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Taliban Enters Kabul As Afghan President Flees Country; Fall Of Kabul Draws Comparisons To Saigon In 1975; U.S. Completes Evacuation Of Embassy As Flag Comes Down; Top GOP Foreign Affairs Member Slams Biden Admin Over Afghanistan; Afghan Government Falling To Taliban After 20 Years Of War; Death Toll Rises To 724 People After Haiti Quake. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired August 15, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin with breaking news on the collapse of the Afghan government. Taliban forces moving into the capital city of Kabul as the president of Afghanistan flees the country. The U.S. embassy is being evacuated, choppers had been taking U.S. personnel to the Kabul airport. The American flag on the embassy building just lowered.
Sources tell CNN that Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani has fled his country to Tajikistan, and in desperation, long lines of Afghan citizens are trying to withdraw cash from ATMs and, if they can, trying to seek flights out of the country.
As all of this unfolds, the U.S. is sending more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, 5,000 total, to ensure that President Biden calls an orderly and safe drawdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: When the president came to office, he had a decision to make. The previous administration negotiated an agreement with the Taliban that said that our forces, our remaining forces, only about 2500, would be out of the country on May 1st. And the idea that the status quo could have been maintained by keeping our forces there I think is simply wrong.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: We have team coverage on the ground in Afghanistan and across the globe to bring you all of the breaking developments. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Kabul.
And Nick, describe what you are seeing as the Taliban enters that capital city.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, again, after hearing the noise of helicopters in the sky during the afternoon. We're hearing them again now in the dark of night, a sign I think that there's still continued activity by the U.S. here to move their personnel around in this unprecedented collapse, frankly, of the government of Afghanistan.
The most startling piece of news frankly I've heard in about 10 days of repeated shock after shock here is the unannounced departure of President Ashraf Ghani, the man who went on television in the last 24 hours to say that he wished to have essentially stay in power, push forward, look for a political solution. He disappeared without telling anybody. And we had to find out through officials in his government and other diplomatic sources of his departure.
It may be to Tajikistan. I understand that about sort of eight, nine hours ago they got on a plane, him and his closest circle, and got out of here. The hope had been that he might do that, actually he'd been pressured to get out of the way for quite some time, leaving behind a transitional government that could potentially bridge the gap between the American-backed administration here and the Taliban who have slowly but very surely moved into Kabul already.
But he didn't do that. Ghani left a gaping power vacuum here into which, of course, we have seen the Taliban confidently marched. So we'll wait and see precisely what the Taliban's moves are here. I'm in a city of six million people who are I think on edge to see exactly what kind of Taliban they will see tomorrow, what kind of government they may choose to be, if indeed they declare themselves to be that at some point.
What will happen to the remnants of security forces in the city here, some of whom have been reportedly changing out of their uniforms into civilian clothes. There's a real fear of lawlessness here, certainly because of prison breaks that have happened on the outskirts of the city, too.
But you have to pause for a moment here and consider the last 20 years of American dominance frankly here. Yes, they were working pushbacks, never really gone their way, but they were the ultimate military might here.
And we've seen today not only the man that they hoped for years was going to lead the country so they could exit out of it themselves, he has fled and the enemy has simply walked into a city, always known as the ring of steel, the place that the insurgency could never hope to move into.
Well, they're here now and according to what someone I've been speaking to, setting up in schools, disarming local security guards and taking up their place in Kabul.
WHITFIELD: So, Nick, what about at least one report that is saying Afghan government leadership has gone to Doha, Qatar to negotiate with Taliban political leadership, and that there are instructions that the Taliban is following to avoid any kind of violence or taking Kabul with force?
Have you heard anything that verifies that leadership, even perhaps the president of Afghanistan, even though he's fled the country, that he's fleeing with the effort of negotiating with Taliban political leadership outside of country?
WALSH: I cannot predict the future, but all indications now, and even a senior official in his administration used the phrase, "They ran away." It appears as though Ashraf Ghani is out of the picture here. It would have been simple for him to have released a statement saying I hand power to these power. Even Hamid Karzai, the former president, and his partner in government, Abdullah Abdullah, are sitting in the wings. But they do not appear as this point to have anything like the control of the leaders of power.
The Taliban who are physically in the capital here. And so, you have to ask, why would they even think about going back to negotiations that they've always been, to some degree, using as a method to slowly accomplish their battlefield aims. We are receiving indications that the talks in Doha aren't going to go ahead frankly because what is there to talk about? What have you got left that you want to negotiate out of your enemy here if you are the Taliban?
WALSH: You have what you want. There is an outstanding question, though, Fred, it's important to point out, that the Taliban possibly do want international respectability or certainly aid, or some degree of assistance. And they've come to power it seems through some element of force certainly with the troops doing the move into here and not through a political settlement.
And so they may be nervous to try and coddle as much favor as they can with any government frankly to get some sort of international recognition. That could be farfetched at this stage. But we'll have to simple want to see what the reality on the ground does to the reactions of Western capitals.
WHITFIELD: And Nick, let me ask you about the airport if it is indeed the case that some American personnel are at the airport waiting, and we've also just reported that some Afghans who have the money and the means are also at the airport trying to get out. Is there any activity in or out of that airport in terms of flights?
WALSH: Yes. When we're hearing the occasional plane taking off, I am simply guessing because it's dark, that that must be military aircraft. And they will be able to move at a very fast rate to get U.S. personnel out of here. Now there is also a list that they have of Afghan who worked for U.S. presidents here and they of course have said they will get them out. It may be impossible, frankly, given it seems that the embassy has been evacuated here, for them to process any paperwork for them before they get on that plane.
So I suspect we are going to see a steady stream of U.S. aircraft simply leaving as fast as possible. The reporting we are getting from around the airport, from people who've been up in that direction, dark night here, is chaos. Many trying to get inside that often the best of times very heavily defended and hard to access area. Inside many people it seems trying to leave on the few flights that possibly coming out of here. I think I came in on the last civilian flight that landed here.
So a big question as to whether civilian flights resume. A big question as to exactly what kind of air power the U.S. are able to muster in these extraordinary conditions to get their people out, to get the Afghans they promised they'd get out, out.
And what the Taliban plan is for that airport because clearly here in significant number, they have been practicing and waiting for this moment in time, sure, for quite some time. And so how that airport continues to function, a vital question, simply for whether the U.S. can leave this, their longest war, in the safely and orderly fashion.
WHITFIELD: Yes. And I do hear now in the background aircraft activity. Hard to discern whether that's airplane or a chopper.
All right, we're going to check back with you.
WALSH: It's helicopters. Yes.
WHITFIELD: All right. Sounds like it. Nick Paton Walsh, we'll check back with you. Appreciate that.
So the rapid collapse we're seeing in Afghanistan is being compared to what was seen in Saigon in 1975, one of the most iconic and dispiriting moments in American history. The image on the left, U.S. officials hastily fleeing South Vietnam as its capital city fell. And then on the right, this scene in Kabul today. Diplomats, U.S. diplomats being evacuated from the U.S. embassy as Afghanistan's capital city falls to the Taliban.
This morning, journalist pushed U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken on whether there is a parallel here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS HOST, "THIS WEEK": Isn't that exactly what we're seeing now? I mean even the images are evocative of what happened in Vietnam.
BLINKEN: Let's take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joining us right now. He is -- has reported extensively on the Taliban and was in Afghanistan on September 11th.
So, Nic, how are you dissecting what we're seeing in Kabul and beyond, in Afghanistan?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think the Taliban are on the verge of accomplishing their aims all along which was talk, talk, talk with the U.S. in Doha, not talk with the Afghan government in a meaningful way, and execute a military strategy that would bring them to power in Kabul without having to share any of that power with anyone else. I believe that's where we're standing at the moment.
Afghans will be hugely fearful of that uncertainty. There's certainly those of the last generation, 20 years and older, will know what it's like under Taliban rule, will know, you know, that the Taliban are not a homogeneous, disciplined force across the country. They can issue whatever writ they want while in power. But their gunmen in villages and small towns across the country will be able to exercise almost untold influence and power and control in their immediate communities. And that's an uncertainty.
So I think where we stand at the moment is the Taliban literally on the verge, and we seem to have a hint of that from the British prime minister today saying that he expects an announcement coming from Kabul shortly about a new government or a new political dispensation there. And he worded his concerns and cautioned this way saying that he didn't want a rush to a recognition of the Taliban, that he wanted essentially a united international position, essentially to try to control the Taliban.
I think that is an unrealistic estimation at this stage. The Taliban have wantonly through their negotiations and knowingly dissembled, lied you could call it that, to fight their way to power and will deal with the consequences of it once they're in power and will deal with it in their own way. International recognition that the assumption is that they want -- yes, of course they're going to want it, but they're going to want it on their own terms, the same way they've fought for this position.
WHITFIELD: And Nic, how do you assess? What does this mean, a Taliban rule in Afghanistan? Is this a leadership of harboring terrorists, more widespread human rights abuses?
ROBERTSON: It's going to be a potentially more lawless country, that the Taliban in the past -- you know, I think back when I was covering them in '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, they could exercise control across the country. They did completely eradicate poppy growth across the country. They can exercise control. But they also harbor al Qaeda. They've been disingenuous about their relationship with al Qaeda.
Members of the -- you know, of the Taliban alliance, if you will, the Haqqani Network. The U.N. has very clearly said that they are the closest links to al Qaeda within the Taliban, and it's believed that a senior member of the Haqqani Network was in Kabul earlier on today.
So I think this gives us an understanding that the Taliban cannot be relied on and trusted in what they say because they -- clearly they have shown that they disregard commitment. But we understand that they've given, and, therefore, there will be the spathe for al Qaeda and other like-minded groups to have a more comfortable existence in Afghanistan in the coming years.
The Taliban have said that they will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base to attack other countries. They gave that understanding to the United States. They gave it to the Chinese and they gave it to the Russians.
You know, I think at the moment, if you look at this regionally and geopolitically, this is opening the door for a stronger influence of Pakistan inside Afghanistan who have long been a sort of arm's length, half arm's length sponsor of the Taliban, wanting to be able to exert greater influence politically inside Afghanistan which they see important for their strategic depth in the region.
But it's also by virtue of other regional powers, namely China, that China is likely, over a period of time, to gain greater control and influence in Afghanistan for trade, and this at a time when the United States is facing, you know, perhaps its toughest period in history with a rising power, that power being China.
This is what people have called in Afghanistan over generations the great game. Some people don't like that expression. But this is a -- what we are seeing is a significant regional power shift that will take time balancing out. The details we don't know. But I believe this is what's under way.
WHITFIELD: And Nic, I mean, clearly this is going to be a blemish and is currently a blemish on the Biden administration, but does the Trump administration also share some of the blame, because both administrations certainly sign-posted details about when there would be a U.S. troop withdrawal?
ROBERTSON: President Trump tasked Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to negotiate with the Taliban to essentially allow U.S. troops to get out, to have a peaceful transition of power. President Biden inherited it. It was a mess. As I've said, the Taliban were lying, is the best that we can understand, from the information we have today, in those negotiations.
They didn't keep the faith of their word. I think, you know, Zalmay Khalilzad have spoken, he spoke in Aspen at a conference there just a few weeks ago. But I think his accounting of what his instructions were from President Trump and how he was instructed to continue with those same talks under President Biden will be perhaps the most illuminating account that we can get to understand where to apportion blame for what we're seeing in Afghanistan today.
But absolutely, the information was being provided through resources on the ground in Afghanistan if you want to call it that, that the Taliban, while negotiating with Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha about a peace in the country were not passing on that message of peace to their foot soldiers at all. There is a wealth of information about that that was being passed on. So were there negotiations going on with eyes closed during President Trump's administration? These are open questions.
I certainly can't answer them. But these are the questions that were being asked at the time and they're the same questions that will be asked about President Biden's period of administration during the withdrawal from Afghanistan. WHITFIELD: It sounds like the secretary of State was saying they were
left with no other choice. Secretary of State Blinken says, "If we had stayed, U.S. had stayed five more weeks or five more years, it wouldn't have made a difference to the stability of Afghanistan." Do you agree?
ROBERTSON: Look, certainly that argument can be made. You know, I remember 2001, September, October, November, December, in Afghanistan. I remember talking to Afghans then. The one thing that they wanted from the U.S. involvement and expulsion of the Taliban was to disarm the warlords across the country. What happened was, when we went in, the only way to go into the country was with the help of those same warlords.
And they were never fully marginalized. Some would bristle at the fact that they were being called warlords. That was a characterization. So, you know, in terms of what the Afghans wanted, those weapons that were used by warlords, used by criminal gangs, used by whomever to exert power and control over them, they were never taken out of the equation.
And I think, you know, to sort of try to say that we could go back and reset now is a stretch too far. Five years, 15 more years, the United States and its allies in NATO all had that opportunity. And part of the opportunity was lost when attention was turned to invade Iraq and fight in Iraq. Because afterwards, when attention came back to Afghanistan, the Taliban had started to find their feet again.
So I don't think that there was this possibility to surge in 100,000 or 200,000 more troops unless -- to make that happen. There was no political will here, no political will in European partners to surge in that number of troops. And I think without that number of troops, you couldn't make the difference. But the corruption -- the Afghan corruption from the big spending that came from European partners with the United States, part of that was a contribution.
The solution that would have -- was the solution that Afghan citizens wanted, which was disarming the warlords at the beginning, that opportunity was missed. And once it was missed, it was very difficult to come back from that. Once the corruption began and Afghans could see that and see that the political process wasn't fair, wasn't democratic in their eyes, it's in these moments that the power -- the great power of the United States and European allies to exert a lasting influence and a strong, positive legacy, it's in those moments I think reflecting back historians will find that the chances were lost.
WHITFIELD: All this underscores just how complex the situation is. Earlier I asked you about the potential now for more human rights abuses. I want to play right now some sound from a women's rights activist in Afghanistan. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAHBOUBA SERAJ, WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I came to Afghanistan to be the voice of the voiceless women of my country. All of those women that are living in the provinces of Afghanistan all the way back in the districts, and nobody hears their voices, and they are in dire need of help. They are poor. And they are not educated. Their children are dying because they're sick.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: It's seriously grave. And, I mean, Nic, you know, the Taliban has said recently that it would allow girls to go to school, women to have more freedoms, more than what they had under the previous regime. Who believes that?
ROBERTSON: Look, on face value, how can anyone believe anything that they're saying, to be honest because they played fast and loose with the truth. The reality is that, you know, the Taliban may allow some girls to go to school. Which girls? Up to which age? What will they actually be able to learn?
The Taliban are a very conservative Islamic group, and they want to stick to those traditional rural values. They are very unlikely to give real space for girls and women to get an education that we understand as an education, to university level. Even through to 15 or 16-year-olds. And that's what Afghan women, that's what Afghan mothers, that's what Afghan girls are leaving in fear of at the moment.
I don't think we should be under any illusions, any words from the Taliban that are going to guarantee what we would understand as rights for women's education are going to be upheld. It's deeply disturbing, but I do believe that that's the position we're at at the moment.
WHITFIELD: And Nic, as you and I were talking, I've just been told that the U.S. has now completed its evacuation at the U.S. embassy. And just talking to you, when I was talking to Nick Paton Walsh, you could hear -- I mean, you can chopper activity, helicopter activity behind. Not sure if there's a correlation there but that's the latest that we're getting about the evacuation efforts of U.S. personnel.
And we also heard from Blinken earlier who said that there would be some U.S. personnel that would stay put. So still unclear whether that has changed. All U.S. personnel out in terms of diplomacy or if some have been left behind.
Nic Robertson, thank you so much. Appreciate that.
All right, still ahead, we have not heard from President Biden on this dramatic sequence of events unfolding in Kabul and around throughout Afghanistan today. We're live from the White House when we come right back.
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We're following breaking news out of Afghanistan. And what you're seeing right now, U.S. helicopters over Kabul shuttling out American personnel as the Taliban moves into the capital.
With us now, Jeremy Diamond at the White House and Kylie Atwood at the U.S. State Department.
Kylie, we're learning the embassy, the U.S. embassy is now fully evacuated. Is that the case? What more can you tell us?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. All of the U.S. diplomats that were at that embassy have now left. They have evacuated. They have been taken to the airport in Kabul. The only folks who are still at that embassy, there is a small number of security contractors I'm told, but they are going to leave soon. In addition to that, in the most recent hours, the U.S., the American flag was taken down at the embassy. That is something they do as a final step in evacuating an embassy.
We've also seen in recent days that preparations were under way for this inevitability. Right? There were documents that were burned, classified documents. They were also getting rid of anything that could be used as anti-American propaganda, such as American flags or anything that had a seal of the U.S. embassy on it. It was very clear to those of us who are following this, that this was the direction in which this was headed.
But you have Secretary of State Tony Blinken today as the United States is scrambling to get Americans home safely calling this is a deliberate and very orderly evacuation saying that the Biden administration had sent these troops into the country to help with this, to help get Americans home safely, but at the same time there are questions today about there being some challenges in trying to figure out what the embassy is doing and what the State Department has said that they're doing.
Because it is evacuated right now. The State Department has still not said it has been evacuated. Just on Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said this is not abandonment, this is not evacuation. Well, clearly it's evacuation and folks on the ground feel that they are being abandoned. And there are questions about the Biden administration's philosophy over the last few weeks, over the last few months really, saying U.S. troops are leaving but America is not leaving.
And what is becoming clearer and clearer these hours is that America is leaving. Now what we're going to watch for is just what happens to that embassy. It's going to be shuttered, I'm told, in the next, you know, 48 hours here. And then we're going to watch to see what happens to the small number of U.S. diplomats that are still at the airport in Kabul. It's very likely that they, too, could have to leave the country.
WHITFIELD: Right. And, so, Kylie, that's what's interesting because when we say evacuation complete from the U.S. embassy it does not mean that all Americans are out of Afghanistan and out of potential harm's way, particularly since the Taliban is very unpredictable and still unclear what the ultimate goal is and how it's going to get there even though, Kylie, Taliban representatives have said they are trying to take control without violence, without force.
ATWOOD: Yes, that's right. There was a security alert that went out from the State Department today urging any Americans that are still in Afghanistan to shelter in place. And they said that is because there are reports of air fire -- I'm sorry -- of fire at the airport, of gunshots. They don't want Americans who are still in the country to go to the airport. That's a really scary thing for those Americans.
What are they supposed to do? The State Department is giving them a form to fill out. They are telling them very explicitly not to call the embassy. Of course the assumption being there are probably no one at the embassy to answer the phones right now. But they are taking in these forms from these Americans that are still on the ground to try and help them get out. But a lot of questions today about how many of these locally employed staff, these Afghan staff who worked at the embassy, of these Afghan translators who worked alongside U.S. diplomats and U.S. forces in the field, how many of them are going to be able to get out of the country before the Taliban have complete control of Kabul which appears, could be frankly, you know, any moment now.
WHITFIELD: Yes, because many of them were given assurances that the U.S. was -- was not going to abandon them and was going to find means in which to get them out of the country, particularly because of, you know, their commitment to this nation and allied nations, but now no real assurances there for them.
ATWOOD: That's right. And we should note that the State Department has sped up the flights for those contractors, for those people, those Afghans who worked as interpreters over the last few days. But the question is, you know, are those flights going to be enough to get out the dramatically high number that are in need right now.
I mean, I can tell you, I'm getting messages on my phone, very, very sad messages from interpreters who worked alongside Americans, fearful for the lives, frankly, not only of themselves, but of their children if the Taliban take over. Because the Taliban know who these people are, who worked alongside the U.S., and they are going to target them.
They have been doing it in the past. They say they're not going to do it, but the expectation is that they very likely will.
WHITFIELD: Right. Many of those people who took those jobs knowing that there was great risk in so doing, but even more so now that the U.S. is carrying out this withdrawal.
Jeremy, to you at the White House, we've heard from the Secretary of State Blinken on all the networks this morning. But we still have yet to hear from the president. We got his statement yesterday. But is the president expected to address the nation today?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As of now, Fredricka, there is no indication from the White House that we will hear from President Biden today on the situation in Afghanistan. He is still currently at the presidential retreat near Washington at Camp David where he is still being briefed regularly on the situation.
A White House official told us a few moments ago that the president and the vice president had a secure video teleconference this morning with top members of the president's National Security Team including the secretary of State, the secretary of Defense, his National Security adviser and several other U.S. ambassadors, focusing on not only the security situation in Afghanistan, but also the process of evacuating those American diplomats as well as those Afghan interpreters and others who are applying for the special immigrant visa.
One thing is clear is that obviously the situation has unfolded far more rapidly than the White House expected. They did not believe that the Taliban would advance so quickly on Kabul. But a point that White House officials have been making to me in trying to defend what is happening right now and the speed with which all of this is unfolding, is saying that, look, we perhaps did not expect these individuals to be -- we did not expect perhaps the Taliban to advance so rapidly on Kabul, but we prepared for it.
And that is why they were able to sends, they say, these thousands of American troops to Kabul to help evacuate these American diplomats. But again, make no mistake that this is not the situation that the administration had hoped for. And certainly, it is not what the administration was talking about just days ago when, as Kylie was saying, the State Department spokesperson said that as of now they were not planning to evacuate all U.S. embassy personnel even as they had begun that drawdown of staff at that embassy.
And today the White House is certainly a flurry of activity. You have officials here working on this very situation, and then at every single department, from the Department of Defense to the State Department, I have been told that officials are working at their post, heavily focused on the situation and regularly updating the president, even if he is not here at the White House, but over at Camp David.
WHITFIELD: And then, Jeremy, of the people that you are talking to, is anyone saying that there was a miscalculation of U.S. intelligence that could have forecast something like this was about to happen? Or is the complaint that there wasn't any intelligence indicating that the Taliban was capable and at the ready to move it as quickly as it did?
DIAMOND: Well, I think at this point there is a clear understanding that obviously those intelligence assessments that we've been hearing about over the last several days initially we were talking about perhaps six months for the Taliban to reach Kabul. Then it became 30 days. And obviously this instead unfolded in a matter of days.
So objectively, this is not what the intelligence community had assessed here. And we heard that acknowledgment pretty clearly from the secretary of State earlier today when he was speaking with Jake Tapper and he said that this unfolded more quickly than we anticipated, speaking directly to the fact that those Afghan Security Forces really that crumbled in the face of these Taliban advances very, very quickly, abandoning their post and leaving behind so much military equipment that of course the U.S. had not only paid for but given to the Afghan forces as well as, we saw earlier today, Bagram Air Base, that massive U.S. airbase that was the hub of the American involvement in this two decades' long war being taken over as well by the Taliban.
WHITFIELD: And in that statement from the president, Jeremy, that was sent out yesterday, the president still made it very clear that while the objective for U.S. troop personnel that's moving into Afghanistan is to retrieve safely U.S. personnel, it also indicated that, if there are obstacles, that military force is still an option.
DIAMOND: That's right. And we heard a very similar message as well this morning from Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who made clear that if those U.S. forces were attacked, there would be a response. Listen to him earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me just ask you, is the Biden administration right now offering the Taliban anything in exchange for a promise of safe passage for Americans and others out of Afghanistan?
BLINKEN: No. We haven't asked the Taliban for anything. We've told the Taliban that, if they interfere with our personnel, with our operations as we're proceeding with this drawdown, there will be a swift and decisive response.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: And so you can hear there, a swift and decisive response as the secretary of State is saying there. That was echoed in briefings this morning that were delivered by the secretary of State and the secretary of Defense to members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate this morning as they were seeking -- as those lawmakers were seeking updates on the situation in Afghanistan.
And because you mentioned that statement from the president yesterday, I should mention that it is notable to see the extent to which this administration, we heard it from the secretary of State this morning as well. They are really trying to pin a lot of this on the previous administration and the last president, Donald Trump, in the way that they are saying that essentially their hands were tied because of the deal that President Trump made at the time with the Taliban to have U.S. forces begin to evacuate by May 1st, saying that their hands were tied in this situation.
And the only other option here besides a full withdrawal would have been to surge additional troops. That was something that clearly President Biden was not willing to do. Ultimately, though, this is happening on President Biden's watch, and he is certainly going to own everything that happens here in Kabul as well as with all of the U.S. personnel, the Americans, as well as those Afghans who helped the United States over so many years of conflict.
WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Diamond, Kylie Atwood, thanks to both of you. I'll check back with you of course.
All right, so today some Republican members of Congress are pointing the finger at the Biden administration for the chaotic situation that is unfolding right now in Afghanistan. But others say former President Trump also shares responsibility.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX): I think it's an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. And I think the president -- this is going to be a stain on this president and his presidency. And I think he's going to have blood on his hands for what they did. The noose is tightening around the Kabul neck, and there's still no strategy other than race to the airport and evacuate as many people as you can.
This is a really sad day, not only for America, but for the Afghan people, the women left behind, and I would say our international standing in the world. We look so weak and it's so embarrassing.
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think absolutely President Biden bears responsibility for making this decision, but there's no question that President Trump, his administration, Secretary Pompeo, they also bear very significant responsibility for this.
They walked down this path of legitimizing the Taliban, of perpetuating this fantasy, telling the American people that the Taliban were a partner for peace. President Trump told us that the Taliban was going to fight terror. Secretary Pompeo told us that the Taliban was going to renounce al Qaeda. None of that has happened.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, let's bring in Suzanne Malveaux.
Suzanne, the Biden administration, you know, had a virtual briefing with members of Congress today. What more can you tell us about that?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, both House lawmakers as well as senators were briefed by the secretaries of State, Defense as well as the chair of the Joint Chiefs earlier this morning, about 45 minutes, these virtual briefings.
And, Fred, we have heard this morning as you saw on those political shows but also behind the scenes, both Democrats and Republicans using words like gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, frustrating, even fatalistic language asking why was the U.S. involved in this mission for 20 years in the first place?
Those are the kinds of things that lawmakers are saying via Twitter and to each other. And you had these briefings earlier, one of them fairly straightforward on the Senate side. Now that is where you have Secretary Austin, who was being pushed a bit, if you will, about the timetable and the speed in which things have crumbled.
And you had them talking about the 60,000 or so who are eligible to get out of the country, how this evacuation process will unfold and how they will make those priorities known and the third party, the countries that will help in dealing with some of the refugees.
On the House side, it was a lot more emotional. We understand that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy really pushing Secretary Austin about the fact that everything crumbled so quickly and that this was just so unexpected. Secretary Austin pushing back, saying that they could conduct airstrikes if necessary to make sure that all those folks are out of that airport in time, that there is a way to get them out, evacuate them quickly and safely.
What is also interesting, too, Fred, is that you had House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking about the state of the Afghan President Ghani, where he was at the time. Now we know, but it was not a secure line. And so officials refused to answer that question. There was a bit of frustration, some back-and-forth, whether or not lawmakers would get their questions answered, whether or not it was technical difficulties.
But we have been assured by officials that yes, the chain of command, the lines of communication are open to these lawmakers and that they will continue to get briefed throughout the day -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: OK. Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much. Still a lot of questions that need answers.
All right. Right now the U.S. Military is considering the potential need to send even more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Officials tell CNN that no decisions have been made but discussions are still under way.
We're live from the Pentagon next.
WHITFIELD: Right now the U.S. military is considering the potential need to send even more U.S. troops into Afghanistan. President Biden has already authorized the deployment of 5,000 troops to Afghanistan, and that includes troops already on the ground.
CNN's Oren Liebermann joining me now from the Pentagon.
So, Oren, how soon will those troops be arriving, the additional ones that is?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That first group of 5,000 troops, some of them already in country in Afghanistan. Many more already on the way to assist in what is now essentially the evacuation of embassy staff and others from Kabul, from Afghanistan. A key question here is what happens to the airport and can it be secured? If the airport falls to the Taliban, this becomes very quickly a worst worst-case scenario. We are not at that point, but that is a key issue to watch.
As for the troops, let's break it down, there were already about 1,000 troops in the country. 3,000 more went in, including 2,000 Marines and 1,000 soldiers. They went in, they were already in the theater, they then went to the airport to secure it. Another thousand troops were pulled from the 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg. There was supposed to be about 3500 or 4,000 soldiers in Kuwait standing by. That 5,000, a thousand of those will come right from that.
So there are two quick questions to watch. First, are the rest of those troops who are supposed to be standing by in Kuwait already going in, or will they be going in soon? And then the question we've learned in recent hours is that there are discussions and considerations about whether even more troops are needed. President Joe Biden's goal was to get out the last 2500 troops. He will soon have more than twice that number in country.
WHITFIELD: Oren Liebermann, thank you so much, at the Pentagon.
So as late as Friday the Pentagon was claiming that the capital of Kabul was safe and it would take months for it to come potentially under the control of the Taliban.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), PENTAGON ORESS SECRETARY: The city itself, as you and I speak, is not under an imminent threat of collapse at this point, but obviously we're watching this closely. We wouldn't have made this decision to send in another 3,000 troops if we weren't mindful of the deteriorating security situation there.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, joining me now to discuss, Juliette Kayyem, a CNN national security analyst and a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, and CNN military analyst, retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.
General Marks and Juliette, good to see both of you. So, General, you predicted this over recent months, that this potentially could happen. So what went wrong here? U.S. intel or something else?
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's a combination, obviously. What we don't have on the ground in Afghanistan anymore is a robust connection, a network of intelligence sources that allows us to really get a sense of what the Taliban is doing, especially in those outer provinces because the Taliban took on an outside-in strategy.
They went and they claimed provinces outside of the Kabul region and then they decided to move in and kind of put the strangulation around it. So we lost that network. Now we do have an enormous, an enormous capability of signals intelligence and imagery intelligence. Check all manner of technical intelligence. But without a finger on the pulse of what's happening on the ground, very specifically, you lose a sight -- you lose sight of what the eventual outcome might be. So it was pretty inevitable that the Taliban would get to Kabul. But
clear as everything fell and cascaded, there was this sense of momentum. Again, you don't really get that, that sense of really creating something very quick on the part of the Taliban.
We've got some successes. We're rolling into towns. We're rolling into villages. This is happening at a rapid pace. You don't get that simply through technical means. You have to be on the ground and don't have that.
WHITFIELD: So, Juliette, how do you see it? Was this inaccurate U.S. intel or was this not listening to, appreciating intel?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I would not throw the intelligence agency under the bus first. First of all, this may just -- this may be essentially a foundational nightmare. Right? In other words, why were we there and why were we consistently there? And that no exit would have been good regardless of what your intelligence told you. but I want to look at the military and the policy side of this as well.
The military side is just, you know, for years under administrations we've been told that the military has been investing billions of dollars of supporting Afghan troops. That is just clearly not true. There was barely a fight. And that may be because of corruption, lack of pay.
We should have known that. And the military should have known that. The second is just the policy of failure as well, which is not only why are we there, but is the Taliban a reliable partner in all these in both the previous administration, the Trump administration, and in our exit, and why do we believe them to be a reliable partner?
I do not know what Taliban 2021 is like compared to 2001 Taliban. But, you know, if we went in there to protect our homeland security interests after September 11th, I can only ask questions at this stage. I don't know the answers about whether the threat has increased or decreased and we'd want to keep our eyes on the prize of what our interest is really in Afghanistan which is, of course, our Western and U.S. counterterrorism efforts no matter how painful all this other stuff is which is horrifying.
WHITFIELD: General, was that part of the big problem? Negotiating with the Taliban, trusting when perhaps that's an entity that should not have been trusted?
MARKS: Clearly. And Juliette nailed it. The larger picture is strategically was this the right thing to do? Clearly we went into Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda. We defeated the Taliban and had them removed very quickly.
And then defeating al Qaeda became -- we got to go get bin Laden and we have to go wherever they go. So that became a very expansive mission and then that starts to look like a counterinsurgency operation, at the same we're trying to go counterterrorism.
So, Juliette is absolutely spot on. The concern we have is ungoverned space, which is how Afghanistan has been defined forever, except in the United States who's been there for the last two decades with the assistance of the Afghan military, but that was held together. The Afghan military was held together by the glue of the American presence.
And Juliette is correct. We failed to read that. It just completely collapsed. And all of that great kit that the United States brought in for the Afghan military is now in the hands of the Taliban.
WHITFIELD: All right. Juliette Kayyem, General Marks, good to see you both. Thank you so much.
We'll be back right after this.
WHITFIELD: All right. Now to Haiti and what's happening there. At least 724 people are dead after a major earthquake hit Haiti yesterday morning. And new images of the destruction there just continue to pour in as officials take stock of the damage.
Take a look. Matt Rivers is on the ground in Port-au-Prince. So, Matt, what are the recovery efforts like if at all?
MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. Yes, we're just not far from the epicenter. We just got here not that long ago. What you're seeing behind me, we can move forward a little bit here. This is the scene of a multistory hotel that obviously has collapsed behind me. There's a lot of people here on scene. You're seeing two things happening here at this scene. You're seeing some recovery efforts which that excavator presumably was a part of.
Now that that's stopped, there is a lot of looting going on here at the scene. This was a relatively luxury hotel. A lot of people bringing out whatever they can find. There's air conditioners, kettle, it goes to the desperation of what's happening in this part of Haiti right now as I think you said in the beginning, at least 700 people have been killed as a result of this so far. Thousands of people are injured. But those numbers are going to go up, because in all likelihood, there are still bodies in that rubble behind me.
There's a high likelihood of that. And this isn't the only scene like this around this area. We go up and down the street, that's just behind my camera, and you can see damage that goes up and down the street. Is it as pervasive as what we saw in 2010? No, I don't think so at this point because this is not as crowded of a place as Port-au- Prince, the capital which sustained a lot of damage 10 years ago.
But the damage here, you can see why these numbers are as high as they are at this point, why they are going up almost assuredly, it's scenes like this that are very much active, are very much still happening, and there's also not a big rescue effort here at the moment. This is one of the more crowded scenes that we've seen here. Where are the authorities? Where are the police? Where are security agents? Where are firefighters? Where are rescue crews?
They're not here. If they're not here, where else would they be? And that's the open question we have right now, Fred, in terms of what's happening here in Haiti. There are so many people still missing. So much work left to do and the desperation is (INAUDIBLE).
WHITFIELD: Matt Rivers in Port-au-Prince about 100 miles away from Les Cayes, which is also a very hard-hit seaport area from yesterday's earthquake. Thank you so much.
Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.