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U.S. Drones Strike Kills Key 9/11 Architect Ayman Al-Zawahiri; White House Announces Federal Monkeypox Coordinator; Pelosi Arrives In Taiwan Amid High Tensions With China. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Intelligence and Security Analyst Bob Baer, He's a former CIA operative, CNN International Security editor Nick Payton Walsh, and also Susan Glasser, back with us.

Nick, Zawahiri was one of the most visible terrorists left. I mean, you could almost argue that he is one of few who many Americans still had name recognition of. What do you think of how Jake Sullivan described his role in Al-Qaeda's network now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I think that's pretty fair. Frankly, he's going to have better information than me, I managed to find this guy in the middle of Kabul with no boots on the ground. We're also seeing a different diminished al-Qaeda, frankly, not what we knew 20 years ago, a small clique of guys, you know hiding out and we're like, know where he is.

Issuing orders, this is now a global franchise, and as often local groups doing things to locals on a terror basis. Still with the West as a target, but it's spread, certainly. But it's not that cohesive group it was in bin Laden's first days, certainly. So yes, him being taken out is symbolically going to make a big difference because look, you can't hide it.


WALSH: This is quite extraordinary how they managed to find in the way that they did and the precision and competence they have to know their target was.


WALSH: But yes, I don't think tomorrow, something's not going to happen, that would possibly have occurred had this not happened itself.

BOLDUAN: It's a -- it's a -- I think that's a great way of putting it. It can be both things at one time. And, Bob, I saw a statement from Congresswoman Liz Cheney last night and she said that the Taliban never broke with al-Qaeda and the Taliban -- Afghanistan remains now a safe haven for terrorists to this day. Jake Sullivan was asked if Afghanistan is now a safe harbor once again. Here's what he said. Let me play this for you. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I think it's strange to call it a safe harbor when we just took out the leader of al-Qaeda sitting on his balcony in Kabul. So no, it does not signal that to me. What it signals to me, Savannah is that the president has made good on his word when we left. He said the United States did not need to keep sending thousands of American men and women to fight and die in Afghanistan after 20 years of war to keep this country safe.


BOLDUAN: Do you agree with his assessment of Afghanistan, and if it's a safe harbor now?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I wouldn't use a safe harbor for that because there is no Afghanistan. It's a failed state. The Taliban is broken up into pieces. Right now, we don't know who was protecting Zawahiri, but clearly, some faction of the Taliban was. You know, I think the amazing thing is this is intelligence at its best. You've got drones, facial recognition, AI, and cell phones.

And this tells the story you don't actually need boots on the ground to take one of these guys out. I mean, I was just amazed by how they did this, and that they didn't use high explosives to take that floor down where he was at. I mean, this is -- this is the good news from the war on terror is we have figured out how to do it. And this was a very, very important strike because Zawahiri was the mastermind behind 9/11 and a lot of other attacks. He was a cold-blooded murderer. And getting him off the battlefield was a -- was a great victory.

BOLDUAN: But, Bob, I was actually going to ask you about the intelligence and what a success it was because they were tracking him for months, they developing kind of like a pattern of life, his daily life and how he operated. They were able to do that. They built this model of the compound of the apartment building in order to show the president how they would be able to do this operation. And where -- how he would spend long periods of time on a -- on the balcony, which is where he ended up being killed. That seems pretty sophisticated intelligence for not having any boots on the ground. How was this intelligence gathered?

BAER: Well, a lot of its biometrics, you can actually see some of them. They had seen Bin Laden on the roof of his house when he -- when he -- the raid occurred, the Seal raid. They could measure his height, they can look for anomalies and cell calls from that building, which floors were making normal ones which weren't, which had no cell phones.

And I can almost assure you and the news is not completely out that they didn't use human sources, that it's all technical. It's just -- it's just a fantastic operation. He could have stayed in a basement forever for the rest of his life, and we would have never found him maybe. But the fact that he thought he was safe in Kabul and protected by the Taliban exposed him and actually, our departure from Afghanistan helped get rid of this guy. BOLDUAN: That's interesting. Susan, what is this all say, though, about the promises made by the Taliban to get the U.S. withdrawal?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. It's an important point back in 2020 when Donald Trump made the deal with the Taliban that eventually resulted in the accident, you know, confirmed by his successor, Joe Biden. In the Trump deal, there essentially was a commitment but really the wording of it was kind of amorphous, that the Taliban would not be allow Afghanistan under their control to be used as a base for terrorist attacks on the United States.


So that's sort of the loophole that the Taliban will seize on right now and say, well, he wasn't using it as a base of operations, although at the time when the Taliban took over various folks, persons for the Taliban insisted that they were not giving sanctuary and helping al-Qaeda. This seems to violate the spirit, if not the direct language of the agreement that Trump made with the Taliban. And again, it underscores that they never really disavowed al-Qaeda. And that, by all accounts, Zawahiri moved to the capital of Kabul and was there for months with his wife and his family and essentially living there.

A senior U.S. official -- Biden official said yesterday that the Taliban was well aware at senior levels of Zawahiri's presence there. And that raises some disturbing policy questions that we haven't heard the answer to going forward. What does that mean for U.S. dealings with Afghanistan?

BOLDUAN: But that's -- and that was actually because, Nick, you pointed out this morning that this also wasn't some sketchy outskirts way off somewhere that he and his family were.

WALSH: Yes, I'm so struck with this incredible idea of a neighborhood where I spent a lot of time myself when I live there, rich Westerners secure compounds, well connected Afghan officials, a balcony, I'm sure where, you know, Americans may have enjoyed an illicit whiskey at some point in the past. In dawn light outworks, one of the world's most wanted men, a man who as you heard from Bob masterminded 9/11 and thinks he's safe, and then showing how the war on terror has just utterly transformed in the last 20 years. A low level of explosive or not even an explosive takes him out with that kind of precision without even needing to necessarily get near his human remains. And that was the whole issue of Bin Laden, they needed to be sure.

And so this shows the level of capability, but it also shows how the Taliban haven't really it seems evolved. Yes, they've been through this awful 20 years of the insurgency, the damage that's done to Afghanistan and to their own ranks, yet still, part of them have decided that bringing this most well-known figure into their inner sanctuary. I mean, you know, this potential that some of the Haqqani network were living just doors away from this man, that they still thought that was a good idea.

Yes, this is a very different al-Qaeda than that 9/11 group that we knew, they are diminished, certainly. But it shows the issues potentially in the years ahead, but also for the Biden administration. Their success here is also showing a failure of their policy. Al-Qaeda weren't really that degraded in Afghanistan because their leader was still there. But still, they only got to expose that by taking him out. So it goes both ways to win, who knows?

BOLDUAN: Yes, it is -- it is both. It's good to see you, Nick. Thank you. Susan, Bob, thank you guys very much. Coming up for us, more states are declaring monkey plot -- monkeypox an emergency and now the White House has named a new team to address this latest public health challenge. I'm going to speak to New York City's health commissioner, whom officials are calling the city epicenter of this outbreak.



BOLDUAN: Let's turn now to the growing monkeypox outbreak. The White House announcing today a top FEMA official will now be the administration's monkeypox response coordinator. This comes as states like California and Illinois are declaring states of emergency about the outbreak, a step taken by New York City just this week as well. Joining me right now is New York City's health commissioner, Dr. Ashwin Vasan, thank you so much for coming back in, Doctor. It's good to see you.


BOLDUAN: What can the city do now today with this emergency declaration that it couldn't do the day before?

VASAN: Yes, this is an important signal that we are treating this outbreak with urgency. It's an important signal to align with our state partners. The governor, Kathy Hochul, issued an emergency order of her own over the weekend, which liberates resources for us, which liberates the workforce for us to do vaccinations. And together it's an important signal also to the federal government that we really need those emergency resources from FEMA and elsewhere in order to mount the kind of response that people expect from us.

BOLDUAN: So on that note, we know now that there's a new monkey box -- monkeypox response coordinator and a -- and a team that's just been announced by the White House. Are you getting the coordination that you need from the federal government because it's -- when announcing this it seems to suggest that the White House is now taking this outbreak more seriously?

VASAN: Well, look, I mean, you know, having the director and the co- director, Dr. Daskalakis, who was a former New York City official, who manage disease control when he was here, a former colleague of mine, is very encouraging because it obviously means that we're matching operations and science in the best -- the best of both worlds. We are grateful to our federal partners for everything they've tried to do and are trying to do.

But just remember New York City is the epicenter of this outbreak, we have 25 percent of the country's cases. And we really need the vaccine. We need access to treatment, and testing commensurate with that status as the epicenter. It's the same as we saw with COVID. As New York goes, the rest of the country goes and so really providing that attention to our city will help everyone.

BOLDUAN: Look -- and you never want to bite the hand that feeds you, of course, but when it comes -- two weeks ago when you were on, you said then that you needed more vaccines in order to do the job and to protect people in New York. I mean, what I saw last week is the federal government announced it's distributing nearly 800,000 vaccine doses from the national stockpile, around 10 percent of those doses are going to be allocated to the city. Do you have those in hand?

VASAN: We just ordered those and they should be coming in hand now. So again, we're really encouraged by the influx of more vaccines into the country. We're also asking folks to think ahead, what's going to happen next, where's that next tranche of vaccines coming from? But you said the data yourself, right, we have 25 percent of the country's cases, we got 10 percent of this allocation. We estimate that we have up to 150,000 people here in New York City who might be at risk of getting or transmitting monkeypox under the current criteria for vaccination, so we have work to do to get to that number --

BOLDUAN: And so you don't --

VASAN: We're appreciative of everything where everyone's trying to help.

BOLDUAN: So you're not going to have enough, right?

VASAN: Well, I don't know that anyone has enough in this country yet. But that's the effort that I think Washington is making to get more vaccines in, and we're very thankful for that. We just want to make sure that New York is getting the attention and the priority that it needs as the epicenter of this outbreak, for sure.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And you're on the forefront of drawing that attention and getting this out -- get -- getting a handle on what's happening here in New York City, for sure. Thank you for coming on, Commissioner. Appreciate your time.

Coming up for us still, a breaking news. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the ground in Taiwan, a visit that has been controversial since well, we've learned about it, and one strongly opposed by China. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, he joins me live next.



BOLDUAN: The breaking news out of Taiwan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just arrived at her hotel. We have a new video in from just moments ago. At the same time, the Chinese government is issuing new warnings and threats as the speaker touches down, saying Pelosi's visit marks a serious infringement on Chinese sovereignty. It is not clear how long the speaker is going to be staying in Taiwan or who she will meet while she is there but we will be following it closely. You can see people kind of lining the route as the motorcade passes by.

Joining me right now for more on this and much more, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here. So Pelosi is on the ground now. The question then becomes what does the U.S. gain from this visit with these new threats coming from China, as they issue the statement from the foreign ministry just as she arrived? Do you think that her visit is worth it?


REP. ADAM SMITH, (D-WA): Yes, absolutely. I don't think it significantly changes the equation despite the overheated rhetoric we've heard in the last couple of weeks since we heard about her plans. Look, the situation with China is very tense. It's a difficult situation. I don't think it's any more tense now than it's been for the last several months. I mean, we've seen the reports of Chinese warplanes and ships, you know, buzzing U.S. ships and allies like Australia in the region. That rhetoric has been ramping up for a year or two now.

It's a tense, difficult situation, the Speaker of the House visiting Taiwan for a day. I don't think it significantly changes that equation. But it's a very tense situation, whether the speaker went there or not, that's going to require a lot of attention on the part of our national security apparatus to try to keep tensions calm, and not let this blow up into a larger confrontation.

BOLDUAN: What can -- what can you do, what can the White House do or what can Speaker Pelosi do while on the ground to make sure it doesn't blow up, as you say, and then the rhetoric just remains, maybe as it is, just heated rhetoric and nothing more?

SMITH: Well, I think it's really important. And I am worried about the rhetoric that we've seen certainly coming out of China. I mean, we've seen it President Xi has been come, you know, very nationalistic in his approach. He's sort of using that, that sort of, you know, strong man image to consolidate his support. In the next couple of months, he's going to be -- you know be up for the vote to extend his term as he basically becomes the leader for life.

But the rhetoric on our side I've been worried about too. Like I said that the speaker visiting -- we've had a long-standing relationship with Taiwan. But when you start talking about you know moving away from strategic ambiguity, moving away from the One China policy, I know there's been some talk about how the U.S. should explicitly put in law that we will come to the defense of Taiwan, that type of rhetoric -- I mean that has a real-world implication.

And if China feels like they're being pushed and we're pushing Taiwan independence, that is dangerous. We should stick with the strategic ambiguity policy of One China Two Systems, nobody's in any rush to resolve that. So I do worry about the anti-China rhetoric on our side. But again, the speaker merely visiting the island, members of Congress, a lot of different government officials have visited Taiwan over the years, that should not significantly change the equation. BOLDUAN: I want to turn now and ask you about this successful precision drone strike to take out -- take it -- to take out Zawahiri. We've been talking about it throughout the hour is a very successful operation. The more details that come out are pretty impressive how they pulled it off without boots on the ground. What more are you learning about this strike and what it means for Americans?

SMITH: One of the one -- the one piece of it that I haven't heard mentioned, as much as it should have been is, you know, certainly, it's incredibly important to get Zawahiri. You know one of the architects, not just of 9/11 but of the Cole bombing and a number of other attacks on U.S. interests. It was important that we not just let him drift into retirement. So I think it's incredibly important that we took out one of the architects of 9/11.

But what's also important is now that al-Qaeda knows that we can still find them in Afghanistan. And I just, I've heard some of the rhetoric about, oh, this shows that we should have stayed in Afghanistan. It doesn't. If we'd stayed in Afghanistan, we would have U.S. service members, you know, fighting and dying in a very difficult circumstance. We do need to be worried about the terrorist threat from Afghanistan, but the message this sends to al-Qaeda is you may have thought you were all snug and secure in Afghanistan, you are not.

So operationally, they're not going to be able to move about, you know, with the freedom of movement, thinking that they're, you know, completely safe and protected. That note of uncertainty will make it very difficult for al-Qaeda to plan going forward. So I think it's crucial that we had this successful operation, and it does help us in our counterterrorism efforts.

BOLDUAN: At the same time, Zawahiri was living in an apartment building in downtown Kabul. I mean, one of the world's most wanted men kind of allowed to live in this, you know, fancy neighborhood among the Taliban. The Taliban -- should -- too -- do you think the Taliban should be held accountable? What is the range of possibilities in how to do that?

SMITH: Well, that's kind of the point, Kate. He -- in fact, he was not allowed to live. He was not allowed to live period, whether it was in you know -- however you want to describe it, he's dead because he was there. And I've heard that, and I do understand it, you know, it shows that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are still partners. Nobody was under any illusion that that wasn't the case. I know, there's been a lot of talks about well, as part of the agreement for us to pull our forces out, the Taliban agree to disassociate themselves with al-Qaeda, nobody who was involved in that really believed that the Taliban would do that, OK?


I mean, you may as well get the promise, since we were not in a position to do what we want to do in Afghanistan. But nobody was under any illusion that the Taliban and al-Qaeda were going to separate. But again, what this shows is that al-Qaeda is not able to safely and freely operate in Afghanistan. We got a lot of work here. There's a lot to worry about. It's a tough and difficult situation.

But one thing we've learned and I and Fareed Zakaria was talking about this yesterday, and he summed it up as well as anyone, the idea that the U.S. can counter-terrorism by occupying a country that this is going to make us you know, better able to protect ourselves has been proven not to be the case. What has helped us is our ability to do things like what we just did with Zawahiri, to use our intel assets, to use our strike capability, to put the terrorists at risk no matter where they are without us having to commit tens of thousands of troops in a fruitless effort to remake a country. I think it shows that this approach is better than the idea of invading countries and trying to occupy them.

BOLDUAN: Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming on. Really appreciate it.

SMITH: Thanks. Important topics, I appreciate, Kate. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. Thank you all so much for being here. I'm Kate Boduan. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts after this break.