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Americans and Afghans Continue Leaving Afghanistan after Taliban Takeover; Taliban Denies Extension of August 31st Deadline for U.S. to Evacuate all Americans from Afghanistan; CIA Director Meets with Taliban Leader; Interview with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2021 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to CNN's Sam Kiley, who is live at the airport in Kabul where, Sam, 21,000 people over a 24-hour period, that is an enormous number.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a staggering achievement. And if you think about it, the Berlin airlift had far, far longer period of time, and they took out 56,000. The coalition is now nudging towards 60,000, well over 58,000 people are leaving, of course, every day, 9,000 have been put on aircraft as of about an hour-and-a-half ago according to local military officials here. So this is a remarkable logistical achievement set against this background of extraordinary negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, the two leading belligerents up until the Taliban conquest of Kabul, with the exception, of course, of the Afghan government itself.

This high-level meeting now that we're going to hear more about with your guest just now, and ongoing firefights. Last night until about 5:00 this morning, from about 4:00 to 5:00, just off to the west here, there was a very heavy exchange of small arms and medium-size weapons fire, went on for a long time. We don't know who was involved in that.

We are also getting reports on the ground that the Taliban have arrested five suspected ISIS members who were believed or alleged to have been filming possible targets in the capital city. And we are now seeing massive crowds of people trying to get to the Qatari embassy in the Serena Hotel downtown. Similar numbers of people -- not similar numbers, but similar scale, if you like, of people who had been trying to get into the airport.

Numbers of people trying to get into the airport are relatively down now, and that, military officials here are saying, is probably because the Taliban has put in a more secure outer perimeter, and they are doing a lot of the filtering of possible candidates to get onto this aircraft. The methodology of that at the moment seems to be satisfying American officials. There haven't been any complaints directly about the Taliban. They are also putting in these alternative secret routes, various methods being used to go and pluck people, vulnerable people from pockets around the city and possibly further away outside of the Kabul area itself. John, Brianna?

BERMAN: Sam Kiley for us at the airport where things continue to move at a very quick pace. Thank you so much for your reporting.

Now, the other major breaking news this morning, Sam just referred to it, CIA Director William Burns held a secret meeting with the Taliban leadership in Kabul yesterday. This is by far the highest profile encounter between the Biden administration and the Taliban. We want to bring in the reporter who broke the story, John Hudson. He's a national security reporter at "The Washington Post." John, congratulations for you on this breaking news, and it is super important, the news that William Burns, the CIA director met with Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is the de facto leader of the Taliban. Why did this meeting take place, and what do you know about what they discussed?

JOHN HUDSON, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, John, it is a fascinating meeting of the minds. The most important issue looming over the Taliban and the United States and Biden administration is this August 31st deadline. And so the meeting could not come at a more important time to hash out differences. In the near term, these two men need to figure out a way forward. Obviously, there are still tens of thousands of people who want to get out of Afghanistan. The Taliban has said staying, keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond the 31st is a red line, and there will be consequence. Biden has sent his top spymaster to try to broker some sort of an agreement that can manage this issue.

And in the longer term, you just have an amazing chance to size up this new de facto leader of the Taliban, someone who is coming in with a massive amount of leverage to determine the fate of this country after a stunning military victory over the United States and over Afghan forces.

BERMAN: It really is interesting that the CIA director went to Kabul and met with the Taliban yesterday, the de facto leader. The fact the Taliban leader took this meeting also tells you something. Look, any sign that the Taliban would budge off of its August 31st demand?

HUDSON: There is no indication yet at this time, but that is absolutely what the entire western world is pushing for, given the absolute desperation of so many people, western citizens, Afghan nationals to get out of the country. They don't want to live under Taliban rule.


But at this point in time, it's difficult to see how they are going to broker this. Obviously, the U.S. has leverage in the fact that it does have well-armed, well-trained, thousands of forces there at the airport. But it's an extremely precarious situation, especially as Burns and other intelligence officials have said. The risk of the terrorist attack in the middle of this massive airlift is acute, is serious.

So they are in an extremely high-wire situation. Two men who also have a fascinating amount of history here, right. Baradar is somebody who was literally arrested in a joint CIA-Pakistan operation that ended up winding him in jail, in a Pakistani prison for eight years. And so this has culminated in him rising to the highest ranks of the Taliban leadership structure, in a position to sit across the table from America's top intelligence official, the CIA director. It's a pretty incredible moment. And to be a fly on the wall in the room would have been quite an amazing experience.

BERMAN: Amazing to say the least, right. A guy the CIA helped arrest 11 years ago now sitting at the table with the head of the CIA. You talk about the U.S. leverage. What leverage does the U.S. have here? Why -- what does the Taliban want from the United States?

HUDSON: It's a great question. And besides the leverage of just having a particularly lethal military that is present in the country, there is this idea of Afghanistan is facing an economic crisis, an inability to pay thousands and thousands of government employees. They are already facing potential insurgencies in other parts of the country. It's a real open question about what level of legitimacy the Taliban want to have at this stage. But if they want any legitimacy, they will have to help the western world usher their people out.

Getting started with a takeover of the country that involves obstructing a humanitarian evacuation effort is no way to gain legitimacy and gain the billions and billions of dollars that would be flowing into the country from the IMF, from donors around the world who have -- who make up a huge part of the Afghan budget and the Afghan military. All of those questions have to be sorted out in a new era when the Taliban is still forming its own government. But there is significant leverage monetarily and militarily, but it only goes so far when the Taliban have taken over the country with very little resistance.

BERMAN: John, I have got to let you go, but quickly, William Burns now out of Kabul. Any sense that high-level discussions continue?

HUDSON: One would presume that would be the case. We definitely -- I waited to put this story out until it was -- could be safely reported. And so when it comes to future discussions, they made clear they want to keep an open line of communication militarily, diplomatically, and now we have this very prominent intelligence channel. So we'll see how it goes.

BERMAN: John Hudson, it is a remarkable development. Thank you so much for joining us this morning with your breaking news.

HUDSON: Good to be with you.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And with us now is Lyla Kohistany. She is a former naval officer who has served in Afghanistan and fled Afghanistan as a child with her family, coming to the U.S. as a refugee. She is now a non-resident senior fellow for Forward Defense at the Atlantic Council. Lyla, thank you so much for being with us this morning. And the first thing I want to ask you about are these numbers that we're hearing are coming out of the Kabul airport. More than 21,000 people evacuated in the last 24 hours even as this deadline of August 31st is quickly approaching. What do you think about what you're hearing about how quickly things are going day by day now? Is it enough?

LYLA KOHISTANY, FORMER U.S. NAVY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: I'm so grateful to see this response. I've been deeply saddened over the last several days to see how our plan for departing Afghanistan was executed, to think that American citizens were being left behind, to think that our Afghan partners were being left behind. I'm feeling so much more hopeful at this point.

But no, I don't believe that it's enough. I believe that when we're looking at the numbers that still remain, out SIVs, are at-risk, are most at-risk, so women, children that are going to be left behind.


I do believe we are going to need to figure out a way to extend beyond the 31 August deadline in order to get the rest of the most vulnerable people out of Afghanistan.

KEILAR: That's a week out, but today is really decision time. This is go-time for President Biden because of all of the logistics that would go into getting U.S. troops out by August 31st. What happens if he does not extend the August 31st deadline?

KOHISTANY: I believe that we're going to see continued Taliban reprisals. We know that the Taliban are going home to home and searching for our Afghan security partners. We are hearing that directly from our partners on the ground. They are sending us messages and speaking to that. They're sending videos. They're sending pictures. They are terrified.

I'm also very concerned as an Afghan woman and as an Afghan girl 20, 30 years ago thinking what my life would have been like. I'm very concerned for the human rights activists. I'm worried for all of the girls that have no idea what's going to happen to them. We're seeing stories coming out from Angelina Jolie on her Instagram as a special envoy for UNHCR of little girls terrified that the Taliban is going to murder them or force them into marriage and that they are not going to be able to live out their life with our shared values of being educated and being contributing members of society.

So I believe that if we don't stay, we are going to see a duplication of what we saw from the Taliban in the 1990s. And Brianna, my greatest fear is that the American people and the rest of the world will look away, that Afghanistan will fade from memory, as it has in the past. And my hope is that we will continue to bear witness and we will continue to care about Afghanistan the way that we are right now. I have been so inspired by the American people and people around the world who have collaborated, and the ingenuity and the resolve of private citizens to come together and say, we are not going to look away from what is happening in Afghanistan. Working with veterans and former officials in our government and other governments, working with lawyers and non-governmental organizations, working with activists to get as many people out. I hope that the feelings that we are feeling right now continue, and that we continue to hold people accountable, and that we continue to work together to get as many people out of Afghanistan as possible.

KEILAR: We are seeing, look, there are so many veterans like yourself, and people who served as diplomats in Afghanistan and other capacities as civilians or as contractors, and those folks are really the ones who are not turning away right now. They are trying to remain focused on this. And, of course, Afghan Americans are as well. So you have this kind of intersection of these two things.

And you also have a very, very interesting personal story, Lyla. You fled to the U.S. in 1982 with your family. Eventually you joined the military, your brother joined the military. You guys made a career out of this, trying to give back to your country. And I wonder, as you hear some of the arguments that are taking hold in conservative media, there is this -- there is some fearmongering that America is being invaded by refugees. And I wonder what that is like for you to hear that.

KOHISTANY: It's disappointing. It's heartbreaking. It's maddening, it's saddening, because, yes, I am a refugee. I came here in 1982. My father spoke out against the Soviet occupation, and he was imprisoned for a time. We sought asylum here. And as you mentioned, my brother and I both, we have so much love for the United States of America because of the opportunities that it provided us. When I was 12 years old, my father tried to marry me off to a man who was 51. My brother was a 19-year-old enlisted Navy corpsman, so a medic. And it was his connection to the Navy, it was his Navy leadership that said to him, we can help you take care of your sister and your mother so that your sister is not married off.

I don't know of any other country, of any other specific part of a country such as our military that could make a 19-year-old feel like he had the strength and the power to step in and save his kid sister. And so to hear people say that refugees are going to be a burden on this country, I don't believe that. That's not what I see. It's frankly not what my veteran community sees. That's why all of us are so desperate to help our Afghan partners, because we know they are hard working. They share our values. They have obviously stood up. They have raised their hand and they have said, I will die right alongside with you.


And frankly, we saw that on the battle field, 2,443 Americans as of my last count, died in Afghanistan. Over 70,000 of our Afghan partners died as well.

So I want to see them come into this country. I want to see our veteran community who has been taking a stance on this continue to take a stance. I have friends and colleagues who served in the Obama administration, are currently serving in the Biden/Harris administration who ask how can they support.

I have friends from the Trump administration who contacted me saying, how can I support?

So, in the veterans community, this is not a bipartisan issue. We support our Afghan partners, our Iraqi partners as well and I want to see that carry through.

Again, my fear is that people will look away, other things will take precedence, and the world will continue to watch. We need to not look away. We need to keep fighting.

KEILAR: Well, Lyla, that is just what you were doing. Thank you so much for talking with us about it this morning. Lyla Kohistany.

KOHISTANY: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: President Biden expected to speak to the American people just hours from now on the evacuation effort underway in Afghanistan. We'll have live coverage ahead on CNN.

BERMAN: Plus, Dr. Anthony Fauci says we may not be able to return to normal or something like normal until next spring. We'll ask the surgeon general what he thinks next.

Plus, can Nancy Pelosi get the votes to keep moderate Democrats in the House from stalling the president's agenda?



KEILAR: (AUDIO GAP) COVID vaccine and Dr. Anthony Fauci is giving a new time line for getting the pandemic under control.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND IFNECTIOUS DISEASES: If we can get through this winter and get really the majority, overwhelming majority of the 90 million people who have not been vaccinated vaccinated, I hope we could start to get some good control in the spring of 2022.


KEILAR: Yes, the spring of 2022 he said. So let's talk more about this now with the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

OK, sir, the spring of 2022. People were hoping this was back to normal in the summer. We now know this is not true. But the spring of 2022 is a ways off.

Do you agree with that assessment?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Brianna, I think how quickly we get back to normal really depends on what we do in the weeks ahead. And specifically, it depends how we vaccinate people.

Keep in mind, even though we have the prospect of the winter coming with increased respiratory diseases and we saw a lot of spread of coronavirus last winter, there is a big difference between last winter and the upcoming winter, which is that we have millions and millions of people in our country who are now vaccinated, who are protected against COVID-19.

So that is going to help us, but we've got to do more because there are still tens of millions who are not vaccinated yet. I'm encouraged, Brianna, that last week, toward the end of last week, we had three days in a row with over a million people getting vaccinated each day. That hasn't happened in a long time.

But it's a sign that our vaccination effort is accelerating. We've just got to keep our foot on the gas.

KEILAR: It really will come down to those folks who at this point cannot get vaccinated as well, you know. Kids at this point, a lot of them, cannot get vaccinated. What is the earliest that we are going to be seeing those younger children able to get vaccinated, the earliest that we could see that happen?

MURTHY: Yeah, Brianna, this is such an important question because hard to think of what's more important than making sure our kids are well. And if -- the FDA is going to work incredibly hard to review the data on children as soon as the companies submit that data to them.

But the trials are underway, and the FDA has made the assessment of vaccines for all populations, but COVID-19 vaccine is top priority. I think it's possible that we might see that process complete by the end of the calendar year, which would be wonderful for kids like mine and many kids out there who can't get vaccinated.

But until then, Brianna, there is something really important we can do to protect our children. That's to make sure the people around them are vaccinated. In times like this, our kids are relying on others to shield them from infection.

It's also why it's so important as kids go back to school that we take measures in our schools, including masking and testing and improving ventilation because that is what's going to help reduce spread in schools and keep our kids safe.

KEILAR: The FDA has granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, so it's no longer emergency use authorization, which a lot of people have said kept them from getting the vaccine. We'll see if that's really a real sort of objection that they have. I know that you said you hope that this means that more companies and schools are going to undertake mandates.

But I wonder, whether we're talking about Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, when might we see full approval for those?

MURTHY: Yeah, I do think that the approval, the FDA announced yesterday for the Pfizer vaccine, is a milestone in our vaccination efforts. And it reaffirms what we have been seeing for months, Brianna, which is that the vaccines are highly effective. They have a very strong safety profile, and what we need to get through this pandemic.

So, what was issued yesterday was for Pfizer. The FDA is assessing the Moderna application for full approval, and we anticipate that Johnson & Johnson in the near future will submit its application for full approval.

But despite the news yesterday, there are two things that don't change. One is that if you are unvaccinated, getting vaccinated now with any of the three vaccines is still your fastest path to protection against hospitalization and death from the virus.

The other thing that doesn't change is the plan that we announced last week, which is the week of September 20, pending the either review of the FDA and CDC advisory committee, we plan to start booster shots, third shots for those who receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

KEILAR: You know, as a nation, we are sending children back to school, some of them are already back in school, some of them will be going to school here in the next few weeks. They are unvaccinated largely. They are going back during a delta variant surge. In many cases, they are going back to schools where they will not be wearing masks because they have been banned by some governors or school districts or even at the request of their parents.


Do you think we're going to see children dying because of this?

MURTHY: Well, Brianna, first of all, there is nothing more important than the health of our kids, and so I'm glad we're talking about this. And I say this not just as a doctor, but as a dad with two kids who are too young to be vaccinated right now.

Look, the good news is still that even with the delta, we're seeing that our kids, by and large, do remarkably well in terms of coming out on the other end and recovering well even if they do get infected. With that said, we've seen our hospitals filling up with kids who are COVID-19 because this virus is so incredibly contagious. It is spreading quickly among the population, including our children.

So I think we have a moral responsibility to do everything we can to protect our kids as they go back to school and try to learn the way kids are supposed to do. And that means that we've got to make sure that schools have mask requirements. And when I see states and localities blocking those kind of safety measures for our children, it bothers me deeply because we should be using what science is telling us works and implementing that to protect our kids.

But we also know it's not just about masks, Brianna. We know that improving ventilation works, doing testing, surveillance testing in schools helps reduce the risk to our kids. So we've got to be putting these measures in place.

The American Rescue Plan provided money for this, billions of dollars to our schools to implement this. We've got to put that money to work. We've got to keep our kids safe.

KEILAR: All right. Dr. Vivek Murthy, thank you so much for being with us.

MURTHY: Of course. Thanks, Brianna. Good to talk to you again. KEILAR: And just ahead, the gut wrenching final message from a young mother about vaccines and COVID.

BERMAN: And next, the Biden agenda kind of in the balance. Can Nancy Pelosi break a stalemate with centrist Democrats in the House?