Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Pentagon: 12 U.S. Service Members Killed, 15 Wounded in Kabul Attacks. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 26, 2021 - 16:00   ET





JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with our breaking news in the world lead.

That nightmare scenario that President Biden and others have been worried about since the beginning of evacuation effort -- well, it has tragically come true.

Twelve U.S. service members were killed in two explosions outside the Kabul airport, making this the deadliest day for the U.S. in Afghanistan in years. And according to Afghanistan's ministry of health, 60 people have died, 140 have been wounded.

President Biden will address the nation at the top of the next hour.

CNN has obtained videos from the aftermath of the attacks. Parents may want children to leave the room before we show this to you now. The videos we're about to show are graphic and difficult to watch.


TAPPER: The grim aftermath.

This morning, an apparent suicide attack went off outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport. Later, another explosion at the Baron Hotel nearby. The initial assessment is that ISIS Khorasan or ISIS-K is responsible, according to a senior U.S. official. The situation on the ground in Afghanistan remains volatile. We've been reporting that the threat of a terror attack from ISIS-K was so high, the U.S., the U.K., and Australia have been warning people to immediately leave several gates into the airport yesterday. Buses full of American citizens, American green cardholders and others fleeing Afghanistan were sitting for hours and hours outside the gate, not permitted to travel those last few yards into the airport -- the culmination of what the president and his top aides had been warning about all week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every day we're on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent.


TAPPER: The big question now with U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents not to mention Afghan allies still trapped in Afghanistan, will President Biden continue the evacuation mission until they are rescued, or will he now feel compelled to pull all U.S. service members given that his worst fears have been realized?

We're covering all angles with our team of reporters around the world. We're going to start with Sam Kiley in Doha who was just outside the Hamid Karzai airport gate a day ago -- Sam.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. What a catastrophic event. We're just hearing actually, Jake, that there are reports coming in yet another explosion. We'll bring confirmation of that. If it's true, that would be three explosions and the scenes are absolutely horrific, and viewers should look away at this moment, as this is the report from the earlier events.


KILEY (voice-over): Several U.S. personnel and more than a dozen Afghans have been killed in a terror attack on the Kabul airport.

According to the Taliban, dozens more Afghans were injured, and the Pentagon says that there are a number of U.S. personnel also wounded. The scenes of horror come in the waning days of America's unprecedented civilian airlift. The attack targeted many who are trying in vein to get into Kabul airport and get on one of the last evacuation flights.

An Italian-run hospital in the city has admitted 60 injured and 6 dead from the attacks which the Pentagon said was most likely conducted by ISIS-K. The Taliban condemn the murders and pledged to find and punish those behind it.

The blasts were just outside Abbey Gate, one of the main entrances to the airport and near a hotel controlled and occupied until recently by British forces. It's in an area that's been packed for days with Afghans wading through sewage canals browned by blast walls. Those conditions will surely have amplified the explosion.

American officials have been warning about potential ISIS-K attacks for days. On Wednesday, they stepped up the alarm talking about a very specific threat stream from ISIS-K about a planned attack on crowds outside airports.

SULLIVAN: The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent, and it is something that we are focused on with every tool in our arsenal.

KILEY: This isn't the first time the airport has come under attack. A sniper on Monday fired on troops guarding the airport's northern perimeter. We saw some of the Afghan soldiers wounded in that attack during a visit to the coalition's military hospital earlier this week.


It comes at a vulnerable moment for America as it begins to fly out its own military personnel, and for the Taliban, too. Sworn enemies of ISIS-K who controlled security outside the airport and want to show that they control the country that they captured just over a week ago.


KILEY (on camera): Now, Jake, the Pentagon has since update the their figures, as you said in the introduction, 12 dead American, 15 injured. The Afghan health ministry saying 60 dead and more than 100 injured.

And just in the last hour, Kenneth McKenzie, the general in charge of Central Command, said that he anticipated continuing efforts by ISIS so yet more attacks focused on the airfield. He said there was again a very real intelligence that would point in that direction and we are just getting the earliest reports of a possible explosion from journalists, Afghan journalists on the ground -- Jake.

TAPPER: What is the Taliban which is supposedly -- supposed to be in charge of security outside the perimeter, what are they saying about these attacks?

KILEY: They have been very quick and vocal in denouncing, it condemning it, insisting that they would stop at nothing to capture and prosecute those behind it. In the past few days, they have captured, they claim, four ISIS operatives that were scouting possible targets using video. They are at least on the surface expressly condemning this and very keen I think to snuff it out.

There will be and there has been a great deal of cooperation over security for this entire operation for the whole evacuation. It's been fraught with political problems. Afghan citizens have been blocked for coming recently by the Taliban, but there is Cooperation, and there will be an anticipation of greater cooperation from the American side of the Taliban. They will be looking for that because they will be holding the Taliban responsible for having let through these bombers and gunmen. The Pentagon referred to a series of gunmen who also attacked after the second blast -- Jake.

TAPPER: CNN's Sam Kiley live from Qatar, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, I believe this is the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since 2011. What more do you know?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, General McKenzie briefing here at the Pentagon press corps a short time ago made a vow that the mission to continue the evacuation and to be -- to pack up the troops and be gone by next Tuesday will continue. He said they would not be deterred, but he made clear he is very aware of the acuteness of the ongoing threat.

Listen to what he said.


GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: The threat from ISIS is extremely real. We've been talking about this for several days and we saw it manifest itself the last few hours with an actual attack. We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks and we expect those attacks to continue and we're doing everything we can to be prepared for those attacks.


STARR: Now, General McKenzie went out to sort of lay out the picture of what they believe happened, this suicide bomber they believe had already passed through a Taliban checkpoint, and the Taliban have been doing some searches of people. General McKenzie said some of those searches are good, some not so good and didn't have any reason to think that the Taliban let the person through but the person did get through that initial search and went on to the gate where the marines were, where this apparent suicide vest was detonated.

So one of the key questions is why were there so many military personnel around the gate, they have not been identified yet. We want to add as to who they exactly were that were killed and injured. General McKenzie said he made the point that when the search people to come into the airport, that's a hands-on activity and they have searched something like 100,000 people.

The troops have to put their hands on that person, run their hands over their garments and make sure there are no explosives. Apparently the initial indications are that's when the person detonated their suicide device. They don't know yet the full size of the device, the power behind it, the blast radius. These are all the things that may help them learn who was behind it and may help them learn what to do next time to keep so many from being injured and killed -- Jake.

TAPPER: Just a horrible day.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

We expect to hear from President Biden in under an hour. He's now faced from the fallout from the very thing he's been warning about for days and the very reason why U.S. troops largely stayed within the perimeter so as not to attract other suicide attacks or terrorist attacks.

As CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, the fate of thousands of American citizens and permanent legal residents remains right now in limbo.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For President Biden, it's the nightmare scenario that's loomed other every waking moment of the last 12 days.


BIDEN: Every day we're on the ground is another day we know that ISIS- K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.

MATTINGLY: Twelve U.S. service members now dead, 15 more wounded. Two suicide attacks proving those words tragically prescient, the threat itself a critical component of Biden's decision not to extend the August 31st withdrawal deadline, officials say. Biden already in the Situation Room for a pre-scheduled Afghanistan briefing with his national security team when the explosion occurred, officials said, staying there for hours as top military, intelligence and diplomatic officials delivered real time information on what has been deemed a, quote, complex attack which U.S. officials believe was likely carried out by ISIS-K.

Biden's highly anticipated first meeting with the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett delayed, a scheduled virtual meeting with bipartisan governors cancelled, White House and COVID briefings postponed. Officials acknowledging the attacks and the acute concerns about follow-up attacks left the West Wing in a fluid moment. It was a White House, according to one official, defined by significant intensity and anxiety yet it was also a moment that officials feared for days would come to pass.

BIDEN: The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.

MATTINGLY: Biden now faced with a series of dramatically consequential decisions. With this pledge last week --

BIDEN: We made clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack on our forces or a disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful response.

reporter: hanging over his deliberations, and while U.S. planes continue to land and take off in Kabul real questions about the fate of hundreds of Americans and thousands of a gains seeking to escape the country, one of the explosions directly outside the baron hotel where one week ago American citizens secretly congregated for the largest extraction effort made public to this point.

MATTINGLY: Hanging his deliberations and while U.S. planes continue to land and take off in Kabul, real questions about the fate of hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghans seeking to escape the country. One of the explosions directly outside the Baron Hotel, which is one week ago, American citizens secretly congregated for the largest extraction effort made public to this point. BIDEN: Just yesterday, among many Americans we've evacuated, there were 169 Americans who we got over the wall and into the airport using military assets.


MATTINGLY (on camera): Jake, the scale of the challenges President Biden will have to address when he speaks next hour matched by only the scale of the tragedy that he now confronts. Jake, these are the first military personnel killed due to hostile action since President Biden has taken office and as Pentagon officials made abundantly clear that threat is only growing and more urgent -- Jake.

TAPPER: Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you so much.

We just learned that ISIS-K or ISIS in the Khorasan has claimed responsibility for today's deadly terrorist attacks.

Let's bring in CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what are you hearing? What do we know? The Pentagon keeps saying that the threat is still ongoing.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Well, 24 hours ago, you and I were sitting here and I was discussing a credible intelligence stream about exactly this kind of attack and target and this group. ISIS-K or Islamic State in the Khorasan and that intelligence was about capability and intent. And no one I've spoken has said that ISIS-K has lost that ability to carry out more attacks.

The fact is Kabul remains a target-rich environment. There are loads of civilians still trying to get into the airport and other targets around the city and the fact is that Afghanistan has become in recent weeks something of a Disneyland of terrorists of all sorts, not just ISIS-K. Remember, the Taliban itself is a terrorist organization but you have many other recruits coming in from around the world and coming there.

So this is a capability that continues, and that's why when you hear those warnings from the Pentagon podium a few minutes ago saying they are still concerned about attacks, those are real because the intelligence is the same.

TAPPER: And what is the purpose? Is it a demonstration of, quote/unquote, strength? Although I can't think of anything more cowardly than a suicide attack on civilians because the United States is leaving.


TAPPER: I mean, often, you see these kinds of activities happen as alleged way to drive people out.


TAPPER: But the U.S. is leaving. Is this more having to do with ISIS-K trying to establish itself or the rivalry with the Taliban?

SCIUTTO: Multiple ideas. As you know, these groups thrive on chaos, right? Their power is built on fear. Terrorism is built on fear. They kill people. That's a success.

Wherever it is and whoever those people are, whether they are uniformed service members or bodies we saw lying in that ditch, you know, civilians just trying to get out of the country, right? Multiple intents it seems. One, you have a competition in that country among terror groups for prominence. ISIS-K is something of an offshoot of the Taliban a number of years ago.

That said, we shouldn't imagine that these groups don't remain connected in some way, right? That can be misleading as well because oftentimes they have shared interests, and that's why relying on the Taliban to be your first risk security around that airport has risks involved, right?


And we've seen those risks bear out.

TAPPER: Yeah. It was literally just months ago that they were trying to kill American soldiers.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely, and just weeks ago we saw terrorist attacks inside Kabul by civilians by the Taliban.

TAPPER: Right.

SCIUTTO: So it gets to a fundamental weakness in the evacuation plan in that you were relying on the Taliban not only for security but also access to the airport. And on both those fronts, they were not allowing access for many people who tried to get there, but also -- regardless of their efforts and the U.S. still seems to believe that they are making some effort to stop these attacks, they were not able to stop this attack.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

What does the United States do now? President Biden had been warning there would be a swift and forceful response to any attack on the American military. Well, now, there has been one. We will hear from President Biden soon.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with the tragic breaking news out of Afghanistan. More than 60 people dead and 140 wounded according to the Afghan health ministry after multiple explosions at the Kabul airport. Among the dead, at least 12 U.S. service members, 15 U.S. service members are said to be wounded. My panel joins me now.

Colonel Leighton, let me start with you.

General Kenneth McKenzie, he's the commander of CentCom, Central Command, he today he said we're still working with the Taliban in the aftermath of this attack.

What is our relationship with the Taliban and considering that they are supposedly in charge of security getting to the -- where the attacks went off, can we even rely on them at all?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's, you know, very much a trust but verify situation, Jake, and what you're dealing with is you have to have some kind of relationship with them, otherwise, we'd be completely sunk in Kabul. If you didn't have a relationship this situation would be much more dangerous and more dangerous than it already is. And it's, of course, extremely dangerous right now, as we see by this attack. But the relationship with the Taliban is necessary, it's an expedient relationship, and it's a relationship that is required in order for us to make this mission work.

TAPPER: Phil, you used to work for the CIA and the FBI. Let me ask you because I'm confused about something. For days now, the Biden administration has been warning about an attack just like this one, an IED or suicide or VBIED attack from ISIS-K. We've heard it from the national security adviser, from the secretary of state, from President Biden.

How is it that we can have that kind of specific fear and yet not have the details about when the attack would actually happen?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let me tell you. This is day- to-day threat stuff. You deal with this every morning and every evening. Let me give you a couple of characteristics of threat reporting and what you'd do about it. The characters are sources and wires. You get threats from people and you get threats from things like intercepted communications.

Let me take you into the kinds of general threats you would get that would lead you to talk about stuff like this. You're on wires with people who are known to be ISIS-K and somebody on that wire, a known terrorist said I've heard the big one is coming at Kabul airport. It's not specific. You can't close down the entire airport. You're not sure it's going to happen. What do you do with that?

You have an informant, an informant sitting around the camp fire. He can't ask questions because he'll get killed if he asks questions. Somebody around the camp fire said, the operational commander says the big one is coming at Kabul airport. You report back, what are you going to do?

I'll close by saying your follow-up question is, why do you talk about this? We used to call duty to warn. If an American citizen is threatened and the information is not specific enough to take action, you still have to tell that American citizen we have stuff in that leads us to be concerned. We have to tell you because if we sit on it and there's an attack it's worse. That's how it's worse, Jake.

TAPPER: Kimberly, let me ask you because I don't know any journalist who has covered this war or any member of the milt who hasn't spent much of the last ten days trying to help people get out. Whether it's American citizens, legal permanent residents, SIVs, just everyday Afghans. You have been speaking to an Afghan family who was supposed to be at the Abbey Gate just this morning?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah, I've been embedded as many have with one of these dozens of groups of citizens trying to work to get Afghans out. This particular one is current and former special operators, NGOs and some civilian government folks, and we actually sent a few of these families, because I was with them overnight, to the Baron Hotel which was still picking people up and a point for pickup to get inside the airport.

As they got there, the station inside collapsed. The diplomats and forces withdrew, but large crowd growing outside, the Taliban came and started beating a bunch of them up. So then the high-level Afghans who were in that crowd were sent information, okay, we know it's dangerous but we're speaking to the marines at Abbey Gate. They have the list of your names. Go there.

So this group of people worked their way through that crowd, worked their way to the front. They had a code word. They had a process. Some of these marines and others who were killed were taking some of the gravest risks and being the most creative to get high-risk Afghans out.

They had to get turned away. The one family I was speaking to because the marines at that point apparently -- the threat level had escalated and the place had gotten too crowded and then the Taliban beat them up. They went back into hiding like a lot of the other high-level folks but my understanding is that some of the Afghans at risk who worked with the Americans, that this particular group was working to get out, were killed in that blast.


I want you all to take a listen to President Biden's message just six days ago when he was discussing possible attacks on U.S. service members.



BIDEN: We made clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack on our forces or a disruption of our operations at the airport will be met with swift and forceful response.


TAPPER: So we do not -- the U.S. intelligence does not think that the Taliban was responsible for the attack in terms of carrying it out, but they were responsible for the security, so I'm not sure how the president's threat would apply. What do you think?

LEIGHTON: I think the president's threat applies to ISIS-k.

TAPPER: The people who carried out the violent attack.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely, the ones who carried out violent attack. That's -- those are the ones that the president should be looking at in terms of retribution or some kind of attack against them, if it's possible to get the right kind of intelligence on that group. That's another question, of course.

As far as the Taliban is concerned, obviously, there's going to be some very strong words exchanged between them, I'm certain, and our forces on the ground there, but in the final analysis, we can't blame the Taliban based on what we know right now for the actual attack. We can blame them for the lack of security, however.

TAPPER: And Phil, you have been saying now for some time that this withdrawal was going to be ugly and violent no matter when it happened.

MUDD: Correct. Yes.

If you look at the characteristics, whether you're President Obama and whether you're President Trump and I'm seeing among my friends and Twitter already today, critiques of what's happening.

Let's look at characteristics. The Americans say they are going to get out. Could you have bombed American sort of military posts before you got out to ensure that the Taliban couldn't access weapons a explosives. The Taliban then knows you're leaving. The Taliban going to surge if they see that you're leaving. That happened in this circumstance.

The Afghan national army is going to see you're leaving. They're going to fold. That happened in this circumstance.

As soon as you start leaving the airport, American citizens and people affiliated with the Americans are going to surge the airport because they know their throats are going to get slit by the Taliban. That's what happening in this circumstance.

And the biggest question, Jake, you can surge in the American military to get aircraft to take people out and there's a big foot fingerprint and big risks.

You tell me whether you like Obama, whether you like Trump, whether you like Biden, you give me a better plan. I don't see it, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Kim, obviously, the concern is continued attempts at evacuating the thousands of American citizens and green cardholders, thousands of Afghan special immigrant visa recipients and others. You heard General McKenzie, commander of CentCom, say that this mission is not going to stop. What are you hearing? DOZIER: That they're trying to come up with a bunch of creative new ways to get people, to get them to rendezvous points, or in some cases, some U.S. officials I'm speaking to are speaking to their contacts on the ground who they have known for decades and saying burn everything, burn your passport, hide all traces that you ever worked for the U.S., go dark and we'll try to get you out in a few months.

TAPPER: Oh my God.

All right. Thanks one and all for being here. Really appreciate it.

Moments ago, the U.S. commander of Central Command said despite today's attacks at the Kabul airport, he is not requesting additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan.


GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: We assess we have the forces we need to protect ourselves there. I'm always in a constant dialogue with the secretary. If I needed anything else i'd be talking to him immediately but I think we have what we need to protect ourselves.


TAPPER: I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. He's also a former Army Ranger who has served in Afghanistan and sits on both the House Armed Services and the House Intelligence Committees.

Congressman, first of all, your reaction today to the tragic news of the explosions, 12 U.S. service members killed, the 15 U.S. service members wounded, the more than 60 Afghan innocents who were killed.

REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Yeah. Hi, Jake. Well, I'm grieving and mourning along with all of America for the loss of these marines, the corpsmen and obviously those who were injured. We will be -- we will be there for their families as we must for all of our servicemen and women that we lose, and we have to focus on getting the mission done is the bottom line.

You know, during my time in Afghanistan, we lost soldiers. We have lost over 2,400 men and women over the last 20 years, and every time we've lost one of those men and women, they were on a mission, and we didn't stop the mission. We got it done because we're the United States of America.

We don't allow terrorists and others to stop us from performing our duty and our mission. We keep going, and that's what we're going to do and we're going to get the job done.

TAPPER: These explosions, these terrorist attacks come at the tail end of a war that's gone on now for 20 years. What do you think is the appropriate response from President Biden when it comes to these attacks? CROW: Well, first of all, I know that President Biden is a man of

heart and compassion and empathy and he's going to do what every commander in chief should do and that is express remorse and to grieve with America and with the families for those that we lost today. That's number one.


Number two, what I hope that he does is say that we will be resolute and we will get the job done. The mission is not over until we get American citizens out and we get our partners out. That -- that is the new mission.

We ended our combat operations. We ended the 20-year war, but now, we have a new mission in the next days and weeks ahead, and that is to make sure we don't leave people behind. The United States of America should not and must not leave anyone behind.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Democrat Mark Warner, who chairs the Senate Committee on Intelligence, he said even though he's been getting updates about the terrorist attacks, he has a lot of questions about why the U.S. was not better prepared.

You're on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as Armed Services. Do you have the same questions? Or as an Army veteran, do you think this is just inherently a dangerous job, even if the U.S. didn't really leave the perimeter?

CROW: Yeah, Jake, both of those things can be true and are true. I'm looking at this both as a perspective of an Army Ranger and a combat veteran with over 100 combat missions under my belt. This is risky stuff, this is dangerous stuff, and it's imperfect. And yes, sometimes we do the best possible job we can, and we still lose great people.

At the same time, I'm a member of Congress and I have an independent obligation, independent of this administration as a member of the Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee to ask the tough questions. I will never be a rubber stamp, because that's not what I swore my oath to be. I will ask tough questions, perform oversight, and we will do that.

But the American people are sophisticated enough to understand that in situations like this, both things could be true -- we could have done a great job and everything is possible and still taking casualties and that's the answers we're going to try to get as members of Congress.

TAPPER: One of the things that we're doing a documentary about Afghanistan, all 20 years, and one of the things that I've really seen close up while doing this documentary is the fact after the mission of defeating al Qaeda was done, everything that the United States, presidents and congressmen and generals have asked our service members to do in Afghanistan has been almost impossible.

I mean, it is an impossible situation to put U.S. service members at the airport and say, rescue all these people, don't leave the perimeter, and we can't have any of you lose your lives. CROW: Yeah, it is almost impossible sometimes. I left the service in

2006, took my uniform off. And I finished as an Army Ranger. I was a paratrooper at 82nd Airborne Division, did three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And I don't think a day goes by where I don't think about the decisions that I've made and second-guess myself and wondering what could I have done better, what could I have done differently? Because we're asking 18, 19, 20-year-old men and women to put on a uniform and to grab a rifle and do just extraordinary things under terrible, terrible circumstances.

And there often is not a right and clear answer. It's very easy for people to sit in the comfort of their living room and to second guess that or sharp shoot the answers or say what they think they need to do. When you're sitting there on the ground when there's yelling and screaming and gunfire and explosions, it's very, very hard.

And that's why as a member of Congress now, I ask those tough questions, because we have an obligation to make sure that we are only committing our men and women when the mission is clear, when we are asking the tough questions, when we're conducting that oversight.

And the fact of the matter is we allowed this to go 20 years without the tough debates about this war and what the mission was, and we can't allow that to happen again.

TAPPER: Democratic Congressman Jason Crow, thank you and, of course, thank you for your service as always.

We're waiting to hear from President Biden soon. Stay with CNN for that.

Plus, our next guest knew people on the ground at the site of the terrorist attack.

Stick around.


TAPPER: We are back with our breaking news as we follow the aftermath of these deadly terrorist attacks in Kabul.

Joining us now, Ahmad Shah Mohibi. He's an Afghan-American. He's a former counterterrorism adviser to the U.S. in Afghanistan. He's been helping families in the chaos at the airport through his connections in the military.

Ahmad, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

So, first, I want to get your reaction to the horrible news today -- 12 U.S. service members killed, 15 wounded, at least 60 innocent Afghans killed. Hundreds wounded. What's your reaction?

AHMAD SHAH MOHIBI, FORMER U.S. COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER IN AFGHANISTAN: I'm really heart broken and devastated, and it was the Army and Marines that helped save my family and many others, thousands. We lost contact with them, so I hope they're fine, praying for all of them, and the thousands of other people gathered there. They're saying hundreds are wounded and killed.

It's really devastating and heartbroken and families are waiting. I have contact with two of them, but they're still missing. So when I got the call this morning and she was crying, because my nephews and nieces and she was missing and started sending the pictures to me, it really broke me down, and I wish I could have done -- at one point, I said it was my responsibility -- maybe my fault that I tell them to go there.


But I just cannot express how sad and devastated I got (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: Of course it's not your fault. Of course, it's the fault of the terrorists who did this. I hope it's just that their phones are broke on or --

MOHIBI: I told her that, I told her that. She said no one is picking up. I told another soldier, I sent the pictures of family. Said, can you go around the airport and see if you can find this family? The soldier made it out 10 minutes one hour before the explosion, there was another family I was helping that were out one hour before the explosion.

So, all these families were sending me these pictures, and selfies that were at this gate, tell your friends inside that they could let us in. I was literally talking until 4:00 in the morning last night, and then this whole explosion happened. So it has been chaos, a humanitarian crisis.

TAPPER: This comes at the tail end, obviously, of a 20-year war. What do you think President Biden should do now in term of the evacuation efforts, in terms of the response to ISIS-K, which has now claimed responsibility for this horrible attack?

MOHIBI: I think the president needs to work on his strategy on a better evacuation plan. They should have put a plan together months ago, not now. What happened should have not happened. At the moment, it's a crisis happening.

The international community has a role to play. Not get people into the airport, but also save thousands outside the airport from dehydration and stampede. I think President Biden needs to put more force on the ground right now, and help a lot of these folks and help bring our SIVs, pending P-2s and all other U.S. citizens, green cards, at the moment.

And at the same time, we are looking at growing ISIS. We had reports that ISIS is making their way to Central Asia. So, they started from Jalalabad, made all the way to the northern Afghanistan, and the Taliban cannot be trusted. You cannot make a deal with the Taliban and think they're going to cut ties with al Qaeda.

So, back in 1990s, we forgot about Afghanistan when the Russians left, and look what happened -- the tragic incident of 9/11 happened.


MOHIBI: So I think every American has a responsibility -- call your congressmen and senators. They need to have testimonies and congressional -- this is an urgent and humanitarian crisis what's happening in Afghanistan. We do not want another 9/11 style attack to happen. No one can afford that, and it's sad, and I think lessons must be learned in Afghanistan.

TAPPER: We should note that your own family, including your parents, just got out of Afghanistan on Monday just a few days ago. They took this photo outside the Abbey Gate. The Abbey Gate is where the bomb went off today. That must be just chilling for you to think about that.

MOHIBI: Yeah, when the girl called me, she was crying, I started crying, too. A lot of people died. The soldier I called said people are running and there are piece of people everywhere. So, my family when they went there, even when I had people inside I told them, come here, we're going to let them in.

The picture of them looking at that crowd -- my dad, he served. He was a senior office and he served with the U.S. forces and Afghan forces. He combat the Taliban early 2001. He was part of Northern Alliance. My brother was a colonel. My sister was a U.S. aide gender officer.

So my family worked really hard supporting the U.S. government. But they're waiting on those gates. I look at my nephews and nieces and their pictures, sleeping in the dirt. It really make me to think this is not what we deserve, and this is not what -- look, hundreds of SIVs, they're calling me, can you help us? And I said, I cannot, I can only get U.S. citizen, green card, because from my back channel, that's how we do it right now.


MOHIBI: This should not have happened. You know, all these people supported the U.S. mission in Afghanistan with combating terrorism. I myself fought the Taliban in the field. I persecuted them in 2011, 2012.

And from that moment, I knew these people, their ideology has never changed. They're just manipulating the world, and right now, they're doing the same thing. I think within months, they're just going to have a safe haven again and (INAUDIBLE) attacks.

TAPPER: Ahmad Shah Mohibi, thank you. Thank you for helping our service members over there, and I'm so glad your parents got out.

MOHIBI: Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: He's called the execution of the pullout from Afghanistan catastrophic and, that was before these explosions. The former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan joins us next.

Plus, President Biden expected to speak in a matter of minutes. Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news -- terrorist attacks in Kabul with the Pentagon warning that he expect more attacks are possible. Let's discuss this with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Ambassador Crocker, I want to get your reaction to the attacks. Twelve U.S. service members killed, 15 more wounded, dozens more innocent Afghans killed and wounded.

Was this inevitable? One of the things we have been hearing from the White House is they have been fearing of a terrorist attack like this.

AMB. RYAN CROCKER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: It's been a terrible day, Jake, one of the very worst. It gets right at, I think, the point that a lot of us have made that when the Taliban come back, some really bad guys are going to come back with them. Certainly al Qaeda, they kept that relationship through two decades in the wilderness, and Islamic State as well.

So the issue is not that the Taliban control the country right now. It's that the Taliban really don't control the country and nobody does. That is a breeding ground for these kinds of actions and people to come back and take root, and that is what brought us 9/11.


We've now got the same dynamic.

TAPPER: Mr. Ambassador, right now I don't think any of those groups, at least according to U.S. intel as I understand it, that those groups have the capability of attacking the United States at least as of right now.

What do you say to the average American who's first response to these 12 service members killed and 15 wounded is it's high time for us to get the hell out of there?

CROCKER: Well, that's one way to end a war, surrender. It's real quick, but the war is yet to come. We have this whole withdrawal announcement and process has been an enormous morale boost for Islamic radicals everywhere -- al Qaeda, Islamic State, Pakistani Taliban, you name it. They're on a roll, and they know it.

And what happens in Afghanistan doesn't stay in Afghanistan. We've seen that before, and we're -- our intelligence to say what we see and don't see. Well, Bill Burns, CIA director, has said, with our departure from Afghanistan, the screen is going to get pretty dark. We're not going to have the same access to intel.

TAPPER: Assuming that President Biden does not change his decision to withdraw U.S. service members from Afghanistan, what do you think he should do next in terms of both the evacuation efforts of Americans, citizens, legal permanent residents and Afghan visa recipients and in terms of retaliation to ISIS-K?

CROCKER: Clearly, if we have an identifiable target that's ISIS-K, we should and would strike it. The problem is of course they have been an underground movement heretofore, and I don't think we've got that kind of address.

So, what we don't want to do is respond blindly. I'm confident we would not do that. There has to be a real target there to hit if we're going to go that route. At this point, I think what he is probably going to do is just continue with the evacuation effort and stick to his August 31 deadline.

TAPPER: One of the arguments President Biden makes is there are other parts of the world where the terrorist threat to the United States is greater than in Afghanistan, including in Africa. How would you respond to that?

CROCKER: Well, I have been following the news today and didn't see any other lethal attacks on United States forces in Africa and other places. I think this is a very real threat. It was a very real attack.

Sure, we can pull all the way out. Man, to say it's not our problem anymore -- we did that before, and it became our problem.

So, we either engage seriously on this, or we try to do the fortress America thing. That normally doesn't work real well when you're playing defense only and pull your offense off the field.

TAPPER: You're deeply familiar with so many of the players in the region. What are you most afraid of in these next few weeks and months?

CROCKER: We are already seeing a upsurge in radical Islamic activities. Pakistan is a place of particular concern, 220 million people with nuclear weapons. And with an insurgency of their own at home, the Pakistani Taliban seeks the overthrow of the government of Pakistan.

Those elements are all emboldened. So, I would watch Pakistan closely and watch for signs of activism, more visible presence, statements attacks, whatever, from a number of countries that have problems with Islamic militants on the soil. This is going to get worse.

TAPPER: Ambassador Ryan Crocker, thank you so much for your time, sir, appreciate it.

Any minute, we're going the hear from President Biden directly after the deadly terrorist attacks in Kabul that took the lives of at least 12 U.S. service members and 60 innocent Afghans.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are following the tragic breaking news. Any moment, President Biden is set to address the terrorist attacks at the Kabul airport. ISIS-K has now claimed responsibility for those horrific murders. This afternoon, the Pentagon confirmed 12 U.S. service members were killed in the attacks and 15 wounded after the two explosions outside the Kabul airport and a nearby hotel.

The Afghan ministry of public health says more than 60 people have been killed. CNN obtained videos of the aftermath of the attacks. Parents might want children to leave the room right now. The videos we're about to show are graphic and difficult to watch.

This afternoon, the commander of U.S. Central Command, General McKenzie says they expect these terrorist attacks to continue. This threat at the airport where thousands of crowds have been gathered trying to flee the country, that threat has been long feared.

President Biden and multiple U.S. officials have been warning of potential terrorist attacks by ISIS-k, and yesterday with busses full of fleeing American citizens and others lined up outside the airport, the U.S. warned people to immediately leave the area.

We're covering all angles with our team of reporters.

I want to start with CNN's Oren Lieberman, who's live for us at the Pentagon.

Oren, there are still thousands of American citizens and lawful permanent residents to say nothing of thousands of Afghan allies who have these special immigrant visas, all of whom need to be evacuated.

Do these attacks change evacuation plans?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The commander of U.S. Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, made it clear that we despite this deadly attack on U.S. forces, one of the deadliest attacks in years, perhaps even decade on U.S. forces, the mission at hand, evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies continues, despite and even in the face of these terrorist threats, and now these terrorist attacks.

Just a short time ago, more explosions heard at Kabul International Airport. This time not an attack, but coalition forces controlling out controlled detonations. A Taliban spokesman says this is the U.S. destroying equipment. A reminder that it's not only the evacuation but withdrawal of U.S. forces in what has become a dangerous and deadly environment.


LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The chaos outside Kabul airport become a catastrophe Thursday afternoon when two bombings tore through the crowds, killing 12 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians.

This graphic video laying bare the horror of the attacks, the victims thrown across the street.