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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Pentagon: 12 U.S. Service Members Killed, 15 Wounded in Kabul Attacks; ISIS-K Claims Responsibility for Attacks Near Kabul Airport; Defense Dept.: "Continuing" mission to evacuate Americans and Afghans; President Joe Biden Give A Speech On The Terror Attack At Hamid Karzai International Airport; Biden To Terrorists: "We Will Hunt You Down And Make You Pay". Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 26, 2021 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This graphic video laying bare the horror of the attacks. The victims thrown across the street. This man able to sit up after the attack, unlike so many others, Afghans so desperate to flee the country. Now racing to get the wounded medical help, even pushing some of the injured in makeshift wheelbarrows, but the threat isn't over yet.
GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: 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. And we are working very hard right now to determine attribution, to determine who is associated with his cowardly attack, and were prepared to take action against them, 24/7 we are looking for them.
LIEBERMANN: On Wednesday, the U.S. warned of threats to the airport telling Americans to stay away from three different gates Abbey, East and North gates, and only to approach the field when instructed. Twin explosions occurring at the Abbey Gate in the nearby Baron Hotel. These are the first U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan since February of last year, shortly before the signing of the agreement that began this withdrawal. The news of troops killed coming just five days about 100 hours before the August 31 deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan. Still, the evacuation operations continue including for the few 100 U.S. citizens, the State Department believes are still in Afghanistan.
MCKENZIE: The plan is designed to operate while under stress and under attack. And we will continue to do that. We will coordinate very carefully to make sure that it's safe for American citizens to come to the airfield.
LIEBERMANN: The Taliban say they will seek justice for the attack as coordination between U.S. forces and the Taliban continues. U.S. commanders on the ground have asked the Taliban to push out the security corridor around the airfield and shared some information to prevent attacks.
MCKENZIE: We believe it's possible that others have been forwarded. We cut down the information we give the Taliban. They don't get the full range of information we have. But we give them enough to act in time and space to try to prevent these attacks.
LIEBERMANN: The situation on the ground has been fluid for weeks changing by the hour, these attacks mark a much greater shift.
LIEBERMANN: General McKenzie made it clear that they would use the forces available that is aircraft overhead including fighters and gunships, as well as Apaches that are there on the field and drones to do what it takes to keep an eye on the airport and security U.S. troops that continue to work there in a dangerous environment to try to evacuate as many Afghans as possible.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, Oren if the evacuation is going to continue, as General McKenzie said it is, how do these terrorist attacks change, how they're conducting security checks at the airport?
LIEBERMANN: So General McKenzie talked about this and said, look, there is ongoing coordination and communication with the Taliban, some of that Intel about the ongoing and persistent threats from ISIS-K, some of that will be shared with the Taliban. And they've been instructed or asked to push out the security perimeter around the airport to essentially create a bigger secure area. But McKenzie acknowledge that not all of these Taliban fighters are the best and are able to conduct these security checks. And that's where he said, look, the final check before someone gets onto the field that has to be done by U.S. forces, that has to be done face to face. And that introduces an inherent aspect of risk to any non-combat evacuation operation and certainly one of the sides.
TAPPER: But Oren we knew in the last 24 hours that there was a heightened threat. I mean, U.S. bus, you know, buses containing U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents were lined up outside the airport, they weren't lending money to anybody in, the administration, the Biden administration was publicly talking about an explosion that they feared would come from an ISIS-K terrorist. I'm sure the Taliban knew all that. All they had to do was turn on CNN, what more information did they need before they let these suicide bombers walk into from their perimeter right up to our marines, U.S. Marines?
LIEBERMANN: Sure. And let's not forget that ISIS-K had 10 or 11 days to look at the operations and see which gates were busy. And that's why the State Department tried to tell Americans and did inform them, look, stay away from these gates until we instruct you to do so because there are security threats. But on the other side of that they weren't about to abandon U.S. citizens and the Afghans that still needed evacuation. So, the challenge was to find some way to continue the operation in a way that allowed American citizens and Afghans to get to the base knowing that this threat was there, they weren't simply going to abandon the operation and abandon what could be a few 100 or up to 1000 U.S. citizens. And this, unfortunately, is what happened here. McKenzie making it clear. Look, the operation continues even as the threat is still there and still persistent.
TAPPER: All right, Oren Liebermann, thank you so much. Let's go now to CNN, Phil Mattingly, who's live for us at the White House. We're waiting for President Biden to begin speaking. He was supposed to speak about five minutes ago. We do not expect him to be on time typically.
Phil, in the past week, President Biden promised a swift and forceful response to any disruption, any disruption to the evacuation operation obviously, this is the worst kind of disruption. What are we expecting him to say now?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, Congressional Democrats who have been in touch with the administration over the course of the last several hours say, their understanding is he will reiterate that message and the Pentagon made clear they have the capability to follow out that message if they are able to identify where folks associated with these terrorists actually are. I think the operative issue here, though, is we actually haven't heard from the President yet today.
Over the course of the last several hours, he has been huddled behind closed doors with his top advisors receiving regular updates about a situation that administration officials acknowledge is extraordinarily fluid. And it's not just what the recourse will be, in terms of what the President is going to have to answer or going to have to lay out when he speaks to the American public in a matter of minutes.
There are a number of questions, some of which you just outlined with Oren in terms of how the evacuation, which the Pentagon said is continuing, will actually do so. How are you getting Americans inside the gates? How are you getting Afghans inside the gates? What is the process? Will U.S. forces have to expend more effort to get outside the gates to go extract people? These are all open questions. And I'm told the administration has been rolling over the course of the last several hours. And of course, this is all on a timeline.
Jake, the timeline has not changed. There is no expectation, at least according to congressional Democrats, that the August 31 deadline will be shifted in any way. And part of the reason is because the exact rationale, the president pointed to for coming out of Afghanistan by August 31, was exactly what we saw happen this morning. You noted this has been a very, very real intelligence threat the administration has been tracking over the course of the last several days. The President has repeatedly said in private meetings with foreign leaders publicly to the American public, that this was the biggest concern that everyday U.S. personnel were on the ground was a day where the risk was increasing. That risk increased to the highest level this morning. And it's Pentagon officials made clear, those risks haven't gone away. In fact, there's every expectation, according to officials I've spoken to, that there will be more attacks.
So how the President handles that? How the President and the military personnel on the ground are able to address that while continuing their evacuations? These are all questions the President is going to have to address when he speaks in a few minutes, Jake. TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly at the White House. Thank you so much.
Pentagon officials believe about 1000 American citizens still want to be evacuated from Afghanistan. That does not include lawful permanent residents of the U.S. or Afghan Special Immigrant Visa recipients.
The CENTCOM commander told today's Pentagon briefing that the mission to evacuate Americans and Afghans will continue. CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department for us. Kylie, what are you hearing about evacuation efforts? We've heard that the U.S. military has been sealing some of the various gates at the Kabul airport.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, so what we're learning is that these evacuation efforts are ongoing. But certainly, there are a number of conversations happening behind closed doors to try and make sure they can still facilitate those evacuations.
Just to give you a sense for the numbers we're looking at here, State Department said today, there are about 1000 Americans that they are in touch with that they believe are still in Afghanistan, about two- thirds of those are making moves to get out of the country. And there are some of those who they believe are on their way out of the country or have already gotten out of the country. That's a little bit confusing. But what that tells us is that this is extremely fluid. I know that there are Americans at the airport who are waiting to get on some of those evacuation flights. There were Americans who got on evacuation flights before the explosions this morning. But the key question here is how many of those Americans aren't yet at the airport because we heard from the top State Department diplomat this morning, who acknowledged that they had told Americans not to go to the airport on their own, because of the sensitivities because of the dangerous situation around these gates. They said they're working on alternate ways to get those folks to the airport.
My understanding is that those alternate routes are still underway. But the State Department isn't being very specific with us, presumably because of the incredibly dangerous security situation on the ground there. But our understanding is that this evacuation is still underway, but they are making changes on the fly given what we saw happen this morning. Jake.
TAPPER: Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thank you so much.
I want to go down to CNN's Tom Foreman. And Tom, it's fair to say that most people watching the show are not familiar with the basic geography of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, you have been taking a closer look at where these two explosions happen. Give us a lay of the land?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and this really is a challenge of time and geography. Take a look at the airport right here, if we move into a different picture of it here, you can see this is the main road coming up to, this where the Taliban has been doing a checkpoint out here. And people have spread out along these walls in both directions, hundreds of yards, 1000s of people and this is where this attack took place. First at the Abbey Gate, the Baron Hotel, as we've heard all day a stone's throw away. These have been areas where a lot of people, a lot of Americans, a lot of Brits, a lot of Europeans and others have been funneling through is they've opened the gates briefly to let them in, as we heard from people Pentagon today that's when it appears an attack happened when they finally reached the point of pushing through there.
Now you could say, why couldn't you keep them separated? We were talking a minute ago about keeping people back. Well just look at the situation as we've been talking about it. There's a tremendous number of people who have gathered along this area, and they're right up against the area where U.S. troops are, that has been the challenge all along, and continues to be the challenge. How do you get through the people you want through and keep out those that you don't want to come through or keep them from getting that close? That's what they have to deal with right now, especially in the environment you just described, where we believe that there is still an active effort to attack. They'll have to keep moving forward, they say they are ready to operate and continue the evacuations under stress, under attack, they will have to be able to do that if this is going to be successful, because as you noted, somewhere out here in the country, there are roughly 1000 American citizens not counting all the other people we might want out, were somewhere out in the country who may have to come in through that barrier. And remember in here are roughly 5000 troops, who ultimately will have to come out to. Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman with the logistical challenge of excavating all these individuals -- evacuated all these individuals. We're standing by for President Biden to address these horrific terrorist attacks. We're going to squeeze in a very quick break. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: Welcome back, any moment we expect President Biden to address today's deadly terrorist attacks at the Kabul airport, the terrorist group ISIS-K has now claimed responsibility. This afternoon, the Pentagon confirmed a 12 U.S. servicemembers were killed and 15 wounded after these two explosions outside the airport in a nearby hotel. More than 60 innocent Afghans were killed and more than 100 wounded.
CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joins us now. Nic, U.S. allies have been expressing lots of concern about not just the withdrawal, but the manner of this withdrawal. What are they saying about today's attack?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The French President Macron said that he wasn't sure that the French could actually get out all the people they would like to evacuate because he said he wasn't sure that international forces could continue to control the security situation around the airport, the Elysee Palace, the presidential palace in in Paris sort of tied it up those remarks a little bit by saying look, absolutely this act of attacking suicide bombers is condemned and that France will continue to try to get an evacuated out all the people that it can get out but very clear statement from the French President there is that he is worried about the situation unravelling further, British Government held one of their security cabinet meetings the Prime Minister spoke afterwards calling the attack barbaric despicable. But he said that the British would continue, and these are his words to the last moment trying to evacuate out all the people that they believe that they have responsibility for. And he said most of those people are already out. So, I think on the one hand you have this sort of a big shock and concern, but you have that resolve to try to get out the last other people.
And I'm interested in one point, Jake, and you just refer to it the ISIS-K have claimed this. Interestingly, the individual that they named as being responsible and we can't prove that it is but if this is their propaganda, obviously they named this person and gave him the last name, Logari which means in their speak, ISIS speak is from Logar Province. It's about 30 miles from Kabul. So, their message here is, we haven't just plucked out some suicide bomber from, you know, some wave far flung province and part of Afghanistan, no, the guy that did this lived his life, just outside the Capitol, knew this place. Well, so you know, this is big propaganda for ISIS and concerning capitals in Europe of allies.
TAPPER: And Nic, obviously this evacuation effort, the U.S. military has been heroically performing, keeping the airport as safe as possible. But it's been an international effort to get as many people as have left Afghanistan out, last I heard it was more than 80,000. How are today's events likely to impact the international evacuation effort?
ROBERTSON: You know, we were hearing through the day, in fact, before the suicide bombing took place, the reports were coming in, I think from Danish, Canadian, from others, who were essentially saying these were the last of their evacuation flights that were happening. The Germans still have people they want to continue to evacuate out clearly for them. You know, it's going to heighten security concerns. But I think compared to the United States, Britain also still had a relatively high number of people that they evacuated and still in relative terms to other nations, still a quite a number that they wanted to get out. But relative to the United States, I think that a lot of NATO partners had already significantly drawn down and got out most of the people they wanted to leave.
But it's very clear, even those like the British troops who were based at the airport, who had, you know, whose security posture was about as far, as far out, as, you know, permissible and putting themselves also in in a line of danger, just in the same way that the Marines who so tragically died today, you know, this is not going to be -- it would seem that the British are going to be like the United States. Be more cautious about that going forward.
TAPPER: All right, Nic Robertson thanks so much. Let's bring in the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs under George W. Bush, Mary Beth Long, she's been assisting with these evacuation efforts. And, first of all, God bless you and thank you for these evacuation efforts. I know so much of it is being done by private citizens and veterans and people whose job is not. But so many have risen. The Digital Dunkirk is a heroic thing at the same time, it's also kind of sad that it needs to happen. But thank you for what you've been doing.
You've been communicating directly with commanders on the ground, you've been in contact with people who were trying to evacuate. Have you spoken to any of them since the attack? What are you hearing?
MARY BETH LONG, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS: I have, actually, first of all, condolences to the families that lost both on the Afghan side and marine side. But as is often the case, people have locked up the gates once again. And the fact that you know, they're securing the gates, Abbey Gates is the only gate that we understand will be open to the future. And we still have at least from our roles, at least 60 to 100 U.S. citizens who have been going to the gates for three or four days at a time who have yet to get in. And it looks like it's going to be even more difficult.
TAPPER: One of the things that doesn't make any sense to me. And I guess terrorism never makes sense. But sometimes there is some sort of message that you're trying to send, the U.S. is leaving, right? I mean, like the U.S. is going. So, this isn't an attack to say get out of here, get out of this country, which is one of the reasons we've had terrorist attacks against the U.S. forces in Afghanistan for the previous 20 years. What message do you think ISIS-K is trying to send here?
LONG: I think there's two messages. I think the first message is, U.S., you failed to secure your perimeter. And that's a basic fundamental expectation of any of your operations. So, shame on you for having done it. We found that hole and if we can find this hole, we can find a lot of other holes. And I think the second one was, you made a deal with the Taliban. But you forgot we're going to contest the Taliban's authorities over Kabul. Kabul is always been a contested area. They have split. This is now the Taliban versus the Haqqani Network, and ISIS and others. And you're going to have to deal with us now because we're the power player, and we're flat footed on that.
TAPPER: Tell us about this effort. You're a part of a group of 40 former government officials working around the clock to evacuate American citizens, to evacuate lawful permanent residents of the U.S. green card holders, Afghan Special Immigrant Visa or SIV holders. Tell us about how these efforts are going, and do you have any hope and to move forward in light of these terrorist attacks that have made your job even more complicated?
LONG: We're an unusual group where we don't have a cool name. And we haven't asked for money. And in fact, everyone has basically left their jobs and family. And I've been doing this for about a week. We've been pretty successful. But we're very disappointed. Last night, we had over 60 U.S. citizens waiting to get in, they never got in. We had a busload of green card holders, we finally got those and today. We had another bus load that have been waiting for about three or four days. It's only going to get harder. Unfortunately, the situation outside the airport that has prevented U.S. citizens from getting in is only going to be exacerbated and we are discouraged. We are however, already pivoting to over the land efforts to try to get people out.
TAPPER: Over borders?
LONG: Over borders, all kinds of --
TAPPER: Yes, you don't need go into detail. So, you're abandoning some of the flight efforts?
LONG: No, we're just dividing our resources in order to be prepared whenever things shift. We're not optimistic since we're down to one gate, and we've been using seven gates, and we haven't greatly reduced, very few people got in last night. We're looking for alternatives. And we've shifted our resources accordingly.
TAPPER: You've been in contact with a woman from California who's still stranded. She was assaulted yesterday.
LONG: Yes, she was. She was assaulted while she waited to get inside the embassy. Unfortunately, excuse me, the airport, our Marines who knew she were there, she was there, and others did not have the authority to let U.S. citizens in. And people like her that were pushed to the back of the line were beaten severely of while they waited for us, unfortunately, to respond and we didn't get there.
TAPPER: Beaten by the Taliban, beaten by just people there?
LONG: Beaten by the Taliban.
TAPPER: Has the State Department, the Biden ministration been in all receptive to your efforts? Are they using you as a way of enhancing their efforts?
LONG: No, as a matter of fact, we are the only organization, the network of civilians, we're all in touch with each other. But I just learned multiple attempts to State Department and the Department of Defense have basically been brushed off. They're not interested in on our lists of U.S. citizens who are trying to get in. They were not interested in our list of U.S. green card holders. They take our efforts.
TAPPER: Here comes President Bush, I'm sorry to interrupt.
LONG: Of course.
TAPPER: I'm sorry, President Biden, here's President Biden. Let's listen in and thank you so much for being here.
[17:24:55] JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Been a tough day. This evening in Kabul, as you all know, terrorists attacked, that we've been talking about and worried about, that the intelligence community has assessed, has undertaken, an attack, by a group known as ISIS-K, took the lives of American service members standing guard at the airport, and wounded several others seriously. They also wounded a number of civilians, and civilians were killed as well.
I've been engaged all day and in constant contact with the military commanders here in Washington, the Pentagon, as well as in Afghanistan and Doha. And my commanders here in Washington and in the field have been on this with great detail, and you've had a chance to speak to some, so far.
The situation on the ground is still evolving, and I'm constantly being updated.
These American service members who gave their lives, it's an overused word, but it's totally appropriate, they were heroes. Heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.
They were part of an airlift, an evacuation effort unlike any seen in history, with more than 100,000 American citizens, American partners, Afghans who helped us, and others taken to safety in the last 11 days. Just in the last 12 hours or so, another 7,000 have gotten out.
They were part of the bravest, most capable, and the most selfless military on the face of the Earth. And they were part of, simply, what I call the "backbone of America." They're the spine of America, the best the country has to offer.
Jill and I, our hearts ache, like I'm sure all of you do as well, for all those Afghan families who have lost loved ones, including small children, or been wounded in this vicious attack. And we're outraged as well as heartbroken.
Being the father of an Army major who served for a year in Iraq and, before that, was in Kosovo as a U.S. attorney for the better part of six months in the middle of a war, when he came home after a year in Iraq, he was diagnosed, like many, many coming home, with an aggressive and lethal cancer of the brain, who we lost.
We have some sense, like many of you do, what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today. You get this feeling like you're being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest, there's no way out. My heart aches for you.
But I know this, we have a continuing obligation, a sacred obligation to all of you, the families of those heroes. That obligation is not temporary, it lasts forever.
The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security, in the service of others, in the service of America. Like their fellow brothers and sisters in arms who died defending our vision and our values in the struggle against terrorism of the fallen this day, they're part of a great and noble company of American heroes.
To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.
Over the past few weeks, I know you're, many of you are probably tired of hearing me say it. We've been made aware, from our intelligence community, that the ISIS-K, an arch-enemy of the Taliban -- people were freed when both those prisons were opened, have been planning a complex set of attacks on the United States personnel and others. This is why from the outset, I've repeatedly said that this mission was extraordinarily dangerous, and why I have been so determined to limit the duration of this mission.
As General McKenzie said, this is why our mission was designed -- this is the way it was designed to operate, operate under severe stress and attack. We've known that from the beginning.
And as I've been in constant contact with our senior military leaders -- and I mean constant, around the clock -- and our commanders on the ground and throughout the day, they made it clear that we can and we must complete this mission, and we will. And that's what I've ordered them to do.
We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.
I've also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing.
Here is what you need to know: These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans who are there. We will get out our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on. America will not be intimidated.
I have the utmost confidence in our brave service members who continue to execute this mission with courage and honor to save lives and get Americans, our partners, our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.
Every day when I talk to our commanders, I ask them what they need -- what more do they need, if anything, to get the job done. As they will tell you, I granted every request. I reiterated to them again today, on three occasions, that they should take the maximum steps necessary to protect our forces on the ground in Kabul.
And I also want to thank the Secretary of Defense and the military leadership at the Pentagon, and all the commanders in the field. There has been complete unanimity from every commander on the objectives of this mission and the best way to achieve those objectives.
Those who have served through the ages have drawn inspiration from the Book of Isaiah, when the Lord says, "Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?" American military has been answering for a long time, "Here am I, Lord. Send me." "Here I am. Send me."
Each one of these women and men of our armed forces are the heirs of that tradition of sacrifice of volunteering to go into harm's way, to risk everything -- not for glory, not for profit, but to defend what we love and the people we love. And I ask that you join me now in a moment of silence for all those in uniform and out uniform, military and civilian, who have given the last full measure of devotion.
Thank you. May God bless you all and may God protect those troops and all those standing wise for America. We have so much to do. It's within our capacity to do it. We just have to remain steadfast. Steadfast.
We will complete our mission. And we will continue, after our troops have withdrawn, to find means by which we defined any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan. We will find them and we will get them out.
Ladies and gentlemen, they gave me a list here. The first person I was instructed to call on was Kelly O'Donnell of NBC.
KELLY O'DONNELL, POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS: Mr. President, you have said leaving Afghanistan is in the national interest of the United States.
After today's attack, do you believe you will authorize additional forces to respond to that attack inside Afghanistan? And are you prepared to add additional forces to protect those Americans who remain on the ground carrying out the evacuation operation?
BIDEN: I've instructed the military, whatever they need -- if they need additional force -- I will grant it. But the military -- from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Chiefs, the commanders in the field -- have all contacted me one way or another, usually by letter, saying they subscribe to the mission as designed to get as many people out as we can within the timeframe that is allotted. That is the best way, they believe, to get as many Americans out as possible, and others.
And with regard to finding, tracking down the ISIS leaders who ordered this, we have some reason to believe we know who they are -- not certain -- and we will find ways of our choosing, without large military operations to get them.
O'DONNELL: Inside Afghanistan, Mr. President?
BIDEN: Wherever they are.
Trevor from Reuters. TREVOR HUNNICUTT, REUTERS REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. There has been some criticism, even from people in your party about the dependence on the Taliban to secure the perimeter of the airport. Do you feel like there was a mistake made in that regard?
BIDEN: No, I don't. Look, I think General McKenzie handled this question very well. The fact is that we're in a situation -- we inherited a situation, particularly since, as we all know, that the Afghan military collapsed 11 days before -- in 11 days -- that it is in the interest of, as Mackenzie said, in the interest of the Taliban that, in fact, ISIS-K does not metastasize beyond what it is, number one. And number two, it's in their interest that we are able to leave on time, on target.
As a consequence of that, the major things we've asked them -- moving back the perimeter, give me more space between the wall, stopping vehicles from coming through, et cetera; searching people coming through -- it is not what you'd call a tightly commanded, regimented operation like the U.S. is, the military is, but they're acting in their interest, their interest.
And so, by and large -- and I've asked this same question to military on the ground, whether or not it's a useful exercise. No one trusts them. We're just counting on their self-interest to continue to generate their activities. And it's in their self-interest that we leave when we said and that we get as many people out as we can. And like I said, even in the midst of everything that happened today, over 7,000 people have gotten out, over 5,000 Americans overall.
So, it's not a matter of trust, it's a matter of mutual self-interest. And -- but there is no evidence thus far that I've been given, as a consequence by any of our commanders in the field, that there has been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today both in front of the hotel and what is expected to continue for -- beyond today.
Aamer, Associated Press.
AAMER MADHANI, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. You have spoken again powerfully about your own son and the weight of these decisions. With that in mind, and also what you've said, that the longer we stay, the more likelihood that there would be a major attack, how do you weigh staying even one more day, considering what's happened?
BIDEN: Because I think what America says matters. What we say we're going to do and the context in which we say we're going to do it, that we do it -- unless something exceptional changes.
There are additional American citizens, there are additional green card holders, there are additional personnel of our allies, there are additional SIV card holders, there are additional Afghans that have helped us, and there are additional groups of individuals that have contacted us from women's groups, to NGOs, and others, who have expressly indicated they want to get out and have gathered in certain circumstances in groups, on buses and other means, that still presents the opportunity for the next several days, between now and the 31st, to be able to get them out.
And our military -- and, I believe, to the extent that we can do that knowing the threat, knowing that we may very well have another attack -- the military has concluded that's what we should do. I think they're right. I think they're correct.
And after that, we're going to be in a circumstance where there are -- will be, I believe, numerous opportunities to continue to provide access for additional persons to get out of Afghanistan, either through means that we provide and/or are provided through in cooperation with the Taliban. They're not good guys, the Taliban. I'm not suggesting that at all. But they have a keen interest.
As many of you have been reporting, they very much would like to figure out how to keep the airport open. They don't have the capacity to do it. They very much are trying to figure out whether or not they can maintain what is the portion of an economy that has become not robust, but fundamentally different than it had been.
And so there's a lot of reasons why they have reached out not just to us, but to others, as to why it would be continued in their interest to get more of the personnel we want to get out. We can locate them.
Now, there's not many left that we can assess that are -- want to come out. There's some Americans we've identified -- we've contacted the vast majority of them, if not all of them -- who don't want to leave because they have -- they're dual nationals, they have extended families, et cetera. And there's others who are looking for the time. So, that's why we continue.
I'll take a few more questions, and -- but, you, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. I wanted to ask you --
BIDEN: I didn't pick you, but that's OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- you say that what America says matters, what do you say to the Afghans who helped troops, who may not be able to get out by August 31st? What --
BIDEN: I say --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say to them?
BIDEN: -- we're going to continue to try to get you out. It matters.
Look, I know of no conflict, as a student of history -- no conflict where, when a war was ending, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country would get out.
And think about it, folks. I think it's important for -- I know the American people get this in their gut. There are, I would argue, millions of Afghani citizens who are not Taliban, who did not actively cooperate with us as SIVs, who, if given a chance, they'd be onboard a plane tomorrow.
It sounds ridiculous, but the vast majority of people in communities like that want to come to America, given a choice. So, getting every single person out is -- can't be guaranteed to anybody because there's a determination, all who wants to get out as well. Anyway, that's a process.
I was really pointing to you, but -- you, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. There are reports that U.S. officials provided the Taliban with names of Americans and Afghan officials to evacuate. Were you aware of that? Did that happen? And then, sir, did you personally reject a recommendation to hold, or to recapture Bagram Air Force Base?
BIDEN: Here's what I've done on the -- I'll ask this -- I'll answer the last question, first. On the tactical questions of how to conduct an evacuation or a war, I gather up all the major military personnel that are in Afghanistan -- the commanders, as well as the Pentagon. And I ask for their best military judgment, what would be the most efficient way to accomplish the mission.
They concluded -- the military -- that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul. And so, I followed that recommendation.
With regard to -- there are certain circumstances where we've gotten information -- and quite frankly, sometimes from some of you, saying, you know of such and such a group of people who are trying to get out and they're on a bus, they're moving -- from other people -- and this is their location.
And there have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts in the Taliban and said, this -- for example, this bus is coming through with X number of people on it, made up of the following group of people. We want you to let that bus or that group through.
So, yes, there have been occasions like that.
And to the best of my knowledge, in those cases, the bulk of that has occurred, they've been let through. But I can't tell you with any certitude that there's actually been a list of names. I don't -- there may have been, but I know of no circumstance. It doesn't mean it's not -- it didn't exist, that, here's the names of 12 people, they're coming. Let them through. It could very well have happened.
I'll take one more question.
BIDEN: Wait, wait, wait. Let me take the one question from the most interesting guy that I know in the press.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. Is that -- is there --
BIDEN: That's you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, there had not been a U.S. service member killed in combat in Afghanistan since February of 2020. You set a deadline. You pulled troops out. You sent troops back in. And now 12 marines are dead. You said the buck stops with you. Do you bear any responsibility for the way that things have unfolded in the last two weeks?
BIDEN: I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that's happened of late. But here's the deal, you know -- I wish you'd one day say these things -- you know as well as I do that the former President made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan by May 1. In return, the commitment was made -- and that was a year before -- in return, he was given a commitment that the Taliban would continue to attack others, but would not attack any American forces.
Remember that? I'm being serious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President --
BIDEN: No, I -- I'm asking you a question. Be because before I --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump is not the President right now.
BIDEN: No, no -- now wait a minute. I'm asking you a question. Is that accurate, to the best of your knowledge?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know what you're talking about. But, Mr. President, respectfully --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- since -- I don't think that the issue that -- do you think that people have an issue with pulling out of Afghanistan, or just the way that things have happened?
BIDEN: I think they have an issue that people are likely to get hurt, some, as we've seen, have gotten killed, and that it is messy. The reason why -- whether my friend will acknowledge it and was reported it -- the reason why there were no attacks on Americans, as you said, from the date until I came into office, was because the commitment was made by President Trump, I will be out by May 1st.
In the meantime, you agree not to attack any Americans. That was the deal. That's why no American was attacked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you said that you still -- a few days ago, you said you squarely stand by your decision to pull out.
BIDEN: Yes, I do. Because look at it this way, folks -- and I'm going to -- I have another meeting, for real. But imagine where we'd be if I had indicated, on May the 1st, I was not going to renegotiate an evacuation date, we were going to stay there. I'd have only one alternative, pour thousands of more troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war that we had already won, relative -- is why the reason we went in the first place.
I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan -- a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country, and is made up -- and I don't mean this in a derogatory -- made up of different tribes who have never ever, ever gotten along with one another.
And so, as I said before -- and this is the last comment I'll make, but we'll have more chance to talk about this, unfortunately, beyond, because we're not out yet -- if Osama bin Laden, as well as al-Qaeda, had chosen to launch an attack, when they left Saudi Arabia out of Yemen, would we have ever gone to Afghanistan? Even though the Taliban completely controlled Afghanistan at the time, would we have ever gone?
I know it's not fair to ask you questions. It's rhetorical. But raise your hand if you think we should have gone and given up thousands of lives and tens of thousands of wounded.
Our interest in going was to prevent al-Qaeda from reemerging, first to get bin Laden, wipe out al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and prevent that from happening again.
As I've said 100 times, terrorism has metastasized around the world. We have greater threats coming out of other countries a heck of a lot closer to the United States. We don't have military encampments there. We don't keep people there. We have over-the-horizon capability to keep them from going after us.
Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war.
Thank you so much.
TAPPER: President Biden addressing the nation vowing to continue evacuations in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Kabul, the left 12 American servicemembers dead, 15 wounded, countless other Afghans killed and wounded. President Biden calling it a tough day. He honoured the Americans who were killed as heroes serving on a dangerous, selfless mission.
The President standing by his decision to pull out of Afghanistan. He also condemned ISIS-K, or as the Islamic State in Khorasan, who have claimed responsibility for the attack, he warned, we will hunt you down and make you pay.
CNN's Phil Mattingly is live for us at the White House. And Phil, the President says that the mission will go on until August 31st. When asked about whether or not he trusts the Taliban, he said he doesn't. But it's a matter of mutual interests, that it's in the Taliban's interest for the U.S. to leave on time.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, we've been aware over the course of the last 11 days just how reliant the U.S. personnel on the ground is on the Taliban. It has become abundantly clear over the course of the last 12 hours just how acute that reliance is. There's no question about it.
And the President framing it is simply they have a shared interest at this moment in time, making clear he doesn't believe they are good people, or are good guys. But that it is a reality and the situation right now for U.S. personnel on the ground and in the mission that they are attempting to complete in terms of this large scale evacuations of both Americans and Afghan allies that they need those officials. One thing I would note the President making very clear, he has directed his military leaders to draw up plans to strike those responsible for the attack today and making clear he plans to see that through, Jake.
TAPPER: And let's talk about that with CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us.
Oren, the President said the U.S. will hunt down the terrorists and make them pay. He suggested that he has an idea of where they might be in who they might be.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: He did. He suggested, first, it was problematic that ISIS-K members were released when prisons were opened up and all the prisoners were let out. And then he says that the U.S. has an idea of who was responsible for this. He said, it's not certain yet, but that's clearly what's working on and then he said he's told commanders there to draw up plans to strike ISIS-K assets, forces and capabilities and that that would be carried out at a time and a place of the choosing of the United States.
His words here, we will not forgive, we will not forget, we will hunt you down and make you pay. And in the middle of all this, he pointed out, the evacuation continues. 7,000 people moved in 12 hours, he says.
TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN's Kylie Atwood at the State Department. And Kylie, the President said the U.S. evacuated another 7,000 people from Kabul as Oren just said in the last 12 hours, it's an indication that the operation is continuing, although not for much longer.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. He said the promise to the Afghan people is that the Biden administration will still try and get them out of the country. Even when this mission at the airport in Kabul for the U.S. military concludes. He pointed to two reasons for why the Taliban should be interested in wanting to help the United States get those people out. First of all, because they want that airport to stay open. It's not good for the country, if it closes. So it is in their best interest to work with the United States, to work with other countries to keep the airport open. Second reason is because of economic reasons. The Taliban need U.S. support. He indicated that that is in jeopardy if they don't continue to allow Afghans to get out of the country.
CNN's Nic Robertson joins me now live. Nic, President Biden, he is still pledging that there -- the U.S. will try to evacuate Afghan allies. The promise was much broader once when the U.S. said they would try to help vulnerable Afghans escape. And then it's -- they've been narrowing and narrowing the people that have been getting out. These promises are still being made. But when you talk to people on the ground, Afghan special immigrant visa holders are not being let into the airport.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: There's something that's falling down that doesn't square up here, Jake. And you're in touch with people who have the accreditation that they need, and they're not getting through. And it's not because they're being turned away all the time by the Taliban, sometimes it is. Sometimes there's confusion at the final hurdle.
And it does appear that the President is now more tightly defining the sort of people that can get out. You know, it isn't just Americans, it is -- it does include Afghans, and it does include allies. But as you say, the definition of who can be on board a plane and who can get in the airport is now much smaller. And I think that speaks to the fact that there is now a limited timeframe. Tighter security evidently is going to be in place limited, less places for people to get into the airport. And this, to a degree, is constraining the President above what had previously said.
TAPPER: All right, Nic.
General Mark Kimmitt joins me here in studio. And General, you and I talked about this yesterday, but the idea of what happens to the Americans, American citizens or even legal permanent resident, green card holders, who are still in Afghanistan after August 31st, it was up in the air before President Biden suggested maybe a week ago that the U.S. would stay until every American was out. That doesn't seem to be the pledge anymore. Now he's saying, after we leave, we are still going to try to figure out ways to get you out.
BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET): Yes. Well, yesterday, Secretary Blinken said that was going to be done by diplomatic means. Now I think what happened today made it very clear that we're going to have to consider alternative means whether it's the U.S. military, U.S. Special Operations Forces or possibly some of our paramilitary units. It may also be that we use resistance movements that we're seeing inside of Afghanistan --
TAPPER: The Northern Alliance.
KIMMITT: -- the Northern Alliance, you know, Ahmad Massoud son. So I would hope that the President lives up to those words and it's not just campaign promise.
TAPPER: And Phil Mudd, very quickly, if you can, we're running out of time before it's Wolf. The intelligence that President Biden relies on to talk about the ISIS in Khorasan, you -- did you hear anything that might suggest where it comes from?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, quickly, look, it could be vague intelligence. That's not what he said. He said it's complex intelligence, which means not single source. And he suggested that we knew who conducted the operation, which says you have some fidelity on the intelligence. That's different than what a lot of what I saw bottom line.
If they have that fidelity, eventually they're going to find these guys. Whoever did this, they're going to go down.
TAPPER: All right, our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room.