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At This Hour
Biden Sticks to August 31 Deadline, But Asks for Contingency Plans; Capitol Riot Committee Requests Massive Amount of Docs from Government Agencies; U.S. Official Says, Intel Suggests ISIS-K may Attack Kabul Airport. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired August 25, 2021 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Once you mandate it, as we've done, it's a lawful order.
It's a lawful order. And we fully anticipate that our troops are going to follow lawful orders. And when you raise your right hand and take that oath, that's what you agree to do. And it hasn't been a problem in the past with other vaccines.
Now, I recognize COVID has a different history to it, a different cultural ascription to it, but it's a lawful order. And it's our expectation that troops will obey lawful orders. And also expect that commanders will have plenty of other tools available to them to get their vaccination rates up and get these individuals to make the right decision short of having to use disciplinary action.
Okay. I think that's almost a full hour. So, we're going to call it for right now. As the general mentioned in his opening statement, we will shoot for an afternoon briefing. This one will be with General Walters from UCOM specifically to address issues of --
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We've been watching the latest briefing and update from the Pentagon. John Kirby as well as General Hank Taylor taking questions from reporters on the ongoing evacuation efforts from Afghanistan.
Let me bring in CNN's Jeremy Diamond. He is at the White House. He's been listening in to the update. Jeremy, the Pentagon making clear they're still working toward the August 31st deadline after the announcement of the president. What are you hearing from there today about this deadline and this new threat from ISIS and just the days ahead?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, listen, Kate, it is very clear in speaking with White House officials that President Biden's decision to stick with that August 31st deadline has been motivated by the increasing threat that the U.S. is seeing on the ground from ISIS-K, that offshoot of ISIS that operates in Afghanistan, as well as the possibility for any confrontation with the Taliban following that August 31st drop-dead deadline.
What we heard from the Pentagon today is making clear that the president's -- that that is the plan right now. They are still drafting those contingency plans that the president asked for if, indeed, there's a need to go past that August 31st deadline.
Interestingly, John Kirby, the spokesman there, reiterated what the president said, was that every Afghan interpreter, every Afghan SIV applicant who is at the airport will be able to get on a plane. He made that commitment. And that's something that we're certainly going to have to watch as this mission in the coming days winds down from an evacuation operation to this withdrawal of all those troops.
Kirby also said that 4,400 Americans have been evacuated so far. We're waiting now to hear from secretary of state, Antony Blinken, next hour, who is expected to give a projection of how many Americans actually still remain to be withdrawn. That certainly is an important figure as we watch the final days of this mission. Kate?
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Jeremy, thank you very much for that update.
Joining me right now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He served as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan. He's also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, you were listening into that, and thank you for sticking around afterward. Biden sticking with his deadline. You hear the latest, really amazing, heroic effort of the military on the ground of what they've been able to pull off, 19,000 people evacuated in the last 24 hours. That's bringing the total up to 88,000 people since the beginning of this. You do not like what the president has committed to in terms of this deadline. What do you want to see happen then in the next six days?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Well, I think the key is just we're going to leave when we have everybody out that needs to come out. I think the August 31st deadline is really arbitrary. If you remember, President Biden initially said they were all going to be out by September 11th, and they realized the optics of making that day a big day, so he backed it up to August 31st. So, it wasn't based on any necessary issue except that they picked that.
And so I look at this and I go, that needs to be the commitment, is we are going to leave when every American that wants to get out is out, when every Afghan SIV holder that wants to get out is out. We're going to do it as quickly as we can. It would be great if we could hit August 31st. But we're not going to be kowtowed to what the Taliban want us to do. By the way, the ISIS threat doesn't necessarily increase after August 31st. It is a persistent and real threat. But we have a commitment to make. And our military, by the way, is fully capable of really doing good stuff like this and also defending these people as well.
BOLDUAN: There's an important question from a reporter in this briefing who asked about vulnerable Afghans who are afraid for their lives under Taliban rule, though they are not the SIV applicants, they're not P1, they're not P2, they're not in the line that the administration has been talking about that they're focused on so far. And she said what should they do.
Kirby didn't have a good answer, Congressman, and I'm wondering if that's because there is a harsh reality to this right now. Many Afghans allies to the United States aims to help will be left behind. Administration officials are actually now beginning to acknowledge that. Do you agree with that? I mean, is that the sad reality of what happens when you lose the war?
You can't save everyone.
KINZINGER: Yes, it is true. And, I mean, I'm getting inundated with people, some that are Afghan SIV holders that were trying to get out, some that are green cardholders and then some that are family of folks. And there's no category for them. They're stuck.
And this is why I was such a strong advocate for saying there is a reason we need to stay in Afghanistan and not leave in the first place because the endless war, that people like Rand Paul and stuff keep talking about, the endless war is not the U.S. partnering with Afghanistan. The endless war is the war that has been declared against us by these radicals and by these that would attack women and would take away rights.
And so, look, unfortunately, we are where we are and I think the reality is without U.S. troops there with a date certain to end, there's unfortunately going to be a lot more tragedy that comes out after the last U.S. troop leaves. And I'm heartbroken about it but I think it's a reality.
BOLDUAN: Look, the Taliban are now saying that no Afghans can leave the country. You heard John Kirby say they expect that Afghans are still making it through and expect that to continue. But the quote from the Taliban is we're not going to allow that.
And there's also I think extremely important reporting come out that the Taliban today telling women to stay home from work because Taliban soldiers, quote, keep changing and are not trained, essentially that women cannot be safe in leaving their houses right now. They say that is a temporary measure, this coming from the Taliban. But at this point in this moment, if that's what they're laying out, what should the U.S. reaction be to it?
KINZINGER: Well, look, I mean, again, I personally think on the withdrawal process, we should say we're going to leave when the last person is out. Taliban knows darn well they can't beat us on the battlefield and not that he wants to get into a shooting war again, but they've been on the receiving end of 20 years of American military power and have lost every single of those battles. Where they finally defeated the United States wasn't in battle, it was in our will. Because we said 20 years is too long, even though it took the United States many, many decades, if not, centuries to get our act together. But what you're seeing with the Taliban is not a protecting measure. This is what the Taliban are. They try this kind of temporary charm offensive but we're seeing the reality of it. Women are going to be brutalized under this regime. And it's said and it's awful.
And, by the way, I've got to say, I've been in briefings, we were in a classified briefing yesterday. I've seen the ones we just saw on television. What they're briefing is very different than the reality we're hearing on the ground. I'm getting inundated with people that are saying they're at the gate getting turned away. They have valid paperwork, they don't know why. I think in hindsight, we'll see what all went down.
But I think it's important to note, this is not a smooth process where everybody with paperwork is getting through the airport now. There is a lot of misinformation we're hearing.
BOLDUAN: Does that get to the contingency planning part of this? We heard Kirby saying that they're in the process of coming up with contingency plans, as President Biden has requested. My question is, is it clear to you, and as much as you can say, what would trigger the president to change course, would trigger these contingency plans?
KINZINGER: I have no clue what would trigger them. One of the things I'm thinking is happening, I'm actually a little concerned about, we should prioritize Americans out of Afghanistan, absolutely, but once Americans are out, that that gives the impetus then to leave the Afghan SIVs that we haven't by August 31st behind.
That's what we're concerned about, is that we're going to end up saying, well, we got all the Americans out, I did a great job in doing that. But in terms of the contingency, I'm sure if the Taliban decided to attack us, it would be a contingency, but I don't know what it is beyond that.
BOLDUAN: On just the basic fact of what the options were, isn't an evac like this always going to be messy? I mean, they could have planned better, but do you acknowledge that, especially when you've got the threat of ISIS now very real, very persistent, that the Taliban-controlled Kabul, that the groundwork was laid by the Trump administration for this clash to see the Taliban gain strength? Wasn't this evacuation -- do you think this evacuation was always going to be messy no matter what?
KINZINGER: Not this messy. I think there was always going to be a mess. And, again, you said it right. About a year-and-a-half ago, the last administration started laying the groundwork saying the war wasn't worth it, as they were negotiating with the Taliban. But the issue and the execution came -- we abandoned overnight Bagram Air Base, a massive air base that we had well-defended, the U.S. base since we've been there. For some reason, I think that should have been the last thing we left.
Also, when you saw the Afghan army collapsing, which, by the way, when you lose your air power and lose your logistics support, militaries collapse, but when they saw that happening, there was no rush to rush troops in, re-secure Bagram or secure Kabul airport, recognizing the eventuality of what was going to happen. That didn't happen until about a day or two prior to us even leaving the embassy.
We talk about having this over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability now in Afghanistan. That is gone as well. So, the cost of this is massive and not having seen it happen, I think there's got to be real investigations as to why and how that can be corrected if that ever happens (ph).
BOLDUAN: Well, even before an after-action report, can I -- I know you have to go, and I'm sorry, we're hard up against that timing, can I just ask you. You said there's a lot of misinformation or disinformation that is out there. Do you really think that -- I mean, disinformation often -- I mean, it indicates that you think they're lying to the American people. Do you think the Pentagon is lying to the American people about what's happening or is this just part of the mess?
KINZINGER: Yes. No, I don't think they're lying. I think, look, it's a matter of you've got to put a decent spin on it. You don't want to create panic, right? People in Washington, D.C. don't necessarily know everything that's happening on the ground, and we're getting information that's happening in other areas. So, I guess by misinformation, given kind of the role of misinformation lately, that's probably a little more intense than I meant.
But the reality is the situation we're hearing from folks on the ground is far different. But I've got to tell you, as we open this up too, the U.S. military, as always, is doing amazing, executed flawlessly. I can't imagine being one of those U.S. Marines on the wall watching the Taliban beating women or shoving children around and knowing you can't do anything about it. That's going to have a special psychological impact on some of our brave Marines.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, thanks for coming in. I appreciate your time.
KINZINGER: Any time.
BOLDUAN: All right. Let me bring in right now for more on what we learned in the Pentagon briefing and then what is about to come right now. With me is CNN's Kylie Atwood, she's joining me from the State Department, Nick Paton Walsh is in Doha Qatar, and CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen.
Kylie, we heard from the Pentagon. They gave the latest number that they have of 4,400 Americans, they believe, have been evacuated, but all eyes in the big event this morning is at the State Department with the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, to be giving more detail and clarity on exactly how many Americans are left. What are you expecting him to say?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the secretary of state, we know, is going to focus on how unprecedented this evacuation is, the fact that the United States has gotten out about 60,000 people from Afghanistan and that they have had personalized contact with all of the Americans that are in the country to try and get them to safety and get them out of the country. It is an extraordinary effort that they have pulled off here.
But what we're looking to learn from the secretary of state is exactly how many Americans are still in the country that are looking to get out. And that is what President Biden promised the secretary of state was going to deliver today in what he called would be a detailed report.
Now, why that number is so significant is because the president has continually said that the United States won't leave until all of the Americans who want to leave are out of the country. So, once that number gets closer to zero, that will be when this mission changes from an evacuation mission into a mission to get out the U.S. military in totality.
Now, we know that the State Department has been working around the clock. We also know there has been a tremendous amount of criticism that they hadn't done more to prepare for this. The secretary of state has repeatedly said that there will be time for criticism, time to look back at what went wrong, but today, we expect that his comments are going to focus on what they're doing now and what more they need to do before this August 31st deadline.
BOLDUAN: All right. We're going to be hearing from the secretary of state really at the top of the next hour.
Nick, what is the view from Doha right now, which is, of course, as everyone has now learned, kind of the main first stop for so many evacuees once they leave Kabul?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, Kate. I've been speaking to a source familiar with the situation on that airport, and it does sound, frankly, chaotic. That's the word, in fact, this source used. Apparently, the main challenge now, of course, is to get more people off these closing windows of the actual evacuation.
Now, as you heard the Pentagon, there are thought to be 10,000 currently on the airport. That's gone up from the 1,000 this morning. And I understand that number swelled as the aircraft rate today has not quite been as fast.
I also understand that the Australians, Canadians and Italians are beginning their process of departure. So, that is a sign certainly that NATO allies too, as well as -- you heard the Pentagon there explaining that the departure of hundreds of troops just recently in the last 24 hours was sort of part of a general flow but not necessarily triggering the beginning of the end of this presence, but NATO allies appear to be taking this opportunity to leave as well.
On top of that, the question, of course, we keep asking is can these SIV applicants get onto the base. Now, I understand it is very hard at this point. And, in fact, it's very difficult for those on the base who were trying to pull SIV applicants they're aware of actually inside to identify them, to grab them, to pull them out.
So, while I understand from a source that this is -- actually, today, there seems some success with getting local embassy Afghan staff onto the airport, they are struggling to pick specific SIVs out. And it's beginning to, quote, overwhelm the system they have there, the sheer number of people who are desperate for help. So it's clear that the atmosphere on that airport is beginning to reflect the fact we're in possibly the closing hours or days of the evacuation operation and we're beginning to see NATO allies pack up and depart.
The real question, of course, is how many more can get through those Taliban checkpoints with the sort of varying Taliban stance. I have to really say, from listening to this, it's kind of potluck in who you know whether as an SIV applicant, you get onto the airport or not.
There is a mechanism apparently where Taliban can escort approved groups through the southern civilian entrance they've controlled for quite some time. They may then be able come up against the U.S. troops and cross into the military side of the airport. But I understand too that at that place, a lot of people turn up who don't have prior authorization and sort of say, can you help us out. And that, of course, is causing chaos.
So, clearly, here, there are groups of people desperate to get onto the airport. There is a limited capacity of those on the airport to pull them out of these heaving crowds at the gate, already perilous. Some of the scenes are quite remarkable with people walking around in sewage dumps. But this closing window is just accentuating all that tension and the fears of those who think they have literally hours left to try and get on the airport. They may be right. Kate?
BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much for that.
Peter, there's also this new reporting, and it was spoken to tangentially, if you will, in the Pentagon briefing, which is that there's a very specific threat stream from ISIS-K about planned attacks against crowds outside the airport. You know Afghanistan so well and the many different terror and extremist groups that have been in and out for years. How does ISIS-K play into the dynamic that we're watching play out in Afghanistan and the power struggle now with the Taliban?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think the concerns are very legitimate. I mean, ISIS-K has shown an ability to kill at will in Kabul. They carried out attacks, sort of killed dozens, including girls. They have a dispute with the Taliban, but their similarities are more than their differences in a sense that they share the same world view.
The estimates I've seen are there are about 1,000 to 2,000 ISIS-K fighters. They took quite a number of hits over the last couple years with U.S. operations against them in Afghanistan.
But what's changed and what Jim Sciutto and Tim Lister of CNN have been reporting is we've seen releases of prisoners, a lot of prisoners, from two very large prisons just outside Kabul. One is Bagram Air Force Base, which, of course, the Taliban took over. Another was Pole Charkhi Prison, a place I spent a fair amount of time in, that both of these prisons were full of Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS.
And so we saw in Iraq in the summer of 2014 that when ISIS kind of rolled through Iraq, the first thing they did is they release the prisoners. So, what we're seeing is something similar here. And these Jihadi groups are being very strongly replenished by the prisoner releases that have happened over the last several days. So, I think the threat stream -- I'm sure it's intense and it's real and, of course, nothing would give the ISIS-K a greater satisfaction than carrying out an attack on the airport right now.
BOLDUAN: Yes, no kidding. I mean, the latest that we heard, thankfully, from the Pentagon is, right now, no American troops, no known American citizens killed since this all began 11 days ago, but how tenuous it is and how fragile that security clearly is at this moment. Thank you all very much for that.
Coming up for us, new information about the January 6th investigation coming from Capitol Hill and the giant scope of the select committee's investigation now. We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: Breaking news, CNN has just learned the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th Capitol attack is requesting a huge amount of documents now from several federal agencies.
CNN's Whitney Wild has this new reporting and she's joining me now with the details. Whitney, what are you learning about this and what does this signal?
WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, it signals that they are going for an extraordinarily wide net. We've just got this request in. We see that they are trying to target a list of agencies from the National Archives, the custodian of the White House logs, that's the most -- probably one of the more important agencies here when we're looking at this list of agencies, which includes the FBI, the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security. The list goes on and on.
Now, we're still working our way through it, but let me give you some of the highlights from the request from the Select Committee to the National Archives. This is a lengthy letter to the National Archives. It's 12 pages, in which, really, for the first time, we're seeing outlined specific people that they are hoping to learn more about. So, the letter to the archive's requests that they produce documents from within the White House that are related to a list of events that go as far back as April 2020, Kate.
Basically, what they're looking for here are any documents that are all related to efforts to try to undermine, contest the 2020 election. Sorry, we're still working our way through it, but one thing that got to me as I was reading through this, they are looking for all documents and communications concerning the 2020 election and related to the following individuals.
Kate, this list is enormous and I'm looking through it right now. And it includes Enrique Tarrio who, as we know, someone who was just sentenced for burning a Black Lives Matter flag. He's a member of the Proud Boys, a highly visible member at this far-right extremist movement. That, to me, sticks out among a list of these names here, which also includes members of the Trump family, members of the Trump campaign. We're still working through it.
But, ultimately, Kate, what they're trying to figure out here is who are the main players in this effort to attempt to overturn the 2020 election and then, ultimately, who might have been a major player in the violence that erupted at the Capitol that day.
BOLDUAN: This is just beginning. Whitney, thank you very much for that reporting.
Moments from now, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, he will give an update on the evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. We are going to bring you that live once it begins.
Much more ahead. We'll be right back.
BOLDUAN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are standing by to hear from the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, this hour at a critical moment in the American evacuation from Afghanistan. New numbers from the Pentagon this morning, 19,000 people evacuated in the last 24 hours. Roughly 10,000 people, they say, are still waiting at Kabul's airport right now to catch a flight. But look at the total numbers, 87,000 people, they said 88,000 have been evacuated since the beginning of all of this.
We also learned this morning from a U.S. defense official that intelligence clearly is indicating that the terror group ISIS-K is planning and is capable of carrying out multiple attacks on those crowds you're seeing video of now outside Hamid Karzai Airport waiting and trying to get in.
But when the secretary of state does speak this hour, he is expected to offer some answers to some of the biggest questions hanging over this operation, how many Americans are still in the country and how many Afghan allies do they expect to bring out and also leave behind?
Let's start with CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's at the White House for us this hour. Kaitlan, what are you hearing about -- what are hearing from there today as the president is standing by his August 31st deadline?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the clock is ticking, Kate. And they just have a matter of days left.