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U.S. and Allies Evacuate 21,000 in 24 Hours from Afghanistan; Taliban Keeping Afghans and Others Away from Kabul Airport; U.S. Defense Official Relates "Very Specific Threat Stream" by ISIS-K outside Kabul Airport; Complaints about Conditions for Evacuees Arriving in Qatar; The Leading COVID-19 Origin Theories Explained; Naftali Bennett Makes First Visit to D.C. as Israeli Prime Minister; Pentagon Briefing. Aired 10-11a ET
Aired August 25, 2021 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELENI GIOKOS, CNNMONEY CORRESPONDENT: Evacuations are ramping up in Kabul as the U.S. President insists on meeting the August 31 deadline.
And there are concerns of possible threats from the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.
What are the origins of COVID-19?
A new U.S. report meets a frosty response from China. We'll tell you why.
And a first for Naftali Bennett. The Israeli prime minister prepares to met with U.S. President Joe Biden. Iran and its nuclear program are high on the
GIOKOS: Hello. I'm Eleni Giokos. Welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD.
The race to get people out of Afghanistan is taking on new urgency with heightened concerns of a possible terror attack outside of the Kabul
airport. CNN has learned that the United States has identified a very specific threat stream from ISIS-K, the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.
It is a sworn enemy of the Taliban and U.S. intelligence believes it is capable of carrying out multiple attacks. That news coming as the White
House says another 19,000 people left Afghanistan over the past day; 11,000 of them on U.S. flights.
That has greatly reduced the huge logjam at Kabul's airport with just six days to go until all U.S. troops leave Afghanistan. How many more people
get inside the airport over the next few days is still very uncertain.
Taliban checkpoints in the capital keep many away, including Afghans with special immigrant visas by the United States. On Tuesday U.S. President Joe
Biden refused to extend the deadline for troops to leave past next Tuesday, citing the threat from ISIS-K as one reason.
More than 82,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Many are awaiting in temporary locations in the Middle
East, leaving jobs schools and even family members behind.
Senior international correspondent Sam Kiley left the Kabul airport a short time. Last hour he talked about the final push to get people out and the
looming ISIS-K terror threat. Take a listen.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right now, Jim, I'm watching a Royal Air Force aircraft, with the back end of it closing up to
take a couple hundred refugees. That's going to be taxiing away and we will be loaded with about 450 are going to be joining myself and other
journalists who are being evacuated at this stage as part of the military drawdown here.
They will be flown to Qatar, where they are likely to be held for many, many hours, we understand, on the ground, awaiting clearance. This has been
one of the real issues in terms of the evacuation process.
It's been highly successful now in getting people out of Kabul. It's a lot less successful from a humanitarian point of view. The other day some
people coming to us later (ph). I think you were just reporting about this ISIS-K threat.
Top of the line intelligence (ph) (INAUDIBLE) very beginning and indeed a serious concern for the Taliban, as we discussed before. Jim, the Taliban
two days ago actually arrested four ISIS-K members who were filming potential locations for exactly the sort of bomb attack that you were just
reporting there in your introduction.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Sam, question for you: I have been speaking to Afghans, who worked for the
U.S., who've been trying desperately to get to the airport over the last 24 hours. And they can't get there.
The Taliban controls the entry points. They've been beating them and others. Of course, you and CNN has reported that previously.
Based on your vantage point over the last 24 hours, have some been able to get to the airport?
And how exactly?
KILEY: Jim, really small numbers. There's only about, as of this morning there were only about a thousand passengers, evacuees waiting to go. That
is obviously drastically down from the 4,000-5,000 they would have ready to go most days and down from (INAUDIBLE) the 20,000 people backlogged here.
Now there's only a thousand. That is indubitably because of the Taliban (INAUDIBLE) access to the airport before Afghans (ph), potentially even
those with special immigration visas.
KILEY: And that is now being highly affected. There are very few numbers indeed getting through to the gates. And yesterday there were 9,000 at the
gates in the morning but -- (INAUDIBLE) I think not exactly the secure (ph) figures. I think close to 12,000 I think (INAUDIBLE).
And so clearly they have been getting fewer (ph) more people in. But it's very difficult (INAUDIBLE) and essentially what's been going on that
they've been (ph) to go and get pockets of people when they've been able to be identified and when safe passage has been possible or when it's been
possible for the security officials to get to them or find a method, a secret method by which they could organize that without causing friction
with the Taliban.
Inevitably I think and tragically there will be people who can't get to the airport because they're Afghans. Even though they have been working very
closely with the United States, and inevitably, I think in the end, there will be some Americans that get left behind, possibly as a result of their
But there have been a lot of urgent messages going out from the evacuating authorities, such as these people running the evacuations here, to the
State Department, from the State Department.
GIOKOS: All right. That was Sam Kiley in Kabul as he was leaving the country. I would like to now bring in Nic Robertson from Washington. He's
our international diplomatic editor.
Great to see you, Nic. We have learned that the U.S. specifically said they have identified a very specific threat stream from ISIS-K.
Given this small window to evacuate U.S. citizens, vulnerable Afghans and people with SIVs, what does this mean heading to D-Day, 31st of August?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: That threat stream will exist as long as U.S. forces are on the ground. And if there are any
international elements within the country, then that threat stream will continue beyond the 31st of August.
The ISIS-K threat stream, ISIS-Khorasan, the regional affiliate of ISIS, has been very astute and adept at perpetrating some of the most bloody
attacks in the capital, Kabul. Many Western analysts point to very strong ties, to potential support or help or assistance of some description coming
So an ISIS-K threat in Kabul at the moment is something that has to be taken absolutely seriously because, in the past, they have certainly had
the capacity to strike with deadly force and deadly effect.
It is not the type of environment, if those Western analysts are accurate, saying that ISIS-K has had backing and support from Pakistan in the past,
this is not the time that Pakistan would want to see anything like that happening to U.S. forces or others in and around the airport in Kabul.
But nobody can take risks here with the threat, however big or small, you know?
Hundreds of ISIS-K members have been freed from jail. That's the estimate of intelligence experts, there's perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000 ISIS-K
members inside Afghanistan. They have had the cells, as I have been talking about, in Kabul for some time.
But I think the more broad spectrum ISIS-K is not the only threat; Al Qaeda remains inside Afghanistan. There are hardline and hardcore Taliban
elements, they've been instructed not to attack U.S. forces. . But who knows if some of those elements can go rogue?
So there are a lot of potential threats. ISIS-K though seems to have emerged at this time, according to the United States, as the biggest one.
GIOKOS: OK. So you know, this is what's become quite interesting. You see the threats as long as there are foreign forces on the ground.
Once the U.S. leaves and evacuates as many people as possible, what then happens to these threats?
We know that ISIS-K is a sworn enemy to the Taliban.
ROBERTSON: Analysts have been telling the Taliban, Western experts have been telling the Taliban over the past number of years that ISIS-K would be
a threat for them. Many hardcore Taliban splintered away to become members of ISIS-K.
And it was pointed out to the Taliban over a long period that these elements would be a threat. And they will continue to be a threat for
local, potentially distrait (ph) regional influence in parts of Afghanistan, that the Taliban would have a hard time reaching in numbers of
force. They're unlikely to be able to crush them in their entirety.
ROBERTSON: The threat, the concern of the threat that they would have beyond Afghanistan's borders, that they could use small areas of
Afghanistan to train and equip themselves and plan and plot attacks in the West, that's a very real threat going forward.
And as we have seen in the past in other countries, where there is international aid coming in to -- in this case, Afghanistan -- and where it
is sort of flagged in batches as coming from the U.N. or the E.U. or the United States, that has drawn attacks from ISIS, ISIS and fighters of that
So you know, if there are aid projects in the future that are operating with Western support, those, too, will be potential targets for ISIS-K.
GIOKOS: For our viewers, I want to draw your attention to the visuals of an aerial shot, a view from Kabul airport, looking on to the airport,
actually. And we also are anticipated a Pentagon press briefing.
Nic, what stood out for me was the, very quickly, on the issue of women and the Taliban, saying they haven't exactly sent the message to all the
Taliban forces about how to treat women.
Just very quickly, tell me what this actually means for the treatment of women right now, as the messaging needs to still be filtered (ph) down to
ROBERTSON: It is not clear how long this will last and how long it's temporary, how long it takes to educate a force that comes and goes from
villages. They don't have a sort of strong management structure in the Taliban yet for controlling populations in urban centers.
One of the things they find in Kabul is that people are running out of cash to buy daily essentials. That will be a problem.
But on the women's issue I remember being there in the '90s when the Taliban was in control. There were no women in any of the government
ministries. Women right now are worrying, will they get back to those jobs?
I think when the Taliban say it is not just about educating their personnel but also about making appropriate changes to the working environment.
So does this mean that women will be sort of put in separate buildings to men?
Because that is something that could be divined from Islamic teachings.
Will the Taliban interpret those teachings in that way?
Again, that's going to be a concern for women and that's very potentially when the Taliban say that's what we're looking at.
GIOKOS: Thank you, Nic. Great to speak to you and thank you for the insights.
The U.S. air base in Qatar is a stopover point for thousands of evacuees who are leaving Afghanistan but the base may be overwhelmed. Our Nick Paton
Walsh is with us from Doha.
What are you learning about the conditions right now of the evacuees arriving in Qatar and the temporary housing?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I think there's been an issue ongoing for the past week on the -- it seems the American
organized area -- and you have to put this in basically in perspective with the conditions of people leaving around Kabul airport, which has been
densely overcrowded over the past week and outside of which, there's been a crush that killed possibly as many as 20 people.
On arrival here in Qatar over the past week, I have been hearing stories of cramped conditions, poor management of their conditioning, difficulties
handing out food, space limitations, too.
Remember, it's over 100 degrees Fahrenheit out here in the desert. And so, of course, when dealing with thousands of, frankly, unanticipated migrants
and evacuees, turning up in the airbase Al Udeid, I think there was for some moments a bit of a logistical problem.
That I believe caused Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby to accept there had been difficulties and that they're doing their best to rectify them and
that they were improving.
Having spoken to three or four Afghans currently on the airbase now, they do report pretty good conditions, to be honest. It appears that a lot of
places are in reasonably good conditions. They complain of poor wi-fi and occasionally faltering air conditioning.
And I heard of one who said he was standing for quite long periods of time in the heat in food queues. But at the same time, you have to also
recognize how fast these things seem to have improved over the recent days.
So again, along with the extraordinary airlift of about 85,000 people in a short period of time, you have to give credit at the end of this 20-year
war to the U.S. air men and service men and women who have done this extraordinary feat of the airlift and also too downstream, processing the
evacuees with the best efforts they possibly can.
Certainly not perfect and recognized by John Kirby yesterday in a Pentagon briefing.
WALSH: But I have to tell you, I'm struggling to find individuals reporting conditions as bad as some of the early reports appear to have
GIOKOS: Yes, right. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much.
A lack of order and a lack of contrition. This analysis piece looks at how the U.S. withdrawal could affect America's place in the world. You can find
that and all the latest developments from Afghanistan on the CNN app or log in to cnn.com.
Still ahead, Israel's prime minister is in Washington to meet with senior U.S. officials. We'll tell you what they're going to be talking about in
just a moment.
GIOKOS: China is hitting back at a new U.S. intelligence report on the origins of COVID-19. We're told U.S. President Joe Biden has been briefed
on the report. But for now it remains classified.
China's complaint is not so much about the content but the motives behind the investigation, saying it is political and was designed to find a way to
blame the pandemic on China.
Sources say even after the review, there is low confidence in either of the competing theories that the virus emerged from a secure research lab or
jumped from animals to humans. CNN's David Culver was in Wuhan as the pandemic began and has this look at the evidence so far.
DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The evidence supporting a lab leak for now is all circumstantial, starting with the
lab's location. The BSL-4 lab or Biosafety Level 4 is about 25 miles from the Huanan seafood market, where many of the first COVID-19 cases initially
STANLEY PERLMAN, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA: I don't think anyone would disagree that the major first amplification was in Wuhan.
CULVER (voice-over): The Chinese have pushed back against the claim that the virus was engineered but if the first amplification was from a lab,
that would suggest either a lab worker unknowingly got infected or that the virus was isolated and/or manipulated in a lab and somehow got out,
sparking concern over the type of research that might have been taking place here.
DR. DAVID RELMAN, STANFORD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: I'm not saying that they led to this outbreak or pandemic by any means. But it's simply
the kind of work that I think we, as a scientific society, need to think much more clearly and more deliberately about before we undertake it.
CULVER (voice-over): CNN spoke with a source directly involved with the construction of the BSL-4. Using their insight, along with information
published by the Chinese before the outbreak, here's what we know.
Planning and construction of the BSL-4 started if 2003. In 2018, it officially became operational. It's located on the sprawling fenced-in
Wuhan Institute of Virology campus. The building containing the lab sits separate. Four levels make up the structure.
At the top a sophisticated air purification system.
CULVER (voice-over): At the bottom and underneath the lab, decontamination equipment that allows for safe sewage disposal.
Level two, this is where the research takes place. There are separate entrances and exits along with dedicated dissection rooms, virus storage
facilities and multiple labs for distinct animal and cellular level research.
French engineers helped in the planning and the construction but one source said the Chinese were initially resistant to add some basic safety features
due to the high cost of some equipment, such as multiple chemical decontamination showers but that they eventually relented, adding them.
Some have also questioned the lab staff's training. A 2018 diplomatic cable sent by U.S. officials who made a side visit stated that, quote, "The new
lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high contamination laboratory."
The cable went on to say that the University of Texas medical branch in Galveston, UTMB, has scientific collaborations with WIV, which may help
alleviate this talent gap over time.
Scott Weaver of UTMB tells me the collaborations with the Wuhan Institute of Virology were minor and did not involve coronavirus research. He has not
visited Wuhan's BSL-4 lab but stresses that the training required for such a lab is extensive.
SCOTT WEAVER, UTMB: Typically the scientists are wearing space suits. These are suits that are very expensive, very well designed to be airtight
and they're pumped full of filtered air, such that, even if an accident occurred in the lab and there was some kind of a spill and an aerosol would
be created, that space suit would prevent that aerosol from entering the breathing space of the scientist to infect them.
CULVER (voice-over): But other red flags came from the Chinese themselves, including WIV's director, Huang Jamin (ph), who, in 2018, co-authored a
paper, pointing out safety issues across all biosafety labs in China, warning, in part, that there was a lack of enough operable technical
But ultimately many international experts viewed the Wuhan Institute of Virology's BSL-4 as one of the most sophisticated in the world and its
researchers more than competent.
GERALD KREUSCH, U.S. NATIONAL EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES LABORATORY: You had a first class facility, high class virologists and well trained staff.
You put of that all together and you'd say, well, I can't exclude a lab accident. It doesn't seem likely.
CULVER (voice-over): It also does not rule out the possibility of a leak from another lab in Wuhan. We drove by it last year.
CULVER: Yes, there you can see right here, this is Wuhan Center for Disease Control. This is one of the labs within Wuhan and, of course, not
too far from the market, either.
CULVER (voice-over): Located just a couple of blocks from the Huanan seafood market, in fact. Inside, lower level biosafety labs that likewise
involved the study of bats and coronaviruses.
Still, there is one thing is lacking in the search for an origin. That is full transparency from and collaboration with the Chinese.
WEAVER: Unfortunately, it has been very disappointing to see that the Chinese government has not been very forthcoming with some of the critical
information about the very early stages of the outbreak.
CULVER (voice-over): China has shut the door on future visits by the WHO. Chinese officials believe the origins investigation has become politically
manipulated by the U.S., especially given Biden's order for an intel community review, one that focuses in part on the lab leak theory.
KREUSCH: We do need to have the evidence and the very people who are calling for it have precluded that from happening. And the longer it takes,
the more difficult it is going to be, to get a complete picture of what happened -- maybe never. It may be too late now.
CULVER (voice-over): Without any concrete proof, experts warn that prematurely concluding COVID-19 started from a lab leak might leave the
world and scientific community divided over geopolitics and less prepared for future outbreaks.
CULVER: I want to go back to the BSL-4 lab. Experts we talked to, along with one source, do not believe coronaviruses were even studied there. The
lower level labs likely. And they tend to also side with the likelihood of the natural origin theory.
But that does not totally excuse China's early handling or mishandling. As we reported extensively, there was cover-up and the silencing of
whistleblowers at the start of the outbreak here.
But the search for an origin has become so highly politicized that experts warn the true science behind it may never be known -- David Culver, CNN,
GIOKOS: Let's get you up to speed on some of the other stories that are on the radar right now.
With vaccinations increasing dramatically around the world, the WHO says the number of new COVID cases has plateaued.
GIOKOS: After nearly two months of increases, we have been seeing most regions decreased.
OK, we are going to a very short break and will be with you in just a moment.
GIOKOS: Welcome back. I'm Eleni Giokos in Dubai and you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD.
Israel's prime minister is at this hour in Washington, D.C., on his first overseas visit since taking office in June. Naftali Bennett is scheduled to
meet with the U.S. secretary of state and Secretary of Defense and national security adviser in the coming hours.
He has a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden scheduled for Thursday. The main topic of conversation is expected to be a new Israeli plan to deal
with Iran and the nuclear program. We have Hadas Gold traveling with the prime minister.
Good to see you. On the agenda, Iran and the nuclear program.
What else do we expect to hear from the trip?
HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very high stakes trip for this rather new Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, arrived in
Washington last night. Today he will be meeting with the secretary of state, Antony Blinken; the Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, as well as the
national security advisor, Jake Sullivan.
But tomorrow is the main event, the meeting at the White House with President Joe Biden. And Israeli officials tell me there are really two
main objectives to the trip to Washington.
The first is simply the relationship, building the relationship between Naftali Bennett and Joe Biden. The two leaders have never met before. They
have spoken by phone but never actually met in person.
For the Israeli prime minister it is very important for him to show to the Israeli public that after 12 years of his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu,
after four years of that -- you could call it political bromance with him and Trump -- that the relationship with the United States may be different.
But it will continue to be a strong bond between the two leaders and so it's very important to Naftali Bennett to show that he has a warm and good
relationship with Joe Biden.
And the second, probably most important objective is going to be Iran. Naftali Bennett opposes a return to the 2015 deal but he will approach it
in a different, softer way and will present to President Biden what they call a holistic strategy on Iran, something they say addresses not only the
Iranian nuclear missions but also the regional aggressions in the region in places like Syria and Lebanon as well as incidents at sea. The attack on
the Mercer Street cargo ship that both Israel and the United States have attributed to Iran.
Israel officials tell me, when they started to plan the trip, they felt a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was essentially inevitable. Now they
feel it's in doubt. They have a chance to potentially stop.
GOLD: That's why they want to present this new plan because they're worried the United States and European allies don't really have a plan B on
how to stop the Iranian nuclear program if this Iran nuclear deal falls through.
So it will be a big question how President Biden will receive this idea that will also include essentially a regional NATO, where U.S. and Israel
and other regional partners in the Middle East will work together to try to counter Iran.
How will Joe Biden accept the strategy?
But for the Israelis they feel simply time is running out on how to counter Iran.
GIOKOS: All right. Hadas, thank you very much.
Back to Afghanistan now. We know the U.S. evacuation efforts have been ramped up. You remember that chaotic start to the evacuation when the
Taliban took over.
Now the White House says 19,000 people have been evacuated by the U.S. and coalition flights in the past day. Those flights leave about every 45
minutes. Now 45,000 Americans and Afghans are at the airport waiting for their turn to leave.
That's a big improvement but the U.S. is still racing against the clock. President Joe Biden sticking with the August 31 deadline for the U.S. to
exit the country. Meanwhile, the U.S. troop withdrawal is underway.
So far, several hundred U.S. troops have already left. The Pentagon press secretary said that the troops had got out, had completed their mission at
Kabul airport. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department said it has also reached out to all Americans registered in Afghanistan. They're being told
to report to designated locations for evacuations.
We'd like to bring in Kylie Atwood, who joins us from the U.S. State Department.
We've been seeing the daily briefings that are so important to get a handle on what is going on at the Kabul airport. This deadline means we have just
a few days to get out Americans and Afghans.
I guess the big question, what these next few days look like.
And what does the deadline 31st of August look like for the people desperately trying to get through.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY ANALYST: It is a really good question. Realistically what this deadline means is everyone that wants to get out of
the country won't be able to before the U.S. military no longer has a presence at the airport in Kabul, meaning that the flight to get out could
be virtually impossible for a while.
We don't know what will happen to the airport and right now, that's the only place to fly out of the country, of course. What the Biden
administration has repeatedly said is that any American who wants to get out of the country will get out of the country before the U.S. military
mission at that airport is over.
We don't know how many more Americans exactly are still in Afghanistan and want to leave. The State Department, the Pentagon has said about 4,000
Americans have already left the country. But they have also said several thousands that are still there.
The State Department stood up a task force specifically for Americans who are still there and need help getting out. We are looking to learn more
about the numbers that they look at, something more specific than several thousand because, presumably, the Biden administration must feel they can
get out all the Americans by August 31 if President Biden promised that all those Americans who want to get out will get out.
But as you note, what this means for Afghans who are trying to get out of the country, the answer isn't really clear. We know that there aren't a lot
of people being let into the airport right now. That is one of the reasons we're seeing fewer numbers people at the airport, reportedly, by the U.S.
The United States is flying out extraordinary numbers of people. This is, by all measures, a very, very extraordinary effort but there are still
Afghans on the ground, who've tried multiple times to get to the airport and get on these flights and have not been able to.
GIOKOS: There's so many security experts asking, what phase are we in right now in terms of evacuation?
Who's going to secure the airport as the last few flights take off?
Then you have the imminent, this acute threat of ISIS-K. That's definitely been one of those factors that's played so significantly into the hard out
of 31 of August.
ATWOOD: That factor is definitely a big one. We know that it is one of the reasons that President Biden has decided that, yes, they are going to go
for that August 31 deadline. They're not going to push it because, in his words yesterday, with that risk to American troops, to Americans trying to
get out of the country.
ATWOOD: It exists now and it will only continue to exist and potentially get worse the longer that the U.S. maintains that presence there, maintains
this extraordinary evacuation effort because ISIS-K sees that as a possibility for something they could attack, that they could go after.
We should note ISIS-K is also an enemy of the Taliban, who the U.S. is working with in some fashion to try to continue this evacuation effort. So
there are a lot of factors. But that is a -- that is one that is front and center, considering why President Biden made this decision to go forth with
that August 31 deadline.
GIOKOS: Look, we have been hearing from the Pentagon twice a day for the last few days. And we expect this to continue. We also know that this is --
we're waiting for -- any minute for John Kirby to give an update.
The one thing they could never really give us a hard number on is just how many Americans are left in Afghanistan and how many have actually evacuated
and that's creating a lot of concern, why they're being so vague.
ATWOOD: I think they're being vague for a few different reasons. First of all, this is an ongoing effort. It is chaotic. It can be messy on the
ground. I have talked to people who are there. It's not as if this is a very well organized process.
So first of all the administration doesn't want to give numbers that could potentially then have to change, right?
The other factor is that this is consistently going ahead. So they've said they aren't hiding the ball from us right now. But what they are doing is
not giving us numbers that are going to change 10-20 minutes later, a few hours later.
GIOKOS: Thank you very much. We are now going to the Pentagon for the briefing. Let's listen in.
MAJ. GEN. HANK TAYLOR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, U.S. JOINT STAFF REGIONAL OPERATIONS: Thank you for being here this morning. Like yesterday, I'll
provide an update on the Afghanistan operation and then follow with a short update on the operations in Haiti.
U.S. and coalition troops maintain security at the Kabul airport and this security continues to allow for the evacuation operations and allowing us
to remain to process people in, to become ready to fly.
Our focus is continuing to get as many people out as efficiently and safely as possible. In the past 24 hours, we exceeded the previous 24 hour flight
departures and evacuated number of passengers nearing the previous day's record.
Yesterday, 42 U.S. military aircraft, of which were 37 C-17s and five C- 130s, departed with approximately 11,200 personnel. Combined with our 48 coalition and allied partners, with those departures, an additional 7,800
personnel left Kabul. That is 90 flights total yesterday that left the Kabul airport.
That is accounted for 19,000 evacuees now safely out of Afghanistan within a 24-hour period. Since the U.S. and coalition forces began the evacuation,
to date, approximately 88,000 have safely departed from Afghanistan.
Every 39 minutes yesterday, a plane departed Kabul airport. These numbers are a testament to the hard-working and brave service members carrying out
this mission. In cooperation with the State Department, I can also tell you that there are more than 10,000 people currently at this time at the
airport, awaiting departure.
This is a snapshot in time and, as we said yesterday, will continue to change as more people are able to come onto the airfield and as flights
As I said yesterday, in order for this throughput to remain steady, we depend on the capacity and efficiency of our intermediate staging bases and
safe havens. We are appreciative of the support and rely on our allies and partners in this global endeavor.
In the UCOM AOR, Six flights will transport about 1,800 vulnerable Afghans from Germany to the United States today. In addition, approximately 2,000
more will arrive, in this case, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is scheduled to receive approximately 13 flights.
TAYLOR: Since August 20th, UCOM has assisted approximately 10,000 vulnerable Afghans and evacuees for transit to onward locations. You will
likely hear more details today at a planned press schedule with Mr. Kirby and plan for General Walters later today.
Several thousand evacuees have arrived in the United States so far and will continue to do so. In the past 24 hours, five flights landed at Dulles
International Airport with approximately 1,200 passengers.
As part of this process, these individuals completed biometric vetting and screening in accordance with the FBI, NCTC and Customs and border Control
standards, all directed by the Department of Homeland Security.
We are working around the clock to provide safe, sanitary and appropriate receptions at processing, at all of our locations throughout the world.
We know you have questions about our current timeline and intent for departure. Our mission remains unchanged. For each day of this operation,
we have carried out the direction of the President and the Secretary of Defense.
Until that mission changes, we will continue to put forth our maximum effort to safely evacuate as many people as possible and we will keep you
Lastly, I want to give you a short update on Haiti. The Department of Defense and U.S. Southern Command continue to be in full support of USAID
as the lead federal agency. The USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance team has been on the ground since the beginning.
And we have been supporting them since then, as have a lot of our allies and partners working with international community to identify points of
need. This lifesaving aid and assistance mission is where DOD's unique capabilities, specifically in airlift and logistics, are engaged each day
to get that lifesaving aid where it needs to be, rapidly.
As of late last evening, JTF Haiti has conducted over 364 full spectrum missions, both with the DOD assets and the United States Coast Guard which
have assisted or saved over 436 lives and delivered over 163 pounds of vital aid as of late yesterday. Thank you.
ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: OK. Good morning, everybody. Just one more note and then we'll get to questions.
I think you may have seen now we have released the secretary's memo with respect to mandatory vaccinations for COVID-19. He's determined, after
careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership and of course with the support of the president, that mandatory vaccination
against the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is necessary to protect the safety of our service members and our force.
Mandatory vaccination will only use COVID-19 vaccines that receive full licensure from the Food and Drug Administration in accordance with FDA
approved labeling and guidance.
Mandatory vaccination requirements will be implemented consistent with DOD immunization program instruction 65 -- sorry -- 6205.02; in other words,
the existing structure and regulations that govern policies and procedures for managing mandatory vaccination across the force.
This is consistent with the department's efforts to ensure the safety of our service members and, again,, to maintain the readiness of the force.
With that, we'll take questions. Bob?
QUESTION: Thank you. With regard to Afghanistan, I wonder if you could give us a sense of what the evacuation end game is likely to look like or
expected to look like in terms of a sequence of events over the last three or four or five days.
Will the U.S. need to have sort of exclusive use of the fields in the apparatus to execute the final flights?
KIRBY: I'll ask the general to be more specific than me, Bob, but what we anticipate happening in the last couple of days, we will -- so, first of
all, we'll continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end if we have to and we need to. If you're an evacuee that we can get out,
we'll continue to get you out.
QUESTION: On the 31st?
KIRBY: Right up until the end.
KIRBY: But in those last couple of days, we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out. That doesn't mean
that, if you're an evacuee and you need to get out, that we are just not going to try to get you out but that we will have to reserve some capacity
in those last couple of days to prioritize the military footprint leaving.
Because we want to be able to keep it there as long as possible to do the job that it's intended to do.
QUESTION: So the charter flights, for example, would be finished earlier?
And when you refer to military resources, you're talking about American only?
KIRBY: I'm talking about primarily U.S. military troops and equipment. We are now and have been working with our allies and partners to help them
withdraw their people and we will help them withdraw their forces as well.
QUESTION: Right to the very end or you have to do that earlier?
KIRBY: Well, look. I mean, obviously we want to preserve as much capability as possible and some of that capability is not ours. Some of it
is our allies and partners. So there will be a balance there.
And it'll be up to Admiral Vasely to determine how he strikes that balance in terms of making sure he has the maximum capability for as long as
possible. So there will be a -- there will be a transition more towards getting military assets out as we get closer to the end. But again, we're
going to continue to work the evacuation mission right up until the last day.
TAYLOR: Just I think what I would add for the great answer Mr. Kirby gave there is, as you have seen in the last three days, the complexity and the
amount of aircraft moving in and out.
So the capability to continue to sequence and plan for the actual requirements that leave on a daily basis is going to be made on the ground.
But as you've seen, we have that capability to manage quite a lot of throughput and be able to put the right things on those aircraft as they
come in and leave.
QUESTION: John, who's guarding the U.S. embassy right now?
Who will guard after the U.S. military pulls out?
Are there any contingencies?
Do you have an agreement with the Taliban?
And in terms of the airport, do you have an agreement with any NATO allies to keep -- like the Turks -- to keep the airport open after the U.S.
military pulls out?
KIRBY: So it's -- understand it -- I know there's no military assets guarding the embassy compound. The U.S. embassy is operating out of Hamid
Karzai International Airport. As for the Turks, they are still on the ground at the airport, assisting in this security mission that we have
I won't speak for their intentions one way or another going forward. But there's not going to be a -- when the mission is over and when we are
leaving, the airport -- the airport will not be the United States, our responsibility anymore.
So how it gets managed going forward will be something that the Taliban, who are now in Kabul, will have to manage them on their own. And I assume,
with the international community, but that won't be an American responsibility.
QUESTION: Just one more.
How many individuals on terror watch lists have been screened or found at any of the screening points either in Qatar, Ramstein or in the U.S.?
KIRBY: I don't know. We'll have to take that question and get back to you.
QUESTION: Thank you, John. Thank you, General.
On behalf of Afghan people, thank you very much for your hard job and good job literally (ph).
KIRBY: Thank you.
QUESTION: And Afghan people, they are happy but some of them, that they are not eligible for SIV visa, P-1, P-2 but still they have a serious
problem. And they are not in the Kabul. They are hiding. They move from one place to the other place. And they contact with me like more than 100
people contacted with me a day that what can we do?
And I say I'm nobody to do something.
There's any plan from the State Department or from the Pentagon?
Because they're under target of the Taliban. But as Taliban yesterday, the spokesperson (INAUDIBLE) had said that why United States make a problem for
us. We are not allowed the people to leave Afghanistan. Now they are like in jail.
On the other hand Taliban is not one group. They're different group, like five groups.
QUESTION: And more -- a lot of people there and the problem but they're not eligible for the visa.
A possibility, any other option for them to be safe?
KIRBY: I can't speak for each and every Afghan who wants to leave and is dealing with their own individual circumstances to get out. We know there
are a lot of desperate people who want to leave. And that's why we are working as fast as we can.
You saw the numbers that we continue to be able to get out. We're working as fast as we can to get out American citizens, special immigrant visa
applicants and vulnerable Afghans.
And we continue to work at this. I can't -- I can't begin to try to give you specific advice on what these individuals ought to do. I certainly
would encourage them to reach out to the State Department.
But from the Pentagon's perspective we're doing the best we can as fast as we can to move as many people as we can out on any given day. And -- but
I'm not able to -- and I know my answer is unsatisfying and I apologize for that.
But I'm not able to speak to our ability to reach out and touch every single Afghan that wants to get out. And we were -- believe me, we're very
mindful of the plight here and we're trying the best we can to alleviate that. Carla?
QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to follow up to what Jen was asking about -- you said that there won't be a military presence guarding an
embassy. So post-August 31st --
KIRBY: The embassy compound. She specifically asked about the embassy compound --
KIRBY: -- which we're not operating out of right now --
QUESTION: -- airport, post-August 31st, after that date, are you -- can you just explicitly say there will be no diplomatic presence, U.S.
diplomatic presence, post August 31st?
We will not have --
KIRBY: I can't speak for that. That's a State Department issue.
QUESTION: And then to follow up, there's been reports of an ISIS, that somebody who was affiliated with ISIS got on one of the flights.
What's going on with that for -- ?
KIRBY: I mean, I have seen similar press reporting on this. I just don't have anything to update you on that. I don't have any information.
And what I should have said to Jen was it's really a better question for the Department of Homeland Security. But we'll see if we can track
something down for you. I'm not trying to evade it; I just don't know.
We're doing the best we can to manifest people on these flights and get them out as fast as possible. There is screening being done, not by DOD but
by DHS, Immigration, intelligence officials are doing the screening for people as they go on for onward flights. We're really focused on trying to
get as many of these individuals out.
QUESTION: One last one.
Have there been any air extractions in Kabul, additional ones since the two you told us about?
Have there been any efforts outside of Kabul to extract Americans and at- risk Afghans?
TAYLOR: Last night, during the period of darkness, there was an operation to be able to go out and safely evacuate evacuees back into Kabul. They are
at HKIA and they're safely there, preparing to be evacuated.
QUESTION: So when you said -- was it in Kabul and then they brought them into the airport?
TAYLOR: It was outside of the airfield, outside of the airfield in a way that -- and we were able to bring them back to Kabul safely and they're
preparing for evacuation.
KIRBY: Back to the airport?
TAYLOR: Airport, to the airport, yes.
KIRBY: It was inside Kabul.
QUESTION: Was it a helicopter operation?
KIRBY: It was.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how many?
KIRBY: We're not going to provide specific details; less than 20.
QUESTION: Less than 20?
KIRBY: Less than 20. I'm not going to provide additional details.
QUESTION: So can I ask -- that wasn't the question I was going to ask.
Yesterday it was reported that the withdrawal had already begun and several hundred troops had already come out. And you pushed back on that, saying
that these were people whose functions were no longer needed.
But all withdrawals sort of begin with pulling out nonessential personnel first.
Why shouldn't we view that as clearing the decks for the hardcore withdrawal that is going to come here?
KIRBY: Yes, it's a great question. And I wasn't pushing back on headlines that said withdrawal. I was simply trying to describe what happened without
hyperbole. So what I -- let me just back up.
KIRBY: What happened was the commander on the ground, in trying to manage time and space at the airport, determined that it was the prudent thing to
do to let several hundred troops leave the airport.
Some of these troops did come in with the troops that were added for the noncombatant evacuation, the 5,800. Some of them were troops that were
already there at Hamid Karzai International Airport before any additional troops flew in for the evacuation.
And as you know, David, we were still in the process, before there was a need to go in and do a non-combatant evacuation, we were still in the
process of a drawdown at the airport under the previous plan by the end of the month.
So some of the troops that flew home yesterday were in that tranche. So they were very much a part of the original drawdown plan. And Admiral
Vasely saw fit that there were some others that he believed that he didn't need there at the airport anymore, even though they flew in with the plus-
up for the NEO.
These are headquarter staff personnel, some maintainers and some other enabling forces who either had completed their mission and were already
scheduled to go, as I said, even before there was a non-combatant evacuation, and others who Admiral Vasely determined that their mission was
He didn't need them anymore and, again, time and space are a premium at the airport. He has the authority to make that decision. So I wasn't pushing
back on the fact that the withdrawal has been going on since April 14th when the president announced it. I wasn't pushing back.
I just wanted to make it clear that we hadn't pushed some button and said go retrograde now. We still have on the ground about 5,400 of the 5,800
that we reached at the maximum. And Admiral Vasely has the authorities to manage in a prudent way his force management on the ground.
I haven't gone to the phone and I want to make sure I don't forget that -- Jeff.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. From talking to military groups, it is evident that the Taliban are still blocking Afghans from gaining entrance
to Hamid Karzai International Airport. And even when Afghans make it on to the airport, there have been instances when they have been escorted off due
to paperwork issues.
So I would like to know what steps is the U.S. government taking to make sure that Afghans do have safe passage to the airport?
And under what circumstances are Afghans, with valid visas who are admitted to the airport, ultimately escorted off the airport grounds?
KIRBY: Jeff, it is difficult for us to answer that here at the Pentagon when we're not at the gates and on the ground at the airport. I would tell
you a couple of things.
I recognize that no process is perfect and that there are -- I'm not disputing the accounts at all that you are relaying here today, that there
may be hiccups and problems. We certainly recognize that.
But let me just take a couple steps back and tell you how this is working - - and we talked about this before. We have consular officers, now there's more than 30 at the airport, stationed at the gates with American troops,
who are helping them do their job of processing individuals as they come, checking credentials, making sure that they are who they say they are and
that they are in a valid group that we're trying to move on to the airport grounds.
Outside of that, the Taliban have set up checkpoints. We've talked about this before. And we are in daily communication with Taliban commanders
about who we want to see get in and what the credentials are, what they look like, what's valid. And that communication happens literally every
We have been nothing but open with the Taliban about who we expect them to let in. Again, fully recognize that it's -- that not every step of this
process is in our firm control and that there are going to be instances where it doesn't work as advertised.
But I can tell you that there isn't a single day that goes by, where Admiral Vasely and General Donahue aren't working this in a very personal
way with Taliban authorities outside the airport.
Let me go another one on the phone -- Tara.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, John.
Yesterday the president mentioned also that he was calling upon the department to create contingency plans.