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Defense Secretary Approves 1,000 More Troops into Afghanistan; Biden Officials Admit Miscalculation as Taliban Takeover. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 15, 2021 - 18:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN NEWSROOM: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. You are live in the CNN Newsroom on this Sunday evening.

Afghanistan has fallen. And as Americans scramble to get out, more are heading in. A short time ago, the Pentagon approved sending another 1,000 troops because of the worsening security conditions. In all, a total of 6,000 American service members are now being deployed.

It has been a day of breathtaking developments and heart wrenching images. The crowd you see in this social media post believed to be Americans and their allies at the Kabul airport waiting to board planes and leave the country.

Scenes of complete chaos as people clamor to be evacuated. America's longest war has ended in humiliating collapse. And take a look at this. Al Jazeera video showing victorious Taliban fighters laying claim to the presidential palace. They swept into the capital with little resistance as Afghanistan's president fled the country.

This morning, smoke was coming from the grounds of the U.S. embassy as workers scramble to burn documents to keep them out of Taliban hands. Hours later, the staff removed the American flag before abandoning the building.

CNN is covering the story from all angels tonight. International Security Editor Nick Paton Walsh is in Kabul, our Jeremy Diamond is at the White House, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is standing by to make sense of this all.

Let's begin our coverage tonight. In Kabul, Nick, is the Taliban clearly in control of Kabul right now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Pretty much, yes. I mean, obviously, it's dark. We have a limited perspective from where we are. But there are intermittent crackle of gunfire we've occasionally heard, that's evident (ph) at times, lots of reports of Taliban checkpoints, Taliban presence around the city. There could be pockets of resistance elsewhere but they have since the morning, it seems slowly, moved their way in.

And frankly there has been a power vacuum created here by the unannounced secret departure of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who, 24 hours ago, gave a speech saying he needed diplomacy, he was going to stay. And then, seems on a quote, one of his -- I should say now former officials ran away with a coterie of close aides gone on a plane. We don't know where it went. It have been Tajikistan. It's unclear where he's landed now.

But he did manage to put out a Facebook post out essentially saying in a paraphrase here that he had to get into negotiations with the Taliban. They wanted to enter his palace with arms. And so, essentially, he had to run for his life from the country he said he'd served for 20 years.

But there's lots of, I think, anger amongst Afghans either way they essentially feel betrayed by his sudden departure. He didn't even leave behind the transitional government that I think many thought his absence would (INAUDIBLE) out to come in here. As the Taliban who are in control. Certainly those images, startling as they are, of them inside his presidential palace in one of these key offices, sat at his tables with their weapons. They brought in a camera crew, asked a couple of questions, made some answers.

One of them spoke in English briefly about how they'd been in Guantanamo Bay for eight years. Can't verify that claim, but it's utterly startling to see that. And also the confidence they projected, the calm they projected. They did not seem troubled to be there. They seem almost relieve that they got to that particular point. And what, so far, we are comparatively seeing a relatively relaxed takeover here in Kabul.

This has not being pitched street fighting. As I said, there have been clashes here and there, but there is a broad sense, I think, of chaos and panic to some degree and that many are worried about what comes tomorrow when the sun rises here and they wave the white flag of the Taliban on many parts of the streets around here.


Chaotic scenes, Pam, at the airport, make no mistake. That's the hub of the U.S. evacuation plan. That's likely where all these incessant helicopters we've been hearing here are actually headed. Startling because, normally, when I've been here, you have heard that as a sign of the I.P. traffic or that the Americans had some sort of significant military offensive underway. Now it's a sign -- a sound of their weakness. It's them leaving, flat getting out of here.

Unclear how far down that road they are. The embassy appears to have been evacuated now and is now empty. So the staff will be at the airport getting out. We hear quite a lot of aircraft in the air. So, quite likely, there are persons underway very fast.

And as the tens of thousands of Afghans who want out, who worked for the Americans, who are moving towards the airport now, almost impossible to imagine that they can all be processed in time given the deteriorating security situation here. But we have these perilous few days ahead. The Taliban saying to foreigners and diplomats you can be assured of your safety and security, stay. But a situation of many more Americans coming in and the possibility of these two sides, who have been at war for 20 years, clash in this final moment. Back to you.

BROWN: Nick Payton Walsh, tremendous reporting, setting the stage of what is playing out right now in Afghanistan on what is a historic day. And President Biden in the middle of all of this, noticeably absent from public view on such a momentous day.

CNN Jeremy Diamond is at the White House. Jeremy, what are we going to hear from President Biden?

JEREMY DIAMOND, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest we're hearing, Pam, is that discussions have been underway all day about when President Biden might address the nation when he will return to the White House from Camp David, and now, a senior administration official telling us that the president is expected to address the nation in the coming days. When exactly that is going to happen and where is still very much being worked out.

But, clearly, this situation is still involving. Just today, the Department of Defense sending an additional 1,000 U.S. troops, which would bring the total in country to 6,000 U.S. troops to help with this evacuation of American personnel. We know that the president has been briefed today. He was briefed this morning by his top national security advisers, secretary of defense, secretary of state, while he was at Camp David.

The White House very much trying to portray this image that the president is involved in this situation and overseeing it even as he is at Camp David. But, obviously, his silence is notable. Instead we heard from the Secretary of State Tony Blinken this is why, what he said when explaining the rationale for this withdrawal.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: There was an agreement that the forces would come out on May 1st. Had they not -- have 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 airpower 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 compares to 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.


DIAMOND: And, Pam, that's really reflects the sense from officials who have told us the president have no second thoughts, no regrets about his decision. But, obviously, hearing from the president directly in the wake of the fall of Kabul is an entirely different situation.

BROWN: It certainly is, Jeremy. Also, there's a big question about whether this was a failure of intelligence or logistics or both. What is the viewpoint of the White House right now on that?

DIAMOND: Look, I can tell you from speaking with officials here, it appears the answer frankly from them it's neither. They insist that this was not an intelligence failure. They rejected that kind of characterization. But one thing that is very clear is that this was a miscalculation by the administration. And there's just no other way about it when the intelligence community is talking about 30 days for Kabul to fall and it happens in a matter of days.

We heard from Secretary of State Tony Blinken today acknowledging that quite candidly, saying the U.S. did believe that the Afghan security forces would hold out longer against this Taliban offensive. And instead, they crumbled very fast, much quicker than the U.S. had estimated.

And, of course, that is one of the reasons why we are waiting to see what President Biden will say, because it was he just, who, just a month ago, was talking about the fact that he thought it was highly unlikely that the Taliban would ultimately take Kabul, takeover Afghanistan, and yet that is exactly what has happened today and certainly that is something that the president will have to answer for.

BROWN: And just on Friday, the State Department said that Kabul was not an imminent threat of falling to the Taliban. Now, 48 hours later, it has fallen to the Taliban. Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much.

And joining me now to discuss all of this is CNN National Security Analyst James Clapper. He served as the Director of National Intelligence in the Obama Administration.

First question to you, do you view this as an intelligence failure?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NAITONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, not surprisingly, Pamela, no, I don't.


I think whether the Kabul collapsed immediately or in 30 days, the outcome was the same, and so we can argue about whether the number of days was predicted or not. And that in itself is not just an intelligence call, because, clearly, the State Department and particularly the embassy itself, I think, would be the best source of gauging, you know, how long Kabul -- how long it would take before Kabul fall.

BROWN: But just to understand this as I pointed out on Friday, the State Department said it was not an imminent threat of falling. Now it has. The U.S. is pooling now embassy personnel in Kabul as the Taliban is literally taking over. How -- just help us understand how that cannot be viewed as an intelligence thread? Do you think it's a failure of planning, logistics? What went wrong here?

CLAPPER: What I think, I would characterize it as, be a whole of government failure perhaps to see this. Because, again, I don't think this is exclusively an intelligence failure. Now, the big message here, Pamela, to me is something we're relearning after my war in Southeast Asia. And that is we can't buy will to fight. And the issue here, of course, was the effectiveness or lack thereof by the Afghan military and security and police forces. And they just completely melted away much faster than anyone foresaw.

And even though we've spent a fortune organizing, training, equipping and making the Afghan military look like us, to include vehicles, you have to wonder, the Taliban, in contrast, are prevailing and prevailing quickly in the absence of virtually any external support. Well, why is that?

Well, the big reason is the Afghans, the Taliban have an ideology and a narrative to go with it that appeals to some, not all, Afghans. And they could not get away from the image that whatever government in Kabul, corrupt though it may be, was supported by the west and supported by infidels. And, again, you can't buy will to fight.

BROWN: And we heard that exact same line in Iraq several years ago when the Iraqi soldiers that the U.S. had been arming and training didn't have the will to fight against ISIS. And also if you talk to troops who have been on the ground in Afghanistan working with these Afghan forces, they could tell you that this was going to happen, that this was inevitable. How did the U.S. make such a big miscalculation in overestimating Afghan forces and their ability to fight back against the Taliban?

CLAPPER: I think we had probably more confidence than we should have in what is an intangible thing to measure, the will to fight, particularly on a predictive basis. And you're quite right, the example of ISIS being triumphant almost overnight in the city of Mosul in Iraq, when five divisions worth of Iraqi military and law enforcement components literally melted away overnight. And we had the same thing again. So, again, this is a big lesson. You can't buy will to fight, and it's very hard to gauge.

BROWN: Help us understand the national security perspective of this, the threat moving forward. Because now you have a scenario where the Taliban has taken over Afghanistan and now they have all these U.S. weapons that the U.S. had given to the Afghan forces that are now at the disposal of the Taliban. The Taliban has said they are more disciplined now, they are more empowered. What kind of threat do they face to the United States particularly in harboring other terrorists in Afghanistan?

CLAPPER: Well, that's, of course, the concern. Will they re-permit terrorists, such as Al Qaeda or ISIS to regenerate or expand? I don't think things are quite as rosy for the Taliban as we might think, because they're going to have to run things on a very decentralized basis. And they've got some competitive factions within the Taliban movement.

But you're quite right to cite the fact that the concern here is acting as a harbor, a haven for terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.


It puts a big burden on the intelligence community to watch this from afar and provide adequate warning.

BROWN: All right. James Clapper, thank you for providing your expertise and analysis on this unfolding situation, important situation in Afghanistan.

And we have more breaking news coverage of the chaos in Afghanistan with Republican Congressman Michael Waltz, who served in Afghanistan and is on the Armed Services Committee. He joins me live in just a moment

But meantime, we're getting a clear picture of the earthquake devastation in Haiti, the death toll rising to nearly 1,300. CNN is on the scene tonight.

And then the director of the National Institutes of Health says this. If you're vaccinated -- if you are not vaccinated, I should say, important distinction, you are just a sitting duck for the virus. We'll be right back.



BROWN: Our breaking news tonight, the U.S. deploying another thousand troops to Afghanistan after the Taliban took control at lightning speed. The total number of U.S. troops being sent there now stands at 6,000. Social media documenting the total collapse as the Taliban pushed into Kabul, these images purportedly showing people frantically trying to board evacuation flights.

Meantime, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasting President Biden for blaming his predecessor.


MIKE POMPEO, FORMER 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 ten-year-old son get away from this kind of pathetic blame shifting.


BROWN: But let's also not forget that Pompeo fully supported negotiations with the Taliban for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Congressman Michael Waltz joins me now. He is on the Armed Services Committee. Congressman, you also served in Afghanistan. You have been there multiple times over the last 20 years. What is your reaction to seeing these images showing how quickly the Taliban was able to regain control? REP. MICHAEL WATLZ (R-FL): Well, it's heartbreaking and it's infuriating and it didn't have to be this way. I think this, Pam, is going to go down as the worst foreign policy disaster in modern American history. It's a disaster from a humanitarian standpoint. My heart breaks for the Afghan women, the journalists, the civil society leaders that are being hunted down as we speak. It's a disaster for U.S. credibility.

Can you imagine what Ukraine and Taiwan and others are thinking now? They're terrified watching how this administration abandoned our allies. And then I think it's a disaster from a national interest stand point for counterterrorism. We will see Al Qaeda 3.0. We will see a repeat of what happened in Iraq when we pulled out too soon under the Obama administration and ISIS came roaring back, caliphate the size of Indiana, attacks across the west.

And I think there was just clearly no plan. There was no plan to help our SIV, our interpreters, there was no plan to help those in civil society and there's now no plan for bases in the region to go after Al Qaeda if they come back. We're flying blind in Afghanistan right now as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

You know, we're both hearing from veterans, from gold star families, from 9/11 victims saying, what was it all for? Was our sacrifice in vain? I would tell them loud and clear, it was not. America was kept safe for 20 years, but this is incredibly hard to swallow.

BROWN: And on that note, what you would you say to the White House who would say, well, you don't want to just keep combat troops there on the ground, risking their lives to project meaning on lives that had been lost. You don't want to be in another country's civil conflict in perpetuity, and also this argument that they're just carrying out the deal that the Trump administration bargain with the Taliban, the deal of the Trump administration struck.

WALTZ: Yes. So number -- we'll take that backwards. Number one, President Biden has shown no problem with tearing up Trump administration deals, whether it was Nord Stream, whether it was Keystone, whether it was the Iran policy, Israel and Palestine. So to say that you can't pivot from your predecessor, I think is, frankly, a feckless excuse.

But bigger picture, what we're dealing with here is an ideology. And Americans need to understand, and need to hear from their commander in chief of all administrations that it takes a long time to defeat an idea. It's easy to bomb a tank, harder to defeat an idea. It's taken decades to beat communism, fascism and it's going to take a long time to defeat Islamic extremism.

But Biden's own intelligence community is very clear, Al Qaeda intends to reconstitute. And this problem will follow us home. So the next Pulse Nightclub, the next San Bernardino, the next 9/11 is going to be on this administration's watch. And I have seen no plan from the Pentagon, the State Department or anyone else in their briefings to Congress. You know, when we have to send our soldiers back, sadly, to deal with Al Qaeda 3.0, no bases, no local allies, they've been hunted down and no one that will trust us again. How many soldiers are we going to lose in the future because we put arbitrary timelines on defending America?

BROWN: And as you know, the White House also argues that the Taliban is at a stronger position now because the past administration did deal making with them and gave them legitimacy. The question is, looking forward --

WALTZ: And I'm just clear on the record. That was bad deal. I think that was bad deal. I never trust -- I thought the Taliban were using these talks the entire time to get us out and that's exactly what they've been able to do. But I also put, look, the buck stops at the president. If he thought that was a bad deal -- and he was advised by the Pentagon and by his intelligence community, leave a small presence, we're not talking hundreds of thousand, a small presents to provide that support to the Afghan army and to continue our counterterrorism.


We have to stay on offense. We can't wait until it strikes us back home.

BROWN: Talking about the national security threat, Al Qaeda 3.0 is your concern, and now there are U.S. weapons in Afghanistan that the U.S. had supplied to the Afghan forces that are now at the disposal of the Taliban.

WALTZ: That's right. I mean, there are literally dozens of massive caches of artillery, heavy armor, heavy weapons, ammunition that are now at the disposal of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It's very important to point out that Al Qaeda and the Taliban have not divorced. They will come roaring back. They fully intend to. The intelligence is clear there. But, again, I haven't seen a plan to deal with that. Because when our military goes, our intelligence eyes and the ears go, our contractors go, everyone's gone. And I think that's one of the reasons that we saw a collapse so quickly because we've been blind the last several months on the ground.

BROWN: And I just want to get to is as we wrap this up, your personal experience on the ground, you worked with the Afghans, you had interpreters, you worked very closely with them. There's a lot of talk or the administration conveying that they're surprised that the Afghan forces essentially melted away so quickly in facing the Taliban. What do you say to that?

WALTZ: You know, one of the things you have to understand on the ground is the battlefield psychology. We saw this in Iraq and now we're seeing it in Afghanistan. When the overall narrative from the Taliban is America has abandoned you and you hear it from commander in chief in the White House and they're given a choice to that Afghan army commander. We're going to win eventually. You can either go -- surrender and go home to your family or face beheading and face a gruesome death.

And when -- that's the kind of the narrative on the ground. Or even for those Afghan army commanders that stood strong, they don't go after them, they go after their families, right? Imagine if our soldiers' families were at risk when they're out there fighting? And that's the psychology that the Taliban used so effectively. And just some air support -- just, what the Afghans have to hear on the ground, they don't care about 200 troops, 2,000, 20,000. They need to hear America is with you. And what we saw in 2001 when we invaded is American air support bolsters their spine. This could have been prevented.

One more piece, Pam, the Taliban haven't done this on their own. Pakistan is behind them and Pakistan is complicit. And I'm calling for sanctions and I'm calling for a freezing of aid on Pakistan for this proxy war. We need to take a drastic new strategy.

And I think the decision for the administration going forward is what now. Do they shrug their shoulders and just accept this festering cancer of terrorism, or do we support a resistance, do we take additional measures, do we change strategies?

BROWN: And you're saying that because the Pakistan has been accused of harboring Al Qaeda, the Taliban leading them to this point. And it's interesting, a Pakistani official came out today blaming the U.S. for putting them in the situation with Afghanistan.

There's a lot more to talk about. But Congressman Michael Waltz, I appreciate you coming onto also speak about your personal experience and all the service you have given to this country. Thank you so much.

WALTZ: Yes. Thank you. My heart is breaking.

BROWN: Up next, we're going to hear from a Democratic congressman who also served in Afghanistan as President Biden defends the drawdown, what will his administration do next?

Also breaking news out of Haiti, the death toll is soaring. Nearly 1,300 people have died after Saturday's massive earthquake. Our Matt Rivers is on the scene. And we will be right back with more.



BROWN: Awful news. Just a short time ago from Haiti, the death toll for yesterday's powerful earthquake has jumped again by quite a lot. Disaster officials there now say nearly 1300 people are confirmed dead with thousands more injured or still unaccounted for. More than 8,000 homes are either damaged or completely destroyed.

CNN's Matt Rivers is near the epicenter.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're not far from where the epicenter of this earthquake. And we're here at the rubble of what was a multistory relatively luxury hotel in the Les Cayes region which is where we are right now. You can kind of get a scale for what happened here. If you look to the right, that would presumably be part of the roof, a part of this building that collapsed into the swimming pool. That was there.

If you look further to the left, you can see kind of a teetering set of columns up there that is basically very precariously perched. And then back down here, you can see an excavator that was presumably part of the search and rescue efforts that took place. According to authorities, there is very much likelihood that there remain bodies in this rubble. And yet there's not really a lot of search and rescue efforts here ongoing.

What is ongoing, as you can see people walk behind me here with metal, this is looting. People are coming through this site taking basically whatever they think they can sell. Metal, we saw a dresser be taken out. This goes to the desperation in this area. This is a very poor part of Haiti that has been devastated by previous natural disasters over the last decade. And these are opportunistic people coming here to try and take what they can get from what is no doubt a tragic scene, something that collapsed during this earthquake.


There are people that have been here trying to help, people trying to look for survivors. That is not the majority of what's happening here right now. What you don't see here are Haitian authorities. There are no police presence, there's firefighters, there are no search and rescue crews here. There are just people from the community and this lone excavator that is not currently in operation.

It's very indicative of what we're seeing, as we drive through this area near the epicenter a lack of authoritative stance from the government trying to help people get control of this situation. Unfortunately this is the reality on the ground at this moment.

Matt Rivers, CNN, in Les Cayes, Haiti.


BROWN: And unfortunately it was a reality I saw there on the ground in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

And we have more breaking news on the fallout from the fall of Kabul. We have just learned that the U.S. is curtailing the evacuation of Afghans who worked for the U.S. to prioritize Americans who are trying to get out of the country.

I'll get Fareed Zakaria's take on the day's dramatic events when we come back.



BROWN: We're following breaking news tonight of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Take a look right here. This is the chaotic scene at the Kabul International Airport where U.S. personnel and Afghan civilians are trying to leave the country. And we're now learning from our sources that the Biden administration is reducing the number of flights for Afghan allies to prioritize Americans.

This morning, CNN's Fareed Zakaria spoke with Admiral Mike Mullen, who was the Joint Chiefs chairman from October 2000 to September 2011, making him the top military adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Listen to his take on what went wrong in building an Afghan army.


ADM. MIKE MULLEN (RET), FORMER JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I think all of us, myself included, underestimated the impact of what a corrupt government does. And that was with President Karzai and it is sustained in President Ghani to this day, and the Afghan people who had great -- many of them had great expectations for us in that I think really in the end looked at us and say, how can you continue to support this government which is ripping us off right and left?


BROWN: CNN host Fareed Zakaria is here with me now.

Fareed, we just heard what Admiral Mullen said, that so many officials across multiple administrations underestimated what a corrupt government could do. When you look at history, how is it possible that the U.S. so badly underestimated what could go wrong here?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, this is very familiar historical pattern. Unfortunately, it is eerily reminiscent of Vietnam. In Vietnam, we had an ally, the South Vietnamese government as allies. We gave it enormous amounts of aid, we sent in half a million troops and we convinced ourselves that this was a strong fighting force, a legitimate government. We tried to give it all the assistance it could. And meanwhile all the reports that were coming that it was corrupt, that it didn't have the support of its people, we dismissed.

And ultimately we saw what happened when we left. The South Vietnamese army just couldn't fight. Now this is frankly more staggering. The South Vietnamese army and South Vietnam lasted two years after the Americans left. This is a collapse within a matter of days. This may be the most stunning military collapse in history. I mean, even the fall of France to Hitler's armies took a few weeks, took about five weeks, May to June in 1940.

So I think we're all going to have to take a long hard look and ask, were we deluding ourselves when we talked about an Afghan army of 300,000? Was that a paper army? Were the people actually the commanders just taking the salaries of these people? When we talked about their capability and their effectiveness, were we creating metrics to convince ourself that there was progress when in fact there was really very little progress?

BROWN: And you mentioned Vietnam. But even more recently there was the Iraq example where Iraqi soldiers quickly dropped their weapons and flee and didn't have the will to fight in the face of ISIS. And if you talk to troops on the ground, people who actually served on the ground, I was just talking to one congressman, they say look, given how this has played out, given working with the Afghan forces and how they think, this was clearly inevitable that this happened and that it happened so quickly.

You said this is the worst military collapse in history. So how does the U.S. justify this outcome after 20 years filled with loss of life and spending billions of dollars?

ZAKARIA: I think I hope there will be a long hard look at the lessons we can learn from this. Think about just the intelligence failure. The United States spends $60 billion on intelligence, more than the rest of the world put together. This is not a question of what kind of intelligence do we have about some far-off country where we don't have much of a presence, I don't know, Myanmar or something like that.

This is Afghanistan. We have had a massive troop presence in Afghanistan for 20 years. At its height, the U.S. forces had 130,000 troops, that's not to mention the contractors, CIA people. Every intelligence agency.


We've penetrated the society deeply. And the intelligence agencies got it spectacularly wrong in terms of what would happen if the Americans started to withdraw. The capacity of the Afghan army and the capacity of the Taliban. So all of it I think requires some very hard soul searching. I hope we appoint some kind of a national commission, frankly, to look into this. This is a failure on the scale of Pearl Harbor, 9/11, any of them.

BROWN: And you mentioned 9/11. We're just about to reach the 20th anniversary of 9/11 as the Taliban now takes over Afghanistan.

Fareed Zakaria, thank you very much for coming on, and sharing your perspective.

ZAKARIA: Thank you.

BROWN: And still to come tonight, the COVID crisis and a stark warning from a top health official. He says we soon might see more than 200,000 new infections every day. More on that just ahead.



BROWN: Sitting ducks. And that's how the director at the National Institutes of Health describes unvaccinated Americans as the Delta variant sweeps the country. Dr. Francis Collins also says that he fears the U.S. could soon hit 200,000 new cases every day. And Florida remains the American pandemic epicenter. Health officials there say they've just seen their single worst week for COVID cases ever.

Dr. Saju Mathew joins me now, he is a primary care physician in Atlanta.

Welcome, Doctor. Nice to see you. So the director of the National Institutes of Health says we could surpass 200,000 new COVID cases per day in the next couple of weeks. How distressing is that kind of news?

DR. SAJU MATHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: Yes, that's devastating, Pamela. 200,000 a day. Remember, you give it a few weeks. They'll be hospitalized. A few more weeks and a lot of people will die. These are all preventable deaths. I was talking to an ICU doctor last night, Pamela, who said that generally your risk of dying from COVID is about 1 percent of the general population. Well, guess what happens when you get into the ICU? It goes up to 20 percent and then 50 percent if you're intubated.

And also, let's remember, that a lot of people are not getting tested. Especially people who are vaccinated and if you have a cold, you're thinking, I don't have COVID. So I think that you can multiply that 200,000 potential daily cases by tenfold.

BROWN: Let's talk about that. We actually had some viewer questions and one question just about that. Generally, this viewer asks, what symptoms or actions should make me a fully vaccinated person suspicious enough to get a COVID test?

MATHEW: Right. So early on in the pandemic, we were talking about the shortness of breath, fever and chills. You can still get all of those flu-like illness. I'm seeing a lot in my practice of patients with just a cold. You can have a sniffle, which is scary, and you can still actually have COVID. And remember, because the vaccine works really well, and it decreases the viral count, you may not be short of breath. It could just be a cold. So if you've got a headache and a cold, and you're just feeling off, it's best to get tested.

BROWN: You know, Saju, there has been a lot of focus on the Pfizer, Moderna vaccines but I've been getting a lot of questions on the J&J vaccine. Those who received that have many questions. This viewer is asking, how is J&J it doing against the Delta variant? Will we be eligible for boosters sooner than later if it is losing efficacy more quickly?

MATHEW: Right. You know, the reason that the J&J vaccine is sort of getting if you will a little of that reputation like it's a second- class vaccine is because we're comparing it to Moderna and Pfizer. Remember, with Moderna and Pfizer, you're almost 100 percent prevented from dying and going into the hospital. But if you look at the J&J vaccine, it actually holds up pretty well when it comes to severe disease and hospitalization.

But as just as that viewer expressed concern, Pamela, I think that people who've had the J&J vaccine, which is the one shot, they should be talking to their doctors and get a second shot with an MRNA vaccine. I know that that has not been officially recommended yet but sometimes in medicine you have to go with common sense. If the J&J vaccine is not as effective as Moderna and Pfizer, I think that they are eligible for that second shot with an MRNA vaccine. BROWN: Talking about common sense, you know, I've talked to several

doctors who say, who are questioning why it's taking so long for kids younger than 12 to be approved to get the vaccine. They say you've got to do a cost-benefit analysis here with school starting, what should you do? This parent reached out and said what's the status of the research trials on kids younger than 12? I'm very nervous. My state has prevented schools and municipalities from mandating masks. I'm hoping it is soon.

MATHEW: That's a big concern for lots of parents, I just talked about this morning on CNN. Listen, for kids younger than 12, parents are really anxious. The reason that there's a little bit of a hold up is because young kids, 5 and 6-year-old kids, they are not mini adults. Their immune systems are brand new. They haven't seen a lot of disease and viruses so it's really important for us to find that right dose.

And that's what is taking so long. But I think just like physicians like me and the American Academy of Pediatrics, we're trying to put pressure on the FDA to get these kids the vaccines approved. We have two months of data. I think we should get it out there. This Delta variant is really affecting a lot of children on a daily basis.


BROWN: All right. Dr. Saju Mathew, thank you as always.

And you are in the CNN NEWSROOM. Our breaking news coverage of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan continues. The U.S. is now sending another thousand troops to bolster its forces at Kabul airport as U.S. embassy staff and Afghans scramble to get out.

Well, two lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who served in Afghanistan join me next hour. Stay with us.