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New Day

21,000-Plus People Evacuated from Kabul Airport in Last 24 Hours; Fauci Says, U.S. Could Return to Normal by Spring if Vaccinations Go Up; Harris Delayed by Several Hours During Asia Trip. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2021 - 07:00   ET



CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Now, that's really nothing like we're going to see down across the Deep South. Well, that number is 115. That's how hot it's going to be. The thermometer in the shade will be approaching 100. It's going to feel like well over 100 degrees all through the Midwest today.

And even without the heat and humidity, Oklahoma City, you're going to be 98. St. Louis, you're going to be 97. Across the northeast though for Boston, no luck for you either. By Thursday, the thermometer says, 93.

New Day continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Tuesday, August 24th.

And we do begin with major breaking news out of Afghanistan. The White House moments ago announced a huge number of evacuations in the last 24 hours. Officials say 21,000 people were air lifted from the Kabul airport via U.S. military and coalition flights, 21,000. That's the highest evacuation numbers in a 24-hour period to date, all without a single U.S. casualty. And an estimated 4,500 people are waiting inside the airport for evacuation flights. At this time, another 9,000 are believed to be at the gates surrounding the airport. A source tells CNN, Afghans with special immigrant visas are now being allowed on to the airport grounds.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: So, we're still a week out from the August 31st deadline. But today is decision day for President Biden on whether to extend the evacuation mission at the Kabul airport beyond that day, beyond next Tuesday, and the Pentagon says it needs enough time to start withdrawing of these 6,000 U.S. troops almost, along with all of their equipment. Extending the deadline will no doubt be at the top of the agenda when the president meets virtually this morning with G7 leaders who are expected to press for an extension. They almost want one. We've heard from them.

Complicating matters, the Taliban saying that August 31st is a red line, that it's nonnegotiable, at least that's what we're hearing them say publicly. The Washington Post is reporting that CIA Director William Burns met in Kabul on Monday with the Taliban's de facto leader. This is highest level face-to-face encounter between the Taliban and the Biden administration since militants seized the Afghan capital.

Also developing this morning here at home, the Biden economic agenda appears to be in jeopardy with the Democratic Party infighting with the budget resolution and infrastructure deal. We'll have more on that ahead.

First, though, let's go to Afghanistan, where CNN's Sam Kiley is live for us in Kabul. Sam, give us the latest here.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here, this morning in Kabul, in the small hours of the morning, there was a substantial firefight to the western edge of this airfield, underlining -- we're not sure who it was between, but underlining the very tense security circumstances under which this decision to whether or not to try to extend the evacuation deadline will have that option to do so beyond August 31st, this coming on the back of a remarkable period of evacuations of now 21,000 people evacuated in the previous 24 hours as of 3:00 this morning local time. An absolutely remarkable figure if you take in the whole coalition effort, close to 64,000, more than 58,700 now evacuated by the Americans. That is bigger than the Berlin air lift. And that took place over a much, much longer period of time.

As of yesterday, though, this was the picture on the ground.


KILEY (voice over): Evacuation flights out of Kabul are now 24/7. It's a desperate race against time. The U.S. military prioritizing getting American citizens and legal residents out of Afghanistan.

GEN. STEPHEN R. LYONS, COMMANDER, U.S. TRANSPORTATION COMMAND: We are pushing the limits to do everything we can to get every single evacuee out of Kabul.

KILEY: A white wristband serving as a ticket to escape to freedom. For people already inside the facility --

This is the penultimate stage for evacuees before they get on an aircraft and get out of the country to safety. But the problem is the thousands of people left outside the gate with no real prospect now that the special immigration visas have been suspended of getting in and getting out to safety. Now, sources say that special immigration visa holders are allowed to enter the airport for their chance to leave but the gates remain closed with small numbers being admitted and crowds pressing on the walls, the agonizing scenes taking their toll on American troops.

LT. COL. PINKE FISCHER, DIVISION CHAPLAIN,82ND AIRBORNE: A lot of paratroopers are married. And I know while they're standing there, nothing else to do but doing their job, they're probably thinking about what would it be like.

KILEY: Those were my kids?

FISCHER: Exactly, what would it be like.

KILEY: President Biden is considering delaying the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beyond the August 31st deadline set by the Taliban.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're going to keep making progress and the president will ultimately make his decision about the precise shape and scope of the operation.

KILEY: Biden may face pressure to extend in a virtual meeting with G7 leaders today, but time is running out. The Taliban saying that the U.S. must leave by the end of the month, saying any other action would be a clear violation.

SULLIVAN: We are in talks with the Taliban on a daily basis through both political and security channels.

KILEY: For now, the focus is evacuating as many as possible from Kabul. To transition points like the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, this United Airlines flight arriving to Washington's Dulles International Airport on Monday afternoon with over 300 people on board. Among them, this man who says he worked for security at the U.S. embassy. He's with his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very happy because there was -- the security situation was not good, very bad, and thanks from the United States. You give that chance for us.

KILEY: But the chances for thousands of others are dwindling and the window for escape closing ever faster.


KILEY (on camera): Now, we understand from sources here on the airfield that the outer cordon around the airfield seems to have been pushed back by the Taliban substantially, which means the numbers actually making it to the gates are significantly down. This is also possibly because the gates remain closed with only relatively small numbers almost on an individual basis being brought in, particularly people with the SIVs, but there are also foreign nationals out there. A lot of the focus here in Kabul has now shifted towards the Serena Hotel following publication that indicated that the Omani embassy there was helping with evacuations, and that's now under siege. And sources on the ground have also been talking to Taliban commanders who say that they recently arrested four members or alleged members of so- called ISIS-K, the terrorist organization who were filming on the ground yesterday in Kabul, possibly with a view to identifying targets. That is the nightmare scenario for the Taliban and, of course, for the international coalition, notably the Americans.

BERMAN: Sam Kiley for us on the ground in Kabul, of course, big picture, 21,000 people evacuated in the last 24 hours, 60,000 in the last couple of weeks. Whatever the political decisions might have been, that is a tremendous evacuation effort led by the U.S. military in enormous numbers. And it comes as The Washington Post reports this morning that CIA Director William Burns has been in Kabul meeting with the de facto Taliban leader.

Joining us now is U.S. Army Reserve Major and former CIA Analyst Matt Zeller, who has spent so much time the last few weeks trying to help Afghans get out of the country. Matt, it is a pleasure to see you. Thank you for the efforts that have been underway at your house at that desk, no doubt.

First, I want you to react to this news that CIA Director William Burns in Kabul, meeting with the de facto Taliban leader, what does that tell you?

MAJ. MATT ZELLER, U.S. ARMY RESERVE: It tells me that they have won, right? I mean, we're not meeting with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan anymore to discuss security in Kabul because right now, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan only has a government that's in Panjshir. It is interesting, how a difference of a couple of years makes, that only a couple of years ago, that very same director, not that individual but whoever held the office was probably trying to kill the person that they had met with just a couple of days ago.

BERMAN: But -- And, Matt, and I do understand what you're saying there in terms of what it means geopolitically, but what do you think it means for people on the ground there? Do you think it means that there's a push to extend this window to get more people out? Why else would the CIA director be there?

ZELLER: That's my hope, right? I mean, it's very clear. We did the math, even at the current rate of pace of evacuations, it's still going to take until mid-September to move everybody, even if we're moving 20,000 people a day. We actually need to be moving 30,000 people a day to meet an August 31st deadline. So, as impressive as that 20,000 number is, they need to increase it by a third just to be able to hit August 31st, and I don't think they can do that. I think they have probably maximized the runway capability at Kabul.

So the reality is we do need more time. The president has to keep that beachhead open or it's going to come down to this. We're going to end up probably leaving not just behind a lot of our Afghans, which is a guarantee at this point, we still do not have an evacuation plan for anyone outside of Kabul, and that could be up to an another 50,000 people that we could be leaving behind. But at this point, if we don't do this well past August 31st, we don't get a time that -- an additional time to do this, there's a significant chance we'll end up leaving Americans also behind in Afghanistan to be under the Taliban's rule.

KEILAR: You have been trying to get people out. You're part of a network of even smaller networks.


But so many people who are veterans who worked in government, who have been to Afghanistan and know a lot of these translators and cultural advisers, who are legally eligible to come to the U.S. I understand that you were able to help in getting someone out. What can you tell us about that?

ZELLER: Sure. A couple of weeks ago, we have a podcast called Wartime Allies, and a couple -- basically back in July, before the country collapsed, we realized that we were probably going to need to start establishing communications with people as cities fell to see if we could maybe get what life was like on the ground, and just see if there were people we could also help along the way.

The night Mazar-i-Sharif fell, which is -- it feels like a lifetime ago, but it was only just a little over a week ago, I started reaching out to anybody we had contact for in that city, and only one person of the hundreds of people we had communications with just days prior got in touch with me, this gentleman by the name of Hamid. We started talking just nightly. I wanted to know how things were in his city and his life, and what he told me was that there were the conversations gave him and his family hope, and that they decided they were going to try to make it to Kabul.

He ended up having to disguise himself wearing a burka and hiding out on a bus with an epic bus ride that saw him go through ten Taliban checkpoints where he almost was identified in a couple of them. They made it to Kabul, and have been hiding in a safe house for the last couple of days. And it took about a day's worth of an operation, but we were finally able to get him on to the airport with his family, and I'm thrilled to say that they are now in Qatar. And what he told me was that Americans keep their promise. That's what he kept saying over and over, Americans keep their promise. You don't understand, we have a new life. You have given us a new life.

That's what you're seeing right now is the very best of us, those State Department officials, the Defense Department officials, Digital Dunkirk army that's online, it's not just veterans, it's diplomats and aid workers, anybody who's ever served in Afghanistan who left a piece of their soul behind and brought back a piece of that culture and their people within our own blood, we have all risen to the occasion. Every single one of those people working on this effort is a hero because every single life that we give out is a real chance for a whole new life. It's not going to be someone who gets stuck behind with the Taliban, and that's a blessing. BERMAN: Matt Zeller, again, we thank you for the efforts underway. We thank you for the work that you have been doing. I appreciate you being with us this morning.

ZELLER: Thank you.

BERMAN: I'm joined by one of the 21,000 evacuees who got out of Afghanistan in just the last 24 hours, Freelance Journalist Bilal Sarwary. Bilal, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

Listen, you're in Doha now. Yesterday, at this time, you were still in Kabul, in Afghanistan, your home. What was it like to lift off from Afghanistan for what could be the last time?

BILAL SARWARY, AFGHAN JOURNALIST WHO JUST ESCAPED KABUL: Well, I think it broke my heart to leave my life behind, everything that I had built. I was reporting over the last 20 years. I started my career in 2001, covering the U.S. bombing against the Taliban, and then subsequently their fall. And then I was deeply invested in my country.

I went to the U.S., finished my college, came back even with a stronger sense of commitment to be able to tell the story of my people, and I was very, very hopeful for a peace process that would work, for a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire. And over the years, you know, I had my own personal heartbreaks when I lost my own friends, entire families, and some of the most deadly attacks inside the city of Kabul.

And I know this city so well, it is my hometown, and yet, again, you know, I was forced to hide, and no place was safer for me all over Kabul, so at least I made it out safely with my family, with our baby daughter, Sola, which we named after peace, only like five, six weeks ago when she was born, because we were hopeful that Afghanistan would finally have that elusive peace.

And I also want to say here that I am incredibly grateful to the state of Qatar and to the Qataris for evacuating 250 Afghans, at least the cream of the crop, the best in the media and the civil society. There was an artist, (INAUDIBLE), he's an ordinal, he was like painting a lot of hopeful messages. For us, in many ways, it was us like bearing our dreams, our lives behind, and yet, we are grateful that we could leave and we are safe with our families.

And I also wanted to say that the efforts that I saw when I saw at the airport, it was more orderly.


More and more Afghans were able to get on the planes, but the humanitarian corridor that many people in Kabul continue to ask for is what is missing. These artificial timelines, you know, that this will end at the end of August is sending shockwaves among afghan, a generation who worked with the Americans and other western nations, and most of them are not in Kabul. But even people in Kabul, they don't feel safe to make that short journey.

So, that is the main concern. People are still under a massive threat. People's homes have been searched, people have been threatened.

BERMAN: Bilal Sarwary, we're so glad that you were able to get out, you and your family. You have what's truly important and we hope that your dreams will come true, and you will be back there with your daughter named peace. We hope you achieve that. Listen, we're so glad you're part of the 21,000 people who made it out yesterday, an enormous achievement.

President Biden's economic agenda in the balance this morning because of a Democratic standoff. Moderate Democrats holding firm against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We have an update from Capitol Hill.

KEILAR: Plus, Dr. Anthony Fauci giving a stunning new timeline, certainly longer than you'll want to hear about, about when this pandemic will be over.




DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF 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 virus, that as we get into the spring, we could start getting back to a degree of normality.


KEILAR: All right. That is Dr. Anthony Fauci telling CNN in a brand new interview that he doesn't think the coronavirus pandemic will be under control until next year, and a little bit into next year, right? This is despite the fact that the FDA has just fully approved Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for people who are 16 and older.

So let's talk about this now with CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This is not going to be welcome news, Sanjay, because I think for so many people getting through last winter was the toughest time of the pandemic, and there could be another one ahead of us, it looks like.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, it's not welcome news. Originally, he had said it was fall of 2022, but then, you know, said he misspoke, and it's really the spring of 2022. This is one of those situations where I think, you know, defining what it means to be in control of the pandemic is really important because I think we sometimes talk about these, and sort of these vague terms.

We know that this virus is what they call endemic. It's probably here to stay. I mean, the flu virus that circulates every year is in some ways as a great descendant of the 1918 flu virus. So, we know this virus is here to stay. If we're talking about cases specifically, like dropping below a certain number of cases, I'm not sure that's a good metric because we know there can be breakthrough cases. I think hospitalizations, which has been the truest measurement, is probably a better way of defining control.

So in June and July of the patients in the hospital with COVID, 98 percent of them were unvaccinated. So if we have more people vaccinated, it's likely we will decouple hospitalizations from cases, and maybe that will be a some sort of definition of control. People aren't getting that sick anymore, ending up in the hospital, the virus starts to slowly not have places to circulate, that will be a definition of control.

But I think we're going to see waves of this for some time, like they did after 1918 and the waves will progressively get smaller and less impactful, but that's likely what's going to continue to happen.

BERMAN: Let's hope those waves get smaller, because I really do think people need to feel some type of normal sooner rather than later.

Sanjay, one thing that may help with that is the FDA full approval of the Pfizer vaccine. What kind of a difference, where exactly do you think that will make a difference?

GUPTA: This will be very interesting to watch, I think, because a lot of people have said that they are waiting for this approval. You know, 20 to 30 percent of people said, hey, look, I felt like the whole process was too rushed earlier. Let's wait for the approval. That's sort of the top line, 20 to 30 percent. You're going to start seeing ad campaigns from this, big ad campaign from Pfizer, in this case, basically showing you, here's what vaccinated life looks like, here's what unvaccinated life looks like, and that will probably have some impact.

I think it's going to be the bottom category that's going to have the biggest impact, which is now universities, larger organizations have cover to basically say we can now mandate this. The University of Minnesota did this as soon as the approval went through yesterday. I think we're going to see a lot of other places do that. Department of Defense, like you guys were reporting yesterday, already doing that, so that's probably the biggest thing.

Let me show you a snapshot. If we put this together of what the country looks like right now, 51 percent fully vaccinated, 9 percent partially vaccinated, it's that green upper left that are the eligible unvaccinated where we think those three factors I just mentioned might have the greatest impact.

KEILAR: Yes, that is a big chunk of people yet still, Sanjay. Thank you so much, Sanjay, such important news about the vaccine, and how this is going to affect people, and if they are going to take it in more numbers. Obviously, they need to.

The Washington Post reporting now on a secret meeting between the CIA director and the Taliban.

[07:25:00] Up next, we will talk to a congressman who received a classified intelligence briefing.

BERMAN: And no deal overnight, ending a standoff between centrist Democrats and Nancy Pelosi, Democratic infighting putting the president's economic agenda on hold.


KEILAR: We do have some breaking news. Vice President Kamala Harris delayed from leaving Singapore this morning by several hours. So, why is that? Let's bring in Jeremy Diamond live from the White House. What do we know, Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Brianna, we don't have too much information at this point, but the vice president was supposed to be leaving Singapore at about 4:00 P.M. local time. She is now about just past nearly 7:30 local time, and Air Force 2 is about to be wheels up for Hanoi, Vietnam, which is the next stop on her itinerary.


I just spoke with a senior official who said he would not provide the --