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Hala Gorani Tonight
Taliban Take City of Herat in Afghanistan; U.S. State Department: U.S. will Draw Down Some Personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul; Wildfires Continue its Path of Destruction Across Southern Europe and North Africa. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired August 12, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, live from CNN in London, I am HALA GORANI TONIGHT. A very busy hour, breaking news out of Afghanistan. The
third largest city falls to the Taliban, is the capital next? We are live on the ground in Kabul. Then the world still in COVID chaos. We'll speak to
a top W.H.O. official on how soon we'll get back to normal.
And later, those wildfires are continuing their path of destruction. Dramatic images coming to us from southern Europe and northern Africa. We
have the latest from Greece and Algeria. We have breaking news from the battlefields of Afghanistan. Every hour, an Afghan official now tells CNN
that Herat has fallen to the Taliban. Before that, we learned of a breach in the frontlines around Kandahar. Those are two of Afghanistan's three
largest cities. But look at the third location on this map, Ghazni, another provincial capital that the Taliban captured today.
Why is it important? Look at its proximity to Kabul. And you can see Taliban forces outside what they say are the gates of the Ghazni police
headquarters. Let's take a look at some of that video. Afghan journalist Ali Latifi is on the ground in Kabul, he was in Herat just a few weeks ago
and we're able to connect with him in Kabul this evening. So talk to us obviously about the huge significance of Herat's now falling to the
ALI LATIFI, AFGHAN JOURNALIST (via telephone): Herat as you said is the third largest city in Afghanistan. It is an economic hub, it is a transit
hub, it is a cultural capital, it is a historic capital. You know, this is the kind of a crown jewel that the Taliban were waiting for. This will make
the kinds of headlines that they've been wanting. They've been working for the last month, month and a half to try and take this city. When I was just
in Herat, you know, a month ago, life before the Eid holiday, life was already coming to a standstill. You know, the market, even in the days
leading up to the Eid was virtually empty.
People are afraid to go out, people didn't want to spend money, they didn't have money. You know, you were talking to shop owners, to people who make
sweets, to people who sell the animals for the Eid sacrifice, all of them said sales were down, you know, traffic in the city, traffic in the markets
was down. So the fear was already there for at least the last month.
GORANI: Yes, so what does it mean in terms of the advance of the Taliban toward Kabul? And is it a surprise that it was at least seemingly easy for
the Taliban to take Herat, to breach Kandahar, to take Ghazni?
LATIFI: So, I was just talking to friends in Herat and Kandahar, and they said exactly that. They said we cannot believe that A-Hof is lost, we can't
believe how easily they got in, we never would have imagined, and people in Kandahar are saying the same thing. People in Kandahar, they feel like it's
already taken, you know, so, it's not a question anymore. And what makes them the most upset is that they feel like there was no effort put in,
there was no fight left amongst the security forces, and that the government didn't take this issue seriously. You brought up Ghazni earlier,
the governor of Ghazni province was arrested on his way to Kabul because he fled the province.
He fled the province and wanted to come to Kabul. He was arrested by the minister of interior for dereliction of duty. And we have to remember that,
for someone to leave Ghazni which is 150 kilometers from Kabul and to make it at least to Wardak, the next province next to Kabul. He had to travel
several kilometers through Taliban territory. The only way he could do that is to have made a deal with the powerful. He didn't make a deal to protect
the people of Ghazni, he made a deal to protect himself.
GORANI: So, what happened to the Afghan forces? I mean, we know many of them deserted, decided not to fight, perhaps they thought I don't have a
chance anyway, why put myself in harms way? But why was it such kind of an easy operation for the Taliban when it comes to those big, key, important
LATIFI: I've been reporting on this for ten years now. Even ten years ago, I was talking to people who are the soldiers of Kandahar, I had been with
soldiers all over the country, even countries near the gulf, they were saying we don't get our wages in time, we don't get food. We have to buy
our own boots, we have to buy our own walkie-talkies.
We have to buy -- they weren't getting support. They were not getting the support that they needed. And obviously, if you have an advance in Taliban
and if you see them taking provinces and then also taking cities, you know, what would you do? You know, if you seek --
GORANI: Yes, Ali --
LATIFI: And you're not getting the support you need --
GORANI: Ali, we want to get back to you quickly. The State Department is actually --
LATIFI: Yes --
GORANI: Addressing these fast-moving developments in Afghanistan. I just want our viewers to listen in to what the U.S. is saying about what's going
on in Afghanistan just really a few months after announcing this complete withdrawal. Ned Price, the spokesperson is addressing reporters. Let's
cross to Washington.
NED PRICE, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Good afternoon. Let me start by saying that our first responsibility has always been protecting the
safety and the security of our citizens serving in Afghanistan and around the world. As we have said all along, the increased tempo of the Taliban
military engagements and the resulting increase in violence and instability across Afghanistan is of grave concern. Our embassy in Kabul has been on
order departure since April 27th and we've been evaluating the security situation every day to determine how best to keep those serving at our
This is what we do for every diplomatic post in a challenging security environment. Accordingly, we are further reducing our civilian footprint in
Kabul in light of the evolving security situation. We expect to draw down to a core diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. In order
to facilitate this reduction, the Department of Defense will temporarily deploy additional personnel to Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Secretary Blinken together with Secretary Austin had an opportunity to speak with President Ghani to coordinate our planning earlier today. Let me
be very clear about this. The embassy remains open, and we plan to continue our diplomatic work in Afghanistan. The United States will continue to
support consular services, and that includes the processing and operations of the Special Immigrant Visa program, and we'll continue to engage in
diplomacy with the Afghan government and the Afghan people. Additionally, we will continue our focus on counter terrorism.
At the same time, our efforts to relocate interested and qualified Afghan applicants will continue to ramp up. To date, Operation Allah is Refuge has
brought more -- has brought to the United States more than 1,200 Afghans who worked side-by-side with Americans in Afghanistan, that includes
interpreters and translators along with their families. Additional flights will begin landing daily, and you're going to see the total number grow
very quickly in the coming days and the coming weeks. We'll begin implementing these measures soon in close coordination with allies and
For operational security reasons, I can't go further into further details on the next steps. But as we have long said, we are committed to supporting
Afghanistan and its people, and that commitment remains.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a moment, just one thing on the flights that you just mentioned, on the -- will be landing daily -- was that, you gave some
numbers a couple of days ago, a few day ago maybe --
PRICE: That's right --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ninety five --
PRICE: It would be 995.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that still the number or it's gone up?
PRICE: We're at 1,200 as of today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'm sorry. Did I miss that at the opening? Sorry. And then these new flights, it's starting daily like today?
PRICE: They'll start daily in the coming days. Our focus is on increasing the tempo of our relocation operations. As we've said, we have a solemn --
a sincere responsibility to these brave Afghans in many circumstances, in many cases at great personal risk to themselves have worked with the United
States over the past 20 years. We're going to honor that responsibility and increase the pace of those relocation flights.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, and then -- and I'm sorry, I missed that. And then on the embassy, where you say it will remain -- it will remain open, will
it remain open in its current location?
PRICE: Well, let me be very clear because this is a point I want to leave no uncertainty about. The embassy remains open. We continue our diplomatic
work, our diplomatic mission in Afghanistan. We will continue to do the priority functions. That includes supporting peace, security, assistance,
cooperation on counter-terrorism, consular services as we've been talking about, especially in the context of the Special Immigrant Visa Program. We
are always as I said at the top reviewing the environment and especially complex operating environments.
And of course, that includes Kabul. And so, today's announcement is really a continuation of one of our most important responsibilities. And that is
doing all we can to ensure the safety, the security, the welfare, the well- being of our people. As you know, we went on order departure in Kabul on April 27th with an eye to the security environment. But since then and
going forward, we are going to continue to prioritize these key areas, knowing that our partnership with the Afghan government and our partnership
with the Afghan people will be enduring. And so that will continue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That doesn't -- I'm sorry, my question was, is the embassy going to remain open in its current location?
PRICE: The embassy remains open. Matt, we are always --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Move to the second part of the question, it'll remain open at the location or are they going to the airport?
PRICE: We are always evaluating the situation on the ground. We are planning for all contingencies. This was a contingency in fact that we had
planned for. So, I'm not going to entertain hypotheticals, I'm not going to go into what additional contingencies may arise, but it's very important to
say that our embassy remains open and our diplomatic mission will endure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, that's not hypothetical. Is the embassy staying at its current location or is it moving locations to the airport --
PRICE: Christina(ph) --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or anywhere else?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or anywhere else?
PRICE: The embassy remains open in its current location.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you --
PRICE: I'm not going to entertain hypotheticals from there. OK --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My last one and I'll let everyone else go because I know -- but my last one is, the people who are being drawn down, the staffers
who are leaving, are they flying out commercially or is that what the military is going in to do --
PRICE: Well, the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To take them out?
PRICE: The military will be there to help effect an orderly and a safe reduction in our personnel. I do expect that the military will help with
these relocation operations. But as we know, Hamid Karzai International Airport does remain open. Commercial flights continue to take off and land
at the airport. So, the military is not the only way in or out of Afghanistan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The situation is such, though, you don't think that these people are safe getting out of the country on a commercial flight? Is
PRICE: The situation is such that this president prioritizes above all else the safety and security of Americans who are serving overseas. As I've
said, we have planned for any number of contingencies with an eye towards the deteriorating security situation. We have said for some time now that
we have been gravely concerned by developments. So, given the situation on the ground, this is a prudent step, a prudent reduction in our civilian
work force. Yes, Christina(ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you give us some kind of -- I know you know I'm talking about American Embassy, but you can't tell us how many people you
think are leaving. Can you give us like a percentage and just some kind of an idea of how big a reduction this is of the footprint. Does this change
the exit time line at all for the overall U.S. withdrawals that are being expedited, and do you think you can get the number of SIVs out on these
flights, even with the tempo picked up, do you think you can get enough of them out by the time you still have the facilities and the capacity to do
PRICE: So, you're right, we aren't in a position to speak to numbers. What we are in a position to speak to are the functions that we intend to press
forward with, given our diplomatic presence on the ground in Kabul. And so, that includes engagement with the government of Afghanistan. And includes
engagement with the people of Afghanistan, specifically our efforts to press forward with diplomacy, security, assistance, counter-terrorism
cooperation, consular services including the processing of SIV applicants. So, I'm sorry I'm not in a position to detail numbers, but those functions
are what we're prioritizing and what we intend to carry forward with.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What kinds of staff are leaving then? If those are the ones -- people that are staying, who is leaving?
PRICE: So, staff who are leaving, staff involved in this reduction of civilian personnel include, for example, those who may be able to perform
functions back -- well, elsewhere, whether that's back here in the United States or elsewhere. It includes staff who may not be necessary to continue
with those core functions. So, we are taking a very close look at our staffing footprint, a raid against this set of priorities, knowing that we
are committed to an enduring relationship with the people of Afghanistan, committed to a diplomatic relationship as well.
And so, we're taking a very close look, and we'll start that reduction in civilian personnel in the coming days, Harry(ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that different from what you did in April? You already said --
PRICE: It is -- it is -- it is not different. You know, as we've said, this is -- we went on order departure in April. We have undertaken a reduction
in staffing since then. We obviously haven't detailed numbers, but as we have said including in the context of SIV processing, we determined, for
example, that there were people based at the embassy who could have been based back here in the Washington D.C. area, who could help adjudicate the
chief mission level processing for SIV applicants.
Now, what is true is that we are going down to a smaller diplomatic presence given the security situation. But as you've said, our overall
status has not changed. We have been on order departure since April 27th. We've taken prudent measures since then to reduce the size of our
footprints in Afghanistan with an eye towards the security environment. That's what we're doing here. Yes, her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you said that today is a continuation of what has been happening, but it appears very clearly to be a preparation for a full
evacuation of all U.S. diplomats from Afghanistan. So what is your response to that?
PRICE: My response to that is that's not true. This is not a full evacuation. This is not --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Preparation, I said.
PRICE: We are in -- I think it's a very important distinction between planning and contingency planning. Right now, we are -- the embassy remains
open. We will continue to have a diplomatic presence on the ground to fulfill these important functions. Now, of course, the safety, the
security, the welfare, the well-being of American citizens serving overseas is of the utmost priority to this president. So, of course, we are
undertaking prudent contingency planning. That's precisely what we did to lead us here today.
We have watched as the security situation has changed. We have watched very closely, not only have we watched, we've engaged in planning exercises to
prepare us for an eventuality like the one we're talking about today. That's what we'll continue to do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what message does this send to the people of Afghanistan today who are facing these threats from the Taliban, these
military offenses that the U.S. is not only military withdrawing, but also taking out some of their diplomatic personnel?
PRICE: Well, the message we are sending to the people of Afghanistan is one of enduring partnership. We have said from the beginning that the United
States will be a committed partner to the people of Afghanistan. And you can measure that in any number of ways. Today, of course, we are continuing
to have a diplomatic presence. Our embassy remains open, our diplomatic engagement on the ground will continue, that will allow us to fulfill the
consular services, the humanitarian support services.
And on the topic of humanitarian support, you look at what the United States has invested in the people of Afghanistan. Not only in recent days,
but of course, over the past 20 years. On June 4th, we announced more than $266 million in new humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. That sum total
brought the total U.S. humanitarian aid for Afghanistan to nearly $3.9 billion over the course of our involvement in Afghanistan. That will not
change. Even given the more difficult security environment, we can continue to provide humanitarian support. We can continue to provide humanitarian
And importantly, we will continue to press forward in every way we can with the diplomacy to -- in an effort to bring about a just and endurable
solution to this conflict. And let me spend just a moment on that. I know we've talked about that in a number of times this week, but there has
continued to be movement on the ground. As you know, Ambassador Khalilzad and his team have been in Doha this week, they have taken part in a couple
of gatherings already. Today, they took part in a gathering of countries from the region and beyond as well as from multilateral organizations with
a couple of goals in mind.
Number one, to press for a reduction of violence in the ceasefire, and number two -- and this is important, a commitment on the part of those
countries represented in those organizations represented in Doha not to recognize any entity that takes control of Afghanistan by force.
Not to recognize any force that seeks to take control of Afghanistan at the barrel of a gun. The meeting today has included representatives not just
from the United States and Qatar, which is the host, but also the U.N., China, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, the U.K., the EU, Germany, India, Norway,
Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan. That, in and of itself is a broad and inclusive group of countries and international organizations. And this
group actually came together -- and I think you'll be seeing this later today in the form of a formal statement that will emanate from this
They agreed first and foremost that the peace process needs to be accelerated, and they also agreed importantly that, they will not recognize
any government that is imposed through military force. So, this is not just the United States making this point. This is not just the United States
speaking with our voice. This is the international community as you see represented in the consensus that has emerged today, regarding this very
simple point. Any force that seeks to take control of Afghanistan with the barrel of a gun -- through the barrel of a gun will not be recognized, will
not have legitimacy, will not accrue the international assistance that any such government would likely need to achieve any semblance of durability.
And before I go on, let me just say, this is an important statement that either has or soon will emanate from Doha today, but it's not the first of
its kind. We have seen the international community come together to speak with one voice on this very point over the course of weeks and months. I've
spoken just recently about the U.N. Security Council statement that emanated last week where the members of the Security Council recalled
resolution 2513, reaffirmed that there's no military solution to the conflict and declared they do not support the restoration of an Islamic
It's not just the U.N. Security Council's statement. There have been any number of settings and venues that over the course of recent weeks and
months, we have heard this message emanate loud and clear. The previous gathering of the extended troika, I think there was one this week, but the
previous gathering of the extended Troika, meaning the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan concluded, "we reiterate, there's no military
solution in Afghanistan and a negotiated political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process is the only way forward for lasting
peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The U.S., Europe communique which includes EU, France, Germany, Italy, NATO, Norway and the U.K., we reaffirm, there's no military solution to the
conflict. We stand by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2513, and we do not support any government in Afghanistan imposed through military force."
There is a C5 plus one statement, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, that had a similar point. The embassies
represented in Kabul only recently put out a very similar statement, and it was signed by the embassies of Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic,
Denmark, the EU delegation, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, NATO, Spain, Sweden, the U.K.
Just today, we heard a very similar statement from German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, the Indian government has made a very similar point as well.
This has been the -- I hesitate to call the emerging consensus because it is the established consensus of the international community. Nick(ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Precisely because of that, it begs the question --
GORANI: All right, Ned Price there at the State Department addressing reporters on a very busy news day when it comes to Afghanistan. The
Taliban's lightening advance across the country, this time claiming Herat, also breaching the outskirts of Kandahar, claiming Ghazni on the way to
Kabul. Alex Marquardt, our senior U.S. security correspondent joins me now. And Ned Price was asked about whether or not the embassy would move. There
were reports that it would move to the airport. But really it sounds like the U.S. is just bailing. I mean, they are reducing their civilian
footprint to a skeleton, skeleton staff at the embassy, and that's it.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Hala, Ned Price; the State Department spokesman there putting a positive spin on what is
very dramatic news, saying that the embassy will remain open and that the partnership with the Afghan people will endure. But make no mistake, Hala,
this is significant news. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan in Kabul will be drawing down personnel.
Ned Price, the spokesman there calling it a prudent step, he said that they're going to reduce the diplomatic presence by American diplomats to a
core diplomatic presence. He declined to put a figure on that or described which roles exactly would be staying in the country. But this is a
significant step for the U.S. diplomatic presence there. As you noted, he did dodge a question on whether the U.S. Embassy would remain in that
structure that it has been in since 2001. We have sources telling CNN that there is a consideration that the U.S. Embassy may be moved to Hamid Karzai
International Airport, that is the main airport in Kabul for security reasons.
And the State Department also saying now that, the U.S. military is going to move troops into Kabul to help with this draw down of U.S. diplomatic
personnel. One of the reasons that the airport is being considered is because it could make a further draw down more effective. It could also
limit the concerns about security if you're driving from the embassy in Kabul out to the airport to get out of the country.
But this is obviously very significant news. We heard earlier today, the State Department telling American citizens who remain in Afghanistan to get
out immediately. Calling on them to get on commercial flights, to leave the country, saying that if they couldn't afford tickets, to call up the
embassy and inquire about a loan. Telling them that if they're waiting for partners or children to get visas, to call them immediately to see if they
can get some sort of help.
GORANI: Yes --
MARQUARDT: So this is very fast moving. Of course, the intelligence assessment that we heard months ago, Hala, back in April was that the
Afghan government, the Afghan forces would struggle to hold ground against the Taliban if the coalition were to leave. Of course, what is so stunning
now, not just here in Washington, but in other capitals around the world is how fast the Taliban has made that advance, how quickly the situation has
deteriorated. U.S. Intelligence services now believe that it could be months if not weeks before the Kabul -- before the capital of Kabul is
surrounded if not taken all together.
So, you are seeing a real sense of worry here in Washington, a flurry of activity. We know that the Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke with his
counterpart at the Pentagon earlier today. He spoke with the National Security adviser Jake Sullivan last night, lots of meetings, lots of phone
calls to figure out how to handle this deteriorating situation, and of course go over those contingency plans. I should note, Hala, though,
President Biden has not taken part in meetings on Afghanistan today we are told, and he of course said earlier this week that he does not regret his
decision to fully pull out militarily of Afghanistan, Hala.
GORANI: All right, thanks very much, Alex Marquardt. A fast-moving story, repeating our breaking news for viewers who might just be joining us. In
Afghanistan, the Taliban's advance continues. It continues at pace, taking Herat, reaching Kandahar, claiming Ghazni. Major fears concerning Kabul as
well -- of course, many of you who follow the Afghanistan story will know that the Taliban and the Afghan government have been in, quote, unquote,
"peace talks" in Doha, Qatar. One of the latest quotes I found from a Taliban spokesperson on July 17th was "our priority is to solve the
problems through dialogue", it doesn't look looking at this map like much dialogue has taken place.
This is really an onslaught by the Taliban going from city to city to city, provincial capital to provincial capital with major fears for the capital
of the country itself, and we'll have much more on Afghanistan coming up after the break. Our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward will
join me live from Kabul. We'll also speak to Carter Malkasian; he is the author of "The American War in Afghanistan", a history, and a former senior
adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Stay with us.
Also ahead, rebuilding Beirut. I'll speak to one entrepreneur who is determined not to let last year's devastating blast get in the way of his
dreams. He'll join me live on the program a bit later as well. Stay with us.
GORANI: Breaking news this hour, an Afghan official tells CNN that the Taliban now control the city of Herat and have broken through the front
lines around Kandahar, two of Afghanistan's three largest cities.
Militants have also captured the city of Ghazni, posing a major threat to Kabul. Clarissa Ward joins us now live from Kabul.
Talk to us about the latest, the significance of Herat and Ghazni and the threat to the capital itself.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Hala, well, the hits just keep coming. And 12 provincial capitals in less than a week and
some of the major, major cities of Afghanistan.
Herat, as you mentioned, is the third largest city in the country and Kandahar now on the brink of falling. We were there just last week. As you
know, we went to a front line position at a wedding hall, where Afghan forces had set up a kind of fortress basically to try to stave off the
That wedding hall is now completely under Taliban control. We spoke to the MP who we had interviewed, Gulan Kamin (ph). He told us the city hasn't
fallen yet, quote, "but it will."
And he said groups of 15 to 20 Taliban fighter had essentially penetrated the front line in the western part of the city and were causing chaos in
the center of town outside the governor's house, in the central square, shooting, contributing to the sense on the ground that things are
completely out of control, that the government and government forces have lost all control over the situation.
And so we expect to hear potentially imminently that Kandahar has fallen. Hala, this will be a huge deal. This is the spiritual birthplace of the
Taliban. It's the former capital of their Islamic emirate, the place where their leader Mullah Omar lived.
So that could be a real game changer here. And what's becoming clear on the ground in Kabul, as people see the dominoes falling, they're starting to
see the writing on the wall. So there is an increased sense of dread and, in some places, panic that there is nowhere to go, Hala.
GORANI: Ali Latifi is a journalist in Kabul, who told me he'd covered this story for 10 years on the ground and that he was in Herat not too long ago.
And that even residents of Herat were astonished that it took so little time for the Taliban to basically completely take over the city.
Why are Afghan forces not putting up more of a fight?
WARD: So I think there are several contributing factors here. I think one of the big problems with the Afghan army that's been a recurring problem
for many years is resupply. You have so many different bases all over every corner of the country.
And right now, with U.S. forces gone, the Afghan military is so stretched thin, it's simply not able to keep up resupply logistics in an efficient
So we heard one case a few weeks ago in Ghazni province, where the men on an Afghan base simply ran out of food. Then you have an issue with morale.
Afghan soldiers don't want to die. They're not motivated by the same ideology that the Taliban is.
And there is not the same also coherence and cohesion within their ranks. There's a sense among many Afghan soldiers of disenchantment.
Why is the government getting rich?
There's accusations always of corruption with the Afghan government.
Why should we die for this?
That sort of attitude. We saw it on display just a couple of days ago. We drove past a checkpoint going from Maydan Shahr into Wardak province. And
it was Taliban taking some shots at an Afghan base and checkpoint, government forces.
And we literally saw, with our own eyes, Hala, the men, the Afghan soldiers, leave the base, run out, hail a civilian vehicle and just leave
And when we came back the next day, going the other way through the checkpoint, there were still a couple of soldiers there but they were
wearing civilian clothes. And I think that gives you a sense of how Afghan forces are feeling right now. They feel completely overrun, threatened and
in fear for their lives.
GORANI: What about the Taliban and all these years of peace negotiations and swanky five-star hotels in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban spokesperson,
just a month ago, said, you know, said we want to resolve our problems through negotiation?
What happened to all that?
WARD: Well, I think the Taliban is at a moment now -- they began this offensive as U.S. forces were withdrawing and I would imagine they were
hoping it would give them some momentum and some leverage at the negotiating table.
But what's happened is it's become very clear that, ostensibly, the Taliban could win this without making any compromises, without making any
concessions, without talking about power sharing.
So the difficulty that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy, has in Doha right now is, what leverage does the U.S. really have here?
We just heard from the State Department and they're saying that the entire international community is coming together and they're going to deliver a
very stern warning that the only way for the Taliban not to be an international pariah is for them to put down their weapons and get to the
I do think, to a certain extent, that matters to the Taliban but perhaps not to extent where they're willing to make those really key concessions
and compromises that would need to happen to get both sides at the negotiating table in an effective manner.
GORANI: All right, Clarissa Ward, our chief international correspondent, is live in Kabul. Thanks very much.
We've been covering this story now since the announcement of the troop withdrawal.
This was the lay of the land in Afghanistan on April 13th. The red indicates Taliban control. That's a key date because the next day this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's time to end America's longest war. It's time for American troops to come home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Joe Biden announced on April 14th that U.S. troops would withdraw completely from Afghanistan.
This was the scene on the ground one month later on May 15th. U.S. troops were packing up Bagram Air Base.
One month after that, this was the situation on the ground, considerably more bright red territory in Taliban hands.
But it got worse -- and fast. One month and a day later, July 17th, the Taliban had more than doubled their territory and that was even before the
provincial capital started falling, like this one.
This is what it looks like the streets of Kunduz right now, devastation in the wake of the Taliban's relentless advance.
And this is what Afghanistan looks like today. The speed with which the Taliban have seized territory is remarkable. We are just two days shy of
four months after President Biden's fateful announcement.
And you can see, on the left, April 13th; on the right August 10th, just how much has changed.
We'll take a quick break. When we come back, we're expecting a Pentagon briefing, reacting to the day's developments. We'll take that live for you.
We'll be right back. You're watching CNN.
GORANI: Let's dig deeper on this lightning offensive by the Taliban. Carter Malkasian is the author of "The American War in Afghanistan: A History."
He's also a former senior advisor to the chairman of the former Joint Chiefs of Staff and he joins me now live.
Your thoughts today on Herat, followed by breaches in Kandahar, claims that Ghazni has now been taken, threats to Kabul.
What is your reaction?
CARTER MALKASIAN, AUTHOR AND MILITARY ADVISER: Well, thank you, Hala. I think my reaction like many others is that it's extremely worrisome and
we're at a dangerous point. The fall of Herat -- and (INAUDIBLE) confirmed yet -- but like you I've seen some frightening pictures of Taliban walking
through the police headquarters and reports that the city has fallen.
But if Herat falls, that's going to shake a lot of the will and it's going to frighten the leadership in Kabul and many of the remaining soldiers.
If Kandahar, too, falls, it creates this risk of a spontaneous collapse, where forces that might otherwise fight are going to think that they're
going to lose, are going to think their military isn't going to support them, that their leaders aren't going to support them.
And that's going to incline them to lay down arms. It's a little bit like a stock market crash.
GORANI: Right --
MALKASIAN: On --
GORANI: -- sorry to jump in. Was -- I mean, this was kind of predictable. We keep seeing headlines today that the U.S. is surprised that the
Taliban's advance was so quick and so swift.
But whether it had taken them a month or four, eventually, it seems as though, at least most people on the ground in Afghanistan were expecting
the Taliban to make these huge advances.
Was it mistake to withdraw the 3,000 remaining troops that were at least providing the country with some sort of status quo?
MALKASIAN: Well, I wouldn't want to say it's entirely a mistake because I think a mistake -- the decision was made on the basis of what U.S.
strategic interests are and that U.S. interests in maintaining forces in Afghanistan, compared to spending that money on issues within the United
States -- on countering the pandemic, on climate change and on reorienting the U.S. military toward the great power threats -- I think that was
considered to be the higher priority.
And so that's a strategic decision. That strategic decision comes with a cost. And you're absolutely right, that what were happening today was
predicted, was understood. This was a known risk, a very high risk of what was going to happen.
GORANI: But I think what I hear a lot from Afghans as well we -- don't get us wrong; we didn't want Americans to stay in our country forever.
But the way the withdrawal was managed, so quick, so complete without having made sure that there was some sort of peace deal between the Afghan
government and the Taliban, is really putting civilians and the most vulnerable of them -- women, girls -- at great risk.
GORANI: And that this was done needlessly.
Do you see their point when they say that?
MALKASIAN: Well, I understand their point. And I feel for them greatly because I have friends calling me. I have Afghans who I've known for over
10 years, who are telling me that the United States has left them and they're now going to die and their families are going to die.
And these are people who are having to flee their homes, who have to sometimes split up their families, sometimes go into hiding. So the feeling
is very palpable and extremely real.
I would also say that the hope of a political settlement as of this year was extremely low. The Taliban were highly unlikely to deal because the
kind of successes we're seeing now, even in late 2020, were becoming visible to them.
And they knew they no longer had to go for a peace agreement, that now they had the chance to take everything by force. And that's what they're doing
Could we have done things better, earlier?
Yes, we probably could have managed our withdrawal earlier in 2020 better. And, yes, there are probably things we could have done to reach a better
peace agreement. And (INAUDIBLE) is amazing diplomats. I'm not blaming things on him in any way whatsoever.
But if anything comes out of this, the peace talks here, it's the value of having things in writing on what the -- what your adversary, what the
person on the other side of the table is going to do.
GORANI: Yes. I guess, you know, when -- and this is -- I'm just giving you some of the counter points here. Critics of the American decision have
said, well, OK, we understand that this money you believe will be better spent in the U.S., that you've drawn the line at 20 years and $1 trillion,
we get all that.
But then Afghanistan becomes yet again this black hole, where you have potentially very, very anti-Western groups forming and coalescing once
And could we end up in a situation where the Taliban, either themselves or because they harbor other groups, then attack Western targets?
And it becomes this endless cycle once again.
Is that a risk, in your opinion?
MALKASIAN: Yes, it's a risk in my opinion. I think it's fairly likely we'll see some reconsolidation and reemergence of terrorist groups in
The question is, are those groups going to threaten the United States sufficiently to make it worthwhile for us to keep thousands of troops in at
a very high expense for year after year?
I mean, part of what I think we're undergoing here is the United States and Americans wondering how much we need to worry about terrorism versus how
much we need to focus on other problems.
And can't we just be vigilant when it comes to these threats?
None of these things are easy to say because you look and see what's happening to the people of Afghanistan right now and what's come of our 20-
year effort. So I don't know if we really have the right answer to it all.
GORANI: And Kabul itself, that really would be the end for the Afghan government, the central government, if Kabul falls.
How much of a risk is that?
Because here, Kabul is not a provincial capital. We're talking -- correct me if I'm wrong -- I believe like 7 million residents in Kabul. It's a huge
city. It would be another completely different effort on a different scale for the Taliban to take that city.
MALKASIAN: So there's this dynamic in Afghan history, where governments often do not fall after a prolonged battle. They fall because something
happens that causes a collapse.
And this is kind of -- if you think about how the Taliban fell in 2001, it wasn't because we fought a giant battle in Kabul. It's because things
happened elsewhere and it all unraveled upon them.
So this could be happening again right now. It is a real significant risk. I mean, I think 50 percent is as easily, I think, a fair number to place
upon it. I mean, as I say that, though, I don't want to make it sound like it's guaranteed to happen.
There is still the possibility that the government can hold. There's a possibility they can hold (INAUDIBLE) Kandahar today. If people decide that
they want to fight more, if they decide, if the leaders go to the front -- there are good leaders in Afghanistan -- rally the men, rally the women and
keep everyone fighting, then the Taliban advance can stall. And then there might be some breathing room for the future.
GORANI: You end up then with this map, where you have these kind of islands of central government control, surrounded by an ocean of Taliban control
and the sparsely populated countryside and then the provincial capitals.
What kind of country would that look like?
MALKASIAN: Well, the breathing space they would have would be the breathing space of the continuation of a civil war, where we'd see, next year,
continued fighting as the Taliban would try to take whatever they haven't taken yet and eventually probably make more thrusts against Kabul.
On the government side, they'd be hoping that the Taliban start to lose a bit of momentum.
MALKASIAN: Hope that maybe the fighters supporting the Taliban maybe want to be comfortable at home rather than fight in the north and maybe hope
that the region does more to push the Taliban back. So over the long term, even if our breathing space doesn't arrive soon, the long-term future still
doesn't sound good.
GORANI: Carter, I'm just going to jump in. The Pentagon briefing has just started. Thank you so much for joining us, Carter Malkasian. I hope to
speak again soon.
And let's go to the Pentagon.
ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The president has ordered the reduction of civilian personnel at our embassy in Kabul and the
acceleration of the evacuation of Afghan special immigrant visa applicants from the country.
To enable the safe, orderly reduction, the Secretary of Defense has directed the department to position temporary enabling capabilities to
ensure the safety and security of U.S. and partner civilian personnel.
I'm going to break this down for you just real quick.
The first movement will consist of three infantry battalions that are currently in the control and command area of responsibility. They'll move
to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul within the next 24 to 48 hours. Two of those battalions are United States Marines and one is a U.S.
The next movement will consistent of a joint U.S. Army-Air Force support element of around 1,000 personnel to facilitate the processing of SIV
applicants. Initial elements of this movement -- of this element will arrive in Qatar in the coming days.
The third movement is to alert and to deploy one infantry brigade combat team out of Fort Bragg to Kuwait, where they'll be postured and prepared if
needed to provide additional security at the airport. And we anticipate those forces will reach Kuwait some time within the next week.
Now I want to stress that these forces are being deployed to support the orderly and safe reduction of civilian personnel at the request of the
State Department and to help facilitate an accelerated process of working through SIV applicants.
This is a temporary mission with a narrow focus. As with all deployments of our troops into harm's way, our commanders have the inherent right of self-
defense and any attack on them can and will be met with a forceful and an appropriate response.
As Ned Price, my colleague at the State Department, highlighted earlier, Secretary Austin did join Secretary Blinken in a phone call this morning
with President Ghani. These conversations with allies and partners will continue to ensure a close coordination going forward.
With that we'll take questions.
Bob, I think you're first.
QUESTION: Thank you, John. Thank you for spelling out some of the -- breaking down some of the numbers.
With regard to those forces that are going into Afghanistan to work specifically on supporting the removal or evacuation or whatever you call
it of personnel from the embassy, is that about 3,000 people?
And also is that in addition to the 600 or 650 already there, doing that sort of work?
KIRBY: Yes, Bob, those three infantry battalions will comprise approximately 3,000 personnel. And they will be in addition to those troops
that are already in Kabul, as we conduct -- as -- you know, in the process of conducting our drawdown. So we still have more than 650 troops in Kabul
right now. These 3,000 will join them there.
QUESTION: Can I do a quick follow-up check?
Does the military mission include flying U.S. civilian personnel, the embassy personnel out of the country?
Or only processing and securing them at the airport?
KIRBY: We certainly anticipate being postured to support airlift as well for not only the reduction of civilian personnel from the embassy but also
in the forward movement of special immigrant visa applicants. So we do anticipate that there will be airlift required of us and we are working
through the final plans right now to put that into place.
QUESTION: Thank you.
KIRBY: Yes, Tom?
QUESTION: Thanks, John.
In regard to what you just said to Bob about the possible airlifting out of individuals, in regard to the special immigrant visa applicants, has it
been decided yet where they'll be airlifted to?
And if so where, please?
KIRBY: We're still working through a series of options here, Tom. We anticipate that we'll be looking at locations overseas, outside of the
United States, as well as U.S. installations that, you know, belong to the United States either overseas and/or here at home.
We don't have -- I don't have a list for you right now but I think it'll be a mix of both. And as we get more clarity on that, we'll certainly update
QUESTION: Just to be clear will it follow the same criteria you outlined earlier, those who have passed the security clearance can come within the
United States and those without other locations --
KIRBY: I'm going to defer to my State Department colleagues to talk to the SIV process more specifically. Our job will be in locating and helping
secure facilities and installations that can be used.
And as we did with Fort Lee, I think you can expect the Defense Department will lean in to the degree possible that we can help facilitate this
movement and relocation.
QUESTION: John, will these infantry battalions help with the movement of diplomats from the embassy to the airport as well as moving them out of the
And if so, will that movement be done by convoy or will it be done by helicopter?
And let me just add one more question.
QUESTION: You say temporarily.
KIRBY: I do.
QUESTION: But aren't they going to remain there in case further drawdowns are ordered?
KIRBY: So let me take the first one first. These infantry battalions will be there to help facilitate this safe and orderly reduction. And I don't
want to get into too much tactical detail about what that would require.
Commanders on the ground will be working with the State Department to determine what is most needed. And if it is to help facilitate and secure
transportation to the airport, then our troops will be postured to do that.
But again, I can't speak here today, when they're not even there yet about what that's going to look like, what the transportation is going to look
And some of this, David, is going to depend on, you know, the degree of permissibility in the environment, in the security environment. But these
are infantry battalions that are highly trained and will have the capabilities to support in any manner what the State Department needs to
facilitate this reduction.
Your second question on the temporary nature; as the State Department has said, they are going to try to complete this reduction of their personnel
by the end of this month. And these troops are being ordered in to help facilitate that purpose, that mission, along that timeline.
I won't speculate beyond August 31st as to what the footprint is going to look like or how many troops are going to be there and what they're going
to be doing. What I can tell you is we're focused on trying to get them there as soon as possible to facilitate this mission, which is the
reduction of civilian personnel by the end of the month.
QUESTION: And one follow-up, was there a specific event which triggered this decision?
KIRBY: It would be wrong to conclude that there was one specific event that led to this decision, that we believe this is the prudent thing to do,
given the rapidly deteriorating security situation in and around Kabul.
So I think there's a confluence of things you guys have all been reporting, over the last 24 to 36 hours, the Taliban's advances and where they are.
And I think, again, cognizant of that security situation, this administration believes this was the prudent action to take.
QUESTION: One more question.
KIRBY: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: 3,650 and then another 1,000 of this joint task force to process so --
KIRBY: Joint Army-Air Force, yes, that's about 1,000 personnel. it's engineers, it's medical personnel, it's military police, that kind of
And they are going to Qatar right now because, as you know, we've been working with countries in the region, to Tom's question, to try to find
processing sites outside of Afghanistan.
So I would just tell you they're going to Qatar for now and then we'll see what the need is after that. But we want to be flexible and we want get
them close by and in the region. And that's why they're going there right now.
QUESTION: And then there's one infantry BCT that's going to Kuwait, you said, and that's only if things go bad, you have lagatura (ph), basically,
KIRBY: They'll be there postured as prepared. If there's a need for additional security at the airport, they'll be in the region and a lot more
QUESTION: OK. So and then the ones who are going to Qatar, that's specifically for SIV applicants. I mean, sounds like engineers, medical and
MPs, you're -- they're going to, it sounds like to build --
KIRBY: No, when I say engineers, actually, we're talking about a very small number of engineers and it's largely for electrical power, it's to make
sure that we actually have power to do the processing of applicants. I don't -- by engineers, I didn't mean to mean construction and that kind of
QUESTION: So the BCT going to Kuwait, that's roughly 3,000 to 3,500 people total?
KIRBY: A common --
KIRBY: -- combat brigade is about 3,500 to 4,000 people.