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Taliban: 13 Dead, 52 Wounded In Kabul Explosions; Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) Is Interviewed About Withdrawal Of U.S. Troops In Afghanistan. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 26, 2021 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:00]

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: And so even if they get assurances from, quote unquote, 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 to infiltrate certain places to run suicide bomber operations, vehicle borne explosion operations, they did all of that. And so again, I just, you know, we've kind of said, well, they're going to protect us.

Well, I think today, you realize, and then hopefully Americans realize, and I hope the President realizes that just isn't going to happen. We are going to have to take control of a bigger space around that airport if you really want to make sure that everybody gets out of there, that it doesn't become a target. Remember, smaller our military footprint, the more tasty target that is for al-Qaeda, for ISIS and others.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: When you talk, though, about expanding the perimeter, that brings in a whole host of issues. I mean, there's -- there are blast walls around the airport, there's no blast walls in an expanded perimeter unless we move those blast walls and start putting up new blast walls, all of which is I mean, you're talking about a huge undertaking.

ROGERS: Oh, it's well, it's huge. But the -- here's the risk you take. And it's not -- it won't be easy. And I'm not sure the Taliban would be, you know, they're going to be for this. But if you can't push them back in the perimeter, and then move out our U.S. presence, to give us a little breathing room. And by the way, that airport is just darn near impossible to secure, because it's basically an urban airport. And we don't control any of the city around the airport, it makes it just an absolute nightmare for security.

So yes, that one -- it's not going to be easy. The other option, and I think this is where they're leaning, and we're hearing this from people that we are talking to out in Afghanistan, is they're just going to put a padlock on all the gates and just run like hell and get on the airplanes and get out. I mean, a sad and embarrassing day for the United States. But I think that's the choice they're going to make. At least that's what the people on the ground are telling us.

They're being told to basically run, panic, we even heard one say, get on foot and go north, and hope you can get to the border. I mean, these are the kinds of things that are -- in running rampant through the city of Kabul right now. And that creates its own chaos.

And that's why we also really ought to look at this blast as well, this blast also helps the Taliban, right, because they don't want these people leaving, they don't want -- they want to be able to stop people at their control points. So I'd be really careful about trying to figure out who, what, when, why of this class, pretty easy to say it was ISIS. OK. But we also know Taliban uses this tactic as well.

COOPER: Yes. And there are certainly a lot of different groups that would benefit particularly the Taliban from something like this. Mike Rogers appreciate it.

We are just getting new and graphic video of the aftermath of the terror attack in Kabul. We're blurring that video because it is so jarring. You can see a row of bodies some wounded among citizens there, others lifeless, survivors and bystanders looking for anyone they can who can help. With me now is CNN producer, Tim Lister who has been extensively reporting details out of Kabul. Tim, what do you -- what do we know now that we didn't know an hour ago?

TIM LISTER, CNN PRODUCER: And this is I think the most important thing we know is that this was a complex attack. And it fits in so many ways. The ISIS-K modus operandi, they had the motivation to do this. They certainly had the capability to do this. And it was typically their modus operandi. It's a static, large civilian crowd, easily, easily hit.

In the first four months of this year alone, according to the United Nations Afghanistan mission, they carried out 77 attacks across Afghanistan, mainly in Jalalabad and Kabul. They have sleeper cells in Kabul that go after that hit major civilian gatherings, very often targeting Sikh, Shia mosques, for example.

So they're capable, they know what they're doing. And they also wanted to show the Taliban that they are apostates in their eyes, that the deal, as they put it, in the hotel rooms of Qatar was basically surrendering Islam to the Americans. So they're on a mission here, ISIS-K. And they have been also supplemented by well over 100, perhaps several 100 ISIS prisoners who escaped as the Taliban advanced across Afghanistan, especially from two prisons near Kabul, where they were held him down.

So the Taliban have now a major security headache on their hands. And the big question going forward is, can they possibly govern Afghanistan in the midst of an emerging humanitarian and economic crisis and unable to control huge tracts of what is a very mountainous country as you will know. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS will be very difficult to control. And you have to wonder although President Biden talks about the over

the horizon capability of U.S. intelligence, you've got to wonder whether another lack of human intelligence on the ground is going to make Afghanistan yet again a base, if you will, to international terrorism.

[12:35:17]

COOPER: Yes.

Tim Lister, appreciate it. I want to go to Sam Kiley who is in Doha, Qatar, just reporting most recently in Kabul from the airport for days. Sam so we just got in this video we have blurted for very understandable reasons, it's very graphic. But if we can rerocket and -- can you just talk about -- let's talk about the area that we're seeing, you talked about a canal, you talked about blast walls, where do you -- where is this video from do you believe?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This looks just south of the Abbey Gate, you can see the sewage canal, or at least I've seen the original version of this. So you can see very clearly in it the sewage canal, which is further south, there's also blast walls visible in some of these videos that have -- that are emerging that we're having to authenticate and blur because they are so graphic, Anderson.

So this is very clearly on that road up towards the Abbey Gate where large numbers of people have been concentrating. And it's overlooked by as you progress North up that road, you get kind of within sight of the airport perimeter, you come closer and closer until you're right up against effectively the airport perimeter. And it's at that point where American and other international coalition troops but mostly Americans up on the wall almost like mediaeval people, mediaeval knights standing on the ramparts of battlements.

They're sometimes visible to very frequently visible particularly around the gate to people try to get in. Indeed, that is the way many people have been able to get in by getting messages inside the airport to say I've got my documents, those documents get kind of screened out electronically, then identifying themselves without clothing or a baby dressed in yellow as one did, allowing these soldiers then to literally point at them.

And then they quickly open the gate and close it again very rapidly, letting people in in these sporadic moments. Of course, that's necessary as part of the screening process. But it means you get a bottleneck of people presenting inevitably a target for groups who want to cause this kind of carnage. It's an absolute catastrophe clearly, for the people of Afghanistan.

It's also very bad news, indeed, for the Taliban, who will now be held responsible for the failure of security to run the airport perimeter. They were supposed to run a better screening process further out. So I think one should also bear in mind, notwithstanding the fact that the Taliban themselves have a long record of terrorist attacks, particularly in Kabul. But very few countries around the world have been completely immune to

terrorist attack, it's not possible at least of all in a place like Afghanistan to stop every single set potential attack. There's -- indeed, there's some possibility that the information about this imminent attack to the Americans may well have come from the Taliban in the first place, but they will still, Anderson, will be held responsible for the failure here that is allowed this to happen.

COOPER: Sam, just talk kind of the trying to get a sense for our viewers, because if you haven't been to this area, and it's been a while since I was at the Kabul airport, it's very confusing to try to get kind of in our minds a visual of where the U.S. forces are. We're showing this map you can see the Baron -- the area of the Baron hotel. It's not far from near the Abbey Gate that we're showing the -- an explosion was reported near the Abbey Gate.

In the video that we're blurring out, how far is that from a location where American forces would be? And you talked about the Americans on the blast walls, essentially looking over the glass walls, identifying people who can come in and then open gates, how exposed are American forces, potentially to a blast?

KILEY: Well, they're very high up, I mean, some of these glass walls are five, six, seven, eight yards high. So in theory, they should have been relatively well protected. But the problem is that if and this blast has gone off, and I'm just looking slightly off to the right there, because I can actually see the map that you're looking at this way, you see that red dot this blast would have done just south of that location, I think, in all probability, that is where can people have been concentrating, that would have meant that American forces and others would have been very close to it.

And because this road is bounded that point on two sides by concrete walls, these glass walls, the force of the glass will go up and down the street and straight up, Anderson, that means that anybody up on the top of the glass walls will be vulnerable to it too because it's forced up from the ground and it can't go out sideways. So it's squeezed up and squeezed out, up and down the road.

[12:40:09]

So concentrating the brass probably contributed to the casualties among Americans, and clearly has caused mass casualties among the Afghans, the Taliban claiming that they're 52 injured. We know from the emergency hospital, which is an NGO, an Italian NGO, downtown, very long experience in Afghanistan. They say they've received 60 wounded and six dead on arrival. And we know from seeing the unblurred footage that we've been showing there, Anderson.

But very large numbers of people have been killed. It is absolute Carnage there. But the interesting thing about it is that just to the right of it that, Baron -- or just south there, the Baron hotel is was part of the structures of the security for the international coalition that was the British base where the airborne assault brigade were based filtering people in. It's why that area has become a magnet not only to people get in their

home through the Abbey Gate themselves itself, but they also get in by going via the British camp and then into the Abbey Gate.

The British had largely collapsed that as part of their withdrawal, I believe because there were a lot of Brits on the airbase yesterday and it but it's a frankly a stone's throw almost between the exit to the Baron and the entrance to Abbey Gate. There's a reporter the second explosion or probability, this is my guess, were probably at the Baron gate. They were very close to it. There's no reports of they actually got to here hotel, but they clearly were very close to it, Anderson.

COOPER: Sam let me just ask you, what happens now in the, you know, Secretary Blinken yesterday was saying as many as 1,500 Americans may still be in Afghanistan. We don't know what now is going to happen outside these gates, whether, you know, obviously the yesterday evening, East Coast time around -- I think it was around 7:00 pm or so the U.S. put out an alert, the State Department from the airport, putting out alerting saying any Americans outside trying to get in, you should leave now because of a specific threat.

I don't know if what this attack has occurred was that the result of what that threat was intercepted. But what happens now in terms of those left behind Trump -- who are still trying to get out, American citizens, obviously, any Afghans who have documents, but particularly American citizens, how will the U.S. actually get American citizens out if they cannot now come to the gate?

KILEY: Well, I think that the Americans are going to have to move very fast indeed, if they want to get any more people out. I have no doubt that they're doing just that as we speak. There have been, frankly, snatched squads going out and picking people up covert operations to go out and get people in specific locations or with pre arrangements, many of most of them have been successful. But I've also spoken to groups who have been trapped, who've been themselves been trying to get to locations where they might be rescued, unable to do so.

There's a probability actually, the Taliban cooperation in that sort of an operation will be accelerated, because there's everything for the Taliban to be gained in trying to recover their reputation such as it is with the United States after an atrocity like this, rather than dig their heels in and be uncooperative.

And at the same time, the but I think that, on top of that, there will be or there has been promises made by the Taliban, and indeed the Biden administration that after the military evacuation, that there will be a possibility for normal exfiltration, to use a military term to leave the country by normal means.

The problem there is that the borders between, the land borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan are extremely fraught. It's not clear at all on an hourly basis, whether or not they're open between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is the obvious nearest route out and not always Taliban obedience at those locations to the center.

The Taliban themselves is this Hydra headed beast, not a great deal of discipline at that kind of micro level, great deal of opportunities for people to get very badly hurt or worse through Taliban simply behaving according to type rather than according to how their new central command is trying to project this new Taliban 2.0.

So, the best, the greatest hope for those left behind is a seamless transition at the airport, a return to civilian aircraft traffic, and then a passage out with the approval of the Taliban to whatever country they're going to. The problem with that is that the Taliban have already said prior to this explosion, no Afghans must go down this road. Because we don't want to have our doctors and engineers and others being exported to foreign countries so they need to row back on that for any Afghan really to have much prospect of getting out.

[12:45:11]

In the short term, I think the Americans are probably going to hunker down and wait and see because now it's very dangerous to get out there to that airfield, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Sam Kiley, appreciate it. We will be right back with more details from Kabul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the attack in Kabul. We have an update out of the White House. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is standing by. So what's going on?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been one of the top officials who has been at the White House for several hours now monitoring this alongside President Biden given they were already in the Situation Room for a pre scheduled national security meeting this morning when this explosion happened.

My colleague Betsy Klein now says that Secretary Blinken is left after being on campus for about three hours. We of course assume he is going back to the State Department to continue to monitor this from there. And this comes is President Biden now after spending the morning in the Situation Room is in the Oval Office and is receiving regular updates on what has happened and what has unfolded in Kabul with this explosion outside the airport.

Of course the number one question for U.S. officials right now is what has happened to U.S. service members on the ground who were operating a lot of those gates where you saw hundreds of people waiting outside, those same gates that the State Department was telling U.S. citizens last night not to approach and to actually leave those gates given the security threats that they believed were happening. And of course, unfortunately came to fruition this morning.

And so we're waiting to get an update from the White House but this is really kind of up into the entire schedule here, not just in Washington but at the White House today because there was supposed to be a meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister here at the White House that has now been delayed. It's not even clear if that's actually going to happen today, at this point, given just the fluidity of all of this timing as they are trying to figure out the latest on the ground.

[12:50:18]

And Anderson, there will be another meeting this afternoon that has also been delayed, or that has actually been cancelled. And so we're just waiting to hear from White House officials. However, I think we are not going to hear from White House officials until we've heard from the Pentagon on what they know is the latest that's going on.

COOPER: All right, Kaitlan, we'll check back with you shortly. Joining me now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger who served as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan. Congressman, your thoughts on what we're seeing so far?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, it's obviously awful. We were in a briefing in Congress a couple days ago. And we were warned of this exact threat. It was actually probably the only time I've had a briefing where there was such specific information. So obviously, we had it from good sources.

But look, the reality is, I think this needs to be a reminder to Americans, that when it comes to war, it's not just one side that can decide if they want that war to end, one person, one side can determine they want it to continue. And they get a vote on that. And as we're getting ready to leave, as we had a day certain to be out, we get hit by ISIS.

And by the way, anybody that believes the Taliban is now some magical new governance solution that actually is our bulwark against ISIS. That's not true. They -- this is in their DNA, even in their fervent religious belief. So look, every time every day a president has to make decisions, and sometimes those decisions lead to harder decisions. And I think the decision to leave Afghanistan felt easy. Now it's leaving to this hard decision of what do we do with those that we have to evacuate in this environment?

COOPER: Obviously, there's a lot, you probably can't say about the briefing you received. Are you confident that this was an ISIS-K attack?

KINZINGER: Yes, I mean, I guess I can't say I'm confident that it was ISIS at this moment, it seems like that's the case. And I can't go into a lot of what we were briefed, but this seems to comport with what the warning was. But I mean, this is a big concern, because again, keep in mind, ISIS, the Haqqani Network, which is now we're going to be part of the governing coalition of the Taliban, all of these folks have made it clear that they want to do large scale attacks on civilians and everything else.

And now, as we exit Afghanistan, we're losing our ability to see into that decision matrix. So I would imagine that this warning that came about ISIS in the attack will probably not have that same stream of information available when we're completely out of Afghanistan. COOPER: The President had promised a quote, swift and forceful response, end quote, to any attack on U.S. forces. It's one thing to say that it's another thing to actually make that happen.

KINZINGER: So this is that, you know, escalating series of decisions that a President has to make. That's not a -- there's no good answer to this. But I think if the President does not respond where he can, if the President does not follow through on the commitment, even though this is going to slow up the evacuation to get every American out, and the promises we have made to our Afghan partners, the view of us not responding after this attack, and then fleeing from the Kabul airport, I think will do a lot to embolden those that now have a easy way to go out and recruit other radicals to fight the United States of America and our partners.

And this is, again, Anderson, like, I wish I could be Rand Paul, and come on T.V. and talk about endless wars and make you feel tired and tell you that America is doing all this stuff that isn't worth it. But this is reality confronted in the face when America makes easier choices, and decides we're just going to leave. The fact is there are people that no matter how much we want to go home. They want to kill us and we either fight them there or we'll fight them here.

COOPER: I just received something while you were talking that according to a senior U.S. official and another source briefed on initial assessments, U.S. officials say they believe ISIS-K was likely behind the attack are still working to confirm the group's involvement. What do you think U.S. options are? I mean, there are -- is certainly one option is continuing with the evac -- the withdrawal of trying to get, you know, more U.S. troops out basically trying to get out of Afghanistan, you know, as soon as U.S. forces can. How did they I mean, if they choose to continue this and continue evacuations, how did they reach out to Americans and get Americans to the airport, I assume gathering outside the gate for Americans that's not an option.

[12:55:09]

KINZINGER: Yes. I mean, it's going to be, you know, look, here's the reality where we're at maybe there's moments when they can get them through the gate when they know it's secure. Maybe it's going to be going outside the gate to get Americans. But the Taliban have acted like they're going to secure the perimeter, they obviously did not.

So I think there is a case for the United States to make that we are not leaving to all Americans and all the Afghans that have -- that are SIV's that we've promised are safe, and we will go outside of the gate to get them if necessary. Look, it's going to be dangerous. It's -- this is, again, every decision leads to other decisions. This is a tough one. But I think the best way to push back initially, obviously, if we know where ISIS assets are in the region, let's destroy them and kill those people.

Secondarily, though, if we leave now without following through on our mission and our commitment to Americans and our Afghan partners, that will actually do more damage than any suicide bomb did today. So I think double down in on our commitment to bringing those partners home, I think is going to be especially important, and I would encourage the administration then to double down their efforts to have intelligence in place so that we know these threats in Afghanistan in the future because we are significantly losing a line of sight into these terrorist groups.

COOPER: Congressman Kinzinger, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

KINZINGER: You bet.

COOPER: Our coverage continues in just a moment. We're following the breaking news out of Kabul. We'll be right back.

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