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The Situation Room
Hurricane Ida Could Hit Louisiana; Pentagon Press Briefing. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired August 28, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We, of course, wish them a very, very speedy recovery.
Suzanne, we'll stay in touch with you. Thank you very, very much, Suzanne Malveaux reporting.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, we're just moments away from an update, a very important update from the Pentagon on the situation in Afghanistan. This just hours after the U.S. conducted a drone strike against an ISIS-K planner and amid the ongoing evacuations of Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul.
We'll go live to the Pentagon as soon as it begins. Stand by for that.
We're also tracking Hurricane Ida. The National Weather Service now warning that the storm could make some places -- could hit some places in southeast Louisiana and make those places uninhabitable for weeks or even months. That warning just released.
Hurricane Ida is expected to make landfall in that state, Louisiana, as a category 4 hurricane tomorrow. Almost exactly to the day, 16 years after Hurricane Katrina landed as a category 3.
Our team of reporters is covering the storm from all angles. CNN Nadia Romero and Jason Carroll are on the ground for us in New Orleans.
But let's begin with Allison Chinchar over at the CNN Weather Center. Allison, what's the latest update from the National Weather Service?
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. So brand new update at the top of this hour, Wolf, showing that sustained winds are 85 miles per hour but gusts have now ticked up a bit to 105 miles per hour.
The forward movement is still the same there. North to the west -- northwest at about 16 miles per hour. It's a category 1 now, but it is expected to intensify and strengthen as it moves through the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, likely becoming a category 2 sometime in the next few hours. A category 3 by this evening. And then a category 4 by tomorrow morning. And it's expected to maintain that category 4 strength as it makes landfall, likely Sunday late afternoon over Louisiana.
Now, we talk about intensifying storms. This one in particular may undergo what is called rapid intensification, which means the sustained winds increase 35 miles per hour or more in less than 24 hours.
And most of the really devastating storms that we've dealt with here landfall-wise for the U.S. undergo at least one rapid intensification cycle.
Storm surge is going to be one of the biggest concerns we have along the coastline. This pink area here, including the city of Grand Isle, 10 to 15 feet. The National Weather Service saying that some of these areas, when you're talking about those numbers, it could end up being uninhabitable for weeks.
Again, I cannot emphasize how high this really is. The purple area, 7 to 11 feet, that includes the city of Biloxi.
We talk about the wind damage here because that's the thing, it's the combination of both the storm surge and these devastating wind gusts of in excess of 100 miles per hour. That combination is really what's going to likely trigger some of the devastating conditions.
The outer bands, Wolf, will begin today. So please do not wait until tomorrow to evacuate. Do not wait until tomorrow to start boarding up your home. You need to do it today.
BLITZER: Good advice. Get out if you still can. Stand by.
I want to bring in Nadia. Nadia, the mayor of New Orleans says the city didn't even have enough time to issue what are called mandatory evacuation orders for areas inside the levy barrier. What does that mean for the people who live in New Orleans right now?
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it means that they have to get prepared and they have to do so quickly. There's not a lot of time because we know this is a very quickly-moving storm. And that as it reaches those warm gulf waters, they're expecting it, as Allison said, to pick up speed and to likely be a category 4. So people are moving.
And we spoke with one shop owner. We're here in the Jackson Square and the iconic French Quarter. And he says he has been here for 20 years, he's never seen so much activity.
People have been cancelling swamp tours with him. Hotels are evacuating. And take a look. Of all the businesses that are boarding up right now all across the French Quarter, they're working to make sure that debris doesn't fly in those windows, that the windows aren't shattered because we know that we're going to have --
BLITZER: Nadia, we're going to get back to you in a few moments. But the Pentagon briefing has just started. (INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)
MAJOR GEN. HANK TAYLOR, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, JOINT STAFF REGIONAL OPERATIONS: -- Afghanistan. I can confirm, as more information has come in, that two high profile ISIS targets were killed, and one was wounded. And we know of zero civilian casualties.
Without specifying any future plans, I will say that we will continue to have the ability to defend ourselves and to leverage over the horizon capability to conduct counterterrorism operations as needed.
TAYLOR: We continue the evacuate American citizens and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul. In fact, there are approximately 1,400 individuals at the Kabul Airport who have been screened and manifested for flights today.
As I said yesterday, we have the ability to include evacuees on military airlift out of Afghanistan until the very end. This is a massive military, diplomatic, security and humanitarian undertaking for the United States and our allies.
And so I'll give you a specific update of the last 24. Yesterday, 32 U.S. military aircraft, 27 C-17s and five C-130s departed with approximately 4,000 personnel. Combined with 34 coalition aircraft departures, an additional 2,800 personnel left Kabul for various intermediate staging bases. 66 flights left out of Kabul yesterday in that 24-hour period with 6,800 evacuees.
Today, I can report an updated total evacuation that is more than 117,000. The vast majority of which are Afghans. Of this total number, approximately 5,400 are American citizens.
This is an incredible number of people who are now safer thanks to the heroism of the young men and women who are putting their lives on the line each day to evacuate American and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul.
Threats to our forces and to this operation remain real and significant. I'm sure you can appreciate that. And now, as the military mission begins to end in Kabul, thousands of service members are working across the globe and within the United States to complete this incredibly important mission.
Out of the UCOM-AOR six flights will transport about 2,000 Afghans to the United States. Since August 20th, the UCOM-AOR has received nearly 30,000 vulnerable Afghans and evacuees. A good example of how we're building out capacity as we execute this incredibly important mission, a flight from Italy will fly to Philadelphia International Airport, the second U.S. onward location to receive flights.
As NorthCom commander, General VanHerck said in his brief yesterday, our total capacity across multiple U.S. installations is approximately 21,000 and growing. We're steadily working to increase the capacity to 50,000 by September 15th. Right now, we are hosting approximately 8,000 Afghan applicants at Fort McCoy, Fort Bliss, Fort Lee, and joint base McGuire-Dix- Lakehurst.
A dedicated team of military, civilian, and contract personnel are working closely with numerous agencies, both government and non- government, to ensure further requirements and additional capabilities are available. We will keep you updated on this effort.
SouthCom continues to conduct humanitarian relief operations in Haiti. And NorthCom, while simultaneously executing evacuation flights, is postured to support FEMA as a lead federal agency in preparing for tropical storm Ida.
Lastly, I want to share that the Department of Defense will shortly announce the names of the 13 service members who were killed in service to their country. We grieve with the gold star families, friends, and loved ones of our fallen. They will be remembered and revered among Americans who have served in Afghanistan in operations Freedom, Sentinel, and Enduring Freedom.
ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Ok. I don't have anything to add, so we'll go right to questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, John. A Couple questions on the strike last night in Afghanistan. General Taylor just said that two high- profile targets were killed and one wounded. The initial announcement, I think, said one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was all the same strike? Was it a single strike? Can you explain any more about whether these individuals were directly involved in the Thursday bombing at Kabul airport?
KIRBY: So it was -- without getting into too much tactical detail in terms of munitions used, I would tell you it was a single mission and to get these targets. And as the assessments and information flowed over time, we were able to recognize that another was killed, as well, and one wounded.
So I mean, battle damage assessment, as you know, sometimes takes time. Information comes in. As we had more clarity, we wanted to be transparent about that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the planner/facilitator description, does that mean they were involved directly in the Kabul airport attack?
KIRBY: They were ISIS-K planners and facilitators. And that's enough reason there alone. I won't speak to the details of this -- of these individuals or what their specific roles might be. But as the general said, we have the ability and the means to carry out over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities, and we're going to defend ourselves. I'll leave it at that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. I'd like to ask you another question about -- just about the airport situation at the moment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it true that only U.S. passport holders are being allowed onto the airport now through the gates?
KIRBY: Any U.S. passport holder that wants to get in can get in. And we are still -- if I'm wrong here -- I don't think I'm wrong, but we are still processing and getting on planes SIV applicants as well as vulnerable Afghans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So they're being allowed onto the airport?
KIRBY: As far as I know, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ok. Thank you.
KIRBY: I don't think that's changed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, can you give us the names of the two individuals killed in the strike?
KIRBY: No. We're not going to release the names.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because --
KIRBY: We're just not going to release the names.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if I can just go back to Thursday's suicide bombing, there appear to be images and reports from the crown that some of the Afghans civilians killed may have been shot by the marines at the gate.
At this point in time, since we're 48 hours, do you have any evidence that the marines or any of the U.S. troops may have shot, injured, or wounded --
KIRBY: We don't -- we can't confirm that. We certainly are not in a position to deny it either. We are investigating this. And as we get more information that we can reliably communicate to you about this incident, we will.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The State Department issued another dire warning saying don't approach the gates. Did this air strike have anything to do with that potential for future attacks? Can you talk about what capabilities ISIS might have lost in this drone strike?
KIRBY: Well, a couple of things. I'll let the State Department speak for the advisory they sent out. That is not uncommon for them to do that, particularly in a country like Afghanistan. And they're constantly watching the threat environment, as are we. And they're doing the prudent, responsible thing to inform Americans there in Kabul about what's best for their own safety. But again, I think we'll let the State Department speak to the rationale there. Obviously, they're doing what they believe they needed to do to keep people safe.
I'm not going to talk about specific capabilities ISIS may have lost in this strike. They lost a planner, and they lost a facilitator. And they've got one wounded. And the fact that two of these individuals are no longer walking on the face of the earth, that's a good thing.
It is a good thing for the people of Afghanistan. It's a good thing for our troops and our forces at that airfield. And I think I'm just going to leave it there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And to follow-up can you discuss the level of threat right now at the airport? We've seen a number of allies bring their evacuation operations to a close early. Will the U.S. still stay there through the 31st?
KIRBY: We are going to complete this mission by the end of the month. We've said that. Nothing has changed about the timeline for us. We will do this in as safe and an orderly way as possible. And that includes being able to continue to evacuate right up until the end.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But what about the threats at the airport? Can you describe what --
KIRBY: Threats are still very real. They're very dynamic. And we are monitoring them literally in real time. And as I said yesterday, we're taking all the means necessary to make sure we remain focused on that threat stream and doing what we can for force protection.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A couple questions. First for you, John. Have U.S. troops begun retrograde withdraw from the airport?
KIRBY: We have begun retrograding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you talk about the numbers we have left?
KIRBY: No, I cannot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then General Taylor, for you please, the numbers of military aircraft who have left are relatively consistent with where they have been for last several days but the numbers of passengers on them is down from where it was.
Does that mean that the U.S. is now starting to move some equipment, military equipment on this? Or are they planes that are going out just not full?
TAYLOR: As we said, you know, our mission to continue evacuating those as required, and to meet the mission requirement by August 31st, is what the commanders are executing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So does that mean that you're starting to take some equipment out on these aircraft, or do you not have enough passengers?
TAYLOR: Yes. There is equipment leaving on those flights, too. That was originally planned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then if I could ask one more. Have there been any attacks? General McKenzie talked about how the Taliban had thwarted some attacks before Thursday's attack. Have there been any other cases that you're aware of that the Taliban have actually stopped attackers from getting in towards the airport?
TAYLOR: I don't have specific reports of that. Other than, as you can see, as we just talked, the security of the base is the most important thing that we're doing to allow us to continue our mission.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, you said the threat at the airport remains active and dynamic. Is it fair to say that whether or not those people killed last night deserve to be on the face of the earth or not, that the threat at the airport remains unchanged?
KIRBY: I wouldn't say that it remains unchanged. I didn't say that. I said it remains active and dynamic. And it does.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it as serious as it was yesterday?
KIRBY: It is a serious threat. I'm not sure how any potential terrorist threat can be anything other than serious or that we shouldn't take it seriously. It's serious.
Yesterday, you denied Taliban claim that they had assumed responsibility for security in some parts of the airport. Is that still the case, that Taliban do not provide security at the airport itself?
KIRBY: That is still the case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And is that going to remain the case until the end, or at some point, do they have to move into the airport to keep the crowds at bay while those last planes take off?
KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about the specifics as we get closer to the end. Let me just say this as clearly as I can. We will maintain the ability to defend ourselves and our operations all the way through. Yes, Lucas?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, did the Taliban in any way provide any intelligence or any support with the drone strike that killed those two ISIS terrorists?
KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters one way or the other. (CROSSTALK)
KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about intelligence matters one way or the other.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you talk about the Taliban supporting this drone strike in any way?
KIRBY: We had useful intelligence on our own to conduct this strike.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you consider the Taliban and the Haqqani network as separate entities?
KIRBY: Lucas, I'm not going to give you a breakdown here or characterization of the Taliban or Haqqani. Lucas, you've got to remember what we're focused on here. And that's on getting more people out and getting our troops out, completing this mission.
And I'm not sure what benefit it does for me to try to characterize one group or another. We know that --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people that the deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani who has a $10 million bounty on his head. People should know, are these separate entities or --
KIRBY: We know that there is a certain matter of co-mingling here. I mean there is a marbling, if you will, of Taliban and Haqqani. What I'm pushing back a little bit on here, Lucas, is the relevance of that discussion to what we're trying to do today which is complete an evacuation safely and to get our troops and our forces at the airport out safely. That's what we're focused on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And one more question. Every major newspaper and television news outlet has said that the U.S. military brass recommended to the president to leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and not pull out. Have you asked any of those outlets for a correction?
KIRBY: I'm sorry. Say that one again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every major newspaper and television news outlet has reported that top Pentagon brass, Defense secretary, the head of U.S. forces and the elite in Afghanistan, the chairman of joint chiefs recommended to the president that 2,500 U.S. troops should have stayed in Afghanistan, not been pulled out.
Have you asked any news outlet for a correction to those stories?
KIRBY: Thanks for repeating it. We don't make it a habit to talk publicly one way or the other -- right, wrong, up, down, more or less -- about the advice and counsel that Pentagon leaders give the commander in chief.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about correcting the record?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has there been another helicopter evacuation recently?
KIRBY: I don't think there has been.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ok. Can I follow up then on the discussion about the drone strike yesterday? It's been characterized as being retaliation, as being reprisal for the bombing at the airport. Is that accurate? Or was this something that, as part of your over the horizon counterterrorism planning, you were already (INAUDIBLE)?
KIRBY: This was a little bit of both. I mean, we have the ability to conduct over the horizon counterterrorism capabilities. We've talked about that. This certainly fits in that mold. But it's not coincidence that it happened just a couple of days after we lost 13 brave service members.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And can I ask again, you're calling one a planner and another a facilitator. I believe that you're saying that one -- that's correct, right -- the characterization of the two individuals? What is the difference, I mean and what makes them targets?
TAYLOR: Thanks for your question. That is the clarification. The planner/facilitator that are those that would have the ability to facilitate or help plan an attack. That, as we said, gives the ability and the authority we had to conduct those missions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And were they involved in planning an imminent attack?
TAYLOR: We're not going to go into, you know, detailed intelligence information that led to that attack or that strike or future operations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
KIRBY: Yes, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A couple things on the strike.
First thing, you called them high profile. Could you explain to us? But not senior.
And then I have a follow-up on the strike.
What makes you say they're high profile?
TAYLOR: Based on the intelligence collected and activities in the past, that was the classification used for those.
STARR: General Taylor, can you just clarify, were you actually targeting both of these individuals, or were you targeting one and the other one happened to be there and got struck?
TAYLOR: We had the intelligence that led us to the target area. That allowed for that strike to happen with the BDA as briefed.
STARR: Were you targeting two individuals in this strike?
TAYLOR: We had intelligence that allowed us to conduct that strike on those multiple individuals.
STARR: And John, if I could ask you, also. So now you have done this strike. What is the assessment or feeling about the impact of this strike on ISIS-K in Afghanistan. Do you -- have you degraded them in any fashion? Can you explain that.
If they're high profile -- have you deterred, have you degraded? What is your conclusion about what the impact of this strike actually has been?
KIRBY: They have two -- they have two high-profile planners or facilitators. One planner, one facilitator that are no longer on their muster roll. So they have lost some capability to plan and to conduct missions.
But Barbara, make no mistake, nobody is writing this off and saying, well, we got them, so we don't have to worry about ISIS-K anymore. Not the case.
As I said earlier, the threat stream is still active, still dynamic. We're still laser focused on that, enforce protection. And we aren't thinking for a minute that what happened yesterday gets us in the clear. Not a minute.
But do we believe that we hit valid targets, bad guys who can do bad things and can plan bad missions? Absolutely. And do we think that that will have some impact on their ability going forward? Absolutely. What and how much, we're just going to -- we're just going to have to keep watching the intelligence going forward.
STARR: I don't know if you can answer, but does the United States have a sense, even if you can't say names, do you have any sense of who is in command of ISIS-K right now?
KIRBY: I'm not going to get into specific org charts and intelligence about what we know about the organization. Obviously, we put a lot of time and effort into learning as much as we can. And I think I just, for security purposes, I'm just going to leave it at that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So a couple questions on the attack itself. First of all, where did the unmanned aircraft come from? Was it a wizard (ph) drone, predator drone? Can you give us any information about --
KIRBY: Over the horizon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ok. So no specific --
KIRBY: Over the horizon. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ok. And then was there -- were there reports that
the targets were in a vehicle? Is that accurate? Was there any other damage to ISIS infrastructure?
KIRBY: As I think the General said right at the top, we're going to be loathe to release a lot of tactical level BDA detail here. We want to preserve as much flexibility as we can. So I think you can understand -- or at least I hope you can understand that we're just not going to be able to answer a lot of that detailed stuff right now.
And then just to follow up, how -- what are you doing about the ISIS-K cells in Kabul itself? Because clearly, these attacks are coming from Kabul. It's possible the terrorists have gone underground. Obviously, you can't target the city itself with air strikes right now.
KIRBY: What I would tell you is we're watching the threats team very carefully Laura. Clearly, they have the ability to operate inside Kabul. We're mindful of that. And we're watching it as closely as we can.
KIRBY: And we're obviously trying to make sure that we have available to us as much information and context as possible so as to prepare for any future attacks.
And that certainly, we have to assume could come from or be planned out of or sourced out of places that they might have established themselves in Kabul. I think that's really as far as we're going to be able to go right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I can ask the General a couple of questions about the airport. When are we officially handing the airport over to the Taliban? Is the Taliban going to be running the airport? Are they going to be running it with the Qataris and the Turks, as I believe has been reported?
TAYLOR: We're going to continue to run the airport up until the end. And those details, as they continue to be worked out, will come forth.
But right now, we will continue to run that airfield to make sure that we can execute our operations.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And are some of the gates to the airport welded shut, as has been reported?
TAYLOR: There are gates that are closed, absolutely right now. But as we said earlier, we do have gates that continue to be open as we coordinate and still work with the Department of State to get people in for evacuation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
KIRBY: Howard Altman.
HOWARD ALTMAN, JOURNALIST: Hey. First of all, I express my condolences to the families who've lost loved ones in Kabul.
Despite this massive effort to evacuate folks, there were a number of organizations including, you know, current and former military, that feel there is a level of frustration in not being able to get people out. And they're working in many ways, in many reports about that.
My question is, is DOD cooperating with any of these organizations? Can you talk about that?
And then what is your message to these organizations? Are they helping? Are they hindering? Given what you know about how this is unfolding, should they continue their operations?
KIRBY: Well, it's certainly not for us to tell them to stop caring about individuals that they know that are in Afghanistan, Howard. We are, as you might imagine, I mean, we are working off many different streams of information about various vulnerable Afghan groups. Not to mention applicants in the Special Immigrant Visa Program and, of course, American citizens.
And I don't want to speak for the State Department, but the State Department is really liaising with a lot of outside groups to help identify those who need to be evacuated.
We are primarily responsible for helping provide that secure area at the airport for them to be able get to, to process and get through to properly manifest them and to get them on flights out of there.
But look, I mean, I think a lot of us are getting emails and calls and texts from friends and colleagues, many of them are veterans, who are passing information to us to try to help get additional people out. And we're doing the best we can when we are contacted, to get that information in the right stream, to the right people on the ground there at the airport, to continue to facilitate movement.
And as the General said, we're going to try to facilitate movement of the evacuees right up until the very end.
ALTMAN: Have these efforts helped, or are they adding to the confusion? And is DOD cooperating or helping in any way? Can you specify?
KIRBY: I think certainly, Howard, to the degree that they have brought to light information that we can act upon, to get additional people out, of course, that's been helpful. And we certainly share the concerns these groups have for these individuals. We feel the same obligation that they do to it.
So to the degree they have been able to help us latch on and identify, then yes, that's been helpful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few different things. One question with the Taliban. It's not an intelligence question, but was there kind of coordination that you share any information prior to the strike on the ISIS targets with the Taliban? One question -- that will be one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Easy question and answer. And turning to the preparations for folks going back, is there a number -- a total number of people you have -- evacuees you have on domestic bases here, plus those kind of on the step to come back? So all the different hubs plus the bases, do you have a total number there?
KIRBY: I don't have it with me, Gordon. I think you heard the General VanHerck yesterday. We have just under 7,000 SIV applicants at U.S. military installations across the country.
He's opened up additional installations to try to get us to a capacity of maybe as much as 50,000 if we need it, I think. He gave that number yesterday, and I think -- I don't think that number has changed appreciably over the -- over the last 24 hours.
But before I jump off, let me just check and see if I got an updated number in Europe. I have it here somewhere, I think.
No, I don't think I've got it across Europe. We'll have to -- we'll have to come back to you on that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then two other quick ones. Do you expect troops to come into Dover as soon as today?
KIRBY: What I can tell you is the remains of the 13 individuals who were killed are on their way back to the United States, but I am not at liberty to give you a precise arrival.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ok. Final clarification. Struck in the target for last night was a planner and a facilitator, or they were both considered kind of both? I didn't quite understand.
TAYLOR: The capabilities of those struck and killed last night were a facilitator and planners.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So --
TAYLOR: We're not getting into this one was this, and this one was this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're both kind of planners --
TAYLOR: Facilitators and planners.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you aware of them before --
TAYLOR: Like I said, we're not discussing the intelligence that led up to it then it did with the intelligence that we had allowed us to conduct that strike. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't say if they were even individuals who
were already on the U.S. radar as high-profile people?
TAYLOR: We had intelligence on the targets that led us, as we continued to work up that, to conduct that strike.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there a form on the over the horizon efforts. If I'm not mistaken, we looked back, and the last time that we saw that the U.S. announced a counterterror strike in Afghanistan was February of 2020. Are you aware of any other particularly specific, not against Taliban, but specific CT strikes since February 2020 in Afghanistan?
TAYLOR: I don't have that information really though.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, with all due respect, the reason you're getting questions about the intelligence is two days before Kabul fell, the intelligence did not show that the country was about to fall to the Taliban. That's why you're receiving questions about the intelligence of this target, just how serious these ISIS fighters were.
TAYLOR: I understand that. And I understand that people -- we're not going to go into the details of the intelligence that goes into that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were they planning an attack on U.S. troops at the Kabul airport in the next few days?
TAYLOR: The intelligence that we had was good enough. It allowed us to conduct that strike. And as Mr. Kirby said, we now have two members of ISIS-K that are no longer able to facilitate or plan attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were they planning attacks on U.S. troops?
TAYLOR: I'm not going to go into that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- secretary and the president to greet the caskets at Dover?
M1; I don't have schedule of announcements to make with respect to that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, I'm a little unclear on what I think each of you said when you were talking about the presence of the Taliban at the airport. Are you saying that there are no Taliban on the airfield beginning to transition to control on either of the civilian military sites?
KIRBY: This was some reporting yesterday that the Taliban were in control of the gates. And then there was reporting that we were shutting down all evacuation operations in the course of the day.
And my point yesterday was those are not true. We're not shutting down evacuation operations. We're going to continue going until the end. We are still in charge of the airport. And we are still in charge of security at the airport. And what has -- what was true a few days ago is still true today. The Taliban have checkpoints around the airport in a loose perimeter, if you will, but they are not manning gates. They are not at the airport doing security rolls or anything like that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not at the airport.
KIRBY: They are not at the airport.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ok, thanks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going back to the drone strike, you obviously can't give specific names of countries, but did you notify any countries through which the drone may have had to fly through before the strike? And which committees on the Hill did you notify prior to the strike, if at all?
I don't -- as far as I know, there was no notifications that did or needed to happen beforehand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To countries or the committees?
KIRBY: No notifications that were needed to be done beforehand. Yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not revealing the names of the individuals, but you know them, right? And you know the nationality of these individuals who were killed in the drone strike yesterday?
KIRBY: We know who they are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about the one who was wounded was the planner or the facilitator?
KIRBY: I don't have that information.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And one more question. Do you have conversations with the Taliban? Have they given you any (INAUDIBLE) or indicated that they will not let Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for terrorists attack against U.S. friends and allies?
KIRBY: Can you say that one again?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During your conversations with Taliban leadership, had they indicated or given any assurance to you that they'll not let Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for terrorist attack against U.S., its friends and allies?
KIRBY: They made assurances as part of the Doha agreement about affiliation with al Qaeda and about terrorism -- terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan. They've said that publicly. They said that as part of the Doha agreement.
STARR: Do you have any indication of the level or types of foreign fighters that may have flowed into Afghanistan in recent days and weeks?
KIRBY: I do not.
Ok, I think we're going to call it a day. No. We're going to call it a day, Lucas. Lucas, Lucas, I appreciate it very much.
KIRBY: I appreciate it very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- prisoners were released in jail by the Taliban --
KIRBY: Thank you all for spending the day -- I appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that evidence that the Taliban and ISIS might be in --
(END OF LIVE EVENT)
BLITZER: All right. So there you have it.
About a half hour of Pentagon briefing with John Kirby the Pentagon press secretary, and Army Major General William Hank Taylor.
We got three important headlines out of that briefing.
First, not one but two ISIS-K facilitators and planners, terrorists were killed in that U.S. drone strike yesterday. One facilitator and planner was wounded.
We also learned that the terror threats from the U.S. perspective that remain during these final three days of the U.S. military withdrawal and evacuations. The terror threats remain in the words of these Pentagon officials, very real, very active, and very dynamic.
And we also got an update on the number of individuals who have been evacuated from Afghanistan over these past several days since August 14th. A total now of 117,000 U.S. citizens, green card holders, Afghan allies, other Afghans, third-country individuals.
117,000 have been evacuated over these past couple weeks or so. 5,400 of them -- 5,400 of them U.S. citizens. Most, obviously, of the 117,000 Afghans. We have a team of reporters and experts covering all of this. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is joining us from Doha, Qatar; Arlette Saenz is over at the White House; Barbara Starr, you just saw her asking questions, she'll join us from the Pentagon; CNN military analyst, retired General Wesley Clark, a former NATO supreme allied commander; and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd is with us as well.
Let me go to Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us first. Nick, let me get your thoughts on what we just heard, specifically starting with this U.S. drone strike that killed these two ISIS-K -- what they call planners and facilitators.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Despite there being more information about that strike, it is still limited -- a planner and a facilitator and somebody else wounded, as well. Clearly, they felt that they had the right intelligence, that they hit the right target there and that that will have an impact on ISIS operations.
As Barbara has been reporting before, they don't believe this to have been a senior operative, but certainly this is the response that President Joe Biden said would be carried out. And I'm sure, frankly, we will see more in the forthcoming future.
Other interesting points, though, in that briefing there, Wolf. There are now 1,400 -- at the time of speaking, I believe they said -- individuals on the airport waiting evacuation. And we've seen the number actually evacuated taper off significantly overnight.
You said there are 117,000 in total. I think it's important just to remember how extraordinary that figure is. All the chaos and loss surrounding, that is still an absolutely staggering number for a week's work by U.S. servicemen there, as well.
Another important thing, too, to remember is they were clear that the process of retrograde has begun. Now that is military speak for essentially withdrawing, leaving the airport.
They're putting equipment onto cargo planes and beginning to leave. We didn't get a precise number of how many U.S. troops are still on the base at this time, but it is obviously clear at this stage, if you look at the numbers of evacuees, they've shifted from evacuation being the main preoccupation, now it's the safety of U.S. troops and their departure.
That 31st of August deadline looming very large indeed, clearly. They do still say that U.S. passport holders and even SIV applicants can expect to be evacuated if they can get onto the airport.
WALSH: And that is, of course, the key challenge here permanently. Reports of increasingly difficult access to the airport and that, in fact, I actually heard today, miraculously, some people, according to a source familiar with the situation, some individual numbers, individual families are still being pulled through the gates. So quite remarkable, frankly, that after the extraordinary losses we saw on Thursday, there are still it seems, U.S. or Afghan personnel putting themselves in harm's way at those dangerous gates and bringing people into safety.
You can't really underestimate the courage and sacrifice behind that. But it is obvious, I think, from hearing the way this press conference was put together, we are moving into a separate phase now where the evacuation is beginning to be limited, certainly. And we're now moving towards removing troops from the area. The last U.S. troops in America's longest war leaving in very precarious circumstances.
The Taliban they're very clear are not at the gates of the airport. They were clear to say that. I should point out we do know the Taliban have a presence at the southern civilian gate of the airport and have had for some time and in fact facilitating, often, convoys with coordination with the United States, for getting in to the American side that's held on the sort of military end of the airport.
But a very fraught few days ahead now. It is clear evacuation is dwindling. It's clear that retrograde has begun. And I'm sure that they will not be wasting any time in bringing out the equipment and the U.S. troops that they can, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Nick.
Barbara Starr, our Pentagon correspondent, was in the briefing. We heard her asking important questions.
Barbara, when we heard the Pentagon officials say the threats, the terror threats facing the remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the American citizens who might want to still try to get to the airport and get out, the other Afghans who are trying to escape Afghanistan, the threats remain very real, very active, very dynamic.
Tell our viewers what you're hearing about these threats because I have to tell you, there are a lot of nervous officials here in Washington right now.
STARR: Well, I think everyone is quite concerned, Wolf. They talked in the briefing about monitoring the threats in real time. That means the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. military, the White House, across the government, they are looking at this minute by minute and in an acknowledgment that ISIS-K, ISIS in Afghanistan, is still operating inside Kabul.
This becomes a critical point because as Nick Paton Walsh was just saying, with the public acknowledgment from the Pentagon that the withdrawal of U.S. forces and equipment has begun, we are now in the countdown, the most dangerous hours for U.S. forces in Afghanistan is now upon us.
And it will be here until that last U.S. military plane rolls down the runway at the airport and lifts off and clears air space. This is going to be a situation that they will have to monitor around the clock. You know, they're telling us that they will be maintaining U.S. security at the airport until the last minutes, but from a practical matter, at some point, it will all be over and that last plane goes down the runway.
And when that happens, the U.S. is not in control of the airport. So they are going to come to a point where the Taliban will, from all practical purposes, be maintaining security at the airport, whether they are on the airfield or not.
In terms of the drone strike that we learned of overnight, I thought it was exceptionally interesting. They said that the two killed were facilitators, planners for ISIS-K, very typical bureaucratic words that the military uses to describe their targets. Ok, fine.
They would not say if either of these people who were killed were directly involved in planning or facilitating the airport attack. They simply said that they were planners, facilitators. We know they were worried that one of them was involved in future planning.
So they say, of course, that the strike was justified on the basis of the intelligence they had about what these two ISIS operatives were up to.
But, you know, there was also a very strong acknowledgment by John Kirby, the long-time press secretary here, that this doesn't necessarily change that ISIS threat in Afghanistan right now.
Nobody is making the claim that killing these two ISIS operatives changes the threat, lessens the threat to any great degree. There is just the simple fact that as the hours tick by, the danger may grow. And they are going to watch it every minute, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And these drones came in as the Pentagon press secretary said over the horizon, from outside of Afghanistan.
BLITZER: And we did hear Kirby also say that it is very, very good that these two facilitators, planners, these ISIS-K terrorists, are no longer, in Kirby's words, on the face of the earth suggesting that if the U.S. can, they will try to kill others, as well.
Arlette Saenz, you're at the White House. The president, I take it, has been briefed already today by his national security team. Is that right?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president is currently in a meeting with his national security team to receive all of the latest updates on Afghanistan.
We saw the Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, as well as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley and national security advisor Jake Sullivan arriving here at the White House, a little bit before 11:00. That is when that meeting in the situation room with the president and vice president was set to start. And it was just yesterday that the president's national security advisers warned that another terror attack in Afghanistan was likely. And you heard John Kirby speaking specifically to that today, as he said that the threat there is still very real and very dynamic.
Another thing that the White House, of course, is watching is these evacuations. A bit earlier today, they provided the latest numbers on that, saying that 6,800 people were evacuated on U.S. and coalition flights over the last 24-hour period.
That is significantly less than the previous 24-hour period which was 12,500. Officials have said that that slowing of the pace of evacuations was expected as they entered this retrograde phase, which you heard Kirby speak about just moments ago at that briefing.
I think another important point from that briefing was that John Kirby was asked about those 13 killed service members. And he said that they are en route back to the United States. But he would not get into specifics about where exactly on the journey those deceased service members are.
One big question is whether President Biden would go to Dover as the remains of those service members are transported to the U.S. We are still waiting to hear whether that might be a possibility.
We're also waiting to hear if the president has started those phone calls with the families of the service members who were killed in that suicide attack in Afghanistan.
That is one of the toughest and most solemn duties that presidents have. And we expect the president will be making those phone calls at some point.
But right now, this White House is acutely aware of the threats that are still ongoing and posed against U.S. forces and against Afghans on the ground there in Afghanistan as that drawdown deadline is quickly approaching, August 31st.
And you heard in that Pentagon briefing, they were insistent that those plans are still under way. That timeframe is not changing.
BLITZER: All right. We'll see if the president of the United States does go to the Joint Base Dover in his home state of Delaware to greet those deceased U.S. service members.
We were told earlier in the day by the air base commander at Ramstein, Germany that the wounded and deceased service members were flown from Afghanistan to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Ramstein in German.
The 13 deceased service members and 20 U.S. Marines who were wounded in the suicide attack, they're being treated now, many of them very seriously wounded, at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center at Ramstein at the air base there. Phil Mudd, you're listening closely to everything we just saw. But let me get your thoughts specifically on how much damage (AUDIO GAP) two ISIS-K terrorists -- the planners -- how much damage does that really do to ISIS-K? Because there's enormous concern right now, especially over the next three days, that there will be another terrorist attack.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The damage is modest. Look, the question you have over time when you have terror strikes like this is do you have strikes over time that is month on month, year on year, to decimate an organization, including things like its leadership and bomb makers.
The references today were to a facilitator and planner. That's not a leader. That's not a bomb maker. So I'd say this is like chopping down a huge tree. We got one small hatchet chop. If you don't keep going, that tree is going to resuscitate itself.
That said, Wolf, let me close with one comment. Despite what I just said, this is hugely significant. The fact that we could identify these people within 48 hours suggests that we knew who they were beforehand.
This wasn't going to an ISIS facility and saying, let's see who we can get. If we could identify them beforehand, that says to you the intelligence picture is very good. If that picture is very good, it's going to blow up in the coming days as ISIS starts to talk.
This is a start, it's not a huge start. But it is certainly not the end, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. No. it's certainly not the end but it's an important step right now.
BLITZER: You heard -- you heard the Pentagon briefers -- John Kirby, retired U.S. Admiral, and Army Major General William Taylor say that, you know, they were very, very pleased that both of these terrorists were killed, one was injured.
BLITZER: And I assume more of these air strikes over the horizon -- that means they're coming in from outside of Afghanistan -- will continue, and Phil, tell me if you agree, even after the U.S. military withdrawal on Tuesday.
MUDD: If they don't continue after we withdraw, we don't win. I guarantee you that everybody in my old world is not asking about withdrawal. They're asking the question about how do we maintain an intelligence picture to conduct lethal strikes.
I would lay any amount of money you want, Wolf, that in the coming months, we you will see -- I don't care what the Taliban says, I don't care what happens, you know, with the Taliban after the withdrawal, I don't care what the conversation the U.S. government has with them and I don't care what they ask.
There will be lethal strikes after September 1st, bet on it, because we have to take out ISIS-K. It is going to happen.
BLITZER: Yes. And I suspect that you're 100 percent right.
General Wesley Clark, let's talk a little bit about what you heard. You listened very closely to this Pentagon briefing. What jumped out at you?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, the most important thing is we are continuing with the evacuation. Now, obviously we have choked down access, so we're trading off the flow for the security of the Marines and soldiers who are there. That's the command tradeoff.
We've obviously got everything in the air, doing everything we can on security. But we have choked off the flow. And I am hearing from official sources and from chitchat and so forth how difficult it is for people trying to get on to the airfield. They can't find a way in, they don't know who to contact, et cetera.
So we've got to put the security up there as a prime consideration now for our troops. They've done what's necessary to be able to get the right balance between security for the force and to get the evacuees out.
But as others have noticed, the flow has diminished. We can expect it to continue to diminish for the next two days as we are retrograding.
Eventually you reach a point where you don't have security on the ground, as Barbara said, this may be for the last flight. But before the last flight, the security is still being diminished. So we've got a real challenge here to do everything we can to get the Americans out first.
We are not hearing about that. We didn't hear about it from the Pentagon obviously, and we would like to get more information from state on how we're doing on this. This is the vital component. It's what the president pledged, so we've got to get our Americans who want out, out.
BLITZER: Yes, originally, they said about 6,000 U.S. citizens wanted out. And we were told just now 5,400 Americans that have been -- have been flown out. That would suggest maybe there's another 600 or so. Maybe they change their mind, they don't want to leave, maybe they can't get to the airport, they can't get out for whatever reason. But there are still several hundred Americans who potentially, General Clark, could be stranded inside that country.
What happens to them after Tuesday when the U.S. military withdrawal needs to be completed?
CLARK: So there are many different organizations still working. And I would think that there are still going to be many efforts to get people out. They'll go out over land. They may be going out by helicopter. They may be going out from covert airfields somewhere. We just don't know.
But these networks, this is like the evacuation of the British forces from Dunkirk. This is like a thousand boats leaving the British (INAUDIBLE) to cross the channel to France. Got thousands of people in the United States and in Europe and elsewhere, working with contacts on the ground in Afghanistan and in the region to get people out. Just can't imagine how massive this effort is.
BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, what does it say to you when we heard Admiral Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, retired Admiral Kirby say there were no notifications of this strike, of this drone strike that killed these two terrorists in advance to countries where the drone may have been flying over, countries where the drone may have originated. We don't know where the drones originated from.
But there was no notification, and no notification of key members of Congress either. That's the way I understood what Kirby was saying. What does that say to you?
MUDD: A couple of things, one on the domestic side, one on the foreign side. On domestic side, clearly and John Kirby the spokesman suggested this, the president feels as in the waning days of withdrawal that he has the authority to strike a target in Afghanistan. I can't believe anybody in Congress or elsewhere would dispute that.
I'd also say he probably didn't have a lot of time to pick up the phone and tell somebody. These targets are very fleeting. You've got to move when you got to move.
The thing about notifications elsewhere in the region tells me a couple of things.
Number one, if you're operating from a regional state, either you don't want to tell them and I have seen that happen in the past, because you're afraid of leaks, or you don't have to tell them.
MUDD: That is we're operating from your territory, we're going to conduct strikes like this. If you authorize those in advance, we're not going to tell you when they're happening.
Obviously, the final option would be they flew off the ship in the gulf just south of there, didn't need to notify anybody because they flew right in, maybe over Pakistan but maybe right into -- right into Afghan air space after a short hop over Pakistan.
BLITZER: All right. Everyone stand by because the news is breaking right now.
Wesley Clark, Phil Mudd, Nick Peyton Walsh, Arlette Saenz, Barbara Starr -- we're going to get back to all of you.
We are also following other major breaking news right now. We are waiting to hear directly from the mayor of New Orleans as Hurricane Ida is barreling down on the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Ida expected to be now a category one, two, or three but a category four hurricane when it makes landfall around Louisiana, close to New Orleans tomorrow.
This is exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, hit New Orleans as a category three. This is going to be a category four. The National Hurricane Center has just warned only moments ago that Hurricane Ida is expected to begin rapidly intensifying in the warm waters of the Gulf right away.
Much more of our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.