Return to Transcripts main page
Hala Gorani Tonight
Taliban Capture Half of All Afghan Provincial Capitals; U.S. Department of Defense Addresses the Press on Taliban's Advances in Afghanistan. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired August 13, 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 and welcome everyone, I'm Hala Gorani. We're expecting an update from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Pentagon on
the situation in Afghanistan any minute now, we'll bring you that when it happens. Let's bring you what we know now, though. One week, that is how
little time the Taliban needed to capture half of Afghanistan's provincial capitals. They've taken control of another four major cities in just the
past 24 hours including Kandahar, the country's second largest.
Several more are under siege. The latest one to fall is Firozkoh in central Afghanistan. The Taliban's rapid advance leaves them just 100 kilometers
away from the capital, Kabul. That city could fall within one to three months as a senior Afghan official familiar with the most recent U.S.
Intelligence assessment has told CNN. As we await this Pentagon briefing, we expect John Kirby, the spokesperson to walk up to that podium any minute
now. We'll go to it live when it happens in Washington.
But in the meantime, I want to go to Ali Latifi, he's an Afghan journalist, he joins us from Kabul, and he's been reporting for the last several years
on the unfolding situation. And talk to us just, Ali, about the last 24 hours and all these Taliban advances.
ALI LATIFI, AFGHAN JOURNALIST: So, the last 24 hours, it's basically a continuation of the last seven days. But there have been some really
worrying developments in the province of Logar, which borders Kabul, the province that President Ashraf Ghani is actually from. The Taliban stormed
the provincial governor's office, took over and essentially forced the governor to surrender, saying that if you don't give in, we, you know,
everyone here in this building will suffer. Every police, every soldier, there was already casualties within the governor's compound from the
The governor surrendered and there's pictures of it. He's been missing now since at least noon today. It's now past 10:00 p.m. in Kabul, and no one
really knows where he is. So --
GORANI: I want to bring up the map -- sorry, I want to bring up the map of Afghanistan there, and remind us what city, what provincial capital here
are you talking about just so people can --
LATIFI: OK --
GORANI: We're not as intimately familiar with the map as you are --
LATIFI: That's right --
GORANI: And other -- some other viewers are -- can visualize it. What part of Afghanistan are we talking about?
LATIFI: It's the province of Logar, the capital is Puli Alam, it's about 40 minutes south of Kabul.
GORANI: OK --
LATIFI: It directly borders Kabul. So that's what we mean by how close they are and the kinds of actions they're taking literally in Kabul's backyard.
GORANI: So, I mean, obviously, the obvious follow-up here is how vulnerable is Kabul?
LATIFI: I mean, if you look at the fact -- I don't know if the map is still up. If you look at the fact that --
GORANI: It is --
LATIFI: Major cities like Herat and Khandud, massive cities, both in terms of size and in terms of population, if those were taken, and they were both
taken essentially within the same 24-hour period, that's created a lot of fear for people. Because for more than a month, they tried to take those
big cities and they couldn't, and then they suddenly did.
LATIFI: And so now, the potential considering also how close they've gotten to Kabul that they could somehow take it is much more realistic for people
GORANI: Which probably --
LATIFI: It's much more terrifying --
GORANI: Sure, and it probably didn't sound this realistic just a few weeks ago.
GORANI: The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee -- I want to ask you this, Ali, since you're on the ground, essentially blamed NATO, of course,
chiefly and primarily the U.S.' decision to pull out, saying that the U.S. and the U.K. and others who took part in the NATO operation pulled the rug
from under the Afghan army. That they've taken away the air support, they've taken away the logistics. And that, that has really left them
incapable of confronting this mighty enemy, the Taliban. Would you say that's primarily the biggest issue here?
LATIFI: No, because at the end of the day, you know, Donald Trump was talking about leaving Afghanistan as far back as 2018.
And throughout his entire presidential campaign and his presidency so far, Joe Biden was talking about the same thing. So, what that shows is a lack
of preparation on the Afghan side. You know, to say that the rug was swept out from underneath them when there were signs all along that both
presidents were serious about a withdrawal, I think is giving far too much credit to the U.S. forces who haven't been as active at all in the last
seven, eight years as they were in the past.
GORANI: Right --
LATIFI: And it's also not placing enough of the blame on the lack of preparation in Kabul, and the amount of corruption amongst the security
forces. You know, I was speaking to a source a couple of months ago about, you know, how at that time districts were falling. And he --
GORANI: Yes --
LATIFI: Made a really good point. He said, you know, something like $3 billion to $4 billion is allocated for the security forces. If all of that
money actually reached, it would more than fund 352,000 police and soldiers, more than enough. And so, the fact that there are still
shortcomings means that much of that money is either wasted or stolen.
GORANI: Right --
LATIFI: So, I don't think it's just a matter of NATO withdrawal.
GORANI: All right. The Taliban, though, where are they getting their funding, their money, their logistical support? They're very well armed.
Where is that coming from?
LATIFI: Yes, so if you talk to people on the ground in different provinces of the country, if you talk to police and security officials and even
politicians and governors, they will say that they have seen evidence of weapons coming from Pakistan and Iran that are being used by the Taliban.
They will also say that there is evidence that fighters from both countries have been present in different Taliban fights in different parts of the
And again, if you think about it, every time the government talks about this war, they keep using the term "imposed war", which is a reference to
the fact that Afghanistan's two neighbors are accused of having very large roles in the aiding and abetting of the Taliban. The Taliban also has
domestic sources of income, you know, being involved in the drug trade --
GORANI: Sure --
LATIFI: Getting in good with drug mafias and crooked police and crooked officials who are in on it. The drug trade here is like the drug trade
everywhere, right? Everybody is in on it. And in this case, it's also the Taliban who help arrange a lot of the transport and they get a cut, they
basically charge a fee or a tax for helping with the transportation of the drugs. So, that's another income source for them. Also, they along with
strong men, politicians, and all kinds of other corrupt people are also involved in illegal mining and sell Afghanistan's mineral resources at a
pittance just so they can get some kind of an income.
GORANI: Yes --
LATIFI: So they're as much a part of the corruption as any other part of Afghan society is.
GORANI: And by the way, I just want to remind our viewers that we're waiting for that Pentagon briefing to start. What about the women and the
girls? You know, obviously, there were issues and the Taliban had been, for many years -- in fact, never stopped targeting women and girls. But darker
days, you know, are inevitably going to be in the future of so many of them, because the Taliban are in charge in so many of these important
provincial capitals. What is that going to look like?
LATIFI: I mean, it's -- they say it won't look like 1996 to 2001 where women, except for doctors weren't allowed to work and where girls weren't
allowed to go to school.
GORANI: Yes --
LATIFI: But it's still early days in a lot of these areas. There are reports that in certain areas, schools have shut down or that they've only
allowed girl up to the sixth grade. But if you talk to people in Kabul where they haven't reached yet. You know, I was with a group of friends
today, it was a mix of men and women, and we were talking about --
GORANI: Yes --
LATIFI: People trying to get out, how to get out, what the options are and all the men --
GORANI: Ali, I want to -- please, stand by, Ali, we're seeing John Kirby walk up to the podium at the Pentagon. We'll come back to you after this.
Let's listen in.
JOHN KIRBY, PRESS SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, UNITED STATES: I thought that it would be helpful to just give you a brief update about
where things are with respect to the military support to the State Department in Afghanistan. And I want to say at the outset -- I probably
should have said this yesterday, you guys know that this is a planning organization. That's what we do here. And planning for these sorts of
contingencies is not unusual. In fact, it's quite common.
And one of the reasons why we have been able to react as quickly as we did in just the last day or so is because we had plenty of contingency planning
in the works and, in fact, a lot of it complete because we were, and as I've said many times from the podium, watching consistently the security
situation on the ground. So, I can give you a brief update, a few additional details since yesterday. Now, as I do this, I think you can
understand that I'm not going to have every detail that you might want. There's operational security that's still going to be a concern.
And we're going to observe that here just like as we have throughout the entire draw-down process. But I can tell you a couple of things. First,
U.S. forces, Afghanistan forward continue to provide security at the Kabul airport and at the embassy. These are the existing security elements that
were already in Kabul. This comprise of attack and lift aviation assets, infantry, security personnel and some Intelligence surrounding and
reconnaissance assets that are already there at the airport.
And they stay there and they are still doing their jobs in terms of internal security there at Hamid Karzai International Airport. The troop
movements that we mentioned yesterday are happening as we speak. Three battalions are preparing to move from their current locations in the
central command area responsibility to Kabul. And they consist of a Marine battalion that was already pre-staged in the region and has lift,
sustainment and support capabilities. And infantry -- another Marine infantry battalion from a Marine expeditionary unit and a U.S. Army
Now, some elements of one, of the Marine infantry battalions are already there in Kabul. Just the leading element, they're there. The rest of their
forces will continue to flow over the next couple of days, and I expect that by the end of the weekend, the bulk of the 3,000 that we talked about
yesterday will be in place, probably not all, but the bulk. Now, from the United States, the brigade combat team that we mentioned from the 82nd
Airborne Division that is prepared to go to Kuwait as a ready reserve force, they are now preparing to deploy. I do not have information that
suggests they're on the way right now.
But I suspect that, in very short order, they will start to deploy and to arrive. Movement of some of the enablers that we talked about yesterday
designated to support the special immigrant visa processing in the region. That has also begun. These are primarily medical personnel, I think I told
you yesterday, it's a mixed medical personnel, some military police, some electrical engineers, that kind of thing. They are preparing to go, I do
not have an indication today that they have actually left. Again, they are not going into Afghanistan, they are originally going to be sent into the
region for further use as needed to support the SIV process.
Now, as far as aircraft are concerned to support the movement of civilian personnel. Transcom is, as we speak working on their plans and their
sourcing solutions with Air Mobility Command and working it out with central command as well to support this mission. Forces and support
requirements are going to be rapidly assessed by their planners, they're working on that. And while we're not going to be able to give out a lot of
detail today, again, the plans and sourcing for aircraft support and air lift are being worked out. We'll have more to say about that when it's
appropriate and when we can.
But I do want to stress that air lift will not be a limiting factor in this mission. Air lift will not be a limiting factor. And as I said yesterday,
it's not all going to be military aircraft that are used. There are -- Hamid Karzai International Airport is still open, commercial flights are
still going in and out, and it doesn't -- I don't want to convey the sense that every lift of every individual is going to be done on a gray military
aircraft, though they will be made available to support and, as I said, it's not going to be a limiting factor.
And then finally, I just want to foot-stomp something I said yesterday. This is a specific, narrowly-focused, tailored mission to help with the
safe, secure movement of the reduction of civilian personnel in Kabul -- you know, civilian personnel in Kabul as well as to help support the
acceleration of the special immigrant visa process by the State Department.
That's what we're focused on, and as we get more information and I'm able to provide it to you, I will with the understanding that there's going to
be operational security concerns and I'm not going to be able to provide every level of detail that I'm sure you want. We will be as transparent
with you as we can. Bob?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary John, you're mentioning that the bulk of the pre-battalions will be there, probably by the end of the weekend you said,
so at the end of Sunday. Do you anticipate that the operation would begin that day?
KIRBY: The operation has begun, Bob, I mean, the movement of forces to Kabul has begun, that's the military side of it. I can't speak to the
timing of the State Department with respect to their reduction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK --
KIRBY: We wanted to make sure that we were in full support of them, and that we were getting on station as quickly as possible. And that's what
we're focused on. As for when departures will occur, and how many on a daily basis, that's really my colleagues at the State Department for them
to speak to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, as the follow-up --
KIRBY: Sure --
UNIDETIFIED MALE: So, given the events over the last 24 hours with three or four additional cities falling to the Taliban, and the Taliban apparently
moving closer to Kabul, I'm wondering whether you -- how likely is it that you will be able to complete that drawdown of forces by August 31st as
opposed to staying to ensure the security of the embassy afterwards?
KIRBY: Well, obviously, we're going to be watching the security situation day-by-day, Bob. And I can't speak for what that's going to look like, you
know, in days to come. What I can tell you is where we are now, where we are today, and the mission that we've been assigned is to support the State
Department's reduction in personnel by the end of the month. And so, that's what we're focused on. That's the timeline we're focused on. And if we need
to adjust either way, left or right, we'll do that, but we're going to always be looking at the security conditions on the ground. Tara?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, John, with the air-lift planning that's going on, are you planning to get hundred -- is the air-lift available for
hundreds of people getting out of the country, thousands? As you know, there were thousands of people based at U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and there's
just as many as 18,000 interpreters that were looking to get out.
KIRBY: Yes --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you give us an order of magnitude of this air-lift mission?
KIRBY: What I can do is tell you exactly how many on any given day. What -- but capacity, as I said, is not going to be a problem. And we will be able
to move thousands per day. But that's just the air lift capacity, that doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to end up with that every day.
It's going to depend on the processing and the -- and how that -- and how that goes. So, what we want to be able to do is to get there fast and get
there capable, and be able to provide as much capacity to the State Department as we can. And our intention is to be able to move thousands per
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, separately, as we've seen the different provincial capitals fall, is the Department of Defense surprised at how quickly it
seems that the Afghan national army has collapsed under Taliban pressure?
KIRBY: We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving. And, as we've said from the very beginning, that this is a --
and it still is a moment for Afghan national security and defense forces as well as their political leadership. No outcome has to be inevitable here.
I'm not going to speculate about surprise. We're obviously watching this just like you're watching this and seeing it happen in real time, and it's
deeply concerning. It's -- in fact, the deteriorating conditions are a factor, a big factor in why the president has approved this mission to help
support our -- the reduction of personnel there in Kabul.
So, I mean, we're adjusting as best we can given those conditions. And again, this is a -- this is a moment for the Afghans to unite. The
leadership and the military, no outcome has to be inevitable here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just one last -- if the Taliban continue across and take Kabul, what happens to the continued support that DOD had been
planning to do for Afghan national security forces such as like the contracted air support or the fuel that DOD was committing to --
KIRBY: Yes --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Send? Are you all starting to have conversations about it? What point does that support have to be cut off to keep it from going
into the hands of the Taliban?
KIRBY: We're still supporting the Afghan national security and defense forces. We're still supporting the Afghan government, the elected
government in Kabul, and that's what we're going to be focused on doing.
It would be easy to speculate about what the future of Afghanistan looks like right now, but I think we want to focus on what we are doing. We are
supporting the Afghans in the field where and when we can, we're still working on contract support for -- over the horizon. We're still making
sure we have robust, over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities in the region so that we can't suffer a threat from Afghanistan again.
And so, we are focused on the security situation as we see it now, and what we've got to do, the missions we've been assigned by the commander-in-chief
-- and I'll let the -- you know, the political situation play out. That's really not something that we're overly focused on right now. Yes, so --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were speaking about the over-the-horizon, obviously, the U.S. has been conducting air strikes regularly every day for
the last few days, and it didn't stop the advances of the Taliban. So, if you cannot stop the Taliban from over-the-horizon, which you are trying to
do right now, how are you going to stop al Qaeda from over the horizon?
KIRBY: So we -- the over-the-horizon counter-terrorism strikes and capabilities still exist, and will exist going forward. And we have never
said that airstrikes are a panacea. You said, you know, we weren't able to stop the Taliban. We have said from the moment we started drawing down that
we're going to continue to support them where and when feasible with the understanding that it's not always going to be feasible. And we've never
argued that our airstrikes from the air were going to turn the tide on the ground.
What we have said is that the Afghans have the capability to do that. And we still believe that they could make a difference on the ground. We will
do what we can from the air, but they have the advantage. They have greater numbers, they have an air force, they have modern weaponry, it's indigenous
forces that can make the difference on the ground. And that's -- so our support to the Afghans was really done in that -- in that vein. And again,
as for counterterrorism, as you heard the secretary say himself, there's not a scrap of the earth that the United States military can't hit if it's
And when it comes to disrupting a counterterrorism threat that we know is emanating and is serious enough, airstrikes can be effective in that
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are the troops heading into Kabul going to get emanate danger care, this battalion?
KIRBY: I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK --
KIRBY: I can take the question, but I don't know. Jeff Seldin, VOA.
JEFF SELDIN, VOICE OF AMERICA: John, thanks very much for doing this. You've said that the U.S. is going to continue to conduct the airstrikes in
support of the Afghan security forces when and where it's feasible. But with the focus now on the battalions that are heading into Kabul to secure
the embassy, the airport, and facilitate getting the civilians out, how does -- how much is that going to lessen the availability for airstrikes
for Afghan security forces?
And also, following up on what Sylvia(ph) asked, given that U.S. airstrikes didn't seem to deter the Taliban in other areas, how much concern is there
that they won't be scared of potential U.S. airstrikes if they decide to move on Kabul and U.S. assets or personnel there?
KIRBY: Oh, I'm not going to speculate about moving on Kabul, and I've never talked about future operations, I'm not going to start doing that today,
Jeff. But to your other question, the kinds of support that we are providing and able to provide Afghan national security and defense forces
in the field, those authority still exist, those capabilities still exist. And General McKenzie can use those capabilities to the degree that he sees
most fit. That is a separate and distinct set of missions than what we are -- and now been ordered to do in terms of helping with our State Department
colleagues, reducing the size of their footprint in Kabul.
And so, those are two separate sets of authorities and capabilities, and I think that's about where I'll leave it. Yes, Coy(ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said a couple of times that you're concerned with the speed with which the Taliban has moved. But I think the big question is
not the concern about the speed, but surprise. So again, I have to ask, is the military, the Pentagon or the administration, whoever, surprised by how
fast the Taliban has been able to move across the country?
KIRBY: Courtney(ph), we saw the Taliban making advances even before the Biden administration came into office. We saw the Taliban making advances
at the district level before the president made his decision.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not like what we're seeing now. This is a different ball game in the last week or so. So, I mean, the specific games, taking
these major cities like Kandahar, Herat, Lashkar Gah, looks like it's fallen. I mean, has that caught the military off-guard? The speed with
which they've been able to do it?
KIRBY: We have been watching this from a very early period, right after the president gave us the order to draw down. We certainly have been watching
what the Taliban is doing. We have noted and we have noted with great concern, the speed with which they have been moving and the -- and the lack
of resistance that they have faced, and we have been nothing but honest about that. And I think I'll leave it there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the lack of resistance that they may face in Kabul? Is there a concern that the Afghan military will not fight for
KIRBY: That's a question for Afghan leadership to determine for themselves. Obviously, we -- as I've said from the beginning, we want to see the will
and the political leadership, the military leadership that's required in the field. We still want to see that, and we hope to see that. But whether
it happens or not, where it pans out or not, that's really for the Afghans to decide. Oren(ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've said here many times that Afghanistan cannot, will not become a base from which they'll launch attacks against the U.S.
homeland or its allies. Does the speed of the Taliban advance shake your confidence in that statement?
KIRBY: No. Steve from military.com.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for doing this. Are any additional air force squadrons or aircraft heading to the Middle East for this? And then, could
you also speak to any of the rules of engagement troops on the ground will have?
KIRBY: I have no -- nothing to announce or speak to with respect to additional air force assets. I've told you, I've given you pretty much the
lay down of exactly what we're sending to support this movement. That said, I also said, in fact, there's many -- in my opening statement that there
will be air lift provided. Clearly, there's going to be an air force role here with respect to air lift. But in terms of combat aircraft, I know of
no such moves to do that. And as I've said, I've laid out for you now twice what the movements would be and I'm not going to speak about rules of
engagement. We never do that from the podium.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said you won't speculate on movements on Kabul, but how would you describe the situation now? Is Kabul under threat? Is Kabul
isolated? What is it?
KIRBY: Right now, without getting into a battlefield assessment every day, I don't want to do that, but there -- Kabul is not -- right now, in an
imminent threat environment. But clearly, David, if you just look at what the Taliban's been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate
Kabul. Now, what they want to do if they achieve that isolation, I think only they can speak to. But you can see a certain effort to isolate Kabul.
It is not unlike the way they've operated in other places of the country. Isolating provincial capitals and sometimes being able to force surrender
without necessarily much bloodshed.
Again, I can't speak for what their intentions are. What I can tell you is that we are taking the situation seriously. And that's one of the reasons
why we moved these forces or we're moving these forces into Kabul to assist with this particular mission because we know that time is a precious
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it isolated now?
KIRBY: I mean, I don't want to get into a specific intelligence assessment on the battlefield, I just don't want to do that. But clearly, from their
actions, it appears as if they are trying to get Kabul isolated. Lucas(ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me try it this way. The main arteries going into Kabul.
KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to get into a conditions on the ground assessment every day about avenues and lines of communication, except to
say it certainly appears that the Taliban is trying to isolate the city, and they have, throughout this last few weeks, you've seen it for yourself,
taken over border crossings, taken over highways and major intersections to control lines of what we say -- what we call communication and lines of
revenue and those kinds of things. I mean, I can't speak and I won't speak specifically to what the situation is in Kabul right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, many times this week, you've said the Afghan forces have the advantage. What proof can you offer as the Taliban have
taken over now vast majorities of the country and they've now surrounded Kabul.
KIRBY: That the Taliban have moved with the speed with which they have and that the resistance that they have faced has been insufficient to stop
those, to check those advances does not mean, Lucas(ph), that the advantages aren't still there. You have to use it. You have to be willing
to apply it.
KIRBY: John, you're saying that they have all the advantages as they're getting crushed on the battlefield, it makes no sense to say they have the
advantage that Taliban appear to have all the advantages right now.
Lucas, I appreciate the effort again. They have greater numbers. They have an Air Force, a capable Air Force, which, oh, by the way, is flying more
air strikes than we are every day. They have modern equipment. They have organizational structure. They have the benefit of the training that we
have provided them over 20 years. They have the material, the physical, the tangible advantages. It's time now to use those advantages.
TOMLINSON: Is the U.S. military prepared to evacuate all Americans from Kabul and help close the U.S. Embassy in Kabul if the State Department
KIRBY: Our mission right now is to help the State Department reduce their personnel, their civilian personnel in Kabul, and to assist with their
acceleration of the SIV immigrant visa process, a Special Immigrant Visa process. That is what our focus is on right now.
TOMLINSON: How close is the U.S. government to closing its embassy in Kabul?
KIRBY: You'd have to talk to my colleagues at the State Department, they get to decide that they have made it clear, though, that as of today, they
are reducing, not eliminating, their diplomatic presence in Kabul. We are simply helping them support that reduction.
TOMLINSON: And after a night of sleeping on it, are these 3,000 U.S. troops going to Kabul, is this a combat deployment?
KIRBY: I didn't sleep on that question, Lucas. I thought I answered it pretty well yesterday. Louis. Louis.
TOMLINSON: You did. Oh, you didn't answer it, John. John, these soldiers and Marines, they're fully kitted out, putting on night vision goggles
landing in Kabul, taking positions at the airport, they're going to a combat zone, are they not there?
KIRBY: They are certainly going into harm's way, Lucas, and they will have- --
TOMLINSON: Is this a combat zone?
KIRBY: Lucas, they will have the right of self-defense. They will be armed. And as I said yesterday, and I don't think I could have made it any more
clear that if there is an attack upon our forces, our commanders have now and always have had the right and responsibility to defend themselves. And
any attack on our forces in Afghanistan will be met swiftly with a forceful and an appropriate response.
And I know -- listen, I know you want to get into the nomenclature here. Nobody's walking away from the fact that this is potentially dangerous. In
fact, I think one of the things I said at the opening of the press conference was I'm not going to provide a lot of operational detail because
we know it's dangerous.
We're all mindful of the perilous situation in Afghanistan and the deteriorating security situation, Lucas. And I find it a little -- I find
it frustrating that you're trying to pin me down on a nomenclature here like we're afraid to say the word combat. After 20 years of being in
Afghanistan, we understand what we're facing right now. We're taking the risks very, very seriously. And our troops and their leaders will have all
the rights and responsibilities that they need to protect themselves and their comrades.
TOMLINSON: Did the defense secretary recommend this withdrawal of American troops from Kabul?
KIRBY: I'm sorry?
TOMLINSON: Did the defense secretary recommend the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kabul before this week, of course?
KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about the secretary's recommendations to the Commander-in-Chief.
TOMLINSON: Don't you think it's important for history, for the transcript, for the people watching this briefing right now? Did the Defense Secretary
support the full U.S. military withdrawal from Kabul?
KIRBY: Lucas, I'm not now and I haven't, never will talk about the secretary's advice and counsel to the Commander-in-Chief. That's totally
inappropriate. The president has made his decision and we are executing that decision. He has also made additional decisions such as helping the
State Department reduce their personnel. And we're going to support that too.
TOMLINSON: Now some veterans think that the Americans should just pull everybody out of Kabul. U.S. government should pull all Americans out of
Kabul and then just level the embassy. What do you think about that?
KIRBY: I think that one of the great things about this country is that people are free to express their opinions about anything that they want.
What I -- what I'm here to do, Lucas, my job is to articulate the policies that we're executing and the way in which we're executing them. And that's
what my focus is today to tell you what we've been ordered to do and how we're going to execute it those orders.
TOMLINSON: Is it time just to pull all American shout right now and destroy --
KIRBY: Lucas, we are focused on helping the State Department reduce their footprint in Kabul. That's what we're focused on and that's what we're
going to be doing. Louis.
LOUIS: I'd like to follow up on Lucas's fourth question.
KIRBY: As opposed to the 14th?
LOUIS: Yes. You were talking about how the troops there have the inherent right of self-defense. That was actually going to be my question. There is
a tactical purpose for sending these troops there, which you have described in very general terms. I know you don't want to get into specifics. But is
there a secondary effect that you're having by sending these troops there into Kabul, which is sending a message to the Taliban?
These troops are here, don't attack us. We're here to carry out our mission. And at the same time saying, we are here to support the government
of Kabul, don't attack Kabul.
KIRBY: You're -- are you suggesting that there's a contradiction there?
LOUIS: No, no. I'm trying to say -- I'm trying to ask, is there a messaging intention as well by sending these troops there as well? I understand the
primary mission there is to do this, protect the forces, you know, protect the Americans and the Afghan interpreters and their families as they leave.
But at the same time, is there a secondary effect that you're gaining by sending these troops there, which is to message the Taliban, don't attack
us while we're doing this?
KIRBY: he main purpose for these troops is to conduct this particular mission. And as I said yesterday, the secretary made his decisions based on
the -- on prudence. To make sure that you have what you need and that you have reserve if you need reserves, because we don't know exactly how the
situation is going to unfold. And it's not -- he didn't choose these units or this approach to send a message. He chose these units and this approach
to accomplish a mission and to make sure that he had enough capability and capacity to do it safely and in an orderly fashion.
That said, and I've said this now three or four times, if these forces are attacked and threatened, we have the ability, the right of self defense,
and we will respond in a forceful and appropriate way.
LOUIS: And just one quick follow-up, we've talked about the troops from the 82nd Airborne going into Kuwait that could be on standby if needed. Is
their mission going to be, if they are needed, exactly like the ones from the 3,000 that will be arriving by the end of this weekend or there would
be something different?
KIRBY: I'm sorry. Say that again?
Louis: Sure. No problem. The brigade or the BCT headed to Kuwait, is there a mission, if -- should they be called upon, are they going to be doing
exactly what the 3,000, the three battalions arriving in Kabul by the end of the weekend or is there some thinking that maybe they might do something
KIRBY: There are ready reserve force that we would have available to us should they be needed for any number of security missions. And, again, I
couldn't begin to speculate right now what those missions would look like. But they are -- they will have capabilities that are commensurate with the
infantry battalions that are going to Hamid Karzai International Airport over the course of the next few days.
LOUIS: Thank you.
KIRBY: Go on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Question is that Pakistan is blaming now, again, U.S. for the crisis in Afghanistan. And also prime minister of
Pakistan, he said -- he already endorsed the Taliban government in Kabul. And finally, if any country in the region, including India, asked U.S. help
in this mission of evacuation?
KIRBY: I don't know of any other nations involved in this. I mean, these are sovereign decisions that nation states have to make. As I said
yesterday, should we be asked to support any movement by our allies and partners, we can do that and we will do that. I don't know of any -- but I
don't know of any such request or such requirements.
And, look, as just broadly speaking, what we said before is any of Afghanistan's neighboring nations and any nations in the international
community that believe they have, or want to have a stake in the future of Afghanistan, we simply would urge them to act in ways that helps lead to
those kinds of better outcomes for the Afghan people and to help us continue to pursue a negotiated political settlement. Dan Lamothe.
DAN LAMOTHE, THE WASHINGTON POST CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, John. You said yesterday that you thought this was the right time for this mission.
Lawmakers from both parties, lots of nonprofits, lots of Afghans would say that the right time for this mission with SIVs was actually back in May or
June. Can you square those two things? Why did it take so long? Thank you.
KIRBY: We were -- we've said for quite some time, Dan, that we know we have a moral obligation to help those who helped us and that we were ready,
willing, and able to support efforts to move special immigrants, people applying for a special immigrant visa out of the country and to locations,
and we have met that obligation.
It is a process that, as you know, does not reside here at the Defense Department and a process that has requirements, so what I can tell you is
from a DOD perspective, it's not something we ever lost sight of. It wasn't an obligation. We just, all of a sudden, forgot and then came around to,
and as I said at the outset, we've planned for a lot of contingencies, and this was certainly one of them. Tony Capaccio.
TONY CAPACCIO, BLOOMBERG DEFENSE REPORTER (via phone): Hi, John. I have a couple of questions. You said DOD is a planning organization. Has CENTCOM
presented to the secretary or the joint staff a contingency plan to reintroduce U.S. combat troops, ala what we did in 2014 in Iraq, if the
White House requests? Has that such plan been crafted?
KIRBY: Yes, that we are planning organization is true, Tony. What's also true is we don't talk about every single plan on the books. Our focus right
now, Tony, and the plans that we are executing are to meet the president's drawdown requirement by the end of this month, and to assist in the
drawdown of State Department personnel also by the end of the month, and I'm not going to speculate about what things look like going forward. And,
again, I would remind, Tony, that this mission is a narrowly focused, very specific, tailored mission to support the State Department at this
particular time. Yes, I'm like --
CAPACCIO: Can I add a second question?
KIRBY: Go ahead.
CAPACCIO: OK. Second question. You've heard the narrative and the questions from reporters and everybody else about is this a repeat of the fall of
Saigon. You're not a historian but I know that, Secretary, a number of you guys are thinking, how do you answer that question? Can you give a sense of
where the analogy is apt and where it's a very bogus, fallacious analogy to equate what's going on now with the potential fall of Saigon?
KIRBY: Yes. Tony, what I can tell you is we're not focused on the history of the Vietnam War. We're just not. We're focused on meeting the
requirements that we have today. That's where our headspace is. Certainly, we've seen the punditry and the commentary. I think it's best to leave that
to historians. What we're focused on is making sure that we meet our commitments to our State Department colleagues and that we continue to meet
our commitments, while we have the authorities and the capabilities, to our Afghan partners on the ground.
CAPACCIO: Is the best (INAUDIBLE) reference point of a rap 10 years ago?
KIRBY: Mike. Mike, go ahead.
HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We are going to break away from this news conference there, John Kirby at the Pentagon, updating reporters, and
updating the world really on the logistics of a very, what he called, narrowly focused mission of sending in these 3,000 U.S. troops, three
battalions, one of which is already in country to help evacuate and move diplomatic personnel and other U.S. citizens. He also updated reporters on
the airlift mission to move potentially up to thousands of interpreters, and personnel that have assisted U.S. troops over the years out of the
country and to safety.
Let's bring our panel in. Ali Latifi is still with us. He is in Kabul. We also have CNN Military Analyst and retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Cedric
Leighton, CNN Global Analyst and New Yorker Staff Writer Susan Glasser, who wrote an article just over the last 24 hours about what this might mean for
Biden's legacy and what went into the thinking politically of withdrawing these troops over the last several months.
I want to start with Cedric Leighton. What did you make there of John Kirby? He was clearly asked, were you surprised by the speed that, you
know, with the speed at which the Taliban was able to essentially take over extremely important key cities? And he said we're concerned, but it's a
moment for the Afghan defense forces. What did you make of that, Cedric?
CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Hala, I think, you know, it clearly indicated to me that he was when the Pentagon was surprised by the
speed with which the Taliban have achieved these gains. And what I think it also shows is that, you know, people tend to look at these kinds of events
through their own lenses. And we have a problem within our intelligence community of not looking at things through other people's lenses.
So they didn't think about what was happening within the Taliban and they seemingly didn't think about what was happening within the Afghan natural -
- National Security Forces. That organization, as has been pointed out, you know, by Ali and by others, is very corrupt and well they have some
individuals who are great fighters, there are some real problems with the leadership where they are and within the government itself.
So that becomes a huge issue, I believe. And it really shows that, you know, you have to get inside the heads of everybody that you're looking at
in order to make a good assessment. And I don't think we did that, in this case.
GORANI: Susan Glasser, why did the Biden administration decide to withdraw troops so quickly, maintaining the 3,000 troops in Afghanistan was,
according to so many, we've spoken to a pretty small price to pay to contain the situation. And here, you really have a collapse of the country
and accelerated time. Why do you think?
SUSAN GLASSER, THE NEW YORKER, STAFF WRITER: Well, you know, I think it is an important question, it seems pretty clear. And my reporting suggests
that it really was President Biden himself, who was the immovable object here, who was absolutely a skeptic of the remaining U.S. mission in
Afghanistan. As you know, he was on the losing side in the internal Obama administration debate over surging troops into Afghanistan.
I think he was very resistant to the recommendation of the Pentagon and the generals, that they maintain a presence in Afghanistan, some of his own
foreign policy advisors also urge that course. Biden wasn't going to have it. Those advisors who knew him well, for a long time, I think understood
that. But the question I have now, and I have had since April, it really wasn't a surprise, I think, in that sense that Biden made this call in
April, but it's really on him and how they have chosen and organized to carry this out.
And there's been remarkably little conversation around that here in Washington, I must say. And now, this week, you see the horrifying kind of
consequences becoming clear, they seem to have executed a fairly successful drawdown of the U.S. military personnel, there were 12 bases around the
country. They, over the last few months, have withdrawn the US military personnel down to Kabul itself into a smaller number of presences. So they
weren't part of the fighting with the Taliban when the Taliban offensive began.
But again, it begs the question of their assessment of the ability of the Afghan government to remain in power. And frankly, President Biden himself
made some embarrassing comments as recently as last month suggesting, oh, it's very unlikely that anything like what we're actually seeing now would
GORANI: Yes. And Cedric Leighton, militarily speaking, I mean, the -- there were there were really no combat operation since 2016. Every death is
tragic. But there were a few deaths, relatively speaking, compared to the peak of the conflict in Afghanistan. And I wonder what military leaders
believe was the right way to go. Because you -- here in the U.K., for instance. And of course, the U.K. was part of this NATO mission, there was
dismay at the U.S. decision, even the Defense Secretary today in the U.K. said, this is essentially going to lead to terrorist groups reforming and
they will present a -- they will become a threat to Western targets. What do you think?
LEIGHTON: Well, I believe that a -- most of us veterans Look at this, you know, with a very concerned eye, Hala. We look at this and say, you know,
we've made these sacrifices, and especially those who really did make sacrifices, who were wounded or who were killed, and whose families of
course are dealing with the aftermath. They wonder what this was all for, you know.
On the one hand, of course, we had over about 20 years of no terrorist attacks emanating from Afghanistan that affected the Western world. On the
other hand, you also want to have something where you have a stable place in Afghanistan, where you go in there, and you don't have to worry about a
terrorist group by using that territory for their purposes. And unfortunately, for the latter case, that part of the mission has failed.
And that is, I think, one of the biggest concerns. And I think in that case, we have left too soon. And that's -- so that's the unfortunate part
And Susan, in your New Yorker piece yesterday, you asked the question, why so little debate in America about this withdraw? Why do you think that was?
GLASSER: Well, first of all, I think there is a deeply held view in both parties here in Washington, that the American public, to be blunt, just
doesn't care about the fate of Afghanistan, the polls would underscore that point of view, Democrats and Republicans essentially, RNA and endless wars
mode. And I think Biden shows the politically expedient route or what he thought would be the politically expedient route of playing into that
forever war rhetoric.
In fact, that was a phrase that he used. I was really struck by that back in April, that was a phrase that Biden used. "I'm going to end the forever
And, you know, this is really a dishonesty in a way that I think made it impossible for those who were making a more narrow argument for retaining a
small, true presence in Afghanistan. When it's framed as war, no war, the American people go for no war. And, you know, that, in essence, is the
problem here. And, you know, look, there have been 40,000 U.S. troops in South Korea decades after the end of the Korean War. I mean, you know, if
you frame it as a battle for the soul of America, then Americans want to get out of it, because they don't see their interest in Afghanistan.
So it's really politics that have shaped this, but in the end it's going to be execution on which Biden may be judged, the execution or failed
execution of this withdrawal.
GORANI: So there's breaking news, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is instructing personnel there to destroy sensitive materials, as well as items which
"could be misused in propaganda efforts." This is according to a management notice that CNN has seen. I wonder, why would they instruct personnel to do
that unless they believe, Cedric Leighton, that there was a possibility that Taliban fighters could enter the perimeter? I mean, why would you send
that notice out?
LEIGHTON: I think, Hala, that's exactly why they're doing this. In fact, I thought about this earlier today, that they better be destroying some
sensitive equipment, especially when it comes to communications equipment, intelligence, a -- related equipment things like that, all that sensitive
stuff, sensitive files, things of that nature, they need to be very careful and destroy that or at least put it in a place where it cannot be accessed
by the Taliban should the Taliban breach the perimeter of the embassy.
So this is something that they should have been doing before. Hopefully, they have a manageable pile of stuff that they have to go after and
destroy. But that's kind of the standard operating procedure in a case like this.
GORANI: All right. And the items include later letterhead, American flags, all sorts of other things that the embassy personnel are being asked to
destroy. Susan Glasser and Cedric Leighton, thanks so much to both of you, thanks for your analysis. Appreciate it.
While many Afghan citizens have fled to the capital city, Kabul is more and more isolated as we've been reporting and in grave danger itself. David
Miliband joins me now. He's the president of the International Rescue Committee, and he's urging the west to stay vigilant as this situation
unfolds. David Miliband, thanks for being with us. When you say you're urging the west to stay vigilant, what do you mean?
DAVID MILIBAND, PRESIDENT& CEO, INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE: I think that there are literally millions of Afghan civilians whose lives and
livelihoods depend on the fact that, although there's been a military withdrawal, there's not a humanitarian, diplomatic, and political
withdrawal, because that's what would pose great danger to the gains that have been made over the last 20 years.
The International Rescue Committee has about 1,700 staff all across Afghanistan, in areas controlled by the government, but also areas
controlled by armed opposition groups, all but a handful of those people are Afghans. They're working for the future of their own country. But they
depend on Western aid money. They depend on a political environment that allows them to do their work. They depend on the consent of local people.
I think it's very, very important that amidst all the necessary discussion of the dangers of the fighting, which are taking lives 5,000 civilians
killed recently that are driving refugee flows, we know about 30,000 refugees a week are leaving into neighboring states, we don't lose sight of
the fact that there are nearly 40 million Afghans inside the country who continue to need our support.
GORANI: You talk about how so many of those who work for your organization, our Afghan, it's their country. They have families there, they have sons
and daughters. And are they concerned for their safety now that the Taliban is just managing to take these capitals, these provincial capitals and key
cities so quickly?
MILIBAND: Yes, of course, there's concern. In some cases, there's real fear for some staff that they're thinking about their futures. And given the
history of the country, you can understand that that's why we've been not just warning about the dangerous to civilians from the fighting, it's why
we've been calling for serious engagement by all of the regional states, as well as the powers on the U.N. Security Council, the nations on the U.N.
Security Council to try to safeguard the rights of the civilians in the country. And obviously, that's part --
GORANI: All right. I believe we just lost the connection there with David Miliband, who is speaking to us from New York. David Miliband is back.
David Miliband, you were talking about safeguarding the rights of civilians in the country, but I mean, realistically how do you do this? You've seen
the images, you've read the reports of how the Taliban are just sweeping through one city after the other and knocking on Kabul's door.
Yes, you're absolutely right to highlight the real dangers exist, but there are 38, 40 million Afghans, many of them have had education over the last
20 years, they've had the benefits of more open media. And those are expectations that they now have, and those cities, Kabul as a city of six
million people and it has to be governed. And it's going to whoever is the government. There are expectations and aspirations of the civilians there,
it's their country. They're the people nation building, not the outside world.
But it's very important to understand that they can only build their own nation if they give them support to do so. And my plea is about the support
for civil society in Afghanistan, for community groups in Afghanistan. For the staff of organizations like the International Rescue Committee that are
working for their own country. They're the people who need our support, notwithstanding the military decisions that have been made, and that have
had such a quick effect on the overall balance of power in the country.
GORANI: All right, David Miliband, thank you so much for joining us. And thanks to all of you for watching tonight. I'm Hala Gorani. Stay with CNN.
After a quick break, it's "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS."