October 25, 2021, 16:48

‘This Week’ Transcript 8-29-21: Secretary Antony Blinken, Sen. Ben Sasse & Dr. Anthony Fauci

‘This Week’ Transcript 8-29-21: Secretary Antony Blinken, Sen. Ben Sasse & Dr. Anthony Fauci

MARTHA RADDATZ, CO-HOST, THIS WEEK: Chaos and catastrophe in Afghanistan. With two days until the withdrawal deadline, President Biden warning another attack on the Kabul airport is highly likely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The threat stream is still active, still dynamic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: Following the deadliest strike on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in more than a decade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To those who carried out this attack, we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: We examine this consequential moment. What will become of those left behind? How will this crisis impact America’s standing and security? Those questions and more for Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Senator Ben Sasse from the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the latest from our team in the region. Plus, the powerful witness accounts from one of the veterans helping Afghan families escape.

And with COVID raging across the U.S., Dr. Fauci joins us this morning. New questions about the timeline for boosters, and his reaction to the intelligence report on the virus’s origins.

And tracking Hurricane Ida as the Gulf Coast braces for impact.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s THIS WEEK. Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to THIS WEEK. Two weeks since the fall of Kabul, two days until the deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw. This morning, the U.S. on high alert. President Biden warning Saturday that another attack on the Kabul airport remains highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours. And overnight, the U.S. embassy in Kabul again urging Americans to leave the airport area due to a specific credible threat.

It comes at the end of an already desperate and deadly week in Afghanistan. Thursday’s suicide bomb attack claiming the lives of more than 170 Afghans, one of the deadliest attacks in the history of the war. And the nation now mourning the loss of 13 U.S. service-members. The largest loss of Americans in Afghanistan in more than a decade. Most of them marines in their 20s. Lance Corporal David Espinoza from Texas, who graduated from high school just two years ago. Rylee McCollum, who was just weeks away from welcoming his first child. Nicole Gee, 23 years old, cradling an infant during the evacuation at the airport.

President Biden traveling to Dover Air Force Base this morning, attending the dignified transfer of those service members one final trip home. Late Friday, a U.S. drone strike aimed at ISIS-K terrorists, members of the group claiming credit for the blast. But the threat from the group still active.

So where do we go from here in these next perilous hours? I spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken late yesterday. We’ll bring you that interview in a moment.

But we begin with the latest from Ian Pannell in Qatar.

Ian, you have been following this as it has unfolded, leaving Kabul just a few days ago. Now with this serious warning, looming threat, this certainly complicates the evacuation.

IAN PANNELL, ABC SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think in many ways we’re entering the most difficult, the most dangerous part of this mission — of this mission as that drawdown gets under way. We’re hearing that are some people are still being brought in through two gates, but we’ve heard that the Taliban have taken over the Baron Hotel. That was controlled by allied troops up until very, very recently, and that shows that they are starting to move closer.

The key question, I think, for many people is, can they carry this out rapidly over the next few days without any further incidents, any attack from ISIS, what about that dangerous interface between the Taliban and U.S. troops? And secondly, the lasting question of course, is those we’re going to leave behind who we said we would get out. What is the plan to do there? And we’ve been in touch with someone this morning who we have been tracking over a week-and-a-half now. She has constantly been going to the gate. She has all the right permission. And she’s now just lost all hope. She says, you’ve abandoned us.

RADDATZ: And, Ian, you have been covering this war for almost two decades. When you step back, was any of this outcome avoidable?

PANNELL: I mean, that’s going to be for history to judge, right? But there certainly are criticisms and questions already being thrown about by the military, by diplomats, by people who have lived and worked in Afghanistan. For example, the unconditional withdrawal, could we’ve extracted conditions from the Taliban to have a more managed, orderly departure? President Biden has been very clear that he felt that he had to follow that decision, that deal that was made with the Taliban by President Trump.

Well, if that was the case, then perhaps you could have had many more months to draw down the troops. Was the surge a good idea? Many people say that President Obama signaled to the Taliban his intention to want to withdraw from the country, and everyone always says this, you know, NATO have the watches, the Taliban have the time. We know the history of the country. I think Afghans would say a lot of this could have been done differently.

RADDATZ: And history will indeed judge. Thanks so very much for all your reporting, Ian.

The Biden administration has been racing to evacuate the remaining Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan before Tuesday’s deadline amid those continued warnings at the Kabul airport. I spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday evening about the latest progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: Secretary Blinken, the president is saying that the threat of a further attack of the Kabul airport remains highly likely in the next 24 to 36 hours. What more can you tell us about that, and are you satisfied that our U.S. forces and others are now protected given Thursday’s tragic bombing?

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Martha, let me address that in a second, but if I could, I just want to say one thing at the outset. I think every American is feeling deeply the loss of our men and women in uniform in this terrible terrorist attack at the airport in Kabul. Men and women who were working to bring people to safety, 110,000 people evacuated from Kabul, but I have to tell you at the State Department we feel this loss in a particular way.

I think you know this. So many of those lost were marines. If you go to any of our embassies around the world, the first person you’re going to see is a U.S. Marine standing sentry, guarding the embassy. We couldn’t do our jobs as diplomats in any place around the world without the marines and, of course, we certainly could not have done the job that’s been done in Kabul without these extraordinary men and women, including the 13 who gave their lives a couple of days ago.

So I just wanted to share with you and others how deeply we feel this especially at the State Department.

When it comes to the risk, going forward for the next couple of days, the president’s exactly right. This is very high risk, and as he said, there is a high likelihood of additional attacks between now and the 31st. What I can tell you is this, and we met again this morning with the president and our top commanders both in the field and, of course, the chairman of the joint chiefs and the secretary of the defense, and I know that they are taking every possible precaution to keep our men and women safe, but this is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission these last couple of days, and so we will do everything possible to keep — to keep people safe but the risk is very high.

RADDATZ: And you talk about the risk. There were urgent alerts from the State Department before Thursday’s bombing, telling people to immediately get away from the gates. Yet, as you know, we lost those 13 service members, more than 170 Afghans. I know force protection has since been increased, and that’s a military decision, but as a member of the president’s national security team, do you have any idea why that didn’t happen sooner given the urgent alerts?

And you talk about embassies. Embassies have outer rims and they’re not guarded by the Taliban. That’s what happened there.

BLINKEN: I’m going to let my colleagues at — in the Defense Department, you know, address this. I think you heard General McKenzie speak to this in some detail the other day. The hard reality of this mission is that, at a certain point, direct contact was necessary between our people, our men and women in uniform, and those coming into the airport, and that was part of the — of the mission.

Every effort is being made to make sure they’re as safe as possible, but, of course, whenever you have something as horrific as this, any time we have a loss of life we’re going to go back and look very hard at what was done, and whether anything could have been done better. But the fact of the matter is from the get-go this was an extraordinarily dangerous mission, and in these last few days with ISIS-K clearly and actively plotting against us, the danger went up even higher.

RADDATZ: And the Pentagon launched a drone strike on what was described as an ISIS planner. That was late Friday. Were they involved in some way in Thursday’s bombing, or were they suspected in planning these attacks that could come in the next day or so?

BLINKEN: The ISIS targets that were taken out involved the two individuals who were significant planners and facilitators for ISIS, for ISIS-K, and I think we’ll have more details on exactly what they did, and what they were responsible for in the days ahead.

RADDATZ: And we know this is a dangerous period. The Pentagon does say that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Kabul airport has already begun. We know more than 100,000 people have already been evacuated. It’s an historic number which did take an incredible amount of work.

But can you get all the American citizens who want to leave and our Afghan allies who are at risk out by the Tuesday deadline, especially given this threat?

BLINKEN: We’re doing everything possible to do just that. We have about 300 American citizens left who have indicated to us that they want to leave. We are very actively working to help them get to the airport, get on a plane and get out of Afghanistan.

RADDATZ: The administration keeps saying the commitment to our Afghan allies doesn’t end on the 31st, but your spokesman said the airport will not be open on September 1st and the Taliban obviously can’t secure safety even when U.S. forces are present.

So, how do you realistically think any American citizens or Afghan partners who are left behind will be able to fly out? What would you say to them on how to get out?

BLINKEN: Martha, a few things. First, just about 24 hours ago, a very senior Taliban leader spoke on television and on the radio throughout Afghanistan and repeatedly assured the Afghan people that they would be free to travel after August 31st, and he —

RADDATZ: But, Secretary Blinken, they do not trust them. I mean, I know you say you don’t trust the Taliban, but now you’re telling me we should trust what the Taliban said. Those people hiding —

BLINKEN: No, I’m not saying that, Martha. I’m not saying we should trust the Taliban on anything. I’m simply reporting what one of their senior leaders said to the Afghan people. He specifically cited as well those who worked for Americans and any other Afghan for whatever reason. So that’s point one.

RADDATZ: Okay, but I want to go back to that. You’re trying to reassure our Afghan allies. They’re not reassured. Those interpreters who aren’t getting out, they’re not reassured by a statement like that.

So, what more can you tell them to get out, how to get out?

BLINKEN: Certainly. And, Martha, that was just point one.

Point two is this: 114 countries have made very clear that it is their expectation that the Taliban will permit freedom to travel going past August 31st. So that is a clear expectation across the entire world, across the entire international community.

Third, we have very significant leverage to work with over the weeks and months ahead, to incentivize the Taliban to make good on its commitments.

Fourth, we’ve been very actively planning for what would be necessary to keep the airport functioning, either to have it function immediately after the 31st or if necessary to take the steps to require it to reopen it in a timely fashion, working with countries in the region where we’re very interested in helping, the Taliban have a strong interest in having an airport that functions, the Afghan people have a strong interest in having an airport that functions, the entire international community has that interest.

Finally, while the airport is critical, and we’re determined to see that it remains open, and that reopens quickly, there are other ways to leave Afghanistan, including by road and many countries border Afghanistan.

RADDATZ: That’s a very dangerous trip.

BLINKEN: Again, if the Taliban is serious about the commitments that it’s repeatedly made in public, including nationally, across the country as well as in private, commitments that the international community intends to hold the Taliban to, then we’ll find ways to do it.

And we, for our part, Martha, are making sure we have in place all of the necessary tools and means to facilitate the travel for those who seek to leave Afghanistan after August 31st.

RADDATZ: You will not have an embassy there. What is the likelihood that it will open again given you won’t have U.S. forces there?

BLINKEN: We’re going to have to see exactly what happens in the weeks and months ahead in terms of how the Taliban conducts itself, what the security situation is in the country, but we’re going to be very, very actively engaged diplomatically. Certainly in the region, and we’ll see what the — what the prospects are down the road for Afghanistan itself.

But we’re also working very closely with dozens of countries that are similarly situated that have a strong interest in making sure people can continue to have freedom of travel, to leave Afghanistan if they choose, and working in close collaboration with those countries, we’re going to find ways to ensure that freedom of travel is meaningful.

RADDATZ: Okay. Hope that all happens. Thanks so much for joining us, Mr. Secretary.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Martha. Good to be with you.

RADDATZ: Let’s get a response now from Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Good morning, Senator.

I know you called for President Biden to extend the deadline but you heard Secretary Blinken, they are not moving that deadline, which means there will likely be people left behind. How do you think these Afghans and American citizens will get out?

SENATOR BEN SASSE, (R-NE): Well, first of all, Martha, that interview was disgusting and the American people have a right to be livid about it. There is clearly no plan. There has been no plan. Their plan has basically been happy talk.

People have died and people are going to die because President Biden decided to rely on happy talk instead of reality. And so they decided to outsource security around the perimeter of the airport to the Taliban. They passed a list of American citizens and America’s closet allies, people who fought alongside us, they passed those lists to the Taliban, relying on them, thinking they could trust on them. It was stupid then. It’s insane now. And their plan still seems to be let’s rely on the Taliban because the Taliban cares a lot about what world opinion thinks of them at French restaurants. It was — it was a disgusting revelation of yet again no plan.

RADDATZ: So what do you think we do now? I know we have a lot of unofficial groups.

SASSE: Yes. So, Martha, let’s just — let’s distinguish between a number — among a number of different groups. We have American citizens who are being left behind. We have American green holders who are being left behind. We have Afghan allies who are SIV holders, folks who fought alongside us, drivers, translators, people who actually fought with us. These people are people to whom we made commitments. We have NATO allies who are livid at us.

There are some groups, I’m on the Intelligence Committee, as you know, and there are some small ways to try to do things around the margins. But what we need is a commander in chief that actually has a big plan and a big way to solve this problem. President Biden has been repeatedly disconnected from reality.

He once happy talked for some political talking point he still wants to execute on or a fight he’s been having with Obama administration alums since 2009.

I’m not sure what’s driving the happy talk, but I know what the consequences are going to be. The consequences are going to be a return of the Taliban that has been willing to provide safe haven to terrorists in the past. And right now they don’t even have the power to make a decision about who they are or aren’t going to provide safe haven to.

We’ve got al Qaeda and al Qaeda affiliates. We’ve got the Haqqani network. We’ve got ISIS-K. We’ve got Talibani (ph) folks themselves who are killers. We have so many different groups who want to turn Afghanistan into the global capital city of jihad, and the administration doesn’t have a plan. They’re got all this over-the-horizon talk that is laughably shallow. If you actually sit in Intelligence Committee meetings and you hear what over-the-horizon looks like, it is a pittance compared to what we just had on the ground.

RADDATZ: And, Senator, but given that the Taliban said this date was a red line, given that ISIS is now carrying out these horrendous bombings and threatening more violence, wouldn’t staying have put our forces more at risk?

SASSE: Joe Biden put our forces at risk by having no plan for how to evacuate. We are absolutely at risk. And we are at risk because the president has been so unbelievably weak, abandoning Bagram base will be read about in military textbooks for decades as one of the stupidest military blunders ever. And the president has tried to claim that somehow his military advisers were for this.

That isn’t true. What is true is that the Biden politics at the White House told the military we’re going to get down to only a couple hundred folks and then we’re going to get down to zero quickly, therefore they couldn’t defend Bagram. And so we’ve been relying on the Taliban to provide security around the perimeter of an urban, mostly civilian airport that has a single runway.

We have been in a ridiculously untenable position for the sake of evacuating these folks and keeping our word. Americans keep their word. Thirteen servicemen and -women died this week, and our families across this country are in prayer for those families and for the ultimate sacrifice they have made, but they were doing something to make sure that no one was left behind. The commander-in-chief should be doing the same, which is make sure that no one is left behind.

RADDATZ: Thank you so much for joining us this morning, Senator Sasse.

The “Roundtable” is next. And later, Dr. Fauci on the timeline for those booster shots. Plus, a live report on Hurricane Ida, catastrophic damage expected as it intensifies and barrels toward the Gulf Coast.

We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN, JR.: These American servicemembers who gave their lives — it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate — they were heroes.

We have some sense, like many of you do, what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today. You get this feeling like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest; there’s no way out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: President Biden’s emotional tribute to the fallen servicemembers in Afghanistan.

Let’s bring in the roundtable, Vivian Salama, Wall Street Journal national security reporter; our chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl; Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, author of “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana”; and Jane Ferguson, PBS Newshour correspondent and contributor to The New Yorker, just back from Kabul, Jane is.

Jon, I want to talk to you first here. Listening to President Biden and his top national security advisers before the horrible bombing, they were making this sound like a smashing success. But you heard what Secretary Blinken just said.

KARL: Yeah. I mean, it is — they have been describing something that isn’t reality. This has been an incredible air lift, more than 100,000 people evacuated, but what a disaster.

Clearly Thursday was the worst day of the Biden presidency. And we don’t really know, Martha, how bad it really is. We know the disaster that has unfolded. Now the big question is, does Afghanistan once again become a safe haven for terrorist attacks on U.S. interests around the world or at home?

So we really…

RADDATZ: Which is, of course, why they said they were getting out, that that was solved.

KARL: Yeah. And — and, you know, maybe part of the reason why Afghanistan had not been such is there was a military presence in Afghanistan. But now we will have this over-the-horizon capability. But the bottom line is the terror threat has increased and our ability to combat it has decreased.

RADDATZ: And Jane, I was saying you are literally just back in the United States after your courageous and incredible reporting from Kabul for PBS. I watched you every step of the way, and you were with those Marines right at Abbey Gate a few days before the bomb blasts. What did you see, I know you have pictures and images that you have shown on PBS about how close those Marines were together.

JANE FERGUSON, PBS NEWSHOUR CORRESPONDENT: They were very close, not just to one another essentially, but to the crowds. I mean, essentially there has been much discussion about how the Taliban had been providing security. What the Taliban had been trying to provide was some sort of crowd control. There wasn’t really a semblance of security. People weren’t really being checked.

And you had, you know, this gate area was essentially into an open road. These are roads around the airport. So you had U.S. Marines, you had other American soldiers, you had British soldiers, soldiers from many different NATO and allied countries standing around next to the Taliban in many cases, next to thousands and thousands of people. And these people had the ability to walk right up to these soldiers. They were doing that. They were begging them for help and appealing.

RADDATZ: They were just showing documents, they weren’t…

FERGUSON: Any pieces of paper that they had, sometimes ID cards that they had once, you know, worked at a base. They were just desperately trying to prove that they had a right to get into the airport and onto planes. And so because there was that confusion as to what would give people the right to get on the planes, what would qualify them for an SIV, a Special Immigrant Visa, or some sort of way to prove that they had helped with the U.S. war effort, people were showing up with any kinds of pieces of paperwork, little plastic folders filled with IDs, sometimes even just photographs of them with American soldiers, and approaching the soldiers and begging them for help.

And, of course, then we also saw panicked crowds. So the soldiers, when we talk about security, at the time, much of the discussion of security was how to keep the soldiers, but also the people safe from the panicked crowds, from stampedes, from the heat. There were people lost to the stampedes and killed right there right there in the street.

So to say it was chaotic is an understatement. To say that there was a semblance of security checks is a misunderstanding of what was actually happening.

RADDATZ: You heard Tony Blinken say, oh, look, it’s just like an embassy. Not like an embassy.

FERGUSON: Not like an embassy. It’s like a stampede of people trying to be controlled by various armed groups.

RADDATZ: And, Vivian, President Biden promised retribution. He said the strike on ISIS-K would not be the last. And, of course, they’re looking at everything there now. Former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he thinks the U.S. will have to go back into Afghanistan. To Jon’s point that over-the-horizon is not the same as being on the ground.

VIVIAN SALAMA, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: No, it’s not. And one of the things that we’ve seen sort of in conjunction with the deterioration of security in the last two months is the fact that we have had less and less intel collection on the ground, you know, troops not being able to secure the premises there. ISIS being able to sort of embed itself in mountains, in homes to be able to operate in the way they were.

Remember, 20 years ago when the attacks of 9/11 happened, technology was far more less sophisticated than it is now. Now you have the technology on top of the fact that there is no U.S. presence, limited intel collection. It really raises concerns about what is happening on the ground and the potential for another terrorist strike down the line, which is why so many people were so against us withdrawing in this way in the first place. Secondly…

RADDATZ: If you look back on Iraq, after we withdrew from Iraq, we didn’t really know the magnitude of ISIS taking over that country.

SALAMA: I was the AP bureau chief when we went back into Iraq in 2014, and at that point we were so blindsided as to how ISIS was able to sort of take over a third of Iraq and Syria because of the fact that our presence was so limited there, and we were ultimately forced to go back in despite reluctance.

And something that Secretary of State Blinken said to you today is so important that we’re going to now going to have our diplomatic presence limited there as well. Remember, for the last two months, just to show you the arc of what has happened, we have been saying that we’re committed to the country, we’re going to maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. And now we’re saying that that — we don’t know what that looks like after September 1st.

All those things combined are very, very dangerous when it comes to any kind of security measures we could be taking in the future.

RADDATZ: And unlikely we will have an embassy there for a long time because we don’t have U.S. forces on the ground.

And, Gayle, you have spent so much time in Afghanistan. And I know you have been busy trying to get people out who have helped us over the years. Tony Blinken talked about the significant leverage we have with the Taliban. How much leverage do we really have?

GAYLE TZEMACH, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: So I’ve never been one who believed that we didn’t have leverage, right? And I had the privilege of spending a lot of time in Afghanistan (INAUDIBLE) Kabul University when I was doing research for my first book. And you can go back and look at the first documents from the Taliban takeover in 1996. The first thing they wanted, which always surprised me, was the U.N. seat in New York, right? They want legitimacy. They want to be taken seriously. And they want funding.

Let’s be real about the money, right? The World Bank has $5 billion it has put on hold. The IMF is no longer giving Afghanistan access to its facility. In the U.S., which has frozen its assets, is about $9 billion of Central Bank of Afghanistan assets. If it’s going to have, in a country that is facing a pandemic, a crashed government, war, and young population, two-thirds under 25, which has no prospect for jobs and is willing to do anything possible to flee to safety, if it wants to govern this country, and that is a big if, I’m not at all a believer in Taliban 2.0, but I am saying use the leverage.

Say, OK, we are the international community. We demand a few things.

You want access to this cash, here’s what it’s going to be. It’s the grounds of the deal. One, we get mobility of people. So we create a humanitarian corridor which the world steps up, this is an international community was in Afghanistan for two decades. International community steps up and says, for access to all this stuff that you want, here’s what it requires.

One is mobility of people. Two is not allowing half the population to go invisible and brutalized, and third is that you, you know, keep your commitments on the terrorism front.

And I think that, you know, I’m not saying that deal will happen, but I’m saying the outlines of a deal could be pushed forward if people get serious about it because, Martha, you have a — you have a whole group of young women, an entire generation of young women that’s in hiding right now. I know of multiple young people who were part of this country’s future who have no idea whether they can, you know, show themselves in public at this point, and they’re trying to figure out what comes next.

There must be a corridor to let those get to safety and allow the Taliban to say, you know what? We aren’t the same. We’ve taken so much heat from ISIS, ISIS is saying that. And so, let’s see.

RADDATZ: But that’s the future, and that’s hope.

But, Jane, I just want quickly, how will that overland route that Tony Blinken talks about work in the coming days? These people — I’ve had marines say to me, they’ve got two days to live.

Basically, they have two days to live, these people who are trying to get out, and then the Taliban comes in. A real threat.

FERGUSON: A real threat. And the Taliban we know have been going door to door in various cities around the country. And a lot of these people who are hiding aren’t just in Kabul. No one expected Kabul to fall so quickly. So, people didn’t have an escape route set up quite so fast.

I mean, you have different tiers of people, though, in terms of threat, in terms of the retribution and potential killings. You know, the scenes of chaos we saw at the airport are significant to everybody who’s trying to get out because many of those people who are most at risk and people would have been in commandos, people who have been in intelligence services, who and worked with the Americans weren’t able to get to the front because they were stuck behind crowds of people who were also trying to get to the front.

So, there wasn’t a prioritizing of people according to risk, and that is going to be something that is going to play out over the next few days.

Getting out overland is going to be just as chaotic. You think the scenes at the airport are bad, wait until we see the border crossings with Pakistan in the coming days as people trying to get across that way and you got the ability for them to hire smugglers, to try to get them over the border illegally. It’s going to become increasingly difficult.

It’s also going to test how much the Taliban can control those routes, how much the Taliban can control territory. You know, they’re massively under pressure now. Can they secure the capability? They’re already getting pushback from members of the public who are saying, you know, your brand — it’s supposed to be law and order. Where is it?

RADDATZ: And, Jon, I want to go to you. What do you see as the future is there? If you rewind, when the Biden administration said it was the risk of civil war.

KARL: I mean, President Biden has portrayed this as he had two choices, basically go back in, be in the middle of a revive civil war, send in more troops, or leave as quickly as possible.

Those were I think not to two choices.

And the bottom line is the intelligence that he was receiving and the advice from his military was not on the dangers of staying a little while longer. It was on the dangers of leaving too quickly.

And I think one of the decisions that will be looked at intensely going ahead was the decision to abandon the Bagram Air Force base, which happened at the beginning of July. And not just because it de deprived us of a secure airfield and the message is sent out to the Afghan security forces about the military support being gone, it’s also because there were two prisons that were at the Bagram Airfield that were both —

RADDATZ: Filled with ISIS.

KARL: Filled with ISIS, with Taliban. The first released from those prisons, by the way, happened under President Trump as part of agreement that Secretary Pompeo negotiated with the Taliban. Those releases happened in October which certainly added to the Taliban’s ranks.

And then when the prisons were completely emptied just in the past two weeks, that clearly added to the ranks of ISIS-K and other terrorist groups. And one of the haunting questions that I have, is this attack on Thursday, was anybody who was released from those prisons involved in that attack?

RADDATZ: And you have to wonder, people who say, oh, the Taliban is not affiliated with ISIS, even though they just left them (ph).

Jon, I want you quickly to talk about this poll, the political fallout for President Biden. Our new poll with Ipsos shows just 38 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan. Eighty-four percent say U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan until all Americans are evacuated. That’s not going to happen.

KARL: And here’s the interesting thing about that poll question, the second one you mentioned, 84 percent. It’s consistent. It’s one of the only things I have seen for years. A question where Democrats, Republicans and independents all over 80 percent say exactly the same thing, that we should stay until all Americans are to be evacuated. As you pointed out, not going to happen.

RADDATZ: A really tough thing for President Biden to face.

The president says, as Gayle pointed out, he will help women and girl, but, really, what do you see as their future there?

SALAMA: It’s concerning. A lot of people are concerned. The Taliban is now talking the talk. And you see that in situations like this. We saw with ISIS as well, where they go into cities, they sort of try to win over public opinion. They – they assure people that they’re not going to adhere to sort of strict interpretations of Islam and things like that. But as time goes on, we will likely see them going back to the old ways. Maybe not exactly as they were pre-2001, but sort of extreme interpretation.

And there is a very legitimate concern for women and girls right now because the Taliban has never really been a champion of women and girls’ rights. And so, obviously, the U.S., its allies trying to find ways to help. But, again, how do you do that when you don’t have a diplomatic presence there, how do you do that when NGOs can’t operate safely in the country? The U.N. doesn’t even know its future in the country right now and they’re in a lot of trouble. And so a lot of concerns.

RADDATZ: And, Gayle, I want you to have the last word here, but we’ve got about 15 second. Afghanistan’s future realistically?

TZEMACH: Crushing heartbreak amid possible hope.

RADDATZ: OK. That sums it up.

Thank you all. What an incredible panel, incredible experiences you’ve all had. Thanks so much.

Coming up, Dr. Anthony Fauci with new information about boosters and his reaction to that inconclusive intelligence report on the origins of COVID.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RADDATZ: Dr. Fauci is standing by ready to go. We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

940XXX be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: We’re going to continue to talk about the issue of booster shots. This booster program is going to start here on September the 20th, pending approval of the FDA and the CDC committee. The question raised is should it be shorter than eight months? Should it be as low as five months? That’s being discussed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RADDATZ: President Biden floating quicker access to booster shots as the Delta variant surge continues across the nation. Almost every county now reporting high community transmission.

For more, let’s bring in the president’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Good morning to you, Dr. Fauci.

The latest data is really startling, the daily new case average up 153 percent in the last month. COVID hospitalizations surpassed 100,000 for the first time since January, and daily COVID-related deaths steadily increasing, besides increasing — increasing vaccinations.

So what needs to happen, at a time when COVID fatigue seems off the — off the charts?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, PRESIDENT BIDEN’S CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR: Well, we can’t let COVID fatigue overcome us, Martha. We still are in a situation where there’s a lot that we can do about it. We have now about 80 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet gotten vaccinated. We need to get those people vaccination. We have a highly effective and safe tool to really get down those numbers that you just accurately portrayed.

Those are numbers that are really quite startling. We are still in an upsurge. The numbers that you gave are very, very alarming. But we can do something about it.

If it was a situation in which we had no recourse or no tools, you could see how frustrating it would be. But it’s even more frustrating when you have this situation where we do have a vaccine that’s highly effective, highly safe, accessible, free, and it works. We’ve really got to get those people who are not vaccinated in that group vaccinated.

RADDATZ: I really want to concentrate on school kids with you this morning. As we transition into the fall, of course, we have all these kids going to school. And pediatric hospital admissions are at the highest point of the pandemic. Does the Delta variant just hit them harder than we expected? What’s happening?

FAUCI: Well, what we’re seeing is that this — this variant, Martha, is — is highly transmissible. The ability to transmit from person to person is much, much greater and more efficient than the prior variants, the Alpha variant that we had.

That’s affecting both adults and children. So you’re going to see more children infected. And quantitatively, since more children are infected, you’re going to see more children getting hospitalized, unfortunately and that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing that we’ve got to cut down the community spread. You can protect children who can’t get vaccinated because of their age, yet, we can protect them by surrounding them with a community of people who are vaccinated. That’s how you protect children. And you also do it by complying with the CDC guidelines about masking, particularly masking in school, even though you have vaccinated teachers and vaccinated personnel, you want to give that extra added level of protection for the children. That’s the way we can protect them.

RADDATZ: And what’s the latest timetable for getting vaccine shots for children under 12?

FAUCI: Well, right now the data has been collected and we should have enough data by I would say the end of September, middle to end of September, early October so that those data can then be presented to the FDA to examine for the risk/benefit ratio of safety and effectiveness, so at least their going to be able to look at the data as we get into the middle and end of September. Hopefully, we’ll be acting quickly, depending on the data and their assessment of the risk/benefit ratio.

RADDATZ: And Dr. Fauci, President Biden, you heard him say there that they’re looking at whether booster shots should be given sooner than eight months, perhaps as early as five months. What’s your recommendation?

FAUCI: Well, we’re still sticking with the eight months, Martha. However, as we’ve said even in the original statement that came out, we’re going to have to go through the standard way of the FDA looking at the data, and then the advisory committee and immunization practices. So although we’re sticking with eight, we’re remaining flexible that if the data tells us differently, we’ll make adjustments accordingly, but for now, we’re sticking with the eight.

RADDATZ: And finally, Dr. Fauci, the Intelligence Community delivered that review on the origins of coronavirus. It was inconclusive. Will we ever know?

FAUCI: You know, I hope so, Martha, because it will help us to avoid this in the future, but we will need the cooperation of Chinese scientists and Chinese public health officials if we’re going to do the proper surveillance serologically of people who were infected in China, as well as the animals, being able to access whether or not animals have viruses that are closely related to SARS-CoV-2. We need to do that in China with the cooperation of the Chinese.

RADDATZ: Well, we’ll hope we get that done. Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Dr. Fauci.

Up next, we’re live from the storm zone as Hurricane Ida prepares to make landfall on the Gulf Coast.

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RADDATZ: Amid so much hardship this week, the Gulf Coast is also bracing for a massive category 4 storm. Hurricane Ida expected to make landfall in Louisiana in just a few hours, 16 years to the day after Katrina devastated the region.

Our chief meteorologist Ginger Zee is on the ground in New Orleans tracking the very latest.

Good morning, Ginger.

GINGER ZEE, ABC NEWS CHIEF METEOROLOGIST: Good morning.

We, you know, Martha, the impacts have started, and so just south of us, the core of the storm is just a couple of hours from coming on shore. This storm, Ida, that could end up being the strongest by wind speed in Louisiana state history.

So, you saw the satellite image and radar, extreme wind warning. That’s when you think 115 to 150-mile-per-hour winds. They told people in Plaquemines Parish, St. Bernard Parish, anyone highlighted there in that fuchsia, that you have to treat it like a tornado. Get inside now because it is coming.

Tornado watches extending into the Florida panhandle. Let me take you through because the track is critically important here because yes, it will decrease in wind speed as it gets closer to new Orleans, it will pass just west of us, but the closer we are to that eyewall, the bigger the wind speeds we’ll see.

That stays a hurricane all the way up to the state line of Mississippi, so Baton Rouge watch out. Storm surge first, life, and property loss. Second going to be a heavy rain and flash flooding tornadoes. So much to look at here, but we’ll be tracking it.

RADDATZ: I know you’ll be tracking it all day. Ginger, stay safe.

Coming up, we’ll talk with the army veteran helping evacuate Afghan allies who left Kabul just minutes before Thursday’s attack. His emotional journey, next.

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RADDATZ: Before we go, so many have worked tirelessly through the last two weeks to safely evacuate those who aided the war effort in Afghanistan. That includes Jariko Denman, a former Army Ranger who served 15 combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was in Kabul working with other veterans to get Afghan allies and their families out of the country, leaving just 30 minutes before Thursday’s deadly attack.

And, Jariko, it is good to see you safely back here.

You immediately went to Kabul to try to help with this network of veterans and others. How does it even work?

JARIKO DENMAN, FORMER ARMY RANGER: It worked — it was much like when we would do operations in a new country or a new war as a special operations soldier, we kind of figured it out on the fly. We’d kind of stayed in state, which for us this time was get as many of our partners out as we could, and then operate within the left and right limit of, hey, you can do this, and you can’t do that.

RADDATZ: Because these are unofficial channels, but you were inside the airport.

DENMAN: Absolutely. I mean, when I — when I flew in on the Ark Salus flight that I flew in on, I was surprised we got in because it was just — no one had ever done it before. It was the first charter flight that we made and I didn’t know if it would work. And then when it did, I didn’t know if someone would be at the plane to tell me not to get off. I got off. I didn’t know where I would stay and just started to figure it out. And that’s what everyone back home was doing was figuring it out, figuring out how to communicate with each other, figuring out the most efficient ways of getting to these gates and — and pulling our friends out.

RADDATZ: And what was that like for you, Jariko? I know you were getting hundreds of messages from people you know, from other veterans who were trying to get their interpreters out.

DENMAN: Right. I think for me it had to become kind of a mindset shift because I had been out for a while. I had to put myself back in the mindset of more like a combat leader, and it became triage at that point. And while it was really gutting to have one of your friends tell you the whole back story of somebody who couldn’t get out or needed help getting out, but if you had a stack of 45 people you needed to get out, you know, that day sometimes you just had to tell them, hey, tell your person to sit tight or tell your person to take their chances without me because there just aren’t – there isn’t the time and there aren’t the logistics to get all these people.

RADDATZ: And I know on Thursday you sent me video from the night before the bombing that was terrifying. People surging towards that gate. Flash bang grenades going off. Explain what you saw.

DENMAN: I saw just complete carnage. It reminded me of, you know, when you watch a movie about World War ii in the siege at Linengrad (ph) or something like that, or, you know, looking back at Hurricane Katrina when people are just so desperate to get care. And then you add into the mix the Taliban and ISIS and IED threats and those people are tracking that too. So they’re just doing anything they can to get to the front.

In the video it sound — you know, it sounds like you’re going to the Super Bowl, but it’s actually people not screaming to cheer, they’re yelling for their lives to get attention of somebody to let them in.

RADDATZ: And, Jariko, just on closing, I know you worked with some of those Marines and Navy Corpsman we lost. This is a tough one for you. You’ve been in combat. You’ve lost a lot of friends. This is a tough one.

DENMAN: Yes. Again, it was different going in with this lens. Those Marines and Airmen and Soldiers on that line and at those gates were just — they were kids, and I was out there and tried to cheer them up. And, you know, they helped me so much getting — getting my people that I was trying to pull out and getting the people that other people asked me to pull out. And, yes, no complaining. Just no, you know, screw these people. None of that. It was all, we need to get as many out. Just one more. Just one more. And they’re absolute heroes.

RADDATZ: And so are you for doing what you did over there.

Thanks so much, Jariko.

That’s all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us on this solemn weekend.

Please take a moment to remember the brave service members we lost this week and those still serving to save lives.

And if you’re in the path of the hurricane, stay safe.

Have a good day.

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