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At This Hour

NGO, At Least Six Dead in Kabul Terror Attack; Pentagon Confirms Second Explosion at Hotel Near Airport; Officials: U.S. Personnel Among the Wounded in Kabul Airport Attack; Three Officials tell CNN At Least One Blast Appears to have been Suicide Bomb; Taliban: 13 Dead, 52 Wounded in Kabul Explosions. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 26, 2021 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Injured in all of this. Thank you General. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you for being with us. We're continuing coverage of this breaking news out of Afghanistan. My colleague CNN's Anderson Cooper picks it.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Anderson Cooper in New York. The major breaking news this hour terror in Kabul, a pair of explosions and bursting gunfire part of what the Pentagon describes as a complex terror attack.

An NGO on the ground says that 60 patients were rushed to hospital six were dead on arrival. Now this is what we know about the attack right now. We should point out this is - these are very early reports. And obviously this is a very chaotic situation, and a lot of different sources of information coming at us. So we want to be very clear about what we know and what we do not know.

One suicide bomber from the latest reports detonated on the perimeter of the Hamid Karzai Airport. There was another explosion at the Baron Hotel, which is a short distance from that same airport gate. We want to warn you some of the pictures you're going to see are graphic.

The chaos happened as we're showing you bloodied Afghans wheeling the wounded through the streets. The Pentagon says there are unknown number of casualties, both Americans and Afghans.

Now as you may remember, officials had been warning for days about the potential of a terror attack from ISIS-K, particularly yesterday, saying that all Americans at the airport should leave that area if they weren't already behind the gates.

Defense officials caution the threat is ongoing, meaning more attacks may be coming. White House officials tell CNN that the president has been monitoring the aftermath from the Situation Room alongside the Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs Chairman. Now CNN is deployed around the world that is very fragile moment to

the U.S. exit from Afghanistan. We want to start with our Sam Kiley Doha, Qatar, who was just outside the Hamid Karzai Airport gate a day ago. Sam, let's talk about the latest on this. What is the latest you're here?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, as you say, it's been a complex attack two weeks - two explosions, one on the Abbey Gate or close to the Abbey Gate on a road Anderson that is bounded on both sides by blast walls and at some stages of a sewage canal.

It's not clear whether the bomb or device was on the sewage canal or inside that concentrated area. And then the second blast just outside they're saying the Baron Hotel. That Baron Hotel had until very recently indeed been the central operations base for British troops base there because that was a clearing area for people to get into the main airfield inside the Abbey Gate.

Now in the last few days, people have been gathering there in enormous numbers. Even though there have been these persistent warnings that were intensified last night with messages going out from the U.S., British, Australian and other governments saying to their citizens, please get away from any kind of airport gate because we have active intelligence of an ongoing ISIS plot specifically to target crowds outside of the airport.

And then we here - we see what has unfolded. Indeed, if you go back to last Sunday, it's clear that there has been a lot of preparation gone into by this terrorist group, or in all probability ISIS-K to conduct this. Last Sunday, there was a sniper attack on Afghan guards guarding the airport perimeter that killed one and resulted in an accidental firefight between them and coalition troops.

That's a typical ISIS probing attack to see what's called TTP is the normal training response of the different units to see where vulnerabilities might lie. In this case, there are reports of two explosions and gunfire in what the Pentagon are calling a complex attack with emergency hospital in downtown Kabul saying they've got 60 people wounded, six arrived or died on arrival.

And I think, judging by what we've seen on social media, and a lot of the images are too graphic to show, obviously, I think the Afghan casualties are likely to rise. On the American side, Anderson we've certainly got a confirmation from the Pentagon, that there have been American casualties, Anderson.

COOPER: Sam, it's not uncommon. Well, first of all, Sam, you talked about the two locations close to the Abbey Gate and outside the Baron Hotel. How - what is the distance between those two locations?

KILEY: Effectively a stone's throw. They're kind of all the same area really. There's the - there's the Abbey Gate then there's a stretch of road bounded by blast walls, and then there's an entrance into the Baron, which historically has been a very secure location almost bounded within the secure perimeter of the main airport which is why the British used it as their sort of forward operating base for the rest of the airfield as part of their efforts to get evacuees through.

There was a it was easier, slightly easier to get for Afghans to the Baron Gates sometimes and particularly for foreign nationals, they even actually have a secret entrance that was being used to exfiltrate a lot of foreign nationals with the help of British special force around the back.


KILEY: So it was a very central part of the evacuation. It was the central part of the British Parachute Regiment, or Air Assault Brigade, were there in force. It's my understanding that they - I certainly saw them in in the airport yesterday; the British numbers in the airport going up significantly was indicated that they were winding down their operations there.

There's been no reports of British casualties was quite striking. But really, there's a gap so you go from one gate to the other through a sort of area of no man's land and no probability. That's where the second blast may have occurred. And it's also very close to where the first blast is confirmed to have occurred, which has been described at the Pentagon as at or near the Abbey Gate Anderson.

A very intense area for Afghans trying to get into the airport were really one of the main focuses and in the last few days, possibly the greatest focus or greatest concentration of people there, therefore presenting the greatest possible opportunity for the ISIS-K or other terrorist group to create the sort of carnage that they clearly have been intent on doing, and trying to - both the Taliban and the United States.

COOPER: And I mean, ISIS has been able to strike at will in Kabul for some time, but there is any number of groups this could possibly be? Again, this is very early, regardless of who claims credit early on? There are so many different groups operating in Afghanistan, it can often be difficult to really ascertain, particularly in these early hours.

KILEY: Yes, it can absolutely. I mean, there are large numbers of violent groups. But in a nutshell, you've got Al Qaeda, which has historically conducted terrorist attacks, and kidnappings inside Kabul. They historically have been aligned with the Haqqani Network, which is it's a sort of self-owned organism that is also part of the Taliban.

In fact, the Military Commander of the Taliban is Haqqani himself. They have a notorious historically for terrorist attacks inside Kabul in particular. And Kabul is now their area of operations in terms of - its then they're supposed to be supplying security for the airport itself.

So it's on them effectively, if a suicide bomber or any kind of terrorist has got through their cordon. This is a cordon they've been using to keep Afghans off airplanes, but not it would appear terrorists from getting through. That to be fair, this is a very porous environment, very, very difficult to control, but clearly a lapse to say the least from the Taliban.

And then you've got the so called Islamic State Khorasan group. They are universally hated even by the Islamists in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been dedicated to trying to completely exterminate them, particularly where because ISIS came into Afghanistan and started to attack Taliban people and produce those gross murder videos that they are so famous for in Syria, murdering Taliban, and equally Al Qaeda are no great fans of ISIS either.

So there has been some speculation that it's conceivable that an ISIS group might have been used as a cut outs for an errand element of the Taliban to conduct this sort of an operation that's not beyond the realms of possibility because the reality in Afghanistan and the reality of the Taliban is that it is hydra headed.

There are many different elements and many different elements of it with very different ideologies Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it is a chaotic situation, to say the least. Sam we're going to continue to come back to you. I want to check in with our Barbara Starr, who is at the Pentagon. Barbara, what's the latest you're hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Anderson, we are being told by a number of officials that they do believe there are a number of U.S. personnel who are wounded, not getting the definitive word yet whether they are military civilians, but U.S. personnel at the airport.

And of course, we're very aware that U.S. military and government families, along with Afghan families are watching this so carefully, to get word of their loved one. So we're going to be very cautious about this. And say, all we know is that several U.S. officials are telling us a number of us personnel wounded.

The key question will be how badly they're wounded? Can they be treated on site? Do they need to be medevac out to some kind of trauma care facility, either back in the Gulf or perhaps - Hospital in Germany?

And as you said, right off the top, U.S. officials are very concerned that there may be in fact more attacks to come. That means that U.S. troops who are there, the Afghans who are there on the airfield will their number one priority will be to look after everyone security. Try and keep the flow of airplanes landing filling them up taking off again.

There's about more than - just over 5000 troops we believe left U.S. troops left on the airfield. The time is winding down. Next Tuesday we're getting the point of counting down the hours, not just the days.


STARR: And the key issue now, of course, is maintaining security till they can get everyone out by that deadline Anderson.

COOPER: Is there going to - as the Pentagon said that there will be a press conference, any kind of questions can be answered?

STARR: You know we came to work this morning expecting one of those pressers around 10:30 this morning, then this happened, it has been put off. We are expecting some public word later this afternoon. But at this point, we'll have to see I'm sure they're waiting to see if President Biden decides to address the nation.

COOPER: And Barbara, there's no telling at this point, how many people might have been outside that gate at this time? Yesterday, the U.S. put out - the Embassy is based at the airport, instructed any American outside, outside the blast walls trying to get into the airport to leave the area because of a specific threat.

Obviously, that seems to some prior notification or prior concern about what might happen. It's not known at this point, how many people might have been actually outside there at the time of the blast?

STARR: Yes, not knowing for sure, clearly, as we've seen, from these reports, there were an awful lot of Afghans out there people still desperate to get out of the country. And they had been gathering on the question of Americans.

We simply don't know at this point, Americans were clearly aware that time was running out if they were going to try and get to the airport they needed to go. But that was offset by the security concern. So I think fair to say we're still waiting for any kind of war definitively how many Americans Passport Holders a few well, might have been out outside the gate at the time.

COOPER: Yes, when we talked to Sam Kiley, again, we'll talk about - we'll talk to him based on his experience of having been in that area exactly where U.S. forces would be stationed in terms of is are they always just behind the blast wall on top of the wall, as we've seen in some cases.

I know there are sometimes doors that open up. We'll talk to him about some of the details of that. Barbara, we'll continue to check in with you. Our Kaitlan Collins is joining us now from the White House. Kaitlan, I understand the president's just wrapped a national security - national security briefing.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Anderson. He was actually in the Situation Room when this attack happened earlier today meeting getting an update that he has been getting every single morning this week on the latest out of Afghanistan and what has happened overnight?

And he was actually there when this explosion happened. And he remained there for quite some time after it appears that that meeting is wrapped. We are checking with White House sources on that right now. But of course, this is top of mind for the president.

It's actually disrupted his entire schedule here at the White House today because he was supposed to be meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister who is visiting Washington right now in the Oval Office. They just actually told the Israeli press to leave the White House giving an indication of just how delayed Anderson that meeting is expected to be.

And also the president we're supposed to meet virtually with governors this afternoon. That meeting has also now been cancelled by the White House. So we are waiting to see like Barbara said whether or not President Biden does address the nation.

I think it will be a while if we do hear from him, because they are still gathering information here at the White House on how many U.S. personnel were potentially affected by this attack? What this looks like? And what the next response is going to be?

Because there are still several days left in this evacuation that is happening from Afghanistan before the president has that deadline for all U.S. troops to be removed. But Anderson also over the last several days as President Biden has been warning about the intelligence that they were seeing that the longer the U.S. troops stayed, they believe the higher the risk to them on the ground could get.

He said if there was any effort to harm U.S. service members or to disrupt the U.S. evacuation that he promised a swift and forceful response. So I think those are the two things that the president and his national security team are discussing right now, which is the safety and security of those thousands of U.S. troops who are still on the ground. And of course, what their response to this attack is going to be?

COOPER: Obviously figuring out a response to a group like ISIS-K is obviously difficult thing in Afghanistan, particularly with the limited counterinsurgency counter terror operations that probably are capable - the limited capabilities they might have right now.

COLLINS: Yes, I think that is the number one thing that we haven't actually seen the Pentagon identify them yet. They have said it is likely of course, that is what their intelligence over the last week has been showing. And so how he would respond to that really does remain to be seen.

What are the options being presented to him is another question that reporters would have. And there was supposed to be a press briefing with Jen Psaki, the Press Secretary right now, of course, that has also been delayed as part of this schedule.

Ad I believe we'll probably likely hear from the Pentagon before we hear from the White House Press Secretary as they are gathering information on this.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins of the White House. I appreciate it soon. CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department exactly what the State Department has been warning about has occurred it seems.


COOPER: Kylie, would any announcements from the State Department?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well listen, last night when the State Department told Americans not to go to the airport, citing the fact that there was a threat at the airport, citing some of the specific gates that they should stay away from.

That was an indication that everything in terms of the U.S. intelligence that they were collecting was getting more urgent with regard to the possibility of a terrorist threat that the Biden Administration has been saying was possible for the last few days and really, a few weeks.

It's one of the factors that we know went into President Biden's decision to double down and get this evacuation done by the deadline of August 31st. Because it was his belief that the longer the U.S. stays, the longer they are in the possibility that they could be impacted by this terrorist threat. And so he wanted to get Americans get U.S. troops out.

Now, of course, this is a manifestation of those threats. Threat streams, particularly from ISIS-K, that the government that U.S. intelligence officials were picking up. But we should note that we don't know exactly who has taken responsibility? Who is to blame for these two explosions?

And we also know that there has been a tremendous amount of gunfire, the State Department telling American citizens after the reports of these explosions, of course, to stay away from the airport, and to go as far as they can to avoid coming close to those gates.

Now, earlier this morning, the top U.S. diplomat on the ground said that these threats were imminent. And that was an important word that he used, because clearly they were imminent. But as we're watching these images, Anderson these incredibly tragic images of Afghans covered in blood in wheelbarrows, leaving the gates being impacted by these explosions.

It is a grim reality to recognize that the casualty number is likely to be much higher on the Afghan side. We know that there are some U.S. officials who were wounded in this, but it's the Afghans who have been crowding around these gates in large numbers trying to get out of the country onto these evacuation flights that the United States has been doing.

A lot of them have tried multiple times to get to those gates. They know it's dangerous. They know the situation is awful. But today we are seeing just how dangerous the situation is that they were willing to put themselves into.

COOPER: A lot of desperation; certainly appreciate it. We'll check back in with you shortly. We're going to take a short break and our coverage continues on this attack in Kabul.



COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the attacks in Kabul. A Turkish official is telling CNN they believe two suicide bombers carried out the attacks outside the airport this morning. Also now just coming out a Taliban spokesperson says that they have reported - that there are reports of 13 dead 52 wounded and explosions.

We have to note there are no indications of the nationalities of the deceased or injured at this time. We simply do not know. And CNN obviously has not been able to independently verify this report from the Taliban and we shouldn't say they are - even the Taliban is qualifying what they're saying by saying 13 persons are reported to have been killed and 52 wounded.

Obviously, their ability to gather information at this location is hampered. So take that for what it's worth. And again, these are very early reports. I want to bring in CNN's International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson. Nic, you know, obviously, this is exactly what the United States feared where President Biden has been warning about.

What does this do? Do you think to future operations? I mean, August 31, was the deadline. We learned yesterday according to Secretary Blinken, there may be as many as 1500 Americans still left in the country. What happens now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think all bets are off. We can't know until we get - you know, a fuller, more complete readout, that readout that we have from the Taliban. Part of their statement also goes on to say as well as noting the number of casualties, as you say, 13 dead 52 wounded.

We don't know the nationalities. But the Taliban do say that this happened in a civilian area. They used that language or happen in a civilian area. But they also say that this was an area where U.S. forces operated as well.

And their statement goes on to say, and this is a bit where I think we need to really take note about what how things proceed forward from here? They say that they will take every measure to catch the culprits. We knew that these final days of the evacuations were going to set the future tone of the relationship with the Taliban.

They promised and made great stock out of the fact that they told the United States that no U.S. forces would be targeted while the drawdown was going on. This was over many months long period. They recently had been very proudly standing up and saying that they had done that.

The Taliban own this, Anderson. And I think there's a very, very important and substantial point to be made here. The Taliban also promised the United States as part of their agreement that the United States would get out of Afghanistan.

The Taliban also promised that they would not allow terrorists to use the soil of Afghanistan. And here they were talking about Al Qaeda and others to target foreign countries. It is apparent. It is very apparent today the Taliban cannot even control what's at their front door.


ROBERTSON: Never mind terrorist training camps Al Qaeda, ISIS-K that are in remote parts of the country, never mind control what they're doing in those camps and what they're plotting and what they may be planning to perpetrate in capital cities of Europe or in or cities in the United States?

The Taliban's words ring hollow. There are a lot of skeptics that said, how can the Taliban really guarantee that they're going to stop Al Qaeda that is still based in Afghanistan, stop it attacking the United States of the future, because that was the reason to go in kick the Taliban from power and help take control of Afghanistan to stop Al Qaeda being a threat to the United States and other countries.

Today, the Taliban's words ring empty, they cannot control security, even a few miles from where they're set up in the center of Kabul. It is difficult, but they have failed. And their future failures could cost even darer, Anderson.

COOPER: And Nic it perhaps realizing that and knowing that the Taliban in their statement, they say that they confirm two explosions in the assembly of people in the area managed by U.S. forces. They're trying to make it that this is an area that the U.S. controls, which is obviously not exactly the case do U.S. is behind walls at the airport. Nic Robertson, we'll continue to check in with you.

Joining me now is CNN National Security Commentator and Former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers. Chairman Rogers, what does U.S. need to do right now to protect U.S. forces and civilians?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Yes, Anderson, this is certainly a sad day, many believed it was going to happen. And a lot of us thought, when will that happen? And why didn't it happen sooner unfortunately?

The Taliban is not a structured military force really never has been. Now they have some qualities and some training. But our U.S. presence is really in the hands of the Taliban, which is really largely a terrorist organization that now finds them in power.

Remember, out of Kabul, they're still involved in stoning's and closing girls schools and executions, without, you know - judicial executions, all of that's happening all around Afghanistan. So what we've said is, well, we're going to - the Taliban will protect our soldiers who are behind only at the airport.

I think we're going to have to push that perimeter out, in order to get people out safely. It helps ISIS, if they have a few of these successful attacks, they want to bloody Americans as much as any or any foreigners by the way there and if they kill Afghans who work with the West, even better.

So that's a target for them. And you don't have complete loyalty amongst all the Taliban fighters either. Remember, some of these extreme ideologies kind of go back and forth. Everybody wants to make sure that they - you know, I hear people talking; there's a really distinct line between ISIS and Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Yes, there's a lot of distrust and a lot of - they don't get along. However, remember, right after Osama bin Laden, a lot of in the - the rise of ISIS in Syria, groups that were pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda started flipping over saying no, no, no, we were now pledging our allegiance to ISIS.

I'm sure you remember that it was about three or six months, they were picking off tribes and doing public announcements.


ROGERS: And so it's not as clean as we want. It's turned into a bit of a petri dish of terrorism and the --

COOPER: Even the Taliban itself. You know, we often think about it as this as sort of one group when in fact, there are kind of all different levels within kind of hemispheres within the organization itself.

I mean, the Taliban who are negotiating in Doha, Qatar, who, you know, are on the foreign stage, who interact with women are very different than the fighters on the ground who have come in to Kabul, and there are differences between Taliban who come from Helmand Province in the South, and those who come from the East of Afghanistan are linked with Haqqani Network. I mean, there are a lot of different factions within the Taliban.

ROGERS: Completely. And you have to remember one of the things about this big Taliban army everyone's talking about more than half of them can't read. They're illiterate. And so one of the reasons they make this pronouncement in Kabul remember, by the way, this is already happening outside of Kabul, where they say women you need to stay home, you can't go to work for your own safety.

What they're telling you is they have no way to control large swaths of the Taliban fighters who believe women are cattle. This is who we're now negotiating with. These are the prisoners we just released. I mean, it's - this is a huge security problem.

And so even if they get assurances from "Taliban Leadership", they just told us the other day by telling women to stay home even though they promised the West they wouldn't do this that we can't control these people. And so one of the things that ISIS and the Taliban had been very good at is threatening families that were working with the West before all this happened.