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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

13 Service Members Killed, 18 Wounded in Kabul Attacks; ISIS-K Claims Responsibility For Attacks Near Kabul Airport; Biden: Lives Lost Today Were Given "In The Service Of Liberty". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired August 26, 2021 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening on what's been one of the most tragic days in the two-decade long mission in Afghanistan with the threat of more such days to come.

Take a look at the flags on Capitol Hill and at the White House. They are at half-staff honoring the now 13 American service members, including 10 Marines who died with 18 more wounded after two explosions at and near the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. An affiliate of the ISIS terror group in Afghanistan known as ISIS-K has claimed responsibility for the attacks. More than 60 Afghans also dead and 140 wounded.

A short time ago, President Biden spoke to the American people from the White House and promised retribution.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To those who carried out this attack as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this, we will not forgive. We will not forget.

We will hunt you down and make you pay.


COOPER: The President repeatedly struck a defiant tone, at one point saying, quote: "America will not be intimidated."

Now we need to warn you're not just about what we're about to show you, but throughout tonight's broadcast, it is video of the aftermath of the attack outside the airport.

It is brutal. It is sickening. That's precisely why we want you to see it because it's this type of barbarism that the United States and others are up against.


COOPER: This is just the sort of threat that U.S. forces have been most concerned about, and those 13 U.S. service members died while facing.


COOPER: In fact, here is video that a reporter from PBS who was on the ground in Kabul just tweeted out from a few days ago, and she says it is the exact spot of the attack showing extremely tight and difficult conditions the service members are working under, something every U.S. serviceman will be thinking about for at least the next five days, if not the rest of their lives.

We'll also have more this evening on the airlift that continues even with the threat of more of these attacks. But as to the cost of ending this mission in just five days, President Biden indicated he believes this was the correct course.


QUESTION: And you said, you still -- basically, you said, you squarely stand by your decision to pull out.

BIDEN: Yes, I do.


COOPER: We start tonight with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. So Barbara, clearly, the biggest fears of the President and the military and frankly, all Americans were realized today with these attacks. Do we have a sense of how it may change the U.S. security procedures around the evacuation other than to give the operation, I suppose even more urgency?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it will give it more urgency, Anderson. Pentagon officials have indicated over the last several days they tightened security force protection, if you will, for the troops, as this threat became better understood and well known.

They are going to keep looking at it, they're going to tighten up where they can. But, look, this is very tough business. That image you showed just a few seconds ago of those Marines in such tight quarters. That is the reality of what is happening on the ground at the airport.

They have to search people as they come through those gates. That means putting your hands on the person, running your hands over their clothes. It is up close and personal and it is very dangerous work.

COOPER: Barbara, previously, we had been told that there was, you know, the first ring of Taliban, which were searching people for better for worse, then there were supposed to be Afghan Special Forces who were kind of a second perimeter, and then it would be U.S. forces. Is that still the case? Or just -- I'm just wondering how a bomber was able to get so close to Marines and other U.S. forces?

STARR: You know, we've asked that question and the indications are and they're still really trying to piece it all together, that perhaps this person did go through a first Taliban search checkpoint.

What we were told today is the Taliban are doing searches. Some of them are good, some of them or not. No indication so far, one way or the other, that the Taliban if you will let the bomber go through, that they knew it was a bomber. There's just simply no indication of that at this point.

But I think military officials are emphasizing very strongly. It is still very early hours and the information is still evolving.


COOPER: Barbara, President Biden vowed to hunt down those responsible for those responsible for the attacks. At the same time, the military is committed to the evacuation and starting to process their own departure. Where would the resources to even go after ISIS-K come from? I mean --

STARR: You know, yes, the President has very tough talk, but how exactly are you going to do that? So the military has two basic options, really. Afghanistan is a landlocked country.

You could conduct airstrikes using manned aircraft or drones. You have to have a very good idea what you're striking. You have to know that the ISIS operatives are there. You have to be certain that there are no civilians nearby that could get struck or your other option is to basically insert Special Forces and go on some type of raid. Very tough business in Afghanistan.

How are you going to land these people? It is out of helicopter range once U.S. forces are gone. It will be -- you could put them into the country. How are you going to get them out without being noticed once they conduct a raid? It's just very tough business and finding the specific ISIS-K personnel.

The President indicated they might have an idea, they're not certain of who exactly is responsible. But these ISIS guys, they float in and out, you're going to have to have some pretty terrific, exquisite Intelligence to go after them.

COOPER: Finally, what is the latest you are hearing in terms of the number of Americans still believed to be on the ground waiting evacuation? And is the notion of evacuating Afghans, you know, who are gathering at the gates, is that still in the picture?

STARR: It's so hard to tell at this point, because you know, the situation does change. In terms of Americans on the ground, we've heard the number, a thousand, we've heard the low hundreds. They got about 500 out over the last day or so. They are going to have to keep at it. They are going to have to do everything to make sure they've gathered up anybody outside of Kabul and in Kabul that wants to get out of the country that is an American citizen with a passport. So, that's the first challenge.

In terms of the Afghans, the honest answer probably is that the clock is running out. Officially, we are told that the U.S. will keep at it until the very last minute trying to get out any Afghans that have the right paperwork that indicated they helped Americans, but we are really talking not even days at this point, we may be coming down to hours, in terms of being able to get the people out. And then for the U.S. military to turn around and pack itself up and get out by Tuesday.

COOPER: I mean, it's just funny, just looking at these images from Jane Ferguson, it's -- I mean, the closeness with which, you know -- I know that the U.S. General who was speaking was saying, you know, there's no other way when it gets down to brass tacks of it's got to be troops searching, you know, with their hands, the bodies of people who are trying to get into this secure airport.

STARR: It is. I mean, you know, it essentially is the equivalent of a potential combat zone, which it became today.

Over the years, we have all seen the images of troops going through villages on raids, looking for suspected terrorists, and when they go through, they have to search the people.

It is very tough business, and it's especially heartbreaking right now, because we've seen so many images over the last several days of the troops, you know, taking off their helmets, going up to children, offering them water, toys, walking along, playing with them, going into the crowds of people and trying to render humanitarian assistance.

You know, it is the Afghan people that have continued to suffer so badly in all of this.

COOPER: Yes. And now, so many American families. Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

Our chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins joins us now.

As I mentioned, Kaitlan, today's attack was the President's biggest fear realized in regards to Afghanistan. And yet you learned late tonight that ending the evacuation mission earlier because of this was not considered.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was something, Anderson, that was never really an option brought up today as the President was talking with those top military commanders at The Pentagon about what the next steps are going to look like.

And we're told that's not because it was something that the President was against, but it was something that those top military aides never believed was a good idea. It was something that they talked about earlier this week, when you saw world leaders were pushing for an extension of that deadline.

Those military commanders had actually advocated against that because they wanted to get out of there. But they are sticking with this deadline of August 31st, and there had been some questions about whether or not they would move it up.

And Anderson, we should note, you know, you said that one of the toughest days of his presidency, something that he said himself when he walked into the East Room earlier. This all started this morning when the President had a pre-scheduled briefing in the Situation Room with his top national security aides on Afghanistan.


COLLINS: He has been getting basically a daily update every day this week on the evacuation effort as that clock is ticking down. And I was -- I am actually told by a senior administration official that aides had started gathering in the Situation Room this morning around 9:00 a.m., when they were first seeing the reports of this attack outside the abbey gate.

It was a few moments later when President Biden joined them in the Situation Room that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley actually told the President about this report. And, of course, the details then in the 9:00 a.m. were still far from clear, they were trying to figure out if there have been U.S. service members killed, what actually the results of this work, but that is how that started.

And then it was essentially an hour long meeting, I think a little over an hour actually. And then the President was in the Oval Office the rest of the day getting updates on what was going on, which obviously culminated in very tragic news with 13 U.S. service members dead.

COOPER: And obviously, we saw the remarks of the President that went from deep empathy to a promise of retribution whether or not being able to deliver on that unclear, it does seem that the U.S. is operating from a position. I mean, it doesn't seem I should say that the U.S. is really operating from a position of power in Afghanistan, particularly that, you know, they're already at the stage in this when they're starting to consider and actually withdraw U.S. forces.

COLLINS: Yes. And Anderson, so much of this depends on the Taliban and you heard General McKenzie earlier when he was briefing reporters, saying some of them are really scrupulous about who they are letting through the checkpoints, and they're good at checking people and some are not so good.

And of course, we know that this person is believed to have made a first pass at one of those checkpoints. And you know, Barbara was saying that they don't think this is intentional. They don't have any Intelligence showing otherwise. But I do think the larger point of what we're seeing happening in Afghanistan, and where it goes from here, it has only gotten dicier these last few days that the President has said they are still going to stick by these next now less than five days that are going to happen. It is going to be even more concerning because there are still active threats on the ground.

Before this attack had happened, White House officials had said they were the most worried about the last days when there were the fewest U.S. troops there as they were starting to wind down that presence about what could happen.

And now of course, we have seen those worst fears realize, but they could not be over. These threats are still very real. They are still very concerned about it, and they still have a lot of people to get through that airport before the U.S. is completely gone.

COOPER: And these groups have a lot of people willing to blow themselves up. Kaitlan Collins, I appreciate it. Thank you.

This afternoon, I spoke to "New York Times" Matthieu Aikins who was in Kabul when the attacks occurred.


COOPER: Matthieu, I understand you went to the airport. How soon after the attack were you there? And what did you see?

MATTHIEU AIKINS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": We were there less than an hour after the attack. I was at home and heard a pop, which you could kind of attune to living in Kabul, and then pretty soon afterward, got a report from someone who actually was following who was going to the airport today, trying to get in that there'd been a complex attack at this abbey gate.

So we hopped in the motorcycle road down and it was a pretty chaotic scene there. The Taliban were trying to clear the crowds that had gathered. They were swinging lengths of cable and shouting.

We managed to show our press passes and get in a little closer. But we weren't actually able to see the site of the blast. We could hear shooting and sirens from the airport.

At that point, we went back to the emergency hospital and they were bringing the casualties in there and there was just body after body. It was a really terrible sight.

COOPER: Do you have a sense of how close the attack was at the abbey gate?

AIKINS: Yes, I talked to someone who was there. He said he was about 10 meters away. He was in this huge press of people that were just cramming up, desperate to show their documents to these Marines who were standing there.

And he said he was about 10 meters, you know, 20 to 30 feet away from the Marines. And in the crush of people, he kind of tripped and lost his footing and then there was this blast and total chaos.

People were on the ground. The Marines were shooting. People were running over bodies. It was just blood everywhere. His cousin was a little bit -- he was wounded. You know, he thinks the guy told me that he thought at least four or five Marines were killed on the spot. We now hear that it's at least a dozen. So it was -- the bomber managed to get -- the first bomber managed to get up quite close to the American soldiers.

COOPER: Yes, it sounds like from what the military has said thus far and they said they're still gathering more details that the Marines actually have to physically search the individuals who are trying to get -- before they get access inside the airport, and it sounds like that is where the detonation may have occurred. I hadn't realized that, you know, we've seen images of Marines and

soldiers on top of a wall, bringing people up but to have them out exposed like that obviously, I think maybe was unexpected for a lot of people.


AIKINS: Yes, and especially there's been reports now for several days of risk of this kind of attack, that ISIS was planning suicide attacks against the airport. So, you know, it was obviously a dangerous situation.

But it's just so out of control, you know, you have tens of thousands of people cramming in from every angle, at the same time, this desperate pressure to get, you know, American citizens and others out. So it was really, truly a recipe for disaster.

And I've been going to the airport, basically every day, you know, since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, and every day felt a sense of mounting dread, you know, and on top of all the horrible things we were seeing that that something like this would happen, and unfortunately, it did.

The Taliban is actually playing a very important role for the internationals, for the Americans here. They are preventing all of Kabul rushing on the airfield like they did last week where you had those scenes that people hanging off of airplanes, right?

So the West needs the Taliban actually to keep people back. At the same time, how are they going to filter people without checking their documents? So, you can see why the situation is so extraordinarily confused.

COOPER: And when you're talking about -- I mean, in one of the videos we've seen where there were a lot of dead and injured, I mean, it seems like there's blast walls on either side, there's a kind of a drainage ditch or sewage ditch.

If it's a crush of people like that, how does somebody who is just arriving there to try to get you know, if they have a legitimate identification, is it just a question of pushing your way through the mob?

AIKINS: Yes, spending the whole day basically clawing your way to the front of this mob, in the hopes that you'll catch the soldiers' attention, you know, when you're at the front. That's the kind of desperate tactic people have to resort to.

And the thing is, you know, the airport, gates and everything, they were set up for vehicle access, mostly. They were set up with all these blast walls to really protect against, you know, vehicle borne suicide attacks, car bombs.

And this kind of architecture, this fortress architecture create death traps for large groups of people. You know, you have tight, narrow confines with high concrete walls and barbed wire. So, it's just chilling to see, you know, all of these human beings

kind of funneled into this grim fortress architecture.

COOPER: What do you think happens now in terms of the evacuation?

AIKINS: I'm hoping that people, if they go home and stay home and stay safe. That eventually, you know, normal cooperation -- commercial operations are going to reopen at the airport.

The Taliban have said they want normal relations with the world. They want visas for themselves and their family members. I've met Taliban fighters who tell me about their relatives in the U.S. or Europe. So, they also want to be able to travel the world.

So, I hope that people will be able to get visas, they will be able to get out normally if they just wait and sit at home. But that also depends on us. I mean, we have dangled this promise of escape, you know, over the course of this evacuation and that's what made people so desperate to get out.

But I really hope that translates into an enduring commitment to get people out, to give them visas over the next year, the coming years, Afghans who need refuge in the West, there will be ways for them to get there.

COOPER: Matthieu, I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

AIKINS: My pleasure.


COOPER: You heard Matthieu talk about the gates around the airport. I want kind of get you a better sense of where the gates are and just kind of a better sense of place because it's confusing. I'm joined now by CNN's Tom Foreman for a look at the airport and the hotel where these explosions occurred -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what we're really seeing here, Anderson, you've described very, very well is a clash between desperation and determination.

The desperation is the people who now for days have been pouring up this main road here, past Taliban checkpoints, hitting the main entrance, and when they can't get in, just spreading out along these blast walls, around the airport, trying to get in.

Thousands of people over hundreds of yards while they are trying to maintain some sort of security on the inside.

When you hear the warnings that we've had for days now, saying look, we're afraid something' is going to happen here. You look at the circumstance, Anderson, you say, yes, of course it could happen and now it has.

COOPER: Today, so it happened at what's known as the abbey gate. Just talk about where that is, whether it's the civilian or the military side of the airport, and is this the gate that is used by Americans trying to get into the airport? Or is that always shifting?

FOREMAN: This it -- well, it shifts depending on the moment because this is so chaotic, but yes, this area over here, this is where the abbey gate is. That was the main entrance we were talking about.

The abbey gate is over here, the Baron Hotel where the second blast glass was, we've heard all day is a stone's throw away.

This has been used to try to get out many Westerners -- Americans, Europeans, Brits, and Afghans as well.


FOREMAN: One of the reasons, as you mentioned, the military side, this is the military side over here. Here's the civilian side. Remember the pictures a few days ago of people storming the tarmac. That was all happening out here. And that sort of forced the military to take a greater hand over here.

But in the end, yes, this is one of the entry points where they've tried to open it according to the Pentagon, rushed a few people through, and then close it up again, and they believe that is one of the moments when this blast went off.

And it's very interesting to hear what Matthieu said about somebody being close to the blast, because we really don't have a sense yet of how big this was. Did it reach out and get a whole lot of people over a longer distance, or is it just that everyone's packed that tightly together, including these American troops?

COOPER: Yes. I mean, is there any way really, though, to keep this from happening again if they continue to have large groups, you know, of Afghan civilians congregating outside? And A, can they stop that and probably not; and B, you know, what can they do to try to prevent this?

FOREMAN: I don't know. What they don't have here, Anderson, is something that I know that they wish they did have, which is some kind of standoff distance. There would be nothing better for the U.S. troops there than for this big mob to be back further.

But you can see, we've watched this video for days here, they're right up on the fence, right up at the wall. They have to be because that's how they tried to show their documents and try to get through the chaos.

If there were more control outside by the Taliban, and I don't mean this beating people in line control, but actual control where people were able to be filtered in a little more slowly, then, yes, maybe you can reduce this danger a lot more.

But they're trying to move thousands of people through this area. As you mentioned, they have to check them individually, which means U.S. troops have to get up next to them. And as we've always said, the terrorists only have to get it right once. These troops have to get it right over and over and over again. And with the clock ticking and this being an unmoving target, they had

days to look at this, anyone who wants to attack it, to see the weak points, to see the crowds, to see the troops and the mission has to move forward.

The Pentagon said today, this mission is designed to go forward under stress, even under attack. I think we're going to find out in the next 48 to 72 hours.

COOPER: Tom Foreman, I appreciate it. Thanks.

Again, we are going to show you the video again that was taken days go by a PBS reporter that she says, she believes was shot in the exact spot of the airport attack. You see U.S. Marines, crowds of Afghans pressed against them trying to leave.

The American service members risking their lives, knowing this is not a situation that protects them.

I mean, they are as close as you can be to these hundreds, if not thousands of people who are waiting and desperate.

I want to get perspective now on the attack from our senior international correspondent, Sam Kiley, who was recently in Kabul at the airport, knows it well; and CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Sam, just talk about what we now, you know, we were talking earlier on the air as that information was coming in. This is certainly the worst -- one of the worst case scenarios, the death toll on the U.S. -- of U.S. forces, Marines and others and Afghans is sickening. Is there a way to -- I mean, what happens now? Is there a way to make it any safer for U.S. troops?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it's going to get progressively more dangerous for U.S. troops, Anderson, as the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the other coalition troops, but it's the Americans who are in control of base security, they control the perimeter.

As troops draw down on the interior, they will come under more and more pressure, the ISIS or other groups -- and General McKenzie, referenced in his press conference that they knew, or they were working on the assumption that ISIS might try to use rockets, they might try to use artillery, they might try to use mortars, these are all indirect fire, mostly that could impact inside the base, just as American troops are withdrawing.

Now, they do have countermeasures, very successful automated counter systems to pick up those rockets and knock them out of the air before they can get in. But at some stage, those weapon systems have to be loaded on aircraft and taken out. They will be among the last line of defense before the final evacuation.

But with every day that passes, fewer troops will be there, and at the same time, there is this accelerated need to get the last Americans who want to get out, out, and as many Afghans that need to get out, out. And so that makes it that much more difficult.

I have to say, and we were talking about this earlier on today, Anderson, I am absolutely amazed that the U.S. Marines were out there on the ground doing those searches and moving people in because that gate had been pretty much closed when I was there.


KILEY: There were very few people indeed, able to get in, most often just being snatched in or snuck in and the gates had all been closed or mostly closed for several days, because of these enormous crowds trying to control the numbers. It is basically an impossible task, you have to get out and feel the breath as General McKenzie said, of the people that you are searching, because that is really -- yes, they are searched again, once they are inside, but that is the point of most vulnerability you don't want to get a situation in which you can have people with weapons or bombs getting inside the base. That would be even more disastrous.

But certainly from a civilian perspective, this presented itself a most appalling target for the ISIS-K members.

COOPER: Yes, General Hertling, I mean, if you look at the video from PBS that, you know, that shows the extreme close quarters that U.S. service members were working under. Is this how you imagined it? Is there any way given the reality of the situation on the ground to figure this out in the next couple of days?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Probably not a whole lot of changes can be made, Anderson. What I've got to tell you is, it's exactly the way I imagined it, because two things.

First of all, the Afghan culture is not one that lines up in queues. So you don't have a culture that is polite and allows people to get in front of you or have a straight solid line waiting for a movie or waiting to get into a gate.

The second thing you've got to consider is, it was a crush to get out with tens of thousands of people. And as I said, the other night, when we were talking that probably the majority of those people had no documentation, they were just trying to get to the front of the line to escape from the Taliban.

And then you've got, you know, a very small entrance point to the airfield manned by the Marines. And as we talked about, this is a NEO, a noncombatant evacuation operations in a non-permissive environment.

So those Marines that were out there, were doing their very best, depending on the Taliban outside the gate to conduct the initial screening to conduct the final screening and to look at the paperwork and pass it along to the embassy officials, the consulates.

So yes, it's about what I expected, given the entry control points to the airfield and the lack of ability to control the vast number of crowds, but it was just a horrible and disastrous thing that occurred today. COOPER: So, General Hertling, you know, we heard President Biden

vowing to find the people responsible for the attacks, and we will hunt you down and make you pay. He has asked the military for options to strike ISIS-K targets.

I mean, given that, you know, this relatively small number of U.S. forces that were on the ground in Afghanistan over the last year, I think there's some 2,500 or so, a lot of their job was, you know, hunting down groups like this.

Without those forces on the ground once the U.S. Forces leave the airport, what are the U.S. capabilities to actually fulfill that promise?

HERTLING: Well, a couple of things are going to affect that, Anderson. I think, you know, as the forces drew down in Afghanistan, a lot of the folks that were left, the U.S. folks that were left in the NATO folks were left were either the trainers or the Intelligence collectors for targeting purposes for the counterterrorism mission. Those are now gone. So, the key element of targeting is that Intelligence collection and Intelligence based operations.

But secondly, for those of us who have watched the transformation of ISIS Khorasan, the group that claims responsibility for this attack today, they have gone from a rural based terrorist group, having had multiple fights with the Taliban, these are direct enemies over the last two or three years.

So the Taliban and ISIS-K have been having multiple engagements. They don't like each other, and they're vying for power. And ISIS-K took a step forward in getting the operational environment today.

But what happened also is over the last couple of years is ISIS-K has moved from the rural environment where they were defeated into the more urban environment, and Kabul is their primary source.

So, you're talking about the very difficult role of hitting a terrorist organization or terrorist cells in an urban environment and without any Intelligence or with limited Intelligence, less Intelligence, as you had before to drive those operations.

So, it's going to be difficult, you know, Special Operations Forces, counterterrorism forces can strike anywhere in the world. That part is true, the part that the President and the Chairman have been saying, however, it becomes much more difficult when the Intelligence is less than it had been over the last 20 years.

COOPER: Well, also, when some of the Afghans who -- or likely the people to provide that Intelligence are probably some of the ones who have already been evacuated for very understandable reasons.


Sam, President Biden said that while he doesn't trust the Taliban, he doesn't think was a mistake to rely on them for airport security. I mean, it's this bizarre situation now, where the U.S. is actually giving intelligence to Taliban forces about kind of threats they're concerned about, so that the Taliban will particularly be looking for those. Why they're supposed to be also Afghan national army's Special Forces, who were going to be able to be evacuated as the last people essentially, with U.S. forces. But were they supposed to also or in some cases, providing a layer of searching and security at the airport between the Taliban and U.S. forces?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That certainly what had been happening in previous days, but I've seen in my own eyes, groups of Afghan Special Forces here in Qatar being processed or sitting, waiting to be processed having been evacuated. Again, there comes a point at which the Americans want to be able to control the whole process of troop withdrawals, so you will bring in those elements such as the Afghan Special Forces that had been out on the front, they're doing those initial screenings, you're going to bring them behind your lines, get them out of the way, so that you can start withdrawing in an orderly way with the troops that you've got trained to do that. There'd be no point doing that the other way around with, with soldiers that don't know what you're up to.

So clearly, that has happened or is happening. And because I've seen them being moved out here to Qatar and being put on planes elsewhere. There's also not enormous numbers of them. But I think the other aspect of this is that the role played by the Taliban, it is surprising, but it is inevitable. There is no way to do this without the help of the Taliban. And there will be no way to go after this ISIS Khorasan group without the help of the Taliban. And that's going to be a very interesting relationship to see that one evolve if the United States is going to go after these people.

I think the reality is that the Taliban have been in the best position and have the best intelligence such as it is to go after ISIS course and take revenge perhaps on behalf of the United States. But remember, the majority of people killed here, also Afghans, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Bizarre bedfellows this situation makes. Sam Kiley, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, appreciate it. Thank you.

More on the attacks in Afghanistan in just a moment, including conversation, the man we met last night, who is an American green card holder who could not get out still hasn't been able to.

And later, group of students and their families from the San Diego area visiting family in Afghanistan trap trying to get out the efforts to get them out, ahead.



COOPER: President Biden tonight also said the military would continue to rescue those threatened by Taliban violence, including green card holders and allies still on Afghanistan, even suggested there could be missions after the August 31st departure date.

Earlier I spoke to someone we had on the broadcast last night, an Afghan, a permanent resident of the United States has lived in the United States he says for six years, he traveled to Afghanistan, he says for his father's funeral. Najibullah who's asked us not to use his last name, we do not know every detail about him, we have seen a copy of his green card, his driver's license and done a background check as well. We also know that he is in a safe location as much as one can be. Tonight, we spoke just before airtime.


COOPER (on-camera): So when we spoke to you last night, you were on the way to the airport trying to get out of Afghanistan. Clearly you didn't make it. What's the -- what's happened now?

NAJIBULLAH, U.S. PERMANENT RESIDENT TRYING TO GET OUT OF AFGHANISTAN: Well, yesterday in the morning, I went abroad, and we've been waiting, you know, waiting for hours. And so I've been waiting for 13 hours, no side of the international forces to come outside and talk to us. The only people that they will outside the gate, on the gate that they call it standard calls gate, Afghans (INAUDIBLE) special force of Afghans interpreters. So, they receive people, but only from outside, the gate calls (INAUDIBLE) and they get inside --

COOPER (on-camera): Right.

NAJIBULLAH: -- the airport.

COOPER: Just so our viewers know that the United States has been using Afghan Special Forces troops as sort of a buffer between the Taliban and them. And they often are the ones dealing with people before they get to the final ring, which is U.S. Forces inside.

NAJIBULLAH: Right, right. So I mean, the only people that they have to mention would inside, I don't know what do they have the convention but from this date, they're only individualistic, you know, people that they did call it all day they have to measure your debt. But for us, for U.S. citizens, for green card holders, we show that the green cards that just wait. We wait for almost 13 hours, they just ask us wait and wait for (INAUDIBLE) and they will take you guys inside. But, you know, in half an hour, 45 minutes they take inside some people, but not from the crowd of people. Because, you know, I will (INAUDIBLE) inside the airport.

COOPER: So what happens now? What do you -- are you going to go again to the airport? Or is it -- what are you going to do?

NAJIBULLAH: I mean, we're trying to go back to the airport. I don't know the airport is open, you know, to receive people again. But I'm about to leave, you know, the home about half an hour to go see if I can get inside. But I don't know if we can make it again.

COOPER: How are you holding up?

NAJIBULLAH: Because it's going to be -- it's going to be (INAUDIBLE) the story of yesterday, no one comes outside. And only people from outside they can take, you know, people that they know then. That's it. COOPER: How are you feeling?

NAJIBULLAH: (INAUDIBLE). How do I feel? I feel really frustrated. I feel really hopeless. Because no one gives us call, no one even, even see our documents. And how do we feel, you know, if somebody has you know, they have the right documents in their hand. And they're U.S. citizens and permanent resident of the United States. They have their documents, legal documents in their hand. They can now get inside the airport. But people that they don't have documents, even they don't have passport, they get inside the inside the airport. Do you think how do I feel when I see these kinds of things? I feel really, really hopeless.

COOPER: Najibullah, thank you. Be careful.

NAJIBULLAH: Yes, thank you.


COOPER: I want to tell you about a frightening story for families in the San Diego area right now. According to a local school district a group of an estimated 14 students and eight parents who traveled to see family in Afghanistan are now stranded and haven't been able to make it back to the U.S. The San Diego union Tribune is reported that families who traveled there on special visas for U.S. military service and the Defense Department consider them allies.


I'm joined now by David Miyashiro, Superintendent of the Calhoun Valley Union School District where the students attended.

Superintendent, I appreciate you being with us. I know this wasn't a sanctioned school sanction, trip. But these are groups of your students and their families. What's the latest on them?

DAVID MIYASHIRO, SUPERINTENDENT, CALHOUN VALLEY UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT: Well, the latest is we have one family that is safe at home. And, and we're so blessed to be able to connect with them.

COOPER: But you mean safe at home back in San Diego, or San Diego area?

MIYASHIRO: Back (INAUDIBLE). And then two families that we have confirmed are out of Afghanistan on route. And we can't give details about where and how they're arriving here. But we have every reason to believe that they'll be home soon. And then we still have five families remaining with like you said, 14 students of ours and eight of their parents or uncles that are still on hold. But despite what happened today, we have every reason to believe that they will be home with us as well. We're very encouraged.

COOPER: Do you know, have in prior days, have they been going to, you know, the airport to the gate? Or have they been staying at home, trying to make sure they can organize just when they go there that they can get in? MIYASHIRO: Even prior to the warnings that Captain (ph) just recently, they were told that it's not safe to be out and about and especially near the airport perimeter. So our Intel and our operations, both here in the United States and on the ground in Afghanistan, have been in frequent communication, thanks to the help of our amazing employees who on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. And all these other means are connecting with these families, giving them hope, but also helping with Intel to make sure that that our troops on the ground and our military can find them for a safe return.

COOPER: And how are they doing? I mean it's got to be obviously a harrowing situation?

MIYASHIRO: The last time that we were together on a joint communication, and (INAUDIBLE) our liaisons are doing translating and also connecting with the families because they know them. There's fear, there's and heightened fear and desperation, not so much of the travel or the journey back to the United States. But what will happen if the deadline comes? And they don't make it out? That's the biggest fear right now.

COOPER: And the families who have made it out, whether they're back here or on route, or in process, do you know -- how are they doing? Have you been able to talk with any of them?

MIYASHIRO: Yes, we are very excited and ecstatic with where they are. And we hope to report more detail from home.

COOPER: And I understand that, obviously, they want to get their kids back in school. So obviously that's -- I understand the -- for even the parents, even in the midst of this, that's been a concern of theirs to get their kids back to school.

MIYASHIRO: That's how we started communication on August 16th, the day before the first day of school, one of the families that was in Afghanistan reached out to (INAUDIBLE) and said, hey, we're not going to be able to make the first day of school. But please don't give away my second grade C and this so (INAUDIBLE) class because we're coming. And then we started to collect information, realizing that several of our families were there. And then the crisis really heightened and we began to ask the question not do we find a place for them in school when they return? But how do we get them home? What can we do?

And so, I called Department of Education, our Congress people, everyone and, congressmen I said, called me within five minutes.

COOPER: Superintendent Miyashiro, I appreciate all your efforts, and we'll continue to stay in touch with you. Thanks so much.

MIYASHIRO: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: In his news conference this evening, President Biden said and I quote, I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that has happened of late, no doubt is the first full blown crisis of his administration. Want to get some perspective now from Evan Osnos, CNN contributor and the author of biography (INAUDIBLE) President Joe Biden, The Life The Run And What Matters Now.

So Evan, clearly a very difficult day for this White House, if not perhaps the most difficult so far for President Biden, not to mention the U.S. military in this country. What do you make of his comments addressing the attack?

EVAN OSNOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you just looked at his body language, he was shaking. You know, this is precisely the scenario that he's been trying to avoid talking about for days that the longer they stay on the ground, the more U.S. service members are exposed. You know, he said something that I thought was very interesting, Anderson, he said, we're heartbroken and we're outraged. Those are two very different ideas, heartbroken is grief, of course, for the American service members who were there and the Afghans who lost their lives. Outrage is actually the beginning of something, he talked about the need to seek revenge. To hunt people down who did this, and that, in a way is also a description of an excruciating problem. He is now at the beginning of a new chapter in which we're going to be hearing more about a group that Americans have largely never heard of ISIS-K.


And it's worth reminding ourselves that Afghanistan and Pakistan, you know, harbor 18 of the 72 groups that the State Department classifies as terrorist organizations. So we are now that he is facing the challenge of how do you undertake a mission that addresses the clear threat, but also does not become the kind of unbounded project that we are precisely trying to -- trying to leave behind.

COOPER: And yes, U.S. has poured billions into Pakistan and nevertheless, they're harboring those folks and obviously, are, you know, behind the Taliban and certainly the origins of the Taliban.

President Biden spoke specifically to the service members who were killed in today's attack calling them heroes, empathizing with their parents, as a father who lost a son, I just want to play part of it.


JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We have some sense, like many of you do, what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today. Get this feeling like you've been sucked into a black hole, the middle of your chest. There's no way out. My heart aches for you.


COOPER: It is one of the things we have seen from him throughout his life, the ability and the desire to step into other people's pain in that sense.

OSNOS: Yes, you know, this is, in a way, the most personal way in which he has talked about the agonies of the last 14 days or so. You know, this is a period in which he has been very much thinking about his own son Beau, of course, who died in 2015, Beau Biden, people may recall, joining the Army shortly after September 11th. And for Joe Biden, he was constantly thinking, in those years when he was thinking about Afghanistan policy in the White House, as a vice president, he was often talking about what the implications would be for people like Beau Biden.

And, you know, one of the things that is on has been on the minds of people in the White House is the idea that goes all the way back to Vietnam. And it was actually John Kerry in 1971, you'll recall who came back from Vietnam as a young naval officer and said, how do you ask a young man to go and be the last man to die in Vietnam? And for the Biden family, they are very much thinking at the moment about how easy it is for these families who are confronting the reality that their own sons and daughters are at risk. And in fact, some have already lost their lives for a war that the United States has already declared over. That is just an excruciating moment. And it's one that he knows very personally.

COOPER: You know, it was used to get a number of politicians and representatives and others have said, have talked about expanding the perimeter and not sticking to the August 31st deadline. That clearly is not in the President's mind frame.

OSNOS: No, I mean, he's moving in the other direction. I think it's worth pointing out, it's very easy for somebody in Washington to say, well, the solution is simply to expand the perimeter. But nobody has yet described how that would in fact, protect American service members against precisely the kind of attack they face today --

COOPER: It actually exposes American service members even more just a larger perimeter.

OSNOS: And that's very much the thinking in the White House. Look, they are of the view that there are just geographically physically, this is not a problem with an obvious solution, the solution from their perspective is to wrap it up as efficiently as they can, and remove themselves from that threat area. But the idea that there is some convenient solution sitting around on the table that nobody has picked up, is the kind of thing that you are able to offer if you're not in a position of having to make those hard decisions. So I'd be wary of somebody who tells you that they know exactly what the solution is, if somebody would just take it.

COOPER: You said that with this withdrawal has been a painful reckoning for the White House. It certainly got a lot more complicated today and a lot more painful. How concerned do you think President Biden is that this will define his legacy as president?

OSNOS: You know, he's been in this business a very long time, he knows the kind of damage this can do to a presidency, not only because of the loss of life, which is just a brutal fact, you know, obviously, the biggest loss since 2020, the first time that there's been a loss of (INAUDIBLE) 2020. I think it's worth pointing out, though, that the long term political effects are in some ways the problem to think about tomorrow, I think the White House is clearly aware of it. But, you know, part of what they're doing is to show that they have a policy plan and they're sticking with it, they're not going to allow themselves to be drawn back into an unbounded mission that exposes Americans again, to further risks. If anything, and you know, they it's hard to say this explicitly today, but they see this as a kind of, I would say a kind of hideous confirmation of why they are so determined to pull out because the risks of staying longer of trying to figure out a short term solution are not as obvious as it might seem just casually looking at it from the outside.

COOPER: Yes, it is a sickening day. Evan Osnos, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Coming up next, the group ISIS-K that we talked much about tonight is claimed responsibility for the attacks in Kabul. Coming up I'll talk with the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the definitive book about ISIS.



COOPER: As we reported the group claiming responsibility for today's attack is called the ISIS-K or that's how they're known, there's no question that most Americans have no idea who they are what they represent. I hadn't really heard that term in quite a while. Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick has written extensively about ISIS and this offshoot, he's the author of Black Flag, The Rise Of ISIS. A fascinating book I've read, he joins me now.

Joby, as someone who's studied ISIS-K what is your reaction to this attack, they're claiming responsibility? And actually, let's just start with who is ISIS-K, I mean, for a lot of people, it's the first time they're hearing that term.

JOBY WARRICK, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, it is a new one to most folks. But I've actually been around since about 2014, 2015. And the sort of the story of them is, if you remember, back in the sort of heyday of the caliphate, sort of the part of the project of ISIS was to create these little mini fiefdoms in various places, little chapters, and one of them was ISIS Khorasan. The Khorasan province, which is ancient is Muslim land, which is really Afghanistan, Iran, part of that part of the world. And so they came up in 2014, 2015. And they became pretty powerful, pretty quickly and became a problem for U.S. forces there, but also for the Taliban, who they don't like particularly much. So they've been fighting each other as well as fighting our forces.

COOPER: Show their vision for Afghanistan is different than the Taliban. I mean, what is the conflict between the two? Yes, I mean, is it religious? Or is it you know, mafia groups wanting power?

WARRICK: There's a little bit of both, because obviously, Afghanistan is sort of land of warlords, and they've been fighting over various things for centuries. But incredibly, ISIS Khorasan thinks that the Taliban is to moderate they feel that, for example, the sort of cooperation is taking place at the at the airport, is just more proof that the Taliban is too moderate, it's working with the West. We don't trust these guys. And so they're wanting to impose an even stricter version, a more extreme version of Sharia and Islamic law in Afghanistan. And that's, that's what they contend that they want to do.

COOPER: What are their capabilities? Earlier General Hertling was saying they've moved to kind of rural areas where they didn't weren't as successful into to cities, mainly Kabul.

WARRICK: Well, this is going to be interesting now Anderson, because what we saw in the past was they were much diminished by say, 2018 2019, because they were being punished by U.S. forces. We bombed them hundreds of times literally went after this group, and pretty much drove it into a corner. Now the U.S. is gone so what happens? Do these guys start to come back? Now they're their targets have pretty much always been local. they've carried out dozens of attacks against Afghans. They've attacked U.S. forces.

So they typically are local in focus. They talk globally, as many of these groups do. They talk about, you know, inspiring outside attacks, but so far, we haven't seen much from them, except in Afghanistan itself.

COOPER: And I mean, there's no reason to believe that this might not happen again as long as there's U.S. forces at this airport?

WARRICK: Oh, absolutely. I mean, this is the most, this is the biggest opportunity they've had for a very long time. You know, they made instant promotion of this propaganda campaigns within hours. We saw this video come out with this young man with a martyrdom video saying that he was carrying out this act. It was described in detail how he sort of immersed himself in this crowd of people approaching the airport got within 15 feet of where the American checkpoint was and detonated this bomb.


So they've been crowing about it all day and as long as there are Americans within reach reach, they're certainly targets for this group. And they're going to look for every opportunity they can to exploit it.

COOPER: So we heard President Biden saying the U.S. will hunt them down, make them pay. I want to play something else he said about retaliation.


BIDEN: With regard to finding, tracking down the ISIS leaders who ordered this, we have some reason to believe we know who they are, not certain. And we will find ways are choosy, without large military operations to get wherever they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: What is their leadership structure and without a, you know, the military presence that the U.S. has had in Afghanistan this past year, how capable with the U.S. being getting them?

WARRICK: That's really difficult, because obviously, these guys don't have a fixed address the operate on the border between eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan, sort of the lawless tribal areas there that we'd really don't have much of a reach into. And not only do we not have those military assets in place after next week, but the intelligence assets we've -- that we count on typically for carrying out these strikes, they're gone as well.

Interestingly, once again, we might find ourselves relying on the Taliban which also has an interest in going after these guys. You could imagine a scenario is kind of this twist to the story, where the Taliban helps provide information that could lead us to where these guys are and help us carry out attack which is certainly be in their interest as well.

COOPER: Yes. Joby Warrick, thank you so much. Again, remarkable book and research. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Up next, as flags are lowered at the White House tonight and across the country in honor the U.S. service members killed today in Afghanistan. More of what President Biden said about their courage and sacrifice. It's coming up.


COOPER: Goes without saying that today's events in Afghanistan brought into sharp focus both the dangers and the horrors that American service men and women face in conflict zones around the world. President Biden ordered the flags the White House and across the country lower to honor not only the 13 service members killed today but honor are all the victims of the suicide attacks outside the Kabul airport.

You heard some of what the President said earlier in the program, in addition, he called the American military members who died heroes and added heroes, who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others. The President also said this, we have a continuing obligation, a sacred obligation to all of you the families of those heroes. That obligation is not temporary. It lasts forever. Words to remember tonight.

The news continues. Want to hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIMETIME." Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: The President's words absolutely matter but what he does next will matter much more than what he said today. Our thanks to Anderson Cooper as always.

I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to "Primetime."


Thirteen U.S. troops mostly Marines killed today in the worst loss of American life in 10 years in Afghanistan.