Return to Transcripts main page


Taliban Takes Over Kabul As Afghan President Flees Country; U.S. Embassy Instructs Americans In Kabul To Shelter In Place; Biden Defends Decision To Withdraw As Taliban Take Kabul; Fall Of Kabul Draws Comparisons To Saigon In 1975; Presidential Palace In Kabul; Death Toll In Haiti; COVID In The U.S. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 15, 2021 - 16:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Breaking out at the airport. There are still Americans in-country, and they have been advised to shelter in place. Meanwhile, America's Afghan partners were scrambling to get out onto the last evacuation flights.

You're seeing the desperate rush in this video that was posted on social media. Those are the lucky few who will get out. Thousands of other Afghans who worked alongside the U.S. are still awaiting visas, facing death at the hands of the Taliban if they stay.

Tomorrow the U.N. Security Council will hold a meeting on the Taliban's sudden and surprising rush to power, but President Biden has yet to comment today. So far after 20 years, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars, the entire U.S. Military effort is collapsing over the course of a weekend in embarrassing fashion with the type of scenes we haven't witnessed since the fall of Saigon in Vietnam in 1975.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Kabul.

Nick, all of this is so stunning. You've covered this for so many years. We just learned that the presidential palace was officially handed over to the Taliban. Did you ever think it would end like this? What can you tell us?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I mean, look, it is utterly breathtaking to see those images of one of President Ashraf Ghani -- I should say really former president Ashraf Ghani's main offices inside the presidential palace with the Taliban sat confidently holding their weapons at his desks. It's just startling to see.

Briefly in those images filmed by Al Jazeera Arabic, let's just say we have over the last sort of half hour or so heard an uptick in helicopters in the skies. That normally means American activity. Unclear -- that's quite a lot actually. Those images, though, utterly startling. I think the reporter for Al Jazeera Arabic who filmed those images asked one of the men with the weapons to talk a little. He spoke in English and saying that he spent eight years in Guantanamo Bay prison. This is a very confident insurgency now, I mean, increasingly less the

insurgency as they move slowly into the capital here, who are very keen, it seems, to show how relaxed they are in the corridors of what was the other government's power. At the same time, President Ashraf Ghani -- I should say former, but we just simply don't really quite know who's in control at the moment, although visibly on the streets, it's the Taliban.

Former president Ashraf Ghani has released a statement from wherever he is. We also don't know that at the moment. There were suggestions he'd gone to Tajikistan but it's not entirely clear where his journey has ended. He seems to have left without notice, without advertisement during the afternoon, and then news frankly leaked out from his, I would say, probably shocked officials. One saying to me they've run away. He's released a statement on Facebook saying, "Today I came across a hard choice, if I should stand to face the armed Taliban who wanted to enter the palace or leave the country I dedicated my life to protecting and caring for, for the past 20 years."

Essentially saying it was life or death for him and he had to leave. But 24 hours earlier, he'd been extolling the need to stay in his position, to craft some kind of transitional power agreement. That, with his departure, evaporated.

And I think that's what's got so many shocked here amongst the Afghan community, that the hope that maybe Ghani might step aside and allow a transitional peace process, something clearly the Taliban weren't that interested in, but the possibility that might make their ascent to power here less something that requires their guys to drive into Kabul on the back of a quad Humvees from the Afghan army which we're seeing today.

That disappeared. And so it's the power vacuum that suddenly the Taliban have walked into here. And I say walk because while we have heard from some NGOs reports of dozens of injured possibly as a result of clashes around Kabul and just in the last half hour, I heard quite a lot of gunfire in that direction.

This has not been pitched street to street fighting. This has been a comparatively calm entry for the Taliban. We've seen or heard reports of soldiers, police taking off their uniforms, putting on civilian clothing, a collapse of the security forces here.

Frankly hard to see how they would not make that choice if their commander in chief has simply snuck out of the country without telling anybody. A man that the Americans put a lot of stead behind. Clearly, he wasn't happy with the American diplomatic process and seems here to simply have felt that sticking around for some kind of transitional government was a choice he didn't want to accept. Yet more helicopters here. And as we've seen in the past years here, the Americans often use night to make their moves.

I can't imagine there are too many of their staff left inside the embassy at this particular stage. Certainly it seems like the flag has come down here. But there's clearly a precipitous move to get whoever needs moving moved around -- Jim. ACOSTA: Nick, I suspect you're going to be hearing that sound a lot

over the next several days.


I think one of the most alarming things to think about, contemplate in all of this, is that there are U.S. diplomatic personnel, military personnel, Western military diplomatic personnel, journalists on the ground as the Taliban are in control of Kabul. And we know people are trying to flee the country. What more do you know about these evacuations, and are all of these Westerners and Americans going to be safe with the Taliban in charge?

WALSH: Yes, I think the American diplomats here probably have the least rough ride ahead of them. I mean as you can hear, there's a lot of air power, a lot of preparation put in. 3,000 Marines, maybe more coming in to assist their safe removal from here. So I suspect a lot of them are probably, if not all are probably already at the airport. In the sky, we've seen a patch of helicopters that provides a pretty substantial level of security, and possibly even too the 82nd Airborne coming in in a bit of a hurry.

So I think the American diplomats probably the least to be concerned about. We will also see I think NGO workers, expatriates here trying to get to the airport. But above all, the people's minds -- we should get the most mind to are the Afghans who worked with the U.S. military here over a matter of decades, who have lengthily tried to get out, who are part of an immigration process which may possibly see them get on planes and being taken out of here.

But things are happening so fast that a lot of the promises, a lot of the structure behind what was supposed to be an orderly withdrawal over two weeks seems to be evaporating simply because the Taliban are making the narrative entirely here.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And so many of those Afghans as you mentioned who helped the United States, helped NATO for so many years, some of them are quite frankly just going to be abandoned, it seems, at the end of all of this.

All right, Nick Paton Walsh with that report from Kabul, thanks so much.

We have also just learned the U.N. Security Council will meet tomorrow morning. This comes as the American flag at the U.S. embassy in Kabul has been lowered. U.S. diplomats now operating from the airport, sent out an urgent warning that all Americans still in Kabul need to shelter in place.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department for us.

Kylie, what more can you tell us right now?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, all the U.S. diplomats that were at the embassy in Kabul have now been staged at the airport in Kabul. They are on their way out of the country, looking for those flights to get out of the country. That is one of the problems right now. There are some issues at the airport in Kabul. But there are a number of diplomats who are going to stay there for now. We don't know the precise nature, and they may eventually have to leave the country.

Now, at the embassy, I am told that there are a small number of contractors, security contractors who are there. They will be leaving soon. As you said, the American flag has been taken down as the U.S. diplomats left the embassy. They have gotten rid of all classified documents. They burned those in recent days. They've also gotten rid of anything that could be misused as propaganda against America in recent days, things that, you know, had the seal of the U.S. embassy on it.

Now, as this is happening, it is abrupt. It is chaotic. But the State Department, Secretary of State Tony Blinken is defending how this is going down, saying it is orderly, and that this has been planned. You hear Biden officials today saying that they got the U.S. troops in place to help American diplomats safely get out. That process is under way. But you also heard Secretary of State Tony Blinken this morning admitting that this happened, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan happened much more rapidly than Biden administration officials expected it to.

And there are going to be questions in the coming days, in the coming months, in the coming years about the conduct in which the Biden administration went forth with this drawdown. Obviously, we knew Biden was going to get U.S. troops out, but how this went down, how misorderly it appears right now, there are going to be questions about that.

Now, we should also note that just as recently as last week, Biden administration officials were talking with Taliban officials. And so there are going to be questions about that too because the Taliban are the ones who have taken over the country now. We are seeing these historic, shocking images of the Taliban in the presidential palace. And so we are going to be asking the State Department in the coming days about what the U.S. relationship with the Taliban is going to look like going forth.

ACOSTA: It's an important question. All right, Kylie Atwood, thank you so much.

President Biden says, "This is now the Afghan army's fight, and he is defending his decision to withdraw, saying one more year or five more years of U.S. Military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me."

Those are the words from President Biden. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House for us.

Jeremy, when is the president going to address the American people about what's happening? That seems to be missing right now.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is as of this hour, Jim. And we do understand that there have been discussions about when the president might address the nation on this. But as of now, there are no indications that that is going to happen today. The president still at the presidential retreat at Camp David where the White House released this photo of the president meeting earlier this morning at 11:29 according to the clocks in that picture with his National Security team.

The secretary of Defense, secretary of State, his National Security adviser, and others positioned at different agencies in Washington and around the world, where he was discussing the situation, the security situation in Afghanistan as well as this effort to evacuate U.S. diplomatic personnel as well as those Afghan interpreters who helped the United States and have been applying for those special immigrant visas.

But, Jim, there's no question here that this administration and this president were caught off guard by the speed and the breadth of this Taliban advance towards Kabul, which just a few days ago U.S. intelligence estimated that it would take the Taliban 30 days perhaps to encircle the capital. And instead it happens in a matter of days. And just listen to what the president himself said about a month ago when he was asked about the possibility of the Taliban taking over the country.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped -- as well equipped as any army in the world -- and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable. The jury is still out, but the likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


DIAMOND: And look, as Kylie was saying, the administration is now arguing that ultimately while they may have misestimated how quickly -- how long it would take the Taliban to get to Kabul, you know, they were prepared for the contingencies, and that's why they were able to get these forces in there to withdraw U.S. embassy personnel.

But, again, there is a huge amount of daylight there between what the president said about a month and a half ago versus what is happening now on the ground after nearly 20 years of U.S. military involvement, the Taliban appear to be in control of Afghanistan.

ACOSTA: And lots of questions about whether there were some intelligence failures here as well, what these intelligence officials were telling the president about how the Taliban was doing.

All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much for that.

Up next, the imminent fall of Kabul is echoing the fall of another city back in 1975, the fall of Saigon. The comparisons between the two chaotic U.S. exits are eerie. That's next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: As the Taliban complete their takeover, the chaotic departure of embassy staff is drawing comparisons to the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War. Just look at this side-by-side. On the left, Americans being airlifted from the U.S. embassy in Saigon in 1975. And on the right, the same scene today in Kabul. It is a scenario just a month ago President Biden said was unthinkable.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Some Vietnamese veterans see echoes of their experience in this withdrawal in Afghanistan. Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam with some people feeling --

BIDEN: None whatsoever. Zero.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will the United States be responsible for the loss of Afghan civilian lives that could happen after --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- the military exit?

BIDEN: No, no, no. It's up to the people of Afghanistan to decide on what government they want.


ACOSTA: And joining me now is CNN global affairs analyst and veteran foreign correspondent Kimberly Dozier. She reported from Afghanistan during the 2001 U.S. invasion, also spent a lot of time covering the war in Iraq.

Kim, let's start with these pictures of the chaotic U.S. exit that we're all watching right now. What do you make of this comparison between what's happening in Kabul and Saigon in 1975? I mean, put them side by side, it does appear to be a just comparison.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, the Biden administration may be saying this is not Saigon, but I got a meme of those pictures side by side from an Iraqi source this morning. That's what the rest of the world thinks this is. And messages from people who are inside that airport, they are trying to get on planes. There's confusion. There's no one stamping passports.

At one point, I was told by an Afghan official, an empty plane landed and opened its doors and a whole bunch of people on the tarmac just rushed on board and are refusing to leave. It's that kind of chaos. And the president is going to have to wear this. ACOSTA: Yes. The buck stops with the president. I mean that's how it

works. You were there in 2001, reporting from Afghanistan when the U.S. invaded 20 years. Here we are 20 years later. Trillions of dollars spent training the Afghan military, trillions of dollars pumped into Afghanistan and this effort. You understand, though, that the U.S. did not just end up in this position all of a sudden today. How did we get here?

DOZIER: One of the toughest things was we built a fairly good military, but we couldn't get the top Afghan administration to stop being so corrupt. Over and over I spoke to U.S. officials who despaired of their attempts at saying, you know, we know what you're doing. We see where you're putting some of this money. Stop. And basically Afghan officials, not all of them, but a lot of them leaving with suitcases of cash even right now.

When you think about the rank and file in the Afghan military, they've been watching headlines like this for years. Now they're watching the Taliban march over the country, and very shrewdly the Taliban didn't kill all the soldiers if the soldiers gave up. But they did attack them brutally if the soldiers chose to keep fighting.


I think that's why you saw so many soldiers give up so fast. Also they were watching their senior commanders desperately calling Kabul for air support and backup and not getting it. And lastly, the Taliban, from their perspective, beat the strongest military in the world. The U.S. is leaving, so who are they to fight back?

ACOSTA: Right. And should the Biden administration have anticipated how quickly the Afghan military would collapse? Was that just a misjudgment on their part, or was there an intelligence failure here? Did our intelligence officials not equip the White House with the information that said, listen, if we make this decision to pull out, the Afghan military -- these Afghan Security Forces are just going to melt away?

DOZIER: I think the U.S. intelligence community has been warning for some time that this was in many ways a paper army, and they knew that the Afghan people didn't support the government strongly. That said, there's a certain thing that can happen with momentum on the ground.

I understand even on Friday, multiple U.S. officials were disagreeing with each other, that the embassy was saying, oh, no, no. It will take at least a month. But that some in the intel world was saying, no, you've got days. And so here we are.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Clarissa Ward got this chance to meet with some of the Afghan women and children in Kandahar before it fell. There's some of the video right there. Here's just a bit of her report because this is such an important issue. Let's just watch just a glimpse of this.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I've been talking to some of the women in this room and I promised that I wouldn't show any of their faces. But it's interesting because, you know, the Taliban talks a lot about how it's changed and girls can go to school now. But I asked if any of these girls will be going to school and I was told, "Absolutely not. Girls don't go to school." And when I said, why don't girls go to school, they said, "Taliban says it's bad."


ACOSTA: You know, Kimberly, this is probably -- I mean this might be the most heartbreaking part of the entire tragedy that is now Afghanistan, and that is we gave these expectations to women and young girls in Afghanistan that they were going to have a different life. And Clarissa is pointing out they're essentially giving up on that now. So many of them are.

DOZIER: Well, especially in parts of the country where it's always been relatively conservative. But I know one of the things that the U.S. team in Doha has been working with is to try to teach the Taliban officials that they have been working side by side with for a couple years now that, hey, if you want international loans from the international community, you're going to have to have X number of women in the workplace.

You're going to have to have a good human rights record, or you're going to get cut off. And they say the Taliban understands that. I've had Taliban officials tell me that they understand that. But I hear a very sophisticated message coming out of Doha, and I don't think that always makes its way down to the different commanders in the different fiefdoms across Afghanistan.

ACOSTA: Right. And to think that this is the new and improved Taliban, it's going to take a lot of convincing internationally for that message to get across. And it's just going to have to be proven there on the ground.

All right, Kimberly, thank you so much for those insights. We appreciate it.

Coming up, as the complete takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban appears imminent, will the country become a safe harbor for terrorists? That is another very important question this evening.

Peter Bergen, the first Western journalist to interview Osama bin Laden, joins me next live to discuss. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: And we want to get you up to speed on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban are now inside the capital city of Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country and with the constant sound of helicopters overhead, sources tell CNN the majority of the U.S. embassy staff are now out of the embassy compound and that the American flag has been lowered.

That's a sharp turnaround from six weeks ago when President Biden called it highly unlikely that the Taliban would overrun the entire country. That's precisely what's happening in just the last couple of days.

Joining me now is CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. Back in 1997, he was the first Western journalist to conduct a TV interview with Osama bin Laden.

Peter, you wrote in this op-ed that just came out, "Biden is presiding over a debacle entirely of his own making in Afghanistan, one that has unfolded more swiftly than even the most dire prognostications."

Peter, to some extent, though, hasn't this debacle been in the making for years?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, this is kind of a version of the White House argument which is, the brilliance of Biden's decision is simply underlined by the collapse of the Afghan government and the military, right? You're hearing that from the White House.

ACOSTA: We are.

BERGEN: It's a kind of odd argument, and I think it was an avoidable debacle and fiasco. And in the previous segment you were talking with Kim Dozier about, you know, the comparisons with Saigon in '75. Let's fast-forward a couple of decades and compare to Kabul in 1996 when the Taliban took over. And let's use that as potentially a benchmark of what's going to happen next.

You know, they banned music. They had their own radio station. Believe me not a radio station I want to listen to, with verses of the Quran the only thing on the radio station. No TV. No kite flying. No diversions. The only diversions were the public executions of people in the Kabul soccer stadium.

You know, they declared an emirate, it would not (INAUDIBLE) ISIS and its caliphate where the head of the emirate is the commander of all Muslims.


And we're going to see every Jihadi group in the world, of which there are 20 already in the world in Afghanistan, very excited about this victory. This bit screen on 911, as we've discussed before, the 20th anniversary, will be their celebration now in the presidential palace with bodies from every Jihadi group. And, you know, the memorializations of the attacks at the World Trade Center.

ACOSTA: There was one member of the Taliban inside the palace, we're looking at this video right now, who told journalists that he had been in Guantanamo.


ACOSTA: And so, I mean, this is -- this is the new regime that is coming into place in Kabul. But, Peter, as you know, President Biden has put some of the blame on former President Trump. And, as you know, you know, Trump wanted to bring the Taliban to Camp David, and so on, to try to continue that administration's policy of drawing down the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Mike Pompeo, the former Secretary of State, he was pushing back on what Biden was saying yesterday. Let's take a listen to that and talk about it.


MIKE POMPEO, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Every president confronts challenges. This president confronted a challenge in Afghanistan. He has utterly failed to protect the American people from this challenge. I wouldn't have let my 10-year-old son get away from this kind of pathetic blame-shifting.


ACOSTA: What do you think of that, Peter?

BERGEN: Well, I mean, there's a lot of blame to go around. And it was the Trump administration, secretary Pompeo's staff, that negotiated with the Taliban, beginning in 2018.

And they did a rather crucial thing, that I think has been part of the failure here, which is they excluded the Afghan government from the negotiations. So, this was a -- you know. But, you know, who lost Afghanistan is going to be -- there's going to be lots of blame. And, in fact, Obama started saying we're going to withdraw back on December 1st of 2009. And when he announced a surge of troops, he also announced a withdrawal date. So, --

ACOSTA: And Bush went to Iraq, instead of staying in Afghanistan.

BERGEN: Yes, Bush -- I mean, so, it's been a long time coming.

ACOSTA: That is something -- I mean, that is something that a lot of people have sort of glossed over --


ACOSTA: -- in recent days.

BERGEN: Very true.

ACOSTA: The president has insisted, though, that we accomplished -- that the United States has accomplished and NATO accomplished the goal of stopping terrorists from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. What do you make of that? Is that true? I suppose it's true right now.

BERGEN: Exactly. It's true right now. You know, ISIS killed 130 people in Paris in November of 2015, because they trained people in Iraq and Syria. So, a year after they took over much of Iraq and Syria, they were able to train people to go and do attacks in Western Europe. Why would this movie be different? You know, it's still -- we're still protected by two oceans, so the United States is always safer from these kinds of things. But the other thing is people radicalize that the -- you know, with just what they read online. And so, this is going to be seen as a tremendous victory.

And if you have these kind of Jihadist ideas and you're sitting at your computer in the United States, the Taliban is going to put out this propaganda. You know, you can imagine this kind of radicalizing people as well. Here, they don't have to fly into the United States. They're here.

We saw that with ISIS. People radicalizing because of ISIS propaganda and ISIS' success on the battlefield, and then carrying out in lethal attacks. So, that's perfectly plausible.

ACOSTA: But as somebody who interviewed Osama Bin Laden, what is the possibility? What is the likelihood that we could see a return of Al Qaeda to the point, in Afghanistan, where they could launch attacks on western targets in the years to come?

BERGEN: Western targets for sure. I mean the U.N., in June, put out a report saying that Al Qaeda and the Taliban are very close. That's the United Nations. This is not some sort of right-wing kind of crazy kind of organization. And I -- you know, I take that at face value.

And I think Al Qaeda -- you know, the person who just orchestrated this big military victory is a guy called Surya Jakani (ph). He's the military commander of the -- of the Taliban, number two leader of the Taliban. He's always been close to Al Qaeda. So, I think, you know, you -- getting to the United States is not easy for these groups. Doing something in Europe is a lot easier but just because of geography.

ACOSTA: And a former senior adviser to the U.S. representative for Afghanistan in Pakistan tweeted, here is the most important symbolism of the fall of Kabul. The Taliban flag will be flying across Afghanistan on the 20th anniversary of 911. That is gut-wrenching to think about.

BERGEN: I mean, envoy ambassador (ph) wrote for Richard Holbrooke, who was a representative to Afghanistan. And envoy (ph) is right.

ACOSTA: All right. Peter Bergen, thank you very much. We'll be watching this unfold, and I know you will as well. Thank you for those insights.

We're continuing to monitor the dire situation in Afghanistan and bring you the latest. We're also following the devastating impact of the 7.2 earthquake in Haiti as the death toll climbs there. A report from the disaster zone is next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ACOSTA: Now, to the dire situation unfolding in Haiti, one day after

that powerful earthquake. The official death toll right now more than 700 people with thousands more injured. Rescuers are combing through collapsed buildings in a desperate search for survivors.

CNN's Matt Rivers reports from the quake zone.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're just not far from the epicenter. We just got here not that long ago. And what you're seeing behind me, if you move forward a little bit here, this is the scene of a multistory hotel that, obviously, has collapsed behind me. And there's a lot of people here on-scene.

You're seeing two things happening here at this scene. You're seeing some recovery efforts, which that excavator, presumably, was a part of. Now that that's stopped, there is a lot of looting going on here at the scene.


RIVERS: This was a relatively luxury hotel. A lot of people bringing out whatever they can find, dressers, air conditioners. It goes to the desperation of what's happening in this part of Haiti right now.

As I think you said in the beginning, at least 700 people have been killed as a result of this so far. Thousands of people are injured. But those numbers are going to go up, because, in all likelihood, there are still bodies in that rubble behind me. There's a high likelihood of that.

And this isn't the only scene like this around this area. You go up and down the street, that's just behind my camera, and you can see damage that goes up and down the street. Is it as pervasive as what we saw in 2010? No, I don't think so, at this point, just because this is not as crowded of a place as Port-au-Prince, the capital, which sustained a lot of damage 10 years ago.

But the damage here, you can see why these numbers are as high as they are, at this point, and why they are going to keep going up almost assuredly. It's scenes like this that are very much active, are very much still happening. And there's also not a big rescue effort here, at the moment. This is one of the more crowded scenes that we've seen here. Where are the authorities? Where are the police? Where are security agents? Where are firefighters? Where are rescue crews? They're not here. If they're not here, where else would they be? And that's the open question that we have right now.


ACOSTA: Our thanks to Matt Rivers there on the ground in Haiti. And for more information about how you can help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti, go to

Up next, former California Governor Jerry Brown joins me live, as his home state ranks in the top five states in weekly new COVID cases.

And a quick programming note, join CNN for "WE LOVE NEW YORK CITY," a celebration -- a concert celebrating the city's comeback after COVID. It airs next Saturday, starting at 5:00 p.m. Eastern exclusively on CNN.



ACOSTA: And the breaking news, this just in. The U.S. Defense Secretary approved sending 1,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to 6,000, to ensure a safe drawdown there. But the news comes amid a chaotic scene, as the Taliban takes over the capital city of Kabul. U.S. diplomats being evacuated to the airport. We'll, of course, keep you updated on all of this as things develop over the next couple of hours.

But, in the meantime, a grim warning this weekend from the head of the National Institutes of Health that the U.S. could pass 200,000 COVID cases per day, that's right, in the coming weeks. This as some politicians are claiming this surge is caused by undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border, a claim Dr. Francis Collins of the NIH calls a distraction. Take a listen.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, it's certainly a cause of concern. They have very significant masking requirements there. But it is certainly possible. But, you know, let nobody try to say that's why the U.S. is in trouble. The rate of infection in Mexico is actually lower than it is right now in places like Texas and Louisiana and Florida. I think that's a bit of a distraction.

We've got enough of a problem with our own citizens who have refused to roll up their sleeves. So, maybe that would be a better thing to focus on, if we're trying to end this. That seemed like it was not going to get us where we need to be. It's an issue but it's certainly not the cause of our current dilemma.


ACOSTA: And joining me now is the former governor of California, Jerry Brown. Governor, great to have you on. Thanks so much. What do you make of this claim, being made by some Republican politicians, that the COVID surge is being caused by undocumented immigrants coming across the border?

JERRY BROWN (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: No basis in science whatsoever. Yes, there may be some cases coming across, and it emphasizes how important it is to get our border problems solved and taken care of. But this virus is insidious. It's powerful. It's going from the alpha, to the delta, to the delta-plus. It's moved across the country and the world. It's incredible. We've got to fight it. Vaccines, which many people are fighting. Masking, which is being fought by conservatives all over the place. Social distancing. Look, we're up against a very serious biological threat, and we have to take prudent scientifically-based actions to deal with it.

ACOSTA: And San Francisco residents, as you know, 12 and older will be required, beginning August 20th, to show proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID to enter indoor restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters, large event spaces. Do you agree with this? What do you think?

BROWN: Of course. In 1918, we had mandatory vaccinations. Mandatory masking, rather. We have mandatory vaccines for mumps, and tetanus, and diphtheria, all -- measles. Can't even go to school without it. So, look, this is a desperate response to a bankrupt movement that is only naysaying, when we have to use science. We have to pull together and build our own country which is increasingly torn apart.

ACOSTA: And I want to ask you about the climate crisis. I know you've worked on this issue so much. You are an international environmental advocate, of course. In July, as you -- I'm sure you've read, was the hottest month ever on record. That just coming in from the Biden Administration.

A U.N. climate report found the earth's climate is warming at a rate faster than previously thought. And in the last month, the Dixie fire in Northern California has burned more than a half million acres, incinerated an entire town and so on.

How frustrating is it to see this crisis get worse and worse? How do we get on top of it?


BROWN: Well, we get on top of it by looking at it with clarity and honesty. The climate is warming. It's changing. It's getting more disruptive. We're facing that fact. We're at 1.1 degrees centigrade over the -- from what it was when global warming started 150 years ago. It's going to 1.5. That's 50 percent -- over 50 percent more by 2030, 2035.

We have to take action. You've got to reduce oil, and gas, and coal. You've got to get renewable energy to our whole economy. And, yet, we have people resisting controlling fossil fuel, resisting sensible regulations. They're the similar people who are resisting masking, risking vaccinations.

We've got to get with the 21st century. We have certain threats and dangers. We know what to do, but we're so bitterly divided that many people find it in their interest, or in their identity, to fight what is really the only way to cope with these problems.

ACOSTA: And I've got to ask you about this. We're a month away from the California governor recall election. Democrats have a supermajority in the state. Are you concerned about this outcome of this recall election, or do you think that Gavin Newsom can hold on? What do you think Californians should do out there?

BROWN: Well, they should vote, no, on the recall. Just no question about that. This is not a smart move. It's not good for California. I not only think they should, but if you ask me to predict, I think they will. So, this is just another example of how our governing system is so disruptive.

And now, what's going on in Afghanistan. There'll be more incriminations and more blaming. We've got to pull together as a country. Face problems and do the kind of solutions that make sense, based on science, and are not just ideological in their foundation.

ACOSTA: But do you think Governor Newsom could have handled the outbreak, the pandemic, differently in California? What do you think?

BROWN: I think if he had more knowledge, which he didn't have and nobody did, he could have maybe handled it better. But, given what he knew, given what other governors and presidents have done, I think he's definitely par for the course. But we're up against an unprecedented biological adversary. So, of course it's not going to be perfect, and it will get better all the time.

But throwing Newsom out and these clowns running against him with their outrageous demands for zero minimum wage, taking away completely a woman's right to control her own body. I mean, this is -- we can go from the frying pan into the fire, if we don't watch it.

ACOSTA: And you mentioned Afghanistan. I want to ask you about this, Governor Brown, because you've been in politics for decades. You remember Vietnam. You remember how that ended there. What are your thoughts about what we're seeing right now in Afghanistan? What would be your advice to President Biden right now?

BROWN: Well, Biden was very courageous. And there's so much hypocrisy. Look, the Afghan War, very soon after we went over there, it was over. We got rid of the -- we took out the Al Qaeda. We chased after Bin Laden. We stayed there too long. Bush should have gotten us out. Obama should have gotten us out. Trump. But they were all afraid of exactly what's happening. They didn't have the guts that Joe Biden had.

Now, maybe his army didn't tell him how bad it was. I mean, after all, John Kennedy was fooled by the CIA and his army when he launched the Bay of Pigs. That was an utter disaster. Vietnam, yes, they were climbing off the roof, because, evidently, the CIA and the Army didn't tell him. So, these foreign adventures, in totally different cultures, are really not good. So, we've got to strengthen the home base. Make prudent actions abroad and terminate them as soon as possible.

Look, this was not a war that was fought. It wasn't being fought. We had firepower to kill Taliban. But the -- our friends, our allies, gave up. They didn't have a rationale. Their only rationale was America there. And they were fighting. But, when push comes to shove, they are more aligned with the Taliban, or at least they're not ready to die for them.

So, obviously, Biden had to get out. Are we going to stay another 20 years? Joe Biden will be attacked by the very people that got us in there and got us to stay in there. And that's the key variable. We've been there for three presidents. Why didn't they do anything? Because they're afraid. They're afraid exactly what happened.

How do you get out of a quagmire? It's not pretty but at least Biden has taken the step. And the next step is to think through, how do we get in these messes? What new messes are waiting for us in our 800 bases and absolute overextension, where we're meddling all over the world.


BROWN: And we're not taking care of business at home at our own border with Mexico.


ACOSTA: All right. Well, Governor Jerry Brown, I knew you wouldn't hold back. We appreciate you coming on this afternoon. We appreciate it. Hope all is well and stay safe out there in California. Thanks so much for coming on.

BROWN: Will do. Thanks.

ACOSTA: We appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

Back to our top breaking story. The U.S. Defense Secretary has just approved sending 1,000 more troops into Afghanistan. This comes as the Taliban have taken control of the presidential palace in Kabul, as the Afghan president has fled the country. We'll have the latest live from Kabul, next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.