Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Pentagon Says Afghanistan Withdrawal Now 90% Complete; Concerns Grow Over Taliban Advances; Former Translator Risked Life for U.S. Troops But Faces Deportation; San Francisco's Tallest Residential Building is Sinking, Tilting; Cases, Hospitalizations Rise in Less- Vaccinated States as Contagious Delta Variant Rapidly Spreads. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired July 6, 2021 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00]

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: U.S. Central Command says the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Afghanistan is now more than 90 percent complete. It follows an abrupt departure from Bagram Air Base last week.

Some Afghan soldiers told CNN they only found out the Americans were leaving that day.

And the exit apparently so fast, hundreds of vehicles, some with half- eaten snacks inside, were locked inside aircraft hangars.

All of this as concerns grow about advances by the Taliban. Afghan officials say more than 1,000 Afghan army soldiers have fled the battlefield and into neighboring countries.

CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling joins us. He's a former Army commanding general for Europe in the Seventh Army. He commanded troops, including in northern Iraq.

General, half-eaten snacks, partially empty soda bottles left behind. What does it tell you about how abrupt this departure was?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Ana, having turned over bases in Iraq to Iraqi security forces, I'm extremely skeptical about reports coming out of one Afghan general officer, General Kohistani, the new Bagram commander.

You know, these kinds of turnovers have extensive prep and planning as well as coordination with specific people. They're detailed execution.

And you have one individual who says, hey, I showed up for work at 7:00 and the Americans were gone.

This has been reported weeks and, in fact, months that we were going to be departing Bagram. So I'm not sure I fully believe what's being said by one or two Afghans at that airfield.

CABRERA: That's important insight that you have. I'm glad you shared that with us.

Do you believe the U.S. set up the Afghan people and their military for failure? Right now, we are seeing a growing threat by the Taliban.

HERTLING: No, I do not. And what I do believe, though, is there's some real complexities within the Afghan government. We've known that from the very beginning. There's quite a bit of corruption.

There's also splits within the various federal provinces throughout the country of support for either the Taliban or certain insurgent groups.

I think it was always problematic for the Afghan government to pull this together.

I think when you're talking about 20-years' worth of work to not only squelch an insurgency and counterterrorism action, but also training literally tens and hundreds of thousands of Afghan forces, you know, you certainly think that, by this time, they would be prepared to face this kind of onslaught from the Taliban.

Whenever you have a government that is tenuous, as it is in Afghanistan, with a lot of corruption, which is somewhat the same thing we saw in Iraq in 2011, you're going to find insurgencies are going to sometimes take over.

I anticipate, as many others do, that there will certainly be the potential for a civil war sooner rather than later.

CABRERA: And we know there are terrorists being left behind. We're learning the U.S. left behind thousands of suspected terrorists at Bagram Air Base.

Can we ensure these prisons aren't going to be released and resume their criminal activities?

HERTLING: No, we can't. And just like we experienced in Iraq -- I'll make that comparison -- there was the turnover of a lot of terrorism and insurgent prisoners to the Iraqi government.

And depending on, truthfully, the fault lines within a government, some will be released, some may be murdered, some may see extrajudicial punishment.

We're going to see, truthfully, some really chaotic events. Probably in the short-term, not the long-term in Afghanistan.

And it's a true shame, because there a lot of people who poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into that country to try and provide a better future for it. And unfortunately, we're not going to see that completed.

CABRERA: General Mark Hertling, I really appreciate you. Thank you for bringing us your expertise and insights.

HERTLING: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: As the U.S. withdraws, it is also leaving behind people, thousands of Afghans who worked for Americans, often as interpreters.

What happens to them now? There are serious worries that they could become targets for retribution by the Taliban.

Among them is Zalmay Niazy. He became an interpreter for the U.S. and its allies. He was just 19 years old. And he did this dangerous work for at least three years.

In 2015, he fled to the U.S. after being targeted by the Taliban. But his application for asylum in the U.S. was just recently denied, and he's now facing deportation.

CNN's Omar Jimenez just spoke to Niazi.

What did you learn about this man and why he's being turned away?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, it's a story that makes you scratch your head a little bit.

When you speak to him, I looked at the official document he received from the Department of Homeland Security, it said, in bold letters, "You have engaged in terrorist activity."

And he wracked his brain for what that could have been. And revealed to me that during his political asylum interview -- that's what he applied for, knowing he could not go home because the Taliban was threatening both him and his family.

[13:35:09]

He revealed that when he was nine years old, he was threatened by the Taliban to go get a piece of bread, otherwise they would burn down his House with his family inside. So he did it, saying that he was scared.

And now, all these years later -- he is 33 now -- it basically translates to a piece of paper saying that you have engaged in terrorist activity.

And while he awaits these next steps, his case has been referred to an immigration court. He doesn't know what to do. He's caught in this dangerous limbo.

Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZALMAY NIAZY, FACING DEPORTATION AFTER RISKING LIFE FOR U.S. TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN: I have been living this life for seven years in America. It's almost seven.

Every day my life is in limbo. I can't make a good decision with my life because I am not stable.

I am just, like, a plastic in the grass that wind will take it from place to place to place to place, and at the end, it will end up in the garbage.

And that's my life right now. And I'm sure if the follow-up with their decision, I will be dead, and I will get killed by them.

By the U.S. government, I got tagged a terrorist. By the Taliban, I got tagged the U.S. spy.

I want to be alive. And God is giving me life, but they're taking my life away from me, just for me doing what I did when I was nine to protect my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JIMENEZ: And his asylum case is now referred over to an immigration court where his potential removal proceedings will be adjudicated there.

And when you talk about the stakes of this, he doesn't have to look far to be reminded the Taliban, following through on threats, already killed his uncle a few years back.

A picture of his grave is something that he says he still can't look at with ease -- Ana?

CABRERA: That is a powerful interview you have there.

Omar Jimenez, thank you for bringing us Niazy story.

It's swanky, it's luxurious, and it's sinking. We go to San Francisco next and the site of the city's 58-story Millennium Tower.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:42:28]

CABRERA: The catastrophe in Surfside, Florida, is sparking new concerns on the opposite coasts over one of the nation's most expensive residential buildings.

San Francisco's Millennium Tower has been sinking and tilting at an alarming rate. And now an expensive repair is underway.

CNN's Dan Simon has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With its soaring panoramic views and world-class amenities, the Millennium Tower in downtown San Francisco, open to great fanfare, in April of 2009.

At 58 stories, it's the city's tallest residential building with over 400 multi-million-dollar units. Among its early residence, former NFL quarterback, and 49ers icon, Joe Montana.

FRANK JERNIGAN, FORMER MILLENIUM RESIDENT: It was billed as one of the top-10 most luxurious buildings in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had its own gym, its own pool, its own theater.

SIMON: Frank Jernigan and Andrew Falk (ph) paid more than $4 million for their condo on the 50th floor.

Five years later, they received the troubling news. The high-rise was not only sinking, it was also tilting, as illustrated in this now- infamous video.

JERNIGAN: It was the very first time we did it. He got the marble out and said, I will roll this, and see what it does. It rolls about 10 feet out, slows to a stop, and then turns around, and starts rolling back, and picks up speed as it goes past him.

So it was like, oh my God.

SIMON: "60 Minutes" called this 2017 segment, "The Leaning Tower of San Francisco," and showed the alarming stress gauges and cracks in the building's basement.

The Millennium's current engineer of record, Ronald Hamburger, telling CNN, that as of today, the building has no sunk, and tilted, 18 inches.

DENNIS HERRERA, SAN FRANCISO CITY ATTORNEY: This morning, my office filed a lawsuit against the developer of the Millennium Tower.

SIMON: After years of lawsuits, hearings and finger-pointing, a retrofit, announced last October, will anchor the building to bedrock which, to the duration of critics, had not been done originally.

Instead, the foundation was built into deep sand. Experts determined that adjacent projects and a process called dewatering had weakened the soil under the tower, causing it to sink.

The high-profile ordeal may be all the more relevant in the wake of the Surfside catastrophe. With questions arising whether some of the nation's buildings might possibly be at risk.

JERNIGAN: These people were lying in bed, comfortably at night, with no warning whatsoever. And our hearts just go out to them.

NIALL MCCARTHY, RESIDENTS' ATTORNEY: When you have a high rise that collapses, you have a situation in San Francisco, a high-rise that was sinking and tilting, and it affects people's peace of mind.

[13:45:04]

SIMON: Attorney Niall McCarthy represented about 100 of the tower's residents, who saw their property values plummet. He says, under an agreed settlement, residents received a significant portion of their loss. In a statement to CNN, Millennium's engineer said that any potential

comparisons between Surfside and the Millennium Tower would be, quote, "reckless, and premature."

Adding that the building was "designed with earthquake resistance, remains safe, and is in no danger of collapse."

The $100 million fix is said to be completed next year.

But Frank and Andrew won't be there to see its completion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got out our suitcases, we put everything in, and we left.

SIMON (on camera): Even with all the problems, people continue to buy and sell units inside the building.

As for the $100 million project that's underway, it is not designed to repair any damage, according to the plan. But it is designed to prevent the building from sinking any further and to recover some of the tilt.

How much? About 50 percent over the next couple of decades.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Well, hospitals are already at capacity with patients battling things like cancer and heart disease. Now being asked to take COVID patients from other hospitals too full to handle them, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:51:16]

CABRERA: It is a dangerous combination, a raging Delta variant and low vaccination rates. Cases surging so much in states like Kansas and Missouri, "The New York Times" is reporting, in just the last 14 days, cases jumped 32 percent and 45 percent in those states, respectively.

With us now is Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at University of Kansas Health system.

Doctor, good to have you with us.

Just across the state line, we've learned a hospital system in Missouri is having to divert patients because they're overwhelmed with COVID cases. Is that impacting you at all?

DR. DANA HAWKINSON, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, INFECTION PREVENTION & CONTROL, UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS HEALTH SYSTEM: Yes, it is. We do take transfers from that whole area. There's a couple of different cities or counties and the Springfield area. But we take transfers from the area.

We typically get transfer calls. Certainly, we've had more. It is not only for COVID but it is for other regular or normal medical problems which people seek care for.

But, unfortunately, the capacity issues at those hospitals, because of COVID, they aren't able to treat them either.

So it is for COVID reasons but it is also for normal medical reasons, which people seek care for, that they just don't have the capacity to.

CABRERA: I hear you.

What is the COVID situation for you and in your own hospital's capacity and resources to deal with it?

HAWKINSON: Yes. You know, I think we've been very fortunate here in the metro area, in the Kansas City metro area since the pandemic began.

Overall, we haven't had too much capacity issues even during that large surge in December and January. All of our metro hospitals have stayed pretty well under capacity.

Certainly, now, unfortunately, at our health system and around the city we have seen that a -- we are having more cases, more people coming to the hospital to seek treatment for COVID.

We should note that 75 percent to 85 percent of those people coming to seek treatment are not vaccinated. So they are unvaccinated. And this could have been preventable.

These are even patients that are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, with no other medical conditions.

But again, it would have been greatly preventable would they have gotten vaccinated.

CABRERA: Right.

We mentioned the stat, the double-digit increase in the number of cases that Kansas and Missouri are facing right now.

And from Colorado, which is the other neighboring state, to Kansas. We are seeing a huge spike in parts of that state, as well, even with the overall state having a higher vaccination rate.

I wonder how concerned you are about this new Delta variant. What is your biggest concern at this point?

HAWKINSON: You know, my biggest concern is that people, or geographic areas or communities, still there isn't a very high uptake of the vaccine.

You know, we know in a lot of the metro and more urban areas, uptake of vaccine is much better.

Where we're seeing the hot spots really seems to be in those rural areas and communities for one reason or another. There just isn't that uptake of vaccine. But we know the virus is out there. We know it is spreading. And if there's a susceptible host, it will find that susceptible host.

The one thing that we should be optimistic about though is, right now the vaccines that we have available to us, to everybody 12 and over -- and we have a good supply of those -- they do protect against the variant.

And they do protect against the other variants that we've seen as well.

So it just continues to be imperative that we continue to endorse that message of getting vaccinated.

CABRERA: We are going to continue to take the pulse of doctors and experts like yourself all around the country to get more insights from the ground and see what you are facing.

Thank you for sharing with us, Dr. Dana Hawkinson. Best of luck as you continue to battle the pandemic like all of us.

[13:55:05]

HAWKINSON: Yes, thank you.

CABRERA: And thank you all for joining us. See you back here tomorrow at 1:00 Eastern. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter, @AnaCabrera.

Stay with us. The news continues with Alisyn and Victor, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:09]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.