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State Department Says About 1,500 Americans May Still Need Evacuating; January 6th Committee Demands Documents From Agencies On Capitol Attack, Signaling Huge Investigative Effort; U.S. Official Says, Intelligence Suggests ISIS-K May Attack Kabul Airport. HHS: 100,000+ U.S. COVID-19 Hospitalizations Now, Nearly Three Times Higher Than In The Past Month. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 25, 2021 - 18:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: 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 with breaking news on the evacuation from Afghanistan.

The Biden administration just provided the most detailed assessment yet on the race to get Americans out. The secretary of state says about 1,500 U.S. citizens may still need evacuating. At least 4,500 Americans have been airlifted out over the past 11 days with 500 leaving in the last 24 hours. The operation is picking up pace with just six days to go until the U.S. withdrawal deadline.

As the mission plays out, the White House says it is closely following threats from the terror group known as ISIS-K. CNN has learned of very specific threats against crowds outside the Kabul airport.

We're covering it all with our correspondents, analysts and guests. First, let's go to Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann. Oren, the administration is stressing the scope, the complexity and danger of this evacuation.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There is no doubt that as this comes down to the final days and the U.S. begins at some point in the imminent future to begin drawing down the troops in Afghanistan, this becomes even more risky as there are fewer troops on the ground, fewer troops to cover each other and a limited ability of security. That will be the key question here. And, of course, all along, they still have possibly up to 1,500 U.S. citizens to get out and a race to get out as many Afghan evacuees as possible.


LIEBERMANN (voice over): In the span of ten days, the U.S. and its allies have moved nearly the equivalent of a packed giant stadium out of Afghanistan, flights leaving Kabul International Airport every 39 minutes but there are possibly as many as 1,500 Americans who remain in the country, the Biden administration still working to keep its solemn promise to evacuate every American who wants out. But how the U.S. will ensure passage for Afghans after the last U.S. plane leaves remains a question.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: They will not be forgotten. We certainly have points of incentive and points of leverage with a future Afghan government to help make sure that that happens. But I can tell you, again, from my perspective, from the president's perspective, this effort does not end on August 31st.

LIEBERMANN: Secretary Of State Tony Blinken said it was difficult to track in real-time every American in Afghanistan when asked who shoulders the blame for this frantic effort up to the deadline, he said this.

BLINKEN: I take responsibility. I know the president has said he takes responsibility. There will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years and to look to see what we might have done differently.

LIEBERMANN: The Taliban now imposing even tighter restrictions on Afghanistan, one day after warning it wouldn't allow Afghans to reach the airport. In this video shared on social media, this man says he was beaten by the Taliban. His face bloodied. He says they hit me bad and this happened when I was crossing to the airport.

Now, the Taliban telling working women to stay home until security is in place for them. They say their fighters don't know how to treat women yet.

ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, TALIBAN SPOKESPERSON: We want to make sure women are not treated in a disrespectful way or, God forbid, hurt. So we would like them to stay at home until security is in place for them in the offices.

LIEBERMANN: The founder of an Afghan girls' school burning school records for her student's protection. She fled with her student to Rwanda. Taliban checkpoints, limiting movement in Kabul and beyond in the crowds outside the airport. One Afghan woman tried about a dozen times to get through so she could join her husband in the United States she told CNN Kylie Atwood. Finally she dressed her baby in yellow and managed to send a photo through to Marines who were able to spot the baby in the crowd. The family made it in.

On Tuesday, the first U.S. troops began leaving Afghanistan, a mix of headquarter staff and maintenance no longer required in Kabul.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: On those last couple days, we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out.

LIEBERMANN: For now, the mission remains focused on the evacuation. But with time racing down, it will soon transition to the withdrawal of U.S. forces and equipment before the August 31st deadline.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): Of the U.S. citizens who remain in Afghanistan, the secretary of state said 500 have been given specific instructions on what they need to do to get out. The Pentagon acknowledging it's conducted three helicopter missions to get out Americans and bring them to the airport but they say those missions were of short distance and of short duration. Going beyond Kabul, going beyond the immediate surroundings of the airport could be very difficult, if not, impossible.



BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Oren Liebermann reporting, thank you very much.

Let's go to the White House right now, the commander-in-chief's strategy in Afghanistan. Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us.

Phil, the president is still committed to a full withdrawal by the August 31st deadline, but he asked for what are called contingency plans. What's the latest on those options?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, more than anything else, the existence of those plans underscores how fluid and dynamic White House officials view the situation on the ground in Kabul. Now, to make one thing clear, White House officials say the president is holding to the August 31st deadline and they believe they're still on track to meet what they say are their goals regarding evacuations by that point in time.

However, this morning, in a closed door meeting, the president met with his national security team, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, so they could layout contingency plans the president requested from both department. Those plans would entails some level of a continuation of U.S. personnel on the ground beyond August 31st if the president deems that a necessity. Again, that's not where the White House is right now. But White House officials make clear the president has told his top officials he wants to maintain options.

Now, one thing is clear from the White House, and that is Pentagon officials, military personnel on the ground have the leeway, have the bandwidth to make their own decisions about the posture of forces on the ground, the scale of the footprint on the ground as well. That will be done in country. But on the overarching level, the president wanting to maintain some element of options as they push forward, one thing to keep in mind, Wolf, and Oren pointed this out, the clock is ticking. While August 31st is the deadline, defense personnel are going to have to start leaving very soon. Evacuations will also start coming to a close very soon. The president and his team in a mad rush to try to get as many people out as possible.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, as you well know, the Biden administration says it will continue to help Afghans leave the country after the U.S. withdraws all its military forces by August 31st. But how will they be able to do that without an actual presence on the ground there? MATTINGLY: Wolf, it's a huge question and one that there just simply isn't an answer to right now, whether or not the White House, the U.S., frankly, the international partners can deliver on that pledge at this point in time. There's been no sense from the Taliban that that is something they would be open to.

Now, what we have heard from the secretary of state earlier today is that the administration believes that they do have points of leverage, whether it's on economic assistance, whether it's on diplomatic pressure coming from a series of international partners.

However, the White House making clear their plan and how they expect to get there is still rather ambiguous. Take a listen.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The secretary was asked that. He didn't go into detail for a reason because we are currently having those discussions, their diplomatic channels. But what he assured, I think, the public of, and I can reiterate from here, is that we are looking at a range of options for how we can continue to provide consular support, facilitate departures for those who wish to leave after August 31st.


MATTINGLY: Wolf, it's just one more massive question that needs to be answered in one of many over the course of the next several days. And, obviously, with that clock ticking not a lot of time to secure those answers, but clearly something on the president's plate and a clear commitment of his administration at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: A really important one as well. Phil Mattingly reporting from the White House. Thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper into the escalating terror threat that's ongoing in Afghanistan. Our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto has been working his sources. Jim, we all know the president cited potential terrorism as one reason that he wants to keep the August 31st deadline but you've got some important new reporting.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm told by defense officials that there's a very specific threat stream about attacks around the Kabul airport. You've seen the images of the many hundreds of people clamoring to get in there. The threat coming from a group known as ISIS-K, Islamic State Khorasan, arrival, in effect, in Afghanistan of the Taliban.

With intelligence like this, they look for what's credible and specific. And this is both of those things, credible and that they have multiple intelligence indicators here, specific and that they're talking both about target and capability, that they believe that ISIS- K has the capability to carry out these attacks here with the intention being to disrupt the exit from the country of these many Afghans who want to do that. Interesting here is that the U.S. and the Taliban are relying on this. Both of these -- both of them do not want this to happen. It would be embarrassing for the Taliban who now control large parts of the country and, of course, disrupt U.S. efforts to get both Americans, but Afghans who work for Americans out of the country. So they're taking this very seriously.

BLITZER: If this new ISIS-K, this new terror group were to launch some sort of attack, what potentially could be their target?

SCIUTTO: In this case, it's the crowds of Afghans around the airport, things such as suicide bombers who could very easily infiltrate those crowds and cause a lot of casualties, possibly breach the gates of the airport.


I mean the intention with this attack, like so many terror attacks, is to create fear and mayhem. And that's the concern of U.S. officials. And it appears to be that that contributed to the president's decision to stick for now to that August 31st deadline.

BLITZER: Jim, stay with us. I want to bring in our National Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood and CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson is here in Washington with us as well.

This is a very real possibility, according to the secretary of state, that this ISIS-K, Nic, could get involved in a very bad way launching terror attacks. How does this complicate the overall operation?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Wolf, I think what we've heard the threat coming from the British this evening, as well as the foreign offices, it shows an extraordinary warning for Brits in Afghanistan, saying, if you're around the airport in either in Kabul, leave, go to a safe place. That is an extraordinary specific thing.

Jim is absolutely right. Our forces are relying on the Taliban to provide that outer perimeter. ISIS-K are very skilled and have had a lot of devastating attacks, suicide bombs, vehicle bombs, suicide bombs that are followed up by gunmen on foot. If they try to perpetrate that at the airport while people are still going through, that's the weakness.

The weakness is that gap where there aren't those T-bars, that route -- that route that vehicles would take into the airport, push a car full of explosives and they drive it in, detonate it, follow it up with gunmen. It could be a very, very ugly scenario. So, as long as those T-bar barricade walls are open, there's a real risk and danger.

BLITZER: And we know in recent days a lot of the prisons in Afghanistan have been opened, and ISIS-K, Al Qaeda terrorists have been out there. They're free right now. And, Kylie, I know you're doing a lot of reporting with your sources at the State Department. What's the latest you're hearing? KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're talking about the number of Americans right now that are still in Afghanistan, because that's the key factor here in determining when the United States is done with the evacuation part of this mission, right? So what we heard from the State Department today is they're up to 1,500 Americans who may need assistance still getting out of the country, may want to get out of the country.

But we don't know if there's actually 1,500 because they say they've been in touch with 500 Americans in the last 24 hours giving them ways to get to the airport safely. But then, out of that 1,500 number, a 1,000 of them, they really don't know if those are people who are actually Americans or they just got into the list, if they're Americans who left the country, if they're Americans who might want to stay in the country. So that's the real question mark here. But what we're looking at is some figure between 500 and 1,500 Americans who still need to get out of the country.

BLITZER: You know, Jim, we heard the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, say the Taliban have committed, in his words, to allow safe passage of Americans and Afghan allies even after the complete U.S. withdrawal in the coming days. But can the U.S. really take the Taliban at its word?

SCIUTTO: No. Because the fact is right now they're not allowing safe passage for a whole lot bunch of people. Yes, people are still getting out. We're seeing the flights take off. But I've spoken to people who can't get into the airport. The Taliban are beating them, as we heard last week, with bike chains. They won't let them have access there. You know, it appears to be the decision of whoever is in charge of that checkpoint at that time.

So, based on what we're seeing now, that is not a good indicator as to what would follow after U.S. forces leave. And, by the way, it's not just Afghans telling me that. It's various groups that are comprised of current and former government officials who are trying with their best efforts to get people out of the country who worked for the Americans and who are, therefore, under threat and they are running into the same thing.

So the idea that the Taliban is opening the gates to the airport is just not factually true. So the idea that that's what it's going to look like next week is also just hard to imagine, frankly.

BLITZER: Take a look at this, you know, Nic. We have a picture of a charter, a humanitarian charter that left Kabul. There are only, what, only maybe about 50 evacuees, 50 passengers on this plane, a huge plane, 345-seat charter, a humanitarian charter. What does that say to you?

ROBERTSON: It says that there's a blockage in the process, either people getting into the airport or the processing of them at the airport, that these charter companies and people that are pushing to get the flights in to get people out that they know are on the ground, there's just a disconnect, a misalignment. You might have three hours after this, enough people on the tarmac there at the airport to fill that plane. We don't know.

I mean, we have to say that it's been a phenomenal airlift so far, absolutely phenomenal and to put it together in such a short space of time. There's no other nation other than the United States that could do that. We have to recognize that. But there are problems, and that's one of them. And that means to the people that Jim knows, to the people that I know in Kabul that desperately want to get out and have good reason to get out, my gosh, imagine you're in their shoes tonight, Wolf.


ROBERTSON: You're sitting there because you don't know who is going to knock on your door and you know that there was a plane on the runway and you couldn't get there and it had seats on it.

BLITZER: The secretary of state, Tony Blinken, he did speak about what potentially could emerge as some sort of diplomatic conversation after the U.S. withdrawal with the Taliban, even though the U.S. has shutdown it's embassy in Kabul. Once empty, they moved it temporarily to the airport, but they're going to be out of the airport in a few days.

ATWOOD: Yes, that's right. He's making no commitments about what that relationship will be like. But he said that it will hinge on one thing and one thing only, and that is advancing U.S. interests, right, whether that be counterterrorism, whether that be advancing rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. All of those things are going to factor into what the U.S./Taliban relationship looks like come August 31st, because up until then we really have to be in contact with the Taliban on a daily, if not, hourly basis. But that's a real question now.

And I think you see the Biden administration giving the Taliban a chance here and saying, look, we know what you've done in the past but what we are looking to is what you're going to do in the future. It's a gamble that they're making that a lot of people, I think, are wary of but that is what they're doing right now.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll have a lot more coming up this hour on ISIS-K and this potential terror threat that is realistic threat that's out there. Guys, stick around. Don't go too far away.

Just ahead, will every American citizen who wants to leave be able to get out of Afghanistan by Tuesday? I'll ask the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's been briefed. Congressman Michael McCaul standing by live. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We have breaking news tonight, disturbing -- very disturbing new details of the desperate exodus from Afghanistan. The State Department just saying that about 1,500 Americans citizens may still need to get out with just six days before the U.S. withdrawal is complete.

Let's get some more from the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

As you heard earlier today, the Secretary of State Tony Blinken says, up to 1,500 Americans, they still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan. Only a few days left. How much faith do you have that the U.S. military can get everyone, all of them out, including all those allies, Afghan allies who worked with the U.S., who risked their lives for the U.S., how much faith do you have that all these people will get out before August 31st?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): None. I don't think it's humanly possible. You know, Chairman Meeks and I had basically a conference- wide member briefing, classified with the secretary of state, Joint Chiefs of Staff. I can't get into the detail. But I don't see how in six days we can get out what I think is a higher number of American citizen, not to mention the Afghan interpreters who have been left behind. And we promised them we would get them out of there. And now they're in the bull's eye of the Taliban, and they will be executed.

And, Wolf, we're already getting reports of Afghan interpreters trying to get to the airport, being turned away by the Taliban, taken back to their home where they've witnessed their own family being executed and then they are beheaded themselves. This is they're horrific nightmare taking place. It will take days for the military to retrograde 6,000 troops to get out of the country. So you're really only talking about a couple of days left to process, get the SIVs out and the American citizens.

Now, this is all based on the hope that once we pull out on August 31st that, the Taliban will keep that airport open to air flights to the United States and our allies to get the remaining people out of there maybe with American citizens possibly. I doubt it. But with respect to the Afghan interpreters, I think we just shut the door on them.

BLITZER: I know you're concerned, and I want to get specific. Where are you getting this information that these American allies are being executed, beheaded right now when they're turned back from the airport? And I know you're understandably, like all of us, very concerned about the fate of these Afghan allies.

A Taliban spokesman denies they're seeking revenge, telling The New York Times, and I'm quoting now, we want to build the future and forget what happened in the past. How far is that from the reality that you're hearing from your classified sources, U.S. officials, I assume, on the ground?

MCCAUL: That's propaganda from the Taliban. I don't trust them. I think they're going to go back to their ways once we leave. My committee and my office and every congressional office now has turned into thousands of requests. But we, Committee on Foreign Affairs, are really the clearinghouse for Congress to process and receive all these requests. So we are really operating in real-time, hearing what's happening on the ground near the airport.

So you talk about conditions on the ground, what's really happening, that story I told you is a real one, but there are many of them. And that's the problem. They seem to let American citizens through more easily. But when it comes to Afghan partners or interpreters, that's where the rub is. They view them as the infidel. They worked with the infidel. They are the enemy. They will smash their cell phones, they will rip up their SIV applications, and in several cases, they return into their homes and execute them.

I just talked to Michael Walsh, who was a Green Beret. His interpreter, called Little Spartica, this very same story happened to him.


He got taken back to his home, they had to witness his family being executed, beheaded and then they executed him. This is real stuff. I don't think the press is reporting it enough. But this is the Taliban.

BLITZER: These are heartbreaking stories indeed. We will stay in close touch with you, Congressman. Thank you so much for joining us.

MCCAUL: No, thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you. Coming up, a new document request reveals the sweeping scope of the house investigation into the Capitol insurrection including communications by former President Trump and his family.

Much more coming up. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Here in Washington, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th Capitol siege has now put in a huge request for documents from more than half a dozen agencies as it tries to get to the bottom of the attack.

Our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is working the story for us. Ryan, this is truly a massive, massive request. What does it signal?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. What it signals more than anything, Wolf, is that this is going to be a comprehensive investigation from the January 6th select committee as they try and determine what led to the insurrection here in the beginning of 2021 and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

You're right. They're asking for documents, communications records from seven different federal agencies and the National Archives. This is a long list of agencies, like the Department of Interior, the FBI, Department of Justice and others asking for communications records, anything having to do with the insurrection itself and also anything having to do with the Trump administration or the former president's campaign attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

So that means some very specific names have been on these lists of document requests, people that were high up in the White House like Pat Cipollone and former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Also included in this information request dump are several members of the Trump family including his children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. They all could be potential targets and turn this information gathering operation.

Wolf, if they're able to receive even a fraction of the information that they've requested in this document request dump, it will be potentially millions of pages of information and it will be the basis, the foundation of their investigation as it moves forward.

BLITZER: Yes. It says to me the select committee is going to continue this investigation for months and months and months. It's going to go well into next year, I'm sure. What are they specifically, though, looking for in terms of subjects?

NOBLES: Yes. What the select committee is telling us is that they actually do have a pretty specific focus here. First, they're attempting to determine what led to the security failures on that day, why was there not a proper security posture in place here at the Capitol to prevent it from being overrun by these supporters that were in town for the former president's, what he called, the Stop the Steal rally. And then secondly they want to know if there was an organized effort to try to overturn the 2020 election and if that contributed to what happened on that day.

So it's a lot of work, Wolf. That's part of the reason they're asking for so much information.

BLITZER: It's massive indeed. All right, Ryan Nobles up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's dig deeper right now. The former FBI Deputy Director, CNN Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe is joining us. He's the Author of book, The Threat, How FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. ndrew, thanks very much for coming in.

What's your analysis of this massive amount of information this select committee is seeking?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, this is very much a first shot in what will be a prolonged war, the investigation of this incredible attack on our Capitol on January 6th. I think Ryan is absolutely right. These documents will form the foundation and the basis of this investigation. It will inform the committee on which directions to push even further and it will give them the sort of -- really the grounds to ask some very pointed questions of the many witnesses that they will no doubt sit down and examine.

BLITZER: Because it looks like they're also really seeking a lot of information directly involving the former president and what he may or may not have done to aid or abet this insurrection. MCCABE: That's right. And it's one thing to ask a witness, you know, what did you talk to the president and what did you say. It's very different to say to that witness, here is a record of your phone calls on that day. You can see on line seven, that there was a call to the White House. Who did you call? Who was on the other line? How did that conversation proceed? So it's a way to pin those witnesses down to very specific questions.

BLITZER: But even though the select committee is seeking all these documents and, as Ryan said, millions of documents out there potentially, there's no 100 percent guarantee they will actually get them, at least all of them. Trump, for example, could cite executive privilege as the former president and may not allow some of those documents to emerge.

MCCABE: He certainly could and I think undoubtedly will. Each of the agencies will have their own reasons to push back on certain requests. So for instance, the FBI might be reluctant to turn over documents that would indicate the identities of confidential informants and things of that nature. There are legitimate reasons to push back on congressional requests. However, as Ryan noted, this is a massive request, there are millions of documents likely implicated here. They will walk away with some very interesting things, Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrew McCabe, as usual, thank you very much. We'll all going to be following the story very closely over the coming months.

There's more breaking news we're following here in The Situation Room.


Growing fear an ISIS off shoot could potentially launch an attack on the Kabul airport. We're or about to take a closer look at what's called ISIS-K.


BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, the White House saying just a little while ago that it's closely following threats from the ISIS offshoot in Afghanistan, a group known as ISIS-K. U.S. intelligence says the threat could include an attack on the Kabul airport where thousands and thousands of people are still desperately trying to flee the Taliban.

CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, I know you've been doing a lot of research and reporting on ISIS-K. What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, we have new information tonight on ISIS-K, an enemy of the Taliban believed to be even more vicious. When you're dealing with a group that has no qualm about blowing up a school for girls, you can see why the U.S. officials are so concerned about the threat at the airport.



TODD (voice over): The chaos, the threats to Americans and their allies at the Kabul airport are pinned squarely tonight on a terror group with a familiar name that has only burst into the mainstream in recent days.

COLIN CLARKE, AUTHOR, AFTER THE CALIPHATE: THE ISLAMIC STATE: My main concern is ISIS-K would look to deploy a massive bomb or a team of bombers to strike simultaneously.

TODD: ISIS-K, The K for Khorasan, an area around the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. ISIS-K claims to be a branch of the main ISIS terror group which gained power in Syria and Iraq seven years ago. Experts say ISIS-K comprised of some veteran Jihadists from Syria and elsewhere has lost ground and man power since 2018, but still has a presence in Eastern Afghanistan and has formed cells in Kabul.

In total, according to a U.N. report, they're believed to have from 1,500 and 2,200 fighters in Afghanistan.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: A lot of these are former Taliban who slapped on the ISIS patch in order to sort of make themselves the biggest, baddest guys on the block.

TODD: But ISIS-K is now a sworn enemy of the Taliban.

BERGEN: The Taliban are fighting them. Really, you know, it's more local rivalries.

TODD: Why more broadly have the two notorious terror groups turned on each other?

CLARKE: For a number of reasons. Those range from ideological to political to military. Frankly, ISIS doesn't believe in a political agenda. ISIS believes that only God can rule. And even though the Taliban is attempting to establish an Islamic Emirate, that's not enough for ISIS. ISIS is a bit more hardcore.

TODD: So hard core, according to Analyst Colin Clarke, that ISIS-K is thought to be more draconian than the Taliban. In areas they control, he says, they impose harsh Sharia Law, execute civilians and others who they suspect are spies.

CLARKE: They want to attract and recruit the most ardent sociopaths in the country. And their calling card is this rapacious and wanton violence against anyone that stands in their way. That actually helps them bring in other fighters into the organization that have a similar mindset.

TODD: Some of those fighters have been sprung from Afghan prisons. ISIS-K has carried out several devastating suicide bombing attacks in Afghanistan in recent years, including an attack on a school for girls this spring which, according to a Pentagon assessment, killed at least 68 people, most of them girls.

Another threat from ISIS-K that analysts are watching for tonight -- CLARKE: They could wreak havoc around the airport by taking a shot at

some of the aircraft that are taking off from and landing at Hamid Karzai International Airport. That's a great concern right now.


TODD (on camera): Is ISIS-K a threat to wage a broader war against or even overthrow the Taliban? Well the terrorism analyst we spoke to, don't think so. The Taliban have far greater numbers of fighters they say. ISIS-K could be a violent nuisance to the Taliban, doing hit and runs, conducting IED attacks, according to experts, but they also say ISIS-K is not going away without a fight. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Brian thank you, Brian Todd reporting.

Let's dig deeper right now. Douglas London is joining us, a former CIA Counterterrorism Chief for South and Southwest Asia. He's also the Author of the upcoming book, entitled, there you see it, The Recruiter, Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence. That's coming out next month. Doug, thanks very much for coming in.

How serious a threat is this ISIS-K right now to U.S. interests and to peace over there? What are they up to?

DOUGLAS LONDON, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF FOR SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST ASIA: Well, thanks for having me on the program, Wolf. I think ISIS is a real credible threat right now --


LONDON: ISIS-KP, actually, as we call it, the Khorasan Province, which is an area that cradles around in Afghanistan. And the threat really is prominent now because there's no pressure really against them. They're a small group, they're pretty much decentralized and scattered. And without a local partner with whom to work and CIA sources on the ground, we're flying a little blind.

BLITZER: So will they be targeting U.S. individuals, U.S. troops? Will they be targeting the Taliban? What do you see?

LONDON: Well, their principle target is us, but also securing control. That's why they're such a rival to Taliban who sees them as a threat for their own resources and manpower. I think they would look to try to stage the most simple attacks as they could, which might likely be the people waiting outside the airport.

I think it would be hard for them really to do much damage to U.S. forces except with the fleeing troops that left the Afghan army, there's probably a lot of weapons available that include missiles and rockets in such that could be a challenge for U.S. forces.

BLITZER: Yes, because U.S. left behind tons and tons of weapons including guns and tanks and armored personnel carriers, all of which, if these guys get their hold on it, they could use it very devastatingly. You know, what worries me is that so many of these ISIS-K, Al Qaeda, Taliban terrorists were released from jails over these past several days and they're out and about.

LONDON: There's a great deal of influx of manpower, particularly for Al Qaeda and some of their partner groups.


For ISIS-KP, I'm wondering how much the Taliban would have let them leave prison since they represent a threat to them if they have might have found some extrajudicial way of dealing with them.


But indeed, al Qaeda certainly profited from those released and those I suspect might be coming back to Afghanistan from Iran where they've been living under the protection of the Iranian government.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You were a top analyst at the CIA for a long time. Was there an intelligence blunder in leading up to the speedy takeover by the Taliban of Afghanistan? Do you believe there was an intelligence blunder?

LONDON: An intelligence failure is either when we have not seen foreseen developments that are to come or we haven't done our job in reporting that upwards. Neither was the case.

Going back to the Trump administration, the CIA was very consistent about the likely consequences of a U.S. withdrawal. And of the circumstances we've seen in which we closed our bases rather quickly and precipitously, if you recall, the first ones really in May and then by July 1st, Bagram was closed. Meaning, there was no longer an ability by the U.S., it sent a clear signal t those throughout the government they couldn't rely on us.

BLITZER: The U.S. intelligence capability in Afghanistan is going to shrink after the complete withdrawal, right?

LONDON: It shrunk remarkably. It will have to be run as a stay-behind network, but that's --

BLITZER: What does that mean, the stay behind network?

LONDON: Stay behind network is when an agency like CIA is operating its own sources remotely or working with partner groups on the ground. The latter is where the problem comes, where we might expect pockets of resistance, where we can be working with opposition to collect intelligence, those folks are also working externally for the moment except the group that's going to Panjshir Valley, which is about four hours north of Kabul.

BLITZER: Douglas, thank you so much for coming in. Let me put your book back on the screen, show our viewers, that coming out September 28th. The book is called "The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence." We're looking forward to reading it. LONDON: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Coming up, more than 100,000 Americans, 100,000 Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 tonight. That's almost three times more than just one month ago. We'll have the latest on the alarming surge of COVID cases and deaths. That's next.



BLITZER: Tonight, COVID hospitalizations here in the United States are up nearly three times over last month. Right now, more than 100,000 Americans almost all of them unvaccinated are in hospitals.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, Dr. Paul Offit, director of the vaccine education center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He's also a key member of the FDA Vaccine's Advisory Committee.

Dr. Offit, thanks so much for joining us.

After seven weeks of rising and rising numbers, right now more than 100,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized with coronavirus. For those who are choosing to remain unvaccinated, they're not only putting themselves and their loved ones at risk. There is also the issue of once again overwhelming potentially the nation's hospitals.

DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Yes, and allowing fertile ground for this virus to continue to reproduce itself, continue to create variants, that they become more and more resistant to vaccine induced immunity. It's amazing, the numbers now, this August, are actually in many ways worst than last August.

I mean, last August, we had a fully susceptible population. We didn't have a vaccine. Now, we have half the country is vaccinated and, you know, and many people have been naturally infected, but nonetheless, the numbers are worse. I think it's because the delta variant is one big game changer. It wasn't the delta variant last year and it's a much more transmissible virus and our behavior is worse.

I mean, think about it, last year, when there was that biker's convention in Sturgis, South Dakota, it was all the rage in the news. Now, it's just a blip, even though again, it triggered sort of a massive outbreak in South Dakota.

BLITZER: Yeah, 100,000 Americans are in hospitals right now because of COVID. One month ago, only one month ago, 35,000 Americans were in hospitals. These numbers are increasing dramatically.

And as you correctly point out from this delta variant and all these unvaccinated Americans, Johnson & Johnson now says that a booster dose of its single dose COVID-19 vaccine increases the immune response. For the 14 million Americans who received that J&J single dose shot, should they consider getting a booster of J&J or of the Pfizer or Moderna shot instead?

OFFIT: Well, neither right now. I mean, what we need to prove is whether that second dose of the J&J vaccine has a clinical having a better protection against mild or moderate or severe disease. We don't have those data yet. I think those data are being generated and hopefully we'll know soon. I wouldn't give the second dose yet, no.

BLITZER: Should -- those of us who got either Moderna or Pfizer, should we wait eight months to get that third booster shot or should it really go down to six months, which is the case in England, Germany, Israel for example?

OFFIT: I think right now, it should be neither. I mean, on Monday and Tuesday, August the 30th and 31st, the CDC is going to be meeting to review data to see if there is good evidence suggesting the need for a third dose. The goal of these vaccines is protect from serious illness and there is no evidence that there's any erosion in protection against serious illness after you're vaccinated with two doses of mRNA vaccine.

So, I would wait. Nobody presented any data to explain why the Biden administration stepped forward and said eight months later you should get a third dose. Let's see what that discussion looks like early next week and see what the CDC has to say.

BLITZER: Dr. Paul Offit, as usual, thank you so much for joining us. These are potentially life and death issues so critically important.


Bottom line to those who are watching who are not vaccinated, go out there and get a shot and do it ASAP. Thanks so much for joining us.

OFFIT: Thank you.

BLITZER: And we'll have more news right after this.


BLITZER: Stay with CNN for complete coverage of the crisis in Afghanistan and fate of refugees fleeing the country. For more information, by the way, on how you can help Afghan refugees as well as the victims of the Haiti earthquake, go to and "Impact Your World".

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.