Return to Transcripts main page
Evacuations Continue after 13 U.S. Service Members Killed; Supreme Court Throws Out Biden Eviction Moratorium. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 27, 2021 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. It is Friday, August 27.
This morning, extraordinary danger, extraordinary courage, extraordinary tragedy. We want to give you the very latest on the situation in Afghanistan this morning. It keeps changing by the minute.
As we speak, the evacuations are on from the Kabul Airport. President Biden is still claiming the U.S. is doing everything possible to get Americans out. We are waiting for an update on how many people are being flown out and just how many are left.
Overnight, the death toll from the terror attack rose to 13 U.S. service members, 18 others injured, some of those severely. The death toll among Afghans stands at more than 90.
Officials warn this morning that another attack from ISIS-K could be imminent. There are specific concerns about possible rocket attacks or vehicle-born suicide bombs or rocket attacks. Even so, huge crowds once again gathered outside the airport trying to get in.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Which is certainly a soft target there as President Biden is vowing to avenge the deadly attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Now it's not clear how President Biden plans to do that. Also unclear is the fate of an unknown number of Afghans who helped the United States and even some Americans who are now trapped in their own country despite Biden's promise to get them out.
Clarissa Ward reported from inside Kabul last week. She is joining us now from Qatar, where many of these evacuees have been heading. Clarissa, can you just tell us the latest? Today is a very different day than yesterday. CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly
is. And basically, Brianna, we're starting to understand how exactly these bombers were able to get so close and do so much damage.
There were two bombers at two locations. The one is the Abbey Gate, one of the main sort of choke points, as those thousands of people were desperately pushing to try to get into the airport every day.
And the second just outside the gate by the Baron Hotel. We were actually at the Baron Hotel just last week. This was the staging ground for the British operation to evacuate people. That British operation has now been finished, but the Brits are saying they're keen to stress it is not over because of this attack. It is over because that was previously scheduled. This was the moment whereby they were going to end their evacuation operation.
But what we also saw, Brianna, that I think will help our viewers understand a little bit how this could happen was that essentially, you didn't have a huge amount of space between the first line of defense, which were these Taliban check points, and then U.S. servicemen sort of standing guard at the entrance to the airport.
And what we experienced when we were dealing with these Taliban check points is that they were not actively searching for weaponry, for IEDs, things of that nature. They weren't necessarily even patting everyone down. They were much more concerned with seeing people's documentation and with trying to push back the crowds, trying to reduce the number of Afghans who were getting in and things of that nature.
So you can understand how it's possible that suicide bombers or gunmen were able to get through that Taliban check point and then, within a matter of yards, they are right up face to face with U.S. servicemen. ISIS Khorasan, ISIS-K, who claimed responsibility for the attack, said that they were within five meters or five yards of the U.S. servicemen. Obviously, it's impossible to confirm that.
And I would also say, even though ISIS has claimed responsibility for this attack, we don't yet have concrete evidence as to who was responsible, where the attack was planned, which part of the group may have been behind it.
We have also spoken to someone who's been to the airport today. They were able to share some video footage with us, which shows how the Taliban has sort of changed its operations slightly today to try to prevent a repeat occurrence, because as you mentioned the threat is still looming large of another attack.
What they've basically done is to push those check points back quite a bit, trying to push the crowds further away, create some depth or space between that first line from the Taliban and between U.S. servicemen.
As you said, U.S. evacuations are still continuing, but the threat is still very real. A lot of concern. ISIS has had more than a week to plan for this. This is a soft target, as you mentioned, Brianna. And a lot of fears that we may see more attacks of this nature, though hopefully given the moves by the Taliban, they would not be able to get as close to U.S. servicemen.
KEILAR Clarissa, thank you so much for that report for us from Doha.
BERMAN: You know, I just want to -- the scene that Clarissa depicts there, it's just a reminder of how selfless this act is from the U.S. service members. Even this morning, even now after 13 were killed yesterday, they are out there trying to help people get in, trying to save lives.
This is truly the ultimate sacrifice not just for the U.S. but also, you know, for humanity, for life itself. They are really putting themselves out there. And I think they deserve everyone's gratitude this morning.
KEILAR Yes. This is the mission they have been given. They're right up there against potential threats. And I think we've seen a lot of pictures, right, of servicemen inside of the airport. They've been doing a lot of humanitarian things and human things, quite frankly, like giving people water, making sure that they're cared for. But this is where the threat is, and they are right up against it.
BERMAN: And they know it.
All right. Let's get right to the White House this morning. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is there.
Jeremy, give us a sense of what is going on there and the decisions that need to be made this morning.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, John, over the last week we've been reporting that President Biden and White House officials here have been afraid of this possibility, this very -- this increasing possibility, likelihood even, of a terrorist attack.
And those greatest fears were realized yesterday with the death of these 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans who died in this terrorist attack at the gates of the airport.
Today, if anything, this has strengthened President Biden's resolve to get those U.S. service members remaining at the airport out by this August 31st deadline. It has been the driving factor all along, and it remains so.
Yesterday in remarks at the White House, the president offering some pretty somber remarks, filled with emotion as he talked about the deaths of these service members and making clear this has weighed on him but he did take responsibility for all that has happened over the last couple of weeks. Those were the president's words.
The president did also vow to strike back at ISIS-K, if indeed, that is who is responsible for this attack, making clear that the U.S. will strike with force and precision at a time of their choosing. And he also vowed to continue those evacuations in the coming days before the final U.S. withdrawal. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say to the Afghans who helped troops who may not be able to get out by August 31st?
BIDEN: I say we're --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say to them?
BIDEN: We're going to continue to try to get you out. It matters.
Look, I know of no conflict as a student of history, no conflict, where when a war was ended, one side was able to guarantee that everyone that wanted to be extracted from that country would get out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: And in terms of those who still need to get out, the U.S. is estimating that about 1,000 Americans still remain in Afghanistan. And that if you look at the number of Afghans who qualify to get back to the U.S., that number could be in the tens of thousands.
So a lot to be done in the coming days. And clearly, it won't all be done. That is why we heard the president talk about what the U.S. will do after U.S. troops leave, continuing to try and get people out of Afghanistan -- John.
BERMAN: Yes. It will not be done. That much is clear this morning. Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much.
KEILAR: All right. Let's talk now with CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen.
Peter, the -- the president is vowing a strike on ISIS-K. What would a U.S. response look like, do you think?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think -- I think that's kind of the ludicrous assertion. We're pulling out every troops, all U.S. troops, and our intelligence assets are almost entirely gone.
So where -- where do you engineer that strike from? Is it from Qatar, where Clarissa was just reporting from? Well, that's over a thousand miles away.
How do you gather the intelligence without having any assets on the ground? You're also operating in a hostile country, essentially. I mean, think about the bin Laden raid in Pakistan where the United States had a substantial diplomatic and intelligence presence, and it took a decade to engineer.
So I think this claim of striking back is simply, you know, it's wishful thinking of the highest order. KEILAR So then what is it? Does it -- is it just sort of to you an
assertion where he's trying to show strength after having been hit?
BERGEN: Yes, basically. I mean, look, you can imagine drone strikes. We certainly in the United States, certainly did those in Syria and Iraq against ISIS targets.
But I mean, you have to have intelligence. And essentially, Taliban- controlled Afghanistan is kind of a denied area for our intelligence assets, most of whom are trying to flee the country and many of whom will not flee the country and will probably end up, you know, in a very bad situation.
BERMAN: Peter, what happens to this ISIS presence in Afghanistan in the next weeks and months? Right now, they were able to attack U.S. personnel in Afghanistan.
One of the things President Biden has said is we're going to make sure, the U.S. is going to make sure they're not able to attack the United States outside the country or here in the U.S. But how do you keep that threat from metastasizing?
BERMAN: Well, I don't think you do. I mean, according to the United Nations, thousands of foreign fighters have been pouring into Afghanistan in the last month. And according to U.S. military officials, there are 20 foreign terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
So this is going to be like the summer of 2014 in Iraq where you see a lot of foreign fighters pouring in. Now the ability for them to carry out an attack on the American homeland, I think, is very much constrained, because you know, our defensive measures are much better than they have been in the pre-9/11 era.
But that said, they can certainly carry out attacks against other American targets in the region, against our allies and that will certainly inspire people in the United States or in Europe just as ISIS-inspired, you know, jihadis sitting in front of their computers in pick your western country who may carry out attacks without any direct relationship with ISIS or al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but merely because they're inspired by this tremendous jihadist victory.
KEILAR: Peter, thank you so much. Peter Bergen giving us his insights this morning.
And up next, I'll be speaking with a Republican congressman and an Afghan war veteran who has been highly critical of the Biden administration. How he thinks the crisis should now be handled.
BERMAN: Plus, the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot the pro- Trump insurrectionist breaking his silence.
And the head of the CDC speaking out about gun violence for the first time in decades. We have an exclusive new interview coming up.
KEILAR: President Biden promising to retaliate after the brazen bombings of the Kabul Airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 90 Afghan civilians.
Despite the deadly attack, the White House says that President Biden is not considering keeping any U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond next Tuesday's deadline.
Joining us now is Republican Congressman Michael Waltz of Florida. He is a member of the Armed Services Committee. He's also a former Green Beret, the first to serve in Congress and an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. He's, of course, being a vocal critic of the Biden administration's exit strategy.
Sir, thank you so much for being with us. Now that the president is promising a strike on ISIS-K. What do you think that looks like?
REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-FL): Well, I think your previous guest, Peter Bergen, is absolutely right. It's -- it's ludicrous, and I think it's empty words. Unless they can conduct that strike in the next 48 hours, and if that's the case, then I would wonder why we didn't do it preemptively if we have that -- that type of intelligence.
But beyond there, after August 31st, everything is gone. We've given away our main air base at Bagram Air Base. We're pulling -- our intelligence assets are going to be essentially blind from a local level, which is what you need, especially in a city the size of Kabul of 4 million people.
Our Special Forces will be gone, and our drones will be coming in from such a long distance that they'll have very little time, actually, over the objective.
So I just -- I think that was to look tough and to tell the nation that there will be some type of response. But logistically, militarily, I think it's going to be incredibly challenging. And very quickly, that is, I think, a microcosm of what we're going to see over the next months and years.
The intelligence is very clear. I was briefed two days ago. The Taliban and al Qaeda are tied at the hip. Al Qaeda fully intends to attack the rebuild and reattack the west again. And, you know, what has me so darn frustrated and upset is future American soldiers, if we do sustain an attack, are going to have to go back.
But now they have no bases, no local allies, and we're facing a terrorist Army armed with billions of dollars of sophisticated American equipment. We are in a worse place now than we were in September 10, 2001.
KEILAR: So but just to be clear on what you're expecting here, it sounds like you would be expecting not something obviously coming from the forces that are at the airport or Special Forces that are there. You're expecting something that would be more like a drone strike?
WALTZ: I think -- you know, after August 31 that's really going to be the only capability that's left, right? We are literally leaving nothing behind. So from an intelligence, Special Forces, any type of local capacity, which is what you need, we won't have.
And I think people need to understand, when ISIS came roaring back in the wake of the pullout of Iraq, you know, we had bases. We had options around the region. We had the Kurds locally. We had Israel, Turkey, the Gulf states. Locations still in the Iraq region.
We have nothing around Afghanistan. And I confirmed with the Defense Department not a single country surrounding Afghanistan has agreed to House U.S. troops, bases or allow us to strike at terrorists back inside Afghanistan and not one.
So we have nothing in the region now. We are blind. And our capability is greatly diminished and that leaves the homeland greatly at risk.
KEILAR: Look, the administration has been clear. They don't think that this attack is a justification for keeping troops in country. All right. That's just to be clear. That is where they are on that.
I do want to ask you, the mission continues. That is what we heard from the commander of CentCom yesterday, that they're still going to be evacuating people.
So Americans, presumably green card holders, and the president promised that Afghans who are at risk will be evacuated. Of course, there's no way that they're going to get all of them. No way. But what does this attack do to the prospect of getting those people out?
WALTZ: Well, made an already difficult situation nearly impossible, and from the briefings I received, I think we very likely could face additional attacks.
Kabul International is not defendable. It's right smack the city of four million people. I do think the mission should be get every American out and get our Afghan allies out, particularly those that are most qualified to work very closely with us.
But to do that, he would have to -- he would have to take Bagram, much more defendable airfield just north of -- of Kabul, send a message to the Taliban and say the deal is off after this attack. And our special Operations forces are coming in to get American citizens. And if you get in the way, there will be serious consequences.
The mission should be no one left behind, and as long as that takes. But to do that, the president is going to have to reverse course and -- and move our assets to Bagram Airfield. And I've confirmed with the military that contingency is in place. They could do it, but I just don't see this president taking that bold step.
KEILAR: You know, they say, though, just real quickly before I let you go.
KEILAR: And we've heard, as well, from Congressmen Moulton and Meijer who took that trip to Afghanistan, look, this -- if you were to try to make good on getting everyone out, you're going way past the 31st and the Taliban, they do -- look, I know you don't like it, but they need their cooperation in this and they lose it after the 31st. Just real quickly, what do you say to that?
WALTZ: Yes, but I think you have to reverse that leverage. The Taliban want to preserve their gains. And if you tell them we are getting every American out, period, and if you get in our way, there will be consequences you don't want to sustain. I believe that would put us in a much better position.
The alternative, Bri, is we've got -- you know, we are heading towards a mass hostage situation here. And every time the Taliban have a demand after August 31, whether it's for international legitimacy, a reserve fund, economic assistance, and we don't give it to them, they have another hostage they can take, by the hundreds if not thousands.
So this is just a -- we have to reverse the leverage here. We're handing it all to the Taliban, and that's unacceptable. And it's unacceptable to leave these Americans and Afghans behind.
KEILAR: Congressman Waltz, thank you for being with us this morning.
WALTZ: All right. Thank you.
KEILAR: There are millions of Americans who could soon be facing eviction after a new ruling from the Supreme Court.
BERMAN Plus the Capitol officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt speaking out for the first time. His message for former President Trump.
BERMAN: A big move from the Supreme Court overnight that the White House probably saw coming. The court's conservative majority rejected the Biden administration's latest moratorium on pandemic-era evictions.
CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic joins us now with that. It's so interesting, Joan. The White House was reluctant to do this in the first place, because they did not think it would stand up in court, and it didn't.
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right, John. Good morning.
You know, the Biden administration saw this coming, and it did and tried to head it off by making the distinction between what was going on back on June 29 when the court first ruled and what's going on today.
As you know, Congress first enacted the moratorium on evictions. When that expired, the lawmakers failed to act, and the CDC extended a moratorium, continued to extend it at the urging of President Biden, saying this was really important.
On June 29, the Supreme Court, after a group of landlords had challenged the eviction freeze, ruled for the administration but narrowly and said, Look, we're going to let this run one more month until it officially expires. But if you want this, Congress has to enact it.
And as we know, Congress did not reenact it. President Biden said this was necessary for the surge in cases related to the Delta variant. And tried to make a legal case that the Supreme Court had initially suggested a very narrow ruling of public health law and that so much had been changing in the country that this eviction moratorium was necessary.
Late last night, the conservative majority did what was predicted, struck it down, said, no, the CDC does not have federal, legal authorization to do this. Congress must do it.
The three remaining liberals on this Supreme Court dissented saying, yes, there's a financial loss to the landlords that they can point to, but think of the greater injury that's possible here with all these deaths from the Delta variant.
So, by and large, a really big loss for the Biden administration last night. And I'll just tell you what Jen Psaki said afterward: "As a result of this ruling, families,"