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Clashes Break Out between Taliban and Protesters in Afghanistan; Chaos, Confusion and Fear at Kabul Airport; Suspected Explosives in Truck Near U.S. Capitol; U.S. Military Captures Moment of Peace for Afghan Refugee; E.U. Diplomat: We Won't Be Able to Get Everyone Out; Pentagon Briefing on Afghanistan. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired August 19, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Isa Soares. Welcome to our continuing coverage of the fall of Afghanistan. We are waiting to hear from the
Pentagon about the evacuation of the people from Afghanistan. That happened about 30 minutes. When that happens we shall bring that live to you.
Meantime, while thousands are still trying to get out of the country, small but defiant groups of protesters are rising up against the Taliban
takeover. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES (voice-over): Now demonstrations turned violent Wednesday in Jalalabad. Reuters reports several people were killed when Taliban fighters
fired into the crowd. Protesters were on the streets again today.
The group tore down a Taliban flag in the city's main square, replacing it with the Afghan national flag.
Another eastern city coast is now under a curfew after the protests there. Afghans paraded the national flag through Kabul as you can see there.
Afterwards Taliban trucks rolled through the streets, blasting their sirens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: While some Afghans protest, others are still trying to leave the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES (voice-over): This is the east gate of Kabul airport. People are clogging the entrance, trying to get in. Last night, what sounded like tear
gas was fired to disperse the crowd. CNN's Clarissa Ward was at the airport. She talked to my colleagues, John Berman and Brianna Keilar.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're seeing images this morning coming in from people desperately trying to leave. Huge crowds
once again, particularly by the east gate. That's in a different part of the airport than where we were yesterday.
I spoke to an American, who was there very early this morning around 6:00 am. He said that he saw lines of cars along the road with families just
getting out and abandoning them, basically, as they go and try their luck to get into that airport.
And we are hearing that a trickle is managing to get in. The Taliban is still manning that first perimeter, deciding essentially who gets to go to
the next level. But not enough people -- we heard one -- I spoke to one Afghan translator for the U.S. military.
He sent a photograph of him and his family inside. But it is not easy. The Taliban is checking people's documents but they're doing it in a very
arbitrary way. Obviously, most of these guys can't read and certainly they can't read English. They don't know what a green card or a SIV even looks
And that's why you're seeing these chaotic scenes. As we saw yesterday for ourselves as well, John, the Taliban using very crude methods for crowd
control, firing into crowds, whipping people, beating them, essentially trying to push them back and stop them from even entering the airport.
The American I spoke to this morning who was there said that he wasn't seeing as much of that in terms of violence. But that's probably because it
was such early hours.
And we are hearing from Reuters that as many as 12 people have been killed, either from shooting or from a stampede, as these chaotic scenes continue
at the Kabul airport, John.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And you mentioned yesterday, Clarissa, that the Taliban appeared to be obviously letting Americans move more freely
Is that still the case today?
Are you hearing of many Afghans getting in?
WARD: I have heard of one Afghan getting in. That doesn't mean that there aren't more.
But there's something else that I want to add to give more context to our viewers. The Taliban is providing the first perimeter. Then there's the
next level, which are Afghan Special Forces, who are still sort of working with the U.S. or trying to help the U.S. with this.
And we are hearing reports that they are being pretty brutal as well. Some videos circulating online that I have to emphasize CNN hasn't independently
verified yet. But they do appear to show them also beating people back.
So if you are an ordinary Afghan, if you are one of the tens of thousands, who have given everything to the U.S. or various different NATO allies in
terms of working with them over the past two decades and you are now trying to get into the airport, that is not for the faint of heart.
You are really running the gantlet there. There are a huge number of obstacles and dangers to confront. And there's no guarantee that you'll
even get there. I interviewed one member of former president Ashraf Ghani's presidential guard.
WARD: He said, I would go to the airport tomorrow, if I could, to flee because, if I stay here, I'm going to be killed. But at this stage I can't
risk it, because so few people are even able to get into the airport.
SOARES: Clarissa Ward there for us in Afghanistan.
A defiant U.S. President Joe Biden says, "We're going to get them all out."
He adds, U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan as long as it takes to get that done. But Biden was less clear about whether U.S. troops will stick
around to help evacuate the tens of thousands of U.S. allies in Afghanistan, who now want to flee. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: We've all seen the pictures, we've seen the hundreds of people packed into a C-17. We've seen Afghans falling --
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was four days ago, five days ago.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you think when you first saw those pictures?
BIDEN: What I thought was, we have to gain control of this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take
control of that airport. And we did.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't think this could have been handled better in any way, no mistakes?
BIDEN: No, I don't think it could have been handled in a way that -- we're going to go back in hindsight and look. But the idea that somehow there is
a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens. I don't know how that happened.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So for you that was always priced into the decision?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: Now our Sam Kiley is in Qatar's capital, where the Taliban and the previous administration reached a peace deal 18 months ago.
Clearly not playing out as planned. But you are, of course, where the Taliban had been plotting a comeback. They made Doha their headquarters.
What are you hearing, Sam, as to their strategy now that they're in power?
What kind of governance, if any, they can establish, Sam?
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, sources I've been speaking to here in Doha, Qatar, who know the Taliban well, having worked
alongside them for years, believe this is a window of opportunity for the international community to try and encourage the Taliban in what appears,
in terms of their international public relations, to be a moderated view, a moderated version of what prevailed, of the very medieval ideology that
they imposed over most of Afghanistan between '96 and 2001.
And the reason for that is there is concern that, if the Taliban don't see any benefits, once they have established some kind of government inside
Afghanistan, in doing so, that they will naturally backslide into a very draconian form of sharia law that we've seen in the past and potentially
even offer safe haven to elements such as Al Qaeda -- although I have to insist that neither intelligence, Western intelligence I've spoken to nor
Middle Eastern experts believe the Taliban will ever really give safe haven to groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda because there is simply no upside to that,
particularly if they are trying to engage in the rest of the world as a free-standing nation, which is what they want to do if we take their words
at face value in terms of trying to establish an inclusive government, something the Qataris are working very hard behind the scenes.
They are trying to facilitate talks between the Afghan government -- outgoing Afghan government and the incoming Taliban system so that a
dispensation can be found that brings peace to Afghanistan.
Indeed concerns also about the activities to the north of Kabul in the country of Bali, which has not yet fallen to the Taliban and where
resistance may begin to be coalescing, Isa.
SOARES: Sam Kiley for us there.
Thank you very much, Sam. We'll touch base with you in the next hour.
Outreach still reverberates through the British Parliament. The U.K. defence secretary is also feeling the heat. Ben Wallace, who became
emotional recently while talking about Afghanistan, says U.K. planes are not leaving Kabul airport with empty seats.
His remarks follow reports that some aircraft were leaving with plenty of room left because many people were being denied access to the airport.
Wallace is talking about desperate Afghans, trying to get their children out of the country.
He said the U.K., quote, "just can't take minors on their own."
The declaration comes as stunning pictures and images of frantic mothers who are handing over their babies to British soldiers across barbed wire at
But some people have been fortunate. They've made it out of Kabul airport, including those on this plane, which landed Wednesday in the U.K.
Britain's defence ministry won't tell CNN how many were on the plane.
My next says it will cost us more now because there will be millions of refugees. Iran, Pakistan and others are going to fill the vacuum. It is
very likely there are going to be nasty terrorist groups operating in the area.
SOARES: Rory Stewart has made 125 trips to Afghanistan in the past 20 years. He walked across the country for his book, "The Places in Between."
The former British Conservative MP speaks Farsi and is also a Yale (INAUDIBLE) academic and joins us now live from London.
Great to have you on the show. I want to start off, if I may, with reaction, getting your reaction from what we heard from U.S. President Joe
Biden, who sounded defiant and, I think it's fair to say, unapologetic, going as far to say the exit could not have been handled any better.
What was your take on how the president has handled the exit from Afghanistan so far?
RORY STEWART, U.K. INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT SECRETARY: Well, I think it's a tragedy and a disaster. It's a shameful betrayal of the people of
Afghanistan. The U.S., U.K. presence in Afghanistan was very small, very light and sustainable.
We have not been taking casualties recently but we were providing the peace there that was holding the whole of Afghanistan together. In a single
moment, we removed effectively the entire Afghan air force and the contractors that maintained it.
And by doing so, the Afghan army, that was fighting very, very bravely up until the moment that the U.S. troops and the other NATO troops pulled out,
collapsed overnight and we've handed the country to the Taliban.
And the second thing I think that's most sad is hearing President Biden, who I had enormous admiration for, speaking with such little compassion and
sympathy for the Afghan people.
I would like to see an American president acknowledging at the moment the extraordinary suffering. Your interviewer there asked him what he felt
watching images of Afghans literally falling from American planes as they were trying to get out of the country.
He didn't seem to be able to bring himself to acknowledge their suffering or apologize in any way for what is an unmitigated disaster.
SOARES: The president, Joe Biden, said the turmoil in Kabul was unavoidable.
Do you buy that?
Surely there was intelligence to help shape a better extraction plan.
STEWART: It was absolutely eminently avoidable. The first thing is that it's not clear at all why President Biden believed he needed to exit. He's
defending the American people now (ph) that somehow America was embroiled in the middle of a civil war, with lot of American soldiers being killed.
The truth is combat operations finished in 2014. Since then, American soldiers, British soldiers and others have been providing air support at
minimal risk. There were 2,500 soldiers on the ground. There are 25,000 U.S. soldiers in South Korea, nearly 70 years after they entered.
There was no reason whatsoever to rush for the exit. So I think that's the first extraordinary thing. I mean, he's brought this chaos on himself.
I was in Afghanistan the end of last year and Afghanistan was, of course, a fragile, poor country but it was making enormous steps. Over 20 years, I've
seen the country transformed. And you can see it in individual lives.
I've heard a lot about women going to school but it's just the sense of opportunities that young Afghans were getting. And all of that has been
taken away in an instant, completely unnecessarily.
The American public was not demanding this in the presidential election; the American military was not demanding this. There was absolutely no
reason why we couldn't have continued patiently in Afghanistan, as we do in South Korea, Germany, Japan and the Balkans. This is so sad.
SOARES: And, Rory, it's not just the United States but other allies, other NATO countries. Britain was, of course, the second largest supplier of
troops to Afghanistan. Yesterday in a packed House of Commons, we heard plenty of criticism, Boris Johnson failed in Afghanistan, some calling it
catastrophic, humiliating, even shameful, coming from members of Parliament from his own party.
Where do you think he has failed?
STEWART: I think Britain has failed just as much as the United States. It's actually very sad because Britain would have had an opportunity to
form, with other NATO allies, with France, with Germany, with Turkey, a force that could have taken over that very light U.S. presence.
It would have required some U.S. support but not necessarily U.S. people on the ground. And it didn't do so.
Why didn't it do so?
And that also raises questions about Britain. It's a shameful failure of Britain but it also suggests something is going wrong in the relationship
between the U.S. and the U.K. President Biden didn't try to encourage that to happen. He apparently didn't call prime minister Johnson after the fall
of Kabul for many days.
And the U.S. is in danger of creating real isolationism. The U.K. prides itself on being the strongest ally of the U.S. and it's gone with the U.S.
into almost every one of these engagements.
STEWART: It finds itself humiliated because it realizes it can't operate without the U.S. The U.S. leaves with barely any consultation and the U.K.
is left to bear the bewildered shame of its betrayal of the Afghan people but feeling powerless.
SOARES: On that point, Rory, I heard NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg telling CNN, I'm quoting here, that it was actually
"politically impossible" for European allies to continue in Afghanistan after the U.S. decided to withdraw.
On that -- the point you were making, how do you rate this alliance?
Where do you go now with this?
STEWART: It's very sad. It's very sad. The U.S. needs to think about this. To have resilience, the Western alliance needs to operate independently.
What President Biden ought to want are responsible, serious partners who could, for example, take some of the burden in Africa and Middle East while
he focuses on China, instead of which the U.S. has created an alliance, where basically these countries seem to not be able to operate without the
When the U.S. leaves, they all leave. When the U.S. tilts to China, they all tilt to China. This isn't actually safe for the world. The West needs
to be able to operate confidently and that means Britain and France are going to have to begin stepping up.
And that's going to involve some uncomfortable conversations with the U.S. and one of them should have been here. We totally disagree with what you're
doing, this is complete madness, it was perfectly possible to have a moderate light, long-term footprint in Afghanistan and we've destroyed
that. We destroyed everything for no reason at all.
SOARES: And finally, Rory, I know that you know Afghanistan better than most of us. You spent time on the ground. You also have a charity there.
Give me a sense of what you're hearing from your team on the ground and from colleagues and friends.
STEWART: We feel very lucky to have (INAUDIBLE) on the ground in Afghanistan for 50 years. I started with one employee. We built it up. We
have 450 staff working on the ground. We have a clinic, primary schools, we restored the central city of Kabul. It's been such a privilege to see
Afghan life develop over 15 years.
People going to our primary school, now working with us, wonderful American companies have partnered with us to buy Afghan carpets made by Afghan
weavers. We've been working with (INAUDIBLE) jewelry (ph).
The tragedy of what has happened here is that all of that comes to a grinding halt. So we're now desperately trying to help our staff on the
ground. They're very worried, many of them. Some of them will have to leave the country.
We're now having to raise money to replace money that will probably now be cut by the United States as it leaves. So there won't be financial support
from those charities on the ground in Afghanistan.
This, of course, affects ordinary Afghans. It affects people dependent on us for health care, going in and out of our schools and Afghan businesses.
And actually the country now -- and one of the things people are worrying about in Afghanistan when they speak to me, it's not just getting out of
the city. It's the water supply may cease. The electricity may cease. The Taliban government doesn't have the skills at the moment to run the city.
People aren't turning out to work. The financial system is collapsing, inflation is rampant.
Soon people are going to become hungry and it'll become a humanitarian development crisis so we and all the other U.S. 501(c)(3)s, non-profits,
charities on the ground, are going to need support.
I'm afraid President Biden is going to have to be generous in humanitarian development assistance. But he's not sounding very generous at the moment.
SOARES: Exactly like you were saying, they may have won, the Taliban, but they still have to govern. And that's the reality. Rory Stewart, always
great to have you on the show and to get your insight. Really appreciate it.
STEWART: Thank you very much.
SOARES: Now to find out how you can help Afghan refugees or if you are a veteran troubled by events in Afghanistan, do go to cnn.com/impact for all
Still ahead right here on the show, we'll take you back to the chaos around the Kabul airport, where there are thousands of people desperate to leave
at the Afghan capital. CNN's Clarissa Ward is there. We'll take you there next.
SOARES: Now Kabul's airport remains the best hope for thousands of Afghans desperate to escape from the Taliban. But the airport is surrounded by
militant fighters, who are making it almost impossible for anyone to get inside.
The U.S. says about 6,000 people have been airlifted so far. That's since Saturday. The U.S. estimates up to 65,000 Afghan nationals and their
families may be able to get admission to the United States. But they have to get past the Taliban blocking access to the airport.
CNN's Clarissa Ward takes us there.
WARD (voice-over): America's last foothold in Afghanistan is now guarded by the Taliban.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
WARD (voice-over): We have come to Kabul's airport to see the gantlet people must pass through to fly out.
WARD: You can hear gunshots every couple minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN, CNN.
WARD (voice-over): Quickly we are accosted by an angry Taliban fighter.
WARD: Can I ask you a question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
WARD: Excuse me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
WARD: Cover my face?
Cover my face.
What is this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
WARD: He told me to cover my face but he doesn't want to comment on that truncheon he's carrying.
WARD (voice-over): The fighter tells us the chaotic scenes are the fault of America.
"The cause of all this is America in Afghanistan. Look at these people," he says. "America's really acting unfairly towards them. Why are they lying
and telling them that they can go to America?
"Why don't they let them stay and help their country?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't want to talk to you.
WARD (voice-over): We keep walking to avoid confrontation. A man follows us, asking for advice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
WARD: How you can enter the base?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. (INAUDIBLE).
WARD: Do you have paperwork to enter?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARD: Show me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
(INAUDIBLE) and they calling me.
WARD: Was this an Italian company?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Italian company. (INAUDIBLE).
WARD: OK but I don't want to (INAUDIBLE) with you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, thank you.
WARD (voice-over): Others crowd around us to show their documents.
WARD: Camp Phoenix?
WARD: Are you a translator?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WARD: They're saying they all worked at American camps as translators for the Americans and they can't get into the airport.
The Taliban fighters are a little upset with us. Keep going.
WARD (voice-over): We decide to leave and head for our car. The fighter takes the safety off his AK-47 and pushes through the crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay behind him. Stay behind him.
WARD: You can see that's some of the Taliban fighters, they're just hopped up on adrenaline, I don't know what. It's a very dicey situation.
WARD (voice-over): Suddenly two other Taliban charge towards us. You can see their rifle butt raised to strike producer Brent Swales. When the
fighters are told we have permission to report, they lower their weapons and let us pass -- Clarissa Ward, CNN, Kabul.
SOARES: Just incredible.
Well, some have been lucky enough to break through the chaos for a chance at a new life. I want to show you this photograph of an Afghan child taken
on board an American military plane departing Kabul's airport.
SOARES: A United States Air Force jacket serves as a blanket, allowing the child to get some sleep and a bit of peace, as thousands try to escape
SOARES: And this -- and this just in to CNN. Police in Washington are negotiating with a man who claims he has an explosive device in his truck.
You are looking at these images there. It's parked near the Library of Congress. Congressional staffers have been alerted to shelter in their
offices. That is according to messages seen by CNN.
Of course, we'll keep an eye on this story throughout and bring you the details as they develop.
But just coming in, U.S. Capitol Police responding there to claims of an explosive device in his truck.
Now if history is any indicator, the future of women under Taliban rule in Afghan looks pretty bleak. We'll speak to an Afghan student in Kabul what
it's like there days after the Taliban took control. That is next.
SOARES: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Isa Soares in London. You are watching the continuing coverage of the crisis in Afghanistan.
We are waiting to hear from the Pentagon about its operation to evacuate people from Afghanistan. That's expected to happen just minutes from now.
Of course, as soon as that gets underway, we shall bring that to you live.
Meantime, the struggle to get into the Kabul airport has turned deadly. That is according to Reuters, which reports at least 12 people have been
killed in and around the airport since the Taliban took control of the capital on Sunday.
It cites a Taliban official who say that deaths were caused either by stampedes or stampedes or gunshots in the area. Tens of thousands of
Americans and Afghan citizens who helped the U.S.-led war effort are desperate to get to the airport to leave really Afghanistan.
You can see in those images the mass of humanity throughout all the pictures we have been bringing you.
A top Europe opium (sic) diplomat says some people simply won't make it out. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEP BORRELL, E.U. HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS & SECURITY POLICY: Yes, there are 300 more Afghanistan or staff appeared in the
negotiations, blocked on the streets of Kabul, trying to reach the airport and trying to have a seat on some of the European Union member state's
flights going to Kabul.
These people have loyally promoted and defended the European Union interests in Paris (ph) and Afghanistan over many years. So our moral duty
to protect them and to help save as many people as possible. But as I said before, we cannot take all Afghan's people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: It's our moral duty, he said.
Well, President Biden spoke about Afghanistan again in an interview released this morning. Take a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you have withdrawn troops like this even if president Trump had not made that deal with the Taliban?
BIDEN: I would have tried to figure out how to withdraw those troops, yes, because look, George. There is no good time to leave Afghanistan; 15 years
ago would have been a problem; 15 years from now.
The basic choice is, am I going to send your sons and your daughters to war in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan in perpetuity?
No one can name for me a time when this would end.
And what constitutes defeat of the Taliban?
What constitutes defeat?
Would we have left then?
Let's say they surrender like before. OK.
Do we leave then?
Do you think anybody, the same people think we should stay would have said, no, good time to go?
We spent over $1 trillion, George, 20 years. There was no good time to leave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SOARES: "There was no good time to leave."
Well, let's bring in CNN White House correspondent John Harwood.
And, John, we heard there from President Biden, who suggested in a longer part of his interview, the U.S. troops may stay longer to ensure all
Americans get out safely.
Is there a timeframe, John, for when this will happen?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know how much longer past August 31st the U.S. military might remain there to get the
American citizens or perhaps some Afghan allies out.
But we do know that the entire success or failure of this withdrawal for the United States depends on those evacuations. Yes, we've seen scenes of
chaos at the airport. Yes, there's been -- Reuters has reported a dozen people have lost their lives.
But we haven't seen mass casualties. We haven't taken U.S. casualties. The difference between a short-term humiliation and a long-term calamity for
the Biden administration is the ability to get out tens of thousands of people, American citizens and Afghan allies, through this operation that's
going on at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The military says about 6,000 have been taken out so far. We'll look for the Pentagon update in a few minutes. They said yesterday they were
processing about 500 people an hour into the air base.
Big questions over how you get people from the countryside of Afghanistan, which is not controlled by the American military, up to the airport. They
depend at the moment on cooperation from the Taliban, which is a shaky situation to be in.
The White House says they have some leverage, financial and otherwise, that will smooth or encourage Afghan cooperation. But we don't know how long
that is going to be sustained.
But that is the difference between success and failure for the Biden administration. So they're going to -- he committed to staying past August
31st for American citizens. We'll see whether or not he takes the same approach to Afghan allies.
And if adverse consequences happen, the Taliban makes vengeance on some of those allies, that will be a blight on the American reputation and a blight
on Biden's handling of the situation.
SOARES: Let's talk about Biden's handling of this. In the interview, John, he sounded very defensive. But the criticism, correct me if I'm wrong,
hasn't been about the withdrawal per se but the manner in which the exit is being carried out.
What are you hearing from the Democrats on this?
HARWOOD: Well, the Democrats, like the Republicans, are seeing the images on the television screen -- screens of desperate Afghans, trying to get out
and also the rapid Taliban takeover of the country, saying this is a terrible situation.
Obviously, if your definition of failure is for the Taliban to take over the country, then they have failed. But Joe Biden has a view that --
SOARES: John, can I just interrupt?
I want to take you to the Pentagon, where John Kirby is about to speak and listen in.
ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: -- an update of where things sit in Kabul as well as an operational update on our support to the
people of Haiti after the earthquake. Then I'll come back. I've got a couple of schedule items to talk to, then I'll take questions.
MAJ. GEN. HANK TAYLOR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, U.S. JOINT STAFF REGIONAL OPERATIONS: Good morning, everybody. It's good to be here to continue
giving you an operational update. As you know, we're getting into a rhythm here, so I'll try to focus on the key operational highlights, our focus and
We've been providing details through the past, in 24-hour snapshots. And I'll provide those details with respect to a few areas today.
TAYLOR: Further, I'm prepared to give a cumulative update on the total number of people evacuated from Afghanistan so far.
First, the U.S. military footprint in Kabul is now more than 5,200 total troops on the ground. Kabul airport remains secure and open for flight
operations. There are now multiple gates that have access for entry into the airfield, which will help expedite processing in a safe and orderly
In the past 24 hours, 13 C-17s arrived, with additional troops and equipment; also 12 C-17s departed. These flights contained more than 2,000
passengers. These flights left Kabul and arrived at designated safe havens and staging areas in the CENTCOM are of operation.
Since the start of evacuate operations on August 14th, we have airlifted approximately 7,000 total evacuees. This increase if reflective of both a
ramp-up of aircraft and airlift capability, faster processing of evacuees and greater information and fidelity in reporting.
If we go back to when the Department of Defense began supporting the State Department with movement of SIVs at the end of July, the cumulative number
of people moved out of Afghanistan is somewhere near 12,000.
That number includes American citizens, U.S. embassy personnel, individuals designated by the State Department as SIV applicants and other evacuees, in
coordination with the State Department.
We're ready to increase throughput and have scheduled aircraft departures accordingly. We intend to maximize each plane's capacity; we're
prioritizing people, above all else. And we're focused on doing this as safely as possible with absolute urgency.
We have not experienced any security incidents nor interference since my last update. We continue to recognize the inherent danger of operating in
this environment. But our service members in Kabul remain agile, professional and are postured to continue mission and to respond if
On this topic, as we look at the last 24 hours, F-18s from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group flew armed overwatch flights over Kabul to
ensure enhanced security. We maintain a watchful eye and are continuously conducting in-depth assessments to protect the safety of Americans.
We will use all of the tools in our arsenal to achieve this goal. I want to reinforce that we are absolutely focused on this mission of national
importance. We are committed to the safe evacuation of as many people as quickly and as safely as possible.
In Haiti yesterday, eight United States Army helicopters, three CH-47 Chinooks and five UH-60 Black Hawks from SOUTHCOM's JTF Bravo out of
Honduras, repositioned to launch its support operations in support of Haiti earthquake operations.
Those assets have already started moving disaster relief personnel and supplies and supported JTF Haiti's assessment of airfields and roads
throughout the area. A CH-47 completed a partial move of about 60 percent of a field hospital, which we believe the rest of the field hospital will
be airlifted today.
The U.S. Coast Guard continues its lifesaving missions and, again, all of the helicopters involved will be on airlift missions to ease the suffering
and to get people and capabilities where they need to be.
As you know, the USS Arlington is now underway and expected to arrive later this week to provide additional lift and medical capabilities and serve as
another resource for the people of Haiti.
Finally, special tactics airmen assigned to the special operations wing are currently augmenting the lifesaving and humanitarian aid efforts in Haiti
and are responsible for conducting various air field surveys to determine suitability for bringing in follow-on humanitarian aid via airlift.
Thank you very much.
KIRBY: Just got a couple schedule items to go over.
KIRBY: So here in Washington, Secretary Austin did -- had a phone conversation this morning with his counterpart in Bahrain, His Royal
Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Al Khalifa, deputy supreme commander and prime minister.
And this afternoon the secretary will be welcoming His Excellency, Dr. Khalid bin Mohamed Al Attiyah, deputy prime minister and minister state of
defense affairs for the state of Qatar here in the building that will issue a readout for each of those events later today.
And with that, we'll start taking questions.
I think, Bob, you're on the phone, yes?
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, John. General Taylor said that there were 12 C- 17 aircraft departed with evacuees over the past 24 hours, which is a smaller number than the previous 24 hours, I believe.
My question is regarding, with the clock running down toward August 31st, does Secretary Austin believe that it will be necessary to extend the
I know that it's not his call.
But has he recommended that the deadline of August 31st be extended?
KIRBY: Bob, you heard the secretary yesterday say that we're very focused on making sure we get as many people out as possible and as fast as
possible. And we're working on that very diligently, as you heard the general's update.
And you also heard the president say that, if he believes that there is a need to alter the timeline, that he would revisit that at the appropriate
time. What we are focused on right now, Bob, is head down, shoulder to the wheel, trying to get as many people out as possible as quickly as possible.
And I think I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up to Bob's question: since the president has left the door open to troops possibly staying on past August 31st, has
Admiral Vasely begun conversations with his Taliban counterpart to make sure that, if troops do stay, they will not come under attack?
KIRBY: I don't know with that level of detail what conversations Admiral Vasely is having with his counterpart out in town. Again, our focus right
now -- there has been no decision to change the deadline and we are focused on doing everything we can inside that deadline to move as many people out
And if and when there is a decision to change that, then obviously that would require additional conversations with the Taliban as well. But I
don't believe that those conversations have happened at this point.
QUESTION: And as a follow-up on the low pass flights on the F-18s, do they have authorization to fire if U.S. troops or its allies come under attack?
KIRBY: These are not low pass flights, Tara. They're at altitude, as the general briefed, they are overwatch. And in this case, the general briefed
F-18 flights. But there are other aircraft that General McKenzie and Admiral Vasely have at their disposal to provide this kind of overwatch.
So they're not low passes. And I would only -- to your second question, I would simply say, as always, we have the right to defend ourselves, our
people and our operations.
QUESTION: How many F-18s are there?
And I guess were they -- was there a specific reason or did you see something that led you to move them?
Or was it just, well, we have them, so why not?
TAYLOR: Good question. Just going back, these were not low passes. These are providing air support. And this isn't anything new. The as we know the
Ronald Reagan has been there providing support. So these F-18s are flying more than just yesterday.
These were continuously in support and part of the assets that I briefed early on that were always available to the CENTCOM commander.
QUESTION: They've been providing overwatch since...?
QUESTION: Pretty much (INAUDIBLE) today because --
TAYLOR: Just to give an update of, specifically, the type of capability that the commanders on the ground continue to have, to do -- just a minute,
Mr. Kirby -- to ensure that we can provide that self-defense and assets to the commander.
KIRBY: Also, (INAUDIBLE) there had been some reporting out there that there were low passes and that there was some sort of shows of force. And I
think we felt it was important for the general to provide some context about what is happening in the air and why. And that's why we mentioned it
I don't think you're going to get a daily update from us about every aircraft and every flight plan. But we felt that, given the context of some
of the erroneous reporting out there yesterday that we wanted to clear that up.
QUESTION: John, are you receiving credible threats airport, that if you don't leave by a certain date, that Al Qaeda or other groups will begin
attacking the airport?
KIRBY: I won't speak to intelligence assessments, Jen. Obviously force protection is a high priority. You hear that in the general's opening
comments as well. We're always evaluating the threat.
It is not only a day by day thing; it's an hour by hour thing. We know that this is a -- still a perilous environment. And all I can tell you is that
we're going to do everything that we can to make sure that we can protect our force, protect the people that we're trying to move onto the airport
and protect their movement out of Kabul as well as protect the entire operation at the Air Force.
You heard the secretary talk about the need to be able to defend the airport. So it is something we are looking at literally hour by hour.
QUESTION: General Taylor, British paratroopers are leaving the airport going into Kabul to rescue and evacuate some of their citizens who are
trapped, can't get to the airport because of the Taliban.
Why isn't the U.S. doing that?
TAYLOR: At this time it's a Army mission as it continues to be, to secure HKAI, to allow those American citizens and other SIVs to come in and be
processed at the airfield.
QUESTION: How are you fueling your planes, the c-17s that are going out?
Are you now in a position that you have to buy fuel from the Taliban?
TAYLOR: The assets on HKAI, on the airfield are what we need to maintain the operations, all operations to support the mission.
QUESTION: So that's a no; you're not buying fuel from the Taliban?
KIRBY: There is -- there is plenty of fuel, sustainment capability at Hamid Karzai Airport. And as you know, Jen, we also have the ability of our
-- on our own, our logistics ability, to fuel our aircraft as needed.
QUESTION: I'm still a little unclear about the F-18s.
Why do you have armed F-18s?
Can you explain a little bit more about what overwatch means, what exactly it is they're doing or providing?
KIRBY: Sure, I'll let the general talk to that. But sure.
TAYLOR: The ability to provide close air support is something that needs to be immediate if a condition on the ground ever required that.
So as prudent military operations, we ensure there are always assets available so that the commander, if required, can ensure the time and space
of reaction is as little as possible.
QUESTION: How can you prepare if you need to do airstrikes and go over Kabul -- in Kabul?
TAYLOR: We're there to ensure that they can support the commander on the ground.
QUESTION: Also you mentioned that there had been about 7,000 people since the 14th and you're hoping to increase that capacity -- I'm sorry, 12,000
total out since July.
How many more do you anticipate having to move?
TAYLOR: So as I said, the military capacity continues to be 5,000 to 9,000 a day. We are ready to do that. As Mr. Kirby said, our increased
interactions with Department of State will allow that to -- that -- as you see the ability to increase more flights a day.
QUESTION: Mr. Kirby, can I ask you on quick one, is there any update to any efforts to talk with the Taliban about allowing Afghans to get through
some of these checkpoints to get to the airport safely?
KIRBY: There's no update, Court. I think you heard Secretary talk about this yesterday. We are in communication obviously with the local Taliban
commander about making sure that those at-risk Afghans, special immigrant visa applicants and additional Afghan citizens that we want to move through
are able to move through.
And it comes down a lot to the credentialing and making sure that they can prove and we can prove that these are appropriate people to move through.
And we have indications this morning that that process is working.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I'm still confused about the F- 18s as well.
First of all, this is the first time I recall you telling us of overwatch flights since U.S. troops arrived.
So are these the first armed flights over Kabul since U.S. troops arrived?
KIRBY: No. And, Barb, I think what you have to remember is, before we began a noncombatant evacuation operation, we had been in the midst of
drawing down our forces.
STARR: But I'm asking -- I'm sorry -- I'm asking specifically since operations with U.S. forces began at the airport?
KIRBY: Since the non-combatant evacuation?
STARR: They began at the airport?
KIRBY: They are not.
STARR: Are these the first armed overwatches over Kabul?
KIRBY: They are not.
STARR: And you say close air support but, to be clear, what you are saying is you are prepared now to conduct airstrikes over Kabul?
KIRBY: Barbara, I'm not going to talk about potential future operations. So I do think it's important to level set here that, even throughout the
drawdown, we had overwatch capabilities. Throughout the drawdown, we had overwatch capabilities.
So the fact that we are flying overwatch missions now and have been since the 14th, we were actually doing it before the 14th, as you would think we
would. And to my previous answer, force protection is a high priority.
And we're going to have at our disposal all the assets and resources necessary to make sure we can accomplish this mission safely and
efficiently, just like we were accomplishing the previous mission of drawdown safely and efficiently.
So this is a continuum. It's not something new. The reason we decided to talk about it today -- and I don't think you're going to expect us to talk
about it every day -- but we felt it was important today, given that there had been some reporting out there that we were flowing low passes over the
city or some kind of shows of force.
That is not what this is. This is just an added layer of force protection. It's the prudent and responsible thing to do.
STARR: Can I just follow up on another?
On your discussions with the Taliban, now that the potential is in public for staying, does the U.S. military -- does the Defense Department feel it
would at least need Taliban acquiescence if you were to stay beyond the 15th?
Do you want, if not their agreement, at least their acquiescence to stay?
KIRBY: I think it is just a fundamental fact of the reality of where we are that communications and a certain measure of agreement with the
Taliban, on what we're trying to accomplish, has to continue occur.
And again, I'm not going to speculate past August 31st. I haven't gotten to anybody on the phone, so if you'll just forgive me.
QUESTION: OK, thanks for doing this, John. Can you just briefly kind of update us on the policy of nationals who are trying to get into the
airport, evacuations by other countries. I know they mentioned what the Brits were doing. But we heard from Sylvie (ph) about the Dutch plane that
left without any Afghan nationals.
How exactly is that process being done?
And how are the U.S. troops helping with that process?
And then one other question quickly, if I may. There's been reports of resistance outside in the past year and possibly in Parwan.
Is the U.S. anything doing anything to support these Afghan troops that are trying to make a resistance and trying to push back?
KIRBY: Carla, on your first question, we obviously are -- and you heard the secretary talk about this yesterday -- willing to support the movement,
safe movement, of citizens of our allies and partners.
In fact, we have already done that. And some of the numbers that the general briefed that got out of the country were obviously citizens of
other countries, allies and partners. So we are doing that. We'll continue to do that.
As for the exact process, I'm afraid I'm not qualified to speak to that. That's really a better question put to our State Department colleagues in
terms of how it works from a process perspective. We are in full support of that.
But again, our main mission is the airport security, safe operation of the airfield and continuing to get people out.
On your second question, we've seen reports the same as you of potential pockets of resistance. But I would just again stress that our military
mission in Afghanistan right now is to conduct this non-combatant evacuation in a safe and orderly way.
And that's what we're doing.
QUESTION: Thank you, John. You mentioned the phone call between the secretary today and his Bahraini counterpart. He's going to meet the Qatari
defense minister later today.
Can you talk about the role these nations, (INAUDIBLE) nations in general are playing in facilitating this operation?
And are they putting assets in this operation to evacuate some of the Afghanis or U.S. citizens?
KIRBY: I think I'd let those nation states speak for themselves and what they're doing. And as I said, we'll have a readout of both conversations
later today, so I don't want to get ahead of that. But obviously, both countries are key partners in the region. As you know, Bahrain hosts the
U.S. 5th Fleet headquarters.
KIRBY: And it's a key partner, a maritime partner particularly in the Gulf region and Qatar as well, in many different ways. We're always, always
interested in having good conversations with these key partners in the region.
But I don't think I'm going to speak to specifics with respect to Afghanistan. I'll let those nation states speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Question, is there any behavior by the Taliban toward U.S. citizens or Afghans trying to reach the airport that
would mean U.S. troops would have to protect them?
Have any red lines been communicated to the Taliban?
KIRBY: We've made it very clear to the Taliban that any attack upon our people and our operations at the airport will be met with a forceful
response. There has been, as the general noted in his opening statement, there's been no hostile interactions between the Taliban and our forces or
of American citizens getting through.
Now we have seen reports of the Taliban harassing, and physically so, some Afghans that were trying to move to the airport. We are in constant
communication with them, as my answer to Courtney indicated, to make sure that they have the same visibility on the people that we want to see get
through as we do.
And some of that has to do with a common sight picture on the credentialing. So those conversations continue.
QUESTION: What about Americans outside the airport?
KIRBY: No, I said we haven't seen any, any hostile interactions between the Taliban and our people. Certainly we haven't seen them impede or harass
or obstruct the movement of American citizens from the environs into the airport.
And obviously we want to see that continue.
QUESTION: Two things.
General Taylor, could you discuss the non-American flights going in and out of the airport, how many?
How many people have been evacuated?
And what countries are still seeking to take people out?
And could you follow up on the Taliban?
KIRBY: OK, I'll let the general take these.
TAYLOR: So what I will say is that, when we talk about all flights going in and out of Kabul airport, are being synchronized and work through
CENTCOM, that coordination is being done.
So when I talk as the numbers, we are starting to include those numbers of everybody that is leaving from other countries. I don't have the details
right now of which countries left within the last 24.
But all of those type of flights, anything coming in and out of Kabul airport, is being coordinated through the controlling piece there with
QUESTION: Can we get any details of who and later?
And I have a follow-up on the Taliban.
So is there anything the Taliban, in this cooperation, is there anything they aren't doing?
Is there anything the U.S. is not happy with in terms of how they are involved in airport operations?
And have they asked or demanded access to the airport?
KIRBY: I know of no requests or interest by Taliban commanders to access the airport now. It's our understanding that they understand why we're
there and what we're doing.
And again, as the secretary said, we've been able to have that kind of communication with them. I won't detail every conversation that we're
having with the Taliban. Again, I think it's important to let the results speak for themselves. And as you and I are talking here today, we have an
And they are helping to facilitate safe passage for those that were trying to get into the airport. I think I'd just leave it at that. Let me go back
to the phones again.
Paul Shinkman, U.S. News.
QUESTION: Hi, John.
Has U.S. confidence in the ability to carry out counter terrorism strikes in Afghanistan, either now or in the future, changed at all since the fall
of Kabul, particularly given the apparent coordination between the Taliban and Pakistan, whose airspace presumably the U.S. needs to access?
KIRBY: No. The short answer to your question, Paul, is no. We still maintain robust over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability in the region
and we will still have the authority and capability to use that counterterrorism capability should we need it.
QUESTION: I just want to verify that the evacuation capacity has reached the 5,000 to 9,000 goal.
And I wanted to ask whether the limiting factor is the State Department's ability to process people or the ability of people to physically get inside
the airport. We understand they're lined up outside.
TAYLOR: So the -- let's talk first about the movement, the air capacity; it's set. As I briefed a couple of times before, so that ability to air
move up to 5,000 to 9,000 a day has been set and continues.