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Taliban Forces Takes Over Kabul; Evacuation Of U.S. Embassy Complete In Afghanistan; President Biden To Address The Nation About The Situation In Afghanistan; American Lawmakers Want Answers Regarding Afghan Drawdown; Florida Records Worst Week For COVID Cases; Haiti's Increasing Death Toll After The Earthquake. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 15, 2021 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. The hum of helicopters as Americans evacuate the acrid smell of smoke as documents burn. An empty flagpole atop the U.S. embassy. A prime time television appearance by the Taliban. This is how the 20-year war in Afghanistan is ending today.

At this hour, the Taliban has taken over the presidential palace in Kabul. This was something we were told wasn't possible for at least another 30 to 90 days if at all. And now we've just learned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved sending 1,000 additional U.S. troops to the country for a total of 6,000. More than double that were on the ground when the drawdown started.

All day, Americans have been ferried aboard military choppers to Hamid Karzai airport where they appear to be boarded onto transport planes. Those that haven't made it to safety yet are being told to shelter in place.

The Afghan president has already fled the country. Other Afghans are trying to do the same right now. They're filling up their cars and lining up at banks to grab any cash that they can before fleeing. The U.S. embassy is shuttered. And we're told the American flag has been lowered and removed.

It will likely be replaced with a Taliban banner in the coming days, a humiliating symbol of two decades of American and coalition sacrifice that now appear to be -- have been in vain. CNN international correspondent and security editor for us, Nick Paton Walsh, is live in Kabul.

Nick, we just learned that the presidential palace was officially handed over to the Taliban. Just remarkable images coming in all day long of this transfer of power, which has happened so quickly. What more can you tell us?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yeah, and I think officially is probably the wrong word. We're talking about a situation where the president, maybe former president now, Ashraf Ghani leaves town unbeknownst, nobody aware of this. We simply learned about it from rumors and then his own officials, one of them saying to me, "they ran away, him and his close circle."

And then it appears to have been a power vacuum here in Kabul clearly. Reports all day that Taliban were nearby, possibly moving into the outskirts. By dusk it was very evident they were clearly inside the city itself.

And the natural extension of that, of course, is the images that we've seen now of their fighters inside the presidential palace, most likely in one of the key offices of former President Ashraf Ghani, who released a statement on Facebook from wherever he is. We don't know that at the moment. There were thoughts he had flown to Tajikistan originally, but we understand that isn't probably the end of his journey.

He essentially said, and I paraphrase here that, you know, he did all he could for his country but was faced with a choice of essentially sticking around or facing armed Taliban trying to get into the palace. Well, those armed Taliban did eventually get into the presidential palace and allowed a camera crew from Al Jazeera Arabic in with them.

One part of the reporters seem to ask questions. One of the gentleman responded in English saying he had been in Guantanamo Bay for eight years. And at moments, they simply fell silent and just wanted the world to see them armed inside the corridors of what had been the Afghan government backed by the United States powers.

So, just to explain the noise you're hearing above me at the moment, Jim, of what's been remarkable tonight, the occasional crackle of gunfire, yes, but a persistent noise of U.S. helicopters here. Over the years I've lived here, been here, I haven't heard this much air traffic.

And it's clearly a bid to protect what's happening at the airport, the shipping out of thousands possibly, certainly, hundreds of Americans, but maybe also to Afghans that assisted the American presence here. And it is a sort of haunting sound frankly because of its consistency in the skies here. Normally -- yes?

ACOSTA: Nick, I was just going to say, do you suspect that this is -- you're hearing so much activity because they are using the cover of darkness to pull so many people out as quickly as possible?

WALSH: Yes. No, I mean, that's long been during the war here, it's height, they use darkness to move around for greater safety. So that's a likely reason as to why we're hearing this at this stage here. What I was going to say was, normally, you would hear that drumbeat of helicopters and it would be the Americans going somewhere, doing something, showing a sign of their dominance of the skies essentially.

Now, it's clearly a sign of weakness because they are simply trying to get out as fast as they can. But it's a bizarre position that President Joe Biden has put himself in here. Strategically courageous you might say to realize that this had to come to an end at some point. But, by now, putting in the field here 5,000 troops, pretty much double the number he had to pull out as part of his withdrawal strategy.

[17:04:57]

He's setting up a very awkward, if not deadly potential few days ahead with the Taliban here, who frankly consider that they run the city now, for all intents and purposes, and maybe there is some pockets of resistance, it seems like they pretty much do. We'll find out more tomorrow morning.

There are a lot of Americans at the airport, a lot of Americans trying to get out. There seems to be a lot of signals from the Americans to the Taliban to leave them be and let them depart. But with the sheer amount of force that we're seeing coming in here and frankly the not always exceptionally disciplined hierarchical nature of the insurgency here, it's entirely possible that these two long-term enemies will at some point clash in Kabul.

And then that could see the situation here deteriorate rapidly. But the volume of air traffic we're seeing, the number of airplanes in the sky making it quite clear now civilian air traffic with a couple of tiny exceptions has stopped. This must all be military traffic coming out. The Americans are moving exceptionally fast to get people out of here.

And, frankly, I don't blame them. We don't know what it will be like in Kabul in the days ahead. The Taliban have said they want peace, they want diplomats to stay (ph), they want foreigners to feel assured, and obviously I think all foreigners under that umbrella would like to feel that's how the days ahead will go. Jim.

ACOSTA: Well, we'll see about that. It's hard to believe that we're dealing with a new and improved Taliban in any way, shape, or form. But we'll be watching that. I know you will as well. Nick Paton Walsh, thanks so much.

The breaking news, President Joe Biden is expected to address the nation in the next few days about the crisis in Afghanistan. This coming in according to a senior administration official to our correspondent John Harwood over at the White House.

In Afghanistan, U.S. embassy personnel now mostly evacuated to the Kabul airport. There's growing concern about how to keep them safe. A few hours ago, the embassy sent out a security alert warning there are reports of the airport taking fire. I want to bring in CNN's pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann.

Oren, this is a very precarious situation. Where are U.S. troops in- country right now? What does the Pentagon say about plans if control of this airport falls, which I suppose like everything else that we've seen, is possible?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So let's be clear, that if Hamid Karzai International Airport, which is Kabul's international gateway were to fall, that is the worst-case scenario. The need to retake an airport from insurgents or from some other group that tries to take it, that requires more troops than are on the ground now, and that's, again, that's the worst-case scenario.

But that's not what's happening right now. There are troops, the bulk of U.S. troops are at Hamid Karzai International Airport. There are some 3,000 troops on the ground right now. And we've just learned in the past few minutes that the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, approved another 1,000 troops.

So it will be a total of 6,000 troops that either are in-country or on their way to Afghanistan. The bulk of their mission there, primary mission is clear. It is to secure the airport such that U.S. embassy staff and their workers can get out.

There have been security incidents at or near the airport according to a defense official we recently spoke with. But -- and this is a key point here to make -- U.S. forces on the ground there have not been fired upon, and they have not fired upon anybody.

So although there have been security incidents at or near the airport, they have not, as of this moment, involved U.S. troops. But there is a crush of civilians, including Afghans, at the airport trying to get out of the country, and that contributes to the chaos and to the situation on the ground there.

Everything rests on Hamid Karzai International Airport and the U.S. Knows that very well. And that's why the troops going in are for the security of the airport. That's why the embassy is there at this point, and that's where the embassy staff are moving and have moved to get out of the airport.

So far, defense officials says about 500 U.S. staff or staff of the U.S. embassy have moved out of the country. That leaves a few thousand more and they are trying to get out as quickly as possible as the U.S. essentially creates what is an air convoy both to bring the troops in, again, up to that total number of 6,000 as of right now, and to bring U.S. embassy staff and others out.

ACOSTA: And Oren, according to a Senate aide, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told senators in a briefing today that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda who were swept out of Afghanistan or supposed to be swept out of Afghanistan as a part of going in and taking out the Taliban, that they could reconstitute in Afghanistan sooner than expected. What more can you tell us about this terror warning? I suppose that is also some alarming information that we're getting today.

LIEBERMANN: It certainly is. Let's remember that President Joe Biden has said there were two missions, both of which were complete. One of course was to get Osama Bin Laden. That happened a decade ago. And the second was to make sure that Afghanistan couldn't be used as a base from which to attack the U.S. homeland or the homeland of its allies.

And the assessment was that if they tried after the U.S. withdrawal, it would take something like 18 months, two years or more for Al Qaeda or somebody else reconstitute. The idea that now that could happen faster, and that's what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, told members of the U.S. Congress, that is certainly troubling.

[17:09:59]

And that would undercut one of the primary reasons, if not the primary reason, that the U.S. went into Afghanistan. The idea that the confidence in that could be shaken, not a pleasant thought, Jim.

ACOSTA: Not at all. And it raises the possibility that U.S. troops may have to go back in at some later date. Oren Liebermann, thanks so much.

The speed of Afghanistan's collapse has just been staggering. Just three days ago, administration sources were telling CNN that Kabul could potentially hold for another 30 to 90 days. In reality, the capital didn't even make it through the weekend.

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel joins me now. Mr. Secretary, good to see you sir. Thanks so much for being with us. How alarmed are you by the situation that you're seeing unfolding, that we're all seeing unfolding right now?

CHUCK HAGEL, FORMER SECRETAR OF DEFENSE: Well, Jim, this is a very unpredictable, dangerous and sad day. The events of the last few days have, I think, framed the severity, the danger, and the potential of things getting worse in a very, very clear way.

I think what the president is doing and our defense forces are doing and the State Department is doing, is doing everything they can to deal with the immediate problem, immediate concern, and that's get our people out, as many of our Afghan friends and allies who worked with us, get them out. Beyond that, nobody knows. Very dangerously unpredictable.

ACOSTA: And what went wrong, do you think? Do you think this was an intelligence failure to have the president out there in early July saying he could not foresee any of this happening that it was highly unlikely that the Taliban would sweep across the country in the way that they have? And just to have that be so terribly wrong, was there an intelligence failure where the president was not getting reliable information?

HAGEL: Well, first, Jim, I don't know what intelligence the president was getting or not getting. I suspect the president was getting pretty solid intelligence and information from the Pentagon and CIA and our other sources.

But I think it goes back, again, to what we've been talking about here, and I just mentioned the unpredictability of this. Afghanistan has always been unpredictable. You go back to the Soviets, the British, Alexander the Great. I mean the history of that country, they never had a functioning central government, never in the history of the country.

We've never understood the culture. We've never understood religion, the tribalism, the history. And you're doomed to failure when you don't understand that. And when you stay in a place as an occupying power for 20 years, things are not going to be good. They're not going to come out well because at the end, you are seen by the people, many people, as occupiers.

Nobody likes people with uniforms and guns in their country year after year, telling them what to do. We did a lot of good things. We made tremendous sacrifices for the right things to make a better country. But in the end, I think we lost our way and we didn't understand really what we were doing there.

ACOSTA: And I want to get your reaction to something Secretary of State Tony Blinken said this morning. Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: There was an agreement that the forces would come out on May 1st. Had they not -- had we not begun that process, which is what the president did and the Taliban saw, then we would have been back at war with the Taliban, and we would have been back at war with tens of thousands of troops having to go in because the 2,500 troops we had there and the air power would not have sufficed to deal with the situation especially as we see, alas, the hollowness of the Afghan security forces.

And by the way, from the perspective of our strategic competitors around the world, there's nothing they would like more than to see us in Afghanistan for another 5, 10, 20 years. It's simply not in the national interest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Mr. Secretary, Blinken seems to be saying this was the least of all bad options, what we're watching right now.

HAGEL: Well, you're right in the fact that there were no good options. But let's go back -- let's go back to 2014, Jim. I was Secretary of Defense at the time. That's when President Obama said America's combat role, our mission is over. We pulled out tens of thousands of troops. We closed hundreds of bases, and President Obama said, every president has said before and after Obama, we're not going to be there forever.

That was the beginning, 2014, of the end of our presence, the beginning of that process. So, this shouldn't be anything new for anybody that we were going to come out. Now, there are variations of that and we've seen that over 20 years, ups and downs. But I think Blinken's words are right. I think you can take issue with some of what this administration has done, how they've done it, and I think beginning with your first question to me, making such bold pronouncements a few months ago when the uncertainty of this was, to me, pretty clear.

[17:15:04]

I mean, the fact is that we know, if you've been following any news, that over the last two years, the Taliban was getting stronger, actually, over the last 10 years. But certainly over the last two years, the Taliban was getting stronger and that was measured by any measurement you want to apply to it.

ACOSTA: Yes.

HAGEL: So, I would not have been that bullish in how I presented it. But there were no good options here.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you, though, one of the things that we're monitoring right now is what happens to the Hamid Karzai Airport that is being used to evacuate Americans, other westerners, and so on. What happens if that airport falls, do you think, Mr. Secretary?

HAGEL: Well, if it falls, then it does create a very dangerous dynamic because who then controls the airport? The Taliban. You can't get anything in or out without their acquiescence and without their approval. You could also see a failure in the process. The Taliban are not very sophisticated and airports are sophisticated places for all the reasons we understand.

This could be even in a greater, greater tragedy if that airport falls, and I think you've got to accept the reality that it very well may fall. Then if we get into a shooting part of this, defending that airport, then we've got a real problem because we're going to have 6,000 troops there.

ACOSTA: But do you think it was a mistake to --

HAGEL: And we've got a real mess.

ACOSTA: Yes. Let me ask you. Do you think it was a mistake, though, to allow the Taliban to sweep across the country and take charge this quickly before getting all of our people out? Because we're facing the prospect of the Taliban being in charge of everything, and then we're going to them hat in hand to get our people out.

HAGEL: Jim, that process started early last year when President Trump decided that we were coming out, and he said to the nation, we're going to be out by May of this year. And he started the peace process without including the Afghan government. That was a huge mistake in my opinion. Same thing we did in Vietnam.

Well, once we did that, that sent a very, very clear signal not only to the Taliban, but also to the Afghan forces and the Afghan government that we were leaving them behind and then we were coming out no matter what. And the Taliban understood that. In fact, I mentioned in the last two years they've gained ground.

Any measurement of where the Taliban has been and was going over the last two years was that they were controlling more than half, maybe 60 percent of Afghanistan. And so, if anybody was just paying attention to this a little bit, you'd understand where this was going.

But when President Trump said we're coming out, we did the DOHA Peace Agreement with the Taliban, and then we went back to the Afghan government and said, now, you'll live with this. You're going to release 5,000 prisoners and one, two, three, four, five. Well, it was pretty clear. ACOSTA: Yes. All right. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, lots to

discuss. We'll keep the conversation going. Thanks for your time this evening. We appreciate it.

HAGEL: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: And we have just learned that President Biden will address the nation in the coming days. A live report from the White House next as we continue to get stunning images out of Afghanistan.

Also, some late details on just how many Americans have been withdrawn out of the country today. We'll have those details coming up next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

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[17:20:00]

ACOSTA: And back to our breaking news, the collapse of Afghanistan as the Taliban has overtaken Kabul. These are the images we're seeing on social media purportedly of Hamid Karzai International Airport, as people frantically try to escape the country with the Taliban now in power. This is the very airport American evacuees and embassy staff are being flown out of.

And we've learned the U.S. embassy has flown approximately 500 staff members out of the country today alone. So they are trying to move very quickly as we witness the collapse of Afghanistan right now and the end result of a 20-year war. We're learning new details about how President Biden will address the crisis and when. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House. Jeremy, what's the latest? What do we know right now?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is from my colleague John Harwood, who is learning now that President Biden is expected to address the nation in the coming days, though when and where the president does that is still being determined. We have been reporting today that of course those discussions have been under way in terms of when the president might address the nation.

The White House knows that it needs to show that the president is on top of the situation. That is part of the reason why even as the president is at Camp David, the presidential retreat just outside of Washington, the White House releasing this photo showing the president on a secure video teleconference with top members of his national security team.

You can see the president there sitting alone at that table at Camp David, but on the screen in front of him, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, National Security Adviser, and a host of other top national security officials.

We've been told that the president has been getting regularly briefed on the situation in Afghanistan today, but of course, we haven't heard from him yet directly. And so, we will see how soon the White House decides it is necessary for the president to address this situation. Certainly, this is a huge milestone in U.S. history really when you

consider the breadth and scope of this nearly two-decades-long involvement that the U.S. has had in this war in Afghanistan, to now suddenly see the Taliban walking through the halls of the presidential palace.

This is a moment that you expect a president to mark and to address and to explain frankly his decision and the rationale for why he decided to do this. We know that President Biden has not had second thoughts about this decision to withdraw U.S. Troops from Afghanistan despite what we are seeing now happening in Kabul.

[17:25:05]

And the reason for that, according to officials, is because the president believes that after all of this involvement, after all of this training and resources provided to the Afghan forces, if they were -- it crumbled so fast, more troops, more effort would not have changed the situation in the long term. But of course we would like to hear that directly from the president, certainly in the wake of what we're seeing now in Kabul. Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Jeremy Diamond at the White House for us. Thank you. I want to play what President Biden said about the Afghanistan withdrawal just last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITE STATES OF AMERICA: There's going to be no circumstance where you're going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable. Where do they go from here? That, the jury is still out. But the likelihood there is going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: That was July 8th, and this is a Chinook evacuating staffers from the U.S. embassy in Kabul today. And with me now, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser. David, let me start with you first. A lot of blame being thrown away today. Former President Trump obviously taking shots at President Biden.

Biden, in his statement yesterday, laying some of the blame at Donald Trump's feet. What we're watching in real-time in Afghanistan is a failure, but whose failure is it? And can it be argued that this is a failure that has many fathers?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it is absolutely a failure that has many fathers. Very contrary to what John Kennedy used to say, it was a victory of a thousand fathers and defeat was always an orphan. There are a lot of finger pointing going on here, Jim.

Listen, I think that Biden was courageous in following up what he campaigned on, what he promised to do, to go ahead and follow through on it. I think Donald Trump does bear some of the responsibility. But you cannot say about this White House that has handled this well.

It is -- you know, as you know so well about the White House, Jim, what you decide to do is important, but equally as important is how you plan to do it. And in this case, the Pentagon had warned President Biden on many occasions, don't do this. It could very easily lead to catastrophe. It could very easily lead to chaos.

You would think under those circumstances, a lot of effort would have been made before we went in to make sure it was going to be well done. For example, why would you -- if you know you're going to get out, why wouldn't you bring out the team at the embassy? Why wouldn't you bring out those 18,000 interpreters and their families to protect them before you had the withdrawal?

Why would you start your withdrawal on the very time we're coming into the season where they have so frequently have conflicts? So, the Taliban is well armed and well planned. And it's so surprising me because so much of the Biden presidency has been well planned. It's been well executed. But in this instance, I'm afraid that has not been the case.

ACOSTA: And Susan, a month ago we were told this would not be a Saigon moment. Forty-eight hours ago, we were told that the Taliban would not take Kabul for another 30 to 90 days. The Taliban are now in control. They're in the presidential palace. What went wrong?

SUSAN GLASSER, GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, you know, Jim, I mean these statements were either, you know, recklessly naive or specifically misleading. Either way, it reflects very, very poorly on the Biden administration. I think David is absolutely right to say there's really two issues going on here.

One is the policy debate, the sort of who is to blame over the last 20 years, and there's four American presidents, it seems to me, whose name could go on the list of that. From George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Donald Trump to Joe Biden. But it's only Joe Biden who is responsible for what's happened in the last few months.

And there's just mystifying (ph) decisions, a lack of clarity, public statements that were embarrassing in the extreme. I don't believe that senior officials in the White House or the Pentagon or the intelligence community, when Joe Biden said on July 8th -- you played the clip. When he said that it was highly unlikely that the Taliban would overrun the country.

I don't believe that was an accurate assessment of what his own government was telling him. So, again, we've had a breakdown in some very significant ways, and we're watching the horrifying consequences today play out live on television.

ACOSTA: All right. Joe Biden knows the buck stops with the Oval Office. David, let me ask you about something. This has been talked about as what should have been one of the options that the Biden administration should have considered, and that is leaving a small number of troops in Afghanistan like the U.S. did in Germany and Japan after World War II. People were drawing that kind of parallel. What do you make of that? Did Biden perhaps miss an opportunity to do what was done -- what has been done before?

[17:30:04]

GREGEN: That's a good question. I think it's a hard question to answer for sure, but I do think that leaving troops behind who are not occupying troops, who are not telling people what to do, but are trying to sort of preserve the peace and preserve the order -- this country may fall into chaos now, and it's going to -- could become a haven for terrorists because there's no order.

And if you keep a small number of people on the ground who are not shooting people, you can get to stay there a long time. Look, you know, you've been to the DMZ. You know we've been there since the end of the Korean War, and it's been a terrific -- it has held the peace on that peninsula for all these many years, for 70 years.

Look at where we are in Germany as you mentioned. But look at also where we are -- many people don't know we've had troops posted in the Sinai Peninsula for a long time. We have kept troops for a long time in different places without incident, and in Afghanistan itself, the number of casualties recently has been quite low, U.S. casualties.

ACOSTA: And Susan -- right. And Susan, what about the responsibility of previous presidents? What about former President George W. Bush? He launched the war in Afghanistan and then diverted the country's attention to Iraq. That obviously is another moment in our history that people are looking at as being partly responsible for where we are today.

GLASSER: Look, as I said, you know, you can go back a full 20 years, and I was in Afghanistan at that time when you could feel the attention turning from Afghanistan to Iraq, and again, the question of what the mission was.

In recent years, all of the American presidents frankly were reluctant to level with the American people and to talk about it in the terms that David said. It would have been very possible for the United States to maintain a forward presence there for a limited counterterrorism mission of several thousand troops as we do in other places around the world.

But Joe Biden took a very politically expedient course of really adopting Donald Trump's rhetoric in saying, I'm going to end the forever war. That was his statement. And when you frame it as war or no war, the American people, unfortunately, had tuned out of the situation for so long that I think they had a sense that this is either perpetual occupation or we withdraw the troops.

Whereas I think there are, you know, other people looked at this and said a more limited presence was possible. But none of these four American presidents really leveled with the American people in a way that would have made it possible, and the politics, I think, were such that both left and right were pretty committed to drawing down the troops. The question, again, of this debacle is how it was executed.

ACOSTA: All right. David and Susan, thank you so much for those insights. We appreciate it. No one would plan out this outcome. Next, we'll take you inside the tense meeting today as Biden administration officials brief the House and the Senate on the plan to withdraw from Afghanistan. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:35:00]

ACOSTA: The Taliban have now taken over Afghanistan completely, and here in the United States, members of Congress want to know how it happened and why stronger plans to get Americans out were not in place. CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is up on Capitol Hill for us. Suzanne, lawmakers there are rightfully upset about this. They're calling this an intelligence failure. Give us the reaction up there on Capitol Hill.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, both House as well as Senate lawmakers got briefings about 45 minutes apiece. It was a virtual briefing by the secretaries of defends, state, as well as the chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Nobody seems to be really happy about what has developed, what's unfolded here. Those briefings happening in real-time this morning, and so there's still a lot of unanswered questions as things move very quickly.

Democrats and Republicans both publicly and privately were using things like gut-wrenching and heartbreaking and frustrating, angry, even fatalistic language about why was the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in the first place.

On the Senate side, you had administration officials explaining the evacuation procedure and the third-party countries that would try to take the refugees. On the House side in that briefing, it was more contentious. We learned that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy really pushing as to why this had happen so quickly, why it was a crisis situation.

Secretary Austin really hitting back saying, look, they can provide air cover against the Taliban to make sure that people are safely evacuated. And a lot of Democrats were weighing in as well here, Jim, trying to defend the Biden administration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that she commended the president for the clarity of purpose on Afghanistan. That all eyes were on the Taliban, putting it on them instead. But a lot of back-and-forth here for folks who believe that, yes, Americans are in danger. This is a crisis situation, and that it is one of national security as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): This is not ending the war. What this is doing actually is perpetuating it. What we're seeing now is a policy that will ensure, ensure that we will in fact, have to have our children and our grandchildren continuing to fight this war at much higher cost. So everybody -- you know, the Rand Paul, Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, Joe Biden view of the world here, is fundamentally dangerous and irresponsible and wrong.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): I would have expected the Afghan government to be more stable. I would have expected the military to be more stable. But ultimately what happens now is what was a foregone conclusion the moment that Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops on May 1st.

[17:40:06]

The Taliban simply ceased to negotiate and began to establish themselves and prepare for what has now happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, Jim, still a lot of unanswered questions and lawmakers, some of them are calling for hearings regarding the intelligence failures. Others simply want to hear from the president, which they anticipate will happen soon. And then there are others who know that as they return from their recess, they'll get a classified briefing in person. Jim?

ACOSTA: I suspect there will be many briefings to come, and perhaps some hearings. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much.

The death toll sharply rising in Haiti following yesterday's massive earthquake where a second punch is on the way. A tropical storm is heading towards Haiti. We're live from Haiti next, coming up.

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[17:45:00]

ACOSTA: There is no debate about this. COVID is on the march once again in the U.S., but the debate over what to do about it is raging. Nowhere is the situation more dire and the debate more heated than in Florida. Health officials there just tallied their single worst week for COVID cases ever. Governor Ron DeSantis has deployed teams to administer antibody treatments in Jacksonville. That's what President Trump received when he was hospitalized.

But when it comes to prevention, DeSantis is still threatening schools that want to institute mask mandates. CNN's Nadia Romero is live in Jacksonville. Nadia, what are you learning about these rapid response treatments? Are they strike teams? What is this?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, there's a mobile unit right behind me. So that's part of the response team, and you'll see those -- at least the governor wants you to see them all across the state of Florida right now, though, right here in Jacksonville.

So if you are COVID-positive and you're within the first 10 days of having symptoms, you can come to this mobile unit and get an antibody treatment. And it's supposed to reduce your likelihood of being hospitalized or finding an early grave.

And we spoke with U.F. Health about what their thoughts are on these antibody treatments. And they say that some of their affiliated clinics are filling up with their appointments. There are people who are COVID-positive in the Jacksonville area that are trying to get any treatment possible to keep them alive and keep them out of the hospital.

But I asked one doctor, will this alleviate the stress you're seeing in your ICUs and the fact that they've had to utilize all of their hospital space for COVID patients, and he said that he remains hopeful, but he's concerned because the science behind antibody treatment is just lacking a bit especially when you compare it to the vaccine research that we have.

It also has emergency use authorization, not FDA approval. We know that's a big sticking point for people who are anti-vaccine. And so he wonders how many people will really come forward and want to get this antibody when he's having a hard enough time convincing people to get the vaccines. And we have a lot more research about vaccinations.

So this talk, Jim, is all reactive. It's for people who already have COVID-19. But we know our schools are trying to prevent people from getting it, limit the spread. They're asking for mask mandates, and they have to go up against their governor to get them. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. And people need to get vaccinated down there and they need to wear their masks when they're inside. It is just a very desperate situation down in Florida. All right, Nadia Romero, stay safe. Thanks so much. And we'll be right back.

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[17:50:00]

ACOSTA: In Haiti right now, the death toll from Saturday's powerful earthquake has now risen to well over 700 people. Thousands more are injured and the rescue work is even more frantic than usual as a new serious very serious threat is literally just hours away. CNN's Matt Rivers is in Haiti for us. So, Matt, what's the latest on your end?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Jim, what we're getting here is brand new numbers. We just managed to come back from one of the hardest hit areas. We literally came here to what's essentially the command center for the Haitian government's response to this. It's just next door to the airport. We literally just got here and manage to speak to the man who is running this response. He's the head of the civil response here in Haiti.

He said the death toll, unfortunately, has risen to 1,297 people. So we're looking at a death toll increase. We just got this information two minutes ago of roughly 500, maybe 600 people. And that gives you an idea of the fact that this is just a very evolving situation as what happens often (ph) in these kinds of natural disasters.

The days -- the first day or two, the hours just after it happens, that's information gathering time. There's so much about this that we still don't know. And we did manage to spend a few hours earlier today in essentially what was the epicenter of this quake. And we got to see the damage.

This is different than what we saw in 2010 here in Haiti where most of the damage was in Port-au-Prince, a much more crowded city. This kind of damage that we're seeing is more localized in different pockets, but this is a very wide area, which is why you're seeing these death tolls being so high.

We visited what was a luxury hotel in the area of Lakay. And we saw this hotel had collapsed. Clearly, there were still bodies inside the rubble, according to the authorities that we spoke to. But unfortunately, at the scene, we also saw people looting, people going in and taking metal, air-conditioners, even a dresser we saw being taken out.

It goes to the desperation that people have in this area that in many cases haven't even recovered from previous natural disasters, now dealing with this one. And I can tell you hospitals in this area are in bad shape right now, basically overrun with patients. They didn't have a lot of capacity before, Jim, and now they're dealing with yet another natural disaster in Haiti.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. And that country is going to need so much international help to see their way out of all of this. Matt Rivers, great reporting there on the ground in Haiti for us. Thanks so much. And for more information about how you can help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti, go to CNN.com/impact.

[17:55:00]

That's the news reporting from Washington, I'm Jim Acosta. I'll see you back here next Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Pamela Brown takes over the CNN NEWSROOM live after a quick break. Good night.

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