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U.S Withdrawal Enters Final Hours; Strongest Hurricanes to hit U.S.; Sebastian Junger is Interviewed about Afghanistan; Hospitals in the South are Running Low on Oxygen. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 30, 2021 - 06:30   ET



CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But also SIV holders, Special Immigrant Visa holders, people who have gone through the entire process and the reams of bureaucracy that that entails and who do actually have their visas in hand and who are still not able to get out.

I spoke to another American citizen, a woman who worked as a translator for the U.S. military for many years, and she has been going to the airport every day with her children and also with two friends who are both SIV holders. Now, she was told you can enter but your friends can't. And out of solidarity, she did not want to leave her friends and their children behind. But the question she kept posing is, if they have their Special Immigrant Visas, if their paperwork has been approved, why are they not eligible as well to get out?

And the concern that these people have is that while the Taliban says anyone with the appropriate documentation will be able to travel, people are very fearful of some kind of a purge or a blood-letting after America leaves, especially with people who worked for the U.S. military. And let me tell you why. Because even though the Taliban has been saying all along there's a blanket amnesty and there's no issue here, I have spoken to some people who are ideologically aligned with the Taliban and they have a very different approach. They say, if you worked and collaborated with the occupiers and the invaders, you must face a punishment. And that is very simple in their eyes, in their interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence. And so because you have that kind of disparity between what the Taliban is saying on the surface and what people who think like the Taliban are saying privately, that's why you have absolute panic, absolute fear from people who have all the documents, whether it's a green card, whether it's a U.S. passport or whether it's that Special Immigrant Visa, and still cannot get into that airport to get on one of these last flights evacuating people.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: What you just described is not amnesty in any language.

Clarissa Ward, thank you very much.

Tropical Storm Ida is a storm of historic proportions, flooding homes in Louisiana, leaving New Orleans entirely without power. How this storm is breaking records on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.



AVLON: All right, Hurricane Ida is breaking records across Louisiana. And not in a good way.

We've got CNN's Tom Foreman to break it all down for us.

Tom, put this in perspective for us.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is -- this is a monstrous storm. We all know that. The one good thing about it, it's been moving relatively quickly. It didn't just sit on the coast the way it had in Houston a few years ago where the storm sat there and just rained and rained and rained.

The strongest hurricanes to hit landfall, look at this, speed -- in terms of speed of wind, Ida, 150 miles an hour, Laura, 150 miles an hour. Look at the years down here. That matters because this is also a record in terms of what we've seen in Louisiana. If we can advance here, you'll see that his is the -- back-to-back years, first time they've ever had storms this big back-to-back, storms this big in general hitting the state of Louisiana.

Why does that matter? Well, if you look beyond the wind, which is very, very powerful, look at -- they've had some damage reported. We've really, as you've been reporting all morning, John, we don't know how much damage is out there. Very typical. You start moving down from New Orleans proper, where it's hard to report on things.

AVLON: That's right.

FOREMAN: You get down to Galliano and Golden Meadow and Grand Isle and Port Fourchon and down to Plaquemines Parish, all those areas, very hard to know, let alone moving out west.

We do know that this moves up exponentially. It doesn't move up a little bit. So, category four, 250 times the damage of a category one storm.

AVLON: Right, Chad was explaining that. It's terrible. And I know that corner very well. And, as you say, it's worse.

FOREMAN: Yes, absolutely.

And, remember, always with hurricanes, no matter how high the wind is, the damage is in the water. You can have roofs torn off from wind, as Galliano lost a hospital roof out there, you can have damage with wind, but really what you're looking at is water. Sixty-five inches so far this year in New Orleans. That's the second most in history. They're expecting 15 to 20 inches of rain with Ida.

Again, this is a lot of rain but if that storm had stalled out there and just sat, boy, that's the real problem. So the fact that it's moved in, become a tropical storm, that's a positive thing.

And then New Orleans averages 62 inches of rain annually. So, you see, we're already way up there. A lot of improvements since Katrina. A tremendous number of improvements.

AVLON: And that's really the question. I mean the fact this is happening almost 16 years to the day of Hurricane Katrina.


AVLON: But all the investment made, how does this compare?

FOREMAN: Well, the storm is similar. What they're hoping -- remember with Katrina, don't forget this, when Katrina first hit, particularly for New Orleans proper, tremendous damage up, you know, on the Gulf Coast and out further. But for New Orleans proper, everyone thought it was OK to begin with. They thought, well, big storm, lots of damage, but it's OK. And then the water started showing up because the industrial canal was breached, there were problems there.

What everyone's looking at right now is how are the pumps doing, how are all these billions of dollars in improvements to the levies? If those are enough, then despite this storm being a great big powerful storm, like that storm, some of the worst damage may be staved off. That probably won't be as true for the outlying areas. When you move further out into again the areas down in here, Plaquemines Parish, all of this, you're going to have a different ball game. But for New Orleans proper, where the bulk of the people are, we just have to see if the pumps all held up, if the levies all held up. If they did, despite the fact this is a massive, massive storm, the damage will be somewhat contained, but we probably will not know that at least until we get further through today and we get some reports because with all the power out, a lot of lack of communication.


AVLON: That's right. And we have sunrise in around an hour central time. So a lot of attention and here's hoping some of that investment really does hold.

FOREMAN: I have friends there and beyond right now who are trying to find out if they have a home, if their neighborhood survived.

AVLON: We all do.

All right, Tom Foreman, thank you very much.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: All right, just in, a new report on North Korea's nuclear program. One group is calling it deeply troubling and hundreds of college students in Afghanistan trying to reach the airport but they were told to return home. We have the latest on the efforts to get them out safely.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: U.S. forces are racing to complete their evacuation operation before tomorrow's deadline and under the threat of a new terror attack on the airport in Kabul. This as we saw five rockets fired overnight at the airport.


They were, though, intercepted by a defensive system that the U.S. has there.

Let's talk about this now with Sebastian Junger. He is a journalist, he is a co-director of the Oscar nominated documentary "Restrepo," which chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley.

Sebastian, thank you so much for joining us again.

I wonder how you are looking at these new developments, these rocket attacks on the airport. The U.S. also saying that they took out a car that had become essentially a makeshift rocket launcher. And we're also learning about the U.S. saying that they foiled a suicide bombing attempt on the airport. How are you viewing these developments?

SEBASTIAN JUNGER, JOURNALIST: Well, I'm not surprised that ISIS, which seems to be behind these attacks, is continuing to try to breach the security perimeter and kill people. And I'm also not surprised that, I mean, the U.S. has developed ways of countering these threats. And I'm not surprised that they worked. I mean the military is very, very good at that kind of thing.

What is interesting to me, though, is where the intelligence came from. I mean it's possible that there's actually a sort of -- a live relationship between Taliban commanders, Taliban intelligence on the ground and the U.S. military where there -- the Taliban are feeding information to the U.S. military and it's actionable and the U.S. military is carrying out strikes and that sort of thing on the basis of that. So, you know, and that -- I mean that's an important relationship. And it could be the start of a diplomatic relationship that may see the Taliban acting within sort of international standards for human rights and that kind of thing.

So, you know, I'm actually somewhat encouraged here.

KEILAR: Yes, look, we know there is an open channel. So the question is, is that -- and very possibly it is -- the avenue by which this information is coming through to the U.S. as it does have these strikes.

You know, I wonder, Sebastian, this is a big airport. And you have the U.S. military securing the perimeter of it for right now from the inside. The Taliban is on the outside. But if you're looking towards this deadline tomorrow of U.S. troops leaving, of eventually the last plane taking off, how do they secure that perimeter for a safe, final step of leaving?

JUNGER: I mean, I -- you know, I'm not in the military and I don't know what their protocols are for that kind of thing. But, again, the Taliban, they're under enormous pressure to act reasonably and to protect human life. They may not do that, but they're under huge international pressure. There are a lot of incentives. Apparently there's a huge amount of money in New York City that belongs to the Afghan government, whatever that is, and they have to -- if they're going to step up and fill that role and access that money, they have to act like a governing power.

And so I'm -- I don't know on the ground exactly how they'll do that around Kabul. They may get help from other nations, such as Turkey. I've heard Turkey might step in. But I'm confident that the U.S. military has the technical expertise, the strategic thinking that can get everyone off the ground on one last flight. I'm just assuming that they can do that.

KEILAR: Obviously the Taliban is under pressure from the U.S. to try to clamp down on terrorism and make sure that Afghanistan doesn't become a terrorist safe haven again. But at the same time, look, they're facing pressure as well from terrorist groups who would like to fill that vacuum.

You know, do you worry that this could become a place where terrorists find haven and can operate from?

JUNGER: Well, you know -- you know, ISIS has established itself and is a devout (ph) enemy of the Taliban and vice versa. So that's not a haven. I mean they're there and have to be dealt with. And, you know, I can see -- again, I'm not predicting the future, but I can imagine a situation where the U.S. military is conducting air support for Taliban forces on the ground to tackle ISIS. I can picture that, right? It may not happen.

But, you know, in terms of al Qaeda, I mean our presence in the U.S. allowed for the decimation of al Qaeda in killing bin Laden. They still exist in the world. But just think about it through the Taliban's perspective and they're brilliant, strategic thinkers or they wouldn't have won a war against the U.S., and why would they want to cycle back, you know, another 20 years of conflict with the U.S. And that will happen if they allow terrorist groups to operate from Afghanistan freely as they did before 9/11 and attack the U.S. I mean we'll be right back there to take care of the problem. And they don't want to -- they don't want to cycle back through that either. Why would they? So, I mean, they want legitimacy as a state. They want an Islamic government in Afghanistan. And I think there's a lot of pressures on them that -- for them to do that, they're going to have to check certain boxes of behavior.


And I think harboring terrorists probably is off the list.

KEILAR: So you saw the Taliban take over in 1996. I mean we just heard you detail some of the ways in which, you know, maybe the Taliban is now different or there's this question of the pressures that it's facing and it has this, you know, past history and understanding of what it can and cannot do to meet its ends. How is the Taliban not just different but how is the Taliban the same

compared to the Taliban that you saw in the '90s?

JUNGER: Right. Well, in the '90s, I mean I was there in 1996. I got out of Kabul right before they swept in. And they weren't saying the right things. I mean now at least they're saying the right things. We're not -- you know, we're not going to -- we're going to respect human rights and we're not going to have sort of revenge campaigns against people that campaigned with the government -- that worked for the government. I mean they're saying the things we warrant to to hear. Will they carry it out? We'll find out. But at least they're saying it.

They're also not a completely unified structure. There's all kinds of different factions and groups within the Taliban. So it remains to be seen if they can sort of like coordinate and discipline unruly components of their group. I mean, we'll see. It's a big, sprawling complicated country. I mean it's going to be messy one way or another.

But their stated goals right now are very, very different from their stated goals in 1996. And I would, frankly, be surprised if we saw some of the ghastly spectacles of the late '90s, you know, stoning women in stadiums for adultery and that kind of thing. I would be surprised. It don't know -- it doesn't serve their purposes, you know? And they're a very pragmatic, strategic group. It would -- I mean it could happen, but it would surprise me.

KEILAR: All right, look, I mean we're going to see, right? This is what's going to be play out here in the months and even the years to come.

Sebastian Junger, thank you for being with us.

JUNGER: My pleasure.

AVLON: Just in to CNN, North Korea apparently restarting a nuclear reactor in its Yongbyon complex according to a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is the first indication of activity at the reactor since December of 2018. And the IAEA goes on to call North Korea's nuclear activities a cause for serious concern. The report follows earlier activities of radio chemical lab in the same complex beginning in February until July.

KEILAR: We do have some more on our breaking news.

President Biden declaring a major disaster in Louisiana from Hurricane Ida. We'll be speaking with the head of FEMA as recovery efforts amid a life-threatening storm surge and extreme winds continue.

AVLON: Plus, oxygen is running out in hospitals across the south as COVID patients fill up ICUs. That's next.


[06:57:45] KEILAR: Millions more Americans are about to lose pandemic unemployment benefits that are set to expire this coming weekend. And this is coming at a time when businesses are going out of their way, they're boosting wages, offering bonuses and providing other incentives to lure workers in. At least 7.5 million people in 26 states will be affected by this, but don't expect a flood of new hiring because experts say cutting off benefits has had little impact on pushing people back to work. There are other contributing factors, chief among them concerns about COVID and in particular this delta variant.

AVLON: And jam-packed hospitals in Louisiana have more than just Hurricane Ida to be worried about this morning. With the still rising number of COVID patients, hospitals in at least four states are experiencing oxygen shortages. Some facilities in Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana are on the verge of moving to their reserve supply or even running out of oxygen all together.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is here with the latest.

Kristen, what have you learned in your reporting?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, I spent the weekend talking to health officials, state and federal, hospital networks, as well as oxygen suppliers who say that this is a terrible situation and it could get worse before it gets better.

I mean one thing to keep in mind, John, is what we have seen in the evolution of care in COVID-19 is this use of high flow oxygen over ventilators. This is something we're seeing multiple times in hospitals. Now, with this spike in cases across the south, one source told me that some hospitals in Florida are using two to three times the normal amount of oxygen that they have in storage, which is, of course, leading to shortages and, obviously, higher demand here.

So this is a huge problem. And I want to read to you what one doctor in Florida said they're seeing. They said, this round we're seeing younger patients, 30, 40, 50 years and they're suffering. They're hungry for oxygen and they're dying. Unfortunately, this round, they're dying faster.

And there is somewhat of a perfect storm here. It's not just the spike in cases. We've seen a decline in drivers that are actually qualified to transport this materials. And on top of that, you have to keep in mind, last time that we saw this huge spike in cases, non-essential businesses were closed. Meaning, any other business that uses this high-flow or liquid oxygen wasn't using it, getting hospitals this extra supply.


So what we're hearing from hospitals is that they want some sort of federal