tv CNN Newsroom With Alisyn Camerota and Victor Blackwell CNN August 26, 2021 12:00pm-1:00pm PDT
>> officials believe isis-k was behind the attacks, but they're still working to confirm that. the state department had been warning for days of a terror attack at the airport. we have reporters standing by. let's start with barbara starr at the pentagon. what do we know about these military members who were killed and what we're expected to hear from the pentagon? >> in just a very short while we are expecting to hear from general frank mckenzie, the head of the u.s. central command which oversees military operations in the gulf, the middle east, afghanistan. we expect to hear from him. i see john kirby there. >> the general will have some brief opening remarks. we'll obviously address the events in kabul today as well as the evacuation mission and where we are and where we're going. we'll take questions. i will moderate the questions.
i will call on you. please before you ask your question identify yourselves and your outlet so the general has an idea who he's talking to. just a reminder, we have a hard stop at 3:30. with that, general mckenzie, over to you sir. >> thanks. it's a hard day today. as you know, two suicide bombers assessed to have been isis fightered detonated at the abbey gate followed by a number of isis gunman who opened fire on civilians and military forces. at this time we know that 12 u.s. service members have been killed in the attack and 15 more service members have been injured. a number of afghan civilians were also killed and injured in the attack. we are heading some of them aboard hkia.
we continue to focus on the protection of our forces and the evacuees as the evacuation continues. let me be clear. while we're saddened by the loss of life, both u.s. and afghan, we're continuing to execute the mission. our mission is to evacuate u.s. citizens, third country nationals, special immigrant visa holders, u.s. embassy staff and afghans at risk. as of today we have 5,000 evacuees on the ramp awaiting air left. since august 14th we've evacuated more than 104,000 civilians, over 6,000 by the united states and over 37,000 by our allies and partners. that includes bringing out about 5,000 americans. the secretary of state said yesterday we believe there are about a little more than a
thousands americans left in afghanistan at this point. we're going everything we can to reach out to them and help them leave if they want to leave. remember, not everybody wants to leave. yesterday we brought in over 500 american citizens. it would be difficult to overestimate the number of unusual challenges and competing demands that our forces on the ground have faced. the threat to our forces, particularly from isis-k is very real, as we have seen today. i would also like to express the sense of profound pride i have in the creative, determined and professional way our forces have over come those challenges and the number of people we've been able to extract from afghanistan. it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of our many coalition partners. they stood with us on the ground. and also the international partners who supported the evacuation, the service members who supported this operation
down range across the central command, the european command and northern command areas of responsibility. moreover, this evacuation could not have been done without the amazing flexibility of u.s. transportation command and the air lift provided by the united states air force. no other military in the world has anything like it. i'd also like to thank the host nations that have generally provided access to their facilities for the care of evacuees. i also acknowledge the temporary suffering some of our evacuees have had to endure. we continue to execute our number one mission, which is to get as many evacuees and citizens out of afghanistan. we also extend the capacity at our intermediate facilities to ensure safe, sanitary and humane conditions for our evacuees while continuing to look for ways to expedite their processing to the united states and other destinations. i'd like to close by taking a
moment to describe the heroism that our marines, soldiers and sailors are exhibiting as they screen the people coming onto the airfield. this is closeup work. the breath of the person you are searching is upon you. while we have overwatch in place, we still have to touch the clothes of the person coming in. i think you all can appreciate the courage and dedication necessary to do this job and to do it time after time. please remember that we have screened over 104,000 people. finally i'd like to offer my profound condolences to the families of oh our servicemen and women and afghan civilians who lost their lives today. we have put more than 5,000 u.s. service members at risk to save as many civilians as we can. it's a noble mission. today we have seen firsthand how dangerous that mission is. isis will not deter us from accomplishing the mission, i can assure you of that. all americans can and should be proud of the men and women of
the armed forces who are facing these dangers head on with their int international partners and all other friends with us. we appreciate your thoughts for all the service members today who are carrying out this mission. >> general mckenzie, thank you for taking the time to do this. can you give us your assessment of the isis threat going forward? what are you seeing on the ground now? does this cut the evacuation short, do you believe? and are people able to get onto the airport now? finally, the president has warned that any attacks against the u.s. would be answered. will this attack be answered militarily by the u.s.? >> a number of questions there. let me try to take them in order. first of all, the threat from isis is extremely real.
we've been talking about it for several days. we saw it manifest in the last few hours with an actual attack. we believe it is their desire to continue those attacks and we expect those attacks to continue. we're doing everything we can to prevent those attacks. we are continuing to bring people onto the airfield. we just brought a number of buses aboard the airfield over the last couple or three hours. we'll don't continue to process flow people out. the plan is designed to operate under stress and under attack. and we will coordinate to make sure it's safe for american citizens to come to the airfield. if it's not, we'll tell them to hold and work other ways to get them to the airport. we'll continue to flow them out
until the end of the month. let me just come back one moment. you talked about going after isis. yes, if we can find who's associated with this, we will go after them. we've been clear that we're going to retain the right to operate against isis in afghanistan and we are working very hard right now to determine attribution, to determine who is associated with this cowardly another tack and we're prepared to take action against them. 24/7 we are looking for them. >> david? >> 27 casualties is a terrible number, 12 dead. can you explain the circumstances of these attacks which resulted in such high casualties for the u.s.? >> sure, david. first of all, you will understand that we're still investigating the exact circumstances. what i can tell you is this.
the attack occurred at a gate. the gate we have to check people before they get onto the airfield. we have to ep nsure they're not carrying a bomb or weapon. that requires physical screening. you have to get very close to that person. the air base itself is surr surrounded with walls. these gates where people actually come on the airfield, there's no substitute for a young united states man or woman standing up there, conducting a search of that person before we let them on. the taliban have conducted searches before they get to that point and sometimes those searches have been good and sometimes not. i will simply note before this attack we had passed 104,000 people through. this attack is one too many but we'll evaluate what happened. we'll find ways to always get better. but the key thing is you don't want someone on an airplane
carrying a bomb because that could result in massive loss of life if an airplane were to be destroyed. you've got to do the searches. we work with our partners on the ground to conduct those searches. ultimately americans have got to be endangered to secure these searches. i cannot tell you how impressed i am with the daily heroism of the men and women out there doing that work. they're right up close to thousands of people flowing through the airfield. to be able to get up and do it day after day is remarkable. this time looks like somebody got close to us. we'll find out why and try to improve our procedures. 12 service members dying, no one feels that more closely than me and everyone in the chain of command. we realize we need to continue to evaluate our procedures as we go forward. we're not there to defend
ourselves. we're there to defend ourselves while we process american citizens first but also the other categories of people that i mentioned, get them to a place where we can fly them out to a safer, better future. >> just to be clear, this suicide bomber was going through the gate, being searched, checked by u.s. service members when he detonated his vest? >> that would be my working assumption. he did not get onto the installation. it was at the interface point where this attack occurred. we're gathering information. we're investigating that. but right now our focus really, we have other active threat streams. our focus is on that. over the next days we'll learn more about what happened here and i'm sure we'll be able to
share that with you. right now our focus is going forward and ensuring another attack of this nature tuz not occur. typically the pattern is multiple attacks and we want to be prepared to defend against that. >> courtney? >> it's courtney kube from nbc news. can you tell us a little bit more about these extremely real additional threats from isis? is it a concern about more suicide attacks? also about some of the steps that you may be taking to mitigate future attacks. would it include putting u.s. troops or marines outside the gates outside of the airport for additional perimeter security? finally, with all of this, is there any discussion about sending any additional u.s. troops to kabul airport for additional security measures? >> let me answer the last part of your question first. we assess we have the forces we need to protect ourselves there.
let's talk about the threat streams. so very, very real threat streams, very, very what we would call tactical. that means imminent, could occur at any moment. they range from rocket attacks. we know they would like to lob a rocket in there if they could. we have pretty good protection against that. we have our anti-rocket and mortar systems, the gun systems that are pretty effective against these kinds of attacks. we have them well positioned around the boundary of the airfield. we also know they'd like to get a vehicle attack if they can, from a small vehicle to a large vehicle. we've already seen a vest wearing suicide attacker. all of those things we look at. now, the other thing we do is, we share versions of this information with the taliban so they can actually do some searching out there for us.
we believe some attacks have been thwarted by them. we've been doing this since the 14th. this is an attack that's been carried out. we believe it's possible others have been thwarted. we cut down the information we give the taliban. they don't get the full range of information we have, but we give them enough to try to prevent these attacks. we try to push out the boundary even further so we don't get large crowds massing at the gate. clearly at abbey gate we had a larger crowd than we would like. it shows the system is not perfect. standoff for attacks like this is always the best defense. unfortunately we don't have the opportunity given the geography of the ground that we're onto always gain that kind of standoff. let me close your question by saying we take the threat of these attacks very seriously. we're working them very hard. we're doing a variety of things.
as you know we have attacking helicopters on the ground that we're flying to take a look. they have very good thermal and optical imaging systems. we have aircraft over head that also have good imaging systems. we have mq-9s that have the ability to look. all of these systems are being deployed in defense of the airfa air airfield. we also use the taliban as a tool to protect us as much as possible. >> alex horton, "washington post" on the phone. alex? >> alex horton with the "washington post." can you give us a sense of where you are in casualty notification f given the large number? and can you tell us a little bit about how the forces have
reacted? you said you introduced a little probably more standoff at this point, but what are other measures you're taken to increase security after the attack? >> sure. i believe that process is ongoing, but i do not have visibility on it. my visibility is fully forward against the day to day practical threat we face. there are other people probably that can answer that question for you. i'm just not that person, alex. in terms of practical things we're doing, again, we've reached out to the taliban, we've told them you need to push out the security perimeter. we've identified some roads we'd like them to close. they say they will be willing to close those roads because we think the vehicle threat is high right now. we're moving very aggressively to do that. we talked a little bit about the
over watch that we have in place. we have our unmanned aircraft, our mq-9s and other unmanned drone systems that have very good optical and other means of looking down. we look at what's happening around the gate, we try to identify patterns. we have mhighly trained people looking at that. we also have aircraft we fly locally as well as other aircraft that come off the air y carrier we have off the coast, everything ranging from f 15s to ac-130 gunships. the gunship has a very capable targeting system. we know visible demonstration of these kinds of isr tends to dissuade the attack. they know if we can see them do it, we're going to strike them immediately. we're looking very hard.
we assess we are in a period wd we're working through that as aggressively as we can. >> can you tell us if you think that your recommendation for staying potentially after august 31st would change because of this threat stream? or are you concerned about the threat stream? also u.s. military and the taliban have been coordinating very closely on various things. do you still trust the taliban and is it possible they let this happen? >> as to whether they let it happen, i don't know. i don't think there's anything to convince me they let it happen. as to whether or not i trust them, that's not necessarily -- that's a word i use very carefully. it's not what they say. it's what they do. they have a practical reason for wanting us to get out of here by the 31st of august.
they want to reclaim the airfield. we want to get out by then too if it's possible to do so. we share a common purpose. they've been useful to work with. they've cut some of our security concerns down and they've been useful to work with going forward. long-term, i don't know what that's going to be. any time you build a noncombatant evacuation plan like this and you bring in forces, you expect to be attacked. we thought this would happen sooner or later. it's tragic that happened today. it's tragic there's this much loss of life. we are prepared to continue the mission. i think we can continue to conduct our mission even while we're receiving attacks like this. >> even before today's attack you were just four days or so
from leaving. how soon will you have to start diminishing the evacuation flights if you believe those can continue to make space and time for the military retrograde that is the withdrawal of the many troops there and our equipment? >> without getting into specifics, i would tell you the plan is designed to maximize throughput of evacuees even as we again to prepare to draw down the force on the ground. we recognize there's a need to balance the two. we're not going to suddenly turn off the spigot. it will draw down as we get closer to the air gate. at the same time, i want to emphasize again a plan is designed to maximize pushing people out even as we continue to reconfigure the force, continue to defend ourselves and get out our equipment and military personnel. >> will you also have to develop
alternative routes to get the remaining americans in kabul who want to leave safely to the airport? >> we have worked over the last week. we have brought in hundreds of americans by working alternate routes to get them in, by establishing contact with them, by directing them down different ways to get to the airport. our task force does that on the ground very effectively in connection with the overall commander there. so we continue to do that. that's not something we're beginning now. we have done that all along and will continue to up until the last moment. >> jennifer griffin, fox news. >> can you say was there one or two suicide bombers at the abbey gate? and can you say for certain it was a male bomber? and can you give us any more details about the second explosion that occurred at baron hotel?
was that a car bomb or also a suicide bomber? finally, there are state department employees side by side with u.s. military at that gate. were there any other killed in one strike? >> we think one suicide bomb at abbey gate. don't know if it's male or female. just don't have that information. don't know much about the second bomb except one went off in the vicinity of the baron hotel, which you are aware is a deeply bunkered structure. as far as i know, there were no u.k. military casualties as a result of that. there may have been afghan casualties and i'm sure there were afghan casualties. but it will take us a little bit of time to actually learn how many afghans became casualties. we took some of them on board the installation. many of them were taken to hospitals out in town. what i see is what i get on open source reporting about the nature of those casualties. we're trying to gather more information about it.
last point, i would tell you i don't know the size of the bomb. the size of the bomb is directly related to how many people are going to be affected by the blast raid i didius of the weap. we're going to investigate that. at the interface point at the gates, someone has to look someone else in the eyes and decide they're ready to come in. we'll find out exactly what happened beyond that. i would not want to speculate at this time, jennifer. thank you. >> any other american citizens from the state department who were killed? >> none than i am aware of now. >> go back to the phones. >> thank you so much for doing this. a couple questions. first of all, can you tell me we've heard reports of a third and possibly a fourth attack in kabul today. can you confirm those? and also can you tell us how exactly are you still conducting these evacuation flights? are you concerned about man pads
and other threats to the aircraft? >> we have not been able to run that information down as far as locations of other attacks in kabul. i can't confirm there have been other attacks in kabul away from h kaya today. i will tell you this. the safety of our aircraft coming in and out is of paramount importance. you have the opportunity for 450 or more people to die. we don't believe they have a man pad capable of doing it. they have taken shots at our aircraft on occasion without effect. we think that's going to continue. as you know, military aircraft have a variety of self-defense systems. what's more vulnerable are the charter aircraft that do not have those systems. with our isr we look very
carefully at the approach pattern and the departure pattern off that runway to see if we see any sign of something that might pose a threat to aircraft. that's one of the things we look at religiously throughout the day and night as we conduct operations. really the aircraft are the only way to get people out of there so we are keenly sensitive to threats to our aircraft. >> one more question. >> i know it's still early, but at this moment in time how do you believe the suicide bombers made it through several checkpoints, whether it's taliban or afghan forces to the marines? do you believe it was a failure or they were able to somehow evade them and make it to the marines? >> clearly, if they were able to get up to the marines at the entry point of the base, there's a failure somewhere. it was a failure by taliban operate with various degrees of
confidence. some of those guys are scrupulously good, some are not. i just don't know the answer to that question. you can be assured we're going to continue to take a look at it and try to make all our pr practices better as we go forward. >> we're going to let the general close out. >> again, i would like to say today's a hard day. the thing i come back to is the remarkable professionalism that the force on the ground is showing. as i noted before, ultimately at these screening points in particular you've got to get very up close and personal to the people you're bringing out. there's no way to do that safely from a distance. we should bear in mind we've been doing it for well over a week. we've brought 104,000 out. that's a tremendous number of contacts that every marine, soldier or sailor has had to have as we bring people to the airfield. it's with a heavy heart that i do this conversation with you today. nobody feels it more than me or
the other members of the chain of command. we'll do everything we can to improve our practices there to make sure it's as safe as possible for our nfolks on the ground doing this dirty, dangerous work. thank you very much. >> you've been listening to the latest there from the pentagon giving us this tragic update of 12 u.s. service members killed, 15 wounded in the kabul attack. it has been a year and a half before this day that a u.s. service member had been killed in afghanistan. let's bring in now cnn pentagon correspondent barbara starr,itl paton walsh and kylie wood. in that context of 12 service members killed in these attacks, considering how long it had been since a u.s. service member has lost their life in afghanistan.
>> so long since anyone has lost their life in afghanistan, but even deeper than that for the u.s. military, it has now been several years sense they had what they call a mass casualty incident like this where so many service members have died at once. we have seen it in helicopter accidents, shootdowns, fire fights, but nothing like this in recent years. general mckenzie took a fair amount of time trying to lay the picture out for everyone of what transpired at the airport. so let's just review a couple of things that he said. a suicide bomber probably wearing a vest, they believe, approached a gate. this is manned by marines. this is essentially the gate entrance to the airport. at this point the suicide bomber would have already passed through a taliban checkpoint most likely to get there.
general mckenzie offered some new detail. he said they've been having the taliban try and screen people. it's not a perfect process. some of the taliban are very thorough, some are not. nobody believes the taliban let the suicide bomber through on purpose. they don't obviously know for sure, but there's no reason to think it. somehow the suicide bomber passes through the initial taliban checkpoint. they are screened. he also noted that the u.s. has been offering the taliban some limited intelligence about this kind of thing. they pass through, they approach the marines at the gate. this is the second time the suicide bomber can anticipate being screened now by u.s. military personnel. the question is how so many marines might have been in one spot. that question came up. general mckenzie pointed out they don't know yet the size of the bomb, the blast radius, how
much the bomb radiated out from where the marines were located at this checkpoint. when you search someone to come onto an airfield that is so secure like kabul, you have to put your hands on them. you have to run your hands over their clothes. you have to feel your breath on their breath. it's that close. it's that kind of personal work. they have screened close to 100,000 or more people coming onto the airport. terrible that this happened. you know, obviously the first times this such a disaster at the airport has befallen them. one of the most dangerous things is going to be when and if they can do the forensics, what kind of bomb was this, how sophisticated was it, what kind of explosives or shrapnel was it
stuffed with, what was the blast radius that allowed this bomb to kill so many service personnel. small comfort, no comfort to their families. but it is something the u.s. military wants to know. it may help them learn who was behind it. general mckenzie also said if they can figure out who was behind it and put a finger on it, that they will go after that person, because of course president biden, the pentagon has long said if the u.s. is attacked in this situation at the airport, they would respond with force. i think just going through my notes here, still another interesting point, we knew that the u.s. was talking to the taliban about the threats and what was happening at the airport. they were also encouraging the taliban not just to search people, but to push the perimeter out and try and deter any attacks.
the taliban might have had good reason to keep any attackers at bay. they want the u.s. out of there as fast as possible. the mission, general mckenzie said, will continue. the u.s. plans to be gone by tuesday. >> i thought that was a remarkable press briefing. general mckenzie was so forthcoming with information in taking the time to explain that face to face contact that u.s. service members have to have with everybody coming through the airport in terms of putting their hands on them and having to screen them. he said we're continuing the mission. isis will not deter us from our mission. we have other active threat streams, though, at this moment. you have spent time at that airport. do you understand what could change, if anything? can they do anything differently now that this horrible tragedy has happened?
>> reporter: i have to say hearing how proceedings were going today, it seemed like most of the gates were pretty closed. the idea that an individual came through abbey gate is something we should talk about in a moment, but i don't really see how they can open the gates up and encourage more siv applicants onto the base. they're going to be dealing with u.s. citizens and priority afghans in buses. that may reduce the number of people to put on aircraft. he did talk about a possible timeline when they might reduce that evacuation effort but wouldn't say when it began. the gate though is quite startling. i've been through the search process myself. obviously there are crowds outside and we have seen them in the videos of the horrific blast. you don't pit ut your marines i that necessarily to search people. this was what they refer to as the search lane at abbey gate. this may explain why quite such
a horrifyingly large number of u.s. service members lost their lives in this. it's tighter area. you are patted down with somebody in surgical gloves, your bags are searched. quite how it is that the particular individual managed to, if it is the case and the working assumption apparently is that it occurred at one of the gates, how he was picked out of the crowd and put in that p position is something they're going to be looking at with great intent. we know very few people are picked out at random outside those gates. it must have been surely been an individual they were necessarily looking for. that will be part of that intelligence picture how that individual got on the list. we have heard instances of people simply through ingenuity or contact managing to find their way on.
there's another interesting thing that stood out to me there about how this attack unfolded we have this blast. it seems like it may have been the first blast. it occurred at the search gate. then a second blast occurred at the baron hotel complex. it's clear, according to general mckenzie, there were isis gunmen who then opened fire on civilians. that in itself suggests more possibly than just one attacker. it suggests maybe a coordinated team here. then how many of these individuals managed to get through the taliban security lines to that point and it goes back to the broader question of the u.s. essentially charging the taliban with their perimeter security. there's a long history between the u.s. and the taliban. they have not been friends for a long time. this change in relationship i'm sure people will look back on and begin to wonder if something
slipped through this. no indication the taliban let the attackers through, but still a remarkable environment around that airport. >> reporter: we are going to be hearing from president biden today. when exactly the president is going to speak on these attacks that have killed 12 u.s. service members is still unclear, but we are told plans are being made right now for the president to address the nation. of course this will be the first time we have heard from him today. he has spent the day essentially huddling with these national security team, finding out the information in realtime about what's happened on the ground. i am told that after that we will hear from the press secretary jen psaki. that's a briefing scheduled to take place earlier today but she will take questions from reporters later on. of course there are a lot of questions for the president about what this moment means and about what is happening going forward. we did just hear from the pentagon. right now this mission is going to continue and they are going
to try to maximize the output of those evacuations. the biggest concern are the terror attacks that are still on going. there are very real threats and they are monitoring and doing their best to defend against. we will hear from president biden in a little bit. it will be president biden and we will hear from the press secretary jen psaki after that. >> is there a plan for the americans that we know are still in afghanistan? >> you heard it from the sentcom commander that they are still executing their plan to evacuate people from afghanistan. that fundamentally includes the americans. you also heard him say that in the last 24 hours about 500 americans have left afghanistan on these flights. what we're told by the state department is there are about 1,000 americans that they believe are still in the
country. about two-thirds of those are making moves to leave the country. that would be about 750 people. some of those may already be on their way out of the country or already out of the country. i know that sounds confusing but it is reflection of a reality right now. this is a very porous, quickly evolving situation. there are americans at the airport that are trying to get on these flights, trying to get out of the country. the state department incredibly focused on getting all of those americans out who want to leave. we should also note that the commander noted that this whole evacuation process was designed to work under pressure and that is exactly what we're seeing happen right now. of course, what happened with these explosions was a worst case scenario, the death of these u.s. officials who worked at the pentagon worse case scenario, but they are still carrying on with their evacuation efforts. we don't know exactly how much
it slowed them down. i think we'll see that tomorrow when we have a firmer answer on how many people flew out of the country today. the state department is still in regular contact with people to get them safely out of the country. >> let's bring in susan glasser, cnn global affairs analyst. also general mark hurtling, john harwood and nic robertson. general hurtling, let me start with you and your reaction to what we just learned from the pentagon, 12 u.s. service members killed, 15 wounded in the attacks. >> victor, what i'll tell you is when general mckenzie said that i was devastated. i didn't expect that number, truthfully. can i say,first of all, heart felt condolences go out to all the parents and loved ones of
those who are probably going to get messages some time soon about their loved one who gave their life in the most difficult of missions. this is not just a combat mission. this is a humanitarian mission. it's getting people out of a contested place. it was a terrific briefing because he really shared the spectrum of the kinds of things they're doing. one of the things he said struck me because it reminded me -- i, unfortunately, during my time in iraq experienced several suicide bombings against troops and iraqi civilians. he said they didn't know if the suicide bomber was a male or a female. i'm going to make a conjecture there because one of the things we had in iraq was a female suicide bomber network. the reason it was so effective is because it could get through the search lanes of different places. and the taliban, being the
extreme sharia law following people they are, are not going to touch a female or search a female. that could be a possibility. i'm only offering that as a theory, no facts behind it, but i'm sure they're all looking at that. the comment about why were people so close together, when you look at the scene of the bombing, you know, it looked like the blast radius probably extended at least 100 to 150 meters. when you're talking about marines at a search gate, as nick paton walsh mentioned the search zone, there are several there covering the individual who is doing the search and there are others perhaps searching other people in order to get the throughput the way they wanted to get the number of people out through the abbey gate that we needed to do. there are many reasons why there could have been so many military personnel in one spot. but when you look at the rest of
the carnage in that area, that bomb blast was pretty extensive and it probably killed -- as the afghan ministry is already saying, it killed quite a few people and wounded quite a few more. this was a significant blast. it's really just devastating to hear this kind of carnage went on. that's my initial take on this complex attack. it's going to certainly affect, as we talked about the other day, the phase three of the noncombatant evacuation operation, because there are going to be less people getting out, as you've already said. it's going to be much tougher and there's going to be an increased emphasis on force protection and u.s. and afghan security. >> the numbers are staggering that we've heard, 12 u.s. service members killed. red
as you say, that was higher than any of us expected. 15 wounded. and the afghan health minister said 60 afghans killed and wounded. the president will be speaking at 5:00 p.m. eastern today. he had said that any attack on u.s. service members would be answered. what do we expect him to share with the american public today? >> above all i think you're going to hear two things from the president. one is an expression of sympathy for those troops and their families and the loss that they've suffered. this is something that president biden identifies with extremely closely. and the second thing is what we've heard from secretary of defense austin before and general mckenzie, which is that the mission will continue. no indication that it will be exen extended. we'll see if the president has
anything to say on that. in terms of retaliation, what is a productive kind of retaliation that the united states could do as it tries to end this mission? if this were an attack by the taliban, that would be an entirely different story. an attack by isis-k, i think, is more difficult because the organization is more diffuse and yo identifying a target that would make sense as retaliation and facilitate the continuation of the mission, i think, is a harder thing to accomplish. there's no other way to say it. this is the worst nightmare for president biden. he had the initial scenes of chaos and desperation when kabul fell to the taliban. the military got its arms around the airport and accomplished a stunning pace of evacuations. as long as that went on with no mass casualty events and no u.s.
casualties, that would allow president biden to work to continue all the way through to say we did the best we could at this end of this 20-year conflict and got out. now it is a much more difficult situation politically obviously. polyclonal an politics isn't the most important thing at this moment, but this is precisely what president biden warned against. it's what made it such a terrible day for him as well as obviously for the american military and those families in particular. >> nic robertson, one element that general mckenzie wanted to reenforce is how proud he is of the u.s. forces there who have been screening 104,000 people, as he said. but of course we know that the u.s. has to be right every time. those who want to attack have to only be right the one time. we've seen now the result of that. he also highlighted that they're
reaching out to the taliban to tell them what's expected to protect the u.s. and that it's in the interest of the taliban for them to continue to protect the u.s. because they want the u.s. out. explain that. >> yes. the taliban have said the u.s. is an occupying force that's propped up a puppet government that's just over thrown afghanistan. they want them out as soon as possible and they're trying to stop any afghans that want to leave and take those last flights out. absolutely the taliban want to see the united states leave and their promise to the united states have been to protect u.s. forces, that their forces would not attack u.s. forces during the drawdown process. it's something they've been proud of until this moment that they've been able to keep that promise. we even heard from the pentagon that there had been a certain amount of prescreening by the
taliban, that it had been communicated what was needed in terms of what individuals would have to have in terms of paperwork to be accepted at the airport. the taliban were responsible for doing sort of first level security checks themselves. but those soldiers, they are absolutely on the front line in a way that, you know, in previous wars would have been unimaginable. the front line was trenches and people staring down rifle barrels at each other. here as we heard, it's not staring across trenches. it's feeling the breath on your face of somebody you have to physically search and pat them down. you don't know what they have under their clothing, if it's a suicide bomber. hugely brave undertaking. one detail that forms in my mind
here, the taliban actually have a huge skill kset in terms of suicide bombing. they used to run factories producing suicide bombers, taking young children from religious schools at a very young age, in some cases drugging them. a colleague had somebody go into one of these training places and they would try to recruit them as a suicide bomber, often to be given a special jacket. so the taliban have a huge skill set and production in the past of producing suicide bombers through the haqqani network. it is a former haqqani network mid level officer that's believed to be at the head of isis right now. isis have a huge skill set and a deep history and a big bench strength in building suicide bombs, which means they know how to make them, how to hide them
and make them as deadly as possible. i think that's what we're seeing here, their skill set developed almost over a generation. you would say in theory therefore the taliban should know what they're looking for. we know their security perimeter has not been effective. >> susan, you know, the u.s. had taken solace that up until now not a single american had been killed. then to learn in one fell swoop 12 u.s. service members killed, 15 wounded and again the numbers have been fluid in terms of afghans. what do you think changes over the next four days? >> i was struck, you know, by the sense of almost grim resolution on the part of general mckenzie who just gave us the updated casualty information and this horrific figure of 12 american personnel
killed. that would make it already the worst day since 2011 in terms of american deaths in afghanistan and of course a terrible civilian toll as well today. what i heard was a sense of resolution. interestingly in the last few days you had heard a number of calls from those on capitol hill and others, european allies asking the president to reconsider the 31st. i don't believe, you know, he wasn't open to those pleas beforehand and i think he'll be even less so now. based on my reporting, i think that that is unlikely to change at all. i think that, you know, the mission is ending, and tuesday we've already seen today indications that other countries, allied countries, are wrapping up their evacuation missions, canada and germany in order to have the focus be on remaining american operations. i was also struck by the fact
that they said even after the attack that they had had some people who were able to get into the airport and that the current number i guess is around 1,000 american citizens left by their -- by the estimation of the state department still in afghanistan. so they only have a few days left to extract as many americans as possible. i think that they will continue to do so. that seems to be the indication that they are aware of the risks. >> begeneral, we had a conversation with colonel wesly clark earlier in the show and he talked about options for protection, options for security that could be sent in, but we heard from general mckenzie that we have the personnel that we need. do you expect there will be any major sifts among just the u.s. forces, not to mention the taliban who has been left to protect the perimeter? >> i don't, victor. there's -- there's too few days
left to the august 31st deadline and fine it goes beyond that and as general mckenzie said he has the forces he need. he'll readjust based on the number and he'll do different things but what i would point out is general mckenzie also talked about the threats in the remaining days. he looks to continue with the kneel operation and also look to get final aircraft out of there. you know, the big bullets, the man pad, the shoulder-fired anti-air weapons, those are relatively easy things to take care of. always at the forefront of my mind in the dangers as we transition to this was the suicide bomber. that's the most difficult thing to approach. it's the easiest one to get through the lines, you know. general mckenzie moved on the potential of an explosive device. that would have been tougher getting through the gate. that was my biggest fear if they
could blast through a gate and pass through a vehicle afterwards with a complex attack, but you don't go after the suicide bomber. you go after the suicide bomb-making cell before it has the potential of sending out the bombers as nick was just talking about. i think that's the major threat. that's a threat from the isis-k network and they have put up a film claiming responsibility for this attack. all of those things are critically important, but they are -- it's the toughest thing to defend against, and i would suggest that that's the biggest threat he's going to face in the remaining days there. >> john harwood, i mean, as susan just touched on, you know, the armchair generals which, i mean, i suppose we all are on some level saying he should stay. should go. should have done it sooner, but why are we down to such a small force? maybe we should have a bigger force. all of that today feels very different. we got to see in horrifying
detail the risks that every hourly our troops are under, and i think that the president has been telegraphing that to us in a subtle way, but what do you exschneck do you expect he changes his calculation at all? >> i don't. i expect the aperture on this operation to fair, o. susan indicated and kylie atwood was reporting earlier that they have assessed that there are about 1,000 americans in the country and about two-third of them are seeking to leave, so somewhere around 700 people, a little shy of 700 perhaps, are seeking to leave. i would expect them to focus very intently on those people who might be easier for them to go and get if they have to outside of the airport and some green cardholders perhaps, but i think the number of a gains likely to be targeted 'for extraction in the next couple of
days is also going to shrink. you know, i talked the other day to a senior administration official who said there are going to be a lot of deserving people who don't make it out, who get left by hind, that that's the reality of what happens when -- whenever the taliban took over. that would have happened, and i think that's the view from the administration. i would expect president biden to indicate that. most of the options that people have talked about for making things safer, expanding perimeter, for example, require a lot more troops and that's a line that president biden is very, very up likely to cross at this stage. >> nick, some of the u.s.' allies have been quite vocal about their dissatisfaction with the execution of the withdrawal over the last few days. add this variable to that conversation. >> this is going to be a moment and a day of great sadness, and it is already. i mean, despicable is how
british prime minister bores johnson described this, and he called a -- you know, his security cabinet the sort of most important security personnel within the government to a meeting later in the day in the uk. so this is the sort of worst unraveling of an already bad situation, but reality is the united states partners and nato, britain, france are all in it with the united states and they all know what's at stake. we heard the british prime minister today say, look, we're going to be in this, trying to get people out till the last minute. he said most of the people that britain wants to get out of afghanistan. they have done that, but they will keep going until the last minute. the french president expressed his concern. you know, there's a potential here that the situation could unravel beyond where it is
today. that's what we heard the french president say earlier in the day, so emmanuel macron imagining a situation where it gets worse. no amount of hand-wringing in foreign capitals in europe is going to change and remedy this immediate situation. i think everyone understands the imperative is to get out those people that they need to get out, and that's -- that's the mission. how and why this went so badly wrong, they can get to that another day. >> yeah. general, i want to circle back with you to end on this human note because you have shared with us your personal stories of how much you carry, you still carry the mementos of some of the troops, fallen troops with you, and you still remember them every year, and the idea that as we sit here speaking that 12 families are getting a knock on the door in terms of that notification is just so gut-wrenching. >> it is, and you can tell even
though general mckenzie is a four-star general at the top of the central command food chain and he's got a lot of subordinates working for him, every single one of them, every single leader in that organization is going to feel this today and for the rest of their lives, alisyn, and i want to just repeat for emphasis the marines, the soldiers, the airmen that are doing this mission now, yes. this is a combat mission, but they are also conducting a humanitarian mission to save other people's lives there. he's no greater gift than that, and to -- to give your life in that effort is pretty -- pretty important so, yeah, a lot of people are going to be getting the knock on the door tonight. general mckenzie is going to go to bed with a heavy heart, not only tonight but in his future because he's going to remember this day. it's tough. it is really tough, and i would also suggest that president biden is feeling the same way. this isn't just about politics.
this is about human life, and he knows it based on his son's experiences in a combat zone. >> all right. lieutenant general mark hertling, john harwood, nic robertson, susan glasser, thank you all for the insight and analysis and, again, we're expecting to hear from president biden at the top of the next hour on what is a tragic day, 12 u.s. service members killed in these attacks. 15 wounded, and we've learned from the afghan health ministry more than 60 killed, afghans killed and more than 140 afghans wounded in these attacks. >> and we've seen the carnage with our own eyes. we've seen some of the video after that attack and it looks horrifying. i just want to underscore what general hertling just said because this is what the secretary of defense austin, the statement that he made. he said the terrorists took their lives, our service members, at the very moment these troops were trying to save
the lives of others, and i'm glad that general hertling just reminded everyone of that. the this is the day that obviously president biden and all americans were hoping would never come and that we would be able to leave and get everyone out without something like this happening. >> yeah. keep those families in your thoughts as we continue to cover the breaking news here on cnn. "the lead" with jake tapper starts right now. >> welcome to "lead." i'm jake tapper. we begin today with our breaking news in the world lead. the nightmare scenario. well, it's tragically come true. 12 u.s. service members were killed in two explosions outside the kabul airport making this the deadliest day for u.s. in afghanistan in years, and according to afghanistan's ministry of health 60 people have died. 140 have been wounded. president biden will address the nation at the top of the next hour. cnn has obtained videos from the