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All U.S Forces Have Left Bagram Air Base after Two Decades of War; House Republicans Show Scant Interest in Serving on January 6 Panel; CDC Says, COVID Up 10 Percent as Hypertransmissible Delta Variant Spreads. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 2, 2021 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

This news breaking overnight. It is a new day for the war on terror for this country. All U.S. forces have now left Bagram Air Base just outside of Kabul in Afghanistan. This brings the United States one major step closer to ending what is and has been America's longest war.

The Afghan military has now taken control of the compound. You could see them there, which had been the center of U.S. military power in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years. So many missions run out of that base there through the years.

Sources tell CNN that the White House is confident this is the right move. This, though, despite real concerns including among military advisers about the likelihood of a Taliban takeover of the country and also the resurgence of terrorism.

Up to a thousand troops will remain in Afghanistan to guard the U.S. embassy and Kabul's airport. Some 2,300 U.S. service members men and women, have died in Afghanistan since the war on terror began in 2001.

CNN's Anna Coren, she is in Kabul. Anna, the troop withdrawal proceeded very quickly, Biden had said a deadline of September 11th, we're well before that. What is the reception there? How scared are they, the Afghan people, of what follows?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, two months ahead of schedule, Jim. People here really are in disbelief. They knew that it was on the cards, they knew that America would have to leave, but just not now. The reason they say that is because of the deteriorating security situation across the country.

They are witnessing the Taliban taking over parts of the country. They're in control of more than 50 percent of the territory launching these offenses, particularly in the north, sending out these propaganda video almost on a daily basis where it shows them -- they claim taking over districts where forces have fled or surrendered and they've got U.S.-funded equipment that they have seized.

The optics back here in Kabul, the capital, which I should add, the Taliban is some 10, 15 kilometers away, it is disturbing. They have leave faith in their own national security forces and whether they could actually protect against the Taliban that is emboldened.

We spoke to Dr. Abdullah Abdullah yesterday and he said that there is real momentum as far as the Taliban is concerned, that the speed in which they are grabbing territory is extremely alarming and it is caught people off guard. He said that if was up to Afghanistan, the Americans would not leave. But this is the reality that they have to rise to the occasion.

But he certainly said, Jim, that there will be dark day as head.

SCIUTTO: Well, a Taliban spokesman claiming victory here, calling the U.S. withdrawal of forces a positive step. Do Afghan leaders see the Taliban as a potential partner for any form of peace there?

COREN: Well, we put that question to Dr. Abdullah and he said that they have tried. But that the Taliban are not serious. They're not willing, that it is all for show to get America to sign the agreement. He said they have stalled, the peace talks have stalled, that there is little progress and he really holds out no home, Jim, that the Taliban genuinely want peace in this country.

SCIUTTO: And it is a group still carrying out terror attacks. Anna Coren, thank you so much.

Well, joining me now are two people with enormous experience in Afghanistan, Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst, been visiting the country going back to the end of the Soviet occupation, Colonel Cedric Leighton, he's retired Air Force colonel, military analyst, also did intelligence work for U.S. military operations there.

Peter, let me begin with you. What is Afghanistan going to look like after the U.S. withdraw?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: We've done versions of this before, Jim. In 1989, we closed our embassy after the Soviets withdrew and we were completely blind to the rise of Taliban and Al Qaeda. Obviously, we did at the end of 2011 in Iraq. You recall what happened three years later.

So, I mean, history doesn't repeat itself, as Mark Twain said, but it sometimes rhymes. And here, we're going to have rhyming situation where I don't think the Taliban will take over the country but we're going to have a very nasty civil war.

People have been -- we've been saying -- Obama started saying we're withdrawing in 2009.

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So we've been saying this for a long time. So people have been preparing. People have been arming. There are Hazara militias. There are Uzbek militias. There are Tajit militias. There's the Afghan army. There are a lot of people with weapons. It is not going to be -- it is going to be messy.

SCIUTTO: Cedric Leighton, we know that the president made this decision over the advice of his senior military advisers, among them Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. How concerned are U.S. military leaders about what this looks like?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Very concerned, Jim. And the reason they are so concerned is because they don't know exactly what the Taliban are going to do next. But we could surmise, as Peter said history rhymes, and as you see the momentum of the Taliban, 50 districts at this point, ten districts at the next point that they're taking over.

hat you're seeing is an incredible momentum and an unwillingness by Afghan security forces to actually step in and defend what is theirs, because they don't really see it as being theirs. And that is the problem. You have this tribal mentality, you have all of the different ethnic groups that we've dealt with, and you have a very different way of looking at a nation.

We don't understand that. We are -- our culture is completely different and that is one of the big failings, I think, in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.

SCIUTTO: Peter, is the White House, is the president aware of this danger? Is the Biden administration prepared for -- and you don't have to look back far in history, right? Look back only to the Obama administration when Biden was vice president, when pulled out of Iraq, and that led very quickly to the rise of ISIS.

BERGEN: I mean, the architect of those discussions, as you know, is Vice President Biden and now Secretary of State Tony Blinken. So I think they must be aware. And obviously they just met with President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah in the White House last week. I mean, I think the big issue that they could fix is the issue of contractors.

Now, we've given them all these -- really, these sophisticated American helicopters and aircraft, but they can't fly without American contractors. And we've demanded that all American contractors leave, which is crazy, because a lot of them are well paid, some of them, they wanted to stay, you protect them and then the Afghan Air Force remains a viable force. Otherwise, it will be grounded in several months. And Colonel Leighton can address that much better than I can.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, people forget. I mean, even though you had a handful until the withdraw, thousands of U.S. forces there, you have many tens of thousands of contractors performing these jobs.

The U.S. military, prior to this withdrawal, had set a sort of baseline of about 5,000 troops, 4,500 to 5,000, saying that is the minimum necessary not just to secure Kabul, or at least the embassy in Kabul, but also to support counterterrorism missions and so on. We've blown through that basement here. Can the U.S. reliably do counterterror based on what they have there and with forces from outside of the country?

LEIGHTON: Well, that is the key, forces from outside of the country and where would those forces be based. If you're not in country, you don't understand the country that you're dealing with. And we've got this penchant for doing remote ops, we do drone ops based in other countries and we have this idea of having this remote operations, which the Air Force is very famous for and I was involved in.

The problem is if you don't get your boots on ground and you don't actually go face-to-face with the people there, you have very little chance of influencing the political outcomes.

SCIUTTO: The other thing folks don't talk about, right, beyond uniform military, CIA has a massive operational force there, which does a lot of the missions against groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS on the ground. But the CIA, they also depend on U.S. military, for things like medical evac and so on. Can the CIA do what it needs to do there or wants to do there without military presence?

BERGEN: I'm not entirely certain. But I will note, Jim, that the U.N. last month said the Al Qaeda and the Taliban are more closely aligned than they've ever been, the ties of marriage and second generation marriage. And the fact is that the CIA has a lot to do still there.

SCIUTTO: So, literally and figuratively, married in effect, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

BERGEN: Absolutely, according to the U.N., which is not some sort of warmongering type of organization. So I -- it remains to be seen. You mentioned med evac. There is base protection, there is root protection, there is a lot of things that the military does for the CIA. And without that, they're going to be hamstrung, as Colonel Leighton said. You can do it maybe from a bases in Qatar or elsewhere but it is not the same.

SCIUTTO: Final question, when I went to Afghanistan, including on military in beds, one thing I often did was go to girl schools, right? Because girl schools is one of these development, post-invasion, most celebrated by the Afghan people, men and women, families. What happens to girl schools in Afghanistan?

LEIGHTON: I'm afraid they disappear. Now, it depends on what area. If you're going to be in the Taliban-controlled areas, I'm really concerned about their future.

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If you're going to be in other areas, which are more open to educating women and girls, different story and with people going back to President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush all the way to the present administration, a huge American effort to do that, a huge effort to change the culture. But the culture will probably win at least in the Taliban areas.

SCIUTTO: And you're worried about danger to those schools as well, sadly. Well, it is a bleak assessment but from two gentleman who has experience, Colonel Cedric Leighton, Peter Bergen, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, former President Trump's namesake business is facing a sweeping indictment on tax crimes, an alleged scheme. And after his long time money man is slapped in handcuffs, prosecutors warn the investigation is not over.

Plus, the White House on the defensive after details leak about dysfunction and infighting in Vice President Harris' office.

And President Biden set to speak any moment after the U.S. economy added 850,000 jobs, well ahead of forecast. The secretary of labor is going to join us next.

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SCIUTTO: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is facing major resistance from Republicans who do not want to serve on the House panel, which will investigate the January 6th attack. The lack of interest comes as McCarthy mulls who to tap for the congressional investigation if he decides to appoint anyone at all. He does have the ability to appoint five, though Speaker Pelosi has veto power.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill this morning. Manu, Republicans are saying this assignment is no gift. And after all the leader himself lobbied against the bipartisan form of this. Liz Cheney is going to be on it as appointed by Pelosi. What happens to her?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is the big question here. She could potentially lose her two committee assignments on the House Natural Resources Committee, House Armed Services Committee. Privately, Kevin McCarthy told freshmen lawmakers at a lunch earlier this week that anyone who does take a Pelosi offer could lose their committee assignments.

Later when I asked her about that yesterday, McCarthy said he did not threaten anybody but said he is shocked that anyone would take an assignment from a Democratic leader. Typically, you get your committee assignments from your respective conference. That did not happen here.

And yesterday, when we saw Liz Cheney for the first time meeting with the Democrats who are on the select committee, in Nancy Pelosi's office, they emerged from that. And I asked Liz Cheney directly if she's concerned about being reprimanded.

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REPORTER: Have you been told you'll lose your committee assignments?

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I have not been. But, again, my oath, my duty and all of our oaths and duty is to the Constitution and that will always be above politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: So she indicated she was not concerned about any punishment she may ultimately receive here. The question will be what Republicans -- which Republicans that McCarthy will ultimately choose. He does have the option of not picking anybody but we are hearing that it is more likely that he will choose people that will be part of this panel.

But Republicans up and down the line who we talked to over the last day or so really have zero interest in serving in what they view as a lose-lose proposition politically. They think this is fraught, it is a big fight, they could be crosswise with former President Trump on this issue. So where will McCarthy go? Will he choose some of those Republican hardliners, people who question the election results, unclear yet and he still won't say. Jim?

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

We have just breaking news just into CNN. A cargo plane has gone down off the Coast of Oahu, Hawaii, after reporting an engine problem. CNN's Pete Muntean is working to gather details. Pete, tell us what you're learning.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we're just getting some new information from the Federal Aviation Administration. We're told this was flight was Transair Flight 4810, that is a cargo plane. They operate predominantly overnight. It had just taken off from the airport in Honolulu. It was bound for Kahului. And the FAA tells us that the pilots reported engine trouble and the flight had to go immediately back to the airport in Honolulu but ended up short of the runway and having to ditch in the water on the southern coast of Hawaii there.

Reporting from FlightAware says this flight only made it up to about 1,800 feet, which is relatively low. If this was a complete power failure, both engines failing on this 737 200, that would have been exceedingly rare. I can't think of a time in recent history when that would have happened other than the miracle on the Hudson incident famously piloted by Sully, that was an Airbus, so a little bit different here.

The U.S. Coast Guard is now telling us that two people on board were rescued from this airplane. One was taken to the hospital, the other transported by helicopter right now. Their condition is unknown. But, again, a cargo flight leaving Honolulu had to return back to the airport after what FAA is telling us, pilots reporting a serious engine problem, and the plane ended up in the water off the southern coast of Hawaii there. A pretty serious incident, we're still getting more information, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And it sounds like emerging details of a remarkable rescue here after a landing on the water.

MUNTEAN: It sounds like one of the people on board this airplane was plucked from the water by a helicopter. And radar tracked information publicly available on sites like FlightAware shows that a Honolulu Fire helicopter orbited the scene for several minutes when this happened. [10:20:09]

The word that we're getting is that the plane was scheduled to depart at about 1:33 Hawaii Time this morning. It is a six-hour difference from the east coast. It's about 7:30 here. So this would have happened in the cover of darkness.

It would have been a very harrowing rescue, also a very harrowing situation for the pilots to deal with.

SCIUTTO: No question, night time rescue on the sea. Pete Muntean, thanks you very much.

I want to bring in now Petty Officer Third Class Matthew West on the phone. He's with the National Guard. Petty Office West, with the coast guard, do you hear Jim Sciutto all right?

PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS MATTHEW WEST, U.S. COAST GUARD DISTRICT 14 HAWAII PACIFIC (voice over): Yes, Sir.

SCIUTTO: Tell us the latest you can on rescue efforts, where this plane went down.

WEST (voice over): So, the information that I have is that about at approximately 1:40 A.M. Hawaii Standard Time. (INAUDIBLE) Honolulu received a report of a downed Boeing 737 interisland transport plane with two people on board, approximately two nautical miles off Kailua, Oahu. JISCC entered the distress bay, issued a UMIB for a sector on Honolulu and requested air station to Barbara's (ph) point to launch an MA-65 Dolphin helicopter and C-130 Hercules aircrew. They also referred to Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Gerczak, which is one of our fast response cutters, and launched a station Honolulu small boat.

The 65 Dolphin helicopter arrived on scene and was able to rescue one of the people on board while a fire department helicopter rescued the other and both were went to Queens Medical.

SCIUTTO (voice over): Can you tell us anything about the condition of the rescued pilots at this point?

WEST (voice over): I do not have that information at this time.

SCIUTTO (voice over): How quickly -- I mean this is remarkable, two miles off the coast there, it is night time, it's the middle of the night, a sea rescue. How quickly were response units able to get on the scene of the crash?

WEST (voice over): I don't have the exact breakdown of the timeline per se, but our crews usually train for this type of event and also we work very closely with the fire department so --

SCIUTTO (voice over): Yes. I'm picturing now just the conditions, even how they would manage to see, right, what they were looking for in those conditions. What was the weather like at the time of the rescue? Was it rough at all?

WEST (voice over): I don't have that information at this time.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Petty Officer Third Class Matthew West with the Coast Guard in Hawaii, thank you very much.

The details there, CNN learning, that a 737 cargo plane went down overnight in the water off just to the south of Honolulu, Hawaii. There was a rescue underway and that both pilots have been rescued, brought to the hospital, we're awaiting details on their condition and we'll be right back.

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SCIUTTO: The director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, is warning that the COVID infections and deaths we're seeing now increases are, quote, nearly entirely avoidable, but the rapid spread of the delta variant of COVID-19 and low vaccination rates in some areas are a dangerous combination. Since last week, the country has seen a 10 percent increase in new COVID infections.

Let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez, he's in Little Rock, Arkansas, one of the states where vaccination rates are low, and cases are surging. Miguel, it is not an accident. Where the vaccination rates are lower, cases are going up more. What is the response there? Are state officials looking to address that?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, they are very, very concerned with where all of this is heading. If you look at the map and some of the information that John Hopkins and others are sort of gathering from the state, and you see where the infections are breaking out in the state, it is those rural areas. The biggest areas of outbreak in Arkansas right now are in some of the rural areas.

Here in Little Rock, they are preparing. They are in a third wave of coronavirus infections say officials here. The delta variant is surging through this state right now and they are hugely concerned about what the future holds.

Very simple number here. Since the end of January, 99 percent of the people who have died in this state were unvaccinated. They are hoping that that message gets out and that people start to get vaccinated in much bigger numbers but they are not seeing it yet. Only about a third of the state, the entire population of the state here in Arkansas is vaccinated right now.

The state health department said that they -- look, they have these massive vaccination sites and lots of vaccination sites around the state. They had prepared in some of them for 600 people a day to get vaccinated in all, across the entire state. They were maybe seeing 150 or so, so they're shutting those down, but you could still get vaccinated at local clinics, at pharmacies, at all sorts of places across the state. They are making it as easy as possible for people to do. The big concern now is that July 4th holiday week. That is coming up. They are afraid that people are going to mix and hangout and be in touch with each other.

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That delta variant spreads so easily. They are concerned that they're going to have a surge of that, an increased surge of that into the summer.