although I have hope. But still I was thinking about Sharia law. I don't know what is the Taliban interpretation about Sharia law. We are Muslim. We know how to practice our religion.

But it was, as I told you, it was voice of million of voiceless Afghan people, especially Afghan women, their accomplishment. My beloved country, I was crying for my flag. It's my identity. Those colors, as made by Afghan women. Afghan women have a lot of achievement.

And it was, you know, I was thinking about my culture. Afghanistan has a rich culture. I am very strong journalist, but in this situation, I look so weak and crying. Otherwise, for 30 years I work as a professional journalist with BBC, Radio Free Europe, Ariana Television Network. And now I am independent, because I would like to be a voice of million of Afghan women.

Afghan woman brave, Afghan woman standing, Afghan woman is still try to fight for their rights.

My messages from the United States, first of all, we have hope from the God.

No. 2, I have a message to United States -- you know, the leaders. That a lot of -- many, many women in Afghanistan, they are sleeping outside the airport. Why they don't bring them directly to the United States, then arrange them a visa. Because as I told you, I have connection with many, many different category of people. Former ambassador, former teacher, engineer, doctor, nurse; ordinary and extraordinary people.

This is my hope. This is my message to the people around the world. People know about Afghanistan, what's going on. Although I'm hopeful the Taliban promised us that they are going to change.

But yes. United States supposed to keep the commitment. I asked President Biden a question a month ago: Afghan women has expectation from you. What is your warm and good message, which as I asked yesterday from Ms. Psaki. I said all of this situation, you cannot do anything. Do we have any warm message for Afghan woman, to get more out?

And she commented, and she say, We will be with Afghan women, because Afghanistan has valuable women. Thank you so much.

But President Biden told me, he'd been in Afghanistan. He saw kids that -- kids say that we're going to be a doctor, an engineer. That's why we supported them. Now they should continue. They should continue.

KEILAR: And I heard what she said. She said they will be in -- in their hearts. Will they be on the planes? Right? That is going to be the question here, Nazira.

And I really appreciate you coming in and being the voice of so many people. We see them --

KARIMI: Thank you.

KEILAR: But we see them in the pictures. We don't always hear what is on their minds, so we really appreciate it, Nazira.

KARIMI: Thank you. I saw your eyes. You had feeling. I think people who blame me that's why I crying, they understand. I love your feeling.

KEILAR: Well, we're human. We're human.

KARIMI: You are really journalist. Thank you so much.

KEILAR: Thank you so much.

KARIMI: Appreciate it.

KEILAR: Nazira Karimi.

KARIMI: Thank you.

KEILAR: President Biden's economic agenda is in jeopardy as moderate Democrats are holding up negotiations over infrastructure. We're standing by for updates.