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Pentagon Says Kabul Evacuation Flights Have Resumed After Pause; Biden: Any American Who Wants To Come Home, We Will Get You Home; Fears Grow Over Taliban Seizing Abandoned U.S. Military Weapons; Source: Full FDA Approval Of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine "As Early As Monday"; Little Aid, No Government Presence In Hardest-Hit Areas In Haiti. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 20, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's all at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM with breaking news on the crisis in Afghanistan. The Pentagon now says evacuation flights are underway again after a backlog that grounded planes for hours. President Biden is now promising, and I'm quoting him now, any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.
He says he's making the same commitment to evacuate Afghan allies of the United States. In his most extensive comments yet, the president seemed less defensive as he addressed the danger and the chaos since the Taliban takeover.
Tonight, there is new confirmation that Americans in Afghanistan have been beaten by the Taliban. The defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, sharing that information with U.S. lawmakers. CNN crews have also witnessed Taliban violence escalating in the Afghan capital, making a desperate situation worse by the hour.
Our correspondents and analysts are standing by covering every angle of this breaking story. First, let's go to Jeremy Diamond over at the White House. Jeremy, the president made very specific promises today about the evacuation.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Speaking five days after the Taliban took control of Kabul and ousted that U.S.-backed government, President Biden clearly trying to show that he is getting the situation under control, also showing some more of his trademark empathy, talking about those gut-wrenching images that he has seen of Afghans desperately trying to get out of Afghanistan. And, Wolf, the president also committing to not only get every American who wants to get out of Afghanistan out of the country but also saying that that commitment extends to those Afghans who helped the U.S.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be clear. Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.
DIAMOND (voice over): Tonight, President Biden vowing to get all Americans out of Afghanistan and extending that commitment to Afghans who help the U.S.
BIDEN: Yes. Yes. We're making the same commitment. There is no one more important than bringing American citizens out. I acknowledge that. But they're equally important.
DIAMOND: The president trying to project command of the situation that spiraled out of control after the Taliban seized the Afghan capital five days ago, leading to scenes of desperation at the Kabul airport.
The president revealing that U.S. troops exited the airport perimeter to bring in 169 Americans trapped in the chaos outside the gates. And tonight Biden promising U.S. forces will continue to do what's necessary to get Americans out, including the possibly of rescue missions into Taliban-controlled Kabul.
BIDEN: We're continuing every opportunity and every means by which we could get folks to the airport.
DIAMOND: Even as he acknowledged he doesn't know how many Americans are still in Afghanistan, he projected confidence that the U.S. can complete evacuations by the end of the month, the deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw. But he warned there are still risks.
BIDEN: This evacuation mission is dangerous. It involves risks to armed forces and it's being conducted under difficult circumstances. I cannot promise what the final outcome will be or that it will be, that will be without risk of loss. But as commander in chief, I can assure you that I will mobilize every resource necessary.
DIAMOND: Biden also facing fresh questions about why he didn't act sooner to bring Americans and Afghans home after diplomats sent a classified cable in mid-July warning a U.S. withdrawal would lead to the collapse of the U.S.-backed government.
BIDEN: America has all kinds of cables, all kinds of advice. I made the decision. The buck stops with me. I took the consensus opinion. The consensus opinion was that, in fact, it would not occur if it occurred until later in the year.
DIAMOND: The White House says the U.S. has now evacuated about 13,000 people since Saturday, including 5,700 people just yesterday.
BIDEN: Our commander in Kabul has already given the order for outbound flights to resume.
DIAMOND: Evacuation flights now resuming after a bottleneck brought the mission to a halt for at least ten hours today. As for Americans still trying to get to the airport --
BIDEN: We have no indication that they haven't been able to get in Kabul through the airport.
DIAMOND: Those words contradicting reports and the images on the ground.
DIAMOND (on camera): And, Wolf, those words were also contradicted by Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told members of the House during a briefing this afternoon that there are Americans who have been beaten by the Taliban in Kabul, according to multiple sources who shared that with CNN.
I've since spoken with the White House official who said acknowledged that's a volatile situation on the ground and acknowledged that there are going to be reports of challenge and chaos at the airport as Americans try to get there. But this official reaffirmed the fact that the U.S. is working to get every American out of the airport and out of the country. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you.
Let's get more on the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan. We're joined by our Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann. Oren, as evacuation flights now have resumed, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the planning for this mission.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And planning has been key, of course, as the Pentagon often says, it is a planning organization. And that raises the question of why did they run out of space at the first country to take evacuees, and that would be Qatar. That left them scrambling to find other countries.
And they have found at least a couple. The U.A.E., Ramstein Air Base will take some, but President Joe Biden earlier this week there could be up to 80,000. And that leaves a question of does the Pentagon and the U.S. government have enough space for all of them as more and more are brought on a daily basis.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): Outside of Kabul international airport, chaos reigns. Bursts of heavy gunfire compound the fear and panic as Taliban used ride-controlling agents on hundred of Afghans waiting outside a closed U.S. military gate, so many desperate to flee, what remains of the country they so recently new. A mother cradles her young child in the oppressive heat. The crowd hands a baby to U.S. marines to get the infant medical help.
There is little relief at night, more gunfire, Afghans forced away from the barrier that separates them from salvation. Inside the guarded walls of the airport, the U.S. military showing a very different world. There is food. There is water, medical help. But only for those who can get in, a CNN crew in Kabul witnessing the conditions around the airport, Afghans lining up to be processed, some sleep on the gravel waiting for their flight.
Flights finally resuming after an hour's long pause as the U.S. scrambled to find more countries to accept evacuees. Qatar, the first place to accept fleeing Afghans have reached its limit. U.S. flights have stopped leaving Kabul. But there are still thousands of people at the airport waiting to get out.
PETER QUINN, CO-FOUNDER, ARK SALUS: They have received night letters, through mass text messages from the Taliban. And the Taliban said, we are going to summarily burn you and your families alive.
LIEBERMANN: Former Army Major Peter Quinn worked with Afghan commandos and pilots during deployments to Afghanistan, the elite of the Afghan military. Now he's trying to get them out before they are hunted down.
QUINN: I love these men and I owe a debt of moral obligation to them to get them, their wives and their chin out to safety.
LIEBERMANN: The administration saying for the first time U.S. troops went over to wall to rescue 169 Americans nearby.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: In a short amount of time, with a short amount of distance, some of our troops were able to go out there and retrieve them and bring them in.
LIEBERMANN: Since the U.S. sent more troops into Kabul to speed up the evacuation, there have been no reported exchanges of fire between the Taliban and U.S. forces. But the Taliban has shown off its new equipment courtesy of the U.S. government seized during the collapse of the Afghan military. The U.S. has made its mission clear, get out as many people as possible as quickly as possible. But for everyone waiting outside the airport trying to board a flight, there are many more who couldn't get this far.
LIEBERMANN (on camera): The Air Force says it's been able to put more than 400 people on average on each of these C-17 flights. That's more than double what it was just a couple days ago. But, Wolf, obviously, if the airport has to shut down operations for security situation or because they don't know where to put people or another reason, that number of people moved per hour drops very quickly.
BLITZER: It certainly does. Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us, thank you.
Tonight, CNN's Clarissa Ward and her crew capture truly remarkable images, look at this, from inside a U.S. evacuation flight as they, themselves, prepare to take off for Doha Qatar, along with about 400 Afghan nationals who are so desperate to flee their country.
Clarissa Ward has been doing amazing reporting for us directly from the scene in Kabul including the growing desperation at the airport.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you see the few people that came in and started the application, but it hasn't been finished yet, and you see them being escorted back out through the very gate that they got crushed in for seven hours just to get their chance to leave. So if your paperwork isn't in order and you don't have a sponsor with you, it is very tough to get to this stage where you're finally on the airfield and ready to go.
Imagine being here with your family for two days in the scorching sun trying to take your children with no sense of what the future will hold, what happens when you get to America.
I spoke to one woman who actually got separated from her family. She was inside here, but the rest of her family was stuck outside the gate. There is no mechanism for dealing with a situation like that. If you lose your family, you lost your family. There is no way to reconnect people at this stage. There is no way to bring them in from the front gate. Honestly, there is no way to rescue anyone from the front gate. It is survival of the fittest.
BLITZER: We're all so grateful to Clarissa for her truly amazing, very courageous reporting.
Let's dig deeper right now to all of this. Our Senior Commentator, the former Ohio governor, John Kasich, is with us, CNN Military Analyst Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is joining us, CNN Presidential Historian Tim Naftali is here and our White House Reporter Natasha Bertrand.
You know, Governor Kasich, we're seeing dramatic images from Clarissa Ward. You just saw some truly packed military planes. She described chaos on the ground in Kabul, people waiting hours and hours and hours in the heat, facing violence from the Taliban. They're simply trying to get to the airport. But President Biden is arguing the U.S. has this under control. Did you get any reassurance from his remarks today?
JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Of course not. This is a complete catastrophe and the ramifications of this, the disruption, the loss of confidence in America is something that cannot at this point be understated, Wolf, or be over stated, excuse me. I mean, what has happened here is, frankly, unimaginable. We got a general with us, and he will tell you the planning that they go into, and they didn't have a planning for some reason. I don't understand. And the president said, oh, I was never warned about the fact that this could happen. That's just simply not true.
And, Wolf, there is a lot of investigations that goes on in Washington. And once this catastrophic situation begins to fade, once we're able to save thousands of people, let me tell you, there needs to be an investigation from top to bottom, and at the end of the day, there are people who have to be held accountable who will lose their jobs. And that is not just in the National Security Council. It could be in the intelligence community. It could be in the State Department.
What is happening here, Wolf, is it's such a serious matter. And I have been a student of defense and foreign policy. I served on the defense committee for 18 years. We investigated things like the blowing up of the Marines in Beirut. But nothing, nothing has come close to this. And the mismanagement and the irresponsibility, this just can't pass. We have to save these people and then we've got to get to the bottom line, and there are people who are going to have to pay the price for this.
As we're talking about the humanity and we're talking about the fact that, thank God, that you and I and our families weren't over there by, you know, by some other reason that we were born over there. Think about the pain and the suffering of these people.
And most of it could have been avoided had we planned the right way, and we didn't do it. And if I sound like I'm furious, I am because my heart bleeds, not just for the Americans, but the Afghans and the children over there and the women who are going to pay such a price for the fact that America didn't handle this right. Joe Biden failed on this.
I hope he can get back up on his feet, but he's got a lot of getting up to do. And he needs to not be defiant or arrogant about this, but he needs to be contrite. And I haven't seen enough of it. I supported the guy for president of the United States, and I'm so bitterly disappointed where we are today. And thank you for letting me have a word.
BLITZER: Well, let me get the General Hertling have a word as well. General Hertling, how does the messaging that you heard from President Biden actually line up with the reality on the ground?
LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I don't -- first of all, Wolf, I don't quite agree with Governor Kasich. You said earlier the military is a planning organization, but more importantly it is also an execution organization. And having prepared and partially executed a NEO, a noncombatant evacuation operation like what we're seeing right now, it is the toughest mission the military does.
So many challenges, they require continuous adaptation to changing circumstances, and to have cameras onboard right there showing all the rush of humanity to Kabul, Kabul international airport just only exacerbates. You know, Wolf, it would be like telling everyone in Washington, D.C. That has a flight out of Reagan National next week to show up tonight.
And, by the way, even if you don't have a flight, show up.
And then trying to support that literal rush of tens of thousands of people that want to get out of the country in a crisis situation. This is an evacuation. Make no mistake about this. I know for a fact that the Pentagon has been planning this for several months. The execution has been, unfortunately, thwarted by a lot of circumstances both within the U.S. government and especially within the Afghan government. So it's going to be a contested evacuation. And, by the way, and unlike Reagan National, the enemy is outside the gate.
So it is extremely difficult. I think the military has adapted to a degree under very difficult circumstances. And I think we're going to see an increase in flow in both U.S. citizens and Iraqi SIV recipients as well.
BLITZER: Afghani, you mean recipients of the SIV, special immigrant visas.
HERTLINGY: Afghani, yes.
BLITZER: You know, Tim Naftali, the president, he has really struggled over these days to explain this disaster. He's been angry, defiant. Did he manage, do you believe, to convey a bit more control over the situation during his remarks earlier today?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think he showed control of the facts that he wanted to share. But if the facts on the ground are not the same as the facts he shared, then I think it raises questions of transparency and competence. My concern is that he has set a very high bar, and now he has to live up to that bar. And should any American be held hostage or get hurt or, forbid, be killed in this rescue, his words today will come back to haunt him.
Similarly, he made a very important commitment to our Afghan allies. I'm assuming that there is a story behind this story that our courageous special forces are helping Afghans get to where they need to be, but we don't know that yet. And I think the numbers that come out will help us understand if the president hit his mark today. He was very confident, but I worry that his words will come back to haunt him, just as he did regarding the Taliban's likelihood of succession Kabul.
BLITZER: Natasha, you heard President Biden today dismiss the suggestion that America's closest allies are actually questioning America's credibility right now. But, clearly, this will have serious repercussions. What are you hearing?
NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Wolf. Well, CNN actually reported earlier this week that U.S. allies have said publicly, especially the secretary general of NATO, Germany's President Angela Merkel, they have said that this was a U.S. decision and that they really had no option here but to follow the U.S. decision.
And we also reported that, you know, in terms of losing credibility, well, they have known for quite some time that President Biden felt a deep conviction about this, that he wanted to get out of Afghanistan. I mean, it was discussed during these meetings he had in Europe with these officials earlier this summer. And they agreed they came to a consensus about the withdrawal.
I think what the foreign allies are now all questioning here is not the overall strategy of withdrawing from Afghanistan, more so how it was carried out, right? So we also reported that Merkel has been kind of grumbling privately to aides that pulling out in this manner and putting this kind of arbitrary deadline on it of August 31st was a domestic political consideration for Joe Biden. That is how Germany feels at the moment.
You know, Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, has also said, look, we had no option here but to follow the U.S. political decisions. This was something that -- we could not stay there without the United States basically.
And, so, the one big question, though, is how much of a presence this is going to allow Russia, China and Pakistan to have in Afghanistan and in the region, writ large. That is something that allies are very concerned about as well because right now, as the U.S. withdraws, as NATO withdraws, that would seem to give an opening to these adversaries of the United States to have a greater presence there.
BLITZER: You know, Governor Kasich --
KASICH: Wolf, Wolf, I want --
BLITZER: Hold on a second Governor. Let me ask you question you can answer.
BLITZER: The president committed today flatly to getting all the Americans out. How much faith do you put in him to make sure that the Afghan allies, who work with the U.S. military, who work with the U.S. risk their lives over these many years, how much faith do you have that he will get all of them out as well?
KASICH: I don't know, Wolf. And, you know, listen, I want to be clear about this. There is no way that I am belittling the work of the military in this situation right now. We shouldn't have been in this situation right now. The intelligence community, the military, the Pentagon warned him that the Taliban was going to overrun the Afghan army. They told him that but he ignored it.
And had we planned this thing over time.
I favored leaving Afghanistan. It is not the policy. It was the way in which it was conducted. And had he recognized the fact that this was all going to come tumbling down, they could have sequenced this in a much better way. And now, we are where we are and we have to get out of this.
And we've got to save as many people as we can, but it is bordering on almost an impossible situation unless you want to commit more U.S. troops and move away from Kabul. I mean, why did they abandon Bagram Air Force Base? I mean, that was a place where they could have been air lifting people. They didn't plan this right. And so my only point is we got to support the president ultimately. It is about America. I think politics should stop here and we ought to just go back and see what we did wrong once this is done and never do this again because it's sustained.
BLITZER: Yes. There will be plenty of time to learn the lessons of this disaster --
KASICH: That's right.
BLITZER: And then make sure it never ever happens again. All right, guys. Everybody standby. There is more developments unfolding right now. Does the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban have national security implications for the United States? We're going to talk about that and more with the former Homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson. He's standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.
BLITZER: We have breaking news tonight. Evacuation flights from the Afghan capital resuming after an hour's long pause during which desperation grew among the thousands and thousands of people swarming the airport, they're simply trying to escape the new Taliban regime.
Let's discuss this and more with the former secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson. He's also -- he also served as the general council over at the Department of Defense.
Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us, as you know the president has been trying all day today to convey calm. But the evacuations temporarily ground to a halt earlier today. People trying to escape have been beaten by the Taliban. They have been crushed in stampedes. Is the president doing enough to answer for this disaster?
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY: Wolf, I was listening to the prior discussion. I'm not going to sit in judgment of people in THE SITUATION ROOM in the Biden administration, many of whom I have served with the Obama administration. I remember what it's like four or five years ago to be in the hot seat, be in the midst of a crisis.
It does seem, however, obvious that our government did not anticipate the situation in Kabul at the international airport. And the mass exodus that would be attempted this. Had we attempted this? Had we seen this coming? We would have, for example, left open Bagram Air Base, which is the point Governor Kasich made a few moments ago. It's just 60 kilometers away from Kabul.
So, does our president appreciate the severity of this crisis? Yes, obviously. My concern is that it could get worse before it gets better. We may not have seen yet the worst of this crisis. I am concerned that there will be in the short-term factions within the Taliban government that arise. Some moderate, the moderate faction right now seems to be the most overt publicly, but there is probably a more militant faction of the Taliban right now that may stir up trouble.
But in the U.S., I think we need to prepare for a full blown refugee crisis, stemming from Afghanistan and do all that is necessary to give Americans, most certainly, and those that helped our efforts safe passage out of Afghanistan.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers of video of these Taliban fighters with U.S. weapons that captured a ton of U.S. weapons, some of them very, very sophisticated, tanks, armored personnel carriers, humvees, helicopters, it's a very -- we have more on this coming up in a little while.
But, Mr. Secretary, the president argued today that the United States no longer has any national security interest in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda gone. But do you accept that argument that the U.S. can just wash its hands after 20 years? And there is enormous fear, a homeland security issue that Al Qaeda, potentially an ISIS in Afghanistan under the Taliban, will be coming back?
JOHNSON: Well, Wolf, I'm not sure the president believes there is no national security interest in Afghanistan. I believe there is a national security interest for us in what happens to Afghanistan. First, Afghanistan is a very remote, rough terrain. Most of Afghanistan is ungoverned space in the mountains. You could probably hide an entire American city in the mountains of Afghanistan.
It is the type of terrain where terrorist organizations seek to train, to headquarter, to establish a caliphate. That's true of Afghanistan. It's true of the Horn of Africa. It's true of Yemen. It's true of Syria and parts of Iraq. So we need to be concerned that another terrorist organization could crop up in Afghanistan, like it did 20, 25 years ago.
On the other hand, governments, even governments of the ilk of the Taliban are not incapable of thinking rationally. The Taliban should realize that it is not in their own selfish interest to see another terrorist organization crop up within their midst. That happened 20 years ago. It didn't end so well for the Taliban 20 years ago. So it's in their interest to make sure that Al Qaeda or the Islamic state does not crop up.
But we need to be vigilant. From a homeland security perspective, we need to be vigilant. The president today talked about the over the horizon capability. What he means by that is the ability to monitor whether a terrorist organization is propping up in Afghanistan from outside the borders of Afghanistan. We do have that capability. And so we need to be vigilant in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world.
But let's not forget, Wolf, that right now the number one terrorist threat to our homeland is what DHS talked about just the other day in a bulletin, which is homegrown, home-born white nationalist violent extremism. That is the number one terrorist threat to our homeland. And I hope our government does not take its eye off that ball right now. BLITZER: I'm sure they are not taking their eye off that ball. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Jeh Johnson, the former homeland security secretary.
Coming up, the Taliban seizes a war chest of American weapons left behind by withdrawing U.S. forces.
BLITZER: Among the many disturbing images coming out of Afghanistan tonight, Taliban fighters parading U.S. weaponry left behind by withdrawing American forces.
CNN's Brian Todd is on the story.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Row upon row of sophisticated assault rifles, boxes of pistols, ammunition, vision equipment, videos posted by the Taliban online in recent days boast of what they say are their seizures of the assault rifles in the Afghan City of Herat.
And at Kunduz Airport, armored humvees by the dozen, some mine- resistant ambush protected vehicles, called MRAPs, costing half a million dollars apiece, even a small drone. These are the potentially lethal spoils the Taliban are believed to have captured in recent days from defeated the Afghan forces, weapons made in America, supplied by the U.S. to their fallen Afghans allies.
MICHAEL PREGENT, FORMER U.S. MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: This is so bad that we will now not be able to tell the difference between a terrorist formation convoy and a U.S. convoy in Afghanistan. They will look the same.
TODD: This video shows Taliban fighters proudly parading through the city of Qalat, in white tunics, brandishing American made M-4 assault rifles and ballistic vests. With Al Qaeda poised to build back its strength with the Taliban takeover, experts tell us some sophisticated American weapons will almost inevitably fall into terrorist hands.
PREGENT: The weapons that concern me the most right now are those heavy machine guns and sniper rifles that they can use to sit around the airfield and pick off the U.S. positions.
TODD: U.S. military officials say, they have been able to get some weapons out of Afghanistan before the Taliban's recent blitz to through the country. But according to various media reports, the Taliban are believed to control many U.S.-made armored vehicles and aircrafts, potentially including Blackhawk helicopters and scout attack helicopters. Experts say it is possible the aircraft may not be of much use to the Taliban, at least immediately.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are more difficult, will be more difficult for them to operate and sustain.
TODD: But analysts say Afghan pilots who were trained by the U.S. could be forced to fly the aircraft for the Taliban or to teach the Taliban how to fly them. And they say the Taliban could also use American equipment to dupe people who work for U.S. forces into getting captured or killed.
PREGENT: So where they could actually look like an American, they could pull up to a safe house looking like Americans with humvees, driving like we do, get out with our equipment, our weapons, our body armor and convince whoever is inside that help has arrived and it will be a terrorist group that will capture them. That's how bad this is.
TODD: U.S. officials have discussed airstrikes to take out the heavy weaponry that's fallen into Taliban hands. But an administration official tells CNN, there are no plans at the moment to do that.
TODD (on camera): Adding yet another level of concern here, military and intelligence experts tell us that whatever aircraft, other sophisticated equipment that the Taliban doesn't know how to use or can't maintain, well they're likely to give it or sell it to American adversaries, like China, Russia and Iran, so that they can then reverse engineer it and possibly use it against American interests in the future. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, so, so disturbing. Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen is joining us. He's the author of a very important brand- new book entitled, The Rise and Fall of Osama Bin Laden. Peter, thanks very much for coming in.
What do you think? You just heard Brian Todd's report. How big of a threat to the U.S. potentially does the capture by the Taliban of all this U.S.-made weaponry pose?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It reminds me a lot of ISIS, I mean, when it stormed across Iraq and Syria and subjected 8 million people to their rule. But they did that with American made vehicles captured that they have captures from the Iraqi army.
So, I mean -- and another feature that also reminds me of that episode is, you know, the Taliban have just released a bunch of prisoners from Bagram Air Base, which was the main American base. That air base was full of Taliban leaders and members of Al Qaeda. So it is not just the weaponry, it's also releasing these prisoners, this is also what ISIS did when it stormed across Iraq and Syria. So this movie is playing out very similar to what we saw in the summer of 2014 with ISIS.
BLITZER: What you think -- you're an expert on Al Qaeda. [18:40:00]
BLITZER: Specifically, Al Qaeda, is Al Qaeda now poised to make a comeback inside Afghanistan? And if it does, what kind of threat would that pose to the U.S.?
BERGEN: Well, the answer is, of course. And the threat to the U.S., that's sort of a different question. But General Austin, the secretary of defense was asked in June directly about this question. He said it would take -- if the government of Afghanistan fell, it would take a year or two for Al Qaeda to reconstitute in Afghanistan and maybe pose a threat to the homeland. He has since revised that and said, in light of the Taliban takeover now, we need to reassess that assessment. So --
BLITZER: Meaning it could be a few months.
BERGEN: It could be a lot quicker. But I mean, I want to be careful. I mean for Al Qaeda coming back to attack in the U.S. is still very hard. Our defense capabilities are much different than they were on 9/11 and our offensive capabilities. But that said, can they conduct attacks on American targets in the region?
Could they attack American tag as Americans depart Afghanistan? You know, they're not bound by the Taliban rules. And, certainly, according to Afghan officials, Al Qaeda is present on the frontlines. According to U.N. reports, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are closely aligned. So people can make their own determinations of what they think that means.
BLITZER: And extremely dangerous situation. Peter Bergen, thanks so much for coming in.
BERGEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: There is more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM. CNN has now learned that Pfizer, the Pfizer COVID vaccine could get full FDA approval as soon as Monday.
BLITZER: There is breaking pandemic news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Sources telling CNN that full approval of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is imminent. In fact, they could come as early as Monday.
Let's talk about the breaking news with CNN medical analyst, emergency room physician, Dr. Leana Wen. She's also the author of the new book, "Lifelines."
Dr. Wen, how big of a milestone will full approval, as opposed to emergency use authorization, full approval, be in the fight against this pandemic?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: This is huge, Wolf. I expect that we will see a rapid acceleration in the rate of vaccinations following the news of a full approval. And that's mainly because there are so many companies, universities, schools that haven't been making this vaccine a requirement. They've been waiting for the full approval. So, this will open the door for them to all mandate vaccines.
I think also, we have to remember drug companies are not allowed to market something under emergency use authorization. So, having full approval means they could now use their entirety marketing heft to do promotional marketing activities as well. And, finally, I think we really start to seeing the COVID vaccine as we do every other vaccine, getting full approval also will help to change some people's minds who are still hesitant about getting the vaccine.
BLITZER: So, you're obviously hopeful that this step will encourage a lot more people, millions of Americans potentially, to go get the shot and for more businesses, schools and others to actually mandate the vaccine? Is that right?
BLITZER: Absolutely, I think right now one of the arguments that some people are using for why they are not getting the vaccine is somehow that it's experimental, which obviously it isn't, it's been given to hundreds of millions of people around the world. But getting full approval takes away that argument.
And I think we really need to start seeing this vaccine as we do every other vaccine. We routinely, all 50 states mandate, for example, childhood immunizations. These vaccine mandates are commonplace. And we need to see the COVID vaccine in the same way as we see all these other vaccines that already exist, that we have many hundreds of years of experience with.
BLITZER: And you also say, Dr. Wen, that this will allow doctors to actually prescribe vaccines. Why is that so important?
WEN: Well, right now, let's say somebody got a J&J one-dose vaccine. They want to get a second dose, would say they want to get a Pfizer vaccine. Right now, doctors cannot technically prescribe it. So many patients I know have had to go to different pharmacies, often lie, crossing state lines to try to get a booster dose. And that's because this vaccine is not yet fully approved. Once it's fully approved, it can be treated like any other medication or therapeutic.
Doctors routinely prescribe other medications, what is called off label. Even if it's not exactly intended for that particular use, they're able to prescribe it by using clinical discretion. Using our own discretion to do what is best for that individual patient. Full approval allows the COVID vaccine to be used, for boosters to be prescribed to patients who don't exactly meet the criteria. And again, I think it's important to tailor the vaccines just as we do any other medicine or therapeutic for our patients.
BLITZER: It's a major, major development. Very encouraging, indeed.
Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much for your analysis.
Coming up, a first look at some of the worst devastation from the huge earthquake that's killed thousands of people in Haiti.
BLITZER: We are now getting a first look at some of the worst devastation from the Haiti earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people.
CNN's Matt Rivers is in the Haitian capital for us tonight.
Matt, is aid finally getting to these hard hit areas?
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some places, yes, Wolf, other places, no. We've been here for almost a week now. We've been to 6 or 7 different sites. We found places today that aid workers clearly had not been to at least so far in a substantive way.
We flew to a village called Maniche, with World Central Kitchen, that is a charity group operating in Haiti, when we got there the damage that we saw was as bad, if not worse than anything we've seen earlier this week. At least 7 people died in this relatively small town.
Entire blocks were collapse. We saw a school that was destroyed, a clinic that was destroyed and the only way that we could get there was by helicopter. We landed in the middle of a soccer field.
I say all of that illustrate this point that aid workers, government organizations, they are still just trying to assess where all the need is. So it's not that they -- their having trouble getting resources into these places, Wolf, but they're also just trying to figure out where to send these places in the first place.
We actually told government officials what we saw today so that they could at these places to their list. That is the reality of what is happening on the ground here in Haiti. Unfortunately things are not moving as fast as the people on the ground who are suffering so greatly would like to see it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, our heart goes out to those people, Matt Rivers in Port-au-Prince for us. Matt, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, stay with us. We'll have more news just ahead.
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