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Hala Gorani Tonight
U.S. And Coalition Forces Race To Get People Out Of Afghanistan Before August 31st Deadline; Doctors Plead With Vaccine Skeptics As Virus Spreads; Beijing Pushes Back On U.S. Intelligence's COVID-19 Origin Report. U.S. And Allies Evacuate 19,000 In 24 Hours From Afghanistan; U.S. Secretary Of State Antony Blinken Speaks On Afghanistan Evacuations. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired August 25, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LYNDA KINKADE, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, I'm Lynda Kinkade in for Hala Gorani. This hour, we are expecting to hear from the U.S. Secretary of
State on Afghanistan. We will bring that to you live as soon as it begins. But as it stands, mass evacuations continue in Afghanistan, 19,000 people
departing in just one day, that's according to the White House. You can see a flight taking off from Kabul airport in these exclusive pictures. On
Wednesday morning, a source telling CNN that there were about a dozen evacuees inside the facility. U.S. troops and coalition partners are now
racing against the clock after President Joe Biden said he would stick to an August 31st deadline to leave.
Biden cited security threats against the airport from a branch of ISIS as the key reason for the decision. CNN's Sam Kiley has been watching the
evacuation effort at Kabul airport and filed this report a short time ago.
SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're here at the airport where are now among the elements of being asked to leave as
part of the drawdown of the American forces here as they transition to a military withdrawal from an evacuation campaign. There are still Afghans
being processed here at the airport, they are now moving them out as I speak. I'm watching a group being led towards a propeller aircraft which
was flying onto presumably Qatar, which is taking the bulk of the short range flights. They are very much as Nic was saying, the numbers here are
It is now much harder to get through to the airport following the Taliban announcement they would be blocking the roads. At the Abbey Gate, there
have been some desperate scenes of people wading through sewage and trying to persuade the British there and the Americans running the Abbey Gate
entry point to let them in. The process is extremely fraught, but the numbers are very significantly down. That doesn't mean, of course, that
there are people who -- that they've run out of people to evacuate, but rather just impossible for so many people to get to the airport.
But the aircraft are continuing to take off and land in significant numbers, and of course, there are also discreet operations being run here
to go and pick up pockets of people where they can be reached as long as they've got the right kind of connection.
KINKADE: That was CNN's Sam Kiley reporting from Kabul where we are expected to learn more about the evacuation effort later this hour. U.S.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to speak at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, and we will bring you those remarks live when they get underway.
Well, CNN's Kylie Atwood joins me now live from the State Department for more on what we can expect to hear. So, Kylie, we heard from the Pentagon
earlier today that more than 87,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since July. The big question is how many remain, both Americans
as well as Afghan allies. What are we expected to hear from the Secretary of State when he speaks?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so the Secretary of State is expected to give us some sort of an update, a detailed update
according to President Biden yesterday that explains just how many Americans are still on the ground in Afghanistan and want to get out of the
country. Now, notably, we know that about 4,400 Americans have already gotten out of the country, and President Biden has repeatedly said that the
United States won't leave until all those Americans on the ground who want to get out are out. Now, of course, that has been his promise. It's
something that he's repeated multiple times.
So, the expectation is that, that is really the goal that the State Department and the Pentagon are working towards to conclude before they can
finish this final evacuation on August 31st.
Now, the Secretary of State I'm also told is going to focus on just how grandiose this effort is to evacuate thousands and thousands of people, the
largest airlift in modern history, and to talk about the fact that the Biden administration is still committed to the Afghan people. But I think
there will be questions as to how the Biden administration can ensure that they are committed to getting out these Afghans who worked alongside U.S.
troops and U.S. diplomats if the United States military is still on the ground because we really don't know who is going to be in control of the
airport, which is where they're flying out, and if that airport will be open at all when the military leaves.
KINKADE: All right, and Kylie, of course, there are some concerns about a terror threat from ISIS-k. What is the U.S. doing to minimize the risks as
they continue these evacuations?
ATWOOD: Well, they're doing all that they can to monitor those risks, we're told. They're calling them acute risks posed by ISIS-k, that
terrorist group in Afghanistan. But the other thing that they're doing is doubling down on this withdrawal deadline. We've been told that one of the
reasons that President Biden has decided to stick with withdrawing the U.S. military by August 31st is because of these threats. The longer you stay
on the ground, the more amount of time these threats persist. And therefore, of course, there could be a situation that could be deadly to
the Americans and to the Afghans all heading to the airport, those immense crowds that we have seen around the Kabul airport.
KINKADE: Yes, certainly, very risky as the U.S. troops really wind down this mission. Kylie Atwood at the State Department, we will speak to you
again soon, no doubt. Thanks so much. And of course, we are waiting to hear from the Secretary of State in about 30 minutes from now, we will bring
that to you live. Well, as the evacuation effort begins to wind down, fears are mounting for those left behind, particularly women. In a starkly
warning, the Taliban is urging working women to stay at home for their own safety. A spokesman for the militant group calls it a temporary policy
until the situation gets back to normal, and he said it's because Taliban fighters haven't been trained to respect women.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, SPOKESMAN, TALIBAN (through translator): We want to make sure women are not treated in a disrespectful way or God forbid, hurt,
so we would like them to stay at home until security is in place for them in the offices.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINKADE: Pashtana Durrani is the founder and executive director of an NGO for girls education called LEARN. She joins me now live from Afghanistan.
We really appreciate your time today. You're incredibly brave. I understand you are in hiding, just how are you doing?
PASHTANA DURRANI, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, LEARN: I am fine. I am fine, I'm holding up.
KINKADE: Holding up. You wrote a powerful piece in the U.K. "Telegraph" that I just like to quote so our viewers can hear what you had to say. You
said, "there's a powerful uprising happening in Afghanistan. It won't be the one you've heard about, the one led by violent men who seek to justify
their egos under Sharia law. This army wields pens, paper and tablet computers, not guns." This is your army -- this is your army of educated
Afghan women. Talk to us about how you feel it's up to Afghan women to defend women in Afghanistan right now.
DURRANI: See, Afghan women right now is like, you know, in a sense, I don't want to talk or generalize on everyone's behalf. But one thing that
for sure we in Awjilah (ph), Libya, want is like access to peaceful stability and at the same time progress. So, in a sense, if we are talking
about education, if we are talking about working opportunities, they need to be just in favor, but at the same time, we need to be there in the first
place. And that's how you raise an army.
And I'm just tired of the fact that everybody has to come and all simplify upon the sons problems and the fact that Afghanistan has to come up with --
like, you know, there's always a solution for it. Things will take its course, but at the same time, we have to understand that as Afghan women,
who need to take their own charge, who need to be their own person, their own boss in order to lead the country, and we need that sort of like
leadership right now. And that's the reason I'm focusing more on the fact that there should be an army, but of educated men and women within
Afghanistan to sustain and not let the political groups take over all the vacuum that is left behind.
KINKADE: You started the NGO LEARN in 2018 when you were just 18 years old as I understand it. Your parents had fled to Pakistan during the civil war
to ensure that you had a good education. What are you doing right now to ensure that women and girls can continue to get an education?
DURRANI: Right now, we are focusing more on the fact that, if the schools are open, what should be our focus? And if the schools are not opening,
what should be our focus? We're also focusing on the satellite channels right now where we can launch a learning page that would enable them to
learn in their own languages that is fresh to -- or any other language. We're trying to pull in all our resources and make sure that there's a
feasible solution for education and working opportunity in the future for Afghan women.
KINKADE: The Taliban claim to be more moderate this time around. They claim that they will uphold women's freedoms under their version of Sharia
law. Do you believe them?
DURRANI: Let's believe that when they do something, right? Not the fact that when they say it. You have believe this when they actually do it, when
they let the women go to work, when they let the girls go to school. I mean, like, they said under the Sharia law where the classes will open from
grade one and to grade six, you just can't let that -- like, you know, that weak statement tell you that everything is going to be fine. You have to
resist, and you have to push for things like all educational right, educational right until university and post-graduate study.
At the same time working women rights. It's not like, you know, you can use alternative like, you know, teaching in a madrasa for all the other
professions. You have to make sure those things happen. For now, I just feel like, you know, they're just trying to be very vague about it.
KINKADE: And most recently, we just heard from the Taliban spokesperson that all women should stay home right now for their own safety. What did
you make of that statement? Because clearly he seems to be suggesting that it's safer for male civilians to leave their homes.
DURRANI: I'm just wondering and curious what will happen in two months or like, you know, whatever the timeline is that would make them accept women
in public spaces? Like what would make them accept it? And that's something that I just want to like, you know, know. What is the mechanism in a place?
Would they accept women in Afghan public spaces right now? And even if in the future, what is the timeline? What is the framework? What are the
capacities that we will share those public spaces in? And that's something that -- it makes me keep on wondering about the fact that right now, men
are, like, you know, acceptable, but then there's again a time that will push back on all the time that women have to spend in order to work for the
I mean, like getting salary is one thing, but being functional is an important aspect of the country to progress for the future of Afghanistan.
And they're -- I just -- like you know, it's -- they're feeling mean at this point where I have to understand that, what do they actually mean when
they say they have to stay home? Or like what is the framework? In two weeks, two months, two years? What then? Like what is your framework? What
will happen then? How will they accept women?
KINKADE: Since 2002, the World Bank has committed some $5 billion to development in Afghanistan. This year, it had committed $800 million. It's
now one of a number of international organizations that has suspended that financial aid because of its concerns about the treatment of women in
Afghanistan. What do you make of that? What sort of impact could that have as the Taliban tries to govern? And what else can the international
DURRANI: See, it is very important. It is something that the Afghan people need, and it's something that in the past, even though funds have been
looted and it has gone to the current politicians' pocket. But apart from that, the fact that right now, there could be a mechanism in place by the
international community where every time the Taliban go back on whatever they have said, there should be a mechanism in place to stop them from
making -- do that. But it shouldn't be aid because aid is for the people, and it should reach the people because of vulnerable communities right now
are in dire need of humanitarian and educational and civil and all kinds of responses.
But there's a political mechanism that is needed in place in order for Taliban to actually channel those resources to the Afghan people, the aid.
And at the same time, there should be a political mechanism in place every time they go back on their word, the world leaders should be watching them
and should be making them accountable for it.
KINKADE: Absolutely. Pashtana Durrani; a founder and executive director of LEARN, you're still in hiding in Afghanistan. You're very brave. Thank you
so much for coming on the program and we wish you all the best. Stay safe.
DURRANI: Thank you for having me, thank you. Bye-bye.
KINKADE: Well, still to come tonight, the U.S. president gave the Intelligence community 90 days to investigate the origins of COVID-19, and
now that time is up. We're going to look at the evidence we have so far.
KINKADE: Welcome back. Well, here's another reason backing the use of COVID booster shots. A U.K. study says protection against the virus in
fully-vaccinated people dropped slightly within six months. The study looking at those who got two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the
AstraZeneca vaccines goes on to say that this might explain recent breakthrough cases. Well, it is a race to get as many people vaccinated as
possible, and we are hearing more reports of vaccine skeptics regretting their decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUPESH DHARIA, PALM BEACH INTERNAL MEDICINE: We are exhausted. Our patience and resources are running low, and we need your help.
JENNIFER BUCZYNER, NEUROLOGIST, JUPITER MEDICAL CENTER: Many of these patients have decided not to get vaccinated, but when they're hospitalized,
they tell us they wish they had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINKADE: Well, the U.S. Intelligence community has wrapped up its 90-day investigation into the origins of COVID-19. A review that President Biden
ordered. There were two main theories, the first, that the virus spread naturally from animals to humans, and the second that it leaked from a lab
in Wuhan. While we wait for the report to be made public, CNN's David Culver takes a closer look.
DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The evidence supporting a lab leak for now is all circumstantial. Starting with the lab's location,
the BSL-4 lab or biosafety level 4 is about 25 miles from the Huanan Seafood market, that is where many of the first COVID-19 cases initially
STANLEY PERLMAN, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA DISTINGUISHED CHAIR: I don't think anyone would disagree that the major first amplification
occurred in Wuhan.
CULVER: The Chinese have pushed back against the claim the virus was engineered. But if the first amplification was from a lab, that would
suggest either a lab worker unknowingly got infected or that the virus was isolated and or manipulated in a lab and somehow got out, sparking concern
over the type of research that might have been taking place here.
DAVID RELMAN, STANFORD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: I'm not saying that they led to this outbreak or pandemic by any means, but it's simply the
kind of work that I think we as a scientific society need to think much more clearly and more deliberately about before we undertake it.
CULVER: CNN spoke with a source directly involved with the construction of the BSL-4, using their insight along with information published by the
Chinese before the outbreak, here's what we know. Planning and construction, now the BSL-4 started in 2003. In 2018, it officially became
operational. It's located on the sprawling fenced-in Wuhan Institute of Virology campus. The building containing the lab sits separate.
Four levels that make up the structure, at the top, a sophisticated air purification system, at the bottom and underneath the lab, decontamination
equipment that allows for a safe sewage disposal. Level two, this is where the research takes place. There are separate entrances and exits along with
dedicated dissection rooms, virus storage facilities and multiple labs for distinct animal and cellular level research. French engineers helped in the
planning and the construction. But one source tells us, the Chinese were initially resistant in adding some basic safety features due to the high
cost of some equipment, such as multiple chemical decontamination showers.
But that they eventually relented, adding them. Some have also questioned the lab staff's training. A 2018 diplomatic cable sent by U.S. officials
who made a site visit stated that, quote, "the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to
safely operate this high containment laboratory." The cable went on to say that "the University of Texas Medical branch in Galveston, UTMB, had
scientific collaborations with WIV, which may help alleviate this talent gap over time." Scott Weaver of UTMB tells me the collaborations with the
Wuhan Institute of Virology were minor and did not involve coronavirus research. He has not visited Wuhan's BSL-4 lab, but stresses that the
training required for such a lab is extensive.
SCOTT WEAVER, SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR, GALVESTON NATIONAL LABORATORY: Typically, the scientists are wearing space suits. These are suits that are
-- they're very expensive, very well-designed to be air-tight, and they're pumped full of filtered air, such that even if an accident occurred in the
lab and there was some kind of a spill and an aerosol would be created, that space suit would prevent that aerosol from entering the breathing
space of the scientists to infect them.
CULVER: But other red flags came from the Chinese themselves, including WIV's Director Yuan Zhiming who in 2018 co-authored a paper pointing out
safety issues across all biosafety labs in China, warning in part that there was a lack of enough operable technical standards. But ultimately,
many international experts viewed the Wuhan Institute of Virology's BSL-4 as one of the most sophisticated in the world, and its researchers, more
GERALD KEUSCH, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES LABORATORY: You had a first class facility, high class
virologists, and well-trained staff. You put all of that together and you'd say, well, I can't exclude a lab accident. It doesn't seem likely.
CULVER: It also does not rule out the possibility of a leak from another lab in Wuhan. We drove by it last year.
(on camera): Yes, there, you can see right here this is Wuhan Center for Disease Control. This is one of the labs within Wuhan, and of course, not
too far from the market either.
(voice-over): Located just a couple of blocks from the Huanan Seafood market in fact, inside, lower level biosafety labs that likewise involve
with the study of bats and coronaviruses. Still, there is one thing lacking in the search for an origin. That is full transparency from and
collaboration with the Chinese.
WEAVER: Unfortunately, it's been very disappointing to see that the Chinese government has not been very forthcoming with some of the critical
information about the very early stages of the outbreak.
CULVER: China has shut the door on future visits by the W.H.O. Chinese officials believe the origins investigation has become politically
manipulated by the U.S., especially given Biden's order for an Intel community review, one that focuses in part on the lab leak theory.
KEUSCH: We do need to have the evidence, and the very people who are calling for it have precluded that from happening. And the longer it takes,
the more difficult it's going to be to get a complete picture of what happened. Maybe never. It may be too late now.
CULVER: Without any concrete proof, experts warn that prematurely concluding COVID-19 started from a lab leak might leave the world and
scientific community divided over geopolitics and less prepared for future outbreaks.
(on camera): I want to go back to that BSL-4 lab. Experts we talked to along with one source do not believe coronaviruses were even studied there.
The lower level labs, likely. Now, they tend to also side with the likelihood of the natural origins theory, but that does not totally excuse
China's early handling or mishandling. As we reported extensively, there was cover-up and the silencing of whistleblowers at the start of the
outbreak here. But the search for an origin has become so highly politicized, that experts warn the true science behind it may never been
known. David Culver, CNN, Beijing.
KINKADE: One of the world's largest airlines has announced it will soon penalize employees who refuse to get vaccinated.
Delta says starting next month, any of its U.S. employees who are not fully vaccinated will be required to take a weekly coronavirus tests. Those who
are positive must isolate and remain out of the workplace. And then come November, all unvaccinated Delta workers enrolled in the company's
healthcare plan must pay a $200 surcharge every month. Delta's CEO spoke to CNN earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED BASTIAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, DELTA AIRLINES: Delta has had one of the highest vaccination rates of any company I'm aware already using
voluntary measures. And I think these added voluntary steps short of mandating a vaccine or going to get us as close to 100 percent as we can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINKADE: Australia and New Zealand managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic early on, but now they're fighting a surge in cases, despite tough
lockdowns. As Ivan Watson reports, both countries are wondering if the COVID elimination approach will ever be possible again.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Australia and New Zealand, two countries that stamped out each and every
COVID-19 outbreak over the first year and a half of the pandemic now in partial or complete lockdown as they struggle with a new surge of
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, I don't think my kids will go back to school this year.
WATSON: The outbreaks prompting Australia's prime minister to suggest moving on from a zero case approach to COVID.
SCOTT MORRISON, PRIME MINISTER, AUSTRALIA: This cannot go on forever. This is not a sustainable way to live in this country.
WATSON: Stay-at-home orders in the major cities, Sydney, Melbourne and the capital Canberra, extended.
COVID fatigue contributing to violent protests that erupted in Melbourne last weekend. Prime Minister Scott Morrison now promoting a plan to ease
restrictions once 70 percent to 80 percent of adults get vaccinated. But vaccination rates in both Australia and New Zealand are still low, with
only about a quarter of Australians and a fifth of New Zealanders fully vaccinated. This Summer's outbreaks popped the short-lived travel bubble
between both countries in late July. Their borders now largely shut to the outside world. And New Zealand's leader wants to maintain her government's
zero case COVID strategy for as long as she can.
JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER, NEW ZEALAND: For now, absolutely elimination is the strategy. We need more certainty. We don't want to take
any risks with Delta. If the world has taught us anything, it is to be cautious with this variant of COVID-19.
WATSON: In just two months, Australia went from one confirmed case of COVID to over 16,000, fueled by the more contagious Delta variant.
(on camera): Do you believe that a zero cases strategy is still viable for Australia?
MARY-LOUISE MCLAWS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Sadly, not anymore. I think it's too late. But we may go to some type of mitigation
while desperately trying to increase our vaccine rollout.
WATSON (voice-over): Some weary Australians say this island nation may need to accept the reality of the virus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, at some point we're going to have to open up. I don't think we're ever going to be a 100 percent confident and safe.
WATSON: Two countries grateful to have been spared the worst of the COVID- 19 pandemic, Delta now threatening to take away their hard-won success. Ivan Watson, CNN.
KINKADE: Well, still to come tonight, more on our top story, the evacuation operation in Kabul. We are standing by to wait to hear from the
Secretary of State. We will bring you that live from D.C. when it happens. Stay with us.
LYNDA KINKADE, CNN HOST (voice-over): Welcome back.
The Pentagon right now is promising that it will continue to evacuate people from the Kabul airport but time is of the essence. It has been an
around-the-clock operation. Over the past 24 hours, U.S. military and allied flights lifted off with more than 19,000 people.
Here you can see a flight taking off from the airport in these exclusive pictures. But there is desperation on the ground around the airport in
Kabul, with only six days left to complete the operation.
We want to welcome our international security editor, Nick Paton Walsh. He joins us from Doha, Qatar.
Nick, less than a week to go until this withdrawal deadline. And we are learning more about this threat, this terror threat from the Afghan arm of
What more are you learning about that?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, U.S. officials have for a number of days been very persistent about this ISIS-K threat,
that stands for ISIS-Khorasan, the Afghanistan-Pakistan, an old name for that used for quite a while by that group.
ISIS have been responsible for some horrific attacks inside Kabul and around Afghanistan in general, so it can't be dismissed. But I think if you
put that into the picture of all the other issues facing the airport evacuation, the Taliban blocking potentially access to the airport -- and
they appear to be facilitating it for some in escorted convoys that the Americans coordinate access to the military side, for the huge numbers
crushing often at the gates around the airport and, of course, to the fact that we have this deadline looming of August 31st, after which the Taliban
have made it clear they, without negotiation, want to see all uniformed foreign personnel out of Afghanistan.
It's one of a number of problems. I think we hear about it more from the United States because of the need to remind everybody that the operation
there is certainly fraught. It definitely is. This morning, 1,000 on the airport; I understand later today 10,000. There are apparently less
aircraft coming in than there were in previous days.
But I'm sure that will pick up. Doubtless, the U.S. will want similar figures to over the past days for the number they've taken off the airport.
It has been an extraordinary airlift.
But the question is who is managing to get on of those what had seemed to be 9,000?
I understand there are efforts being made to get SIV applicants, the Afghans who worked for the United States over 20 years, onto the base,
through the gates; sometimes, sometimes by simply through who they know or escorted convoys.
But it's proving tricky. Somebody said to me today a source close to the situation, you know, it's hard to pull of out the crowds a single person.
Their family is there. They're surrounded by other people who don't necessarily have the right paperwork. It's an exceptionally fraught
And this source, too, expressed frustration I think on being close to the events inside the airport, for those doing a lot of the work, saying how
simply the soldiers, the staff, they're living in the same conditions as so many of evacuees on the airport: limited food, exceptionally hot
temperatures at times and also getting requests from U.S. officials, often on the other side of the Atlantic, asking for specific people to be picked
out of the crowd.
WALSH: Now this source said, you know, they've been referred to, these gates around the airport, as though it were somebody's backyard. It's such
more of a difficult task that I think many appreciate.
So those difficulties are going to play into how fast they can get the right people onto the airport and continue this high tempo of airlift. But
it is already clear that we are seeing now the beginning of the end of the military operation because remember they have to get the evacuees pretty
much done before they can start to think about starting to properly wrap up their troop levels there, 5,800 now down to 5,400 for the Americans.
I understand from a source familiar with the situation that the Australians, Canadians and Italians have begun their departure from the
airport already. So not only do we have the first Americans leaving, we have NATO allies literally on their way out now. And that is going to close
the window certainly soon for further evacuations.
KINKADE: Yes, certainly things starting to wind down. Nick Paton Walsh for us in Qatar. Good to have you with us. Thank you.
Well, Uganda is one of two African countries offering refuge to Afghan evacuees; 51 people so far, including men, women and children, arrived
early Wednesday and were then taken to hotels in a convoy of buses.
Uganda has agreed to temporarily host some 200 Afghan refugees at the request of the United States. It's not yet clear how long they'll stay.
Scott McLean joins us from Nairobi, Kenya, with more on this.
Scott, we've seen dozens arrive today, dozens of evacuees from Afghanistan. This is just the start of what could be some 2,000 people.
What can you tell us about these refugees arriving?
And are most of them likely to get the green light to come through to the United States?
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So there were 51 Afghan refugees, who arrived on a charter flight in Uganda. They were whisked away to a pretty
plush lakeside hotel to get COVID tests and do quarantine until those test results came back.
At some point, they'll be taken to more of a dormitory style, hostel-type environment, where they'll be amongst other refugees from other countries
The answer to your question about whether or not they'll get entry into the United States is very, very likely yes. That's certainly the underlying
expectation that they all qualify for special immigrant visas.
These are people who helped the United States. They worked for American NGOs, that type of a thing. Now Uganda is sort of an outlier in Africa in
taking in refugees; whereas a lot of countries in this part of the world certainly are in no position to do the same.
But in exchange for Uganda stepping up to help to take up to 2,000 refugees, they say that the U.S. has agreed to help get Ugandan citizens
out of Afghanistan. Now the government actually only knows of two Ugandans still trapped inside of the country, though there could more that they
don't know about.
And those two citizens were supposed to be on that charter flight to Uganda today but they weren't. That's because they couldn't manage to actually get
inside the gates of the airport or get to the airport at all. So they are hoping, praying, crossing their fingers that they can get on subsequent
flights, assuming that there are some.
There were serious questions, though, and a lot of conflicting messaging from the Ugandan government around when or even if these refugees would
arrive in the first place. This was first announced last week. And they said that they could arrive basically any day now.
As of yesterday, the foreign minister said he was expecting them by the weekend and of course 51 of them arrived today, with potentially more on
the way as well. They were supposed to come in groups as large as 500 at a time, four in separate waves, the number much smaller than that.
And also it's not clear how long they will stay. The foreign minister saying yesterday could be as little as two weeks, though I spoke directly
with the minister for refugees in Uganda today. And she said that, look, by the time you get all this paperwork ready for the United States, her
expectation is they will be in country at least six months.
KINKADE: Scott McLean in Nairobi, Kenya. Good to have you on the case. Thanks.
Still to come tonight, Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett says he is bringing a new spirit of cooperation from Jerusalem.
Plus more on our top story, the evacuation operation in Kabul. We're going to stand by for a live update from the U.S. secretary of state.
KINKADE: Welcome back. At any moment now the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is expected to speak on the situation in Afghanistan. We
are expected to hear him talk about efforts to bring Americans home and also how the U.S. is supporting the broader evacuations from the country.
We want to discuss this now more with our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, as well as our global affairs analyst, Aaron David Miller.
Good to have you both with us.
Nic, I'll start with you. We heard earlier today from the Pentagon about the tens of thousands of people that have already evacuated Afghanistan and
the fact there are still flights leaving every 40 minutes or so. But it's still difficult for Afghan allies to get through Taliban checkpoints to
just get into Kabul airport.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And I think it also goes beyond that. There are a lot of people in Afghanistan, who have worked
for journalists, for NGOs, for other organizations whose links may not even be as strong as those who have SIV status or very close to SIV status,
having worked with the U.S. government or other very -- you know, groups close to the U.S. government and NATO partners.
There is a huge level of fear, a huge level of fear. And that is really sort of driving people to reach out to whomever they think can help them.
But the reality on the ground is that, even if you get to a checkpoint near the airport, there's no guarantee that the Taliban are going to let you
through. The spokesman at the Pentagon today, John Kirby, was very clear that they do everything that they can, that the State Department and
Department of Defense, to let the Taliban know what documentation is sufficient to get through the Taliban checkpoints at the airport.
But in reality, it's not working and we know that there are many thousands more people at the moment, with SIV status, who still don't know how
they're going to get to the airport.
So it is a very desperate situation for some people, a very tenuous situation for them. And for those that just fall short of the margin of an
easy qualification of one of these routes out of the country, it's desperately, desperately worrying. They really do frantically fear for what
the Taliban will do in the coming weeks.
KINKADE: Yes, with just six days to go until that deadline to get people out. Nic, if you can stand by, I want to bring in Aaron, because we did
hear from the German envoy to Afghanistan.
In a tweet earlier today, who said, after discussions with the Taliban, the Taliban will agree to allow Afghans with the right documents -- I'm just
going to interrupt. We're going to secretary of state Antony Blinken. Let's listen in.
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'd like to give you all an update on the situation in Afghanistan and our ongoing efforts there.
BLINKEN: Particularly as they relate to U.S. citizens. And then I'm very happy to take your questions.
Let me begin with my profound appreciation for our diplomats and service members, who are working around the clock at the airport in Kabul and at a
growing number of transit sites to facilitate the evacuation of Americans, their families, citizens of allied and partnered nations, Afghans who have
partnered with us over the last 20 years and other Afghans at risk.
They're undertaking this mission under extremely difficult circumstances, with incredible courage, skill and humanity. Since August 14th, more than
82,300 people have been safely flown out of Kabul. In the 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday, approximately 19,000 people were evacuated on 90
U.S. military and coalition flights.
Only the United States could organize and execute a mission of this scale and this complexity. As the president has made clear, our first priority is
the evacuation of American citizens.
Since August 14th, we have evacuated at least 4,500 U.S. citizens -- and likely more. More than 500 of those Americans were evacuated in just the
last day alone.
Now many of you have asked how many U.S. citizens remain in Afghanistan who want to leave the country. Based on our analysis, starting on August 14,
when our evacuation operations began, there was then a population of as many as 6,000 American citizens in Afghanistan who wanted to leave.
Over the last 10 days, roughly 4,500 of these Americans have been safely evacuated, along with immediate family members. Over the past 24 hours, we
have been in direct contact with approximately 500 additional Americans and provided specific instructions on how to get to the airport safely.
We'll update you regularly on our progress in getting these 500 American citizens out of Afghanistan.
For the remaining roughly 1,000 contacts that we had, who may be Americans, seeking to leave Afghanistan, we're aggressively reaching out to them
multiple times a day through multiple channels and communication: phone, email, text messaging to determine whether they still want to leave and to
get the most up-to-date information and instructions to them for how to do so.
Some may no longer be in the country. Some may have claimed to be Americans but turn out not to be. Some may choose to stay. We'll continue to try to
identify the status and plans of these people in the coming days.
Thus, from this list of approximately 1,000, we believe the number of Americans actively seeking assistance to leave Afghanistan is lower, likely
Having said that, these are dynamic calculations that we are working, hour- by-hour, to refine for accuracy. And let me, if I can, just take a moment to explain why the numbers are difficult to pin down with absolute
precision at any given moment.
And let me start with Americans, who are in Afghanistan and we believe want to leave. First, as I think all of you know, the U.S. government does not
track Americans' movements when they travel around the world.
When Americans visit a foreign country or if they reside there, we encourage them to enroll with the U.S. embassy. Whether they do or not is
up to them. It's voluntary. And then, when Americans leave a foreign country, it's also up to them to de-enroll.
Again, that's a choice, not a requirement. Particularly, given the security situation in Afghanistan, for many years, we have urged Americans not to
travel there. We've repeatedly asked Americans who are in Afghanistan to enroll.
And since March of this year, we've sent 19 separate messages to Americans enrolled with the embassy in Kabul, encouraging and then urging them to
leave the country. We've amplified those direct messages on the State Department website and on social media.
We even made clear that we would help pay for their repatriation. And we provided multiple communication channels for Americans to contact us if
they're in Afghanistan and want help in leaving.
The specific estimated number of Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave can go up, as people respond to our outreach for the first time. And it can
go down when we reach Americans we thought were in Afghanistan, who tell us they've already left.
BLINKEN: There could be other Americans in Afghanistan who never enrolled with the embassy, who ignored public evacuation notices and have not yet
identified themselves to us.
We've also found that many people who contact us and identify themselves as American citizens, including by filling out and submitting repatriation
assistance forms, are not, in fact, U.S. citizens, something that can take some time to verify.
Some Americans may choose to stay in Afghanistan, some who are enrolled and some who are not. Many of them are dual nationals and they consider
Afghanistan their home, who lived there for decades or who want to stay close to extended family.
And there are Americans, who are still evaluating their decision to leave, based on the situation on the ground that evolves daily. In fact, it
evolves hourly. Some are understandably very scared.
Each has a set of personal priorities and considerations that they alone can weigh. They may even change their mind from one day to the next, as has
happened, and will likely continue to happen.
Finally, over the past 10 days, we've been moving hundreds of American citizens out of Afghanistan every day, in most cases, guided to the airport
by us; in some cases getting there on their own; in other cases with the help of third countries or private initiatives.
We cross-check our lists against flight manifests, against arrival records, against other databases. There's usually a lag of about 24 hours for us to
verify their status.
So when you take into account all of these inputs that we use to arrive at our assessment of the number of Americans still in Afghanistan and who want
to leave, you start to understand why this is a hard number to pin down at any given moment and why we're constantly refining it.
And that's also why we continue to be relentless in our outreach. Since August 14th, we've reached out directly to every American enrolled with us
in Afghanistan, often multiple times.
Hundreds of consular officers, locally employed staff here in Washington, at dozens of embassies and consulates around the world, are part of what
has been an unprecedented operation.
They're phone banking, text banking, writing and responding to emails, working around the clock to communicate individually with Americans on the
ground. Since August 14th, we've sent more than 20,000 emails to enrolled individuals, initiated more than 45,000 phone calls and used other means of
communication, cycling through and updating our list repeatedly.
We're also integrating information in real time that's provided to us by members of Congress, by non-governmental organizations and U.S. citizens
about Americans who may be in Afghanistan and want to get out.
These contexts are how we determine the whereabouts of Americans who may be in Afghanistan, whether they want to leave, whether they need help and then
to give them specific, tailored instructions on how to leave with real-time emergency contact numbers to use, should they need it.
Now let me turn to the number of Americans who have been evacuated. As I said, we believe we've evacuated more than 4,500 U.S. passport holders as
well as their families. That number is also a dynamic one.
That's because, in this critical stretch, we're focused on getting Americans and their families onto planes, out of Afghanistan as quickly as
possible and then processing the total numbers when they're safely out of the country.
We also verify our numbers to make sure that we aren't inadvertently undercounting or double counting.
So I wanted to lay all that out because I know it is a fundamental question that so many of you had and it really merits going through the information
and the explanation so you see how we arrive at it.
While evacuating Americans is our top priority, we're also committed to getting out as many Afghans at risk as we can before the 31st. That starts
with our locally employed staff and the folks who have been working side- by-side in our embassy with our diplomatic team.
And it includes special immigrant visa program participants and also other Afghans at risk.
It's hard to overstate the complexity and the danger of this effort. We're operating in a hostile environment, in a city and country now controlled by
the Taliban, with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack. We're taking every precaution. But this is very high risk.
BLINKEN: As the president said yesterday, we're on track to complete our mission by August 31st, provided the Taliban continue to cooperate and
there are no disruptions to this effort.
The president has also asked for contingency plans in case he determines that we must remain in the country past that date.
But let me be crystal clear about this. There is no deadline on our work to help any remaining American citizens, who decide they want to leave to do
so, along with the many Afghans, who have stood by us over these many years and want to leave and have been unable to do so.
That effort will continue every day past August 31st. The Taliban have made public and private commitments to provide and permit safe passage for
Americans, for third country nationals and the Afghans at risk going forward past August 31st.
The United States, our allies and partners and more than half of the world's countries, 114 in all, issued a statement, making it clear to the
Taliban that they have a responsibility to hold to that commitment and provide safe passage for anyone who wishes to leave the country, not just
for the duration of our evacuation and relocation mission but for every day thereafter.
And we're developing detailed plans for how we can continue to provide consular support and facilitate departures for those who wish to leave
after August 31st. Our expectation, the expectation of the international community is that people who want to leave Afghanistan after the U.S.
military departs should be able to do so.
Together, we will do everything we can to see that that expectation is met.
Let me just close with a note on the diplomatic front. In all, more than 2 dozen countries on four continents are contributing to the effort to
transit, temporarily house or resettle those who we are evacuating.
That didn't just happen; it's the product of an intense diplomatic effort to secure, detail and implement transit agreements and resettlement
agreements. We are deeply grateful to those countries for their generous assistance.
This is one of the largest airlifts in history, a massive military, diplomatic, security and humanitarian undertaking. It's a testament both to
U.S. leadership and to the strength of our alliances and partnerships.
We'll be relying and building on that strength moving forward as we work with our allies and partners to forge a unified diplomatic approach to
Afghanistan. That was a point the president underscored in yesterday's G7 leaders' meeting on Afghanistan.
And it's one that I and other senior members of the State Department have made in our constant communication with allies and partners in recent days,
to ensure that we're aligned and united as we move forward, not only when it comes to the immediate mission but also on what happens after August
31st on counterterrorism, on humanitarian assistance, on our expectations of the future Afghan government.
That intense diplomatic work is ongoing as we speak and it will continue in the days and weeks ahead.
So I talked a lot about numbers this afternoon. But even as we're laser focused on the mission, we know that this is about real people -- many
scared, many desperate. I've seen the images. I've read the stories. I've heard the voices, so much of that reported by you and your colleagues so
Like many of you, I read the report of the Afghan translator, whose 2-year- old daughter was trampled to death on Saturday while waiting outside the airport.
I've got two small kids of my own. Reading that story and others was like getting punched in the gut. All of us at the State Department and across
the U.S. government feel that way.
We know that lives and futures, starting with our fellow citizens, including the lives of children, hang in the balance during these critical
days. And that's why everyone on our team is putting everything they have into this effort.
Thanks very much. I'm happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. Secretary, for coming down and doing this.
On your -- two things, really briefly. I'll try to be as brief as possible. Two things.
On your numbers of American citizens, does that include green card holders?
And if it doesn't -- oh, it does?
BLINKEN: No, it does not.
QUESTION: Oh, it does not.
BLINKEN: These are passport holders.
QUESTION: OK. But have also been contacted?
QUESTION: And what about SIV applicants, people who are --
BLINKEN: We are in contact with --
BLINKEN: Go ahead. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: It's OK. I don't expect you to have all of it. But then since this whole thing began, there has been a lot of criticism of the