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Pentagon: U.S. Pushing Limits To Evacuate In Next Eight Days As Taliban Demand American Forces Must Be Out By August 31 Deadline; House Intelligence Committee Just Briefed On Afghan Crisis; FDA Grants Full Approval Of Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine; Dems' Division Jeopardizing Passage Of Biden's Sweeping Spending Plan; Twenty-One Killed In Catastrophic Flooding In Tennessee, Including Twin Babies. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 23, 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: Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you tomorrow.
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.
Tonight, the Pentagon says it's pushing limits to try to complete the frantic evacuation from Afghanistan within the next eight days. The Taliban is now drawing a red line demanding all American forces must withdraw by the August 31st deadline. President Biden has left the door open for extending the mission. But the time, time is running out for that as well. A U.S. defense official sells CNN that if -- if the administration wants U.S. troops to stay longer, it must make that decision by tomorrow.
We're also following a huge first in the pandemic, the FDA now giving full and final approval to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. President Biden is now urging holdouts who are waiting for this milestone to get their shots and to get their shots immediately.
Our correspondents, analysts and other guests are all standing by as we cover these major stories.
First, let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann. Oren, I know there are lives on the line in Afghanistan right now and the clock is clearly ticking.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tomorrow is not just one week until the end of the month, the self-imposed deadline to get out of Afghanistan, it is also decision day. According to a defense official with familiar with the conversation and the discussions happening about the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, 5,800 troops there right now assisting in the Afghanistan evacuation. If they want all of those out by the end of the month, the decision will have to be made by tomorrow.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LIEBERMANN (voice over): At Kabul International Airport, the end of the month is coming too quickly. The U.S. is trying to hit its self- imposed August 31st deadline to complete the evacuation from Afghanistan.
JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: In the days remaining, we believe we have the wherewithal to get out the American citizens who want to leave Kabul.
LIEBERMANN: The Taliban warning there will be consequences if it takes any longer. A firefight at the airport, Sunday, that left one Afghan security member dead underscoring the tense security situation as the U.S. tries to maximize the number of people it can fly out. The military flew more than 10,000 people out of Kabul in 24 hours and another 5,000 on charters and other flights, a new record and a pace that must continue.
GEN. STEVE LYONS, COMMANDER, U.S. TRANSPORTATION COMMAND: We are pushing the elements to do everything we can to get every single evacuee out of Kabul.
LIEBERMANN: In order to speed up evacuation, the Pentagon activating the civil reserve air fleet for only the third time, using 18 aircrafts from commercial carriers like United and American to move evacuees from the Middle East onwards.
For now though, the U.S. prioritizing getting American citizens out, several thousand have left the country already, the Pentagon says. A senior State Department official says there are still several thousand more. The Pentagon acknowledging helicopters have left the airport not once but twice to pick up evacuees. The Pentagon's Press Secretary John Kirby hinting at more.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: On occasion where there is a need and there is a capability to meet that need, our commanders on the ground are doing what they feel they need to do to help Americans reach the airport.
LIEBERMANN: For now, the U.S. embassy is in Kabul is telling Afghan special immigrant visa applicants and evacuees not to come to the airport until they are told. With potentially little more than a week left of this evacuation effort, fear of a totalitarian Taliban regime is growing.
The brother of an Afghan interpreter received these letters from the Taliban, a court date for helping U.S. troops and shielding his brother and then a notification of his death sentence. These court decisions are final, and you will not have the right to object, the third and final letter reads. You chose this path for yourself, and your death is imminent, God willing.
There are still some 13,000 people at the airport and more trying to get through every day. But a new terror threat from ISIS-K, an off (INAUDIBLE) of ISIS in the Middle East, forcing the U.S. to develop alternate routes to the airport for safety even when there is so little time left to evacuate. (END VIDEOTAPE)
LIEBERMANN (on camera): In the past 24 hours, five flights have landed at Dulles International Airport here, just outside of D.C. with some 1,300, including Afghan evacuees. Wolf, those evacuees will be housed at bases temporarily in New Jersey, Virginia, Wisconsin and Texas.
BLITZER: Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us. Thank you. Let's go live to the Afghan capital right now. Our Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley is there. Sam, what are you seeing on the ground where you are over at the Kabul airport?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we spent the day here on the flight line effectively for the Kabul airport and watching as these Afghan refugees, evacuees and indeed foreigners are being processed. It is a much efficient process than it was a few days ago when they had a terrible logjam.
The numbers are down to about 10,000. But the gates, the access points to this entire facility, have been closed now for more than 48 hours. The only entry point is through a British Camp, which is off the facility and moving people from there on to the main airport and then processing them is going to be extremely fraught.
And, of course, now that there has been this new edict coming from the United States that people with the SIV, the special immigration visas, the people who help the United States and its allies over the last 20 years will not be given access to the airport for the foreseeable future. That is going to be a crushing blow to the large numbers of people already pushing up against the walls, pushing up against the fences, trying to get into the airport, desperate to flee Taliban rule.
The Taliban, meanwhile, Wolf, have been issuing statements saying we don't understand why everybody is running away. We want everybody to stay in their jobs. We want the people who run this country to stay here to help us run it. They're even talking already to the neighboring Pakistanis about, to helping to run this airport when the United States and its allies leave.
But the situation here is improving. There is a constant sound of aircraft landing and taking off. The critical issue, though, is how to get people from the city safely into the airport. And as part of that process, of course, the United States has been using helicopters and secret missions, frankly, to go out and grab people in what they're calling packets, small groups here and there using Special Forces effectively. Wolf?
BLITZER: The U.S. military, Sam, was clearly forced to establish some new routes through the airport due to the threat from ISIS. How great is the risk right now to U.S. forces and to Afghans trying -- simply trying to get to the airport to evacuate?
KILEY: Well, my assessment is my personal assessment having spent 20 years here on and off is that the gravest threat is to these large concentrations of the population trying to get into the airport because the so-called Islamic State Khorasan group, as it's officially called here, are mortal enemies of the Taliban and the United States.
That is something that both the United States and the Taliban can agree on. And ISIS would love to humiliate and embarrass them by causing chaos during this chaotic period of the American withdrawal. For that reason, the Taliban has been bringing in what they're calling their elite forces to help create with agreement indeed, at the request of the United States, a wider security zone around the airport. Whether or not that's going to be effective, we don't know.
Inside the airport, it is much harder for ISIS to attack because they simply don't yet at least have the sort of weaponry that could reach it. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Sam Kiley, be careful over there. We'll stay in close touch.
Let's go to the White House right now and the pressure on President Biden as the Afghanistan mess is clearly playing out. Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us right now. Phil, we heard from multiple Biden officials today as they keep working to contain the fallout. What's the latest?
PHIL MATTINGLY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a recognition that they need to communicate that despite the chaos that they have seen on the ground, the chaos they have been trying to overcome, there has been progress that has been made, including, we're just told by a White House over a 12-hour period today, more than 6,660 evacuees left the country on U.S. flights, 15 U.S. flights in total.
You have seen over the course of the last several days the numbers ramped up tremendously. But those officials also underscoring there are very real challenges ahead, not the least of which is their timeline.
SULLIVAN: A massive military, diplomatic security, humanitarian undertaking.
MATTINGLY (voice over): Tonight, with approval ratings dropping and chaos on the ground showing no signs of abetting, President Biden pressing forward on an urgent effort to extract thousands from Afghanistan.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His focus right now is on taking the steps in making the decisions that he feels are in the interest of our national security and the American people.
MATTINGLY: A critical moment in a foreign policy crisis that has tested the metal of Biden's team. But while officials make clear Americans broadly support Biden's withdrawal decision. PSAKI: Certainly, we understand that people are seeing chaotic photos, but he continues to believe that this was the decision that only the commander-in-chief is able to make and one he had to make for our own long-term national security interests.
MATTINGLY: The views of what has transpired the last ten days are far less kind with only 25 percent of those surveyed approving of his handling of Afghanistan, according to an NBC Poll, and 44 percent saying the actual withdrawal has gone, quote, very badly, according to a CBS/YouGov survey. Yet, each day has brought significant new progress in scaling up the tumultuous evacuation of American and Afghan refugees.
SULLIVAN: This is an enormous logistical, diplomatic, security, humanitarian undertaking.
There is no other country in the world who could pull something like this off, bar none.
MATTINGLY: Still, the White House now pressed about why efforts weren't launched earlier.
SULLIVAN: Supporters of the Afghan government in Afghanistan, including many of the people who want to come out now, said that doing so would trigger a complete crisis of confidence in the government. As it turns out, not taking out the -- not doing that evacuation, didn't exactly save the Afghan government. We acknowledge that.
MATTINGLY: And whether the U.S. will need to extend its August 31st withdrawal deadline even amid Taliban threats of repercussions.
SULLIVAN: He is taking this day by day. And will make his determinations as we go.
Ultimately, it will be the president's decision how this proceeds, no one else.
MATTINGLY: All as sources say leaders from America's closest allies plan to press Biden to do just that and go further in a G7 meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning.
SULLIVAN: All I'm going to say is that the president continues to consult with the prime minister and our other allies on how this evacuation should proceed from here and he'll ultimately make the determination.
MATTINGLY (on camera): And, Wolf, administration make -- officials made clear, they are in constant consultation with Taliban officials on the ground, making clear they believe that will ease this process. But there's no question about it, officials here are keenly aware the window at least put that August 31st deadline is closing and closing fast, Wolf. BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Phil Mattingly over at the White House. Thank you very much.
Let's dig deeper right now with CNN Fareed Zakaria, he is joining us. He's the Host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, which is, of course, here on CNN.
Fareed, if President Biden wants to meet his self-imposed August 31st withdrawal deadline, the U.S. military needs to know by tomorrow to get that process in motion. How does the president approach this decision when the Taliban says that the deadline is a red line that all U.S. troops must be out, they say, by August 31st?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: There is no way for President Biden to achieve the goals he has stated, which is to get all the Americans out who want to get out, to get out the Afghans who helped the United States over 20 years and keep to that deadline. So he has got to find a way to negotiate with the Taliban.
Look, we have been negotiating with the Taliban for two years. The Taliban needs a lot that the United States has. The country is going to need enormous amounts of money, training, know how. The U.S. has a lot of diplomatic cards it can play. It can play them with Pakistan, with Qatar, even with Russia and China. This is, by the way, a good reason to have good negotiating relations with all these countries.
Iran was very helpful when we over -- when the United States overthrew the Taliban the first time around. It might be possible to try that route, whatever route is necessary. The deadline has to be extended because otherwise it is really not possible for Biden to achieve his goals.
Things have been moving in a better direction. They're evacuating many more people, but they simply cannot do what they need to in the next six days.
BLITZER: Yes. They need to extend that deadline. Let's see if they can achieve that. How problematic, Fareed, is it that the Biden administration is still struggling to give specific answers about this crisis? They still, for example, can't seem to say how many Americans are still awaiting evacuation.
ZAKARIA: Well, it's all part of this strange lack of preparation. If you are going to do this, surely you knew that one of the things that would happen is Americans would want to leave. You would want to start having lists. You'd want to have some protocols and procedures, information given to people.
To be fair to them, you know, America is free country. Americans are free. They do not have to register when we travel abroad, we are not required even in places like Afghanistan and Iraq to register with the consulate or the embassy, or even if there is such a requirement, nobody does it.
So there is a genuine issue here. But, again, the most startling, bewildering part about this was how could this not have been anticipated that if you were going to withdraw forces, Americans would want to leave. And if Americans were going to leave, you needed a process to get them out.
BLITZER: How much pressure do you think, Fareed, the president will be under tomorrow when he faces these G7 leaders in this virtual meeting? Because many of them, including publicly, have expressed their disappointment, not necessarily that the U.S. and the NATO allies are completely leaving Afghanistan, but the way in which the evacuation has unfolded.
ZAKARIA: I think there will be a substantial amount of criticism. Look, you have already heard the British politicians, German politicians speak very, very roughly about the United States. Part of it is many of these countries went in and stayed in, and that was domestically unpopular to stay in.
And so I think they expected more in terms of consultation. Part of it for people like the Brits or countries like the Brits is they have people there themselves and they're trying to figure out how to get everyone out.
Again, I want to point out, there is a lot of progress that's been made, and we should all be rooting for more progress. This is -- this should not be a partisan issue. We, you know -- everyone should want to get those Afghans out who have helped the coalition for 20 years. Let's judge in -- things are moving in the right direction. They need to ramp up and the deadline needs to be extended.
BLITZER: Good point, indeed. Fareed Zakaria, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, we're going to talk to a U.S. lawmaker who was just out of an intelligence briefing up on Capitol Hill on the crisis in Afghanistan. Congressman Jim Himes is standing by live. We will discuss when we come back.
BLITZER: Up on Capitol Hill, the House Intelligence Committee has just been briefed on the crisis in Afghanistan as the U.S. is, quote, now pushing limits to evacuate Americans and their Afghan allies. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut is joining us. He's a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.
I know you have just come from this briefing by the intelligence community. I know you can't get into classified information. But what can you tell us about what you learned?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): Well, Wolf, it is a real obligation that the Congress as a whole has to figure out what went wrong. And let me be clear about this. Like President Trump, like President Biden, I supported a withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was the right thing to do. I think President Biden gets credit for finally being the guy to do
something that should have been done a long time ago. But it should never have gone down like this. And, by the way, we're far from out of the woods yet. It is still a very, very dicey situation.
So you know, naturally, a narrative develops. You know, was it a military failure? Was it a White House failure? Was it an intelligence community failure? You're right, I can't get into the specifics of intelligence. But I would tell you this, which is that I have been watching this intelligence for a very long time and our intelligence community has been appropriately pessimistic about what was going on in Afghanistan.
I probably can't go a lot further than that, but they were pessimistic enough for me when I did town hall meetings with my constituents three or four weeks ago to say, hey, we've got to talk about this because this could be ugly.
Now, what we don't know is if they sounded the alarm loudly enough. Were they constantly on the phone to the White House saying this could go to our worst case scenario and were they just not listened to or did they not sound the alarm? That is something at the core of oversight, but we obviously have an outcome here that nobody would have preferred, you know.
And though I like the White House message that they're doing what no other countries can be doing right now, I wish that would drop that point because we're not done yet. Yes, the withdrawal since the early moments of total chaos has been going relatively well.
But we are so far from being done, that right now rather than sort of chest pounding about how the United States is the only country that could pull this off, we need to make sure that this gets done so that every American citizen and every Afghan who otherwise will be at risk by the Taliban is brought to safety. Only then do we pat ourselves on the back.
BLITZER: Yes. You're absolutely right. What is impressive, and I'm sure you agree, is the, what, nearly 40,000 people have been evacuated. U.S. -- several thousand U.S. citizens but a lot more Afghans, including so many of the Afghan allies, a lot of third country individuals, people have been getting out.
But there are still thousands and thousands of Americans and others, including Afghan allies, who desperately need to get out. And the U.S. military, as you know, Congressman, needs to make a decision and the president has to make a decision by tomorrow if he wants to meet the August 31st withdrawal deadline.
Should the U.S. stay longer to make sure no one is left behind in this evacuation, even if it means risking Taliban reprisal?
HIMES: Wolf, I can only speak for this congressman. And I will tell you that I subscribe to the military ethic of we leave no one behind. And I think it is essential that we leave no one behind. This won't be the last time the United States is involved in operations abroad, and we cannot have the legacy be that if you stand with us, if you put your life at risk, we won't do everything possible to make sure that you are brought to safety. So, I don't want to hear about August 31.
And, look, this is not about getting into a fight with the Taliban. That is also not an option. People don't realize how very dangerous the situation is on the ground. This is not happening in Philadelphia, right? This is happening in the most dangerous spot on the planet right now. So if we need more time, what we need to do is we need to make it very clear to the Taliban that that is the case.
It is also in the Taliban's interest not to get into a shooting war with the United States. You know, we would respond in force. You know, they have had one hell of a win these last couple of weeks. I don't think they want to damage that. So, if it requires negotiations, if it requires an understanding that we are there until every last person who worked for us is lifted to safety, that's what we need to do.
BLITZER: Do you think any of the president's advisers, whether military, intelligence, political, White House officials, others, should resign over some of these blunders that occurred?
HIMES: Wolf, I'm not prepared to say that now because I have only just begun to sort to think about what went wrong. And, frankly, again, everybody in this building, I think, is pretty focused on making sure not necessarily that we figure out tomorrow what went wrong but making sure that tomorrow is another 10,000 or 20,000 people lifted to safety. So the time will come for accountability.
What I can tell you, Wolf, I have been to Afghanistan a bunch of times. And this was not a mistake that was made in the last two weeks.
Arguably, there were mistakes made four weeks ago when it was pretty clear that the Taliban was on the run throughout Afghanistan. But look, there been mistake made for 20 years.
Every time I went to Afghanistan, I was told by people with lots of stars on their shoulders that we were just about to turn the corner. Things are going well. You know, keep it up, keep it up. And we discovered, of course, in the last two weeks that that was a mirage, that there was nothing there.
And so, you know, again, there will be a moment for retrospection and accountability and that's going to be a critical moment because the temptation to try to do something, like we tried to do for the last 20 years in Afghanistan, it will come up again.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. There will be time for that down the road. Right now, the time is urgently needed to get these people out of there as quickly as possible. Congressman Jim Himes, thanks so much for joining us.
HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, the Pfizer COVID vaccine is now fully approved by the FDA. Will that prompt more Americans to go get their shot?
BLITZER: Tonight, the Biden administration and health experts are hoping that the pace of U.S. COVID vaccinations will pick up now that the FDA has granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine.
CNN's Nick Watt has the latest.
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): About 82 million Americans are eligible, but have not yet gotten the vaccine. Some were waiting for this, not just emergency use authorization but full FDA approval.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The moment you have been waiting for is here. It is time for you to go get your vaccination and get it today, today.
WATT: The president also made a plea for more vaccine mandates.
BIDEN: If you are a business leader, a nonprofit leader, state or local leader who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that, require it. Do what I did last month, require your employees to get vaccinated.
WATT: This morning in Miami, defying the anti-mask governor. Schools reopened in Florida's largest district with a mask mandate.
ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL: If there is a consequence put it on me. If there is a price to be paid, put it on me.
WATT: The feds also ready to fight anti-mask local legislatures.
MIGUEL CARDONA, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: We are prepared to launch investigation with our office for civil rights to ensure that all students have access to this fundamental right of education.
WATT: There are schools in the south that have opened then closed again or put kids in quarantine due to COVID cases.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: I think that this is a harbinger of challenges that we are going to face nationally as schools reopen. The schools could become focal points of community transmission.
WATT: The U.S. is now averaging nearly 150,000 cases a day and once again averaging over 1,000 COVID-related deaths a day. That toll is up over 50 percent in just a week. Vaccines, there were just three days in a row with more than a million shots in arms. We haven't seen that since mid-June.
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Because especially with the delta variant, getting that protection is more important than ever.
WATT: Mississippi has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country. Officials there say more and more people are taking a livestock anti-parasitic instead. There is an online lie that it fights COVID-19. The FDA tweeted, you are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, you all, stop it.
WATT (on camera): Now, with that full approval, Pfizer can now market advertise its vaccine, and a company spokesperson told us that with that they hope to increase confidence in the vaccine. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. I hope they do. Nick Watt, I appreciate it.
Let's discuss with the former CDC director, Tom Frieden. Dr. Frieden, thank you so much for joining us. How significant is this full FDA approval of the Pfizer, coronavirus vaccine?
DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: It's an important step, Wolf, because it makes mandates easier, and it will address concerns of some of the people who have been on the fence about getting vaccinated. If you were worried that this was an emergency approval, well, now it is a full approval, and that should give even more confidence. The fact is these vaccines are remarkably effective and remarkably safe. And that's why this full approval makes perfect sense.
BLITZER: Should we expect the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to be fully approved by the FDA in the very near future as well? Where do those efforts stand?
FRIEDEN: I hope that the Moderna vaccine will be fully approved in the coming weeks or months. Remember, it was approved a little later for emergency use, so there is a little less experience with it. And it takes six months of accruing experience and then the company needs to get the paperwork done to make that happen.
In terms of Johnson & Johnson, because fewer people have gotten vaccinated, that might take a little longer. That's not because of any more concerns about the vaccine is just that it's been a very small proportion of all the U.S. cases, and so there is less data to look at there.
BLITZER: Yesterday Dr. Frieden, there were more than 147,000 new COVID cases reported in the United States. It is back to the level we were seeing in January. Two months ago, there were 12,000 new cases a day. What's behind this very concerning trend that we're seeing unfold?
FRIEDEN: Well, Wolf, I'm sorry to see my prediction appearing to come true. I predicted about a month ago that we would hit as many as 200,000 cases a day by early September. And it looks like we may be on track to do that, unless we see cases that beginning to come down.
[18:35:00] And this is driven by delta. And we're seeing this even in countries like Israel and the United Kingdom where you have much higher vaccination rates than we have here. So we know that delta is deadly for the unvaccinated and it's no picnic for the vaccinated.
BLITZER: The bottom line, get yourself vaccinated if you are among the 82 million eligible Americans who have not gotten vaccinated, the time to do it is long overdue. You should do it right now. Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden, thank you so much for joining us.
FRIEDEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a closer look at the potentially very dangerous intelligence vacuum in Afghanistan right now that the Taliban are in control.
BLITZER: Tonight, CNN is learning that the U.S. is scrambling to fill a sudden intelligence vacuum in the wake of Afghanistan's fall to the Taliban. CNN's Brian Todd has details of how the U.S. is trying to make up for the sudden loss of vital intelligence. Brian, this is a significant new development, very worrisome.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You have got the convergence of two ominous developments on that front. The U.S. has just lost a lot of intelligence capability in Afghanistan with this withdrawal at the same time that Al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates are gaining strength there. We have new information tonight on the threat that all poses to the U.S. Homeland.
TODD (voice over): Tonight, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement are expressing concerns about a potential long-term terror threat to the U.S. homeland amid the fallout over the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan. An ISIS affiliate already posing a threat to U.S. personnel on the ground.
SULLIVAN: What is present in Afghanistan right now to our forces at the airport is a serious threat from ISIS-K, which we're trying to deal with. And, of course, there is the possibility that Al Qaeda could reconstitute an external plotting capability in Afghanistan.
TODD: There is particular concern tonight that America's intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan have been dramatically cut back in recent weeks as U.S. military and intelligence units withdrew, especially Americas human intelligence assets on the ground.
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS, FORMER CIA BASE CHIEF IN AFGHANISTAN: What we have now with the closure of the U.S. embassy and really with the devolution of the Afghan intelligence service is that key human piece really dissolving. And that's something that's really going to be hard to replace. TODD: U.S. officials briefed on the matter tell CNN, the sudden collapse of Afghanistan's government has prompted U.S. intelligence agencies to move some resources to the region from elsewhere. CNN is told that in the longer term, there is concern that Afghanistan could spiral back into what it was before 9/11, a safe haven for terrorists to set up training camps again and to recruit.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It is just a matter of time before Al Qaeda rises again in Afghanistan and the threat to the homeland has gone through the roof.
TODD: As we approach the 20 year anniversary of 9/11 and the ramped up tensions associated with that, officials and analysts say the Taliban's victory doesn't mean an attack on America's homeland on the scale of 9/11 is imminent, but with groups like Al-Qaeda now reenergized.
POLYMEROPOULOS: What we're seeing is conditions that allow groups that would plan such an attack to reconstitute, to strengthen.
TODD: Another security concern tonight regarding the Taliban's victory, the threat from domestic extremists inside the U.S. A U.S. law enforcement official telling CNN they have been surprised by the show of support for the Taliban in white supremacists and antigovernment forums online. An example of how groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS, once they have free territory, can inspire attacks anywhere.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This will be tremendously energizing for any Jihadi-minded person around the world. Some will go travel there to join the great victorious holy warriors. And some would just radicalize off their computers.
TODD (on camera): Former Afghanistan CIA Base Chief Marc Polymeropoulos, says another recent development that he's really concerned about is the Taliban's release of inmates from prisons all around Afghanistan. Many of them are already hardened terrorists, some of America's worst enemies, he says, who have only gotten more radical in prison, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thank you very much, Brian Todd reporting.
Let's dig deeper right now with CNN's Counterterrorism Analyst Phil Mudd. Phil, thanks for joining us.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan clearly mean the U.S. will have less intelligence on potential terrorist activity in that region. How much danger potentially does that intelligence vacuum pose?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, there're two sides of that coin. The first side is the negative side. Look, if you want to collect intelligence, you have to talk to the Afghan national army. They're not there anymore. You've got to talk to the Afghan intelligence service. I've talked to the Afghan intelligence chief years ago. He was incredibly impressive. They're not there anymore.
You got to talk to warlords, that people who control the regions of Afghanistan. That is going to be really difficult to do. And then think about if you collect the right intelligence, how do you respond? We used to be able to respond with airstrikes, with drones, we don't have that access in Afghanistan.
It's certainly not coming from Iran. It's not coming from Pakistan. If you want it to come from Central Asia, you have got to deal with Putin. So you are going out from, for example, an aircraft carrier. That is really tough, Wolf, so the collection and response to intelligence really challenging.
Let me just close quickly to say I still wouldn't want to be Al Qaeda. Our focus on the Al Qaeda target, our willingness to take lethal action, our cooperation with allies in places like Saudi Arabia is much greater. So it's going to be tough, Wolf. But I think if I'm in Al-Qaeda's seat, I would not take this for granted. This is going to be tough for them, too.
BLITZER: Based on your experience with the CIA, Phil, just how much of a boost would you expect the Taliban's victory in Afghanistan to give other extremist groups?
MUDD: That is a tough question. I'd say significant in terms of ideology. If you look at America as the head of the snake, which is how Al Qaeda was characterizes, Al Qaeda just beat the head of the snake, the same thing they would have said at 9/11.
That said, they've got some challenges. I just mentioned a few. If we collect intelligence, we can act like we could not have in 2000. That is -- we can use lethal force. We would not have done that in 2000.
Also, think about the ISIS phenomenon. If you are a kid in Europe or the United States, you could go to Turkey and get to Syria to join or train with ISIS. Boy, think about a kid in Europe trying -- or the United States trying to get to Afghanistan, much more difficult.
So, I think it energizes people. People will try to go to Afghanistan to join the movement. But again, as I said earlier, this is a two- sided coin. I think al Qaeda would have challenges building the kind of network they had 21 years ago.
BLITZER: Yeah. What really worries me that thousands and thousands of prisoners that have been freed in recent days.
MUDD: Yes, yes.
BLITZER: Who knows what the hell they're going to be doing next.
Phil Mudd, thank you very much.
MUDD: Thank you. BLITZER: Coming up, how a Democratic divide is putting President
Biden's huge spending plan in jeopardy right now. We're learning what the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just told her caucus.
BLITZER: The House of Representatives can vote as soon as tomorrow on President Biden's sweeping spending plan. But Democratic divisions up in Congress are jeopardizing its passage.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles. He's working the story for us.
Ryan, what are you picking up?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is no doubt that this attempt by the Biden administration to push through two major spending packages, one, a bipartisan infrastructure and then a $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package are facing serious problems here on Capitol Hill.
That's because a group of nine and now ten moderate Democrats have said that they're not going to vote to push that budget resolution, the $3.5 trillion package forward if there isn't a vote on the infrastructure plan first.
Now, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Progressive Democrats in the House have said that you can't do one without the other that. That's led to a showdown here tonight on Capitol Hill between, the moderates and the rank and file House Democrats.
We're not exactly sure how this is going to turn out but if Pelosi cannot get a vote on that budget, everything could be stalled and it could mean both packages are in serious trouble -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yeah, it would be very embarrassing for the speaker, indeed.
You know, Ryan, sources are also telling CNN that the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th capitol riot is planning to seek phone records including those of at least some members of Congress whose phone records -- whose phone records are they after?
NOBLES: Yeah, Wolf. This is a pretty significant development that tells us that that select committee investigating what happened on January 6th is starting to begin their work in earnest. We're told that they're posed to ask various telecommunication companies for a wide range of phone records from as many as 100 or more people including members of Congress to find out who they were communicating with on January 6th and the time leading up to that day.
Listen to what the chairman of that committee, Benny Thompson, told us earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI: We have quite an exhaustive list of people. I won't tell you who they are but it's several hundred people that make up the list of individuals we plan to contact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: And this could begin the process for them to begin an investigation which could then lead to subpoenas that and witness testimony. Some of that testimony could be in front of an open public hearing and, of course, there is a long list of Republican members of Congress who could be targeted by this committee, including the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Wow, very dramatic, indeed.
Ryan Nobles up on Capitol, thank you.
From Capitol, let's head over to Tennessee right now where catastrophic flash flooding has left at least 21 people dead including twin babies.
CNN national correspondent Nadia Romero is on the scene.
AMANDA MAPLES, SURVIVED FLOODED HOME: My mom is being rescued.
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this intense cell phone video, Amanda Maples shot from her roof the moment she had been waiting for.
MAPLES: Over and over, I saw them pick up our neighbors and our family risking their own lives, you know, for us and seeing that moment of my mom surfacing because I didn't know if she was alive in there was something I'll never forget. I was sitting on that roof all day if I had to as long as she got okay.
ROMERO: Maples on her roof looking and screaming for her mother who she thought was swept away in floodwaters. Amanda Maples' mother clinging on to a kitchen island, worried about her daughter Amanda across the street.
DARLENE TOUNGETTE, SURVIVED FLOODED HOME: The guy came in and he hollered "Anybody in here?" And I said, yes, me. And he came back there and said, are you okay? And I said, yes. And I said, what about Amanda across the street? He said, she's okay, she's on the roof.
And as a parent to see your child on the roof it's heart-wrenching, but it's like, oh, yeah, save my child.
MAPLES: I was saving save my mom.
ROMERO: Record-breaking rain sent floodwaters surging through rural Tennessee Saturday, devastating several communities within Humphreys County.
At least 21 people have been killed, hundreds of homes now completely uninhabitable. John Horton lost everything.
JOHN HORTON, LOST HOME IN FLOOD: You wouldn't think this would happen, but it's total devastation.
ROMERO: A massive surge is underway for the missing in communities where the water rose the fastest.
SHERIFF CHRIS DAVIS, HUMPHREYS COUNTY, TENNESSEE: Our people need help. We're going to be overwhelmed for the next probably 30 days at least, overwhelmed.
ROMERO: Of those reported dead, two were seven-month-old twins. A family member says the rushing water swept the babies out of their father's arms.
CHIEF GRANT GILLESPIE, WAVERLY POLICE AND FIRE: This has been a huge impact to this small community. The town will wear these scars for many decades.
ROMERO: As the search continues, families tackle the question of how or even if they should rebuild. Not much to salvage in Maples' home.
MAPLES: That's when I called 911.
ROMERO: John Horton losing his house and rental property, wondering what to do next.
HORTON: I don't know, man. I don't know what we're going to do.
ROMERO (on camera): So curfew begins at 8:00 because local law enforcement says it's too dark to see the debris on the ground. They're also trying to prevent looters from going into people's homes and stealing their valuables -- Wolf.
BLITZER: My heart goes out to those people.
Nadia Romero, on the scene for us. Thank you very, very much. And we'll have more news right after this.
BLITZER: Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.