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Biden Faces Deadline on Extending Afghan Rescue Mission; Fewer Entering Hamid Karzai International Airport as Taliban Secure Perimeter; U.S. CIA Director and Taliban Leader Meeting in Kabul; Taliban Says It Has No List of People Targeted for Reprisals; U.N. Says Afghanistan Could Run out of Food by September; U.S. Intelligence in Region Diminished by Taliban Takeover; Pentagon Briefing. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired August 24, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELENI GIOKOS, CNN HOST (voice-over): President Biden facing pressure to extend his evacuation deadline while thousands remain desperate to leave a
While the Taliban are working to set up a government there is one region that opposes their quest for total power.
Will it manage to stand up to the fighters sent from Kabul?
And the World Food Programme has a serious warning. Afghanistan is in urgent need of aid or many of its people will go hungry in one month.
GIOKOS: I'm Eleni Giokos, hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD.
On a day when U.S. President Biden faces a critical decision on Afghanistan, the pace of evacuations keeps rising. Over the past day,
21,000 people have flown out of Kabul on U.S., NATO and other planes. Nearly 60,000 have been evacuated since the Taliban takeover, an
But thousands more remain at the Kabul airport and elsewhere in the capital, desperate to leave before U.S. troops depart.
How many of them will get out?
The answer could depend largely on whether Joe Biden defies the Taliban and extends the date for the U.S. withdrawal past the August 31st deadline. An
announcement could happen during the virtual G7 meeting, which is underway right now.
We know that was a major topic on the agenda. We also know the leaders plan to discuss whether they should jointly recognize the Taliban as
Afghanistan's legitimate government, even as they push Mr. Biden to extend the withdrawal date. Britain's defense secretary says that probably won't
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN WALLACE, U.K. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE: I think it is unlikely, not only because of what the Taliban has said but also if you look at the
public statements of President Biden, I think it is an unlikely -- it is definitely worth us all trying and we will.
And we have also changed internally within our own military system how quickly it can take for us to get out because, for every hour we can squash
the military evacuation is an hour we can add on to help the civilian evacuation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIOKOS: CNN has learned that Afghans with special immigrant visas are being allowed to enter the airport after being told yesterday not to go
there. But only a small number are getting in.
At a news conference that started last hour, a Taliban spokesman criticized U.S. policy at the airport and said the U.S. should not encourage Afghans
to go there or to leave the country.
He also said that the Taliban will guarantee security for those who go home. All this is happening amid a surprising development. The CIA director
met face to face with the Taliban leader Monday in Kabul. Senior international correspondent Sam Kiley is at the Kabul airport.
A little bit earlier on CNN, he talked about the tremendous uptick in evacuations this week as that August 31st deadline approaches. Take a
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: it's a staggering achievement. And if you think about it, the Berlin airlift had far, far
longer period of time, and they took out 56,000.
The coalition is now nudging towards 60,000, well over 58,000 people are leaving, of course, every day, 9,000 have been put on aircraft as of about
an hour-and-a-half ago according to local military officials here.
So this is a remarkable logistical achievement set against this background of extraordinary negotiations between the United States and the Taliban,
the two leading belligerents up until the Taliban conquest of Kabul, with the exception, of course, of the Afghan government itself.
This high-level meeting now that we're going to hear more about with your guest just now, and ongoing firefights.
Last night until about 5:00 this morning, from about 4:00 to 5:00, just off to the west here, there was a very heavy exchange of small arms and medium-
size weapons fire, went on for a long time. We don't know who was involved in that.
We are also getting reports on the ground that the Taliban have arrested five suspected ISIS members who were believed or alleged to have been
filming possible targets in the capital city.
And we are now seeing massive crowds of people trying to get to the Qatari embassy in the Serena Hotel downtown. Similar numbers of people -- not
similar numbers, but similar scale, if you like, of people who had been trying to get into the airport.
Numbers of people trying to get into the airport are relatively down now, and that, military officials here are saying, is probably because the
Taliban has put in a more secure outer perimeter, and they are doing a lot of the filtering of possible candidates to get onto this aircraft.
KILEY: The methodology of that at the moment seems to be satisfying American officials. There haven't been any complaints directly about the
They are also putting in these alternative secret routes, various methods being used to go and pluck people, vulnerable people from pockets around
the city and possibly further away outside of the Kabul area itself.
GIOKOS: Well, that was Sam Kiley from Kabul a little earlier. And now we go to Nick Paton Walsh who joins us from Doha in Qatar.
Now Nick, we heard the Taliban press conference just a short while ago; 31st of August remains a hard out for them. And it's interesting that this
deadline, that might be discussed at the G7 in terms of trying to extend, to try and get more people out, might now be under threat.
What does this do to the negotiations and, of course, that deadline that we know has created such a small window to get desperate Afghans out?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I think there is little doubt now how the Taliban feel about August 31st.
I also understand from a source close to the situation on the airport; in fact, a senior Taliban leader spoke to a senior U.S. military official and
made it very clear, August 31st is not negotiable. They want all U.S. and foreign uniform personnel out of Afghanistan by then.
And, in fact, that same source says that the consideration is there will be a, quote, "high risk" if they stick around. Interesting to hear the Taliban
spokesperson say they do not think Afghans should be leaving the country -- "unnecessarily" was the phrase that was being used. You might think of a
But it does suggest in the days ahead, possibly weeks ahead, access to that airport -- possibly while the Americans are on it, unclear -- will be
increasingly difficult. We've known for sometime Taliban have had checkpoints for the road on the way up filtering people through.
There do appear to be some SIV applicants who got through in small numbers. Lots of ingenuity being used for people to get onto that base. There could
be routes that possibly do involve them obviating Taliban checkpoints.
There are 9,000 as of a few hours ago at the gates outside. But there is a small window here at this point. There is an extraordinary success story
that the U.S. obviously will be talking more about today, about the 48-hour 30,000 airlift of individuals.
Quite startling, frankly, they managed to pull this off. Given the volume of aircraft we've seen at the base here in Qatar and other places around
the region, they are surely going to be able to keep that kind of tempo up.
The question is, what is their upper limit of people they wish to take off the airport?
And who are they going to bring on to continue filling the ranks?
There are 4,600 there as of a couple of hours ago according to the last count.
So the question is how many local embassy staff employees will they bring on?
How many SIV applicants, how many more American citizens?
I was told only 300 came in overnight onto the airport. So a lot moving here but I think the key thing we will need to hear in the hours ahead is
whether or not President Biden is confident that he can ignore this very clear message from the Taliban or that perhaps he got some kind of
indication through Bill Burns that maybe they were going to say this publicly but behave differently in private.
Frankly, I would doubt that. I think we have a matter of days until this evacuation has to give way to the departure of U.S. troops.
Will they be able to negotiate with the Taliban after they specifically said today they don't want to move that August 31st deadline?
Look, we know there was a secret meeting between the CIA director and a Taliban official. What the Taliban is saying right now is that, you know,
the U.S. and the Taliban are meeting but they haven't specifically verified this discussion.
What does this tell us about the negotiations that are happening behind the scenes?
WALSH: Well, we do know for some time that the Americans have been talking to the Taliban, not just in general -- that's been going on for years --
but specifically about this airport crisis.
Now Bill Burns, it stands, physically going to Kabul having a meeting with someone as senior as the leader, Mullah Baradar, is essentially possibly
their way of trying to influence their behavior ahead of the 31st of August deadline.
It may be a broader bid to try and open up some kind of channel. As we well know there have been signals from State Department officials they would
like this SIV process to continue after the U.S. military departure. You know, that will require diplomats, some kind of embassy presence.
But it doesn't seem -- listening to that Taliban press conference, that they think letting Afghans out of the country who worked for the U.S. isn't
necessarily something they want to see happen. So essentially, after 20 years here, the Taliban have won.
WALSH: And they are now going to be in a position to set the rules of whether this deadline is enforced or not. So we will simply have to see
whether U.S. officials feel they wish to try and impose their will on the situation or whether we are talking, as I say, about a matter of days until
the airport begins to wrap up its evacuations and has to start thinking about what it does with the soldiers on it.
GIOKOS: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much for that update.
The U.N. human rights chief says there are credible reports that the Taliban are carrying out summary executions of Afghan civilians and
clamping down on dissent.
The last major pocket of resistance to Taliban rule is the Panjshir Valley, where standoff is in its fifth day. A former Afghan official who is on the
scene says the Taliban are not allowing food and fuel into the area. And thousands are fleeing into the mountains.
CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and knows the players there. He joins us now from
Nic, thank you so much for joining us. Look, I want to talk about the Panjshir region and what this means, when you're hearing from humanitarian
officials on the ground that you're seeing no food is coming in and that you're seeing summary executions.
This is very vastly different to what you're hearing from the press conference from the Taliban a short while ago.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It is. The Panjshir Valley is strategically very defensible. Ahmad Shah Massoud, the former
commander of the Northern Alliance who was assassinated by Al Qaeda for the Taliban, essentially two days before September the 11th, managed to defend
it against the Taliban and against the Soviets and hold it out.
And his son is up there now, Ahmad Massoud, with what they now call the National Resistance Front. I spoke with his spokesman just a few moments
ago, who told they are under siege. That's how they describe it.
The former vice president, Amrullah Saleh, has tweeted that the area there is being cut off by the Taliban, cut off from food, from fuel, from
humanitarian assistance. The spokesman told me that he believes that they can withstand this siege for some while; not quite clear how long that is.
Militarily what does the resistance that's holed up in the Panjshir Valley represent to the Taliban?
And at the moment, an annoyance that they haven't been able to defeat them. The Taliban have said that they've lined up forces that are ready to go
into the Panjshir Valley if they can't find a negotiated solution. At the moment those in the Panjshir Valley, Ahmad Massoud and his forces believe
they, too, want a negotiated solution.
But they're saying we should have devolved, essentially a devolved central power in Afghanistan that shares power around the country, that values
democracy, that values much of what the United States have brought to the country in the past.
But at the moment, this is a situation that is -- it appears to be nothing more than an old-fashioned siege, which is exactly the way the Taliban have
taken control of every other -- or many parts of the country, by laying siege to them.
And this is one of the toughest, if you will, nuts to crack. The spokesman did say that there are now areas, not just in the Panjshir Valley further
north in Badakhshan, that are actually confronting the Taliban. So perhaps expanding that area for now.
GIOKOS: In the press conference, the Taliban is sticking to its messaging, that it wants peace and stability, saying there is no loss of life. And
it's because the Taliban's, you know, efforts on the ground that has resulted in this peace and stability. Very different to what we are seeing
playing out in pockets of the country.
They are also talking about governance and a legitimate government right now. They're saying the banks are going to be reopened. They want some
semblance of normality here.
Nic, do you believe that the Taliban has some kind of intention to create a legitimate government that can be trusted?
ROBERTSON: You know, I think trust in whatever government they put up is going to be earned rather than given. That's just the way that it is. They
don't have -- there isn't a lot of trust. There is a trust deficit at the moment.
You know, the Taliban have said that they will include non-Taliban members. The fact is they haven't named a government yet but they have appointed
people like, you know, the head of the central bank in Afghanistan, something that would normally be done by a government.
So they are sort of moving ahead with some pretty big decisions, absent of this sort of, you know, what they are purporting to be could be an
inclusive government. It doesn't seem as if the Taliban are setting the stage for any non-Taliban politicians to have a senior and influential and
lasting role in that government.
ROBERTSON: And it doesn't appear that perhaps they're going to play their full hand until the international community has left Afghanistan on the
31st of August. That's the deadline they're very clearly sticking to.
So yes, trust is absolutely going to have to be earned in this case. But that said, there's a lot of pressure on the Taliban to integrate non-
Taliban members in the government. And perhaps some of that pressure will be seen to come from the G7 today, not because they're engaged so much in
Afghanistan any more; those days are over.
But because they control the purse strings to much of the humanitarian aid and much of the aid and financial support that the Taliban are going to
need going forward to run the country. And that's a significant pressure point for them.
GIOKOS: Nic, thank you very much for those insights. Great to have you on the show.
We have a lot more about the hurried U.S. pullout from Afghanistan online. We have poll numbers on what Americans think and Chris Cillizza tells us
why Joe Biden believes voters will forget about it by the next election. You can find his piece and the latest developments on your CNN app. If
you're at a laptop, click to cnn.com/politics.
And just ahead, Afghanistan's nightmare could get even worse. The U.N. is worried about the country's food supplies. The head of the World Food
Programme joins me up next. Stay with us.
GIOKOS: G7 Leaders are holding an emergency meeting right now on Afghanistan. They are expected to try to persuade President Biden to extend
the deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops, which is one week from today.
Evacuations are picking up speed. The U.S. says 21,000 people were airlifted from Kabul airport on Monday. That's the largest number to date.
The Taliban, in a rather surreal news conference, promised the safety of Afghans gathered at the airport but urged them to go home. They also
assured women they would be able to work.
On top of all the heartache we are seeing out of Kabul, the United Nations has a new and dire warning. It says Afghanistan could start to run out of
food by next month. Key deliveries are being held up by the chaos at Kabul airport.
David Beasley runs the U.N.'s World Food Programme. He's in Qatar's capital, Doha, and he joins us live.
Thank you for being with us. There's been such a big focus on trying to get people out of Afghanistan. But you have been trying to get food and
humanitarian aid in.
Have you been able to charter flights to Kabul airport so you can reach the most vulnerable?
DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WFP: You know, surprisingly, the Kabul airport is almost irrelevant in terms of our food operations. Literally all
of our food comes in on the ground. We've been very successful during this period of conflict to move food in from different border points all around
BEASLEY: So our operations are actually moving pretty smoothly. Now Kabul is a different story but by and large we're able to reach the people we've
wanted to reach. We've had the cooperation that we've needed.
That's why I'm here in Doha and Qatar today to say thank you to the Qatari government for all of their support and those in the region, including the
United States, who have been very supportive.
So we have a lot of work but we have a lot of problems ahead of us, as we are facing food shortages, running out of money and the winter season is
coming right on top of a drought as well as COVID and conflict.
GIOKOS: And I'm sure you're looking at your supply routes, thinking about shoring up warehouses and inventory; as you say, getting into the winter
But to what extent has the U.S. exit and Taliban takeover hindered operations?
BEASLEY: Well, it's been quite remarkable. The Taliban has assured us of the cooperation. They have actually provided protection to our warehouses
and routes. They have continued to collaborate thus far.
And we've told them we work in conflicting areas. We work in conflicts in areas around the world. In fact, about 80 percent of our operations, where
we feed about 115-120 million people around the world during the year is in war zones or conflict areas.
So we know how to deal in these complex environments. In fact, we've been very clear with whomever is in control of any area in Afghanistan,
including the Taliban, that we need our neutrality, our impartiality and our independence.
So far we've been able to get that. The cooperation so far has been remarkable. But the biggest concern we have right now for the World Food
Programme, because we are reaching about 5 million to 6 million people now.
But because of COVID, conflict, economic deterioration, the numbers of people marching to the brink of starvation has spiked to now about 13
million to 14 million people.
So right now we need money. We need it desperately because we are running out of money. Our pipeline will break in the end of September. And then you
have the winter months coming in.
And if we don't preposition food in those very difficult areas where winter hits, we're talking about 4 million people could seriously be in jeopardy.
So we need money, we need it now and we need to move quickly.
GIOKOS: OK, we heard from the World Food Programme that Afghanistan could run out of food in one month. Give me a snapshot on how we can try and
avert that situation. I know you're talking about money. You clearly need the funds.
But are you also worried about supply routes?
I know you say you're dealing with Taliban challenges quite efficiently, that they're cooperating.
But what issues are you going to be facing the next month?
BEASLEY: Well, supply chains are very important. Moving food, as you can imagine, in a country like Afghanistan, was just not always easy in the
most peaceful times. So far, our routes are operational. We're able to get the food where we need to get the food.
But as I said, we're running out of money. We need $200 million for the next six months. If we don't receive these funds, then you're talking about
millions of people, just like you had in Syria, that very well could start migrating, fleeing out of the country, desperate for food because when
people don't have security and they don't have food, you can be assured -- we've seen this from past experience. You don't want a repeat of Syria. You
don't want a repeat of complex areas.
We know what we need to do. We just need the money right now to reach the people we need to reach, will help calm and stabilize things, regardless of
the politics. That's what the World Food Programme does. We do it very effectively. And we can do it now. We just need the funds.
GIOKOS: Tell me about the deficit you're facing.
And why -- I mean, is this now something that has transpired in the last few months?
Have you had a deficit, a shortfall since the beginning of the year?
BEASLEY: Well, because of COVID, the economic ripple effect has been dynamically impacting nations all around the world.
In fact, globally, the number of people marching toward starvation has spiked. But just because of COVID alone, from 135 million to 270 million.
But in Afghanistan, because of conflict, COVID, economic deterioration, all these together, is a perfect storm coming upon people that just can't take
So we need $200 million additional for the next six months to reach the people we need to reach, which will help calm the storm and bring some hope
to people who right now are desperate for hope.
GIOKOS: OK. In Afghanistan in particular, you are helping about half of the population. You said around 18.5 million people rely on some kind of
aid or humanitarian assistance.
GIOKOS: Do you think that the internal displacement that we've seen and exacerbated by the drought, we're going to be sitting in a situation, where
Afghanistan is going to become a hot spot zone?
BEASLEY: Well, that's what we're trying to avoid. If we can get the funds quickly and do what we need to do, because you've had back to back
droughts, I mean serious droughts on top of COVID-19, on top of conflict, on top of economic deterioration, we can avert. We can avert
destabilization with regard to food insecurity if we get the monies we need.
We're very confident at this stage that if we had the monies we need, we could reposition the food, meet the supply routes that we need to meet, the
objectives we need to meet.
But it's all about the money right now in terms of what we're seeing and facing on the ground because we're getting the cooperation out in the
countryside, out in the hinterlands from all those that we need that cooperation from at this time.
GIOKOS: All right, David, thank you very much for your insights and for joining us on the show. Very much appreciated. David Beasley there from the
World Food Programme.
BEASLEY: Thank you.
GIOKOS: When we come back, Joe Biden's decision about how long to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan could come any moment. An update on what is at
stake and how all of this could impact terror groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda -- when we come back.
GIOKOS: Welcome back. I'm Eleni Giokos in Dubai. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.
We're expecting to hear from U.S. President Joe Biden in the coming hours on the situation in Afghanistan. Right now he is meeting virtually with
other G7 leaders. They are discussing whether or not to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's government.
It is crunch time, with just one week left to go before the August 31 deadline for U.S. troops to leave the country. The Taliban have said that
date is nonnegotiable. But G7 leaders are trying to encourage Mr. Biden to extend the deadline to evacuate more people from Kabul airport.
The U.S. says 21,000 people were evacuated in the past day on military flights. While Joe Biden is deciding whether to extend the mission in
Afghanistan, he also has to worry if the return of the Taliban could signal the return of another group, Al Qaeda.
It was under Taliban rule that Al Qaeda was allowed to train and plan terror attacks from bases in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence officials
acknowledge that their ability to track what is happening in Afghanistan will be more difficult with the Taliban in charge. CNN U.S. security
correspondent Kylie Atwood is following this side of the story.
GIOKOS: We are expecting to hear from the president.
The question is, can they move the August 31st deadline?
Is it enough time to get more people out and will others be left behind?
What are we expecting now that we've heard that the Taliban says, look, 31st August is a hard out?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, there are a few key factors that are feeding into what we expect to be a decision on this front.
First of all, the number of evacuations that the United States has made out of Afghanistan, the number of people they have been able to get out in
recent days, has increased, right.
We saw yesterday there was a 24-hour period with about 10,000 on U.S. military aircraft. In recent 24 hours, there are about 12,000 people on
U.S. military aircraft. Those numbers are going up.
So that does make it seem like at least they're headed in the right direction in terms of getting to a place where they have gotten out a
significant number of Americans. And, of course, of these Afghan allies, who worked alongside the U.S.
It is pivotal to getting those folks out before the United States military leaves the airport in Kabul.
But of course, the second factor is the Taliban. As you said, signals this morning, that they are not going to allow the U.S. to stay beyond that
August 31st deadline. And notably, the director of the CIA, Bill Burns, met with the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan this week.
Whatever comes out of that meeting, rest assured will be part of President Biden's decision, as to if they are going to actually leave the country on
Now we are expecting to hear from President Biden today. He has to make this decision in, essentially, the coming hours today, because the U.S.
military needs to be able to move out all of its military personnel and equipment safely.
And that can't just happen with the snap of fingers. It needs a -- they need a few days' planning in order to execute that. So that is why today is
such a pivotal decision-making day on that front.
Now we've heard from lawmakers on the Hill, however, who have been briefed on what is going on. And they have said that they think that the extension
could go longer than August 31st. So we don't really know where the decision lies. But we do believe President Biden will be making that
GIOKOS: Yes, look, we also know that G7 leaders will be looking at the fault lines within this exit, how it affects the geopolitics in the region
and, importantly, the issue at hand is how to get more people out as quickly as possible, specifically those that are not near the airport.
And there's been different messaging, right?
Don't go to the airport, it's too dangerous; stay where you are. Now they are giving very different views. We have a Pentagon press conference that
is going to start soon as well. We'll hopefully get more details. But this is still very much a fluid situation.
ATWOOD: Yes, very fluid, very chaotic. There hasn't been a day where things have worked extremely well, right, even though we are seeing this
extraordinary effort to evacuate large numbers of people.
The backdrop, of course, is what is actually happening on the ground. We have talked to Afghans, who have been told to go to the airport. Then they
have tried multiple times to get to the airport and have been unsuccessful. These are Afghans who worked alongside U.S. troops, U.S. diplomats.
One that I spoke with worked at the U.S. embassy for years --
GIOKOS: All right, we are going to be going to the Pentagon briefing.
Kylie, thank you so much.
Today we have Major General Hank Taylor. Take a listen.
MAJ. GEN. HANK TAYLOR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, U.S. JOINT STAFF REGIONAL OPERATIONS: -- and then with a snapshot of relief operations in Haiti.
First, Afghanistan, specifically Kabul. I'm pleased to report our best departure results since evacuation operations began have happened in the
last 24 hours. We're 37 U.S. military aircraft -- 32 C-17s, five C-130s -- departed from Kabul with approximately 12,700 personnel.
On top of that, 57 coalition and partner aircraft left Kabul aircraft (sic) with 8,900 personnel.
This tremendous display of teamwork and focus resulted in a passenger count of 21,600 individuals leaving Afghanistan in just 24 hours. To date, 63,900
American citizens, NATO and other partners' personnel, Afghan, SIV applicants and vulnerable Afghans are out of harm's way, now safer and on
their journey to a better life.
And the majority of these people, approximately 5,000 -- or 58,700 of them have left since August 14th.
TAYLOR: I want to reiterate that we're able to achieve this level of increased departures because of U.S. military personnel and our partners'
work around the clock to conduct this highly important mission, including airport security and flight operation.
To that end, we're seeing increased pace, an increased pace in the flight schedule in Kabul. As of yesterday and in the last 24-hour period, one
aircraft left on or about every 45 minutes.
As we look beyond Kabul and in order to maintain the steady flow out of Afghanistan, we rely on the intermediate staging basis and safe havens in
both CENTCOM and the UCOM AORs.
We've been focused on building capacity while also rapidly processing and facilitating onward movement. It has been challenging to keep up with the
flow but we have made progress in caring for and safeguarding these vulnerable individuals and getting them moving onward.
We are committed to doing more and to continue to expand and improve our facilities, from adding shelter to additional sanitation, hand washing
stations, refrigerator trucks, providing cold water and the appropriate food.
And we're working with our partners to increase this capacity as soon as possible. In the UCOM AOR, Afghans transitioning through Ramstein Air Base,
Germany, have started departing to onward destinations.
So far five aircraft and more than 800 travelers, who have been screened and cleared for entry, departed for the United States. UCOM has received
nearly 8,000 evacuees since August 20th and is considering other installations in Germany, Italy and Spain in preparation to receive more
flights, to allow greater throughput to the United States.
As I mentioned yesterday, the number of temporary safe haven locations across Europe and the Middle East now stands at 14. This allows us to
expedite movement out of Kabul and gives us flexibility from these intermediate staging bases.
We are appreciative of the support in this global effort from our allies and partners. We remain focused on the mission of bringing as many people
home as we can and as quickly as we can.
An update on NORTHCOM operations: in the past 24 hours, four flights landed at Dulles International Airport with more than 1,000 passengers.
Again, these passengers and their families will go to one of the four military installations designated as processing locations.
All this progress stems from the teamwork and professionalism, especially of our interagency partners here in the States.
We know more hard work remains, that our personnel in Afghanistan remain vigilant and we share the sense of urgency in this effort. We'll continue
to keep you updated on Afghanistan through the week.
Lastly, as we look at Haiti, the Department of Defense continues support of USAID relief efforts in Haiti. Over the last 24 hours, Joint Task Force
Haiti conducted 56 missions, assisted in the saving of 40 lives and delivered more than 35,000 pounds of goods, supplies and medical supplies
to the people affected by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti.
Four United States Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys arrived to provide additional options for personnel and supply movement. These air assets are in addition
to the 18 U.S. military and Coast Guard aircraft already supporting humanitarian relief operations. U.S. maritime vessels continue support
also. That concludes my update.
KIRBY: Thank you, General.
OK, before we get to questions, I just have a slight update on the baby count. As the general let you know yesterday, three babies total -- just to
clarify, one was born on the C-17; that is the one I think you guys know about. The other two were born shortly after arrival at Ramstein, in the
Landstuhl hospital there on base.
So two were born at the -- in the hospital shortly after arrival. I am told that moms and dads and babies are all fine and healthy and all is looking
good there. And if we can get more information on this, I'll be able to provide it a little bit later -- Leta.
QUESTION: John, a couple questions. I know that you are not going to be able to answer whether or not the deadline is going to be extended beyond
But can you give us some perspective from the military?
QUESTION: Can you get all Americans out in the next several days by the 31st?
Do you need more military bases in the United States to house them?
Do you need more throughput in order to get that done?
And do you need to increase the pace?
And one --
KIRBY: No -- go ahead, keep going.
QUESTION: -- no, and, the other day, the general told us that there were about 2,500, I think, Americans that had gotten out. But that number has
increased over the last several days.
About how many have gotten out so far?
KIRBY: About how many ... ?
KIRBY: OK. OK. So all -- the deadline, I'm going to miss some of these, Leta (ph), so walk me back. You're right; there's been no change to the
timeline of the mission, which is to have this completed by the end of the month.
We continue to make progress every day in getting Americans as well as SIV applicants and vulnerable Afghans out. And you heard the numbers, that the
general briefed just a minute ago. And the vast, vast majority of these individuals are Afghans.
So we remain committed to getting any and all Americans, that want to leave, to get them out and we still believe, certainly now that we have
been able to increase the capacity and the flow, we believe that we have that -- that we have the capability, the ability, to get that done by the
end of the month.
You asked for -- I think bases here in the United States was another one of your questions.
QUESTION: Will you need to increase the number?
KIRBY: It's possible that we might be looking at additional U.S. military installations here in the United States. Right now we are looking -- we are
working with four of them, Fort Lee, Fort McCoy, Fort Bliss and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. Those are the four that are operating
now and are beginning to see a flow of SIV applicants.
It is very well possible that we could need to use additional U.S. military installations here stateside. And as we make those decisions, as we're able
to announce them, we certainly will.
But we want to make sure that, just like we wanted to make sure in Kabul, that airlift wasn't a limiting factor, we want to make sure that when we
get these individuals to the United States, that temporary, safe, secure and accessible temporary lodging is not the limiting factor to their
ability to get on with their new lives and to finish their process.
I'm sure you had like three other ones that I forgot about.
QUESTION: -- Americans -- the general at one point told us that 2,500 had gotten out.
What is your assessment now?
Is it a number that have gotten out of Afghanistan?
And do you think you can get all of them out?
KIRBY: I think I answered the second part of that. I think we -- I think for all Americans who want to leave, the State Department is working very
hard to contact them. And we are getting them out every day. That's not going to change.
And I understand the question about the specific detail. I would just tell you several thousand -- we know several thousand Americans have been safely
evacuated from Afghanistan. I understand that's not the degree of specificity that you want. But that is as far as I'm going to be able to go
today, several thousand -- and to include, I would -- you know, several hundred, just yesterday, were able to get onto the airport for follow-on
So it's every day we are moving Americans out of the country -- Tara.
QUESTION: Barring any factors besides like weather, do you anticipate that you will be able to keep this pace up, another 20,000 in the next couple of
days, to maybe have 100,000 evacuated by the end of the week?
KIRBY: That's definitely the plan, Tara. But as you know, the throughput is a function of many different factors, including even weather. So our
plan is to continue this pace as aggressively as we can. You heard General Lyons speak to that, I think, very specifically yesterday. That's the goal,
that's the intention.
QUESTION: One final one for you, the babies that were born on aircraft and on -- so the U.S. side of the military base, are they considered American
We've gotten that question a lot.
KIRBY: Yes, it's a good question. I do not know the answer to that. I'm probably going to have to punt to my colleagues at the State Department or
Immigration. I don't know the answer to that.
And just to remind, it was one born on the aircraft, actually in flight; two born at Landstuhl shortly after the flight arrived into Ramstein. If I
can get you more details, I certainly will.
QUESTION: One last one, (INAUDIBLE) effort, there is opportunity now for seating parkey (ph) and other speakers where (ph) Keesler Air Force Base.
Is Keesler going to be one of the expansion sites?
KIRBY: I don't have any announcements on any future possible installations that might be of use. We will do this in a rolling fashion, Tara, as -- if
and when we decide we need additional installations, we'll let you guys know as soon as we possibly can.
QUESTION: John, has the U.S. started preparations to leave in order to leave by August 31st?
When does the U.S. military have to begin making those preps?
When does that decision have to be made?
KIRBY: So I'm not going to get into a specific tick-tock here. Just as when we were talking about the retrograde out of Afghanistan writ large for
the military, we were very careful about the details we provided.
The threat environment is very real around the airport. So I am going to be equally as judicious about the kind of information that we give out.
But roughly speaking, you need at least several days to get the amount of forces and equipment that we have at the airport, to get that safely and
effectively retrograded. I won't get into a specific tick-tock.
And this is going to be -- the pace and whatever the daily extraction is going to be, that's going to be up to the commanders on the ground to
determine what they're going to move and how and when they're going to do it, because we have a concomitant mission all the way through to continue
So you have to be able to do both. And it's a balance. And the secretary is going to trust the judgment of our commanders on the ground to properly
meet that balance.
QUESTION: But it sounds like you're still working on an August 31st deadline.
KIRBY: We are absolutely still aiming towards the end of the month.
QUESTION: And are the public statements by the Taliban the same as the private statements being made to U.S. officials about the deadline and when
U.S. should leave?
KIRBY: What I can tell you is that the Taliban have been very clear about what their expectations are as well.
QUESTION: But the public and private statements are the same?
KIRBY: Without getting into details, I'm not seeing much dissonance.
QUESTION: Can you give any more details about the firefight that took place today, a second firefight outside the airport, and that there were
arrests by the Taliban of some so-called ISIS people, taking videos of the airport?
TAYLOR: I don't have those details. We are working with CENTCOM right now. It is that -- you know, currently ongoing. So I know that CENTCOM is
continuing to do that and there is no security, if you would, breach or any problems there, at security at the air field.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. providing any intel to the Taliban about an ISIS threat?
TAYLOR: I know the commanders on the ground continue to communicate to ensure that the safety of not only around the gates but the other
checkpoints, so that we can continue to process vulnerable Afghans, you know, other coalition folks and American citizens in.
KIRBY: OK. (INAUDIBLE).
QUESTION: So when this evacuation began, there were already close to 1,000 U.S. troops at that airport. So just to be clear, when we're talking about
pulling U.S. troops out, we're talking about pulling all the troops, so you go to zero at the embassy.
Is that correct?
KIRBY: That's correct --
KIRBY: -- no, I followed the question. That's correct.
QUESTION: So you have to take out more than you put in.
KIRBY: Yes. Yes. I'm --
QUESTION: So how does that happen without the active cooperation of the Taliban, to keep the crowds away, as U.S. troops, first, thin out their
perimeter and then pull back?
KIRBY: I'll let the general take that in just a second because I think he's much more informed than I am about this.
But I would just make the larger issue, that any retrograde out of -- or drawdown, if you will, out of an environment, that you can't assume is
always going to be permissive, is one that has to be done very carefully.
And it has to be sequenced in a very methodical way so that the safety and security of our people and the people we're trying to protect is considered
of paramount importance.
And so we aren't going to -- and I'll level set with you now. We're not going to be able to tell you -- once we start to effect this withdrawal,
when -- and like I said, we're still planning on the end of the month.
Whenever we start it, we're not going to be able to provide a tick-tock every day of exactly what we're moving out and at what pace so that we can
limit vulnerabilities in the information space and in the actual physical space of the airport as we move out.
KIRBY: But it's all done in a very careful, methodical way so that you can preserve as much capability to the very end as you need, as well as
security. And not just the security for our folks but the security for the people that we're trying to safely evacuate.
But I'll turn it over to the general in case he has more detail.
TAYLOR: Mr. Kirby, you covered that very well. I just would add to that is, you know, security is paramount during any, you know, phase of an
So as you look at -- as we go forward here, the commanders are going to continually communicate and coordinate to ensure that security is set to
allow all those flight operations, all those things to continue to the end.
QUESTION: Does the methodical, orderly withdrawal that he just referred to, does that require the assistance of the Taliban?
TAYLOR: I mean, it requires the coordination that I think we're doing right now to maintain that security.
KIRBY: Yes, there's no question that, David, as we work through this, the daily communication with Taliban commanders is going to have to continue.
That's just a hard fact.
QUESTION: Does their promise of cooperation expire on August 31st?
KIRBY: I'm not going to speculate about or even speak for them or for their intentions, that we are -- again, we are -- the mission has been to
end on the 31st. That is the assumption that we are working towards. And we'll just have to keep moving forward -- Carla.
QUESTION: Thank you.
Do you have any additional air evacuations in the city of Kabul?
Has the U.S. military done any evacuations of any sort outside of the city of Kabul?
Because there are still lots of Americans that aren't even in Kabul.
KIRBY: I'll let the general take that.
TAYLOR: So when you talk about evacuations, you mean going out and -- ?
We continue to closely coordinate to ensure the safe arrival of Americans and others on HKIA. So we have not gone any other further air operations at
this time. But as I said earlier, we continue to ensure the capabilities that we've had and, as required, that we're able to do so.
QUESTION: Is there a plan in place to help extract Americans who are outside of Kabul at this point?
TAYLOR: We're always planning and assessing what needs to be done to help Americans get to HKIA, to Kabul airport.
KIRBY: I haven't gone to the phones at all, so let me start doing that. I need my glasses again. Jack from "Foreign Policy."
QUESTION: Thanks, John.
I'm just wondering, do you have a specific update on the throughput?
Obviously, you've obviated the 5,000 and 9,000 number. I know you mentioned the 30 C-17 evac flights. But just wondering if there's a specific update
on what your goals are for daily throughput.
TAYLOR: And I think as you go back to what General Lyons said last night and for those, that right now the pace, you know, the throughput that we're
able to maintain, as I said earlier, is about a plane every 45 minutes.
But also -- that is also driven upon the requirement of what needs to be taken out. So right now, we assess that we have the required air flow, not
only U.S. military but, as you said, you saw those numbers of our coalition, our other partners that are coming.
We assess that we will be able to maintain the throughput that we've seen the last two days and then we will continue to assess what those
requirements are from here forward, of what we have to get that throughput into Kabul.
QUESTION: So you're looking at about 20,000 per day?
KIRBY: Actually --
KIRBY: We're trying to get as many out as we can. And so if we can exceed what our previous expectations were -- and we have over the last couple of
days -- that's a good thing and we're going to continue to drive at that.
QUESTION: Two questions.
Firstly, is the intention to get every American out who wants to leave plus as many SIV holders or applicants?
Or is it to get out all Americans plus as many Afghans out as possible by the August --
KIRBY: As many Americans who want to leave that we can get as fast as possible; as many of our SIV applicants, who we can get to the airport and
get them out as fast as possible; as many vulnerable Afghans that we can also work towards getting.
But it's -- we understand the challenges of time and space here. We're mindful of that.
KIRBY: That's why we are trying to continue to keep up this capacity and even improve it, if we can.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up to the question, you said you had the ability to get all Americans out who wanted to leave. You said several thousand.
Do you have a percentage for how many Americans were removed?
Have more than half -- ?
KIRBY: I can't give you that number because I don't think there is a perfect number that we know with certainty of all Americans in Afghanistan.
There's no requirement -- you can't force an American, when they go to a foreign country, to tell you that they're there.
We encourage them to do that. The State Department has a robust set of communication vehicles at their disposal, especially in a country like
Afghanistan. We want to know when Americans are there. But they don't have to tell us.
That's why it's difficult for us to give you, you know, the denominator here, how many are there and -- what I can tell you is -- and this is out
of my lane, but I'll do it anyway.
The State Department has been working very hard to reach out to those who they know are there or even who they hear are there to communicate to them,
let them know what evacuation plans are possible and achievable for them.
So they're working very hard at this. Our job at the Defense Department is to help facilitate their safe passage to the airport and getting them
manifested and getting them on a plane out.
QUESTION: Have more than or less than half of the Americans who registered, have they been evacuated?
KIRBY: I don't know. You'd have to go to the State Department for what they think they have on the registry. But I think even they would tell you
that that is an imperfect database because not every American has to register.
So it's perfectly conceivable you might have an American nobody knew was in Afghanistan but still pipes up on the net and says, I want to get out. And
we're going to help that person get out to the best ability we can.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I don't really understand this. This is the answer we've gotten days and days and days from every podium in
Even if the administration does not have the denominator, that is not my question.
My question is can this administration tell the American people how many Americans it has evacuated from Afghanistan?
And if you cannot, can you please explain -- not the denominator -- why can't you just say the number?
KIRBY: Barbara, I think we're just going to leave it at several thousand right now. I understand that's not a satisfying answer to you. I would tell
you that the number literally changes almost by the hour.
STARR: So does everything else.
KIRBY: I understand, Barbara. We're going to leave it at several thousand for right now.
STARR: May I have a follow-up since everybody else asked like eight questions?
Thank you. I have two other follow-ups, if I may.
Just to clarify General Taylor's answer, if there had been no missions outside of Kabul, can you tell us about missions that have taken place, at
least outside, essentially, the fence line of the airport?
And my other follow-up is, as you prepare to depart, whenever that happens, your previous retrograde, as you called it, included provisions for
destruction of weapons in place.
Can we assume that this part of the effort to leave Afghanistan will also include what you cannot put on an airplane, any weapons you can't put on an
airplane or dangerous items, you would destroy in place?
KIRBY: I think the general answered your first question. There's no other additional operations to speak to. We continue to facilitate safe passage -
STARR: -- outside Kabul, I believe.
KIRBY: There are no additional operations to speak to that I'm aware of.
TAYLOR: Not outside.
KIRBY: Outside the airport, either. But we continue to facilitate safe passage for Americans and SIVs as they need to get to the airport. And as I
mentioned to Leta (ph) just in the last 24 hours, I can tell you that several hundred Americans have made it safely to airport gates for further
STARR: With U.S. government assistance?
KIRBY: I'm just going to leave it at that, Barb.
As for your question on retrograde, the short answer is yes. As a part of any retrograde -- I know that's a technical Pentagon term, the drawdown of
both people and equipment will be done in the same manner that we would do it anywhere else.
And obviously there's a strong bias to be able to get our materiel out with our people. If there needs to be destruction or other disposition of
equipment there at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, then we'll do that.