Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Pentagon Indicates 3,000 Plus Troops Will Go to Afghanistan; State Department Says Hastening Relocations of Afghans Who Helped U.S. in War; Parents Clash Over School Mask Mandate in Tennessee; White House Teams Up with Social Media Influencers to Boost Vaccine Rates. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 12, 2021 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Hearing this announcement and I could hear -- I've never heard someone feel -- sound so betrayed, how darkly they're perceiving what America's going right now.

The simple decision I think in their minds to send troops into harm's way just to get their people out and finish this chapter. I think they consider that a cynical betrayal frankly. I could just hear that in the tone of this person's voice.

So extraordinary announcements where in for a very busy two to three weeks of American troops being in Kabul. And then is it really the case on the 31st of August they will pack up and leave and leave the capital to its fate? An extraordinary time ahead.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Yes, the State Department says that the message of this is from Ned Price, the quote was, enduring partnership. Nick, it's clear that that's not the message that's being received.

I want to take your last point, now to you, General. Excuse me, Admiral Kirby made it clear that from his perspective this is a focused mission of evacuation of those U.S. personnel. Would not speculate beyond August 31st.

How plausible is it that you could send in 3,000 U.S. troops and this is all wrapped up with a matter of three weeks?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY, INTELLIGENCE AND TERRORISM ANALYST: I think it's very plausible. I don't have the same feeling that Nick has on this. I think it's prudent, to use John Kirby's term, that the U.S. would do this, to prevent truthfully the potential for the Taliban that might enter Kabul. If that happens, it's going to push to the extreme the ability of the U.S. government to get their embassy officials out. And there isn't the desire not to have another fall of Saigon that occurred in 1975. So, when you're talking about three infantry battalions, truthfully,

Victor, that's a relatively small force to have the contingency mission of defending the airfield and ensuring the embassy personnel gets out.

What I would also say, and John made a very a -- John Kirby made a very good point of this. That right now this is not a NEO. operation, a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation. I have done NEO operations.

What I would tell you is it may not be one now, but that force that is going in to both the airfield, those three battalions of infantry, as well as the ready brigade from the 82nd Airborne brigade, I would bet that they have what's called a BPT, be prepared to conduct a NEO operation in case of dire circumstances.

The Taliban have been moving so fast, faster than almost anyone could have imagined, that they want to ensure that the capital of Kabul is defended and the American presence there is also defended.

You not only have the noncombatants of the State Department that are part of the embassy, but you also have the processing of the thousands of SIVs that are going to be pouring through Kabul. So that puts another twist on what those three infantry battalions are going to do defending the airport to ensure planes get in and get out.

It also sends a message to the Taliban, hey, don't screw with the Kabul international -- or Karzai International Airport because we're here and we will take you down.

The Taliban have been marching unopposed across Afghanistan because the Afghan national army has not been opposing them. They Are doing that because there are no more American forces there to support the ANA. When they get to Kabul those 900 infantrymen at the airport are going to send a signal of not only force but also deterrence. And it could be the early part, I won't say that that's the mission they've been given yet, but it sure as hell looks to me like a NEO operation in the making.

BLACKWELL: What's the significance of that distinction, General, between what was described by Admiral Kirby and this noncombatant evacuation operation, the NEO you're discussing?

HERTLING: Well, I think the distinction is and it's a small one, Victor, when you say noncombatant evacuation, that tells me you're going into a place that has combat going on and you're taking the civilians and the personnel that aren't involved in combat out.

John didn't want to say that right now, because Kabul is not in the midst of a combat zone yet, but it very well could be soon. So, if it becomes a forced exit and you have to defend those individuals, those civilians, those noncombatants -- and it could be the SIVs form the Afghan translators as an example -- then it becomes a forced issue and there are a lot of other things that goes into a NEO once it hits that trigger point.

BLACKWELL: Kylie, to you. And the discussion of the SIVs these special immigrant visas for the Afghans who have helped U.S. forces over the last two decades.

[15:35:00]

We're talking the translators, the fixers, tens of thousands of them when you include their family members, who this country has made a commitment to. We heard from the president to bring them out, to evacuate them to other locations. What's the progress on that? Do we have any numbers on how far into that process the U.S. is?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so Ned Price, a spokesperson here at the State Department, says that they are going to be increasing the number of evacuation flights for those special immigrant visa applicants.

They are going to be getting more of those folks out of the country. That is significant, right. Because in the last few weeks we have only seen a total of six flights of those Afghan SIV applicants here to the United States. That amounts to about 1,000 of those SIV applicants and their family members.

But as you state, there are still upwards of 10,000 of these applicants plus their family members who are desperately trying to get out of the country.

And I think it is noteworthy that the top U.S. diplomat at the embassy in Kabul just today put out an internal memo urging those at the State Department here in Washington to consider a broader number of Afghans that they would consider evacuating.

Folks who may not actually qualify for the SIV application but do qualify as refugees. And right now, the United States is not flying those Afghans out of the country. That is challenging because they can't get out of the country by foot right now given the gains that the Taliban is having, particularly, along the borders of Afghanistan.

I also want to get back to the fact that spokesperson Ned Price said the message to the Afghan people is that of enduring partnership. They continue to repeat that the U.S. is not completely evacuating the country right now. They are going to maintain some of what they are doing diplomatically on the ground right now but it is really hard to see how this doesn't lead to that.

President Biden has said that U.S. troops are withdrawing but America is not withdrawing. But certainly, today appears to be a preparation for when those diplomats may need to leave the country in full.

BLACKWELL: Kylie Atwood, Barbara Starr, Nick Paton Walsh and Lt. General Mark Hertling. Thank you all for your insight and reporting.

Next, the chaos outside a Tennessee school.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better watch out. You better watch out. You better watch out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep it calm. Everybody, back up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: This was after a school board voted to approve a temporary mask order. The father in that car who's being harassed, he's joining me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:40:00]

BLACKWELL: A school board meeting devolved into shouting and threats this week in Tennessee. This is a sign how contentious this debate over masks in schools has become in part of the country. The school board in Williamson County, Tennessee voted to approve a temporary mask order for elementary schools. Some parents applauded the decision, other lashed out at supporters in the parking lot. Some threatened and harassed parents who were wearing masks as they left.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWD: No more masks! No more masks!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take that mask off.

CROWD: No more masks! No more masks!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are child abusers. There's a bad place in hell and everybody's taking notes, buddy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put I back on. Put your mask on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sucking in that bacteria. How you like that? We know who you are. We know who you are. No more masks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep it calm. Keep it calm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No more masks!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on these guy's side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no they're not, they're not on our side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police are on our side. The police are on our side. Calm down. Calm down. We know who you are! We know who you are!

You can leave freely but we will find you, and we know who are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will never be allowed in public again. You will never be allowed -- you're never going to be allowed in public again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know who you are. Let him out. Let him out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better watch out! You better watch out! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep it calm. Everybody, back up. Please. You got

to back up. Back up, back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm back, man. I'm inside. I'm a parent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peace. Everyone, peace. Peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (BLEEP) you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: With me now is the man you saw being harassed in that car, Michael Miller. Michael, thank you for being here.

I've got a preview monitor right over here and I could see you shaking your head as you were watching that video. What are you thinking as you watch that back?

[15:45:00]

MICHAEL MILLER, FATHER OF WILLIAMSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT STUDENT: Every time I watch that, I'm terrified. When you're in the moment I knew it was bad. I called my wife as soon as I got out of there. I called a friend on the way home. I drove the most convoluted way possible home after that. I had no idea how bad it really was until I saw it and someone shared that video with me the next day.

BLACKWELL: Explain what was happening there because I watched -- the meeting was about three hours in Williamson County, the school board meeting -- I watched it, it was raucous inside the room. It was nothing like that. How did it escalate?

MILLER: Well, the tensions were definitely high before the meeting. I do want to compliment. I lined up there at 2:30. I was the fourth person in line. And there were people from both sides lining up because there were 30 speaker spots, each with one minute. So, we wanted to get there early.

We were peaceful beforehand, people actually -- one of the Mothers for Liberty handed me a bottle of water prior to the meeting. So, we were actually fairly civil. I bumped knuckles with a gentleman on the other side.

We went in, the meeting inside the decorum quickly went out of control. Just kind of a mob mentality. The energy was super high. And it was going to be terse. We all had our minute.

The board recessed and came back. And the board started talking. And then there are videos of one gentleman who had to speak his mind and walked out and then a bunch of people walked out in a very violent uproar. I use the word violent in terms of loud. It was deafening, none of the videos capture how deafening it was in that room. It was a room with a capacity of 225 people and I'm quite certain we were above that. And it was echoey and loud and intimidating. BLACKWELL: Yes, I saw the board chair ask the deputy to escort some

people out during the public comment portion.

MILLER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: So, it set the scene for me, you are about to leave this meeting and you see all these people outside, walk me through what's happening there.

MILLER: Yes, so here's what happened, I actually left the meeting early. I left the meeting at 8:40. The meeting was still going on. It was very clear the direction the final vote was going. There were several minutes that did not pass along the way. But it was clear that the main amendment to have masks mandated in elementary was going to pass.

There were several doctors that were seated around me that had left one by one. And at 8:00 I noticed a sheriff's deputy enter the room in a full bulletproof vest on the outside of his shirt. And that was a sign to me that something was going wrong.

We could hear the chanting from inside the room, from the crowd outside. And at 8:40, one person left next to me and I followed her out the door at that point because I did not want to be there for complete bedlam that I would have escaped once that vote actually passed.

When I walked out, I said to the sheriff that was guarding the door, I said I want an escort to my car. He said there are officers waiting immediately outside the door. I said thank you, sir.

They escorted me to my vehicle as you can see. They tried to get me around the crowd, unfortunately the crowd was located in a position between the exit door and my vehicle. They were not to the side or anything like that. So, I had to get out of there. All I wanted to do was go home to my family and my kids. I'm a parent. I'm not a doctor. I work as a data analyst in the health care profession. I'm just a parent who wanted to have his say why masks were important for children, all children under the age of 12.

BLACKWELL: You got, I understand, two sons in schools there in Williamson County.

MILLER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: One positive case in your son's sixth grade class last year. We know that masks are mandatory for elementary schools. What's your concern now for your older son?

MILLER: Let me correct you there. You mentioned one case last year. That was one case as of the meeting on Tuesday night, as of yesterday.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

MILLER: I received a phone call just a little while ago. There is a second case today in the sixth grade class at my son's school. Parents are paranoid. We're highly concerned there was an amendment

that was voted on by the board to cover all children with a mask mandate under the age of 12 because they're not eligible for the vaccine. It was a logical proposal.

Unfortunately, that was stalemated with a 5-5 board tie. There were two members who did not -- were not present. One I understand was traveling, the other I don't know the reason for. But the vote did not pass. And as a result, our sixth grade children and even those in the seventh grade who might be younger are not protected.

And I think what -- there was a point that was brought up in the meeting about this that, well, many of these kids are turning 12. If they are not 12 now, they'll be in the next month or two. Even if they turn 12 tomorrow, they are two months away from being fully vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: Yes, they've got to get their first shot, second shot and then two weeks after that second shot.

MILLER: Correct.

[15:50:00]

BLACKWELL: So, I understand that in your remarks you said that in March the school district asked parents to make a decision in person with CDC guidance or now virtual learning and now there's a vote if they will follow CDC guidance. Do you feel like the school board pulled the rug from under families?

MILLER: Yes, you know, I don't know, if want to point the fingers solely at the school board as much as just the entire administration. Let me be very clear about that. I don't know where the disconnect is.

We were given the option back in March after Governor Lee said that schools would no longer be permitted to go online and have extra days for COVID, that you either had to be in person or you had to opt for online which was a totally separate system this year. It would be effectively a subdistrict of Williamson County, no longer affiliated with our home schools.

And, yes, at the time the school district was adhering to CDC policies. They had masks in addition to other layered mitigation strategies as the superintendent referred to it the other night as the Swiss cheese strategy, and we made the decision based upon that.

Children deserve to have the least restrictive environment to grow in. There is not a parent in that room who would disagree that a classroom environment is the best for their child and that's on both sides. I don't care what side the issue on we all want our kids in school, they learn best in school. They learn socially. They learn academically the best.

We made the decision to send our children to school based on that promise from Williamson County. That unfortunately, is not how things rolled out for us. BLACKWELL: Listen to -- I know you were there, but I want you and

those who are watching to listen to some of the arguments from the parents who are anti-mask mandate and then I want your thoughts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH STORY, TENNESSEE PARENT AGAINST MASKS IN SCHOOLS: These parents aren't putting matching on their children and if you try to force to us do so I know I personally will sue and anyone else here who will join me please show your hand.

LEIGH ALLYN BAXTER, TENNESSEE PARENT AGAINST MASKS IN SCHOOLS: I would never put them in a mask because their brain needs oxygen to grow which the neurologist can confirm. Anyway, the real part of the clown show is that you all think that you actually have the authority to mandate this.

DANIEL JORDAN, TENNESSEE PARENT AGAINST MASKS IN SCHOOLS: I swore an oath to protect this country, against all enemies foreign and domestic. If you harm my children, you become a domestic enemy and we will come for you politically and financially. You've awakened the eighth army and we will come for you and the holy spirit is coming with us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: What's your reaction to what you heard there? I see you shaking your head and more of what you heard that night.

MILLER: Several things. First of all, some of the ignorance is appalling, and that's my opinion.

The intimidation factor that the one gentleman you are showing here that I'm seeing now in purple, the ex-Marine, I listened intently to what every one of them said respectfully. I think that a lot of those arguments were just bunk as far as the school district doesn't have the authority. Governor Lee himself came out and said he wants local control for that, so they do.

As to awakening, I'm never going to put my kids in a mask et cetera. Folks, we sacrificed a year with our kids in online school last year. We didn't feel safe in the environment, that was our choice.

We were not given a choice this year. Our choice was you can go back to school. Our kids are entitled to learn in school. Why are we the ones that have to time and time again make sacrifice. Why should we sacrifice the safety of are our children because people don't want to put on a simple mask

And the fact that a mask came up. I do want to call this out, one of the board members made mention to a comment that had been made by one of the other speakers in the evening about a snotty nose rag, it's like a little tissue, what is that going do?

They said, you know what, you're right. One of the other speakers turned and faced the group, myself and the group of doctors I was sitting with and said look at these guys. They are sitting here in their fancy PPE. No wonder they're fine.

Well, I say then it's on the patients to make sure that the children have proper masks. I agree with them. A flimsy cloth mask is going to help but it's going to do nearly as much as a KF94 a proper medical grade mask. They are available.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Michael, this conversation we're having and what you saw and heard that night at the meeting is happening all over the country.

MILLER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: As you know. Not just in Tennessee. The president today took the opportunity -- and I know for you this is not political -- but he mentioned --

MILLER: No.

BLACKWELL: -- what he saw in that parking lot and I want to play what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This isn't about politics. This is about keeping our children safe. And our health care workers are heroes. They were the heroes when there was no vaccine. Many of them gave their lives trying to save others, and they are heroes again with the vaccine. They're doing their best to care for the people refusing to get vaccinated.

[15:55:00]

To the mayors, school superintendents, educators, local leaders who are standing up to the governors politicizing mask protection for our kids, thank you. Thank you as well. Thank God that we have heroes like you, and I stand with you all and America should as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: And he spoke specifically about the video in Tennessee. Your reaction to that at all?

MILLER: Thank you, Mr. President. It's -- this went viral in a way that I -- for all the worst reasons, and I woke up this morning it was on -- lead story on national news and then by lunchtime the president is talking about it.

The truth is that nobody wants this kind of violence. There's no need for this. There can be terse discourse, but we have to learn to remember to respect one another and love one another and care for one another.

The vocal group at the board meeting the other night spoke about we are -- we are the majority. Let us vote. The silent majority was not present in that room. 70 percent -- the board cite that had 70 percent of the letters that they have received over the last several weeks have been pro-mask -- 70 percent. This is the outlier.

BLACKWELL: Michael --

MILLER: I can't implore enough that we need more parents to be willing to speak up.

BLACKWELL: Michael, you started this by telling me your fear and concern that night after the meeting. Some time has passed. Are you still -- they said we know who you are, we know where you are. Are you still concerned for your safety, your family's safety?

MILLER: Absolutely. Absolutely. I believe some of the bad actors have been identified, and I'll say here to please let bygones be bygones. We're in a different point. We need to look where we are now and go forward from this point. The terror of that day will take time to heal. There's absolutely no question.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

MILLER: The outrage over it, the discussion over it needs to continue. Board meetings are for parents and concerned community members to have peaceful discourse with one another. Board members should not be sitting on a board being threatened with their lives. Parents shouldn't feel threatened for their lives walking into a parking lot. That is not the America I know.

BLACKWELL: Michael Miller, I thank you for spending some time with me and I'm sorry for what had you experienced after that meeting. Again, Michael, thank you.

MILLER: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: So, the FDA is on the verge of authorizing a third dose of vaccine for some immunocompromised people, a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna is expected to be green lit in the next couple of days with the CDC expected to hold a vote tomorrow.

Also new today, word that Moderna's vaccine protects people for at least six months and likely longer, even against the Delta variant, that's according to a study just released by the National Institutes of Health.

Meanwhile, the White House is turning to a new group to get vaccine numbers up, social media influencers. McKinley Nelson is Chicago influencer and activist who's encouraging vaccinations, he's a founder of Project Swish Chicago.

McKinley, thank you for your time. Tell me about what you are doing and why you got involved to try to help people get vaccinated?

MCKINLEY NELSON, FOUNDER PROJECT SWISH CHICAGO: Well, first, what I'm doing in Chicago, I founded a project called Project Swish Chicago, where we use basketball to combat violence and provide mental health resources within the city.

From there you know just being a leader within the community, being a leader amongst my peers. I guess I was kind of like recently given this influencer role and with this influencer role I just wanted to promote the vaccine.

I know us being out with the pandemic during COVID we missed out on a lot, right. The gyms were closed. Classrooms were closed. Yoga studios were closed. So obviously our work with us trying to combat the violence, us getting the guys off the streets, we weren't able to do so.

And when the vaccine came about it was -- it was super important for me to kind of lead this campaign to get my guys vaccinated, get them back into the gym. And continue to save lives in Chicago.

BLACKWELL: Are you seeing success?

NELSON: I'm seeing some success. Yes, I mean, these are not easy conversations that I'm having with my peers, you know, for like we have access to the internet now and that can be like good and bad. They are reaching a bunch of, you know, conspiracy theories and things like that so the conversation definitely isn't easy, but I'm doing my part and I know that because I'm opening up the conversation in the first place.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Quickly. You're 24, right?

NELSON: I'm 24.

BLACKWELL: Why did you get vaccinated?

NELSON: Well, I kind of talked about it, you know. I personally developed this foundation because of the friends that I lost and a couple of them are kind of painted behind me due to gun violence and I know that I wanted this foundation to happen, I wanted this foundation to succeed because I wanted to avoid that pain for a lot of other kids in Chicago.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

NELSON: And I wasn't able do my job, you know, I wasn't able to do my job during the pandemic and, you know, we lost a lot of the guys within our foundation.

Even today I got a call that one of the kids that were in our foundation, you know, we lost to gun violence so--

(CROSSTALK)

NELSON: It was important for everybody to get - everybody get vaccinated and we can get back in the gym.

BLACKWELL: McKinley Nelson, thank you for the work you're doing and thank you for your time. I've got to wrap it here. That does it for me; I'm Victor Blackwell in New York. The Lead with Jake Tapper starts right now.

END