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tv   NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt  NBC  August 26, 2021 6:30pm-7:00pm PDT

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isis now claiming responsibility the nightmare scenario amid the chaotic rush to withdraw by august 31st the top u.s. general there saying he expects the attacks to continue, calling the threat from isis extremely real, but vowing the evacuation will go on the president tonight speaking out >> we will hunt you down and make you pay. our exclusive interview with the capitol police officer who shot and killed rioter ashli babbitt on january 6th the officer telling us why he's choosing to come forward now and reveal his identity. his harrowing account. why he opened fire, and the threats he now faces. >> given the nature of the threats that you describe, do you have any concern about showing your face and identifying yourself >> of course i do. the disturbing covid milestone. 100,000 americans hospitalized we're in florida, one of the states now an epicenter. dangerous heat still gripping much of the country and the new tropical threat taking aim
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al roker is here and inspiring lessons from a young man now fulfilling his olympic dreams >> announcer: this is "nbc nightly news" with lester holt good evening, everyone a war that over 20 years has cost our country so much grief is still taking american lives practically to the bitter end at least a dozen u.s. troops were killed after two explosions rocked the area around the kabul airport. just five days before u.s. forces are scheduled to depart for good a suicide bomber detonating at what's known as the abbey gate to the airport where crowds gathered. a second bomb struck outside a hotel adjacent to the airfield in addition to the dead, at least 15 american service members were hurt. there were heavy civilian casualties as well president biden speaking from the white house shortly before we came on air tonight saying to the terrorists behind the attack, we will make you pay, and telling american commanders they will finish the mission. richard engel begins our reporting.
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>> reporter: it was every soldier and marine in kabul's worst fear, an attack where they're most exposed. as troops were padding down an evacuee at a kabul airport gate searching for a bomb, he or she -- that's still unclear -- detonated one, killing at least 13 u.s. service members, injuring more than a dozen. >> this is close up war. the breath of the person you're searching is upon you. while we have overwatch in place, we still have to touch the clothes of the person coming in ultimately americans have to be in danger to do these searches there's no other way to do it >> reporter: dozens of afghans killed another bomb exploded a few hundred yards from the first as isis fighters sprayed gunfire, afghans tumbled, dead and injured, into a sewage ditch. we drove through this exact spot a few days ago, a corridor flanked by concrete blast walls that leads right to an airport gate the u.s. is relying on the taliban to prescreen the crowds pushing to get into
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the airport, hoping for a flight out of afghanistan. patting them down before they're checked again by u.s. troops today, this staggeringly new and bizarre security cooperation broke down >> clearly if they're able to get to the marines that did the screening at the entry point of the base, there was a failur somewhere. a failure by the taliban operating with various degrees of competence some of them are scrupulously good. some are not >> reporter: a few weeks ago, the u.s. was bombing the taliban. when u.s. troops pulled out triggering the collapse of the afghan army, there's no one left but the taliban to protect american forces as they leave isis-k claimed responsibility many of their fighters and other extremists, including al qaeda members, were in afghan jails but when u.s.-backed afghan forces melted away, the prisoners escaped, and for the past few weeks have been on the loose. they have one clear target, the kabul
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airport where nearly all the americans in afghanistan are gathered and are still gathering until they leave. >> after today's attacks and with the u.s. still expected to be out of the country in five days, can the taliban secure and maintain control of kabul? >> reporter: i think they can they have a lot of weapons. they're organized. they have plenty of fighters a senior taliban commander told me it is the american presence, the u.s. presence at the airport is like a magnet, drawing in crowds, drawing in extremists they think once the americans leave, the taliban will be able to reimpose order. >> richard engel tonight, thank you. late today, president biden vowed to complete the withdrawal mission and to strike back at isis peter alexander is at the white house. >> reporter: tonight, just five days before president biden's deadline to end america's longest war, the commander in chief addressing what is now one of the deadliest days for u.s. troops in the entire 20-year conflict. >> these american service members who
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gave their lives -- it's an overused word, but it's totally appropriate here -- were heroes. heroes who had been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others. >> reporter: the president tonight blaming the carnage on the terror group isis-k that he warned about for days. >> we have been made aware by our intelligence community that the isis-k, an archenemy to the taliban, has been planning a complex set of attacks on united states personnel and others. >> reporter: and saying this about whether he will stick with his august 31st timeline to get all american forces out. >> we will not be deterred by terrorists we will not let them stop our mission we will continue the evacuation >> reporter: it is a nightmare scenario for the president whose handling of the u.s. exit faced withering criticism. tonight, there are bipartisan demands for change, including the u.s.' reliance on the
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taliban for security at the airport top democrat senator bob menendez said we can't trust the taliban with american security and republicans are blasting the president for sticking with the strategy they say has failed >> i think pretending like this could be a success, like this plan could be salvaged, but that's impossible at this point. >> reporter: tonight, the president making this vow >> to those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone that wishes america harm, know this, we will not forgive. we will not forget we will hunt you down and make you pay >> so peter, was the president hinting at or explicitly saying there would be a retaliatory strike against isis? >> reporter: lester, president biden said u.s. intelligence may have already identified those who organized today's attack and he has asked the pentagon for strike options he warns isis-k could
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try to disrupt the evacuations again. >> peter alexander at the white house, thank you. just hours before today's explosions, there were warnings about security threats at the kabul airport, and that threat continues tonight. courtney kube is at the pentagon what are you hearing from there >> reporter: lester, there were more u.s. troops killed in afghanistan today than all of last year combined, with specific intelligence that isis-k was planning to strike, inside the pentagon, u.s. military leaders were bracing for this very attack. and they expect more attacks to come. despite that, the top commander in the region says he doesn't need more troops and the military will keep screening civilians at the airport. the mission to evacuate people continues. the u.s. military on track to leave by august 31st. lester >> courtney, thank you for the update. an important distinction worth emphasizing in all of this the taliban and isis are separate rival movements. the president calling them archenemies andrea mitchell has more on the isis threat
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>> reporter: u.s. officials have been warning for days about the threat from isis-k, culminating in a red alert last night for americans to stay away from the airport gates. a warning that proved all too true today what is isis-k an offshoot in afghanistan of the islamic state that originated in iraq. created six years ago in pakistan, an avowed enemy of the u.s. and rival to the taliban. >> isis is extremely real we've been talking about this for several days we saw it manifest itself in the last few hours. >> reporter: thousands of hardcore islamic state commanders were released from jails across afghanistan by the taliban in recent weeks, since the taliban takeover easily melding into the teaming masses in kabul. only yesterday, the secretary of state warned it was a high risk threat. >> we're operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the taliban with the very real possibility of an isis-k attack. >> reporter: isis-k isn't the only terror threat
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the taliban named the leader of its most radical branch, the haqqani network, to be in charge of security in kabul kalil haqqani, a $5 million u.s. bounty on his head, brazenly the haqqanis have strong ties to al qaeda, also in the mix. what's clear is the taliban either couldn't defend against today's bombings or won't. now the question is, how will the president deliver the forceful response he promised after the u.s. withdraws, lester? >> thank you in 60 seconds, my exclusive interview with the capitol police officer who shot and killed rioter ashli babbitt on january 6th. why he is choosing to reveal his identity, next
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the identity of the u.s. capitol police officer who shot and killed ashli babbitt while defending the capitol on january 6th has been withheld by authorities. but those angered by his actions have been guessing at his identity online and on
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social media, and he has faced a barrage of threats since the incident tonight in an nbc news exclusive, he steps out of the shadows. your name has been batted about on the internet, but you have never been officially publically identified. do you want to tell us who you are? >> my name is michael byrd. i'm a lieutenant for the united states capitol police. >> for months he has lived in hiding, he says, over this moment his decision to use deadly force against a rioter as she climbed through a barricaded door that leads to the house chamber. in the months since, he has been the target of threats. >> could you give us the nature of some of those threats? >> they talked about killing me, cutting off my head, you know, very vicious and cruel things. >> racist things >> there were some racist attacks as well that's all disheartening because i know i was doing my job.
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>> given the nature of the threats you describe, do you have any concern about showing your face and identifying yourself >> of course, i do that is a very vital point, and it is something that is frightening. i believe i showed the utmost courage on january 6th, and it is time for me to do that now. >> responsible that day for securing the house chambers, byrd couldn't see what americans were witnessing on their tvs, but he could hear it in the pleas from other officers >> were you afraid that day >> very afraid. >> what were you hearing on the radio >> i'm hearing about the breaches of different barricaded areas, officers being overrun, officers being down >> did you ever hear a call or report of shots fired during any of this? >> as a matter of fact, i did. there was reports of shots fired through the house main door onto the floor of the chamber. >> later, those reports would prove to
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be false this video captures byrd instructing members of congress to don gas masks. >> we've had a disbursement of tear gas in the rotunda please be advised there are masks under your seats >> he says officers barricaded the door, what he considered the last line of defense >> i had been yelling and screaming as loud as i was, please stop, get back get back stop we had weapons drawn >> byrd, only his hand and gun visible, targeted a figure trying to climb through a window he fired a single fatal shot, hitting ashli babbitt. she was 35 years old, an air force veteran, trump supporter, and qanon follower we see your arm out there for a consider aabmount of time were you wavering? >> i was taking a tactical stance. you ultimately are hoping that your commands will be
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complied with, and unfortunately, they were not >> when you fired, what could you see? where were you aiming? >> you're told to aim for center mass. the subject was sideways, and i could not see her full motion of her hands or anything so i guess her movement, you know, caused the discharge to fall where it did >> and what did you think this individual was doing at that point? >> she was posing a threat to the united states house of representatives. >> but an attorney for ashli babbitt's family disputes that. he did not respond to our request for a comment, but in a previous statement said babbitt was not brandishing a weapon, not in close proximity to members of congress, and was not an imminent threat of death or serious injury to anyone her family points out she was not armed. >> that's correct. >> the fact you weren't aware whether
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she was armed or not, did that alter the decision-making? >> it did not. >> what should we make of the fact that there were other officers in other potentially life-threatening situations who didn't use their service weapons that day >> i'm sure it was a terrifying situation i can only control my reaction, my training, my level of expertise. that would be upon them to speak for themselves >> former president trump has talked about you and this incident. he says she was murdered what does it feel like to hear that from a former president >> well, it is disheartening. if he was in the room or anywhere and i am responsible for him, i was prepared to do the same thing for him and his family. >> would you have his back today if you were so assigned? >> i sure would because it's my job. >> as i said, your name has been on the internet for some time
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in an unofficial way, a lot of rumors, lot of accusations, one of which is that you had some sort of political motive you were a political operative. >> i do my job for republican, for democrat, for white, for black, red, blue, green. >> a few years ago you were investigated for leaving your service weapon in a bathroom. >> yes. >> and that's been brought up by those that were questioning your competency. do you want to respond to that? >> sure. it was a terrible mistake. i acknowledged it. i owned up to it i accepted the responsibility i was penalized for it and i moved on >> multiple investigations have now upheld byrd's actions on january 6th. capitol police in a press release after exonerating you said your actions potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death
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what was it like to hear those words, to see those words? >> those words meant a lot because that's exactly what i did on that day that was my mission. that was what i prepared for and it's rewarding and refreshing to hear that >> lieutenant byrd says he still loves his job and looks forward to returning to it. we're back with florida icus at a breaking point
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hospitalizations for covid have topped 100,000 for the first time since january 17,000 patients are hospitalized in florida alone, and resources there are at a breaking point kerry sanders has more >> reporter: in florida, the new hotbed of the pandemic, ambulance services overwhelmed by emergency calls. >> we have multiple covid patients that want transportation. >> reporter: nationwide, more than 100,000 in icus, most acute in florida where the hospitalization rate tripled in just the last month at tampa general, the covid ward today at 90% capacity three times what they had at the highest point last year. >> it is really just like nothing i've ever seen. >> reporter: florida hospitals now
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reporting 90% of those admitted were unvaccinated >> feels like it is almost worse than it was when it started last year. the patients we are getting are younger, and they're turning sicker much faster >> reporter: florida's governor today encouraging vaccines but actively pushing back against mask mandates >> you just have to understand, it will be part of life and there's ways to protect yourself on the front end. there's also ways to treat yourself on the back end >> reporter: emergency rooms like baptist hospital in miami-dade were reluctant to put up tents like these because we're in hurricane season but tonight, exhausted doctors say they had no choice. lester >> kerry sanders, thank you. it is dangerously hot across much of the country with nearly 1 in 4 americans under a heat advisory tonight. and there's more dangerous weather on the way. al roker joins us. what can we expect
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>> right now we have 77 million people coast to coast with heat advisories, heat warnings heat indexes about 110 moving into tomorrow right now, we have tropical storm ida, 40-mile-per-hour winds, moving northwest at 14. a category 1 storm by saturday afternoon we expect landfall sometime sunday afternoon. but with water temperatures in the gulf in the upper 80s, rapid intensification is a big possibility this could make landfall sunday as a category 3 storm if it does, that's 16 years to the day hurricane katrina hit. >> i know you'll keep an eye on it thanks. when we come back, inspiring america. a paralympian shows us what champions are made of.
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up next, could your vaccination statdous a status
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affect your health care from insurance premiums to hospital visits. we also talk to a bay area woman wanting to find out, waitic to hear if her family can leave afghanistan. that's next. inspiring america tonight, a paralympian who has banned one four-letter word from his vocabulary, can't. here is stephanie gosk. >> reporter: paralympian trevon jenifer is shooting for one thing in tokyo. >> to bring home the gold i think that's the number one goal. >> reporter: born without legs from a congenital condition, jenifer does not shy away from challenges he goes after them comcast, nbc universal's parent company, is one of his sponsors this will be his third olympics back when he first tried out for the team, he didn't make it some people might be cut from that first team and say i guess i don't have what it takes. >> it is just the person i am. i had goals, pictures on my wall in college. it is something that i saw every morning, that i woke up, every night before i went to
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bed. >> reporter: jenifer has been setting goals since he was a kid, like when he joined the wrestling team at school. >> when you're at a young age and the opportunities might be limited, we have to see that you have to take advantage of the ones that are there. >> reporter: a valuable lesson that helped guide his career he dreamed of serving his country in the military, but when that looked unlikely, he joined the u.s. secret service instead. >> i am blessed to be able to work for an agency that continued to support me and the paralympic movement and individuals with disabilities. >> reporter: for now, his focus is on the court. and don't get in his way. jenifer has some unfinished business with a gold medal. stephanie gosk, nbc news >> glad we could share his story. that's “nightly news” for this thursday thanks for watching. please take care of yourself and each other. good night, everyone
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next on "nbc bay area news", tonight deadly blasts at an airport in afghanistan as more americans try to leave the country. >> we will not forgive. we will not forget. >> it has just been a complete nightmare. >> tonight a conversation with a bay area woman whose family still is trying to get out. then -- >> it is really heartbreaking, knowing that people are fighting for their lives and it could have been prevented. >> growing frustration at hospitals inundated with covid patients, but is there a point where a doctor might not see you if you are not


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