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Pentagon: Concerned about Sanitation Conditions for Evacuees in Qatar, they have Improved Somewhat; Pentagon: Sticking to Mission Date of August 31st Withdrawal; Pentagon: "Several Thousand" Americans Safely Evacuated; Senior Official: President Asked for Contingency Plans in Case that Changes; Biden Decides to Stick With August 31st Withdrawal Deadline. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired August 24, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: --if there needs to be or other dispositions of equipment there at Hamid Karzai International Airport then
we'll do that. And we will do that appropriately Carla did I get - already?
KIRBY: I'm sorry. We'll come back to it my fault. My fault! My fault!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we - can I ask you both about the bottlenecks because you got 20,000 people out in the last 24 hours, which is a big
number, the biggest you've had yet? Do you have 20,000 people now inside the airport to get out in the next 24 hours? Or are there bottlenecks that
are preventing people from getting in and getting people on planes and those planes in the air because there's nowhere to receive them?
MAJ. GEN. HANK TAYLOR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, U.S. JOINT STAFF REGIONAL OPERATIONS: Yes, I'll talk about just bottlenecks. And I think I talked a
little bit about that earlier. As we - those that depart Kabul and get to those staging bases within UCOMM or, you know, CENTCOM AR, that is the
coordination that I've talked about earlier to ensuring that we place you know, evacuees in one of those 14 locations there to prevent a bottleneck
so that as our increased throughput, as you know, increase that number that they're able to hold there.
CENTCOM and UCOMM are continuing to coordinate together, and what the Joint Staff and TRANSCOM of where to put those evacuees to allow flights to
continue to leave Kabul. So as we look at those on Kabul, there is no constraint of allowing flights to leave today.
We still expect the throughput that we saw in the last two days, to be able to continue with no bottleneck at others. We continue to manage that on an
hourly minute basis to ensure we know where to fly people too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you have enough people in the airport compound now in Kabul or --?
TAYLOR: I don't have the exact number in Kabul but there are evacuees on Kabul right now being processed through all stages of you know the process
there to be ready to fly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you don't have the number.
TAYLOR: It's - I don't have the exact number. I don't just when I left here, but we have folks ready to evacuate.
KIRBY: We can get to the airport now. It does as the General said it literally changes by the hour. I mean, if you think about what we did
yesterday, it's firstly - do the math, it's almost 1000 people per hour over the last 24 hours. So it changes a lot.
So I will - it's a fair question. We'll take it. We'll get you the number of what there is now. I would just caution you to understand that that
number constantly changes. That's the whole goal is to keep the throughput.
So you get you get down to a certain level and then you know, you get more and you - so you just keep - you keep moving people through its constantly
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks to --. I know, you said you're fixed on August 31st as the departure date.
KIRBY: I think we can probably find that number now. Can you just go get it and bring it up here so we don't have to wait till the end of the briefing,
I'm sorry go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had said earlier, you're fixed on August 31st as a departure date. Nevertheless, there is some discussion of the possibility
of changing that mission to something like that to fall under what you would call sometimes speculation or that fall under what you would call
planning, because you've always made a distinction between those two, when we asked you about possibility to things and I just tried to get clarity on
KIRBY: I'm not completely sure I understand the question. So let me take a stab at and if I fail, you can tell me I failed. The president's direction
has been to complete this withdrawal this evacuation and withdrawal by the 31st of August. That is the - that is the direction that we are operating
under. And therefore that is driving a lot of our plans.
You heard us say and you heard the Secretary say that if there needed to be a conversation about changing that he would have that conversation? I'm not
going to get in to internal deliberations about what people may be thinking one way or the other.
But you heard the National Security Adviser say yesterday that that he believes that we can accomplish this mission by the end of the month. So we
are still driving towards the end of the month. That's where we are now.
And if and when there's any change to that wills certainly you know make it clear to the American people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --Join is because in the past couple of weeks, the Pentagon has come under rightly or wrongly criticism for not "Planning" for
eventualities that seemed to have happened in Kabul. And so this seems to be a possible eventuality of mission it may have to extend past the
deadline. So I was just asking, is there planning going on in the event that this has to happen?
KIRBY: We are a planning organization Tom. We plan for all manner of contingencies even as we execute the orders that we've been given and
that's what we're doing right now. Megan?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you've always said that airlift is not the limiting factor here. Obviously there are a lot more people getting into the airport
and getting out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you attribute that to? Is that expanding the perimeter? Are there checkpoints that are getting more people through? And
we know we don't have the number of how many people are on each car right now, but about how long are they spending there, before they're able to get
on a plane?
TAYLOR: Yes. So within the last 48 hours, that timeline of staying in Kabul has been very short. As soon as we are getting people in process, as you
can see a flight every 45 minutes is a lot in getting people out of there.
So as we look at what have been the factors behind that numerous weather continues to play in everybody's factor, great coalition, and partners and
other people volunteering aircraft. And as General Lyons said yesterday, the ability to get not only the aircraft coming into Kabul, but others
providing aircraft to fly, you know, people from the lily pads or the safe havens into the states, and then moving them around, has allowed us to keep
that throughput going.
And then also, I think, the continued ability to inform and get the word out of how to get into the gates? Where to come? The processing of the -
those not only through the gates, but the processing internally on Kabul by - our troops that are there continues to become more efficient.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: --more people showing up now than there were last week when there was so much panic?
TAYLOR: I would say, as we look at those that are showing up with the right documentation, the right people that have come, I think is one factor that
has allowed us to increase the throughput.
KIRBY: And there also have been - there's - the crush of those first few days has reduced as more order and structure around the airport has
increased security, the processing flow itself has just gotten better. And the crowds around the airport are smaller than they were before.
So the situation around the airport right now is just not the same. It's not as chaotic as it was in those first couple of days.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for taking my question. I've spoken to service members and spouses on one of the bases where evacuees are expected
to be housed. And they have a serious concern about COVID. So what are service members or anyone living on these bases being briefed to try to
ease their concern because obviously, as of yesterday, they're still very concerned about that issue?
KIRBY: Oh, sure. And they have every right to be. We're in the midst of a pandemic and conducting one of the largest airlift operations in recent
American history is no small feat in the best of circumstances. And this one is obviously not the best of circumstances because in addition to this,
we're doing it in the midst of COVID pandemic.
What I can tell you is that screening occurs at every stop at every stage of the process. And we're doing the best we can to make sure that we've got
enough visibility on everyone's health. But again, we're really - the focus is on getting the numbers out. And so there's an element to elementary
screening done at Kabul for those who are symptomatic.
Additional screening takes place at the temporary safe havens. And then of course, upon arrival here at the United States. There's a screening that's
done as well. So it's on everybody's mind, believe me, we were also mindful of the health of our aircrew and our troops at the airport. It's a constant
process. And we're not leaving anything for granted. We're taking it seriously.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So - for COVID any stuff of where they've pulled?
KIRBY: I don't know the exact medical process. Let me go over here. Apparently, I'm missing out. I'll come back to you I promise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. You're hearing different statements from the White House Pentagon, for example, number of troops
operation in Kabul et cetera. Can you talk about why there is a consensus among the highest level of United State? Is there any communication issue?
KIRBY: I'm sorry, I misunderstood that. What? What's the dissonance that you're talking about?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So for example, Biden says Al Qaeda gone from Afghanistan, but Blinken say yes, there is Al Qaeda. So we can see
different statement from the White House different comment from the Pentagon. Is there any communication issue from the highest level?
KIRBY: No. I think you're reading way more into things then you need to. I think we're all cited on the fact that there's still an Al Qaeda threat in
Afghanistan, and as well as Al Qaeda affiliates that we know are there. And nobody is - I've - we've said that consistently. There's no gap in
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just for example, I can say 11,000, American in Afghanistan, but you say 10,000, between 5,000 between 10,000. So different
statements is why want to ask.
KIRBY: Look, the Defense Department can't speak specifically to the number of Americans in Afghanistan; I think we already addressed this earlier in
the briefing. We - there is no firm certain hard number on that, because not every American that goes to Afghanistan has to tell the government that
We have made it clear that any American that wants to leave, we're going to find a way to get to them or find a way to get the information to them to
help them make the right decisions for transportation out of the country.
But everybody's sighted on the - that this is a dangerous, perilous environment. There is - it's very dynamic, it's very fluid. And we're doing
the best we can to move as many people as we can, as fast as we can.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One follow up, if they cannot reach the airport that live in Afghanistan, the Americans don't Taliban and ISIS threat for them
if they stuck somewhere, if they cannot communicate?
KIRBY: We absolutely understand that Afghanistan is a dangerous place right now, which is why we're trying to move as many Americans as we can, as fast
as we can. And we want to get that done before the end of the month, Gordon?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --situation conditions at - and Qatar to be described as squalid for a lot of the people coming through there. And then, if you
could, I didn't quite understand what the General was saying earlier about the 14 different stations like the weigh stations, because I understood the
kind of three main hubs to be, you know, Ramstein, Qatar and Bahrain. So are there way more now?
KIRBY: I'll let the General come up here in a second. Let me just set this a little bit. So yes, those are three main hubs, but we are adding to that
you've seen Italy, U.S. military installations in Italy, U.S. military installations at Spain also provide additional capability. And there are
other countries in the Gulf region that are willing to take on a temporary basis, some individuals.
So it's a bigger, broader sort of hub and spoke network than it was just a few days ago. I'll let the General fill that out for you. On your first
question just let me level set it right away. We are aware of and as concerned as anybody about, what did - what had been some terrible
sanitation conditions at Qatar, that were facilitated by the sheer numbers and the speed with which those numbers got there.
And we all recognize that and nobody, nobody here wants anyone to be less than safe, secure, comfortable and well cared for, as they go through this
process. We take it very seriously. But we'll be the first to admit that, that the conditions in - could have been better, they are improving now.
I'm not going to stand up here and tell you that they're perfect, because they're not because evacuees continue to flow into Qatar. And there's a lot
on the ground right now. And as the General said, we're working hard to clear out that population so that we can ease the pressure there and
continue to move these people along their way to their new lives.
Nobody's making excuses. Nobody's ducking from this; we recognize that things were and in many ways still are not at the level of sanitation and
good hygiene that we want. I can tell you that from the secretary on down, everybody are focused on trying to improve that.
And as a matter of fact, he saw a statement from Central Command last night they are taking measures to ease that pressure and to improve conditions
there. But it's something we're going to watch not just there but at every other temporary safe haven that we're operating from.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got. Before the General speaks to the hubs can you just speak - clarify you said that you don't think there is a crush around -
currently or less than one or can you just clarify what you meant?
KIRBY: What I mean, that the crowd size is smaller now than it was in those first few days. And so we're not experiencing to the degree we did you
know, last Monday, the physical crush and chaos. I'm not suggesting Gordon that there aren't desperate people outside that area who are in absolutely.
KIRBY: We're not ignoring that. I'm just saying that to Megan's question. We're not seeing the same pressure put on the system now that there was in
the early days General?
TAYLOR: First go back to question. So proximately right now 5000, little bit above 5000 in - going through the processing, continuing to be
manifested and ready to fly. So gates are still open, we will continue to assess those numbers throughout the day.
When we go back to hubs and spokes, I'll give you the macro. And then we can possibly get back with you on the real details of there. So at both
within the CENTCOM and the UCOMAOR we have main hubs, you know, think of it Ramstein and then going into Qatar.
But from there, within the last 24 to 72 hours, both of those commands have started building up and going from an initial operating capability to get
full, what we would call smaller satellite areas to ensure that with the throughput that we've had, that we can safely in humanitarianly keep those
people there until their flights go back into the states.
When you specifically talk about and I can just bring it up just, you know, when talking to CENTCOM this morning, as we look at capabilities, and I
just talked about this a little bit earlier. But a lot of work has been done in the last 48 hours of, you know, bringing in more portable hand
washing stations, refrigeration trucks, to ensure there's cool water, and the food is there to ensure that people have these humanitarian
KIRBY: I will also say, just as a scheduling note, this afternoon's briefing; I'll be joined by General VanHerck of Northern Command, as well
as General Walters of European Command. So they will also be able to address in greater detail some of these specific questions about the
temporary safe havens, and you'll have a chance to talk to them directly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you commit to evacuating the Afghan commandos and other troops that are helping with the evacuation currently?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of them?
KIRBY: Any - anyone - any of them that want to leave. And we have to assume that's all of them, they will be evacuated. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible)
KIRBY: I don't have an exact number, as I think we've talked about before the General has somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 to 600. We know Afghan
forces are there at the airport with us and actually helping us in the security mission. And they will all be able to come out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible)
KIRBY: They will all be able to come out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then also just as a follow up what is happening - money that was intended to go for the Afghan Security Fund.
KIRBY: Yes, obviously, and we're working closely with Congress on that, but that money is being held now. Yes, - absolutely, let me go to the phones. I
haven't. In addition to not getting one side of the room, I have not done a good job here on the phones. Damn, I'm off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, John. Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. Look in the check in just get some additional fidelity on what's going on at the
gates. We've heard a lot of frustration with some of these veterans groups and other organizations that are trying to assist people to get to the
gates and through the gates.
Sounds like there's at least to some degree insisted in consistencies on who's being allowed in when they're being allowed in and just some chaos
there. That's to a degree understandable, but also frustrating. Thanks.
TAYLOR: Gates, continue the coordination there is the critical piece of understanding getting through the checkpoints and that has been a lot of
the work that's been done over the last 48 hours is the coordination between U.S. forces forward they're the commanders to ensure who comes
through and what checkpoints that people are coming through to expedite?
And the key has been we have had an increase in information coming to the forcer's commanders on the ground of who needs to come. I think that has
been one of the increase in our throughput is understanding in all of you know the populations of who is wearing who needs to come to the gates so
that we can provide better information which gate when to come in make sure those that these conditions are set to come on.
KIRBY: OK. I think we have time for a couple more. You have been very patient.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to go back to the airport. I know you don't want to speak about the dateline and, you know, August 31st, or not. But
whenever the U.S. troops are leaving, are you speaking about with the Taliban, about the Taliban or a third party, the third country, about the
security of the airport to allow the airport to remain open?
KIRBY: I'll let the General take it. I would just say that we are in daily communication with the Taliban about the security situation at the airport
now. Our focus from a military perspective is going to be whenever and right now we're, the plan is to end this mission on the 31st of August.
I don't want to suggest that that's not what we're planning on. As we get there as I said earlier, we want to preserve as much capability as long as
we can to continue to conduct evacuations, while safely removing our people and our equipment all at the same time.
That's our focus right now is on properly executing the mission and effectively and safely drawing it down. But I'll ask the General, if he has
any other thoughts.
TAYLOR: I just think when you talk about transition; absolutely there is planning going on of how to transition all of the space that we currently
occupy here in the future?
KIRBY: OK. Well - go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much. It's just a follow up to my previous question. For those that are symptomatic, what are they being told
when they arrived for processing? And then once they're -
KIRBY: What are they being told?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So as they're arriving are they being told, hey, you know, like, what's the process for those who may have symptoms? I don't
know how the information? How they're getting the information about where they need to go, which gates they need to go to cetera, et cetera? So what
are they being?
KIRBY: Let me take the question and see if we can get a more contextual answer to that. I suspect it, what they're being told and how the process
is being done varies at each location, because there are different demands.
Obviously, the man at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in terms of timing is, is much more urgent than it would be, you know, at Ramstein. So
where there are is obviously much greater medical capability? So I think it's going to vary, but I let me see if we can get you a better answer.
OK, I'm going to have to wrap it up. We'll see you again at 15:00 again, three o'clock, sorry with General VanHerck from Northern Command and
General Walters of European Command. I will basically turn the podium over to them and assume that that that'll be the focus of the briefing if I need
to stick around after for other issues I'll do that as well. So we'll see you later this afternoon. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELENI GIOKOS, CNN HOST: DOD Spokesperson John Kirby there and Major General Hank Taylor giving us an update on what is going on in Afghanistan. This is
the main message the best departure results since operations began the final number in the last 24 hours.
We're talking about all flights, including U.S. military flights, 21,600 people evacuated out of Afghanistan that brings the total since August the
14th to 58,700 people. The message is to evacuate as many Americans, as many people holding Special Immigrant Visas as well as vulnerable Afghans
as well, all before the 31st of August deadline.
They say that they are not moving, no change in timeline right now. And also 5000 people are currently being processed at the airport as we speak.
They are talking about expediting the numbers and trying to increase those but these are really phenomenal numbers.
I'd like to take you now to a bit of analysis on what we've just heard out of the Pentagon. We've got CNN Military Analyst, Colonel Cedric Leighton.
He joins us from Washington, D.C., CNN's Nic Robertson is also in Washington and Nick Paton Walsh, is in Doha.
Colonel, I'd like to start off with you. And here's the thing, you've got the small window, they say no change in timeline but they also say that
it's going to take a couple of days to try and evacuate forces. And just before that press briefing ended, they're saying that they're trying to
safely evacuate people, but at the same time, draw down forces.
One thing we've heard is once those air traffic controllers leave that means that Kabul Airport will not be able to operate. When we're talking
about drawing down forces while you're trying to embark on this evacuation in such a short period of time how can it be done in the next week?
COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's going to be difficult Eleni but one thing that the Air Force has is a combat air
controllers and they are probably the ones who are manning a lot of the air traffic control posts at Kabul International at Hamid Karzai International.
And so they would do is the military has already taken over the ATC or the Air Traffic Control functions at that airport. Combat controllers will be
the ones who will actually take care of the last few flights that are that are leaving Kabul and then they will wrap everything up then deport
themselves. So no airplane, besides perhaps the last one, we'll leave without an air traffic controller.
GIOKOS: Nic Robertson I would like to bring you in here. We know that this Pentagon update happening at the same time as the G7 is currently in a
virtual meeting. One of the things on the table, of course, is that August 31st deadline, the Taliban has spoken saying that they're it's a hideout
We've heard from the Pentagon right now saying there's no change in timeline. Given what you've heard, in terms of the numbers, do you think
there's going to be some kind of multilateral decision about what to do with that looming deadline?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Look, I think we heard from the British Secretary - British Defense Secretary earlier today, Ben
Wallace saying that he doesn't believe that President Biden is going to change his position, there's significant pushback from the Taliban, the
cost of going against that could be quite high.
And it does seem as if the 31st is immovable. Look, I think what we're going to see come out of the G7 is to try to align all those G7 nations and
others who will be present there, the EU also have a voice, the UN as well invited to it to align their positions on how to deal with the Taliban, not
just deal with them on the position of the airport and the drawdown that's going on there.
And the evacuations that are going on there at the moment, but on how to sort of have a relationship with the Taliban going forward? Everyone should
have the same position that would be the ideal to stand up for human rights, values of the rights of women, those sorts of things.
And perhaps the biggest lever that these countries still have a dwindling level that they have over the Taliban is the international aid and finance
that the Taliban are going to need to run the country going forward. You know, UNHCR today said there are 3.5 million displaced people inside
Afghanistan at the moment.
And they expect some of those to arrive to beyond the borders of Afghanistan, the World Health Organization has talked about, you know, the
difficult humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan. So the Taliban are going to need that international finance, you know, how much are they going
to want to hold out on values and principles for that?
But this is one lever that the G7 can perhaps come up with I've talked about giving humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan going forward. But I
think we can expect to have that strings attached to that will be the long term international relationship from the Taliban that we can expect to
begin to hear some formalization.
But I think, you know, it might be being hosted at the G7 might be being hosted by its current rotating presidency, Boris Johnson, the British Prime
Minister, everyone knows that it's the United States that carries the biggest clout there.
GIOKOS: Right. We've just heard that the G7 virtual meeting between leaders has ended. We are waiting to hear more and when that press briefing will
happen. And of course, we'll go live to that. But Nick, in Doha, we also saw that they were really pushing back about the final American number that
has been evacuated out of Afghanistan, which, of course, is quite interesting, but they don't want to commit to a figure just yet.
They just are saying thousands. They also said they're about 5000 people being processed; there was a big concern about who exactly was being
processed? What kind of people was allowed into the airport? What do we know about the situation right now? Because the message from the Pentagon
is that it sounds like a lot calmer, and the whole, you know, move now is to try and get people to the airport that are not close to Kabul.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, it still confuses me why the U.S. is not capable of telling people how many U.S. citizens
they've taken out of that airport? I mean, we've seen ourselves I've seen myself, there armbands are given when you get on a plane, the fact you have
to show a U.S. passport.
So it's quite likely they have a pretty accurate figure. Are they keeping that to themselves? Because they don't want to give the indication to
anybody who may know how many Americans are roughly in Afghanistan, if that is indeed known by anybody.
So they're giving away essentially, how many they don't have really unclear at this stage. And it is a persistent issue on that podium trying to get
those clear numbers very clear numbers, though, they're able to give about how many people have taken off in total?
Who are on the base right now, as of a few hours ago about 4600 forgive me, I may have misheard, but I think I heard someone on the podium there
talking about a slightly larger number currently on the base. That would make sense.
WALSH: They have achieved a phenomenal fate of this 30,000 strong air lift in 48 hours. And I'm sure they'll be willing to try and get a similar
figure of the day.
The question for them has been getting bodies on the airport to airlift off. If you only have 4600, then they're going to have to look towards the
gates where I understand this morning, they were about 9000 people waiting.
Are those people genuine SIV applicants, they could be let in one by one, they could have found enough to fill up the planes today. But we are into
this interesting end period. Now, it is utterly clear from listening to that.
But unless President Joe Biden and we talked to the G7 has a southern decision to go against the Taliban against his own deadline for leaving
And against all these different warnings, I should point out a source familiar with the situation on the base as a senior Taliban official spoke
to a senior U.S. official and simply said 31st of August is non- negotiable for foreign uniformed personnel, they must be gone.
We are likely to see this operation slowly wrap up. Remember, they need dazed to start retrograding packing up and leaving the U.S. troops and then
we have to look at the next few days as the last opportunity for evacuation Eleni?
GIOKOS: So Nick, OK. We've just heard some news coming in now that President Joe Biden has decided to stick with the August 31 deadline to
withdraw from Afghanistan. This was in consultation with his national security team. We've heard this from a senior administration official.
So Colonel Cedric, Biden is sticking to the deadline. The Taliban says it's a hot up. And by the way, I'd like to talk about the fact that even in this
briefing; they were talking about a very fluid, dangerous, perilous environment. We're still talking about a security threat here and the
deadline, here it stands.
COL. LEIGHTON: Yes, that's right, Eleni, and you're right, it is a very perilous situation the threat is real. I you know, yesterday, they talked
about ISIS k ISIS chorus on the group that is actually at loggerheads with for Taliban, I would probably want to stage something in an opportune
moment for them.
And you know, if they can wreck a-- nascent relationship that the U.S. and NATO may have with the Taliban, they will probably do so. Or at least
they'll try to do so.
So what you're, you know, what we have here is a need to calculate the security risks involved, as well as the operational imperatives of getting
people out by this deadline. Now that's confirmed.
GIOKOS: Colonel, what we've also heard here is that Biden says that he's made the decision, he was very mindful of the security situation, but also
asked for a contingency plan in case he determines that at a later date that the U.S. needs to remain in the country for longer.
Here's the thing we know that when you're looking at the military route, we know that there's a lot of scenario planning, that is on the go in tandem
with what we see, with regards to operations on the ground, one would assume that these contingency plans have been thought of and have been
COL. LEIGHTON: Yes, that's one of the things that the military does a lot of, we exercise constantly, every time there is a known mission that you
have to go after, there's a lot of preparation that goes into those known missions and those pre-planned missions.
When you have something like this, what you learn in the pre-planned missions is often used to help you with an ad hoc mission like this, or a
short notice mission. And in this particular case, a lot of planning goes into it.
There is in addition to the strategic planning at the very highest levels, there's the tactical planning and the nuts and bolts planning where you
have to get, you know, specific airplanes out specific pallets of goods and you know, specific equipment.
That's the kind of thing that is done to the minute is to detail and the specialists that we have in the U.S. military and in the NATO forces are
very good at that. And they work a lot to make that happen. So they're going to be very, very busy over the next few days.
GIOKOS: Nick Paton Walsh, you've been saying is in fact, you know, for the last few days that you're very doubtful that the August 31 deadline is
going to be moved in here we have a very hard out. I guess the question is, can they can actually do it?
Can they remove all the Americans which we know that they're not willing to commit to a number so that begs the question about how many people how many
Americans are actually still left in. We know SIV holders and vulnerable Afghans right now, I guess are the most desperate because they have an
WALSH: Well, essentially, like with so much of the war in Afghanistan success is something which is entirely defined by the U.S. here and they
haven't given us clear numbers of how many they intend to remove, how many are left.
And so it is essentially down to them to declare whether or not they have mission accomplished here and they will sadly, of course, I'm sure be some
Americans they weren't able to pick up and I'm sure thousands of SIV applicants who weren't able to get on to the airport. Do they have time to
WALSH: Well, the source I spoke to today familiar with the situation on the base said that if the 31st of August deadline was to be adhered to, they
want to get people off the base by the end of the 30th, to essentially prevent any misunderstanding about whether it was be gone by the 31st, or
gone at the end of the 31st.
And that would mean that the military are going to have to start doing what they call retrograde packing up thinking about the exit moving things
around as of tomorrow morning.
So Sam, and our team on that base are likely to sort of see a change in behavior, and so are the Afghans on that base too and that message will
surely travel to those who've not managed to get on the window may indeed, be closing.
The problem here, though, is that we have Taliban at checkpoints on the road to the base. We have Taliban doing document checks around the base, a
particular group of - linked, militants appear to have moved into some of the security around the base as well. So the Taliban have a big say about
who gets on.
They do appear and according to their press conference have no problem with foreign nationals getting on the airport. It's the Afghans who they have
said they don't feel it's necessary to leave and they seem to favor them staying in the country even going as far as just they wouldn't really
So a lot of nuance in what the Taliban's position is. But it's certainly the first time I think they've elucidated it quite so clearly. And that
will play very key into the next few days. Getting Americans on to the airport appears to be something that the U.S. has got a lot better at.
And they haven't gone into detail, but they seem to be going out to get them what they call alternate routes. SIVs are getting on in small numbers,
we understand probably larger numbers, if indeed, there's more than four and a half thousand to get off the base today.
I should point out the final thing here, which is playing a factor is this sort of parallel pathway that Afghan security forces mentioned there by a
Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby is people that are going to be getting off the base, because they will help him with security.
But they have a parallel pathway it seems for their sort of brothers, friends, et cetera, which appear to be adding to the numbers on the airport
as well. So quite clear, now we are in a very tight window.
There is certainly not going to be I would imagine a desire in those planning the U.S. retrograde and withdrawal from the airport to have a
moment where there seemed to be packing up and leaving when there are still thousands of Afghans there, they haven't got off.
So I would imagine the evacuation has to wind up reasonably over the next few days. So they can then begin to concentrate on their departure.
GIOKOS: So Nic Robertson and to what Nick Paton Walsh just said in terms of what we heard from the Taliban, that, you know, they don't want Afghans to
leave. They want them to stay in the country, because they're talking about rebuilding the country.
And they I guess, very well aware of a lot of the SIV holders are the affluent are those that are very educated and they want to retain people in
the country. Do you think that in the next week, this is going to be a big risk for the U.S. in trying to get Afghans out of the country?
ROBERTSON: Look, it has created a tension point, the Taliban are clearly becoming more vocal that they want these people that they value in running
the country and helping well not run the country. But make it function as you say, doctors, technocrats, if you will.
So yes, I think that that is a pressure point we're going to see grow. These are the very people that the Taliban have the hardest time persuading
that they have changed their stripes from before. These are the people that the country absolutely desperately needs.
And I think back to when the Taliban ran the country in the 1990s, the aviation minister, for example, at that stage had no background whatsoever
in aviation. You know, that's just one example where the Taliban will be looking to beef up their skill set, as well as keep doctors in hospitals.
And by and large, you know, that the, the cultural issues in Afghanistan had been between the sort of rural class, the conservative rural class, the
Taliban and the better educated, more middle class.
And this is historic, as it is a fact today, better educated, better skilled, more middle class, if you can call them that in, in the cities.
And they're the very people who want those values for girls education, who want the sort of better human rights across the country who wants to see,
you know, values that they've come to contribute to cherish over the past 20 years with the United States and NATO partners in the country.
They are going to be looking outside the country to get that and it's good. I think it's going to be very hard for the Taliban to persuade them to
stay. So if the Taliban can't persuade them to stay or want them to stay, as we've seen in the past with the Taliban, they will potentially force
them to stay and that could be potentially very ugly.
GIOKOS: Yes, exactly. And it's all those Taliban checks on the way to the airport. I'd like to bring in Whitehouse Reporter Stephen Collinson to join
in the conversation.
And I'm just reading through what Joe Biden says about not extending that 31st August deadline that the decision was made mindful to the security
risks remaining in the country for longer. So this isn't really based on the fact that they can get it all done before the 31st of August, this,
this is about a security risk scenario, possibly playing out.
STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, I think the way to look at this is that President Biden has made a fairly calculating
narrow assessment of American national interests, not necessarily even the interests of the Americans in Afghanistan, citizens who may not be able to
get out or even of course, those Afghans who have the right to live in the United States.
President Biden sees foreign policy, not through some kind of big, strategic, great game about U.S. power plays or even from a broader
humanitarian view of U.S. interests. He judges this through the interests of middle class and working class Americans.
That doesn't mean that the United States is going to pull back from the rest of the world, it's still going to work for it to the alliances, it's
going to build a coalition against China. But you're going to see a much more narrow calculation of what really is in American interest.
You saw the President on Sunday, for example, he turned to the camera and he said to Americans, I'm not going to send your son or your daughter to
fight in Afghanistan to extend this mission.
Consistently throughout this crisis, he's tried to put the focus on ending the war, which he said has killed far too many Americans to too little
And not the fate of those Afghans were still trapped in Afghanistan who could be have the right to come to the United States and many people would
say the United States has the obligation to give them refuge after the help the U.S. diplomats and armed forces.
So this, I think, is the way that the President makes decisions. And that's the way to look at this decision. Staying beyond August 31 would pose an
unacceptable risk in the view of the present to American forces on the ground. And that is why there's been no extension.
GIOKOS: Colonel and then we go back to these tumultuous exits of the U.S., which has caused pandemonium chaos and this desperate move to leave we know
that the G7 meeting has just wrapped up.
So we'll be hearing from what other countries have to say, what this means in terms of geopolitical risk in the region, what it means for terrorist
organizations, which might feel emboldened.
From a security perspective, are you concerned about what the next few months hold if the Taliban does not keep to its promises around peace and
COL. LEIGHTON: Definitely Eleni, I think one of the big issues that we have is, will Afghanistan become a breeding ground for terrorist groups, once
again. You know, everybody talks about Al Qaeda in when they existed in the form that they were in when they attacked us 20 years ago.
And that kind of group is something that the U.S. is definitely focused on preventing that scenario. But if this - if Afghanistan becomes a country
that does host various terrorist groups, then there will probably be a clamor to go after those terrorist groups, especially if they start acting
against targets in the U.S. or in Europe or perhaps in other countries that are allied with the United States.
So it does you know, potentially lead to a bit of a strategic imbalance. And it potentially also leads to a situation in which we will be in
essence, firemen going after the brush fire of terrorism. As long as that's contained, it's, you know, at least manageable if it isn't contained, then,
of course, that they're dangerous times ahead.
GIOKOS: Yes. Stephen, we also heard from the Pentagon a short while ago, saying that, you know, you've got to do screening on some of the Afghan
evacuees, that there's the intermediary countries that are hosting some of the refugees and that needs to be processed quickly and it needs to be done
What are you hearing in DC right now in terms of the way that Biden has handled and his administration has handled the situation, and then the
appetite to absorb some of these, these Afghans that have been working a lot alongside the U.S. over the 20 year period?
COLLINSON: Well, in terms of how Biden has handled the situation, I think the gathering pace of the airlifts in recent days has mitigated some of the
political pressure on the president, especially among his own democratic allies on Capitol Hill.
COLLINSON: The beginning of this operation, the chaos was being used by Republicans to create a narrative of incompetence of wider political decay
in which they try to fold in all their other criticisms of the present on immigration, on the way he's handled the pandemic and other issues.
In terms of the refugee question, it's a very sensitive, difficult issue in the United States. Of course, Donald Trump came to power demonizing
outsiders, immigrants and refugees.
There is already a significant backlash on the right, among Republicans among grassroots Trump supporters against the idea of bringing a lot of
these refugees from Afghanistan into the country.
Frankly, slanderous takes by even some Republicans running for office, even the U.S. senate about how many of these people could be terrorists, the
United States could be importing Jihad onto its soil. That's the political context in which they're going to arrive.
It's going to take a real, I think, concerted political operation by the White House, by Democrats, by many Republicans who favor giving harbor to
these Afghans. We've helped the United States for 20 years over the course of this war to ease the political pressure of this, I think, a little bit,
but it's a deeply sensitive issue.
It's very difficult. And it's being demagogue in a way that really shows the deep, you know, populist, extremist underbelly of the American
political scene right now.
GIOKOS: Yes, I mean, Nick Paton Walsh, the people that we've been speaking to, that are currently in Afghanistan, the people that managed to escape,
they say they are deeply fearful of what it means to live under Taliban rule.
But importantly, there's been an echo that they feel abandoned by the United States, I guess the next few months are absolutely going to be
telling. But we've heard from, from most people that we've spoken to they're absolutely scared about the uncertainty that they face.
WALSH: Yes, I mean, look, it's important. Remember, this is not necessarily a new problem for possibly as much as a decade. Afghans have lived with the
knowledge that eventually the United States will be gone, that they probably weren't going to leave behind a particularly good military scene
and the Taliban will be a presence in their lives.
So I've seen over 10 years, Afghans looking to see if they can leave if they can secure their lives, comfort and safety. In the decades ahead, in
the event that there was a change in power, what we've seen occur now is an extraordinary acceleration in people's need for that sort of protection.
Now, the Taliban are doing the very best they can, it seems that moment of projecting an image of calm. But many also have warned me saying this is
this is how they go, they start in a reasonable congenial fashion and then slowly impose the sort of grip or more than society that they would like to
But remember, there's been this very lengthy period, sadly, in Afghanistan, where so many have tries to get out because of the war that's been raging
for so long because of the violence, because of how hard it is to raise your children, often in that society.
And because also of the corruption of the Afghan government, it's important to remember that's where a lot of the Taliban get their power base from the
alternative, put in by billions of U.S. dollars simply didn't deliver for the people.
I mean, it's important to remind viewers here that Kabul has very little infrastructure really in it. I mean, there's no sort of public railway or
things that you would imagine a normal capital would enjoy after over a trillion dollars of U.S. expenditure.
So that sort of has fed into that climate amongst Afghans of knowing that they'd be better off out of the country. So many I know have made that
journey. So many I know are desperate to make that journey now.
And there are many to messengering me as I've been standing here, trying to explain that they're still desperate to get out. It's clear the Taliban
today, for the first time say that they are against Afghans leaving, they are surely worried about accentuating the brain drain that Afghanistan has
That's not to say that the rod brilliant, intelligent people who've committed to stay in Afghanistan and will continue to do so. But many
people who've been able to get out have indeed done so. And the Taliban must be acutely aware of the fact that they need doctors, they need
engineer, and they said it themselves.
They need the society to continue to function. And so I think the challenge now will be providing help to those Afghans who were desperately eligible
to get out after the U.S. finishes this mission, which is a matter of a week away.
It's a very small period of time and the number of people still desperately in need of help or wanting to help is still quite large. And this plays
into what Stephen was saying into the broader global climate around migration.
WALSH: Afghans have always been top of the list of nationalities trying to seek asylum in other countries. So this is going to add to that and add to
the counter sentiment.
GIOKOS: Exactly. And what does you know, August the 31st deadline actually mean for so many people trying to get out? Thank you very much to you, Nick
Paton Walsh, Nic Robertson, Colonel Cedric Leighton, as well as Stephen Collinson, thank you very much for that update. We're going to a short
break, we'll be bringing you more analysis more coverage out of Kabul, stay with us.
GIOKOS: Right and the breaking news, U.S. President Joe Biden sticking to the August 31 deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, saying
that the reason that this decision was made was mindful of the security risks remaining in the country for longer and what that would mean.
We've got Sam Kiley at the Kabul airport and joins me right now. Sam, look, sticking to that August 31 deadline is, this does this mean for many people
trying to get out of the country that their hopes have been dashed.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're not necessarily Eleni, there's still more or less a week to go. That whole week will not be
taken up with the evacuation of civilians. The last few days, perhaps four or five days may be taken up with the collapse of the coalition operations
here and then the evacuation or withdrawal of their own troops and material.
But the speed, the pace of evacuation here has gone up very dramatically with the previous 24 hours. About 21,000 people being evacuated by the
coalition of whom about 12,000 were Americans today. Sorry, evacuated by the Americans today.
The Americans alone by about lunchtime had done evacuated about 9000 people. They some 4000 people, four - four to 5000 people still on the
airfield here, but they are being added to fit in fairly low numbers, not in massive streams from people coming in from the outside, the pressure on
the gates is down.
It's not clear whether or not that is because the Taliban have started to filter people to such an extent, the very few maybe getting through because
they now got an outer cordon, established just a bit earlier on today, Eleni.
The Taliban spokesman slightly hardened his language when he was talking about the future of Afghans who wanted to leave Afghanistan saying that the
Taliban would, in our translation of it not allow this. Now this may be a slight mistranslation.
We're not exactly sure we see seeking clarity. It may have slightly misspoken but if they take him at his word, it means that the Taliban may
be getting to the point at which they've had enough of seeing their citizen's leave the country.
They don't like the message that sends to people who've been left behind. They are insisting that they are going to form an inclusive government that
there won't be retribution against people for their roles in either as translators or fighters in the alongside American forces or the coalition
forces or indeed for their role in government.
They insist that they need to be able to keep the wheels of government turning they want to do trade with countries like the United States and
they need international aid. So there is some doubt as to whether or not the evacuation plans of those who really want to leave can be met. But it's
not impossible if they are able to get to the airfield perhaps Eleni?
GIOKOS: Yes. So it's important what you say, you know, there's a distinction between won't a lot be allowed to leave and shouldn't leave,
they should stay in the country. So that was interesting hearing what the Taliban has to say about the future because they want to ensure that they
don't have a brain drain scenario.
But if they do interfere with evacuations and getting people to the airport, especially at those Taliban checkpoints that, of course, will
create a very big issue for the United States. In the meantime, the UAE says that this was the most successful departure result that they've seen
since the operations began.
Are you seeing a little bit more of a calm scenario paying in and around the airport? Would you say, Sam?
KILEY: Yes, it's, it's efficient. It there's no doubt about it. There are planes taking off and landing constantly. There's a constant flow of
evacuees, both foreign and small numbers, both foreigners in relatively small numbers and very large numbers of Afghans being shepherded out to
I've seen one aircraft from - and an Afghan airline also taking up with several 100 Afghans on it, I'm not quite sure what the destination for that
is. But they are being moved out very, very much more efficiently than before.
So you're going to see, perhaps an average of some 10,000 plus much more than that, even each day being processed. And that's probably just by the
Americans, then you've got the wider coalition, the British are here in some force.
So yes, it is much more efficient. But the real issue is whether or not those that want to leave can get here, and they're not exactly sure of the
truth behind that.
GIOKOS: Right, Sam, thank you very much for that update. Live in Kabul for us and of course, just reminding you of the breaking news that President
Joe Biden has now decided to stick to the 31st August deadline, keeping in mind the security risks if they were to stay in the country.
You know, the G7 meeting has now concluded and we're hoping for a press conference to hear more about that. Thank you so much for watching.