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U.S. Evacuation Operation in Afghanistan Ending in 36 Hours; COVID Rates Highest Among Older Teens; Trump Makes Executive Privilege Threat to Block House Panel Probe. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 26, 2021 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, August 26. I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman.

And we are beginning with some significant breaking news. Sources telling CNN that the frantic evacuation effort in Afghanistan is in its final 36 hours. There are still U.S. citizens trying to get out of Kabul. Others possibly stuck outside the city.

And the fate of thousands of green card holders and their families growing dim. These are legal, permanent residents of the U.S., like a Philadelphia family with small children who we featured on our show yesterday.

For many Afghans who worked with U.S. troops, their hopes to escape may now be dashed, though U.S. efforts are under way to help almost 2,000 local embassy staff try to get out.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So 36 hours left. Which is not much. And the complications are only compounded by the huge security risks.

Overnight, the U.S. embassy blasted an urgent warning to all Americans: Don't travel to the airport. And people at certain gates should, they say, leave immediately.

One defense official told CNN there is a very specific threat stream from ISIS-K about planned attacks against crowds. The warning specifically cites three airport gates.

We want to begin with the urgent reporting, though, about this new timeline. Nick Paton Walsh is in Qatar with the breaking news.

Nick, you're breaking this. What have you learned?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Thirty- six hours left of the evacuation operation, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Now, that shouldn't come an enormous surprise, because we've always known that at some point they would have to stop and let the military takeover with the job of getting themselves out.

But I've also learned that there's a key number involved here. The priority for this evacuation operation has always been American citizens. And as of this -- as of 8 a.m. this morning, there were still, Kabul time, there were still 150 Americans still that they needed to get onto the airport.

Now, the evacuation of them is moving at quite a clip. Because I understand that after midnight and 8 a.m., 200 Americans actually left the base. So it is possible.

Now we're looking at late afternoon in Kabul, but if that pace was kept up, most of the Americans which the United States is aware need assistance to get to the airport have got there and have perhaps left. I am speculating, though.

You may say, John, hang on, didn't Secretary of State Antony Blinken talk about 1,500 Americans yesterday who needed to be taken out? Well, yes, he did. He said 500 they knew for sure of, and about 1,000 were people they tried repeatedly to reach who may not have been U.S. citizens, who may not have wanted to leave, who are kind of in an indefinite category.

Now, if you remember that he was speaking at what would have been kind of late evening, Kabul time, it is possible that, in fact, they've taken out quite a lot of those 500 by now, and they may even have gotten into that 1,000 group, too.

So it's important to remember that Antony Blinken could well have been representing the situation, the entire veracity, and at the same time, there's now 150 left. So that is one important element of this.

A second number I should tell you is category of citizen who is deeply in the hearts of, I think, American diplomats, and that's the local staff at the Afghan embassy. At this point, there are still thought to be 1,800 that need to get to the airport, and 1,300 have been flown out.

But gosh, the gates are shut now. There is an ID threat, a bomb threat, it seems, outside that's caused that. So getting in is either through escort or prior arrangement or, it seems, through this slightly strange unofficial route that Afghan security forces, also securing the airport, have left open for those that they know. But the window so tight now, John.

KEILAR: It is incredibly tight. And so as you mentioned, there are those Afghans who are, as you put it, in the hearts of diplomatic folks. They want to get them out.

But what about when it comes to legal permanent residents? You know, for instance, one of the families that we talked about yesterday on our show, Nick, was a family from Philadelphia. They've lived there now for a couple of years. They're green card holders. They're not American citizens. But we're talking about a wife and five children, some of whom are rather young. What about folks who fall into that category? WALSH: Yes, actually, I don't have the absolutely concrete answer with

you on that, and I'm pretty sure the U.S. team there would be -- they're aware of that case, doing what they could to get them onto the airport.

Certainly, American citizens and their immediate family that appear to be the hard-core priority here.

There's been very courageous work, much of it kept in secret for obvious reasons by, it seems, U.S. troops who have done their best to get American citizens into the airport. And also, too, allied Afghans and certain priority groups.

You know, we're really coming down awfully here, Brianna, to a case of who you know in order to get through these various checkpoints. The Taliban are allowing escorted people through the southern civilian entrance. Then at some point, they get to the U.S. side. That all works if it's pre-arranged.

The problem seems to be, according to the source familiar with the situation, that a lot of interest groups in Washington, various places, quite understandably, have people who they want to get to safety. And that seems to be messing, generally, with the priority system for confirmed SIV applicants, those local staff at the embassy. A lot of conflicting interests here.

But I would describe the scene, essentially, where people are working on the airport are sort of being asked to go to the gates to get certain people, as though, quote, "it was a trip to the backyard."


This is a heavily fortified part of the airport. Crowds there, the bomb threat that we talked about. And so real concerns, I think, that this 36-hour window we have now.

And we know that military allies of the U.S., the Australians, the Canadians, the Italians, the Turkish, have started leaving. The British, I understand, will leave tonight. There is a lot happening already involving departure for military contingents. Attention will soon turn to the U.S.

The question they have to answer is how many more people from the SIV applicants can they get on? I understand that lots of genuine SIV applicants are not going to be able to get on because these gates are closed, because it's so tough and this window is now so tight -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it is, indeed. Nick Paton Walsh, live from Qatar. Thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. He served in the Army, is currently the head of geopolitical strategy at Academy Security.

Spider, thanks so much for being with us. MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Thank

you, John.

BERMAN: Thirty-six hours. Right. The clock is ticking, 36 hours. What does that mean for the next day and a half for the U.S. military there? And what starts to happen after those 36 hours?

MARKS: Well, to answer the first part of your question, over the course of the next 36 hours, I cannot imagine that anything would look significantly different. In other words, I don't think there's going to be an enhanced amount of risk that will be taken on the airfield to try to really jam an increased number of folks onto aircraft. I mean, there are significant risks, were you to do that, were you to increase the number of aircraft on the field. You can -- you've got challenges associated with just the coordination of the air space, then the activity on the ground.

So I think what we're going to see over the course of the next day and a half will be what we've seen, which is a rather chaotic scene, but there's a through-put and there is a steady flow onto aircraft.

The priority is American citizens. I've got to -- I have to tell you, John, that we are going to find out that folks are going to be left behind, which gets to the second part of your question.

I find it unimaginable that the United States government isn't saying to the Taliban right now, and we know who those -- the U.S. knows who those senior leaders are in the Taliban, and that we're not getting in their face saying, Look, we're not going to -- we're stop -- we're going to stop asking permission here. We have U.S. citizens. We've got SIV holders, folks that are going to be extracted. We are going to extract them. They will be evacuated. We will either do this in a quasi-permissive way, in other words, you're going to cooperate like you have been to a certain degree, or we're going to get in your face. We are not going to stand for leaving folks behind.

I find that -- I can't get my head around the notion that we're going to leave folks behind. Look, the United States military lives with the ethos of no man or woman left behind. And that's exactly what we're acknowledging, that folks are going to be left.

And I'm tired of folks talking about all those tangential populations. You know, the folks that didn't register or didn't deregister, or they showed up and decided not to leave. That's a small percentage.

What's significant are those that have raised their hand, got the paperwork in place, and those that we can move along.

BERMAN: Look --

MARKS: So, yes. I apologize for a bit of my emotion.

BERMAN: No, no.

MARKS: But it's important we acknowledge this. BERMAN: I think people needs to appreciate that, as things stand right

now, it's hard to imagine that everyone who wants to get out, Americans, will get out. But we're watching it very closely, and we expect an update on numbers shortly on that, Spider.

I also want to ask you about the security that came out from the embassy last night, the security alert, with very specific language. "Because of security threats outside the gates, we're advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates at this time, unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so. U.S. citizens should leave immediately from those three gates."

Now, sources tell CNN there are very specific threats they're concerned about from this group ISIS-K. What do our viewers need to know about this group and what the threats might be?

MARKS: Well, this is an Afghan version of ISIS. Just go back to the images of ISIS that we remember from Syria, which is where we did -- where the United States did significant damage against ISIS. But this is in Afghanistan.

And what this tells you is that what Afghanistan experienced 20 years ago, which was a whole host, a large geography of ungoverned space, where terrorist organizations were available to train, to gather, to prepare, and then they conducted the 9/11 attacks. We're at a position where that could be repeated unless we stay diligent.

So this is ISIS-K. Bear in mind, ISIS-K and Taliban don't get along. We could use that to our advantage. I have to imagine our I.C. leadership is doing that. In other words, we can go to the Taliban and say, look, we can be your buddies here in this particular instance. We can help you get after ISIS-K.


But also John, you know, the thing that this tells me is that we assume that we're going to have some type of formal relationship with this Taliban government going forward.

Because if we left U.S. citizens behind, we're going to have to negotiate with the new government, the government in Kabul. And we're going to have to say, Look, we along with the G-7 nations, the nations that want to be -- would like to help you advance unless you want to remain in the 13th Century, you need to get on board and let us have normal relationships.

And the president laid that out. They want to make sure it's not a location, Afghanistan is not going to have terrorist organizations running free. There has to be free flow of refugees and evacuations. And the refugees that exist in there. And the fact that we want to be able to have humanitarian assistance available to the Afghan people. That connotes, that assumes that there's some type of normalcy in our relationships.

Let's hear that -- BERMAN: Yes.

MARKS: -- from our secretary of state. Let's hear that from our senior leadership, that we're going to try to deal with the Taliban going forward, but we're going to set the tones of that -- the tone of that relationship right now, which means we're going to get our folks out.

BERMAN Yes. Look, it's interesting. I have to let you go, General, but Seth Moulton, the congressman, one of the congressman who took that controversial trip to Afghanistan, came out saying, well, he went in pushing for an extension of the August 31 deadline. He now believes that an extension wouldn't matter, and the only way to guarantee or at least to try to give assurances on the safety of people left behind is to have that relationship with the Taliban. And that was a change for him, and that's interesting.

General Spider Marks, always a pleasure to have you on. Thanks so much.

MARKS: Thank you, John, very much.

KEILAR: The window to leave Afghanistan is rapidly closing, with just hours to go before planes will no longer be available for folks who want to leave.

Many Afghans cannot get to the airport or they are being denied entry by the Taliban. Some of these folks are even green card holders in the U.S. who are not able to get through Taliban check points.

Joining us now is Kristen Rouse. She is a board member at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.

And Kristen, look, I know that you have been up for days on end trying to help people. This is your -- you're part of a vast network of veterans and former diplomatic folks and others who are trying to help Afghans and also Americans get out.

I know that you've seen some of these reports about empty charter flights, some seats that are not filled. And I wonder, you know, as you're undergoing these efforts, how you're seeing that.

KRISTEN ROUSE, BOARD MEMBER, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA I -- I saw that photo of a mostly empty plane, and I cried. We have -- we have people, just me and my team, we're just volunteers. We're just -- we're veterans. One on my team, he's a former -- my former interpreter, who's now a U.S. citizen, desperately trying to get his family out, because they are threatened because of his service for our country.

And -- and you know, we are working together day and night to connect with -- we have a list of approximately 150 Afghans -- that includes family members -- who are desperate to get out. Many of them hold valid SIVs, the special immigrant visas that are valid. They are valid, and they are supposed to come here. We promised them that, if you have this visa, you can come to the United States. They are unable to -- to move. The Taliban are not letting them

through check points, telling them that we -- you know, we're only required to allow U.S. passports and green cards. And that's -- that's all we're letting through.

Even -- even during these brief moments when -- when we hear that, oh, you know, the north gate is accepting SIVs right now, and then two hours later, the north gate is closed. Or the Abby (ph) gate is open right now. But sorry, there's shootings right now. Tell people to go away. And -- and it's been just, like, hourly non-stop changing. There's been so much violence on the streets. There's been so much just restrictiveness and and horror around these Taliban check points.

And -- and it's just been absolutely crushing to see, you know, people who weren't able to get their passport in time before Kabul fell. They've been working on their visa paperwork for months, if not years. And they were unable to make it through the 14-step process for their SIV. They -- you know, they had an appointment at the embassy days after the embassy evacuated.


ROUSE: You know, the point -- you know, just story after story.

But, like, we have a college student. He -- you know, the Taliban shot the security at his university and are beating up students, and he believes that they're going to be killed as soon as the media leaves.

KEILAR: Yes. And look, we understand -- we understand --


KEILAR: -- the students, certainly, of the American University and others, especially female students, have been burning their documentation. They don't even want to be seen --


KEILAR: -- as students affiliated with Americans, or if they're women, affiliated with education at all.


You know, I was talking with a family of green card holders --


KEILAR: -- who also -- green card holders, who have not been able to get through a Taliban check point.

You know, do you think that American citizens and green card holders will be left behind? It's very clear Afghans will be. Afghans who helped the U.S. Do you think Americans and green card holders, there's any way around that, considering some of them are outside of Kabul and some of them just can't get through the check points in Kabul? ROUSE: It is -- traveling is so dangerous. And I've also heard of

organizations where, you know, U.S. citizens, green card holders are seeing that their dear Afghan colleagues are not permitted to leave. And they're -- they're committing to stay and do the job, alongside these Afghan colleagues who -- who they've worked in partnership with for many for many -- for so many years. It's -- these are individual choices that people are making.

But the absolute just travesty of not getting people out. Like just over the last 24, 48 hours, with very few exceptions, Afghan nationals have not been able to fly on military flights. And charters have dried up. And as you saw in that photo, charters are leaving empty. And seats are empty. The air lift is there, but people are not permitted access. These are like -- it's like a locked castle.

And then there's -- you know, the Taliban have DShKs, AK-47s, even our own, you know, U.S. weapons that they've gotten, you know, M-4s that they're just -- they're shooting into the crowds. They're beating people down. Just the level of violence and fear and terror is just -- is non-stop, what we're hearing from people.

They are screaming to get out. They're screaming to live. They are screaming for their children to live. And many of us, you know, veterans, Afghan-Americans who are connected to dear family at home, we are -- we are all hearing this every day, every minute of the day. Many of us are staying up day after day after day at a time and doing the best that we can. And -- and they're just not getting out.

KEILAR: Kristen, look, I know you are fighting the fight. I hear how difficult this is in your voice. And I -- I thank you so much for pulling the curtain back on what is going on behind the scenes here and the difficulties that you're having. Kristen Rouse, thanks for being with us.

ROUSE: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Coming up, a new CNN analysis shows which group of children are being most severely impacted by coronavirus.

BERMAN: Plus, former President Trump threatening to invoke executive privilege to prevent investigators from getting documents related to the Capitol attack. So what does this mean for the probe?



BERMAN: This morning, new information about children and COVID, with millions heading back to school. We know that with the Delta variant, more kids are getting infected. And now a new CNN analysis has zeroed in on which age group is at the highest risk. It's older kids.

CNN health reporter Jacqueline Howard joins us now. So what do the numbers tell you, Jacqueline?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH CORRESPONDENT: John, when you look at the numbers, it's really surprising here, because up until last week, young adults ages 18 to 29 consistently had the highest rate of COVID- 19 cases each week throughout the summer.

But then last we checked -- and I looked at these numbers just ten minutes ago, John -- older teens ages 16 and 17 have surpassed young adults with the highest rate of weekly COVID-19 cases.

So you see the numbers here. Last we checked, the rate among older teens ages 16 and 17 was 160 cases --


HOWARD: -- weekly per 100,000 people. So you see that's higher than what's seen in children, and it's higher than what's seen in adults. Obviously, this is important, because we're seeing these numbers as kids are heading back to school.

But John, pediatricians I've talked to, they say they're not that surprised by this. Because when you look at older teens compared with adults, older teens are still the least likely to get vaccinated among eligible age groups. So there's something there.

And then when you look at older teens compared with children, older teens can drive. They move around more, and so, you know, they might be more exposed to the virus.

But of course, we'll keep an eye on this. It will be interesting to see if these trends continue in the coming weeks as teens -- more teens get vaccinated, possibly. And then of course, as more kids are heading back to school. It will be important to really watch these numbers -- John.

BERMAN: Yes. Important to remind people, 16- and 17-year-olds, perfectly eligible to be vaccinated.


BERMAN: The Pfizer vaccine, fully approved. I mean, this is an age group that should get vaccinated. Clearly, these numbers show there is a need.

Jacqueline Howard, thanks so much for that reporting.

HOWARD Absolutely.

BERMAN: So former President Trump attempting to block the investigation into the Capitol riot. He is now threatening to invoke executive privilege. You know who may get to weigh in on this eventually? President Biden. We'll explain next.



KEILAR: Developing overnight, former President Trump threatening to invoke executive privilege to block the House Select Committee that is investigating the January 6th insurrection from obtaining a wide range of documents that it's demanding from several U.S. government agencies.

CNN's Whitney Wild is joining us now.

This -- this is a big request. He would have reason to be concerned.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. So this request is about 40 pages long. It concerns communications, records that go all the way back to April 2020.

And the committee is looking at, again, a wide range of decisions and actions that might have been made by the Trump administration, people within his orbit, as well as the campaign.

Here's just a snapshot of some of the people that were -- are possibly subjects in this investigation. None of those names would be a surprise. So Mark Meadows, Trump loyalist Roger Stone, members of the Trump family. None of that is surprising.

The breadth of the scope, though, might be surprising and possibly was to the former president. Here's what he said: "Unfortunately, this partisan exercise is being performed at the expense of long-standing legal principles of privilege. Executive privilege will be defended. These Democrats have only one tired trick, political theater, and their latest request only reinforces that pathetic reality." Harsh words.

It is ultimately now President Biden who will have the ultimate say over whether these White House records are released. We've already seen a few snippets in some of these other document dumps, communications between members of the Trump administration and the Department of Justice.

This request spans --