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Evacuation Effort in Final 36 Hours, Estimated 150 Americans Need to Get to Kabul Airport, Gates Now Closed; Blinken Says, Estimated 1,500 American Citizens Remain in Afghanistan; 100,000-Plus in U.S. Hospitals with COVID for First Time Since January. Aired 7- 7:30a ET
Aired August 26, 2021 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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Next hour of New Day starts right now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, August 26th. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.
36 hours left. That is the breaking news. Sources tell CNN the evacuation effort in Afghanistan will end in the next 36 hours. Remember, the deadline for U.S. withdrawal is actually August 31st. This news means the end of direct efforts to get people out days before that deadline. We know there are American citizens still trying to get out, for thousands of green card holders, legal permanent residents, Afghan allies, that hope is faint or all but gone.
We are learning that U.S. efforts are under way to help 2,000 local embassy staff get out. We did just learn that 13,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan in the last 24 hours. That is still a very large number, but you can see that number getting smaller and smaller. It is less than the nearly 20,000 we had seen the previous two days.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: Huge security risks complicating this evacuation and over the next 36 hours. Overnight, the U.S. embassy in Kabul warned all Americans do not travel to the airport. And for people already gathered at certain airport gates, the message was even more urgent, it was leave immediately. One defense official told CNN there's a very specific threat stream from ISIS-K, ISIS Khorasan, about planned attacks against crowds there. And this warning specifically names three airport gates.
Nick Paton Walsh beginning our coverage for us in Qatar with the breaking news on the new timeline for evacuating Afghanistan. You know, Nick, you had been reporting in the last few days that you couldn't really take August 31st to the bank. You're going to have to factor in U.S. troops leaving and this was actually going to mean a much accelerated evacuation. You're very correct in that assessment, which is very sad for many people trying to get out.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. Look, I mean, I have to say, from those numbers you're reporting of the 13,000 in the last 24-hour period, that's sort of the evidence you need of the difficulties that are now building. It is quite clear that they cannot go back to where they were before, which is the gates being open, people being picked out of the crowd or essentially through their own ingenuity getting on to the airport. That caused a loss of life and seems now with the concerns about ISIS-K or possibly bombs in those crowds, that is simply not going to happen.
In fact, I understand from a source familiar with the situation, the gates are now fully closed. In fact, Abby Gate, which is one of the key gates, people tried to get in, that's been cleared around it. So, that situation shut down because I understand one of a number of issues, of course, the volume of people there being one but a bomb threat persistently was one of them as well.
Where are we now in terms of the departure of U.S. citizens? Well, you heard U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday afternoon D.C. time talk about 500 Americans that they were aware needed to be evacuated to the airport and 1,000 about whose status they were not 100 percent clear but they've been trying to reach. The figures we're hearing today of 150 Americans needing evacuationto the airport as of 8:00 A.M. this morning Kabul local time, those numbers are essentially suggesting that 500 may have dwindled.
And I know also between midnight and 8:00 A.M. 200 were flown out of the airport. So it's possible that at the very fast rate this job of evacuating Americans is going that diminishing that 500 fast and they may even be getting into some of those thousands if they're more certain about whether they are American citizens and whether they want to leave.
The other issue you mentioned too, local Afghan embassy staff, very much in the mind of U.S. diplomats, of course, people they sat opposite, 1,300 are out, 1,800 still need to be brought to the airport. This is still happened though through the alternative routes through that the Pentagon have spoken somewhat secretively about through, I understand, convoys, with prearrangement with the Taliban and U.S. military can enter through the southern gate of the airport but also, too, there are many who are trying to get in buses who are stuck on the perimeter because they simply cannot help all the people they want to.
And it does seem if we're seeing now the number they're flying out diminishing.
It's clearly not because the U.S., with the extraordinary airlift for the past days lacks the airpower, they can bring in C-17s every 39 minutes, they say. It's probably because the people they need to get are actually harder to find.
And it seem that things are ramping down now. I'm hearing too, the Australians, Canadians, Italians and Turkish, they've begun leaving, the Brits may leave tonight. It is fast developing and turning into a military withdrawal, sadly, rather than evacuation operation, Brianna.
KEILAR: Yes. This is the end. This is the beginning of the end that we're witnessing here. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.
The next 36 hours in and around the Kabul airport will be complicated. They will be dangerous. CNN's Sam Kylie was just evacuated from the Kabul airport yesterday. He is joining us now from Doha as well.
Sam, there are a lot of risks here.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are a great deal of risks writ large in the form of briefings coming out from the British, Americans, Dutch, Belgians all saying to their citizens, stay away from the airport. If you're close to the airport, get away from the airport because of this ISIS-K threat. And that has meant that the acceleration of these evacuations just has to happen in the face of this potentially catastrophic attack, which intelligence officials really think is potentially imminent.
But this is what it looked like as we were leaving.
KILEY (voice over): The freedom clock for evacuees from Kabul is ticking ever faster. The U.S. and its allies loading planes with evacuees from Kabul at a frantic pace, one taking off every 39 minutes as of Tuesday.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGONN PRESS SECRETARY: We know there are a lot of desperate people who want to leave, and that's why we are working as fast as we can.
KILEY: Still, the State Department says as many as 1,500 Americans may still remain in Afghanistan. The Biden administration pledging to make sure that U.S. citizens who want to leave aren't left behind.
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Let me be crystal clear about this, there is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens who decide they want to leave to do so along with the many Afghans who have stood by us over these many years. KILEY: But getting to the airport is an increasingly dangerous feat, the Taliban blocking access for Afghans hoping to board a plane to escape.
We've also had a number of reports of Afghans stuck in pockets around the town desperately sending out signals to Americans to try to get them out, particularly people who have been working with the United States. We've heard from one group its identity we're keeping secret that really fear that they will not survive the coming days if they can't get to this airport.
Crowds still packing outside the facility's walls waiting and wading in sewage, some people showing documents trying to get inside. Active plots from ISIS-K to attack crowds at the airport has caused the coalition government to tell their citizens to stay away.
MARISE PAYNE, AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER: Do not travel to Hamid Karzai International Airport. And if you're in the area of the airport, move to a safe location and await further advice.
KILEY: This ISIS threat is making evacuation even harder.
BLINKEN: We're taking every precaution, but this is very high risk.
KILEY: But some are making it through and making it out, like Mohammed Yusufzai, a U.S. citizen. He's leaving with his family of six.
MOHAMMED YUSUFZAI, U.S. CITIZEN FROM CALIFORNIA: Nobody want to leave their home easily. But there are a lot of challenging around, threats around.
KILEY: Hours later, landing in Doha, the first step to safety on a long and hard journey as refugees from terror.
KILEY (on camera): Now, the U.S. has said that both of Americans who may get left behind, although they're committed to getting them all out, but very importantly also people with visas for the United States who worked alongside the Americans who simply will not be able to get out come what may their chances of getting to the airport are really very slim, that there will be alternative methodologies and there will be points of leverage and pressure that they can put on a Taliban- dominated administration in Kabul, to allow people who want to leave Afghanistan have the visas to leave Afghanistan, particularly to go to the United States, to allow them to do that. How that will happen will be keenly watched in Kabul. Brianna, John?
KEILAR: All right. Sam Kiley live for us in Doha, thank you.
BERMAN: All right. Joining me now from Kabul on the phone is the Nabin Bulos. He's the Middle East Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times. Nabin, I know you're out on the streets reporting, so I appreciate the time you're taking to speak with us. This news that CNN is just reporting now, 36 hours left at this point until the evacuation efforts end. How do you think that that news will be received where you are in Kabul?
NABIN BULOS, MIDDLE EAST BUREAU CHIEF, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES (voice over): Well, almost certainly create a more chaos at the airports. I mean, to be clear, even today, I mean, even though there's been word about this bomb threat from ISIS-K, what matters is that thousands are still screened to the airport area to try to get in.
Now, it's worth noting that a lot of these people actually don't have the necessary documents to get in but they still are trying. And that's still happening even today.
BERMAN: So, describe the process for someone trying to get into the airport on this final 36-hour stretch. What is it like for them?
BULOS (voice over): Well, right now, I mean, a lot of people realized -- and, again, I just try to (INAUDIBLE) documentation, those who have permissions are in touch with various groups trying to organize some kind of meeting point outside of the airport, so either in a hotel or compound, and then they are bused in, right?
Other tricks they're using, for example, is to pick up like a special kind of clothing or to hold a balloon or some kind of special item that would obviously like show them out in the crowd and they are called in by the Marines or whatever.
Now, but, again, obviously, it's difficult because let's say you're trying to get into the airport and start walking up to the gates. You're facing Taliban guards who really are more likely to shoot first and ask questions later, right, or really just beat you with a rubber hose, et cetera. So even if you have been (INAUDIBLE) and not even allow you, and it depends very much on the whims of who is there. So, really, it's quite difficult in this regard.
Now, again, I mean, the key point is that we're seeing all these emails, we're seeing all these calls, all these organizations trying to figure out ways and alternative meeting points to go there and then go by bus to the airport, and, of course, in extreme cases, by helicopter.
BERMAN: I mean, do people know what to do, Nabin? I mean, we keep seeing these State Department alerts. Leave the airport if you're not there. Don't go until you're told. It seems like it must be whiplash for people, even people who do want to get out. Go ahead.
BULOS (voice over): Of course. I mean, it's absolutely crazy. It's absolutely nuts. I mean, the fact of the matter is, yesterday, I spoke to someone who has a visa. He has (INAUDIBLE) tickets and he was told to go to the gate. And then, basically, he assumed that there would be a chance for him to actually be allowed in at some point. He gave up hours later. And this is -- I mean, after having to brave sewage water, after having to deal with Taliban guards shooting in the air, et cetera, it's all very confusing.
And it's worth noting that there are different armies in place here. So, you're trying to deal with various groups and just trying to figure out who can reach -- reach the Marine who will let you in or who can reach a soldier in this army to let you in. So, really, it's very, very chaotic right now.
BERMAN: People need to understand at this point, Nabin, the fact of the matter is that people will be left behind. There will be U.S. allies, U.S. Afghan allies left behind. There will be legal permanent residents at this point left behind, maybe even American citizens at this point left behind. To what extent are people now planning now that they know there's really only 36 hours left? What contingencies are people making for this post-August 31st period, either to try to live there safely or try to get out even after that time?
BULOS (voice over): Well, of course, a lot of people have now visas to Uzbekistan or to Pakistan or to Turkey, et cetera, and try to use those to get out. So, in case they can't leave, (INAUDIBLE) and then try to go via land, that trail, resembled the talk in crossing in Pakistan, for example. But at the same time, I mean, this is quite difficult and it's still unclear, right? This is the real point is that we don't know what's going to happen at the airport. Will commercial flights resume? It's unclear if the Taliban have air traffic to controls, for example.
And I know that that's a ridiculous question, but the fact is that it's key, right? Without this kind of expertise, they can't operate their airports and commercial flights, even if they wanted to. This is a key point. And so people who stayed behind or who are left behind, et cetera, they are trying to find ways to go over land, which, in many cases, might actually work better now because, I mean, the airports are a complete mess.
It's also worth noting that with Kabul outside of the airport is functional to an extent, right? I mean, you have the Taliban security. You have the presence at the ministries. Of course, I mean, for women, it's a different situation, clearly, right, I mean, just looking it on the streets. But with all that being said, I mean, right now, Kabul outside the airport is safer than Kabul near the airport.
BERMAN: Nabin Bulos, Middle East Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times in Kabul, we appreciate the time you've taken to speak with us. Please stay safe.
BULOS (voice over): Thank you so much.
KEILAR: Let's talk about this worsening security situation now in and around the airport at Kabul with our CNN Anchor and Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto.
Talk to us a little bit about this. We just heard from Sam Kiley, intel officials are worried about a catastrophic attack. We know, according to his reporting, the Taliban had arrested four ISIS-K- affiliated folks who have been surveying the airport. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the risk appears to be real. I reported yesterday that the U.S. is a very specific intelligence streams that the intelligence about this potential attack at the airport is specific and credible. They believe that ISIS-K, this group, or Islamic State Khorasan, has the capability and the planning to do so and the target would be those crowds around the airport with the intention of striking fear and creating mayhem around the airport.
That seems to have contributed to what we've seen there, which is lack of access to the airport. But let's be frank, it's not just that, because the Taliban, I've been speaking to groups trying to get people out of the country and I've been speaking to Afghans trying themselves to get out of the country and the Taliban has not been allowing access to the airport. They've been turning many or most people away, beating them away, telling them for various reason that they can't come in anymore.
So when you hear -- you heard from the podium yesterday from the White House saying that the Taliban is allowing access to the airport just, frankly, practically, on the ground not true.
KEILAR: No. And even with -- look, I've been in touch with a family here in the U.S. that is trying to get their family, green card holders out of Kabul. Okay, these are legal, permanent residents who live here in the United States, have for years, and they were home visiting family. They're trying to get back now. They got stuck. They were supposed to be out on a commercial flight in September. Clearly, that's not going to happen. They cannot get through a Taliban checkpoint.
SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, the Taliban controls the country, they control access to the airport. Those people and our evacuation plan, with some exceptions, because we know the military has been doing extractions particularly of American citizens at great risk with some exceptions but, in general, that golden ticket is dependent on Taliban cooperation. And in recent days, they just have not been cooperating and it's a fundamental weakness in this plan, right? You have one exit point from one airport in one city in the entire country and you don't have control of the space around it. That's your only emergency exit.
KEILAR: So we're looking at these numbers now. We know that on the military side of things, it's been a little over 5,000 people that they have gotten out here in the last 24 hours. That's a dip from the last couple of days.
SCIUTTO: Because people can't get to the airport.
KEILAR: They can't get to the airport. How are you thinking about this? Because this is a staggering airlift but at the same time, I mean, the way I'm thinking about it is, look, if you, if your family was in peril, right, anyone's family was in peril, and you survive but your brother or mother don't or your kids, you're not celebrating.
KEILAR: This isn't a moment to celebrate. It's great you got out. It is a tragedy nonetheless.
SCIUTTO: You can separate the mission from the policy. The mission has been performed pretty remarkably well in a finite number of days, many tens of thousands of people carried out. You know, you covered the military for years. You have family in the military. I have. That's an enormous operation. Dozens of C-17s, all the coordination, the protection necessary to do that and the respect you saw those soldiers showing those refugees as they come in, that should be lauded.
But that mission was bookended by a policy that basically gave this country days to evacuate many tens of thousands of people. And the August 31st deadline has always been misleading, right, because that's turning the lights off. And already, as nick has been reporting and I've been discussing the last couple days the actual deadline is much sooner for that. For most Afghans, it's already passed.
KEILAR: That's right. I remember you guys talking about it. Actually, the deadline is more like Friday. That's what we're seeing, as you said, August 31st.
SCIUTTO: And for many of them, it's passed already because they can't get to the airport so they can't get out.
KEILAR: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.
Coronavirus hospitalizations are now surpassing 100,000 for the first time since January. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will answer your questions and they're very good ones, next.
BERMAN: Plus, former President Trump threatened to invoke executive privilege in the Capitol attack probe. What does that mean for the investigation?
KEILAR: Coronavirus hospitalizations in the United States are now topping 100,000. This is the first time since January in the early weeks of vaccine rollout that the U.S. has seen these kinds of numbers. Florida and Texas accounting for nearly one third of all hospitalizations as the delta variant is just tearing through the unvaccinated population.
We do want to get to some viewer questions. You guys have a lot of good ones out there on these vaccines and the booster shots. So, to answer those, let's bring in CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
I love doing this with you, Sanjay, because these are the real questions, good morning, that people have. And, first, Gary from Virginia says this, he says, I am fully vaccinated as of May 2021. I don't feel protected anymore. Maybe you can address that. And want the booster sooner than later. Are the original vaccinations effective eight plus months or are we waiting for a booster shot when our vaccines drop in effectiveness? Why do we have to wait?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a great question. And what the COVID task force has basically said is they signaled, hey, look, we're seeing some safety signals in terms of waning antibodies. So, they're trying to be proactive. So maybe not wade in until they see numbers of hospitalizations and things like that go up. We'll see how the CDC and the FDA treat this because this still has to go through the official processes and then be formally recommended by the CDC.
And right now, I got to say, the vaccine still work really well. We talked a lot about antibodies waning. People care more about the patients than their blood. Let me show you something out of L.A. I love showing graphics like this because I think they tell a story of what has happened with the vaccines overall. The dash line you see going up in the upper right corner there, that is the unvaccinated people in the hospital. This is going through the end of last month. And you can see the bottom lines are flat, almost against the bottom there are the vaccinated and partially vaccinated, even slightly above that.
I want to just keep showing these graphics because as we talked about boosters and everything and people say, well, my vaccines are wearing off, in terms of the things that matter most, they're really not.
They're staying pretty effective for some time. How long will they last? I don't think we can say for sure. But in the past, you know, there's vaccines that can last years and you get boosters every now and then. So we'll see if this is more like flu or more like that.
BERMAN: That was incredible to see that. You still see the difference between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated the relative risk level.
I want to go to question number three because I want to make sure we have time for it, because I think this is the big question that so many people are asking right now. And it's Stephanie from New York who writes, how do we move forward knowing that many Americans will never be vaccinated even with Pfizer receiving full FDA approval? At what point does COVID become an endemic virus that we must learn to live with without major restrictions in our schools and normal lives?
GUPTA: Well, I think in terms of endemic, meaning the virus is here to stay, I think we can probably say that now. This is a really contagious virus. And, look, there's the descendants of the 1918 flu or things that we still live with more than 100 years later. So, that's quite possible. But it could be a rather inconsequential sort of house mate, if you will, a very tolerable one.
Here is what Dr. Fauci said just a couple days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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 get back to a degree of normality.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GUPTA: What is likely to happen is that, and on top of vaccinations, as we know, because this is such a contagious virus, people are increasingly becoming infected. It's a much more difficult way to achieve immunity but there is something to be said for natural immunity. You don't want to do this. I'm not encouraging it because people get sick and they can die. But in combination the vaccine immunity, natural immunity, I think that's what Dr. Fauci is sort of referring to, by the time we get into the spring, the virus will run out of places to go because there's enough immunity out there.
How do you define control? That's going to be the big question. You really have to answer this question. I think a lot of it's going to be at the point where it's no longer sort of affecting hospitalizations and we're taking care of patients the way that we used to and not thinking about COVID in terms of what it can do to a society. There will still be illnesses from time to time, but not the impact that we're seeing right now.
KEILAR: Yes. Look, immunity is key, as you said, but no need to do it the hard way, right? We don't need to lose people to get there. It's insane. It's a sacrifice that we don't have to make. We have these vaccines.
Sanjay, thank you so much for being with us this morning.
BERMAN: And just ahead, a make or break moment for the Biden presidency. Afghanistan, COVID, not to mention his entire economic agenda putting his leadership to the test.
KEILAR: And frontline nurses fighting COVID and they're fighting burnout.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel that you're close to a breaking point?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we already broke.
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