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Thousands of American, Afghans in Limbo; Pentagon: 2,000 Plus Evacuated in Past 24 Hours, 7,000 Since Saturday; Biden: U.S. will Evacuate Afghans who "We can get out"; Bomb Threat Being Investigated near U.S. Capitol; Biden Deflects Blame for Afghanistan Mess. Aired 12-12.30p ET

Aired August 19, 2021 - 12:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello everybody and welcome to "Inside Politics". I'm John King in Washington. We begin this hour with mounting frustration in Afghanistan. Evacuations are at a triple the number of people who have gotten out 7000 total since the start of airlift on Saturday. There are thousands more both Americans and Afghans who right now remain stuck in limbo.

President Joe Biden in a new interview committing American troops to leave no American behind even the president says if it takes longer than his August 31st deadline. Since the Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday, 12 people have been killed that according to the Reuters News Agency.

Taliban fighters toting machine guns and a soundtrack of gunfire are fueling this unease and anxiety among Afghans. Look here CNN Photographer capturing these images, huddled masses outside Kabul Airport's East Gate. Rows and rows of men, women and children clustered together waiting on a way out that for some may never materialize.

This is remarkable American soldiers pulling a woman over the airport perimeter. And so is this some passing their children through the crowds, passing their children through the crowds willing to separate their families, if it guarantees a way out.

We're following the latest developments, urgent developments from the State Department and the Pentagon and let's begin with CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara a briefing not long ago, you had a very important question for Admiral Kirby, about a change in what's happening above Afghanistan.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, lots of - lots of changes in the works. Important, I think to tell people, the Pentagon is basically now doing two briefing today to the news media, putting their case forward. Today they said that in the last just 24 hours about 2000 people were evacuated. Actually, that is very far from being great news, because the goal is not 2000.

The goal is to try and hope to fill 7 to 9 or 9000 seats a day. That's the capacity they want to get going not even - not even close to that as you say a trickle. Kirby - John Kirby the Pentagon Press Secretary then talked about FA teams armed FA teams flying over Kabul with a lot of military jargon, close air support over watch, pressed him on what exactly he means by all this.


STARR (on camera): You say close air support. But to be clear, what you are saying is you are prepared now to conduct their strikes over Kabul.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Barbara, I'm not going to talk about potential future operations. So I do think it's important to level set here that even throughout the drawdown, we had over watch capabilities. Throughout the drawdown, we had over watch capabilities.


STARR: But right now armed FA teams over Kabul there is concern that there could be a threat at the airport, they say they want to be able to respond on a moment's notice to defend U.S. troops and concern also about ISIS and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan right now John.

KING: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon Barbara, thank you for the latest there. Among the big challenges on the ground right now getting people safely to the Kabul Airport last hour, the Pentagon says progress is a struggle. Let's get to the State Department now with CNN's Kylie Atwood. Kylie, it is the State Department's job to organize the list of who gets out. Question is how's it going?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, the question is, how can those folks get to the airport, right? I mean, they've got that list. They're trying to organize that list. That is a work in progress.

But getting people to the airport is a fundamental problem here, as you guys have said, about 7000 people in total, that the U.S. has evacuated since this efforts began a few days ago, that isn't a high enough number, if they're trying to get upwards of you know, 100,000 people out of the airport.

Now two things that the Pentagon Press Secretary said they are looking to, that they hope can increase those numbers. First of all, they're opening up one gate at the Kabul Airport that the U.S. military is going to be in charge of the second thing that they're doing is rushing U.S. Consular Officers to the airport.

Essentially, those are folks who can process these Afghans their paperwork and try and get them on the flights. But the Afghans who aren't getting out of the country who worked alongside the U.S. troops and diplomats are feeling incredibly demoralized right now. Listen to what one of these interpreters told CNN in recent days.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are the American soldiers for forgetting about us after everything we did the sacrifices we made? Why are you leaving us behind? I don't want to be killed by the Taliban. They're going to get our heads up if they find my location. Please help.



ATWOOD: Honestly John, it is really hard to hear those stories but there is no firm commitment as of right now from President Biden that he's going to get out all of these Afghans before the U.S. military ends their operation that's supposed to end as of now, at the end of this month at the airport in Kabul John.

KING: Kylie Atwood, very important update from the State Department thank you. Let's bring it to the conversation now Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee Senator grateful for your time on this important day.

Let me just start with what we heard from John Kirby at the Pentagon, FA teams flying in the skies over Afghanistan. Is that a change in mission? Is there something afoot? Or is that normal?

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): I don't know if it's normal, but clearly, they want to be prepared for any anything that might happen that would require our planes. You know, as General Milley and Secretary Austin said yesterday that this is a very fluid situation, they have to do everything they can to secure their airport in Kabul, but we see the chaos.

And we need to be operating with a sense of urgency to get as many of course get, as the president says, U.S. citizens out of Afghanistan, as well as our Afghan partners and their families with a sense of urgency.

So the kind of paperwork that the State Department is still requiring, I hope that they can expedite that process ASAP, because we need to get a lot more people out of Afghanistan.

KING: You just used the term chaos. The president not that long ago said this would be an orderly transition. And he said it was not at all inevitable that the Taliban would take power. In an interview yesterday he said chaos was inevitable. And the question was more of when not if the Taliban take power.

You said at a hearing back in May, in May a matter of when not if and I think that the rights and protection for women and girls in Afghanistan will go down the drain. You said back in May you predicted this would happen.

I know you're concerned not only about the Afghan translators, but about women and children, especially those who might believe they have some right that we have some responsibility to get them out. What is the strategy right now? If the - right now the United States strategy is tell me if you think I'm wrong is we have secured the Kabul airport and we are trusting the Taliban to allow stay safe passage. Is that realistic?

HIRONO: I don't know that is realistic, because knowing how the Taliban have acted before, hence, the airpower that we're - that we've sent there. But it is very clear that this is a chaotic situation, because see - what we see with our own eyes. I don't think it needed to be this way.

And yes, General Milley said that the Intel did not protect that Kabul will fall in a matter of days. But nonetheless, these are the kind we are faced with what we have now when we - I think we could have predicted it. But as we say, or as people are saying and I say also that we can do the post mortems as to why this happened and all of that.

But right now we are being totally focused on getting the U.S. citizens and our Afghan partners and their families out as soon as possible. I also yes, have a concern about the activists, women, jurists and others to get out of Afghanistan.

And I wrote a letter along with others some of my other colleagues, to the president to the appropriate people that we should set up a parole - special parole program, just for the women activists and others in Afghanistan. So there are a lot of moving.

KING: Forgive me for jumping in. We have a little bit of a connection issue here. But let's I want to continue on this very point. But I first want to listen to the president's perspective in this interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News about the scope of the challenge. Listen.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every American who wants to be out?


STEPHANOPOULOS: How about our Afghan allies? We have about 80,000?

BIDEN: Well, that's not -

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that too high?

BIDEN: It's too high.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the commitment hold for them as well?

BIDEN: The commitment holds to get everyone out that in fact, we can get out and everyone should come out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Senator, the president put the number closer to 65,000 when George said maybe it was 80,000. But there are 60,000 Afghans that the president believes we owe the right to get out. And there were thousands more of Americans to get the right. Number one, how long past August 31 are you willing to support keeping us troops there?

And number two, is it at all feasible given the size of the country, given that many of these women in math, maybe some of the Americans and many of the Afghan translators are spread out in this giant country? Is the current plan feasible, secure the Kabul airport and trust the Taliban?

HIRONO: I think that if the president is saying that we need to get all of the U.S. citizens who are I would say dispersed. And other parts of Afghanistan that he's going to do that then I would say it's probably going to take longer than August 31st.


HIRONO: So that's the commitment that he has. And he should act on that map, which means probably extending beyond 31st. As for our Afghan partners, our allies, we also need to have a strategy as to how we're going to help them get out of Afghanistan?

So the whole situation, I would say, is to say that it is fluid is really understating the situation. It's very chaotic. I'd like to hear more from the Pentagon and from the Secretary of State as to what our plans are.

KING: I want to ask you quickly about one thing we are hearing from the President of the United States, the Commander in Chief and from General Milley, America's top General, as they try to explain, you say chaotic, why this went wrong? Why this is a mess, listen?


BIDEN: Trained and equipped an Afghan military force with some 300,000, strong, incredibly well equipped.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army in this government in 11 days.


KING: You say post mortems will come in time. After 9/11 the question was why did we not connect the dots about the intelligence clues? After a rocket was why the intelligence was so wrong about weapons of mass destruction? In this case, isn't it just officials, including there the president, and a top general in this country, saying things they know are not true?

Do you believe there was a 300,000 strong Afghan army ready to fight anybody in this town who's paid any attention to these issues, simply knows that that is a myth and it is a lie? HIRONO: Clearly all of the Afghan troops that we have been training for 20 years were not up to standing up and fighting for, or, you know, I want to say their country. But I had also heard reports that these troops did not consider the government in Kabul as representing them.

And so they did not wish to fight for, you know, the central government, which has never been particularly effective and very corrupt.

KING: But there also were never there - I don't want to dwell on the points here. But there were never 300,000 there are ghost payrolls. There's a lot of corruption and fraud. And the United States, the documents have detailed that for years, and yet the President of the United States is still using the number.

HIRONO: And this is why there will be post mortems in both the Armed Services Committee as well as the Foreign Relations Committee and probably the Intelligence Committees in the Senate as to exactly what are we talking about?

And that's why as we go forward, first of all, we should be totally concentrating on getting as many people out as possible, and certainly, as the president says, you assess, but at the same time, we should be very mindful that before we even get into a conflict of this nature, that we're very clear as to what the mission should be, and that we should be very concerned about mission creep, which is what happened in Afghanistan.

KING: Senator Hirono, grateful for your time and let's keep in touch as you do have those post mortems and the continuing conversations between the administration and the Congress something - grateful for your time today. Thank you.

HIRONO: Thank you.

KING: When we come back, we're following some breaking news here in the United States Capitol. Police now investigating reports of a possible explosive device in a vehicle we are live on the scene.

And later, President Biden in his own words, he promised an orderly exit from Afghanistan, said a Taliban takeover not a sure thing. In a new interview that will he tries to explain why the reality is now so very different.



KING: We're following some important breaking news here in Washington, the United States Capitol Police investigating an active bomb threat after receiving reports of an explosive device in a truck near the Library of Congress. Let's get straight to CNN's Whitney Wild she joins us now live from outside the Capitol. Whitney, what do we know?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well John, we know very little at this point other than there's a suspect in a vehicle outside the Library of Congress in a pickup truck we're told who is actively negotiating with police at this moment.

Law enforcement sources telling me and my colleague Evan Perez, he's negotiating via whiteboard. There is concern that this person has been making statements to suggest that he wants to detonate these explosive devices. We don't know of course, if he has an explosive device if we can't determine in this moment, any truthfulness to his statements.

But what we know is that that is enough to bring forth an enormous law enforcement response here, John. Federal law enforcement as well as the Metropolitan Police Department, which is the local police department here in D.C., as well as the U.S. Capitol Police, are responding now.

We are not anywhere near that area nobody is. They've evacuated buildings nearby. The House side - House Office buildings, for example, here are the Capitol Complex as well as office buildings associated with the Library of Congress. Supreme Court as well.

It's important to note though, John that the silver lining in all this is that there are a few people here because the Supreme Court is out as well as Congress being on recess. So there are far fewer people here today than there would be say, two or three months from now or two or three months ago.

Again, that's the silver lining here. We know very little we just finished up a very brief press conference with the new Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger, who said that there are ongoing negotiations but other than that John gave very little information.

KING: And Whitney this would be a significant event any day, but all the more so because there have been recent intelligence warnings that the very forces that were behind the Capitol insurrection, people with similar thoughts are perhaps stirring again.

WILD: Absolutely. Federal law enforcement has been warning since January 6th, that we will remain as heightened threat environment for the foreseeable future. And in their moments when perhaps things are calm here in Washington and that fear starts to wane and then something happens.


WILD: In April we saw someone with their vehicle ram a barricade here, taking the life of USCP Officer Billy Evans. That was another reminder of how real this threat is? Today another reminder that this is in some ways, could be a soft target. So law enforcement is taking this extraordinarily seriously.

They've blocked off streets around that area. Again, we are nowhere close to that, to try to keep everyone safe. In this moment, the situation is controlled. Again, those negotiations are ongoing. But you make the most important point that this is the kind of thing law enforcement fears and it's the kind of thing that you've been warning about, John. KING: Whitney Wild live on the scene for us, we'll stay on top of it. We know you will, as well appreciate the live reporting. When we come back, the president in an interview says chaos in Afghanistan was inevitable that doesn't match up with what he said before.



KING: President Biden promised an orderly exit from Afghanistan. Now he says he always knew some chaos was inevitable. He said not long ago, a Taliban takeover was not a sure thing. Now he says it just happened a lot faster than he anticipated.

He was dealt a bad hand the president says insisting in a new interview, there was nothing he would change about his handling of the American withdrawal.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Was the intelligence wrong? Or did you downplay it?

BIDEN: There was no consensus, the intelligence committee did not say back in June or July that in fact this was going to collapse like it did.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you don't think this could have been handled this - could have been handled better in any way, no mistakes?



KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, Vivian Salama of "The Wall Street Journal", Julie Pace of "The Associated Press" Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times". No, your eyes don't lie here. You know, things went wrong. Things were probably inept no matter who's the president; I think some things were going to go wrong. It's messy. But that's beyond stubborn. That's almost denial.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF & ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR ASSOCIATED PRESS: And things are still going wrong at this point. I mean, we're in a situation right now, where you're hearing officials in Washington say, look; we've got control of the situation at the airport. We are we are moving forward with evacuations.

And then you look right outside the gates of the airport, and you just have massive crowds of people who are struggling to get on planes to get out. So there's a disconnect that is still ongoing right now, between what we're hearing in Washington, what we're seeing on the ground there.

And no, I think that the president is digging in at this point, I think that he feels like he made the right decision to withdraw. But he hasn't gotten to the point of acknowledging that that decision could be right in his eyes, and there could still be problems on the ground. And that's where we are right now.

KING: Right.

VIVIAN SALAMA, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Elements of spin to all this to where you have the president talking about chaos being inevitable. Sure, the chaos was inevitable. You're talking about a Taliban takeover of Kabul, if you're talking about a dangerous situation, and just the crumbling of humanitarian and human rights.

But it was not expected to be chaos when you're talking about evacuating embassy staff at the very last minute, evacuating and trying to figure out what to do with the Afghan staffers at the very last minute that was not predicted. And that should have been handled differently.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: He said the opposite the previous month. And I think that's the big challenge for him politically, is that he has a paper trail of statements literally Joe Biden would say, saying the opposite in fact, what happened.

And I think there's no willingness on his part to acknowledge his previous statements here and sort of eat that. And I think people expected him to do just that was Stephanopoulos in the interview. In fact, he didn't do that. I think it's probably surprising.

KING: Well, let's listen to one example of that right here.


BIDEN: The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban over running everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos and suing. I don't know how that happens.


KING: It just he cannot square what he said before with what is happening now, which happens sometimes this is incredibly difficult. The problem is you want honesty and credibility -

MARTIN: Exactly.

KING: --from your president at this moment. Another thing - forgive me. But another thing, I brought this up with Senator Hirono. He's not the only one. They keep talking about this 300,000 strong Afghan army. That's just a lie. And they all know it.

You'd be lucky if you could fill a football stadium with the Afghan military to put on their uniform. And anybody who has served there any contractor who has been there any NGO that's gone in there for charitable work or - would tell you that for the last 20 years.

PACE: That number is effectively meaningless. And we've had that proven over and over again over the last couple of weeks, as you know, one by one, you've seen this provincial capitals fall and ultimately Kabul fall.

The Afghan military yes, had been trained. Yes, in theory, they had the capability and the capacity to fight, but they didn't fight. And that has always been the question that Pentagon officials have had that NGOs, anybody on the ground has had.

Yes, you can train. Yes, you can spend money there, but would they actually put the fight and now we know that they didn't.

KING: It's why they told George W. Bush he had to stay. It's why they told Barack Obama he had to stay. That's why they told Donald Trump he had to stay and that's why they told Joe Biden that if you go it will be very complicated. Here's another piece of it the president talking about why it was important to take control of the Kabul Airport.


BIDEN: We're in a position where what we did was we took precautions, that's why authorized that there be 6000 American troops to flow in to accommodate this exit number one, and number two, provided all that aircraft in the Gulf to get people out. We pre-positioned all that anticipated that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you think when you first saw those pictures?

BIDEN: What I thought was we have to gain control of this. We have to move this more quickly. We have to move in a way in which we can take control that airport and we did -