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Quest Means Business
Secretary Of State Antony Blinken Updates The Nation On Afghanistan; Biden Sticks To August 31st Deadline Due To ISIS-K Threat; White House Briefing On Afghanistan Evacuation. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired August 25, 2021 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
QUESTION: That's okay. I don't expect you to have all of them. But, then, since this whole thing began, there's been a lot of criticism of the
administration over how it handled it. And there's been a lot of pushback from people within the administration about the hand that you were
basically dealt or what you say you were dealt by the previous administration in terms of the deal with the Taliban, in terms of the SIV
program, in terms of the broader refugee program.
But you guys have been in office for almost eight months. It's been five months since the President's decision was made. Is there anything about the
shortcomings that have about been so readily identified by all sorts of people that you guys are actually willing to take responsibility for
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Thanks, Matt. Let me say two things.
First, with regards to numbers in these different categories, as you have seen by how I have laid out how we get to the numbers of Americans, this is
both incredibly complicated and incredibly fluid. Any number I give you right now is likely to be out of date by the time we leave this briefing
So, what we're doing is very carefully tabulating everything we have, crosschecking it, referencing it, using different databases. We will have
numbers for all those different categories in the days ahead and after this initial phase of efforts to bring people out of Afghanistan ends.
And with regard to the second part of your question about taking responsibility, I take responsibility. I know the President has said he
takes responsibility, and I know all of my colleagues across government feel the same way.
And I can tell you that there will be plenty of time to look back at the last six or seven months, to look back at the last 20 years, and to look to
see what we might have done differently, what we might have done sooner, what we might have done more effectively.
But I have to tell you that, right now, my entire focus is on the mission at hand. And there's going to be, as I said, plenty of time to do an
accounting of this when we get through that mission.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Laura (ph)?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Could you speak today about the future of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, whether it will remain or American diplomats will remain in Kabul after the
military withdrawal on the 31st?
And, also, more broadly we're already seeing women being repressed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, people being attacked, intimidated, being kept
from getting to the airport. I'm wondering if you can give us any concrete examples of steps that the United States is going to take to assure SIV
applicants and other high-value -- or -- I'm sorry -- high- target, high- risk Afghans that they're not going to be forgotten when the United States military leaves.
BLINKEN: With regard to our diplomatic engagement, we're looking at a series of options. And I'm sure we will have more on that in the coming
days and weeks, but we're looking at a variety of options.
And, as I said earlier, particularly because the effort to bring out of Afghanistan, those who want to leave does not end with the military
evacuation plan on the 31st, we are very focused on what we need to do to facilitate the further departure of people who wish to leave Afghanistan.
And that is primarily going to be a diplomatic effort, a consular effort, an international effort, because other countries feel exactly, exactly the
And I'm sorry, the second part of your question?
QUESTION: Just if there are any concrete steps --
BLINKEN: Oh, yes, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: -- that you can give to people who are very worried right now, understandably, about whether they're just going to be forgotten, left
behind, disappeared once the United States withdraws its military and can no longer protect their safe passage to the airport or their other
BLINKEN: Yes. The short answer is, no, they will not be forgotten. And, as I said, we will use every diplomatic, economic, assistance tool at our
disposal, working hand in hand with the international community, first and foremost, to ensure that those who want to leave Afghanistan after the 31st
are able to do so, as well as to deal with other issues that we need to be focused on, including counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance and
expectations of a future Afghan government.
I mentioned a few moments ago that we got 114 countries around the world to make clear to the Taliban the international expectation that people will
continue to be able to leave the country after the military evacuation effort ends. And we certainly have points of incentive and points of
leverage with a future Afghan government to help make sure that that happens.
BLINKEN: But I can tell you, again, from my perspective, from the President's perspective, this effort does not end on August 31st. It will
continue for as long as it takes to help get people out of Afghanistan who wish to leave.
QUESTION: What's your level of confident today that the Taliban will actually abide by some of these requirements and expectations that the
international community has put on it?
BLINKEN: I'm not going to put a percentage on it. I can just tell you, again, that the Taliban has made their own commitments. They have made them
publicly. They have made them privately. And, again, I think they have a very strong self-interest in acting with a modicum of responsibility going
But they will make their own determinations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Andrea.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you.
The Taliban right now, focusing on the mission right now, are not living up to their commitments. People are being stopped trying to get into the
airport. I'm talking about women, SIVs, others, Afghans, people with papers, and they're being stopped outside the airport now.
There are total bottlenecks, which seem to rise to the level of what the President said were the contingency -- contingencies if the Taliban is not
complying, if the flow can't continue.
We're loading planes, but some planes are leaving without -- and some people are people who have private planes waiting for them with landing
rights, but can't get into the airport, as well as, beyond the SIVs, there are lawyers, there are judges, women lawyers, judges, educators.
We have told them for 20 years you can live up to your potential, and now they feel abandoned.
And, then, finally, I would like to ask you about the local hires. We evacuated our embassy. And there have been cables back that I know you must
be familiar with or your teams are of people who feel completely betrayed. And these are thousands of people that we rely on in embassies -- embassies
around the world.
The message is going forward that we will not be loyal. They were not told about the evacuation. They were not put on those choppers with our American
staff. And they were forced, many of them, to find their own way through the Taliban checkpoints and then get turned away at the airport. Some even
got turned away once they were inside.
So what is the message to people working for the U.S. government? Veterans groups are angry about the SIVs. And then there are all the millions of
Afghan women who have told their daughters and been raised under this promise of a future, which the Taliban are already, according to Ambassador
Verveer today, is -- are denying.
There are horrifying examples from provinces and from inside Kabul of people being targeted door to door, people in safe houses being sought out.
And all this promise of you will be safe, the Taliban spokesman said, stay in your homes because we haven't told all of our people how to treat women,
how to respect women.
They also say, you can go to school, you can work as long as you comply with Sharia law, which under their interpretation is the most extreme
example of Islamic code that is seen anywhere in the world.
BLINKEN: Andrea, a few things. First, of the 82,000-plus people who so far have been evacuated, about 45 or 46 percent who have been women and
children, and we have been intensely focused particularly on making sure that we can get women at risk out of out of harm's way.
Second, with regard to women and other Afghans at risk going forward, we will use -- I will use every diplomatic, economic, political, and
assistance tool at my disposal, working closely with allies and partners who feel very much the same way, to do everything possible to uphold their
basic rights. And that's going to be a relentless focus of our actions going forward.
Locally employed staff, along with American citizens, nothing is more important to me, as Secretary of State, than to do right by the people who
have been working side by side with American diplomats in our embassy.
And I can tell you, Andrea, that we are relentlessly focused on getting the locally employed staff out of Afghanistan and out of harm's way, and let me
leave it at that for now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rosalind (ph).
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask a more fundamental question about the Taliban. Your spokesperson indicated in recent days that, de facto, the Taliban are
in charge in Kabul.
But there is no legal recognized government by the United States at this moment. And it kind of begs the question, why does the United States even
have to pay attention to what the Taliban wants? It's an SEGT (ph).
It's sanctioned by many organizations. It's already losing access to Afghan government resources because of its past and current behavior. Why should
the United States even care what the Taliban wants to be done at the airport or frankly, anywhere else in the country, since they are not, in
the U.S.'s eyes, a legally recognized government?
BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you.
Our focus right now is on getting our citizens and getting other -- our partners, Afghan partners, third country partners who've been working in
Afghanistan with us out of the country into safety.
And for that purpose, first, the Taliban, whether we like it or not, is in control, largely in control of the country, certainly in control of the
City of Kabul. And it's been important to work with them to try to facilitate and ensure the departure of all those who want to leave.
And that has actually been something that we have been focused on for -- from the beginning of this operation, because, as a practical matter, it
advances our interests.
Second, we have been engaged with the Taliban for some time diplomatically going back years in efforts, as you know, to try to advance a peaceful
settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. There's still talks and conversations under way even now between the Taliban and former members of
the Afghan government with regard, for example, to a transfer of power and some inclusivity in a future government.
And I think it's in our interests, where possible, to support those efforts.
Going forward, we will judge our engagement with any Taliban-led government in Afghanistan based on one simple proposition, our interests, and does it
help us advance them or not?
If engagement with the government can advance the enduring interests we will have in counterterrorism, the enduring interest we will have in trying
to help the Afghan people who need humanitarian assistance, in the enduring interest we have and seeing that the rights of all Afghans, especially
women and girls, are upheld, then we will do it.
But, fundamentally, the nature of that engagement and the nature of any relationship depends entirely on the actions and conduct of the Taliban. If
a future government upholds the basic rights of the Afghan people, if it makes good on its commitments to ensure that Afghanistan cannot be used as
a launching pad for terrorist attacks directed against us and our allies and partners, and, in the first instance, if it makes good on its
commitments to allow people who want to leave Afghanistan to leave, that's a government we can work with.
If it doesn't, we will make sure that we use every appropriate tool at our disposal to isolate that government and, as I have said before, Afghanistan
will be a pariah.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Francesco (ph).
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
What will happen on September 1? Will the U.S. keep any diplomatic and/or any other kind of presence in Kabul at all? And who will run the airport?
Is there any progress in the discussions with the Turks who announced their withdrawal -- their military withdrawal with the Qataris and with the
Taliban on the airport?
There are very active efforts on the way -- under way on the part of regional countries to see whether they can play a role in keeping the
airport open once our military mission leaves or, as necessary, reopening it if it closes for some period of time. And that's happening -- happening
very actively right now.
The Taliban have made clear that they have a strong interest in having a functioning airport. We and the rest of the international community
certainly have a strong interest in that, primarily for the purpose of making sure that anyone who wants to leave can leave past the 31st using an
BLINKEN: And so that's a very active effort that's under way as we speak. And, again, with regard to our own potential presence going forward after
the 31st, we're looking at a number of options.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
BLINKEN: Thank you all very much.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken talking and updating the numbers, and was about numbers. He said
there are about 1,500 Americans who may still be in Afghanistan and that the United States has managed to contact about 500 of them in the last 24
Up to a thousand contacts have been made and they are seeing the various ways in which they can extract these people assuming they want to be
The Secretary of State also went into detail about those cases where he said, some people don't want to leave because they have extended family
there. These are U.S. citizens. He didn't give any numbers for green cards or permanent residents, or indeed for SIVs who aren't at the airport during
the time with the Special Immigration Visa being used by the United States for those who worked them during the Taliban years.
Twenty thousand e-mails have been sent, the Secretary said, and at least 45,000 messages and calls have been made with a view to let in people who
wish to leave, go. I think it's important before we talk to Nic and Aaron, I think it is important to say, he said, although the 31st is the deadline
for the evacuation, the Secretary of State said, there is no deadline to help America, its allies and those who have helped America to leave the
country. The effort will continue to get these people to safe passage.
Western allies are getting as many as possible out of the country before the deadline. The evacuation in Kabul is in one word, an undertaking of
historic, massive proportions. Nineteen thousand people left Afghanistan in the last 24 hours, and we'll have an update from The Pentagon in about a
half-hour from now.
The President is of course, sticking to his original withdrawal deadline of the 31st, citing the security threats.
Let me tell you how this hour will go. We're already 17 minutes into it. We are expecting the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, to speak and give
a briefing. We're going to monitor that. We sort of know what the White House position is and there are other things that we need to talk about. So
we'll monitor that and the moment it becomes relevant, we will go to it. Then at half past, or thereabouts, if The Pentagon does then start on time,
we are expecting a Pentagon news briefing. When that happens, we will go to that because that of course will be fresh information on what's happening
Aaron David Miller is the former State Department Middle East negotiator. Nic Robertson of course is our international diplomatic editor. Both
gentlemen are with me now.
Aaron, I'll start with you. You listened to the Secretary of State, down beat in a sense, but then he hasn't got much to be upbeat about other than
this remarkable evacuation. But he has got a thousand at least American citizens who are still there that he might not be able to get out.
AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: I mean, I think the good news, Richard, let's start with the good news. The
good news is that Tony Blinken was absolutely accurate arguing that 82,300 evacuees since August 14th, is impressive. Only the United States in
coordination with its allies could do that.
I think the bad news is the following. Time is an adversary, not an ally. It is remarkable that they've identified 4,500 Americans that they have
evacuated, 500 they're in touch with, looking to evacuate. But it is that elusive thousand that he identified as the numbers remaining maybe, there
may be fewer, there may be more.
Some are dual nationals, some are green card holders, some may choose to stay, and some may already have left. And I think that's the challenge
they're up against.
The interesting -- two most interesting things, I think, from this presser was, one, the fact that as you alluded to that after august 31st, even
though the U.S. military will be gone and Kabul Airport presumably is going to revert no longer into American or allied control, that the effort to
evacuate, three categories: U.S. Citizens that are still there, third country nationals still there, and quote, "Afghans at risk" that are still
MILLER: So I think that's the good news. The other intriguing notion, and he referred to it several times. The Taliban has made specific public and
private commitments. I don't know if he used the word to facilitate, somehow to allow those Americans and third party nationals and Afghans at
risk to depart. Now, that kind of jars with some of the stuff we see at the airport, but that suggests that ongoing relationship, and I think it is
inevitable because after August 31, if they want to move on this, they are going to have to work these people.
QUEST: Nic Robertson, listening to that, and into the perspective of -- I mean, what Aaron is saying and what the Secretary says is, we've got five
or six days of absolute -- not chaos, but absolute intensity of getting people out. And then the door comes down, the draw bridge comes down and a
much longer and more detailed provision begins.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: After the 31st of August, it relies a lot more on Taliban hands and Taliban will and the
relationship is being shaped and as Aaron David Miller has just very well laid out there, the importance of the established relationship so far, the
Taliban point out to this a lot that they made an agreement with the United States not to kill its forces during the drawdown, and they continue to
point to that.
And the security perimeter around the airport provides a level of security for the U.S. and NATO allies who are operating there, so they are keeping
good on that word and that's the Taliban's belief and understanding.
It will now going to become more complicated for them to keep good on what the United States want and what NATO partners want. We've heard the Germans
say the same thing that those people associated and have helped the United States and others who can't get out before the 31st once the 31st comes
that the Taliban should keep good on their word to allow these people out.
But the Taliban haven't given that kind of detailed agreement that we're aware of. Indeed, they've said the opposite. They'd rather these people
didn't leave, and I think that's where the relationship after the 31st becomes more complicated. It becomes more torturous.
But very clearly, Secretary Blinken saying the United States has that firm commitment beyond the 31st to continue to help the Afghans that helped the
United States. But I think two important things here -- yes, I know.
QUEST: Nic, I promised I was going to go to Jen Psaki when she is answering questions about Afghanistan, which she is.
QUESTION: ... others in the administration that the Taliban has, by and large, met its commitment to allow people with the right papers on to the
Can you try to help Americans that are seeing and -- what seems to be a disconnect between these two different statements of what is happening?
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, first, let me say I wouldn't see it as a disconnect. And let me explain to you why.
I noted earlier that -- or we put out earlier today that 19,000 people were evacuated. The vast majority -- in the last -- in a 24-hour period. The
vast majority of those were, of course, Afghans, as you know by the numbers that the Secretary of State just put out. That does mean that a great
number of people are making their way into the airport and onto flights to evacuate from the country. There are certainly cases and incidents, and we
have heard, you have reported, where individuals are not getting through that should get through.
And we are approaching those and addressing those on a case-by-case basis as those are raised. But I would note that, again, 19,000 people in a
period of time, the vast majority of them are Afghans, SIV applicants, individuals who are -- have the appropriate paperwork to evacuate, and that
was just in a 24-hour period.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on where things stand with the President and the coronavirus origins review?
QUESTION: I understand he's gotten a copy of the 90-day report. Was there any conclusions that the I.C. was able to come up with?
Well, let me confirm for you, as you noted, he did not just receive a copy. He received a briefing yesterday on the 90-day origins report. It was a
classified briefing. So, of course, that's not information we would provide publicly.
Because of the prioritization we have given to this and the importance of this information for the public, the intelligence community has been
simultaneously working on an unclassified version of summary -- a summary version to provide publicly. I don't have a timeline for you on when that
will be provided. But they have been working expeditiously to prepare that.
And we have also been doing classified briefings. But, until that unclassified version is available, I won't be able to provide any more
details of the assessment.
QUESTION: Without getting into details, the broad upshot of the report, do -- is there a better understanding of what was the ultimate origin?
PSAKI: Again, I can't obviously speak to a classified briefing. But I know you are eager to receive an unclassified summary. That is something the
Intelligence Community has been working to produce. And, as soon as that is available, it will be put out publicly from the intelligence community,
from O.D.N.I. and we will also ensure you all have access to it.
QUESTION: Thanks, Jen.
Secretary Blinken just said and Jake Sullivan said the other day that, even after August 31st, that the U.S. government is committed to helping
Americans and Afghans who are still in the country eligible to get out to get out safely.
How do you do that if the military is gone? How do you safeguard these people and get them where they need to go without the U.S. military in the
PSAKI: Well, I know, Nancy, as you mentioned, that the Secretary was asked that. He didn't go into detail for a reason, because we are currently
having those discussions through diplomatic channels.
But what he assured, I think, the public of and I can reiterate from here is that we are looking at a range of options for how we can continue to
provide consular support, facilitate departures for those who wish to leave after August 31st.
And our expectation and the expectation of the international community is that people who want to leave Afghanistan after the U.S. military depart
should be able to do so. We're working on that. As soon as we have more to provide to all of you, more information, we will do exactly that.
QUESTION: And then, based on the numbers that you have provided of Americans who have been evacuated, it sounds like there are at least 70,000
Afghans who have been evacuated.
How do you possibly vet all of those people in a timely fashion, when, clearly, the Customs and Border Patrol and relevant officials must be
PSAKI: They are. And I will say this is a reflection of the fact that we have hundreds of employees of our Intelligence Community working 24 hours a
day to do the vetting necessary and reviews necessary to move people into the United States.
Now, I would remind you that there are a number of people, tens of thousands of people who are departing Afghanistan who are going to third
countries, lily pads, as we have been calling them, and where additional vetting can take place, either because they have only proceeded through
certain steps of this -- of the immigrant visa process, or because their vetting process has not yet been completed.
I can give you a little bit more detail too on the vetting process, if that helps -- if that is helpful.
So, the screening and security vetting is conducted by a combination of the intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals from
across government, so, the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, the F.B.I., State Department, the N.C.T.C., the National
Counterterrorism Center, and additional Intelligence Community partners.
What they are doing are they're conducting screening and security vetting for all SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans before they are allowed
into the United States. This includes reviews of both biographic and biometric data.
And if an individual is not through that vetting process, they're not coming into the United States.
QUESTION: And are there any estimates for how long it'll take to work through that backlog? Could these people been going through the system for
months or years?
PSAKI: You mean people who are in third countries? Well, what I will tell you is that it typically takes months to go through this process. And what
this is a signal of is the fact that this is a top priority for the President and the Intelligence Community and the individuals who oversee
this vetting process who have massively expedited the process in order to move through the necessary steps, thorough steps, in order to process
individuals and get them moving through the system.
QUESTION: Thank you, Jen.
At the tail end of the President's remarks today about cybersecurity, he was asked about Afghanistan. And he made a joke.
PSAKI: I think Peter asked him that question.
QUESTION: The other Peter did. And he made a joke. So what's so funny?
PSAKI: Well, I think the question he was asked, if I remember correctly, was about when he will provide information about a decision on August 31st.
I don't want to paraphrase the question, if that was an inaccurate description of the question.
QUESTION: Very important to a lot of people watching.
PSAKI: Of course, it's a very important question. And I think what he conveyed, what -- is that he has not -- well, what I can convey from here,
I should say, is that, as he stated yesterday, and as the Secretary of State just stated, we're on track to complete our mission by August 31st.
Obviously, there are discussions, and the President received a briefing just this morning. As I noted, he asked yesterday for contingency plans,
and he received a briefing on them this morning. These are incredibly serious issues.
And there are discussions that are happening internally. And I would note that, in addition to the contingency plans that he requested, he also, I
will reiterate, as we stated yesterday, that this is all contingent on us achieving our objectives and our continued -- and the continued
coordination with the Taliban.
And the president has spoken, I would say, to this issue, Peter, as you know -- you have been -- attended a number of these -- multiple times over
the last several days. And he has also highlighted the fact that we are closely watching, closely following the threats from ISIS-K, which he also
received a briefing on this morning.
QUESTION: His remarks last night. He gave a lot of time to the domestic agenda.
Does he think the Build Back Better plan is as urgent and as time sensitive as this evacuation of Americans and Afghan friendlies from Kabul?
PSAKI: Well, first of all I think it is important to the American people who care deeply about whether they're going to have jobs, whether they're
going to have child care, whether they're -- we are going to be able to compete with China and countries around the world to understand that we
have to do multiple things at the same time.
That's exactly what any president would do.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST: Right, Jen Psaki there. I promised you, it was a busy day. The White House now gives way to the Pentagon.
ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Virtually in the Briefing Room, General Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. European Command as
well as NATO Supreme Allied Commander and I'm going to turn it over to the general in just a moment. He's got some opening comments. Here's here to
talk to you about EUCOM and NATO's contributions to the ongoing evacuation effort out of Afghanistan. I would like to keep our -- limit our questions
to the general to that purpose. We've got the general for about 30 minutes so I don't want to eat up any more of the clock. And then once he is done
with his comments, we'll go to questions.
I will moderate like did I the other day. Please identify yourself and your outlet before you ask the questions because the general can't see from you
where he is with.
With that, General, if you can hear me, OK?
GEN. TOD WOLTERS, COMMANDER, U.S. EUROPEAN COMMAND; NATO'S SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER EUROPE: Yes, I've got you loud and clear.
KIRBY: Thank you, General, I'll turn the floor over to you, sir.
WOLTERS: Good afternoon. And it's good to be with you and the press corps. Thank you for taking a little time to share with us on the other side of
the Atlantic over here in Europe.
Let me start by extending my personal and professional thanks to the women and men in the United States military, all of our civilian employees and,
most importantly, to the volunteers, who have given us their relentless efforts in support of this operation. It has truly been inspiring.
To date, we've received 55 flights at Ramstein Air Base Germany. We currently have 5,783 evacuees on deck at Ramstein. We've received three
flights at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy and we currently have 662 evacuees on deck there.
For context, we received our first evacuation flights last Friday, the 20th of August. And three short days later, this last Monday, we had our first
set of flights depart Ramstein for the continental United States.
To date, a total of 1,605 evacuees have departed Ramstein for the continental United States. And for additional context, as you all know here
in Europe, this is a whole of government, whole of the nation, whole of partner, whole of allied process.
The trust and transparency that we've constructed over the course of the last several decades, in particular with our NATO allies and partners, has
paid huge dividends with respect to the effectiveness of this operation and their cooperation quite honestly has been remarkable.
A little about the evacuees themselves. When they land at Ramstein or at Sigonella, they're immediately given food, water and shelter. They have
medical care as required from a screening perspective. And they have screening as required for onboard movement to the continental United
We can't forget, here in Europe, that this process is by, with and through the nations and the local communities. To this point, the cooperation we've
seen has been superb. I would like to make a special shout-out to the governments of Germany and the governments of Italy and now the government
of Spain for their whole of government work across ministries, their ministries of foreign affairs to their ministries of defense, all the way
from the top portion of the governments down to their military levels. The cooperation has been seamless and has allowed us to do our job from a U.S.
I'll end my comments with what is most important, the safety and security of our evacuees and all of the workers associated with this mission is the
number one issue. At this time, we've had zero security incidents. And a security incident is defined when we witness an evacuee exhibit malign
behavior and we have to put that evacuee in a holding cell.
We have had no incidents.
John, that's it for my comments. I look forward to fielding your questions. Thank you.
KIRBY: Thank you, General.
QUESTION: Hi, General. Thank you for doing this. Good to talk to you.
One quick thing, have you not had any going to Spain yet?
Is that expected in the coming days?
And more broadly, do you think the numbers are right now starting to really tick upward and are getting larger?
Or as people are coming out and there are more way stations, do you think you're at about a regular flow going into these countries?
WOLTERS: Thanks for the question and I'll go in reverse order with respect to the flow.
I believe the flow that we are going to embrace in the next 24 to 48 hours will be the flow that we can expect to see for the next several days. So we
are building to what I would say is a plateau, that we are very, very close to getting to.
And my sense is that, as far as the machine is concerned, from what we get into the Middle East from Europe, we're ready, willing and able to
accommodate that flow.
With respect to Spain, as you probably know, we've had one installation open up and tremendous cooperation on behalf of the Spanish government. We
have yet to put anybody in Spain in any of our C-17 gray tails but if need be, we're prepared to do that from this moment forward. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I ask a follow up?
KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: One quick follow-up.
Are you hearing much from all of your European colleagues about any frustrations about them getting their people out?
Are you working with your NATO and European colleagues on that issue?
WOLTERS: A little bit of both. But we're not hearing any negative comments. As you probably know, our goal is to get folks out as fast as we
possibly can, with as many people as we possibly can.
And the cooperation that has taken place with respect to CENTCOM and the nations of Europe, we've had no negative feedback.
My sense is because we're all working feverishly to make sure that we can get as many people out as fast as we can. And so far, so good, with respect
to any negative feedback from our European allies and partners.
QUESTION: General, from Bloomberg, a quick question on NATO. I would like you to put your NATO hat on.
Can you tell us in general privately the types of reaction you're getting from your counterparts over there about the U.S. withdrawal and the
Is there a sense of disappointment and frustration?
WOLTERS: For my friends who are the chiefs of defense, who are NATO allies and partners, the military language back and forth has been nothing but
positive. And mostly focused on the mission at hand, which is to get as many people out as fast as we possibly can, always keeping safety and
security at the forefront.
And with the challenge and with that being in mind, we've had no negative feedback. And as far as the consensus is concerned for agreement and
working side by side and shoulder to shoulder, military to military, those relationships are as strong now as they ever have been.
QUESTION: But as the Supreme Allied Commander, are you concerned this effort will hurt U.S. credibility with NATO?
After four years of roiling relationships that the Biden administration is trying to heal?
WOLTERS: No. And, again, I get feedback from my counterparts as chiefs of defense at the other 29 nations to include General Milley and that has not
been the case. The military to military relationships that we have with all 30 nations, to include the U.S., is as strong now as it ever has been.
QUESTION: We know that the Afghan evacuees are screened for COVID.
What happens if one evacuee tests positive?
Do you isolate them?
WOLTERS: I'm sorry; I didn't hear who the reporter was?
QUESTION: Sylvie from AFP.
WOLTERS: Great. Great question. First of all, we want to screen for COVID at all levels. And once the evacuees arrive, we have a medical screening
And if we find ourselves in a situation, to where someone is showing symptoms, we're able to isolate those individuals and they receive
additional medical treatment through local stations there, at the screening line at Ramstein.
WOLTERS: And if we have more severe conditions, we can lean on the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, located about 10 kilometers away from
Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
QUESTION: Do you have numbers of cases?
WOLTERS: We processed over 7,000 evacuees, just less than 100 after they've been initially medically screened needed to go to an additional
tent. And of those 100, less than 25 needed additional medical treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
So 25, after 7,000, have been processed, we've been able to get to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. And of those 25, well over 50 percent
are already out of Landstuhl back at Ramstein in the evacuee holding area.
QUESTION: Following on Sylvie's question, are you just screening for COVID?
Or are you screening for other contagious diseases, like tuberculosis?
WOLTERS: We're doing a very broad medical screening, knowing that there has been screening before they come out of the Middle East and knowing that
there will be additional medical screening that will occur once they get to CONUS (ph). And for now that's at Dulles in the Virginia area.
For right now, we're specifically looking at general medical condition and COVID.
KIRBY: We need to go back to the phones. I'll keep working on it, I promise.
Karun (ph) from "The Washington Post."
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my call.
General, I know this is the very beginning but do you have a goal, a ration ph that you're hoping that people stay at places like Ramstein?
Are you trying to do a turnover where you can get people out at their next destination?
Or is this too early to kind of have that in mind?
WOLTERS: Karun (ph), you were a little bit broken but I think I got the gist.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. I was just asking about the duration of what -- is there a goal duration you're trying to keep people on bases like Ramstein
and move them to their next destination?
And what is that?
And are you thinking in terms of timelines right now even?
Or processing you have to do before they can move on?
WOLTERS: There is a timeline, between 10 and 14 days, depending upon the country. As you probably know, there are four nations that are currently
involved in the process of potentially fielding (ph) down our folks.
And right now, given the flow that we have, approximately 1,500 to 1,700 in per day and approximately 1,800 to 2,000 who should be going out every day,
the 10- to 14-day limit we have in general for most of the nations is not in compromise at this point. And we don't anticipate, based upon the
expected flow, to have a problem in that area.
QUESTION: Hi. General Wolters, are you mandating vaccines or offering vaccines for COVID for these Afghan evacuees before sending them on to the
And also, do you have any numbers of any of the screening that is taking place in terms of any watch list?
Any numbers of people who have appeared on any watch lists that you've had to deal with?
WOLTERS: The first question had to do with vaccination. The plan for now is to screen. And the administration of vaccines should first occur for
those at Dulles. There is an effort underway with Secretary Austin to examine the feasibility of being able to take a deeper look at our evacuees
at Ramstein and potentially administer the vaccination there if the evacuee needs it.
There's still a ways to go on that with respect to nation to nation contacts and Secretary Austin and team are working on that.
The second part of your question had to do with travelers that require further screening. And I will tell you, the 7,000 plus evacuees processed,
we've had 52 flagged in that area that require further screening.
Upon further screening with our DHS counterparts, all 52 have been cleared in the green. So to date, our sample size is approximately at 7,000
evacuees process; about 50 need further screening. And upon consequent, more indepth screening, all of those have been cleared. And we feel that we
have a very good process in place that is DOD-centric as well as State Department-centric with DHS.
QUESTION: What is your biggest challenge --
QUEST: So we're going to leave the Pentagon with its nuts and bolts at the Pentagon. Let's go back to the White House. Jen Psaki is taking more
PSAKI: -- to ensure there are safe places for individuals who are freeing -- fleeing from Afghanistan, have safe places to be.
QUESTION: You wouldn't see a situation where you might reject some of these asylum applications and send them back to Afghanistan.
PSAKI: I don't anticipate that being the plan.
QUESTION: Is the White House aware of any other members of Congress planning to make a trip to Afghanistan?
PSAKI: I don't have any more information on that, no.
QUESTION: Have you learned anything about how they made this trip?
How they were able to get into the country?
Have they showed up on any manifests?
PSAKI: I think should you ask their offices that question.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question on cybersecurity in light of today's summit?
Does the White House believe that private sector can make sufficient cybersecurity improvements without government mandates?
Or do you believe that Congress needs to pass that legislation mandating reports of cybersecurity?
PSAKI: Well, we have certainly made clear that we expect private sector companies to report when they have experienced a cyber breach. We have
worked in partnership with some to address these cyber breaches and also there is an impact on the American public in many cases.
There is congressional legislation that some are considering. And there are a range of options that could be taken by Congress. And we'll look at those
as they move forward and if they move forward.
But our view has long been that it is a combined responsibility of the federal government to put in place clear guidelines, clear best practices
and the private sector to take steps to harden their own cybersecurity.
QUESTION: And one last question.
Have you learned any more about these possible cases of Havana syndrome in Vietnam?
PSAKI: I don't have any more information.
QUESTION: Not to belabor the point. I know that the secretary of state talked about this and I know that (INAUDIBLE) --
QUESTION: -- I really just want to kind of drill down on how confident is the administration that all Americans who want to get out will be out by
I know that you put out the context. You've been text messaging. All the messaging and contacts to people.
Is there any concern that there could be people who have somehow fallen through cracks, haven't been able to get in contact and they want to get
How will the administration determine on August 31st or whatever day the military pulls out, that all of the Americans who wanted to get out have
been able to get out?
PSAKI: First, I think the reason the secretary of state gave such a detailed overview is because it is not as simple as you've just laid it
out. Certainly, there could be American citizens, dual citizens, individuals, who may want to depart, who have not yet decided to depart by
August 31st. We know that is a potential.
And therefore we want to ensure we are looking at a range of options for how we can allow them to depart and enable them to depart after that date
It is also true that there may be individuals who have not -- were not yet in contact with. They have not contacted us. And we want to leave
optionality for that as well. But he also provided the specific information on the numbers, to give you an understanding, all of you, everybody, an
understand that, while we started with as many as 6,000 -- a population with as many as 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan over the last 10 days alone,
4,500 of those Americans have been safely evacuated.
In the last 24 hours, we've been in contact with approximately 500. So we're looking at a relatively small population we all -- left, right?
We also believe that there are individuals in that set of 1,000, who may not want to depart, for a range of reasons as we've also outlined. I would
also note that a big factor on the president's mind -- and the secretary of state noted this as well -- is the real threat of ISIS-K, which is the
reason why -- and the president again received a briefing only, as he does regularly from his national security team.
That is why we are concerned about numbers around the airport. That is why we were -- we are in direct contact through a range of means with
individuals about how and when to come to the airport. And that is something we have to evaluate each day as well because putting our service
men and women at risk is something that weighs heavily on the president's mind.
QUESTION: And the question on the Supreme Court, well, the Supreme Court basically (INAUDIBLE) remain in Mexico. What is the White House response to
PSAKI: I know the Department of Homeland Security put out a statement on this last evening. So let me reiterate some of those points.
We respectfully disagree with the district court's decision and we regret that the Supreme Court has declined to issue this stay. DHS has appealed
the district court's order and will continue to vigorously challenge it.
PSAKI: We are also, though, in the same vein, compelled to by law, to now proceed with means by which we abide by the ruling.
QUESTION: Does that then mean negotiations are now underway between the U.S. and Mexico on returning to the migrant protection program?
PSAKI: Well, the Department of State, DHS, with DHS support, is engaging in diplomatic discussions with the government of Mexico as part of our
efforts to implement the court's order.
And I would just note, I should have said this a little earlier. I mean, our point of view continues to be that this program is -- was not
implemented in a moral way. It was inefficient. It used resources by -- CBP resources, it led to a backlog in the system and it is fundamentally a
program we have opposed.
But we are also abiding by a court order.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a personal question about the range of assistance that the U.S. is promising to offer to Afghanistans (sic) after August
QUESTION: You talked about consular services.
Is it the president's expectation that the Taliban will continue to allow safe passage for Afghans to the airport after the U.S. leaves?
PSAKI: It is our -- again, this is part of an active discussion. And I understand certainly why you're asking the question. But we continue to
believe that there will be, American -- there could be, I should say -- American citizens.
There could be Afghans who are -- would be eligible for special immigrant visas or would be individuals eligible for a range of our programs, who
would want to depart. That would require a means of departing. And that's what we're working through now.
QUESTION: So there is no guarantee yet from the Taliban to continue to allow safe passage for the people that the U.S. is hoping -- ?
PSAKI: Again, these are ongoing discussions and that is our expectation and what we're working toward.
QUESTION: A couple of quick questions. Yesterday, the president and you I think said that he had asked the Pentagon and the State Department for all
Has he received all the contingency plans?
Or is there a full set that's he's still waiting for more?
PSAKI: Yes, he received a briefing this morning.
QUESTION: So he has received in totality all the contingency plans that they've provided?
PSAKI: Again, this is an ongoing discussion, right, and as you well know. And the president has lengthy meetings, sometimes more than once a day with
his national security team. But, yes, the contingency plans he requested he received a briefing on this morning.
QUESTION: Earlier we heard from the secretary of state, saying that there are as many as 1,500 Americans by my math who still want to get out and are
in Afghanistan right now.
Is it possible that they could be evacuated before?
Could these evacuations end before that day or finish before August 31?
PSAKI: Well, it could. I think -- and I would just note by the numbers, 4,500 Americans were evacuated over the last 10 days. That doesn't even
count their family members, whether it's a spouse or a spouse and children or a combination.
And that we've also been in contact with an additional 500. So it is actually more like a pool of 1,000 who we are reaching out to multiple
times a day, through multiple communication channels -- phone, text, email, WhatsApp, et cetera.
As I noted a little bit earlier, we also have an expectation that there are a number of these individuals, dual nationals, people who may have
expansive extended family, who may not have made the decision to depart at this point in time.
QUESTION: One of my colleagues asked you and you said you didn't want to provide a cap as it relates to Afghan allies, borderline (ph) Afghan
allies, who are still seeking to leave the country right now.
Recognizing you don't want to provide a cap, can you provide us a baseline?
What is the stated goal as provided the president of the number you estimate it is at least as many as so there's some context for these
numbers of 80-plus thousands people who've now been evacuated?
PSAKI: I'm just -- that is similar to me giving a cap. And there are people who are not yet through process, who may not count as an SIV
applicant or as an SIV applicant at this point in time or who may be eligible for a range of programs.
Our objective, as you've seen by the numbers over the past several days, is to evacuate as many people as possible who qualify for any of these
QUESTION: I guess why can't the White House or the administration say what that stated goal is?
Even as a baseline so people get a sense of what we're shooting for in this process?
What is the harm in saying that?
PSAKI: Because I don't think there is a benefit in giving a cap. That's not our objective.
QUESTION: It gives context to when you say 80,000.
PSAKI: Fair, I think an important context, though, is that we've now evacuated, again, 88,000 people -- well, 82,000 people on U.S. military and
coalition flights. Just a week ago, some people were saying we couldn't do 50,000.
We've done 82,000. So just to put into context, again, that is a flight yesterday. Every 39 minutes. That's thousands and thousands of people
coming through the airport every single day, 19,000 people yesterday.
I think these numbers do provide context. And we're going to continue to press every single day to get more people, who are eligible, out of the
QUESTION: Of course, we don't know of those 80,000, how many are SIV eligible applicants. Some may just be those who want to evacuate the
QUESTION: Which is part of why I asked.
PSAKI: Well, I think that what is important to note here is that the people who are, we are prioritizing, are American citizens, are SIV
applicants and others who might be eligible for a variety of programs. And in order to prevent a mass crowding at the airport, those are the people we
are in direct contact with.
QUESTION: Let me ask lastly about the two congressmen, I know the statement you put out about, they shouldn't be doing this. This was the
wrong decision to be made.
About the merits of what they said, though, having now returned, they said because the evacuations started so late, there is no way the U.S. will be
able to get all those necessary evacuees out, even by September 11.
What does the White House say to that criticism?
PSAKI: Well, I would say first we're on track to have the largest U.S. airlift in history and I think that speaks for itself. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you speak to what the U.S. administration plans to recommend vaccine boosters in six months, not eight?
PSAKI: I have not seen that report but I would note we just put out the guidance, the CDC just put out the guidance a couple of weeks ago or last
week. It is all running together. Two weeks ago on eight months. If they update that guidance, it would certainly come directly from them.
QUESTION: Do you know if that's under -- is that under consideration?
PSAKI: I would point you to CDC.
QUESTION: Secondly, what is President Biden prepared to do to push the Chinese on the Wuhan lab investigation?
There's a report that the Chinese are not being cooperative. They're pushing back at U.S. on that.
What is he prepared to do to get more information?
PSAKI: I think it is well known they haven't been cooperative, right, through your reporting, other, reporting and just that the fact they have
not, in a publicly available way, provided the data and the information that we have been requesting.
In terms of an assessment of what steps we might take, I don't have anything to preview for you on that front.
QUESTION: I know you don't want to get into the details of the COVID-19 origin report assessment.
PSAKI: I will be happy to when there's an unclassified summary for all of you.
QUESTION: But of course the purpose of the 90-day review was to put a focus on this question.
So at the end of the question, we don't have clarity or a smoking gun or high confidence.
What is the next step?
PSAKI: We'll talk about that once the summary is out in public.
QUESTION: If you can update us on the White House role in responding to the crisis in Haiti; right now, with USAID and (INAUDIBLE).
What is the latest on that?
PSAKI: Yes. This is something that I think you know and you've been following closely. We've been deeply engaged with and involved with. Under
the leadership of Samantha Power, who is the director of USAID. In terms of -- are you looking for specific assistance and specific -- what we're --
let me get you updated numbers that we have provided as of today.
I think the last information I have is about a day old. But it is an ongoing process. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
I just wondered (INAUDIBLE) preview of the president's upcoming meeting with the Israeli prime minister, and if we can expect any announcements on
the reopening of a Palestinian (INAUDIBLE) and the consulate (INAUDIBLE)?
And if not, what's the status (INAUDIBLE)?
PSAKI: Sure. I know we did a briefing call to provide a preview of that last night or I believe yesterday at some point in time. I will say the
president is looking forward to welcoming the prime minister, who's already in town, as you know, having a variety of meetings today.
I would expect -- we expect their conversation to be wide-ranging, to cover a range topics of mutual interest, everything from COVID-19 and our efforts
to address the global pandemic to regional security issues, which could include a range of topics, including security within Israel, as well as,
you know, Iran and other issues of mutual concern.
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