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At This Hour

CNN In Afghanistan One Year After U.S. Withdrawal; House Republicans Issue Scathing Report On Afghan Withdrawal; China Announces New Drills Amid New U.S. Visit To Taiwan. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 15, 2022 - 11:30   ET



POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nature of those life-changing injuries that his son discussed yesterday. But his son also saying that what he described as his feisty, defiant -- feisty to in defiance sense of humor, that is still intact so it's certainly offering them hope for recovery albeit a very slow and fairly painful one.

But nonetheless, we are also hearing from the other man that was injured the day of the attack, which was the moderator, Henry Reese, who is sharing the stage at the moment when he was attacked.

Well, he spoke to our colleague Brian Stelter over the weekend and not only discussing just the irony of it all, which was the purpose of the event, was to discuss the need to provide support and sanctuary for persecuted writers, just like Rushdie but also discussing what he hopes will be the positive outcome out of this horrible attack, as you're about to see, Reese even facing the recovery of his own.


HENRY REESE, CO-FOUNDER, CITY OF ASYLUM: Hopefully, one of the positive things that will come from this is we can begin to identify and work with other cities and individuals in those cities to add new cities of asylum and protect more writers so that this happens to fewer writers around the world.


SANDOVAL: A 24-year-old New Jersey man who remains in custody pleaded not guilty to attempted murder over the weekend, Kate. State Police are the ones who have -- will have to establish a motive here, will have to officially say whether or not that decade's old death decree for Iran possibly was a factor.

But in the meantime, Western officials and leaders, Kate, they are really seizing on the opportunity to call this out for what it is which is an attack on freedom of speech, freedom of expression. New York Governor Kathy Hochul yesterday is saying that a man with a knife will not silence a man with a pen.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's true. It's good to see you, Polo, thank you for the update. Coming up for us, on the one-year mark since leaving Afghanistan, CNN's Clarissa Ward is live from Kabul on what life is really like now under Taliban rule. Also, House Republicans have released a scathing report on the Biden administration's handling of that withdrawal operation. The top Republican behind that report is our guest.



BOLDUAN: Today marks one year since Kabul fell to the Taliban and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was underway. What followed was weeks of chaos as hundreds of thousands of desperate Afghans tried to flee, families separated in the crush, 13 U.S. service members were killed after a suicide bomber attacked a key airport entry point.

One year later, the streets of Kabul surely appear calmer but for those now living under Taliban control, the desperation remains. CNN's Clarissa Ward is live in Kabul, Afghanistan with a look at what life is like today. Clarissa, what are you seeing and hearing there now?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, for some, today was a day of celebration. We were out in the streets as Taliban fighters stream through a central square, waving flags, declaring it a national holiday to commemorate the victory of the Afghan jihad against the American occupiers. But for so many other Afghans and particularly here in Kabul, and in other major cities, today has not been a day of celebration.

And there are many huge challenges facing people both on the human rights side of things, of course, girls still cannot go to school in Kabul after sixth grade, the Taliban has said that was a temporary suspension, but they have yet to lift the ban.

Women have been pushed out of many parts of public life, and female sort of, civil society organizations have been decimated. According to one group, 77 percent of those civil society organizations for women have simply ceased to exist.

And then on top of that, you have the issue of poverty, and it is crippling. Afghanistan has always been poor. And now it is extremely poor, nearly half the population, according to the UN, do not have food to eat. And so you will hear people saying that they would like to see the U.S. unfreeze those funds that were frozen after the Taliban took power.

The U.S. now saying they have no intention of doing that, in no small part because of the issue of the killing by a U.S. drone of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri right here in central Kabul just over two weeks ago. We actually confronted the spokesperson -- the Taliban spokesperson for the foreign ministry about that. Take a listen to what he had to say.


WARD (voiceover): The Taliban says it wants to see peaceful and positive relations with all countries including the U.S. But those prospects were dramatically diminished. The head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in a villa in downtown Kabul just over two weeks ago.

ABDUL QAHAR BALKHI, SPOKESMAN, MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: We've made it very clear that the government of Afghanistan was unaware of the arrival or presence of Mr. Zawahiri in Kabul. So far, we have been unable to establish the -- as the effect, as a matter of fact, that Mr. Zawahiri was indeed present in Kabul.

WARD: Isn't that almost more frightening, though the idea that you're claiming potentially the leader of al-Qaeda was here in the center of the city, and you didn't even know about it?


BALKHI: Again, we contend that notion that he was even present here. But even if he was, these types of incidents happen everywhere in the world.

WARD: But they really don't. I mean, how can the U.S. possibly trust the Taliban leadership, though, to stay true to its promise that it will not allow the sanctuary to be granted to terrorist groups?

BALKHI: If we look at the Doha agreement, the articles that are -- that define the commitments of the Government of Afghanistan, all of them have been fulfilled. And if we look at the commitments that the United States of America has made, sadly, they have not fulfilled a single article. But we're hopeful and we continue to urge the United States to adhere to that agreement.


WARD: It's that strident attitude, Kate, that is really complicating efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and the Taliban. The State Department envoy to Afghanistan, Tom West, saying to CNN essentially that there is no short-term plan to recapitalize the Central Bank of Afghanistan in light of the fact that al-Zawahiri was here, and also in light of many other concerns that the U.S. has about human rights and girls education, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Truly a remarkable and important interview that you just had with confronting the Taliban spokesman. Clarissa, thank you so much for being there.

Also on this one-year mark, the Republicans in the House Foreign Affairs Committee have released a scathing review of the U.S. handling of the withdrawal. The report is titled, A Strategic Failure: Assessing The Administration's Afghanistan Withdrawal, among the findings, a lack of planning for the massive evacuation that was required, and a dramatic lack of staff to pull it off.

Finding at the height of the withdrawal, there were only 36 State Department officials at Kabul airport to process the thousands of Afghans trying to flee. Joining me now is Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. He is the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for being here.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL, (R-TX): Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: You, in talking about this report, and this -- in this inquiry that has gone on for a year now, you've accused the Biden administration of a complete lack and failure to plan. What do you see as the biggest mistake, Congressman?

MCCAUL: Well, there are several. I think, not heeding the warnings of the intelligence community that I was warned by, or his top generals in the Pentagon, about the dire situation on the ground, the imminent threat that Kabul was going to fall, the entire country was imploding, and yet the State Department and White House seem to have this rosy picture of what was happening, completely devoid of reality.

And I think that was the failure to plan anything appropriately. You only had 36 consular officers, as you mentioned. And I think, stunningly, in the report we mentioned that the Taliban did offer for the Americans to secure Kabul for purposes of the evacuation along with our NATO allies.

This would have completely changed the way this was done. Instead, that was declined by the White House and then they left the perimeter to the Taliban to be in charge.

And you saw a year ago today, Kabul fell. You saw people trying to get on the wheels of the airplane taking off. You saw the helicopter leaving the rooftop of the embassy that President Biden said would never happen like in Vietnam, but it did.

And then most sadly, we saw the suicide bomber get through the Taliban perimeter and kill 13 American servicemen and women and injure almost 50 others in that HKYAA chaos. That didn't have to happen and it could have been more orderly. But every step of the way, they didn't want to listen to the truth.

BOLDUAN: One startling aspect and it's something that Clarissa Ward was just actually speaking to is what's happened to women and girls in the aftermath.


BOLDUAN: But one startling aspect that I read was from the Trump ambassador for Global Women's Issues, Kelley Currie, saying that only approximately 25 percent of those evacuated during the NEO in Afghanistan were women and girls. And saying to put this figure in context, historically, women and girls represent more than half of emergency refugee outflows. Why is that?

MCCAUL: This is the saddest story about the evacuation where all the girls and women were left behind. I personally got four busloads of little girls, students at a music academy in Kabul, thank God, we got them out. But to your point, 75 percent did not. [11:45:00]

They referred to the Schindler's List, the ones who got out on the list survived, and the ones that did not, are tortured, beaten, and killed. And unfortunately, for the girls and for the women, they're now living in surreal awe that they've never lived under in their lifetime.

I think this is one of the saddest stories out there, and it's hard for me, it's heartbreaking to see it. And we could have helped them get out of that country. And now they're stuck there.

BOLDUAN: I do want to put up for everyone what the response is from the Biden administration to your report from the National Security Council spokesperson saying that the report is riddled with inaccurate characterizations, cherry-picked information, and false claims.

And this Biden -- and the spokesperson for the State Department pushing back that they haven't been forthcoming with information saying we've provided over 150 briefings to members and staff on Afghanistan since the NEO, covering a range of topics.

This is as is clear, this is not a bipartisan report that you put out, this is put out by the Republicans on the committee, how do you respond to people who will dismiss this on its face as a political hit?

MCCAUL: We wanted this to be bipartisan, but there was no appetite on the Democratic side. There was initially, Kate, in fairness to my Chairman, Chairman Meeks, who I have a lot of respect for, but they got word from the administration, this is not a good news story and stand down.

And so they stopped having any hearings on this. They didn't want to participate in this investigation. And to the State Department, I would say if that's true, why didn't you comply with our investigation? Because quite honestly, they did not.

They didn't comply at all. And we had many witnesses we wanted to talk to, they wouldn't comply, and they would not provide document production as we asked. The only people we could talk to were people, you know, whistleblowers, people that would talk to us without their names being mentioned.

If we get the majority, that's going to change, Kate, and we're going to have the gavel and subpoena power. Because the truth at the end of the day needs to come out for the American people and for the people of Afghanistan so this never happens again. This is the most poorly run evacuation in the history of the United States.

BOLDUAN: I do want to ask you, though, in Trump's -- the -- Trump is mentioned. I looked through a handful of times in this report. This wasn't just a Biden problem, though. I mean, the deal with the Taliban happened under Trump. A deal Peter Bergen described to me as the worst diplomatic agreement in U.S. history. After this investigation, do you think fault goes and the blame goes beyond just Joe Biden to the previous administration?

MCCAUL: Well, I never had a lot of faith in the Doha agreement. I didn't think he could negotiate with the Taliban. I thought we should have left 2500 American troops and NATO 6000 to stabilize the country and to keep Bagram Air Base, which is our ISR intelligence capability.

General McKenzie now said that we only have -- we lost 99 percent of that. And so we can point to Doha. It is very interesting. When we came across an interview that President Biden did with George Stephanopoulos where he said, you know, what, irrespective of Doha, I was going to get out one way or the other.

We portray, I think, the truth of this president, who got elected, and from day one, come hell or high water. He was going to get out of Afghanistan. And we can debate whether that was the right decision.

But if you're going to do this, Kate, for God's sakes do it right. And they were in such a rush, and they weren't listening to the intelligence community. Many of the briefings I had in the classified space stark contrast between the State Department, White House, and the Intelligence Committee and the top generals who, by the way, none of the top generals, including General Milley and McKenzie or the IC, believe that we should withdrawn. And they thought we should have left this residual force and that would have been a very different scenario.

BOLDUAN: There is much in here for many people to read, 100 pages plus. While I have you, Congressman, can I -- I want to ask you about the FBI search on Donald Trump's Florida home. I spoke to a Republican last night, says there's so much information still not known.

And the way this Republican put it to me is this can end in only one of two ways, either Donald Trump is indicted or Merrick Garland resigns. That's the stakes and what is it -- play here. Is that how you see this?

MCCAUL: You know -- you know I was a federal prosecutor at the public integrity section, main justice. We handle public corruption. You know you hear the word unprecedented. It's very accurate because a former president of the United States has never had a search warrant, you know, served on his home for classified documents, which the president has the authority to declassify.

There's a lot of questions here, Kate, about, were they taken out of the White House while he was president? That's what I understand. You know, it's always the last remedy as well to do a search warrant.


So what other things were done, and I think Merrick Garland has said that as well, I know a subpoena was served, but they could have gone to the court, now the court ordered this subpoena. Now, this is turning in -- I hate to see it turned into a political issue, but that's what it is.

You know I can't -- I can't tell you the legal analysis that I have from my prosecutor days, but you know, what I see in the perception now is that on the heels of, you know, so many years of the Russia collusion to Steele dossier, and now he's out of office, perceptions of reality and the perception is, you know, that people are losing faith and trust in our institutions.

And no one is more sad about that fact than me and my other alumni of the Department of Justice. I don't want to see that place I used to work at look so political, that people will lose faith in our institutions, in our democracy. But sadly, I think, Kate, that's exactly what we're seeing right now.

BOLDUAN: It takes leaders you included, to speak up to give the space for that investigation to continue and to tamp down the tone of the rhetoric. This is when leaders are needed like yourself. Congressman, thank you for coming in.

MCCAUL: You know -- and well, if I could say one last -- one last thing, Kate.


MCCAUL: The affidavit of probable cause in support of the warrant, we need to see that in Congress, on the intelligence committees need to see this as well. If it's such a national security threat, then why weren't we briefed? And we would like to be briefed on that issue.

BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens next. Congressman, thank you.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: China is angry this morning after Taiwan's president met today with another congressional delegation from the U.S. CNN's Blake Essig is live from Taipei with this. Blake, how is China responding?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you know, it didn't take long for China to respond to the most recent unannounced visit of U.S. lawmakers into Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims and seizes a breakaway province.

Earlier this afternoon, China's defense ministry released a statement calling this most recent stop an ambush visit in a flagrant violation of the One China policy which acknowledges that the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate government in China.


Of course, the White House maintains that there's been no change to that policy. Now after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her delegation left Taiwan about two weeks ago, China imposed a new trade sanctions, kicked off at least six days of military -- live-fire military exercises surrounding the democratic Island, and that military aggression and fiery rhetoric have continued today. Despite all that, Kate, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu has come out and

said that China cannot dictate who gets to -- who gets to determine who Taiwan can be friends with. And so despite the aggression between China and Taiwan, Taiwan continues to welcome congressional delegations like the one that's currently here.

BOLDUAN: Blake, thank you so much. Thanks so much for being here, everyone. INSIDE POLITICS starts after this.