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Biden to Soon Address Nation on Afghanistan and Taliban Takeover; Interview with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Biden's Upcoming Speech on Afghanistan. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 16, 2021 - 15:30   ET



DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: So, owning that and explaining that could help when you ask about the political ramifications, keep credibility with the American people which is crucial not just in this moment, Alisyn, but for whatever may come next when millions of Americans may be in imminent danger for something.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: You know, David Axelrod, very quickly, you just talked about how heartbreaking it is to see the scenes and of course it is.

And one of the things that Joe Biden is known for and I think prides himself on is empathy. And the idea that we're leaving, you know that Americans promised that things would be different for the Afghan people and for women and girls and for our Afghan allies who helped us, and now we're high tailing it out of there.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, I think that's something he has to address. And he does have this amazing sense of empathy, but it can't end at the water's edge. And he does need to express his concern for these people. But more than his concern, the things that he intends to do within what is believable to try and help now. I don't think it's enough to say we were there long enough and we got out so they're on their own now. I think he needs to do something more.

CAMEROTA: David Chalian, David Axelrod, thank you both very much. We'll see what he says and look forward to your analysis.

But right now, we want to go to Kabul. We want to bring in chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward who is live in Kabul for us. She has been reporting from there. She's been watching the Taliban takeover of the country. So, Clarissa, what are you looking for to hear from President Biden in a few minutes? And what do the people on the ground there expect?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, I think, you know, the question is what do people on the ground expect, right. And it depends who you're talking to but from what we are hearing people want answers.

They want to understand why this withdrawal was done in such a hasty and chaotic way. And they want know what is going to be done to help the tens of thousands of people who have worked closely with the U.S. military, who have worked closely with the U.S. Embassy, who have worked closely with journalistic organizations like our own, who have worked closely with American and European NGOs.

There's a lot of anger and resentment here from people who did work with the U.S. not because they expected Americans to keep fighting their war for more decades to come. But because they felt the execution of this withdrawal was handled so poorly. They felt that the execution of this , who were part of the talks to negotiate the end to this war, were hoodwinked by the Taliban. That they were not able to extract real meaningful concessions from the Taliban side.

Now obviously It's a much more complex picture and it remains to be seen like what leverage the U.S. really had in those talks and certainly the Afghan government plays a role in all of this as well.

But that is definitely the primary question that for many Afghans will be on their lips listening to President Biden tonight. They'll want to know what are you going to do about this, if anything. I think many people have sort of resigned themselves to fact that America has washed its hands of these people.

CAMEROTA: Clarissa, I've been watching your reporting all day as have so obviously so many viewers and hanging on every word. And I can't help but notice you're not in the head to toe covering now, the burka that we saw you in earlier.

And you were telling us how the Taliban has sort of marginalized you and pushed you off to the side. Because you're a woman you couldn't be standing where you were. So, what exactly is happening on the street now?

WARD: So right now, I'm in a private compounds which is why I'm not dressed in a full abaya and a head scarf.

And I want to say that even the Taliban they did tell me to stand to the side. And obviously, they are flummoxed by my presence as a woman. But for the most part they have been very polite and cordial in terms of letting us go about our job.

And I think the reason they're doing that is they're very keen to project an image right now, Alisyn, that they are a mature political force. That they have learned from the mistakes of the past.

Now, of course, very few -- there's a lot of people I should say here who have trouble believing that. Who do not have faith that the Taliban has changed at all and who are desperately worried about what the future will hold under Taliban rule.

But there are also people out there on the streets who is welcome their presence and largely because they say they are so tired of war at this stage. They don't care who is in charge anymore. They just want an end to the fighting. And the one thing the Taliban is able to deliver on in that sense because they are so ruthless in how they operate is a sort of temporary, perhaps but spieling of security on the ground. It's largely calm and quiet here tonight.

We did have a few gunshots just a few moments ago. But other than the streets of Kabul, at least, have been pretty quiet tonight.


And that's because there's Taliban fighters on every corner. And in this moment, they want to project this image that they can maintain security, that they can keep law and order and that they can govern.

And as I said a lot of people are going to have a really hard time believing that and they are absolutely petrified and desperate as we saw in those gut-wrenching pictures from the airport. But this is the image at least that the Taliban seeks to convey at the moment.

CAMEROTA: Clarissa Ward, thank you. It is so helpful to have you on the ground there. We'll continue to watch, thank you very much.

So, President Biden is expected to speak any moment now on the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the chaotic evacuations of U.S. personnel and Afghan allies. What message this sends to America's other allies and their adversaries around the world? That's next.



CAMEROTA: In minutes President Biden will address the nation on the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.

CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour joins us live along with Cedric Layton, he's a CNN military analyst who spent 26 in the Air Force with five deployments to the Middle East.

Christiane has reported extensively from Afghanistan during these past 20 years. So, Christiane, let me start with you. As we wait to hear from President Biden, what will world leaders be listening for in his speech?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, a couple of things. Primarily, I think all world leaders and certainly their military forces are like everybody else, completely horrified by the fact that all of these ordinary Afghan civilians who have for the last 20 years put their own selves at risk to help the international forces are now desperately trying to get out of Kabul and to get to safety.

This, I believe, will be considered a moral imperative on behalf of the United States, Britain, you know, France, other NATO countries to get those people out and therefore a plan for how you are exactly going to extract as the U.S. has now said, a thousand a day. Needs to be you know to be to laid out. I think that's the very least and the very first of what the president can say going forward. He's obviously not going to stand there and do a massive mea culpa.

The idea that he's going to likely say that he was wrong and that if he could do it all over again, he would, is simply not credible. He believes in this. President Biden has never been an interventionist as you've heard from all your other interviews just over the last several minutes.

All of them have laid out how it was President Biden, before that, vice president, before that, Senator, etcetera, etcetera who spoke for the reduction of American forces in Afghanistan for a long, long time.

Furthermore, I think that what the international community is going to be digesting and consolidating is that Biden is just the latest since President Obama to actually to be enacting in realtime the essential withdrawal of America as a force on many, many of these important issues that America used to engage in as a matter of cause. America's been pulling back from its international commitments ever since the Obama administration.

Obviously, Trump brought it to the nth degree. I think it's too easy to say it's just the Afghan forces and how corrupt they were and how bad the government was and blaming it all on them. I think that's not fair. I think the Trump administration, which started the Doha negotiations only with the Taliban, cut out the Afghan government when they started all the (INAUDIBLE). Essentially told the Taliban, we're just negotiating with you. We're now giving you an agreement on paper that we are going to leave your country.

The rest was just a waiting game. So, the Taliban have just been there very carefully strategizing, doing what they do. And that's part of the main reason why this has happened so fast, so quickly.

But the people in Afghanistan are scared, they don't believe in the Taliban and their reassurances.

CAMEROTA: Colonel Layton, give us the military perspective. What are you waiting to hear?

CEDRIC LAYTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Alisyn, what I'm liking for is first of all an acknowledgement of the sacrifice of American men and women that they made in Afghanistan.

And I want him also to say that it was something that was a worthy cause but that one part of the mission was very successful. That part was the elimination of the terrorist threat from Afghan soil but the other parts of it were not successful and he needs to reiterate that point.

And then chart a way ahead to make sure that the American military forces that are currently deployed in Afghanistan that they actually have a way out. That they are, you know, there for a reason. They're there to bring not only Americans but also the interpreters out of Afghanistan. And that they can then start new lives at that point.

But what he has to do is he has to assure us that the military sacrifices are going to be honored and he also has to assure us that he is in fact the commander in chief.

CAMEROTA: Christiane Amanpour, Colonel Layton, thank you both very much for previewing what may be in President Biden's speech. Our special coverage of President Biden's address to the nation starts right now with Jake Tapper.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We start with breaking news in our WORLD LEAD.

Any moment President Biden will address the nation from the White House about the chaotic and rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

Today the Pentagon announced nearly 1,000 additional U.S. forces heading into that nation's capital of Kabul. That makes more than 6,000 now in total.

Just to be clear, after ordering the withdrawal of most of the 2,500 service members who were in Afghanistan when President Biden took office, Mr. Biden is now ordering more than double that to go back into the country to help Americans and others escape.

A clear indication of inept planning and a suggestion that President Biden was perhaps not heeding the advice of the national security and intelligence experts who told him that the Afghan government could fall quite quickly. As was predicted and as we covered months ago.

Many of the American troops will be there to help manage desperate scenes such as this one. Thousands of Afghans swarming the Kabul Airport and attempting to flee the country as the Taliban take full control. The madness at points devolving into violence.

Officials telling CNN that U.S. forces shot and killed two armed Afghan men who fired on them at the airport.

Videos also show Afghans running toward departing Air Force C-130s trying to grab hold of the airplane fuselage as the plane started taking off. Presumably these Afghans desperate to escape before experiencing the wrath of the Taliban.

Even more horrifying and graphic -- we should warn -- are other video clips that appear to show bodies falling to the ground from a U.S. Air Force plane as the plane gains altitude.

President Biden reportedly told his advisers he wanted to avoid tragic and humiliating images like those from fall of Saigon after the humiliating U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. Biden now has images as part of his legacy that are arguably far worse.

Beyond the issue of the U.S. withdrawal is how the U.S. has withdrawn. Incompetently and ignoring those who for months have talked about the need to get Americans and allies out before leaving.

Yesterday Secretary of State Anthony Blinken kept changing the subject to the larger issue of the continued U.S. presence refusing to engage with me in detail about how the withdrawal has been conducted. But Americans and U.S. allies fearing for their lives as Afghanistan fell in just days.


ANTHONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: That status quo was not sustainable. Like it or not, there was an agreement that the forces would come out on May 1st. From the perspective of our strategic competitors around the world, there's nothing they would like more than to see us in Afghanistan for another 5, 10, 20 years. It's simply not in the national interest.


TAPPER: That May 1st deadline that Secretary Blinken just referred to is a reference to fact that Biden claims he had to work with the deal that the former president, Mr. Trump, made with the Taliban.

Until a few days ago Trump allies and the Republican Party in fact were boasting about that deal and attacking Biden for extending the U.S. troop presence beyond the May deadline. Trump in fact bragged about having boxed Biden in.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I started the process. All the troops are coming back home. They couldn't stop the process. 21 years is enough. Don't we think. 21 years.

They couldn't stop the process. They wanted to but it was very tough to stop the process.


TAPPER: Beyond the nihilistic political face swap, Trump allies blaming Biden. Biden allies blaming Trump. Is a tragedy and catastrophe of epic proportions on years -- decades really in the making. One that will have hideous consequences for Afghan girls and women, boys and men who will now be subject to an antiquated and barbaric system of Taliban justice in society.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is live for us in the Afghan capital of Kabul, but we're going to start right now CNN's Kaitlan Collins live over at the White House. Kaitlan, do we have any idea what the president is expected to say? Is he going to take any ownership for this disaster?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, that remains to be seen. But we will hear from the president any minute now. They've just called reporters to gather to go into the room for those remarks.

And we should note that President Biden actually returned to the White House just to give this speech. He had been at Camp David monitoring the situation from there. The White House issuing those photos over the weekend showing a lone president in the room being briefed by his national security team virtually.

And of course, there are many questions facing the White House over how this evacuation has proceeded. Because some of talking points that they have circulated among their Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have said that believe that what you are seeing right now with this Taliban takeover of Kabul was a possibility but not inevitable.

Of course, the president was very confident when he said it was not inevitable to reporters just about six weeks ago. Saying it was highly unlikely that the Taliban was going to be running everything and of course we have now seen how they have overrun Afghanistan and Afghanistan's former president has now fled the country within a matter of hours of that happening.


So major questions are facing the president over how this was executed -- Jake. You know we do expect him to defend the idea that this is executed at all because we know this was a path he had been intent on pursuing ever since he took office.

TAPPER: Oh, even before that he's never supported this war beyond the original mission of defeating Al Qaeda.

Kaitlan, I know you need to go into the room there for the president's address.

Let's bring in CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward live for us in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Clarissa, how rapidly is the situation deteriorating there?

WARD: I mean, no one can quite keep things straight, Jake. It's just devolving so quickly, changing so rapidly. The Taliban does have a pretty strong grip on security in the capital. They have fighters at every street corner.

But for the majority of Afghans who woke up this morning to a new chapter in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, there is a huge range of emotions. There is shock, there's horror, there's heartbreak, there's terror, there's desperation and yes, even some jubilation.

Take a look.


WARD (voice over): As soon as we leave our compound, it's clear who is now in charge. Taliban fighters have flooded the capital, smiling and victorious they took the city of 6 million people in a matter of hours, barely firing a shot.

WARD: This is a sight I honestly thought I would never see, scores of Taliban fighters and just behind us the U.S. Embassy compound.

WARD (voice over): Some carry American weapons. They tell us they are here to maintain law and order.

Everything is under control, everything will be fine, the commander says, nobody should worry.

WARD: What's your message to America right now?

WARD (voice over) America already spent enough time in Afghanistan. They need to leave, he tells us. They already lost lots of lives and lots of money.

WARD (voice over): People come up to them to pose for photographs.

WARD: They're just chanting "death to America." But they seem friendly at the same time. It's utterly bizarre.

WARD (voice over): Almost everywhere we go, it seems the Taliban want to talk.

WARD: A lot of people are very frightened that you might engage in revenge attacks against security forces.

WARD (voice over): Since yesterday we've proved that nothing will happen, and we give assurance to everyone that they will be safe, Mawlawi Akhundzada tells us. And we follow our leaders once we make a promise, we stick to it.

Maintaining law and order is top of that list of promises. At the presidential palace, the Taliban are now guarding the gate. They say they're here to fill the vacuum left when the government fled. But the welcoming spirit only extends so far and my presence soon creates tension.

WARD: They've just told me to stand to the side because I'm a woman.

WARD (voice over): The Taliban have yet to implement their draconian version of Islamic law. But many are already preparing for it.

WARD: You can see this beauty salon and many others have actually painted over images on their storefronts of uncovered women.

WARD (voice over): Taliban commander Assad Massoud Khistani says Islamic rule will be implemented gradually.

WARD: How will you protect women? Because many women are afraid, they will not be allowed to go to school. They will not be allowed to work.

ASSAD MASSOUD KHISTANI, TALIBAN COMMANDER: The female, the woman can continue their life and we will not say anything for them. They can go to their school. They can continue their education but with Islamic hijab.

WARD: So, like I'm wearing?

KHISTANI: Not like you but covering their faces as well.

WARD: Cover the face?


WARD: So, you mean niqab?


WARD: Why do they have to cover their face?

KHISTANI: Because it is in our Islam.

WARD: Is it in Islam, though that you have to wear niqab?

KHISTANI: Of course, of course, of course, it is in Islam.

WARD (voice over): Most ordinary Afghans we meet are in a state of shock struggling to process the last 24 hours.

Fisula (ph) tells us his father was in the Afghan army and was killed this summer. Now he doesn't know what to do.

FISULA (ph): Yesterday I have lost everything. I don't feel secure in here.

WARD: You're afraid?

FISULA: Yes, I'm afraid. I lost my dad. I lost my mom in Logar Province two months ago.

WARD: I'm sorry to hear that.

FISULA: Just I am with my little sister. We are living at home that's why I am afraid from everything. It's big problem. That is a big problem for us.

WARD (voice over): It's a feeling shared by so many.


Walking along, one has a sense that the real story may be the people who are not on the streets. Those too afraid to leave their homes, waiting to see what tomorrow will bring.


WARD (on camera): And those people, Jake, you know, those people who I talk about who are not on the streets who are hiding out, they're going to be listening one way or another to President Biden's speech. And they'll be wanting answers. They'll be wanting to know why it had to be like this, what's being done to try to mitigate some of the suffering of all those people who worked closely with the Americans over all these years?

There's so much anger and resentment here. I can't even tell you. Not that people expected America to keep fighting Afghanistan's war. Not that Afghans don't accept that it was their duty and responsibility to defend their own country. But so much frustration about the way this was all handled, the chaotic, hasty method of withdrawal. The fact that more sort of concrete concessions weren't extracted from the Taliban before agreeing to a complete withdrawal. One woman called it rage and heartbreak, she says. That's what is

consuming her now, Jake, rage and heartbreak.

TAPPER: With the worst yet to come in all likelihood, Clarissa, because, as you just noted, the Taliban, they oppress women, they mistreat women. There are reports of Taliban fighters kidnapping young girls essentially to be their slaves. It's referred to as forced marriages. But those aren't marriages. Those are forced rapes. What are women there telling you?

WARD: Well, it depends which women you talk to. If you talk to women in urban centers, educated women, they're devastated. They're petrified. And I definitely noticed a shift out on the streets today. I saw fewer women, the women I did see were more covered.

You heard the man in my story just there telling me it's not enough to be completely covered as I was. Your face needs to be covered too. He also told me I should've been wearing gloves.

So that gives you a sense of the kind of enforcement of uniform or attire for women that is likely to be seen.

And more than that, there are so many women who have achieved great things in their careers in the last 20 years who have bought into this idea of the American dream. And that dream, Jake, has been taken away from them now. And so quickly, almost overnight, frankly. I mean, it was a matter of hours that the Taliban came in barely a shot fired, and it was all over.

And the process now for these people to wrap their heads around their future just being plucked away. One can only really imagine, and that's why it's so important however America has already kind of checked out of Afghanistan that we take this moment just to process what's really happened here.

TAPPER: All right, Clarissa Ward in Kabul, we'll come back to you after the Biden speech.

But right now, I want to bring in Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. She deployed to Kuwait in Iraq as company commander the U.S. Army Reserves in addition to being a U.S. Senator from Iowa. Senator Ernst, good to see you, so we're seeing these heartbreaking images of Afghans --

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): Thank you.

TAPPER: -- desperate to escape, clinging to planes as they take off. What goes through your mind as a veteran as you watch this situation at the airport?

ERNST: Well, Jake, I am a veteran. I know you're a dad, and I'm a mom. And it is absolutely heartbreaking.

There are thousands of Afghans that wish to flee the country. And their only hope is to get on one of those flights so they're trying to get their children to the airport. They're trying to get on those planes. They are trying to get out of the reach of the Taliban.

Right now, they are at the mercy of the Taliban. And, as you mentioned for women and younger girls, this is also very devastating for them. The humiliation that they will endure at the hands of the Taliban all around this is just a horrible, horrible mar on the United States under President Joe Biden.

TAPPER: What do you want to hear President Biden say to the American people as somebody who -- I mean, to be frank, neither former President Trump nor President Biden, who was then Vice President Biden, there was no debate about keeping troops in Afghanistan. Both of them seem to be on the same page about ending the war as soon as possible.

But what do you want to hear from President Biden tonight -- or today?

ERNST: The first thing that I want to hear from President Joe Biden is a thank you to the men and women that have served in the global war on terror. And he needs to be very clear that they are the ones that have protected our nation for the past two decades by taking the fight to the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not allowing them to attack our homeland.

And, unfortunately, we see the resurgence of the Taliban and the reconstitution of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.