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Hurricane Ida Threatens Parts of U.S. Gulf Coast; Hurricane Ida Anticipated to be Category Four Storm; Evacuations Continue in Afghanistan from Kabul Airport; U.S. Drone Strike Reportedly Kills ISIS Terrorist Planner Near Afghanistan-Pakistan Border; Interview with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) on Continuing Efforts to Evacuate Americans and Afghans from Kabul Airport. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired August 28, 2021 - 10:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. And we're following two breaking stories right now. A race of evacuations on both sides of the globe. In Afghanistan right now, it's down to only three days, three days as the U.S. mission to get Americans and Afghan allies safely out of Kabul enters, and I'm quoting U.S. officials right now, the most dangerous period. We're standing by for a live Pentagon briefing.

And along the Gulf coast of the United States right now, it is just a matter of hours as hurricane Ida barreling toward shore. The storm taking a very similar track as Katrina did exactly 16 years ago, threatening to make landfall tomorrow in Louisiana as a category four hurricane.


BENJAMIN SCHOTT, SPOKESMAN, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: This will be a life-altering storm for those who aren't prepared and ready to take what Ida is going to throw at us.


BLITZER: We're covering this storm from all angles. CNN's Nadia Romero is on the ground for us in New Orleans right now. But let's begin with Allison Chinchar over at the CNN Weather Center. Allison, what is the latest forecast? We're so, so concerned.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and we should be, really, Wolf. When we look at the current statistics, wind sustained are 85- miles-per-hour gusting up to 100-miles-per-hour. But the storm is now moving into probably its most favorable environment for strengthening. It is a category one now but notice how it strengthens very quickly as it moves into this very warm water. And I want to emphasize, this is not bath water. You're talking jacuzzi water here, which is fuel for these types of storms, which is why we anticipate it to be a category two just a few hours from now, a category three likely later tonight, and a category four right before it makes landfall tomorrow, likely into the afternoon hours in Louisiana.

Now, one of the biggest concerns from this storm is going to be storm surge. The pink color you see here, including grand isle, 10 to 15 feet of storm surge. That is above the first story of home. Seven to 11 feet in this purple area here, that does include the city of Biloxi. Here's a look at some of the storms in the outer bands. The outer will start to impact today. So, if you're planning to evacuate, if you're planning to board up your home, do it today. Please don't wait until tomorrow, because by tomorrow, now you're really starting to get some of those dangerous outer bands into place.

Here's a look at the forecast rainfall. It is not out of the question, some of these areas, to pick up in excess of a foot of rain. Even farther inland, this is going to be the big story -- Nashville, Memphis, even areas around Louisville, Kentucky, likely to get several inches from this storm even though they are miles from the coast.

BLITZER: And when they say, Allison, that this storm and the 10 to 15 feet that it potentially could produce is extremely life-threatening, explain exactly, once again, what that means, because people don't appreciate how dangerous what is about to happen will be.

CHINCHAR: Right. Again, so you're talking about the water that's coming up. So, again, imagine the base is the bottom of your home. When you're talking about all of that water, because it's being pushed inland by the storm itself, and that water has nowhere to go so it goes up. And so that's the thing. When you're talking 10 to 15 feet, that is above the first story of your home. So, imagine you are in your home. You decided to stay and hold it out for the storm, 10 to 15 feet of storm surge comes in, and now you either have to go to the second story of your home because the first story is not an option anymore, or if you only have a first story home, you now have to go to the roof.

BLITZER: Stand by Allison. I want to bring Nadia into this conversation. Nadia, you're there in New Orleans for us right now. The mayor there last night said they won't order mandatory evacuation inside the levy barrier because there's no time left. So, what does that mean for people there? This is coming exactly 16 years after Katrina hit New Orleans.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it is an eerie timeline when you think about 16 years to the date tomorrow. And people use hurricane Katrina as a timestamp here in Louisiana. It is before Katrina or after Katrina. That's how people talk about when things happen.

And they all remember, almost like having PTSD, where they were when the storm hit and where they were when the levies broke. So, I want to show you that preparation. We're on Bourbon Street. This is supposed to be lively, a party atmosphere. It is so quiet this morning as people prepare. We heard people getting out putting up these boards, boarding up windows, nice and sturdy, getting ready for those hurricane force winds Allison was talking to us about.


And you can always tell when you're in an area that's used to storms because they number the boards one and two, because they want to make sure they go back in the right place so it can fit perfectly over the window. Allison also talked to us, Wolf, about that storm surge. Look down. We've got sandbags. Sandbagging locations all across Louisiana as people prepare for the storm surge and the flooding.

And listen to the mayor, Mayor Cantrell, as she talks about why it is so important for people to try to get out as soon as possible.


MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL (D-LA), NEW ORLEANS: Hurricane Ida represents a dramatic threat to the people of the city of New Orleans. Time is not on our side.


ROMERO: Not at all, and that's why there are mandatory evacuations for the Grand Isle and for four parishes, telling people they have to leave. And you've got to think about Louisiana and New Orleans as a whole as a bowl, right? So on one side of the bowl, you have Lake Pontchartrain. On the other side, you have the Mississippi. And when flooding gets in the middle of that bowl, it just shifts around and just stays there, and it stays for a long time. The water doesn't have anywhere to get out. So that's why so many people are leaving. Hotels are forcing people to leave their hotels as they evacuate. Everyone trying to get out of the city. Wolf?

BLITZER: Be careful over there, Nadia. We're going to get back to you. Nadia Romero in New Orleans for us. Allison Chinchar at the CNN Weather Center. We're going to have much more coming up on Hurricane Ida, potentially a category four hurricane when it hits Louisiana tomorrow. Much more on that coming up.

We're also following other breaking news. This news out of Afghanistan right now, where the U.S. military now says it has conducted a drone air strike against an ISIS-K militant who was believed to be planning attacks at the Kabul airport. Right now, at the airport, it is a truly desperate race against time to evacuate all Americans with just three days before a self-imposed U.S. deadline to withdraw. Looking at live pictures coming in from the airport at Kabul right now.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, I know there is a briefing coming up at the Pentagon at the top of the hour, we'll get more information. But what more do we know right now about this drone strike carried out in Afghanistan last night?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the word came here in Washington overnight, Wolf, that the U.S. military had launched a drone strike from outside of Afghanistan against a target in Nangarhar province. That's southeastern Afghanistan, a long-time stronghold of ISIS-K. They say they killed the target, the person they were looking for, and no civilian casualties.

But we know additional detail. There was, in fact, knowledge, intelligence had firmed up in recent days, we are told, that this person, this ISIS-K planner was suspected of being involved in planning future attacks at the airport. They had had eyes on him for some time. The level of confidence in the intelligence was a bit low, so they were firming it up. And when they had it in hand, they were ready to go. He was in a compound, they believe, with wife and children, family members, and they're always concerned about civilian casualties. So they didn't strike until they were confident that he was clear and that they could strike free of any civilians in the immediate area.

They're not calling him a senior planner, just an ISIS-K planner, potentially involved in planning future attacks. So, what we don't know is whether he was involved in the attack against the airport, and we don't know, of course, whether he had been able to really proceed with his future planning. They do believe they interrupted it, of course.

Look, the hours are ticking by at Hamid Karzai International Airport, as you say, Wolf. We are getting to the point within the coming hours, we should expect, obviously, to see U.S. troops, the 5,000 or so who are there, beginning to board planes, beginning to pack up their equipment. They need to go. It is going to take them some period of time to get out of there, and it is inevitable, at some point in the not-too-distant future, they will start that packing up and leaving process. Wolf?

BLITZER: They only have three days left or so to pack up and get out. Barbara, we're also learning more about some of these really brave 13 American service members who lost their lives at that terrorist bombing. First of all, what can you tell us about these men and women?

STARR: The work they were doing was so dangerous and everybody knew it. They were as protected as could be, the Pentagon says, but everybody knew they were having to search people coming into the airport. That means putting your hands, literally running your hands over the person in front of you to try to search for weapons. Let's tell you a little bit more about three of the fallen. And we have pictures to show people. The faces are so young and so important.


I want to start with 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum. What we know is this Wyoming native and his wife were due to have their first baby in just three weeks 20-year-old. Rylee's sister says he wanted to be a marine his whole life and was on his first deployment.

I want to tell you about 23-year-old Marine Corporal Daegan Page, who joined the Marines after graduating from high school in Nebraska. His family says he was an animal lover who enjoyed hunting and spending times outdoors. Daegan's family says he'll always be remembered for his tough outer shell and giant heart. And then we also have some details about U.S. Navy corpsman Maxton

Soviak. This Ohio native came from a large, close-knit family, and he had 12 brothers and sisters.

As always, those on the front lines are so young, and they will always be remembered. And as you and I often say, Wolf, may their memories be a blessing.

BLITZER: Yes. May they rest in peace, and our deepest, deepest condolences to their families, all 13 of these service members who were killed in that attack. Barbara, stand by. We're going to get back to you. I know you're getting ready for the Pentagon briefing as well. We'll have live coverage of that coming up.

I want to bring in the Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi right now. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. I know you are deeply moved, as all of us are, about the loss of these service members, these heroes, these U.S. military heroes. And I want to give you a chance to express your thoughts on this situation. Go ahead.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Our hearts go out to these families of these fallen soldiers. They're some of the finest people you'll ever meet, Wolf. You've met them. I've met them. And I also want to extend our incredible gratitude to the men and women who are currently serving, guarding the airport, as well as we're just thinking about the 15 wounded soldiers, and we want to pull for them. And I hope all of your audience is thinking about them, as well, right now.

BLITZER: We know some of those wounded U.S. service members have already been flown to the Ramstein U.S. military air base in Germany for treatment, and then, eventually, they'll come here to Washington for more treatment, several of them very seriously injured in that terrorist attack.

Have you been briefed, Congressman, you're a key member of the Intelligence Committee, on the U.S. military drone strike that has killed this ISIS-K planner?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Not on this one. We haven't received a classified briefing yet. But this is part of the over the horizon capability that the president was referring to the other day when we went in to Nangarhar province with this drone strike. We have to continue, Wolf. We have to punish and bring to account anybody who was associated with this attack, and we have to disrupt any future plots. ISIS-Khorasan is a common enemy of the Taliban, us, and other regional players, and so we expect their cooperation.

BLITZER: We heard President Biden say this about the terror attack at the airport. Congressman, listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this -- we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.


BLITZER: And yesterday, the White House press secretary went one step further and said the U.S. will remove these people from the face of the earth, in other words, kill them. Do you expect more air strikes along these lines? And do you want the U.S. military to go out there and kill these terrorist planners?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Yes, we need to neutralize them. They are clear and present threats to us and to our allies. They intend to do us more harm, and there are threats right now to our troops and our personnel, as well as American nationals and our allies who are coming to the airport as we speak. So, we have to do everything we can to neutralize them, eliminate them, and, of course, bring to account anybody who is associated with past or current plotting.

BLITZER: There was an alert sent out by the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan, what's left of the U.S. embassy. It has been moved over to the Kabul airport. We don't know what is going to happen after Tuesday to the so-called embassy right now. But they're telling all remaining Americans in Afghanistan to leave that Hamid Karzai airport gates immediately. Intelligence officials warning that another terror attack is very, very likely. How concerned are you, Congressman, about the security threats facing what's left of this evacuation?


KRISHNAMOORTHI: Extremely concerned. Basically, we know that ISIS- Khorasan wants to inflict maximum damage on U.S. troops and personnel and American nationals and allies before we leave. So, I think it's appropriate that we listen to the ground commanders as to what they believe needs to be done to keep our troops and our personnel safe, as well as any Americans or Afghan allies that we intend to evacuate.

Wolf, we've now evacuated more than 111,000 people in two weeks, which is a remarkable accomplishment for our brave troops and personnel on the ground. My office is trying to get another 200 people out as we speak, and I'm trying to get as much information to make sure they can safely get to the airport and get out, especially those 10 to 30 who have completed their applications, have been invited to come to the airport, and were turned away recently. We're hopeful the State Department can still get these people out ASAP.

BLITZER: It's not going to be easy. These people have now been told to stay away from the gates. It is simply too dangerous with the terror threat out there.

On Thursday, Congressman, you wrote in a tweet, and I saw that tweet, you wrote, "We should not leave Afghanistan until Americans and our allies are evacuated safely." But today you tweeted that "We need to evacuate our citizens and allies as quickly as possible." Has your position on this matter changed? Do you still believe President Biden should extend the deadline beyond Tuesday to evacuate American citizens, green card holders, Afghan allies, and other third-country people who are stuck in Afghanistan right now? KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think at this point the security situation has

deteriorated so rapidly, I'm going to follow the advice of the administration and our commanders on the ground as to getting our troops out, and personnel. That being said, we're going to have to receive cooperation from the Taliban as to anybody who is remaining past Tuesday. They have every interest to cooperate and make sure they get out. And we have to hold them to that.

BLITZER: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, thank you so much for joining us. We'll obviously stay in close touch with you and appreciate it very much.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, stay with us as we continue to follow breaking news out of Afghanistan. Sources now telling CNN the U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul will be down to a skeleton staff in the next 24 hours.

And in the next hour, we're expecting an update from the Pentagon on the evacuation efforts under way. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the Pentagon briefing room. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Right now, in Kabul, Afghanistan, we're told that within the next 24 hours, what's left of the U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground will be down to what they're describing now as a skeleton staff. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is joining from Doha, Qatar, right now. Nick, how will that affect evacuations, particularly with warnings that another terror attack is extremely likely?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, look, we are obviously into the closing days, if not hours, of the U.S. presence on that airport, obviously, because of that August 31st deadline, after which it's been made clear that there is a non-negotiable demand by the Taliban that all uniformed personnel, forward uniform personnel are gone. So, I very much doubt in the current climate that anybody is going to be dicing with whether or not they can stay until the end of the day.

The skeletal staff remaining behind I understand is a vast bulk of State Department employees on that airport, facilitating evacuation, and will be leaving at some point in the next 24 hours, if not some already. You will obviously find a drop-off in the processing abilities they have for new arrivals on the airport. We've seen that already in the publicly announced numbers. The White House talking about the period between 3:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Friday, evacuating 4,800. And then the next 12 hours, until 3:00 a.m. this morning, evacuating 2,600. So that shows you they're tapering off quite fast at this point.

The reasons for that -- it is exceptionally hard to get the people on the airport at the moment because of the security situation, because of the warning they have given to U.S. citizens to stay away and leave the area immediately, and because, frankly, the crowds have gone away now because of the fear that ISIS may strike again.

I am actually hearing, remarkably, that people have been called through the gates today in small numbers, small last stragglers, but a sign that the desperation is still. People are still trying to do this. As of this morning, the plan to try and get out the local Afghan embassy staff, who are very much in the hearts of U.S. diplomats there, they sat next to them for years and want to get them to safety, there are hundreds that have been taken out and possibly hundreds more to get on. The real question, of course, is how many more other people outside the applicants can they get on? I understand staff on the airport are getting tons of messages of people still trying to get through. It remains desperate. The hours for this are certainly closing. The numbers show this operation is tapering off. The DOD and Pentagon have insisted they'll evacuate until the end, but that end is looking close. Wolf?

BLITZER: Looking very, very close, could be hours indeed. Three days until the Tuesday withdrawal deadline. Nick, we're going to get back to you. Stand by.

I want to bring in CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. Juliette, thanks for joining us. As you know, President Biden vowed to hunt down those responsible for the airport bombing. What message does this strike, this drone strike that killed this ISIS-K planner, what message does that send?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That we may be leaving Afghanistan, but we aren't quitting it. And I think if you listened closely to the president, he is explaining what the post-August 31st presence of the United States is.


It is clearly going to be covert operations to get the people that Nick was talking about who have not been able to get to the airport, and the president has essentially said so. And then the second is our counterterrorism efforts. Those are going to be what the administration calls over the horizon efforts. They will not involve boots on the ground, so you're just going to see air strikes and drones. And the tragic irony of where we are 20 years later is that was exactly our mission in 2001. It was the extension of that mission into something that we saw over the last 20 years that, I think, led to where we are. But we will keep that mission, the counterterrorism mission in particular against ISIS at this stage.

BLITZER: As you know, the strike, the drone strike targeted this ISIS- K planner who may have been plotting to attack the airport again. That's what U.S. officials are telling us. How far does this drone strike go in thwarting potentially future attacks, which officials say are likely in these final three days?

KAYYEM: So as we learned in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we are -- you can bomb for only so long. There is going to be potentially a large supply of future ISIS members who will then join the ranks. And so what we're clearly trying to do now is protect our troops and the Americans there just to get them out. So that's sort of a short-term function. And then to, of course, retaliate against what happened this week against our soldiers.

The longer-term effort is going to be, and this is going to take us -- we're going to have to get our heads around what this means, is to support the Taliban in fighting against ISIS because ISIS poses a threat to us. So we will have a mutual interest in terms of the sharing of intelligence going forward. And I think you can see hints of that now, because we went into Afghanistan, we did an air strike, and I think silence from the Taliban. Their silence is approval.

BLITZER: The Pentagon confirmed yesterday, as you know, Juliette, that thousands of ISIS-K prisoners, other Al Qaeda prisoners, other prisoners were freed, released after the fall of the Afghan government. How much danger do those fighters pose to the United States, and what's the Taliban approach to these other terror groups who are now potentially going to be operating full time in Afghanistan?

KAYYEM: So history helps us a little bit in this regard. We have found just in studies of prior ISIS fighters and others who have gotten swept up is that a lot of them just want to get out of conflict. In other words, they were part of something, and they don't want to be part of something. So one hopes that some proportion of those released go back and figure out what is next for them. But there will be a radicalized group that will be either against the Taliban or join the Taliban.

But we have to remember is that ISIS-K is filled with people who view the Taliban as too conservative, as too moderate, and that we're really looking at a tactical issue. So you're going to see, as administration is saying, these counterterrorism efforts. They are harder without boots on the ground. They are based on essentially dependency on foreign intelligence services, including those in Afghanistan. So there's no question that our capabilities are less. The question is whether we can offset the growing threat, Al Qaeda being, of course, another concern of ours as we move forward.

BLITZER: And the fact that thousands of these prisoners are out and about freed right now is extremely worrisome. Juliette Kayyem, thank you so much, as usual, for joining us.

Coming up, a new chapter in the nation's mask debate, as a record number of children are hospitalized with coronavirus here in the United States.

And we're also standing by for an update from the Pentagon in the next hour, right at the top of the hour, we're told. We'll get the latest on the evacuation efforts under way. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the Pentagon briefing room. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Time is not on our side, that's the clear message from the mayor of New Orleans right now as Hurricane Ida barrels into the Gulf coast. Ida is expected to be a category four, category four hurricane at landfall tomorrow. Sixteen years ago to the day, hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana as a category three hurricane, and we know the destruction, the damage, the death that resulted -- 14 million Americans are under a hurricane warning right now. Officials calling Hurricane Ida an extremely life-threatening storm.

We're all over this, our coverage. Everyone in the area has to standby, has to evacuate, get out of the area if it's still not too late. We'll have much more on that coming up.

We're also standing by for an important update from the Pentagon in the next hour, right at the top of the hour, less than half an hour from now. We're going to get the latest information on the evacuation efforts in Afghanistan that are under way. We'll have live coverage of that coming up from the Pentagon.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is joining us right now from the White House where both these situations are obviously being very closely sit monitored. Arlette, let's start with Hurricane Ida. What is being done now to prepare the federal government, the Biden administration, for this very, very dangerous storm?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the preparations are under way here at the White House as the administration is anticipating and bracing for the impact of this hurricane, which could make landfall tomorrow. The president yesterday held a phone call with the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, to talk about not only the federal preparations, but also those state preparations that are under way.

FEMA has already started deploying staff down to the region as well as resources, such as meals and tarps and generators, as they want to make sure that these states have the resources they need to combat this storm. The president also last night approved an emergency declaration for the state of Louisiana, which opens up more federal resources as they prepare for this hurricane.

BLITZER: Arlette, overnight we also learned that the United States military conducted an air strike against an ISIS-K militant who was planning future attacks. Has the White House said anything more about this? We'll presumably get a lot more information at the top of the hour from the Pentagon.

SAENZ: Well, an official said that President Biden authorized that air strike against that ISIS-K planner, but no further details just yet from the White House about when that decision was made. Now, in just a short while, the president will be sitting down with his national security team. We already saw a national security adviser Jake Sullivan arriving here at the White House for that meeting, where he is expected to get an update on the situation at the airport, any possible threats, as well as those evacuations that are under way. Just yesterday, the president's top national security advisers told

him that another terror attack is likely. And the administration is not just bracing for the impact potentially of another attack, but they are also trying to evacuate as many Americans and Afghan allies as possible, and also conduct that military drawdown, which is set to take place by August 31st. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, we're going to get back to you, Arlette. Thank you very much. I know Arlette is working her sources at the White House, as well.

We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.



BLITZER: We're following new developments on the coronavirus pandemic here in the United States. A Florida judge has just struck down Governor Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools, saying the move is illegal. This comes as the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Murthy warns more children are currently hospitalized with COVID in the United States than at any other time during this year and a half pandemic.

Dr. Richina Bicette is the medical director at the Baylor College of Medicine, an emergency medicine physician. She's joining us right now. Dr. Bicette, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for the critically important, life-saving work you're doing. What is your reaction to this news from Florida? How critical is it from your perspective for schools to have the ability to mandate masks?

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: It is extremely important, Wolf. Children have no other way to protect themselves right now, especially children who are under the age of 12, because they're not eligible for vaccines. So telling school districts and telling students that we are not allowed to tell them to wear masks is basically sending them out into the pandemic completely unprepared without any kind of way to protect themselves. We need to be able to do something.

BLITZER: Very important point. When you look at these record high hospitalizations among kids, children, how worried should parents be right now about this really highly transmissible Delta surge?

BICETTE: I definitely think parents should be worried. When you look at the numbers, it doesn't sound like a lot. Currently, there are over 2,200 children that are hospitalized. But think about it. This is higher than any prior surge we've had since the beginning of the pandemic. The Delta variant is not the COVID of 2020. Delta is different, and we have to respond differently.

BLITZER: The U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, a man we know well, he said this week that the idea that COVID is not that dangerous for kids is a myth, he said, and it's hurting vaccination efforts. I want you to watch what he had to say. Listen to this.


DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: What that means to is the fact that even though our kids do better, that doesn't mean that COVID is benign. It doesn't mean that its' harmless in our children. And we have an opportunity to take a risk to our kids and make it even lower from COVID, with the benefit of the vaccines. We've got to do that.


BLITZER: And he speaks, Dr. Bicette, not only as the surgeon general of the United States but the father of two little kids who are not -- who clearly aren't eligible to be vaccinated yet. What do you say, Dr. Bicette, to parents who are still hesitant to get their kids, if they're 12 and older, vaccinated?

BICETTE: I think that any risk is too high, especially when we're talking about our young pediatric patients. It's true that many of them do fair well if they have COVID, but we also know that there are children in the ICUs, there are children who are on ventilators. Houston just reported its first pediatric death in a young man who had absolutely no underlying medical problems. It happened to him, and it can happen to your child, as well.

BLITZER: Yes, and so people need to be really careful of the fact that more kids are in hospitals right now because of COVID than at any other during this year-and-a-half pandemic. That is very, very worrisome. Dr. Richina Bicette, thank you so much for joining us.


BICETTE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, a growing mystery surrounding the origins of coronavirus. Why China is dismissing a new U.S. intelligence report.

And once again, we're standing by for an update, a live update from the Pentagon right at the top of the hour, in about 15 minutes or so. We'll get the very latest on the evacuation efforts under way. Lots going on. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Once again, we're standing by for a very important update from the Pentagon right at the top of the hour, in about 10 minutes or so. We'll get the very latest on the evacuation efforts under way in Afghanistan. Right now, looking at live pictures coming in from the Pentagon briefing. The Press Secretary John Kirby and U.S. Army Major General William Hank Taylor will brief. Stand by for that.


Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence report on the origins on the COVID-19 virus is out, declassified. It has no conclusive answers on the origin. The 90-day investigation which was ordered by President Biden, leaves open the possibility the virus was leaked from a lab in Wuhan. But it also says the virus could have passed from animals to humans. CNN's David Culver is joining us live from Beijing right now. David, you've been doing enormous, fabulous reporting on all of this. China has been openly critical of this entire U.S. investigation. What are they saying now?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They've been incredibly critical, and that is continuing. In fact, Wolf, it's ramped up. And there is a relentless propaganda campaign under way right now. Not only are they pushing back against any suggestion that they're not being transparent, but they're going forward to say, don't come into China to investigate. Go to the U.S. They're pushing this conspiracy theory that the virus may have started in Fort Detrick, just outside where you are in D.C. There is no evidence of that. Nonetheless, it seeming to be having success, as they're pushing that narrative.

But I want to go back to that report that you mentioned because, really, as you pointed out, the two scenario scenarios, the natural origins, that this jumped from an animal to humans, or this lab leak theory, that perhaps it got onto a lab worker in some fashion and spread through Wuhan, both of those still being considered.

So you may say, that's where we were 90 days ago when this started, and that's a reality. It really didn't bring us any closer to finding a definitive answer as to what started COVID-19. One thing that was pointed out that's rather interesting is that there is low confidence that this virus was engineered in any way. Nonetheless, you have the Chinese reacting through their embassy right there in Washington. And I'll read you part of what they had to say. They had a lengthy response, it was even longer than the unclassified report, I'll point out. They said, quote, "Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has taken an open, transparent, and responsible attitude. We have released information, shared the genome sequencing of the virus, and carried out international cooperation to fight the disease, all done at the earliest possible time."

Wolf, we note there are a lot of holes in those statements right there. They had covered up in the beginning, things that we've covered. There was mishandling, silencing of whistleblowers, and now they're even blocking the WHO for coming back for a phase two of the studies, Wolf.

BLITZER: And you'll be doing your reporting, we'll be doing our reporting. David, thank you very, very much, David Culver reporting from Beijing.

This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. A major update on Hurricane Ida. The National Weather Service warning some locations along the Gulf coast could be, quote, and I'm quoting now, uninhabitable for weeks or months. The latest track and timeline just ahead.


[10:57:30] BLITZER: Fifty-eight years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his historic "I have a Dream" speech. Right now activists around the country are marking the anniversary with a march for voting rights putting pressure on lawmakers to pass voting rights legislation. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is joining us from here in Washington. Suzanne, so explain what's going on, what are you seeing, what are you hearing.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it really is a renewed sense of urgency over the voting rights and a fighting for voting rights around the country. What you're seeing here is a live march, a demonstration really in the tradition of the civil rights movement. The person leading this is none other than the son of Martin Luther King Jr. This is the third. And this takes place at a historic time. As you noted, 58 years ago, his father giving that "I have a Dream" speech. Lots of religious activists and youth activists who are coming together, really fighting for renewed voting rights. We saw this past week house Democrats passing the John Lewis voting rights act to try restore some of the provisions of the original legislation. Not likely to pass in the Senate. Republicans say it is government overreach. But I had a chance to talk to King about what his father would think of this moment. Why is it that generation after generation, people are still marching and fighting? Take a listen, Wolf.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. III: He'd be very proud of the young people who have been demonstrating and proud of the progress that is made after people have to demonstrate. But one day, maybe we'll get to the point where we won't have to demonstrate. My mom used to say, freedom is never permanently given. Every generation has to re-earn its freedom. And that's, unfortunately, where we are right now.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, notably absent in the group, Reverend Jesse Jackson who is now battling COVID with his wife in the hospital in Chicago. I had a chance to talk to their family to get an update there. They say that Jacqueline Jackson is in the ICU, but that she is breathing on her own. She's responding to treatment. Reverend Jackson is in another facility also responding well to treatment, but taking on some of the challenges that he has from Parkinson's disease. Wolf?

BLITZER: We, of course, wish them a very, very speedy recovery. Suzanne, we'll stay in touch with you. Thank you very, very much. Suzanne Malveaux reporting.

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BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.