tv CNN Newsroom With Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto CNN August 25, 2021 7:00am-8:00am PDT
good morning to you. i'm jim sciutto. this is the breaking news we're following this hour. growing worries of violence as evacuations continue from afghanistan. cnn has learned the morning that the u.s. has a very specific threat stream on planned attacks on crowds outside the kabul airport leading to heightened concerns. they believe isis-k wants to create mayhem at the airport.
the u.s. has credible intelligence that isis has both the capability and planning to carry out such attacks. this according to a u.s. defense official i have spoken to. security concerns around the airport are one of the major reasons president biden cited for sticking to his august 31st deadline for the withdrawal of all u.s. forces. the white house just announced that about 19,000 people were evacuated in the past 24 hours, people like those you're seeing there. more than 82,000 people in total have been airlifted over the course of the last 11 days. we're expecting a live update from that pentagon podium this hour. we'll bring it to you live. we're covering all the fast-moving developments out of afghanistan. let's begin with cnn's nick paton walsh who is in qatar where many of these evactuation are going.
we also have atika shubert. nick, this has been described as acute, credible and specific. what are you hearing? >> reporter: i can only agree with the notion that isis-k, if they're able to launch attacks on american citizens or those affiliated with them would be a serious and credible threat. i have to wonder how it fits into the broader threat matrix of the people on the airport, currently dealing with crowd crushes outside, of desperate people trying to get on. the threats of taliban filtering out who they do and don't want to get up to the airport. the threats of possible miscommunication, the southern entrance of the airport where i understand the taliban are allowing convoys on that connect with the u.s. troops further north of them onto the airport. the broader threat is the deadline giving by the taliban by this all has to end by the 31
s 31st of august. important not to dismiss what isis would do if they could -- the volume of people on the airport now appears to have reduced a little, jim. hearing this morning there were about 1,000 there. that's not to suggest that u.s. has run out of ambition to take people off, although there appears to be less air traffic than previous days. a remarkable 19,000, stunning figure, released just this morning. it might suggest that those that get on are being taken off a lot quicker. the question is who can still get on? as we're seeing before, it appears to be about who you know. siv applicants may be able to get through, if they get escorted onto the airfield, great. it does seem there's a fluid system. there's always the taliban there. it's very hard to hear any
homogenous policy for who can and can't get through. there's this furiously ticking clock as to how many hours or days are left for evacuees to get there. it appears that when they're there, they're able to get out. i'm getting the impression that this military operation is winding down, that they're realizing the actual extraction of their soldiers will be a phenomenally difficult task surrounded by an insurgency they've been fighting for the past 20 years. i'm sure the minds of those on the base are slowly switching towards making that a safe task for the u.s. soldiers. a source close to the situation said to me they want to get as many people off as they possibly can. they've aware this is not an indefinite process, one ending very fast. >> and far from easy. it's dangerous. the facts, as you know, nick, and i described outside that airport, it's a dangerous,
terrifying gauntlet that people are being asked to run most of the time on their own. it's not easy at all. it's scary. atika shubert is at ramstein air base in germany where the lucky ones are, the thousands of afghans who were able to get out. so tell us what conditions are like there and what happens there when evacuees arrive. how long do they stay? >> reporter: when evacuees arrive they're given a brief security and medical check. then they get to their temporary living quarters. when i say temporary, it was supposed to be 48 hours. the reality is the processing time is taking longer. the conditions here are pretty basic. these are huge military tents, so they're robust, but tents nonetheless. about 40 people to a tent. the women and children stay in cots inside those giant airplane hangars. there are three hot meals a day served, bathrooms, but simple
washingtoning facilities, so no real showers. remember there's an army of volunteers here that are bringing in donations, diapers, clothes, also trying to keep the kids entertained. there are football games, sing-alongs and so forth. the biggest complaint i hear from evacuees are the fact that they're waiting so long and don't have internet connections. some of them have families reason ramstein that they can't communicate with. the flights going to the u.s. have more than doubled in the last 24 hours. at last count more than 2,500 evacuees have been delivered to the united states, so that is good news there, jim. >> those are the lucky ones. many more left behind. nick paton walsh, atika shubert, thanks very much. despite calls from both parties to give more time to the evacuation effort, the white house is eager to get u.s. troops away from danger in afghanistan including the turmoil at kabul's airport.
the president says he's committed to the mission, but safety concerns, terror concerns mean the 20-year u.s. presence in afghanistan will end in days. >> we are currently on pace to finish by august 31st. the sooner we can finish, the better. each day of operations brings added risk to our troops, but the completion of august 31st depends upon the taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those we're transporting out and no disruptions to our operation. >> cnn's john harwood joins us from the white house. those words are difficult to hear, right? that, in fact, the u.s. position there now, as well as those evacuations of people in effect fleeing the country for their lives is depending on cooperation from the taliban. do you sense the slightest of flexibility from the president,
from the white house, about extending these evacuations and this deadline, or is it done? >> i think there is flexibility, jim. the president said yesterday that he'd asked the military for contingency plans in the event they need to extend the deadline. but overall, it is a balancing test from the point of view of the white house between achieving as much of their mission as is possible, doing the best they can to get people out, 82,000, as you indicated, over the last 11 days, and avoiding catastrophe as a result of the threat stream you alluded to at the beginning of the segment, either for those near the air base trying to get out or for u.s. troops. they have not had a single u.s. casualty as they've conducted this evacuation effort over the last several weeks. so from the point of view of the administration, after all of the chaos and criticism they got about a botched withdrawal initially, that they believe they have turned this around, that they have successfully
evacuated americans and afghan allies, not all of them. a senior administration official acknowledged to me last night in terms of the afghan allies, there are a lot of deserving people who will not get out. made the argument that that would have been true at any point when the taliban took over. the one thing i think, jim, would cause them to extend the deadline is if they discovered that there was a significant pocket of americans somewhere who wanted to get out who could not. they've been trying to contact all of those people. we're going to hear from secretary of state tony blinken at midday to outline the posture from the administration point of view of where americans are, how many are left. there are several hundred americans due to get out today, but i think that all those things considered, joe biden is committed to miss policy of getting out of afghanistan and thinks the balance between achieving the mission and
achieving safety and preventing last-minute casualties for u.s. troops dictates that august 31 withdrawal unless they find additional americans. >> john harwood at the white house, thank you so much. i want to show you a remarkable live picture right now. this is over hamid karzai airport in kabul. just moments ago we saw a plane take off. you can hear the call to prayer in the background. of course, nightfall is coming. we're looking at what may be the final hours, days of the american presence there while many more afghans wait for even the opportunity to get out of the country. we'll keep this picture up for a moment. this afternoon we'll hear from secretary of state antony blinken on the latest on evacuation efforts, as well as the effort to make sure americans in particular get out. the state department says all americans who have registered
their presence in the country have been contacted and given instructions for what to do. cnn's kylie atwood is at the state department, kylie, it's been a consistent question, exactly how many americans are left in afghanistan. by the way, we should note it's really not certain in any country -- the u.s. government is not certain how many americans are in any country at any given time. the situation is critical. they've been reaching out to them. do they now have a better handle on how many are there and how many more need to be evacuated. >> jim, i think they have a better handle on that number, but what they're not doing is sharing that number publicly right now. what we do know is there are about 4,000 american passport holders and their families who the united states has gotten out of afghanistan. as you pointed out, we don't know the specific number of americans that the united states still believes are in the country and want to leave the country. the state department has said they have been in contact with
every american who has gotten in touch with the state department saying they want to leave the cou country. they said they have made 4,000 personalized phone calls in recent days. what we don't know is exactly, if all those phone calls have gone to americans, if all those americans are still in the country, if some of those americans have gotten out of the country. you'll recall that we first started last week with a number of ten to 15,000 americans who were believed to be in the country, but as you note, americans don't have to register with the state department when they go into the country. they don't need to deregister when they leave. that was a really rough estimate. what we're looking to find is the number of americans that still have to get out. that will define when this evacuation mission is over, when they get that number to zero, of course. >> we'll be watching. kylie atwood, thanks very much. joining me is craig whitlock, investigative reporter for the washington author of
"the afghanistan papers, a secret history of the war." to the news today, is president biden right that it's too risky to leave u.s. forces in afghanistan after the august 31st deadline with the expectation, in effect, that the taliban simply won't allow it and will start attacking and put those forces and others in danger? >> jim, as you point out earlier, it's risky to have u.s. troops now. while this evacuation is on going, we've had about 5,000 u.s. troops at the airport. they're protecting the airfield and relatively in a good position there. every time they carry out a mission outside the airport, you have these crowds lined up outside the gates. there's just so much vulnerability there on a daily, hourly basis, whether it's from the taliban, islamic state or other things. there could be a firefight break
out as happened the other day. it could go in any direction. whether it's the 31st of august or not, it's risky right now. >> i want to ask you this. the administration admits publicly they're not going to be able to get every afghan who worked with americans out of the country. they just can't do it. i know that for a fact because i'm speaking both to afghans in that category who are trying and simply can't get to the airport, as well as groups trying to aid in the evacuations. people are going to be left behind. what future do they face? is the taliban going to hunt them down and kill them? is it as simple as that? >> i don't know if it's as simple as that. those people are certainly right to be afraid. the taliban is going to have real decisions to make. in some ways it's in the taliban's interest, in part, to let a lot of people leave the country who are opposed to their rule, particularly in kabul. they're trying to solidify control. if there's tens of thousands or
a hundred thousand people leaving who oppose the taliban, that's not a bad thing. at the same time they need people to run the afghan government. if you're talking about civil servants, people running the aid organizations or programs that keep afghans fed or paid, i think the taliban is struggling with that right now. you have to understand, too, the taliban doesn't exert complete control over its own people. so there's always a concern about revenge killings or individual feuds or things like that. it's going to be very volatile for a long time to come. >> i'm going to set aside the politics for a moment. a lot of historical opinionism. you have two presidents, democratic and republican deciding in effect the same thing. the question is, was there an alternative to what we're seeing now? you had an argument from senior military officials, leave a small force, to help give
confidence to the afghan military. you have another point of view, the fact is, that status quo was not sustainable. the taliban were going to come at them after any deadline that was passed. what's the truth? >> i think the facts are clear, jim, that the status quo was not sustainable. the united states could have tried to keep a few thousand troops there to prop up the afghan government. as every month went by, the taliban was slowly getting stronger, and the afghan security forces were getting weaker. we saw reports in recent months about how afghan army and police forces were isolated, particularly in rural areas. they had outposts that had gone without food, weapons, resupplies for months, their troops weren't getting paid. so even before the american military pulled out, things were not headed in the right direction for the afghan government. i don't think it was a sustainable presence, but how long they could have kept it up, i don't know.
>> craig whitlock, thanks so much. i want to remind people of your book, "the afghanistan papers, the secret history of the afghan war." thanks so much. johnson & johnson releasing the first data on booster doses for people who received its one-shot vaccine. it shows a big spike in antibodies. good news for that vaccine. plus, we have breaking news from delta air lines. the company now ramping up pressure on its employees to get them vaccinated. the ceo of delta joins me next to talk about it. what more do we know about potential run-in with havana syndrome, as it's called, that delayed vice president harris' tri trip? these are alarming attacks. we'll have more on that next. wa. bring out the bold™
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good news on the covid front. johnson & johnson revealed this morning that preliminary data show people who receive booster doses of its one-shot coronavirus vaccine had a huge spike in antibodies. these are the front line immune defenses against infection. booster trials revealed a nine-fold increase in antibodies in people who got the boosters six to eight months after they got their first shot. the company plans to work with public health officials to work out a strategy to roll out boosters for those who want them.
breaking news this morning. del tear airlines is ramping up pressure on its employees to get vaccinated. weeks after announcing it would not require shots for workers, the airline is working on policies incentivizing -- you might say penalizing not being vaccinated. i'm joined by delta ceo ed bastian. good to have you with us this morning. explain for our viewers what's new. >> good morning. good to be with you. protecting our people has been priority number one through out the pandemic as it always has been. we were one of the first companies to be out with wide-scale testing of all employees, sponsoring vaccines at all of our main locations right here in the state of georgia we hosted the largest vaccination site in the state, vaccinated hundreds of thousands of people, both georgia residents as well as our own people.
we've already gotten up to 75% of our population that delta employees fully inoculated at this point. we know that's not good enough. with news of the final fda authorization for the vaccine being approved, it gives us the opportunity now to go to the next step and provide more stringent requirements on those people who have not been vaccinated. there's a few things we're going to do. first and foremost, masking works. we're going to make certain that any unvaccinated employee is wearing a mask at all times in our operations, particularly in indoor settings. secondly, we're going to enforce weekly testing of employees. starting in two weeks, every employee that is not vaccinated is going to have to submit to a test to confirm that that person is not infected. and third, and i think very importantly, starting november 1st, we're going to implement an insurance surcharge such that, if you're not vaccinated at that point, we're going to add a $200
monthly premium surcharge onto your health insurance cost, because this is not just costing lives, this is costing us financial resources as well. >> understood. they have to pay for their testing. i wonder because some companies have decided to straight-up require vaccination for their employees. given the proximity that your employees have with your customers, particularly in the confined space of an airplane, why not straight-up require vaccination? >> first and foremost, every company has to make its own decision for its culture, its people, what works according to its values. delta has one of the highest vaccination rates of any company i'm aware, already using voluntary measures. i think these added voluntary steps short of mandating a vaccine will get us as close to 100% as we can. as you know, jim, on board our planes -- a plane is probably the safest place you can be, all customers are fully masked, the air filtration system has worked really well. we have over 80% of our crews,
pilots and flight attendants, already vaccinated. i think this last step just short of a mandate i think will work with us. >> understood. the data has been good. i've been watching it through the pandemic. as you say, not a lot of evidence of transmission there. i do want to ask about passengers. the question has been raised whether at some point passengers should be required to vaccinate. have you given any consideration to that? >> passengers right now are required to be vaccinated to travel to most international locations. as an american, you can travel to europe but only if you're vaccinated. i think you're going to see, as international borders continue to open, that's going to be a requirement for international travel. within the domestic system, there's no evidence that there's been spread of covid in the domestic air transport system. as a result of that, coupled with the logistical challenge of carrying millions of people a week in the domestic system, it
would be quite a logistical snafu for us to try to require that domestically. >> i do want to ask one question about the finances. as you know, the airline industry as a whole received some $50 billion in bailout in the worst of the pandemic. at the time it made sense. aircraft travel has come back. airports are busy. planes are busy. why that money did help save an estimated 75,000 jobs, when you look at the cost according to "the new york times," its estimate, there's about $300,000 per job in taxpayer money. i wonder as an airline that received that aid, are you considering returning some of that benefit, for instance, to customers? >> first, the $50 billion you quoted. only $25 billion is what we received in the form of grants. delta received a much smaller number than that.
>> across the industry. >> exactly. all that money went to employees. that didn't go to the companies. it went to our employees to make sure our employees maintain their jobs, and we were in position to respond when it was safe to start traveling again. i think the economic return of keeping all those employees' jobs, the taxes they're paying, the employment benefit, the fact that our air transportation system in our country now is fully back compared to any other country in the world, the u.s. air transportation system has been protected, has been maintained, and it's vital. it's an essential service. i think it's been a great investment. over time i think history will show it was one of the smartest thing the government did in the c.a.r.e.s. act. >> ed bastian, ceo of delta, thank you for being with us. >> good to be with you. coming up more on the
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>> they have a theory. can you explain what that is? >> that's correct. it's almost -- the theory is there's an energy device that can be aimed at selected targeting that produces these disruptive effects. at this point we're thinking the device is either an ultra sonic device, a microwave device, some combination of both. >> and the intention to injury or the intention to steal data
from a device, but it also injuries, as sort of collateral damage? >> it could be both. it could certainly be both. there may be an injurious artifact and the initial is surveillance or it's injury and some -- >> you've been advising the state department on this issue going back four years now, to 2017. you shared documents with us adopted from what we saw was unclassified information. you've i'm examined the possibility, you found electrosonic pulsing. what does that do to people? >> the ultra sonics have been known to produce a viet of effects, creating imbalance in the inner here, that can cause
vertigo, confusion. what we've also recognized is it can do also do something called the cavitation effect, little bubbles that can be produced in any fluid medium, which produces something very similar to decompression sickness which may have long-term structural and functional implications. microwaves on the other hand work a bit differently. the way they essentially work is the brain is really nothing more than electrochemical organ, and microwaves can disrupt the electromagnetic activity that's so important to brain function. >> goodness. doctor -- i call you doctor. james giordano, we appreciate your work on this. we'll continue to follow the story. i want to bring our viewers live to the pentagon where major general hank taylor is briefing on the latest evacuation efforts from afghanistan.
>> -- as efficiently and safely as possible. in the past 24 hours, we exceeded the previous 24-hour flight departures and evacuated number of passengers nearing the previous day's record. yesterday 42 u.s. military aircraft, of which were 37 c-17s and 5 c-130s departed with approximately 11,200 personnel. combined with our 48 coalition and allied partners, with those departures, an additional 7,800 personnel left kabul. that is 90 flights total yesterday that left the kabul airport. that accounted for 19,000 evacuees now safely out of afghanistan within a 24-hour period. since the u.s. and coalition
forces began the evacuation to date, approximately 88,000 have safely departed from afghanistan. every 39 minutes yesterday a plane departed kabul airport. these numbers are a testament to the hard working and brave service members carrying out this mission. in cooperation with the state department, i can also tell you that there are more than 10,000 people currently at this time at the airport awaiting departure. this is a snapshot in time, and as we said yesterday, we'll continue to change as more people are able to come onto the airfield and as flights depart. as i said yesterday, in order for this throughput to remain steady, we depend on capacity and efficiency of our intermediate staging bases and safe havens. we are appreciative of the support and rely on our allies
and partners in this global endeavor. six flights will transport about 1,800 vulnerable afghans from germany to the united states today. in addition, approximately 2,000 more will arrive, in this case, ramstein air base, germany, is scheduled to receive approximately 13 flights. since august 20th, ucom has assisted approximately 10,000 vulnerable afghans and evacuees for transit to onward locations. you'll likely hear more details today at press scheduled with mr. kirby and general walters later today. several thousand evacuees have arrived in the united states so far and will continue to do so. in the past 24 hours, five flights landed at dulles international airport with approximately 1,200 passengers.
as part of this process, these individuals completed biometric vetting and screening in accordance with the fbi, nctc and customs and border control standards, all directed by the department of homeland security. we are working around the clock to provide safe, sanitary and appropriate receptions and processing at all of our locations throughout the world. we know you have questions about our current timeline and intent for departure. our mission remains unchanged. for each day of this operation, we have carried out the direction of the president and the secretary of defense. until that mission changes, we will continue to put forth our maximum effort to safely evacuate as many people as possible, and we will keep you updated. lastly, i want to give you a short update on haiti. the department of defense and u.s. southern command continue
to be in full support of usaid as the lead federal agency. the usaid bureau for humanitarian assistance team has been on the ground since the beginning and we've been supporting them since then. as have a lot of our allies and partners, working with international community to identify points of need. this lifesaving aid and assistance mission is where dod's unique capabilities, specifically in airlift and logistics are engaged each day to get that lifesaving aid where it needs to be rapidly. as of late last evening jtf haiti has conducted over 364 full-spectrum missions, both with the dod assets and united states o coast guard which have assisted and saved lives and delivered over 163 pounds of vital aid as of late yesterday. thank you.
good morning everybody. just one more note and then we'll get to questions. i think you may have seen now we have released the secretary's memo with respect to mandatory vaccinations for covid-19. he has determined after careful consultation with medical experts and military leadership and, of course, with the support of the president, that mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus's covid-19 is to protect the safety of our service members and our force. mandatory vaccination will only use covid-19 vaccines that receive full licensure from the food and drug administration in accordance with fda approved labeling and guidance. it will be implemented consistent with dod immunization program instruction 6205.02, in
other words, the existing structure and regulations that govern policies and procedures for managing mandatory vaccination across the force. this is consistent with the department's efforts to ensure the safety of our service members and to maintain readiness of the force. with that, we'll take questions. bob. >> john, thank you. with regard to afghanistan, i wonder if you could give us a sense of what the evacuation end game is likely to look like or expected to look like in terms of the sequence of events over the last three, four, five days? will the u.s. need to have sort of exclusive use of the fields and the apparatus to execute the final flights? >> i'll ask the general to be more specific than me, bob, but what we anticipate happening in the last couple of days, we
will -- first of all, we will continue to evacuate needed populations all the way to the end if we have to and we need to. if you're an evacuee that we can get out, we're going to continue to get you out right up until the end. but, in those last couple of days -- we'll try to preserve as much capability as we can at the airport. in those last couple of days, we will begin to prioritize military capabilities and military resources to move out. that doesn't mean that if you're an evacuee and you need to get out, that we're not going to try to get you out, but we will have to reserve some capacity in those last couple of days to prioritize the military footprint leaving because we want to be able to keep it there as long as possible to do the
job that it's intended to do. >> the charter flights, for example, would be finished earlier. when you refer to military resources, you're talking about american only? >> i'm talking about primarily u.s. military troops and equipment. we are now and have been working with our allies and partners to help them withdraw their people and we'll help them withdraw their forces as well. >> right to the very end, or you have to do that earlier? >> obviously we want to preserve as much capability as possible. some of that capability is not ours. some of it is our allies and partners. they'll be a balance there. it will be up to the admiral to determine how he strikes that balance in terms of making sure he has the maximum capability for as long as possible. so there will be a transition more towards getting military assets out as we get closer to the end. but again, we're going to continue to work the evacuation
mission right up until the last day. >> i think what i would add for the great answer mr. kirby gave, as you've seen in the last three days, the complexity and the amount of aircraft moving in and out. so the capability to continue to sequence and plan for the actual requirements that leave on a daily basis is going to be made on the ground. as you've seen, we have that capability to manage quite a lot of throughput and be able to put the right things on those aircraft as they come in and as they leave. >> john, who is guarding the u.s. embassy right now? who will guard after the u.s. military pulls out? are there any contingencies? do you have an agreement with the taliban? in terms of the airport, do you have an agreement with any nato allies, like the turks, to keep the airport open after the u.s.
military pulls out? >> as i understand it -- i know there's no military assets guarding the embassy compound. the u.s. embassy is operating out of hamid karzai international airport. as for the turks, they're still on the ground at the airport assisting in this security mission that we have there. i won't speak for their intentions one way or another going forward, but there's not going to be -- when the mission is over and when we are leaving the airport, the airport will not be the united states -- our responsibility anymore. how it gets managed going forward will be something that the taliban, who are now in kabul, will have to manage on their own and i assume with the international community. but that won't be an american
responsibility. >> just one more. how many individuals on terror watch lists have been screened or found at any screening points at qatar, ramstein or in the u.s.? >> i don't know. we'll have to take that question and get back to you. >> on behalf of the afghan people thank you very much for your hard job and good job actually. >> thank you. >> afghan people, they are happy, but some of them, they are not eligible for siv visa, p1, p2, but still have a serious problem. they are not in kabul. they are hiding. they move from one place to the other place. they contact with me, more than a hundred people contact with me saying what can we do. i say i'm nobody to do something. is there any plan from the state department or from the pentagon,
because they're the target of the taliban. the taliban spokesperson say why united states make a problem for us. we are not allowing the people to leave afghanistan, now they're in like in jail. on the other hand, taliban is not just one group, they are different groups, like five groups, and a lot of people there with the problem and not eligible for the visas. is there any possibility or any other option for them to be safe? >> nazir, i can't speak for each and every afghan who wants to leave and is dealing with their own individual circumstances to get out. we know there are a lot of desperate people who want to leave, and that's why we are working as fast as we can. you saw the numbers that we continue to be able to get out.
we're working as fast as we can to get out american citizens, especially immigrant visa applicants and vulnerable afghans, and which continue to work at this. i can't begin to give you specific advice on what these individuals need to do. i encourage them to reach out to the state department. from the pentagon's perspective, we're doing the best we can as fast as we can to move as many people as we can out on any given day. i'm not able to -- i know my answer is unsatisfying, and i apologize for that. i'm not able to speak to our ability to reach out and tough every single afghan that wants to get out. believe me, we're very mindful of the plight here and we're trying the best we can to alleviate that. >> thank you. i want to follow up to what jen was asking about.
you said there won't be a military presence guarding an embassy. -- >> the embassy compound. she specifically asked about the embassy compound which we're not operating out of. >> post august 31st, after that date, can you say there will be no u.s. diplomatic presence post august 31st? >> i can't speak for that. that's a state department issue. >> to follow up, there's been reports that somebody affiliated with isis got on one of the flights. what's going on with that? >> i've seen similar press reporting on this. i just don't have anything to update you on. i don't have any information. what i should have said to jen, that's really a better question for the department of homeland security, but we'll see if we can track down something for you. i'm not trying to evade it. i just don't know. we're doing the best we can to
man northweifest people on thes flights. there's screening being done by dhs, immigration, intelligence officials doing the screening for people as they go on for onward flights. we're really focused on trying to get as many of these individuals out. >> one last one, just the same question i had yesterday. have there been any air extractions in kabul, any additional ones since the two you have told us about and have there been any efforts outside of kabul to extract americans and at-risk afghans? >> last night during the period of darkness, there was an operation to be able to go out and safely evacuate evacuees back into kabul. they're at hkia. they're safely there preparing to evacuate. >> was it in kabul and they brought them into the airport -- >> it was outside of the airfield, outside in a way that we were able to bring them back
to kabul safely. they're preparing for evacuation. >> to the airport. it was inside kabul. david? >> was that a helicopter operation? >> it was. >> can you tell us how many? >> we're not going to provide specific details. less than 20. i'm not going to provide additional details. >> can i ask -- yesterday it was reported that the withdraw had already begun and several hundred troops had already come out, and you pushed back on that saying these were people whose functions were no longer needed. but all withdraws sort of began with pulling out non-essential personnel first. why shouldn't we view that as clearing the decks for the hard
core withdrawal that is going to come here? >> that's a great question. i wasn't pushing back on headlines that said withdraw. i was simply trying to describe what happened without hyperbole. let me just back up. what happened was the commander on the ground, admiral vasely, in trying to manage time and s space at the airport determined that it was the prudent thing to do to let several hundred troops leave the airport. some of these troops did come in with the troops that were added for the non-combatant evacuation, the 5,800. some of them were troops that were already there at hamid karzai international airport before any additional troops flowed in for the non-combatant
evacuation. as you know, david, we were still in the process, before there was a need to do a non-combatant evacuation, we were still in the process of a drawdown at the airport, the previous plan, by the end of the month. some of the troops that flew home yesterday were in that tranche. they were very much a part of the original drawdown plan. admiral vasely saw fit that there was some others that he believed that he didn't need there at the airport anymore even though they had flown in with the plus-up for the neo. these are headquarter staff personnel, maintainers and other enabling forces who either had completed their mission and were already scheduled to go, as i said, even before there was a non-combatant evacuation and others who admiral vasely determined their mission was complete, he didn't need them
anymore. again, time and space are a premium at the airport. he has the authority to make that decision. i wasn't pushing back on the fact -- the withdrawal has been going on since april 14th when the president announced it. i wasn't pushing back. i wanted to make it clear that we hadn't pushed some button and said go retrograde now. we still have on the ground about 5,400 of the 5,800 that we reached at the maximum. admiral vasely has the authority to manage in a prudent way his force management on the ground. i haven't gone to the phones and i want to make sure i don't forget that. jeff showingal. >> thank you very much. from talking to military groups, it is evident that the taliban are still blocking afghans from gaining entrance to hamid karzai international airport. and even when afghans make it onto the airport, there have
been instances where they have been escorted off due to paperwork issues. i'd like to know what steps is the u.s. government taking to make sure that afghans do have safe passage to the airport, and under what circumstances are afghans with valid visas who are admitted to the airport ultimately escorted off the airport grounds? >> jeff, it's difficult for us to answer that here at the pentagon when we're not at the gates and on the ground at the airport. what i will tell you is a couple of things. and i recognize that no process is perfect and that the -- i'm not disputing at all the accounts that you're relaying here today, that there may be hiccups and problems. we certainly recognize that. let me just take a couple of steps back and tell you how this is working, and we've talked about this before.
we have clevelanonsoler officer stationed at the gates with american troops who are helping them do their jobs of processing individuals as they come in, checking credentials, making sure they're who they say they are and they're in a valid group that were trying to move onto the airport grounds. outside of that, the taliban have set up checkpoints. we talked about this before, and we are in daily communication with taliban commanders about who we want to see get in and what the credentials are, what they look like, what's valid. and that communication happens literally every day. we have been nothing but open with the taliban about who we expect them to let in. again, we fully recognize that not every step of this process is in our firm control and there are going to be instances where
it doesn't work as advertised. i can tell you there isn't a single day that goes by where admiral vasely and general donohue aren't working this in a very personal way with taliban authorities outside the airport. let me go to another one on the phone. tara. >> thank you for doing this, john. yesterday the president mentioned, also, that he was calling upon the department to create contingency plans in case the number of americans and afghans that still need to get out have not gotten out by the 31st. can you just explain sort of what the department is thinking about what its options might be to continue to get americans out after the 31st if they haven't made it to the airport by then? just to follow on jeff's question with afghans that aren't getting through, have discussions gone on with the
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