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Erin Burnett Outfront
Biden Vows Revenge for 13 Troops Killed: "We Will Hunt You Down"; 13 U.S. Troops Killed; Biden to Terrorists: "We will Not Forgive. We will Not Forget. We will Hunt You Down and Make You Pay"; U.S. General Warns of "Imminent" Threats from ISIS-K; Attacks via Rocket, Vehicle, Suicide; CentCom: 13 U.S. Troops Killed, 18 Wounded in Kabul Attacks. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired August 26, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're staying on top of the news, the breaking news. Thanks for watching.
Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
And OUTFRONT tonight, we have the breaking news. "We will hunt you down." Those are the words of President Biden delivering a blunt message, a threat just moments ago after the two bombings of the Kabul Airport that left 13 American service members dead. And that number just a moment ago literally as I'm coming on to air went from 12 to 13.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Those who carried out this attack as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this, we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: ISIS-K is an ISIS affiliate and that is the group that has claimed responsibility for the attacks. And the President is vowing to hunt them down and retaliate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I've also ordered my commanders develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose in a moment of our choosing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: That was retaliation promise for the deadliest day for the U.S. military in Afghanistan in a decade. The 13 American service members are the first American troops to be killed in Afghanistan, in fact, in 18 months. Another 18 service members were wounded, and more than 60 Afghan citizens were also killed and 140 more injured. This is a mass attack. And the President tonight also paid tribute to those who lost their lives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: These American service members who gave their lives - it's an overused word, but it's totally appropriate - they were heroes. Heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.
They were part of an airlift, an evacuation effort unlike any seen in history. Jill and I, our hearts ache, like I'm sure all of you do as well, for all those Afghan families who have lost loved ones, including small children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Small children. And video show the horrifying scene just moments after the blast. I warn you, it's incredibly graphic. They're images that are extremely difficult to watch but important for the world to know to expose the inhumanity that happened in Afghanistan today.
Body after body strewn in a sewage canal at the airport. One eyewitness of the blast saying that 'people were hurled everywhere' and Marines dead, young innocent children also among the injured as you can see in these horrifying images. But despite this attack, this is the true devotion and dedication of American troops, evacuations of Americans and Afghan allies is still taking place at this hour from the airport.
Defense Secretary Austin vowing, "We will not be dissuaded from the task at hand, even as the top American General in the Middle East warns, "The threat from ISIS is extremely real and that more attacks are still expected." After the deadliest in a decade, at least.
Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT at the White House. Phil, President Biden coming out just moments ago, sending a strong message to those behind the carnage in Kabul today.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erin. The President did not hedge. He said he would not hesitate. His military commanders have been directed to give him options and the U.S. will strike those they determined to be responsible for the terror attack that killed 13 U.S. service members today.
It was something that underscored a steadfast position of the President in the midst of basically his worst fears coming true. The thing the President has made repeatedly clear over the course of the last several days, both publicly and privately was that his nightmare scenario was U.S. troops dying, U.S. troops not dying had been one of the things his administration had been pointing to as they proceeded with evacuating more than a hundred thousand individuals over the course of the last 11 days. That has now transpired. And Erin, as you noted, both military officials and White House
officials have been abundantly clear the threat still very much exists. In fact, one official telling me earlier today that they believe that it's almost a guarantee that there will be another attack at some point while U.S. personnel are still on the ground, which brings you to the other important point here and that is that the President has made clear the evacuation mission will continue.
He's not hesitating at all on the August 31st withdrawal, making clear they're sticking to that timeline.
However, just in the 12 hours over the course of today, even after the attack, more than 7,000 individuals were evacuated. The planes are still going in. They're still going out. That is expected to continue.
The White House says they still have the goal of getting every single American who wants to leave Afghanistan out of Afghanistan as well as many Afghan allies as they possibly can. One thing to keep in mind, the very compressed time window that the administration is dealing with right now and who that affects most.
And most likely when you talk to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, both Republican and Democrat, they believe it is those Afghans, the very real potential right now because of the compressed timetable that thousands could remain in the country despite their connections to the United States, which is another issue in several in such a dynamic and fluid situation the administration is trying to grapple with on by far the most tragic day of President Biden's time in office. Erin.
BURNETT: Certainly so. And of course, the President as everyone knows makes the point that saying even Afghans that didn't help the United States, millions of them if given the opportunity would get out of that country tomorrow as he tried to set the stakes for just how difficult it would be to actually get out even those who have everything in place and are able to get out.
Well, the U.S. flag was just lowered at the White House where Phil is to honor the lives lost in Afghanistan for this horrible day for the American military and the United States. Oren Liebermann is OUTFRONT.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The chaos outside Kabul Airport became a catastrophe Thursday afternoon when two bombings tore through the crowds, killing 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians. This graphic video laying bare the horror of the attacks. The victims thrown across the street.
This man able to sit up after the attack, unlike so many others. Afghans so desperate to flee the country now racing to get the wounded for medical help, even pushing some of the injured in makeshift wheelbarrows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEN. KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: The threat
from ISIS is extremely real. We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks and we expect those attacks to continue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): On Wednesday, the U.S. warned of threats to the airport. Telling Americans to stay away from three different gates; Abbey, east and north gates and only to approach the field when instructed. A suicide bomber pass through a Taliban controlled security checkpoints somehow and approached the Abbey gate where U.S. forces do another round of screening. It's a moment of vulnerability, U.S. service member face-to-face with an unscreened outsider.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCKENZIE: These gates where people actually come on the airfield, there's no substitute for a young man or woman, a young United States man or woman standing up there conducting a search of that person before we let them on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): These are the first U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan since February of last year, shortly before the signing of the agreement that began this withdrawal. The news of troops killed coming just five days about, a hundred hours before the August 31st deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Still, the evacuation operations continue including for the few hundred U.S. citizens the State Department believes are still in Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCKENZIE: The plan is designed to operate while under stress and under attack and we will continue to do that. We will coordinate very carefully to make sure that it's safe for American citizens to come to the airfield.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The Taliban say they will seek justice for the attack as coordination between U.S. forces and the Taliban continues. U.S. commanders on the ground have asked the Taliban to push out the security corridor around the airfield and shared some information to prevent attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCKENZIE: We believe it's possible that others have been thwarted. We cut down the information we give the Taliban. They don't get the full range of information we have, but we give them enough to act in time and space to try to prevent these attacks.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (END VIDEOTAPE)
LIEBERMANN(on camera): And we got a statement just a moment ago from Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday where he acknowledges that the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy lost service members in this attack. I'll read just a bit of this.
He says, "This is a solemn day for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team. Those warriors who died gave their lives to save thousands of men, women and children, Americans and Afghans alike. Their courage and selflessness represent the highest ideals of America. We pay solemn tribute to their sacrifice."
President Joe Biden said he instructed the Pentagon to draw plans to strike ISIS-K. He said those strikes would come at a time and choosing of the U.S. military and the U.S. administration.
BURNETT: Oren, thank you very much.
And I want to go OUTFRONT now to Suddaf Chaudry because she's there. She's an Investigative Journalist in Kabul this evening. Suddaf, I really am appreciative of you being able to speak tonight to all of us. What can you tell me about the security situation on the ground in Kabul, particularly around the airport?
SUDDAF CHAUDRY, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: The security situation, especially around the airport is volatile at the moment. There is just chaos. People are confused. There's emergency services. The reality is what I see is there is no control at all. It is a very moving situation and the parties involved just don't seem to have a handle on it.
BURNETT: I mean, it's pretty incredible to hear. I mean just no control at all when you have U.S. soldiers there at a checkpoint.
President Biden, the Pentagon, the State Department, as you know, Suddaf, they've all been saying for days that they expected some sort of an attack from ISIS-K at the airport. The U.K. also issued this warning and yet there were still so many people at the airport despite those warnings. Tell me why, why people went in spite of that.
CHAUDRY: The reality is the people that were stranded inside the airport before this development, they had no idea about this imminent threat. So they had been waiting in the hope that they would be receiving a safe passage out of here. They were thinking we are finally going to achieve some safety for our families abroad.
And most of the families that I've been covering for the portage here, they were simply unaware about this imminent threat. And for days, foreigners that are based in Kabul and across Afghanistan are warned please do not go to the airport. I mean, 24 hours in advance.
I was one of the first reporters that actually shared that there was an imminent ISIS-Khorasan attack at the airport. They had infiltrated the airport. So what is remarkable is considering the amount of time both parties had, they could have basically stopped this attack.
This is what the concern is that this was a concern over a week ago, I raised it at the official press conference as well with the Taliban. And the response that I was given was my crew and I should report from a safe distance from the airport, because there are rogue elements inside. They did not deny or confirm whether it was ISIS-Khorasan. And the sad reality is the development that I reported on has led to this tragedy today.
BURNETT: So where are we now when you say that their answer was we'll just stay away because they're there and (inaudible) shrugged, I guess. Is your feeling, Suddaf, that another terror attack is imminent, inevitable?
CHAUDRY: I'm not sure if another terror attack is imminent, because obviously at this point the Taliban are still developing a centralized government and they are trying to present an image to the international community that they can bring Afghanistan towards some stability. So I don't think they would allow it to just be completely - falter into some kind of like anarchy state.
I think the reality is now that ISIS-Khorasan is a very real concern and they are most likely addressing it. And I have spoken to the parties in the Taliban spokesperson office and they say that they are dealing with the matter at hand. We don't know in what capacity, what strategy is being employed, what mechanism in terms of men on the ground, if they are talking to their U.S. counterparts, obviously, as a developing situation, we will probably most likely receive details about how they dealt with the situation this evening, tomorrow.
But I cannot imagine that the Taliban would let ISIS-Khorasan take more control, because they are archrivals as you know.
BURNETT: Right. And it's important, of course, to emphasize that. Suddaf, I appreciate your time and I thank you very much, all of us do, still reporting there so fearlessly from Kabul.
I want to go now to Leon Panetta, who was, of course, the Defense Secretary and also served as CIA Director under President Obama. Secretary Panetta, of course, I remember traveling to Afghanistan with you years ago. President Biden and his top aides have repeatedly said that any pullout under any administration would have led to the workplace we are now, the chaos that we are seeing. Do you think the deadly attacks today truly were inevitable?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE UNDER OBAMA: Well, there's no question that what happened here left us in a very dangerous and difficult situation. Gen. McKenzie pointed that out today. We've got thousands of our troops located in a very limited area and in an unfriendly country. We've got thousands outside, trying to get into the airport area. We've got the Taliban, who are terrorists, and certainly supporters of terrorists, they're operating checking points for terrorism and we've got ISIS looking for the opportunity to blow people up.
This is a dangerous and difficult situation and there's no question that it's probably Joe Biden's worst nightmare to lose 13 Marines as a result of what's happened here. This has got to be the worst day in his administration.
BURNETT: So he is sticking with the August 31st deadline. I mean, he's made it clear that even after that they'll do whatever they can, but he's sticking with it. He is not extending it and that it is what it is, is what he says. So do you agree with that? Is it right to stick with this August 31st date?
PANETTA: Well, Erin, bottom line is that our work is not done in Afghanistan. I know we'll be removing our troops by a certain date, but the bottom line is our work is not done. We're going to have to go after ISIS. I'm glad the President said that we're going to hunt them down and make them pay a price for what they did in killing our warriors and we should. We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS.
We're probably going to go have to go back in when al-Qaeda resurrects itself as they will with this Taliban. They've gave safe haven to al- Qaeda before. They'll probably do it again. So, yes, I understand that we're trying to get our troops out of there, but the bottom line is we can leave a battlefield but we can't leave the war on terrorism which still is a threat to our security.
BURNETT: So does that, I mean, the President today vowed, as you say, to hunt down those behind the attack at the time and place of America's choosing, he said all those words. But basically it sounds like what you're saying is that's going to require putting more people back in Afghanistan, which is the opposite of what he wants to do.
PANETTA: Well, what we're going to be doing is counterterrorism operations. We're going to have to go after those that are responsible. I think we have pretty good intelligence on the leadership of ISIS. I think there's a pretty good chance we can identify who is involved with this attack.
And once we are able to locate them, we have to go after them. That's what the President promised today and I suspect we will. So counterterrorism operations are going to be something we are going to have to continue to do against ISIS, against al-Qaeda, against al- Shabaab, against Boko Haram. Those are terrorist groups that are more with the United States. We've got to go after them.
BURNETT: I want to ask you about something that you know so much about in your former role as CIA Chief and also Defense Secretary and that is a Bagram Air Base. The U.S. military closed it earlier this summer and there's been a lot of criticism for President Biden about that, that oh, you could have kept that open, we could have gotten everybody out more quickly, more capacity. Today President Biden though defended his decision. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I ask for their best military judgment: what would be the most efficient way to accomplish the mission. They concluded, the military, that Bagram was not much value added,
that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul. And so, I followed that recommendation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So as former Secretary of Defense and obviously Director of the CIA, do you agree that there's not much value added from Bagram and this was the right thing to do?
PANETTA: I take the (inaudible) ...
BURNETT: All right. I'm sorry, it sounds like we have lost the Secretary's audio. I appreciate his time very much. I apologize to all of you for that.
But our breaking news continues now, because there is a new warning, new threats from ISIS-K attacks 'now imminent' yet again.
Plus, attacks from the right that President Biden has blood on his hands. I'm going to speak to Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger who served in Afghanistan.
And trapped, Americans still stuck near Kabul right now, including 14 students from California. So what are their chances of getting out now?
BURNETT: Breaking news at this hour, U.S. officials warning of more imminent threats from ISIS-K in Afghanistan. The group claiming responsibility tonight for the deadly blast at Kabul Airport, the one in which we can now confirm 13 American service members were killed and additional 18 more injured.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCKENZIE: Let's talk a little bit about the threat streams. So very, very real threat streams, very, very, what we would call, tactical. That means imminent. It could occur at any moment. We assess the threat of a suicide born vehicle threat is high right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT. So, Nick, given what we just saw and the most deadly day for American troops in a decade from this attack and now they say that they expect more. What do we know about this group ISIS-K and how big of a threat they are in terms of their ability to execute major attacks?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, since we first broadcast pictures of them, I think it's about 2016 in Afghanistan, they have sort of grown essentially by harnessing what seems to be the youth who are disgruntled perhaps with the Taliban. They're a very long lasting insurgency. Now a lot of their sort of elders, a lot of the government structures they have don't appeal so much as sort of a younger, more radical extremists.
They seem to have harnessed some of them for a period of time out in the east. They actually held territory that was pushed back by the Afghan army in about 2018. One of the largest bombs ever dropped non- nuclear by the U.S. military was on an ISIS network of caves. But since the attacks on those areas, they seem to have concentrated less on geography and more just on the sickness of what they can do in terms of the ghastly attacks they carry out.
I've reported on attacks they've done against the sheer ethnic minority here, these Hazaras, where they've attacked processions of people, utterly gruesome scenes where they simply have gone straight in to the most densely populated areas they can find, quite similar to today's tactic sadly.
A lot of the times ISIS seem to be blamed for things, ISIS-K, that's ISIS-Khorasan, which is sort of an ancient term for Pakistan and Afghanistan. A lot of the things they're blamed for, some analysts suggest may actually be other rogue groups like the Taliban or even al-Qaeda doing things and then blaming ISIS as kind of the crazy radicals out there.
But at the same time too, the attack today was redolent of their sort of complex tactics. They go into a very densely populated area. They detonate one blast that CENTCOM Commander, Gen. McKenzie talked about gunfire after that as well and a secondary blast. You have one more thing that's interesting, just to think about the kind of ingenuity we're dealing with here, Erin.
It appears that this attacker was able to kill a horrifying number of U.S. personnel and that must mean the bomb was detonated in a relatively small space. Now I've been there at Abbey Gate, it's unlikely I think that the Marines would necessarily have come out, given what we know that they're selecting individually people to come over that gate over the last day or so.
So it does suggest possibly, this individual may actually have been picked out and brought into what we know as the search lane there, a much more densely crowded area where possibly a device could have gone off to a greater devastating effect. I'm speculating here. But that is, of course, part of the puzzle they're trying to piece together.
Now, how exactly did this extremely ruthless suicide bomber get to that particular point to cause this sort of devastation given how well defended that point so much the airport already was. Erin?
BURNETT: It is incredible. And, of course, all we know is that it had gone through a Taliban checkpoint where they're securing the perimeter before getting to that Abbey Gate as you point out. Nick, thank you very much.
In Doha where, of course, so many of evacuees are leaving on their first stop out of Kabul. OUTFRONT now, Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan and terrorism for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And also Juliette Kayyem, the former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Both, thank you.
Seth, let me begin with you, though. The Pentagon today in that press conference, you heard from the general describing ISIS-K as a very real threat, his words, that is ongoing, talking about imminent attacks. You heard the specificity here, talking about some sort of, again, vehicle born bomb.
How concerned are you about America's ability to respond to those threats? I mean, we knew that they were going to plan an imminent attack at the airport, because the U.S. military said so repeatedly and yet they managed to do it to devastating effect.
SETH JONES, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Yes. I think the problem here, Erin, is the United States does not control the checkpoints, does not control the roadways into the airport. I mean, I've been to that airport numerous times. The U.S. has to rely on the Taliban to do the counterintelligence and the counterterrorism checks leading up to the airport. So the U.S. is incredibly vulnerable to someone else securing the perimeter. That's the challenge the U.S. finds itself in right now.
BURNETT: So Juliette, ISIS-K was able to pull off two major attacks, right?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right.
BURNETT: An incredibly public place, a main gate under high alert, expecting an attack and yet they were able to do it. And as, I think, Nick's detail there was very crucial, right?
BURNETT: It suggests getting into a kind of an inner sanctum there where you had so many American service people around, that you were able to kill so many of them at once, what does that tell you?
KAYYEM: It's a lot of bad things and I'll start first with ISIS-K that they are well-organized, they were able to get the detonation in the way that Nick described, in the size and capacity that it is, you get to suicide bombers likely to organize, synchronize at a facility that is heavily guarded.
I mean, we're not talking about the hinterland of Afghanistan. We are talking about the city where all eyes are. So it means that our intelligence capacity, we knew something was going on and certainly the Talibans and that's the second point. Here is a group, the Taliban, who have overtaken or reclaim their country in basically without a firefight right over the last three weeks and cannot stop a terrorist group and I think that suggests that their capabilities are not as strong as they might have imagined and we are looking at a long-term fight between the two, which may lead I'll just end here, may lead the Taliban to return or grow greater ties al-Qaeda, which was something that we would definitely want to deter at this stage. BURNETT: Right. And, of course, as President Biden made the point
BURNETT: America went into Afghanistan because it harbored al-Qaeda. And once America dealt with that, as far as he was concerned, that was the end of that mission. But if that is the upshot of this is that happens again, then you ask for what was this for.
I mean, Seth, ISIS-K deadly attacks, I mean, what we saw today was horrific, American service members dead, the deadliest day in a decade and there are many more American service members very seriously injured right now in critical condition. And you have many, many Afghans' children killed and yet we've seen this. There was a school for girls that they attacked in Kabul in May and they killed many of them, at least 68 people were killed in that attack.
They wounded more than 165 and most of them were girls. I mean, how ruthless is this group, Seth?
SETH JONES, FORMER ADVISER TO COMMANDING GENERAL OF U.S. SPECIAL OPS IN AFGHANISTAN: This group is very ruthless. I mean, one of the things that ISIS-K has done over the years, they really started in September of 2014, and began to ramp up in 2015, Erin. But what we've seen even over the last two or three years is high profile attacks, in Kabul in particular, other Afghan cities, as well as in Pakistan.
But they've killed 50, 80 in one case. They had an attack in July of 2018 at the Kabul airport. This is not even their first attack at Kabul. But they are fully capable of suicide attacks with individual bombers, with truck and vehicle borne improvised explosive devices and you better believe they'll do it again.
BURNETT: So, Juliette, President Biden was asked about the point you raised, the United States' dependence on the Taliban, right?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yeah.
BURNETT: That is who supposedly screened whoever it is got through. You know, the ISIS-K member, they have put a name out. We've been unable to confirm that that is indeed the individual, but actually detonated the bomb.
Here is what President Biden said tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no evidence thus far that I've been given, as a consequence by any of our commanders in the field, that there has been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Now, obviously, the Taliban and ISIS-K are sworn enemies. Yet the enemy of my enemy can be my friend. There's no evidence of collusion. He didn't dismiss the concept all together. How significant is that?
KAYYEM: I think right now we should believe what the evidence is suggesting. If you just take a step back and look at the motivation for the Taliban now. They need to assert control over the country. They are looking at internal threats. They're not even unified at this stage.
So, they need to assert control. This looks like they don't have control of the airport.
So, at least if you look at the motivations, more evidence will come out. It suggests that this was a terror attack by ISIS aimed at both Afghans and, of course, American military. Remember, a lot of Afghans died today as well.
This does mean, as Biden said, that we may be leaving Afghanistan, we aren't quitting Afghanistan. The terror struggle and the counterterrorism effort continues, and what that looks like is to be determined.
BURNETT: Juliette, Seth, thank you both.
BURNETT: And next, more on this breaking news. President Biden tonight pointing to the role of his predecessor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: The commitment was made by President Trump, I will be out by May 1st. That's why no American was attacked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who served in Afghanistan, is my guest next.
And then 1,000 Americans still in Afghanistan tonight, including 14 students from California. So, will they get out?
BURNETT: Breaking news. The White House saying President Biden never considered keeping American forces in Afghanistan past the August 31st deadline, despite today's deadly attack in which 13 American service members were killed and 18 more are right now wounded.
The president again pinning the blame on former President Trump, who had negotiated with the Taliban and originally set a deadline for full withdrawal of May 1st.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Imagine where we'd be if I had indicated on May the 1st I was not going to renegotiate an evacuation date. We were going to stay there. I would have had only one alternative, pour thousands of more troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OUTFRONT now, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He is also, of course, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and he served as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan. He knows this better than anyone.
Congressman, I really appreciate your time tonight.
So, you know, I know first, as a human, but in your case as a veteran who was there, who served in Afghanistan, when you heard today that that imminent attack happened, and those numbers, first it's three, then it's four, then it's 10, then it's 11, then it's 12. And just before we came on the air, 13 service members dead, 18 more wounded, some of them critically.
What was your reaction to that?
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Well, I mean, it's heartbreaking, it's surreal. You know, we haven't lost anybody in Afghanistan since February of 2020.
I wasn't surprised, sadly. We had gotten a briefing a couple days ago in Congress that had very crystal clear actually intelligence and details about what was to be expected. So I wasn't overly surprised.
But it's a tragic day, and I can't imagine obviously the families of those lost, particularly since we're getting ready to leave Afghanistan.
But it's a reminder I think that, you know, as much as people talk about ending the endless wars, the enemy gets a vote. And they made that vote clear today, because they knew we were leaving, and still attacked and inflicted damage and killed Americans.
BURNETT: So, President Biden today got into an exchange with a reporter and made the case that -- you know, obviously, today is the deadliest day in a decade, at least, for American service members in Afghanistan. He said the reason no American service member has died since February of 2020, because in the deal that President Trump struck with the Taliban, it was, if you don't kill us, we'll leave by May 1st. He said that's why no American service members had died. It was because of that negotiation between Trump and the Taliban.
And he continued to say that if here to have come in office and said, forget it, I'm going the trash that deal and stay in, that that was not the scenario that would have happened -- that what would have happened was in order to throw out that deal, he would have had to put a whole lot more American service members in, thousands more troops, he says, back into Afghanistan to fight a war.
Do you think he's right? Is that fair?
KINZINGER: I mean, he's right in that he would have had to put more troops in, because keep in mind, President Trump went from 5,000 troops to 2,500 at the very end of last year.
And there were a lot of people realizing I think that he did that so that he could kind of box Joe Biden in. Joe Biden would have to increase the troop level or withdraw everybody. And keep in mind, we've had upwards of over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan for a significant part of our history.
But, look, both people bear blame here. I know in such a tribal moment we live in, we can't fathom that both Republicans and Democrats can bear blame because each side busy pointing at the other.
But Donald Trump set up a deal, you know, that would make Neville Chamberlain blushed, as he's out there saying, you know, this war is not worth it, we're going to leave, my goal is to leave, it's an endless war, then he empowers Pompeo to negotiate a deal in that context. Pompeo negotiated a bad deal.
They weren't following the deal, the Taliban. They weren't ceasing attacks. They still went forward as if this deal was working. And then after he got out of office, he even as recently as a month ago said I boxed Joe Biden in.
At the same time, Joe Biden, who has reversed a lot of Donald Trump's stuff, including Nord Stream II sanctions, and things alone that line, made the decision to leave. He owns this decision as much as Donald Trump and the execution.
I just think both Republicans and Democrats have failed the American people.
BURNETT: So, Congressman, one thing that Biden said tonight in that press conference, he seemed to say directly for the first time, was that he cannot guarantee that every one of the United States Afghan allies will be able to get out. And he was very specific about that.
I wanted to play the exchange so that everybody who didn't hear it can.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: What do you say to the Afghans who helped troops, who may not be able to get out by August 31st? What do you say to them?
BIDEN: I say we're going to try to get you out. It matters. Getting every single person out is -- can't be guaranteed by anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He went and said, you know, throughout history, at the end of a war, nobody has ever gotten everybody out.
Do you accept that as the reality here?
KINZINGER: No. I mean, look -- there's no doubt when we chose the easy decision, quote/unquote, to leave, you know, following this endless war stuff, it actually confronts us with really bad decisions.
The decision now, is we either fall through on arbitrary August 31st deadline, that only exists because it was September 11. Then the White House realized the optics of that, or we leave, you know, or we have to stay past that to get everybody out.
Look, you're not going to get everybody out that wants to leave Afghanistan. But we certainly owe it to those that we promised out, and to every American citizen. I think we need to stay until that job is done.
BLITZER: All right. Congressman Kinzinger, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
KINZINGER: You bet. Thank you.
BLITZER: And now, I want to bring in Tim Naftali. He's a presidential historian, also the former director of the Nixon presidential library.
So, Tim, Joe Biden has been a long-time critic of maintaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan, made his position clear again and again, including tonight. Here he is moments ago at his press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan, a country that has never once in its entire history, been a united country, and is made up -- and I don't mean this in a derogatory way -- but made up of tribes who have never, ever, gotten along with one another.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: You know, it's interesting, Tim, there is that he laid out the intellectual underpinning for what he's doing and for what he's tolerating and for what is happening. This sort of, that's how he perceives his legacy, is saying America is not just going to go into every single place and turn it into something that it isn't. In his view, that's what this situation in Afghanistan had become.
Is that -- does he have a chance of that being the legacy here?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, he understands -- Joe Biden has a very intuitive sense of the American people. He understands that there's a great deal of American support from Republicans, as well as Democrats, for reducing America's involvement in the world.
And one of the things he's banking on is that a short period of chaos will be accepted by the American people as a down payment on the -- on a future American position, a more sustainable American position in the world.
The problem for the president is this is not Vietnam. This is not Vietnam in 1975.
The successor of government in Afghanistan could potentially pose a threat to us. North Vietnam did not pose a threat to the U.S. homeland. But the Taliban were the ones who created the safe haven for al Qaeda.
Now, the Taliban is arguing they're a different group of people. The president himself said today that he doesn't trust the Taliban.
The question we have to ask is, is the president correct that it is a better counterterrorism strategy to take our finger off the scale in Afghanistan and to use over the horizon capabilities, I suppose he means hell fire missiles, to deal with future terrorism from that part of the world, or was it better for us to meddle a little in the politics of Afghanistan, because that place is so unstable, that there are many terrorist organizations to disrupt and it's harder to disrupt if we're outside of the country.
That's to be seen, and that's going to be the legacy.
BURNETT: All right, Tim -- thank you very much, Tim Naftali.
And evacuating all Americans from Afghanistan who want to leave, the president says that's the goal, even though admitting it may be an impossible one to meet. Right now, more than a dozen American students are stranded in Afghanistan with their families. The frantic effort to get them out safely, next.
BURNETT: Breaking news, Joe Biden assuring the Americans stuck in Afghanistan that the United States will get them out if they want to come home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We will complete our mission, and we will continue after our troops are withdrawn to find means by which we can find any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan. We will find them and we will get them out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: A top general says roughly 1,000 Americans are still believed to be in Afghanistan. Among them, 14 students and 8 parents from a San Diego area community, with a large population of Afghan refugees. They traveled to Afghanistan earlier this summer to visit relatives, but have been unable to reach Kabul to leave since the Taliban took control of the country. OUTFRONT now, Tamara Otero. She is the board president of the Cajon
Valley Union School District where those students go to school.
Tamara, I appreciate your time tonight. I know these students and families have been desperate to get out, and obviously that was before these two horrific suicide attacks that killed so many American service members and Afghans at the Kabul airport.
What is the latest on their attempts to get out of the country?
TAMARA OTERO, PRESIDENT, CAJON VALLEY UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNING BOARD: Well, we're in constant communication with them. Our liaisons who work for our family and community engagement office have made connections with all of those families. Initially, those students connected them -- with them, and they asked them to hold their spots in their classrooms because they didn't think they would be home on time.
But, thankfully, those lines of communication are open, and so we have been able to keep that communication going. We're extremely grateful for Congressman Darrell Issa's office and his support in helping us get families out.
BURNETT: So, what do you understand now in terms of what have U.S. officials told them about getting to the Kabul airport safely? Obviously, it's got to be terrifying. It was terrifying before, but now they're saying more imminent attacks and there was an attack at the key Abbey Gate at the airport today.
OTERO: Yes, absolutely. I'm sure they're absolutely terrified. I can't reveal or know what the process is to get them out. That's a very confidential process, and of course, their safety is our number one priority right now.
BURNETT: So I know the families didn't all travel there together. And we know that five families are still stuck there. The latest as I understand, Tamara, that three families have made it safely, which is great news.
How were they able to get out?
OTERO: Yes, through the help of Congressman Issa, we were able to -- they were able to get three families out. We know one family has returned to the United States, and two, we believe, are en route. So -- but we know those three families are out of Afghanistan right now. With the help of Congressman Issa, we were able to get them out.
We, again, are -- it's a fluid situation, so it's constant updates and communication.
BURNETT: All right. Tamara, thank you very much. I appreciate your help.
President Biden asked what his message was to the thousands of Afghan allies who helped the United States, and now may not actually be able to leave the country. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We're going to continue to try to get you out. It matters. Getting every single person out is -- can't be guaranteed to anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: My next guest is one of the lucky ones. And he's using the pseudonym Abdul to protect his and his family's security. We first told you about Abdul last week. He worked for five years as an interpreter for U.S. Special Forces. He was desperate to get out, fearing the Taliban would kill him and his family if he stayed in Afghanistan. And thankfully, Abdul and his family have just gotten out of Afghanistan and are now safely in the United States where he joins me now.
So, Abdul, many Afghans getting out have faced immense difficulty just getting to the airport. And that was before these deadly attacks in which so many died. Tell me about how dangerous it was for you just to get to the airport and out of the country.
"ABDUL", FORMER AFGHAN INTERPRETER TO U.S. MILITARY, JUST EVACUATED FROM AFGHANISTAN: Hello, thanks for having me on your program. It is really tough, it is really hard for everybody to get into the airport. So I went to the airport, my wife was beaten by the Taliban. My kids were beaten by the Taliban. I myself, I was beaten by the Taliban.
So we had a tough night. We had to spend a tough night at the north gate of the airport. So two of my sons, they got sick, you know, on that night. So yeah, tomorrow morning, I took them to a doctor for checkups and we went back home. So it was impossible to get into the airport.
BURNETT: So, Abdul, when you hear about these attacks, more than 60 Afghans died. 13 American troops, 140 injured. I mean, I know there's a part of you that has to be thinking that could have been me.
"ABDUL": Yeah. I heard that. I was excited, like, I'm out of Afghanistan. I'm safe now. But when I heard that, that lots of people are killed at the airport, I feel bad. You know. I feel upset (ph).
BURNETT: So the pictures that we have seen after that deadly attack are horrific, Abdul. They're just horrific. We heard about bodies being thrown in sewers. We have seen it.
What I'm going to show everyone is extremely difficult to watch, but this is -- this is what ISIS-K is doing. This is the inhumanity of what they had no problem perpetrating today.
I know that you can't see it from where you're sitting right now, but it shows bodies strewn in a ditch, others visibly injured, calling for help, some obviously dead.
How worried are you for your family and your friends who are still in Afghanistan, Abdul?
"ABDUL": Physically, I'm sad. Physically, I'm in the United States, but mentally, I'm back with my Afghan brothers and sisters. I feel really bad for the U.S. service members who got killed. I'm really sorry for the loss, you know.
But I said physically, I'm saved, but mentally, I'm with all of those people who are left behind. You know, we got lots of people that are left behind.
BURNETT: So what happens to you now, Abdul? You're in the United States, but now what?
Looks like we lost the audio on that question. But that was Abdul, as I told you, a pseudonym because he still fears for his safety after, thank God, being able to leave Afghanistan with his wife and children.
I want to bring in Kim Motley, an international human rights attorney. She's spent more than a dozen years inside Afghanistan working with people. She helped shed light on Abdul's story and the story of many other Afghans who are -- have the right to leave their country and come to the United States, as has been promised them. Kim, the administration has been blunt now, that many of the Afghan allies of the United States will be left behind when U.S. troops formally leave next week.
Is that feeling starting to sink in there? Especially given how dangerous it is in Afghanistan now?
BURNETT: Sorry, Kim. I'm having a little trouble hearing you. I'm having a little bit of trouble hearing Kim right now. While we're working on that audio, I do just want to reiterate, Kim worked with Abdul and it's how Abdul, we found out about him as he had been a translator assisting U.S. special forces who had been in Afghanistan and she's working with others now who are desperately trying to get out of the country.
So, Kim, let's try again, see if I can hear this audio. Tell me about how many more people you have been speaking to that you are trying to help that, of course, you have gotten to know over your more than dozen years working with Afghans.
KIMBERLEY MOTLEY, INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I mean, my messages are full, like many of my friends who worked in Afghanistan for a number of years. I have probably gotten thousands of emails, messages, you know, voice mails and what-have-you. And it's really disheartening.
It's disheartening that we're going to leave American citizens behind. It's disheartening we're going to leave our allies behind, and ultimately, the U.S. is going to be a lot less safe because this White House was irresponsible in their withdrawal.
I think they have been disingenuous with saying this is how the withdrawal would have looked like no matter what. That is absolutely -- I don't think that's accurate. And I think it's really a shame. There's Americans that are showing up to the airport every single day with a blue passport that have to show this to Taliban members that are outside the airport to try to get in. And many of them are continually being turned away.
Imagine what that feels like. You're an American citizen with a blue passport trying to get through the gates of the airport. Before you get there, you have to show your passport to Taliban members who then look at it and tell you no. You're not getting on any flights.
BURNETT: And they control it, and Abdul was also talking about just the assault, the physical assault. He was beaten, his wife was beaten, his children were beaten. I would imagine you have heard of that and so much worse.
MOTLEY: I mean, absolutely. Particularly with women, it's been really horrific. I mean, I wish that this administration had thought of allowing or providing for a safe passage for people to get to the airport, particularly those that are allies, women, as well as those foreigners who have been working in the country, like I have, for many, many years.
I think it's really frankly irresponsible that our White House didn't tell our U.S. funded program that they were going to do this. And many, many -- thousands.
BURNETT: All right. Kim Motley, thank you very much. I appreciate your time and your talking to me again.
Thanks very much to all of you for joining us with all of this breaking news. It's time now for "AC360."