tv Don Lemon Tonight CNN August 27, 2021 12:00am-1:00am PDT
hello and welcome to our viewers here in the united states and all around the world. i'm michael holmes. appreciate your company. coming up this hour -- >> we will hunt you down and make you pay. >> the u.s. president's vow to avenge american military deaths, but with the u.s. exit just days away, going after a terror group presents a challenge. the attack could complicate the already chaotic evacuations, but the pentagon says that mission is still on track. and there's already political outcry from republicans. some even calling for president biden's resignation.
it is now 11:30 in the morning in kabul, afghanistan, where scores of people are still hoping to leave the country, still gathering at that airport despite a pair of deadly suicide bombings. more than 90 afghans and 13 u.s. service members were killed on thursday. the commander of the u.s. central command warning this might be just the beginning and more attacks are suspected. the jihadist group known as isis-k is claiming responsibility for the bombings, one year the airport's main entrance for evacuees, the other at the nearby baron hotel, which british troops have been using to process evacuees. u.s. president joe biden asking the military for options to avenge the attack. cnn pentagon correspondent oren liebermann with that. and a warning, his report contains graphic images. >> reporter: the chaos outside
kabul airport became a catastrophe thursday afternoon when two bombings tore through the crowds, killing 13 u.s. service members and dozens of afghan civilians. president joe biden promising the u.s. will strike isis-k and any others who attack. >> we will not forgive. we will not forget. we will hunt you down and make you pay. i will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command. >> reporter: this graphic video laying bare the horror of the attacks. the victims thrown across the street. this man able to sit up after the attack, unlike so many others. afghans so desperate to flee the country now racing to get the wounded medical help, even pushing some of the injured in makeshift wheelbarrows. >> the threat from isis is extremely real. we believe it is their desire to continue those attacks, and we expect those attacks to continue. >> reporter: on wednesday, the
u.s. warned of threats to the airport, telling americans to say away from three different gates and only to approach the field when instructed. a suicide bomber passed through a security checkpoint somehow and approached the abbey gate. it's a moment of vulnerability. a u.s. service member face to face with an unscreened outsider. >> these gates where people come on the airfield, there's no substitute for a young man or woman, a young united states man or woman standing up there conducting a search of that person before we let them on. >> reporter: these are the first u.s. troops killed in afghanistan since february of last year, shortly before the signing of the agreement that began this withdrawal. the news of troops killed coming just five days, about 100 hours before the august 31st deadline to withdraw from afghanistan. still the evacuation operations continue, including for the few hundred u.s. citizens the state department believes are still in afghanistan. >> we will continue after our troops are withdrawn to find
means by which we find any american who wishes to get out of afghanistan, we will find them, and we will get them out. >> reporter: the taliban say they will seek justice for the attack as coordination between u.s. forces and the taliban continues. u.s. commanders on the ground have asked the taliban to push out the security corridor around the airfield and shared some information to prevent attacks. >> we believe it's possible that others have been thwarted. we cut down the information we give the taliban. they don't get the full range of information that we have, but we give them enough to act in time and space to try to prevent these attacks. >> reporter: biden vowed that the u.s. military would attack isis-k in the wake of these bombings, but it's a far more difficult challenge. first, the assets are certainly there, whether it's attacking from overhead with fighter jets or gunships or carrying out a drone attack, the difficult problem is in terms of intelligence. without u.s. troops on the ground to gather intelligence about isis-k, it becomes increasingly difficult to know where and whom to target as the
u.s. is looking for how to carry out a retaliatory strike for these twin bombings. it's also a question of what's the risk involved here? do you want to carry out these strikes while there are still u.s. troops and personnel on the ground, or do you wrat until a withdrawal is complete and carry out what the pentagon has called over the horizon strikes from outside of afghanistan? oren liebermann, cnn, at the pentagon. >> cnn international security editor nick paton walsh recently spent time in afghanistan at that very airport. he's live for us now in doha, qatar. good to see you, nick. what more are you learning about whaped and importantly what might be yet to come? >> reporter: yeah. obviously the threats continues and you can see today in some of the images posted on social media, there appear to be a lot of people outside abbey gate again despite the explosion yesterday. that shows you really the desperation of those trying to be evacuated.
trying to work out how this happened is vital for u.s. marines trying to secure those gates and possibly see if they can think about getting anybody else in, although i have to say that in itself would seem like an exceptionally fraught task given the size of those crowds and what happened yesterday. there appear to have been two explosions, the first a suicide bomber who isis have said was from the logar province of afghanistan. he seems to have got close to marines who were doing the vetting of people allowed into abbey gates. that's one of the fuggates neare baron hotel where the british have stayed. they're out of their now and on their way out of the country in a matter of hours. that particular search place is normally where people who have been selected get patted down. general mckenzie, the centcom commander, talks about how the marines doing the searching would have felt the breath of the person on them. that is unlikely to have happened unless the person in
question had been selected from the crowd. they don't just search everybody on their way in. so questions will of course be asked as to how that person came to end up being searched. the bomb went off. in that area, there are quite a few marines close together. that may explain the horrifying number of dead from this. intensely packed crowds all bustled in, showing their paperwork, essentially their cases why they should be allowed onto the airport. we understand there was another explosion near the baron hotel not far away. it could have been designed to follow up exactly there. we don't exactly know its precise location. but then centcom were clear in saying there was gunfire that targeted civilians. it looks like we are dealing with two, possibly three, possibly four attackers. of course, there will be
questions as to how that size of an attack got through the taliban checkpoints, particularly if there are individuals there who were in fact armed. many questions to be answered here certainly, but the biggest one i think for today, for the urgent evacuation operation that the u.s. is insisting is continuing is how do you get people through those gates at all with this sort of security risk? michael. >> yeah, absolutely. nick paton walsh, appreciate the analysis there. thanks for that. let's turn now to cnn's arlette saenz who has reaction from the white house. our natasha bertrand is covering the u.s. state department. lette, obviously this was the worst-case scenario for president biden. he's saying he will hunt down and make pay those who did this. is there any indication how? >> reporter: well, that's exactly what president biden is trying to work through at this moment as he's vowing retaliation for this terror attack at the kabul airport. now, the president when he was delivering remarks at the white house yesterday said that he has
asked his military commanders to draw up options for how to respond to this, including possible strikes against isis-k assets and leadership. the president has said that they have an idea of who might have been responsible for this attack, but they are still working on that full ascertainment. this comes at a time when the president and top military officials have warned that another attack from that islamic state offshoot could be possible, possibly imminent as that august 31st deadline for a drawdown approaches. right now you have this administration really operating on dual tracks, trying to identify and find and hold responsible the people who perpetrated this attack at the kabul airport and also safely evacuate americans and as many afghan allies as possible over the course of the next four days. now, the president has been undeterred from that august 31st
drawdown deadline. in fact, he pointed to that terror attack as further evidence for why the u.s. needs to complete this mission in afghanistan. the u.s. has tried to and established contact with the majority of americans remaining in the country. the president did note that there are some americans who do not want to leave. it might be for various reasons, including potentially having large families who would not be able to travel with them. but the president and his team are keenly aware that the clock is ticking on getting these americans out of afghanistan safely. and for the time being, they are sticking to that august 31st deadline though the president has said that if people -- if afghan allies remain in the country past that deadline, that there will be other ways to extract them and evacuate them from the country. but of course there will be questions about how that will all play out without a large military presence in afghanistan
as that deadline is quickly approaching on tuesday. >> all right. arlette saenz, thanks so much. appreciate that. let's turn now to you, natasha bertrand. i'm curious what you're hearing about these continued threats but also how they might impact the evacuations and how they're going to proceed. >> reporter: well, yeah. as if the evacuations weren't facing enough hurdles, now obviously this massive terrorist threat as we saw today is going to likely create even more of a bottleneck. the u.s. has asked the taliban to push the perimeter out further to prevent potential terrorists from getting close to the airport. but the u.s. still remains a very big target obviously. what we're hearing from general mckenzie today is that the threat of vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks remains high. the threat of potential suicide bombers, of rocket attacks, isis attackers even going as far as to shoot at the aircraft as it departs from the airport -- all
of these things are factoring into the u.s.'s decision to leave by tuesday. but also try to ensure, to the extent possible, that troops on the ground there remain safe. that is their number one priority at this point. so it remains to be seen how this is going to impact the process of getting people into the airport, which has already been pretty fraught. u.s. citizens obviously are still the priority there, and there are about 1,000 u.s. citizens still trying to get out of the country. you know, biden acknowledged today that there are going to be people left behind. this is what u.s. officials have been telling us and our team here repeatedly over the last couple days or so, is that inevitably there are going to be people here that are left behind, and that is just the nature of this operation. the biden administration is very determined to end this by august 31st, obviously preserving those counter-terrorism capabilities over the horizon if those become necessary. but for now, you know, the intelligence continues to flow
in about the imminence of these isis attacks, and those are the kinds of attacks that the president obviously wants to avoid at all costs. >> all right. natasha bertrand, good to see you. thanks for that update. actually just in the last few minutes, i want to tell you we've learned that british officials say the uk has now entered its final stages of evacuations. the minister of defense saying that the processing facilities inside kabul's baron hotel have closed, and efforts will be focused now on evacuating remaining british nationals and others awaiting departure at the airport. he says the decision reflects the latest understanding of the situation on the ground. the uk has evacuated more than 13,000 people over the last 14 days. we're going to take a break here on the program. when we come back, we'll take a closer look at the bloody and ruthless track record of the terror group claiming responsibility for the kabul attack. we'll be right back.
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u.s. president joe biden vows to hunt down and punish those responsible for the deadly kabul attack. the islamic state affiliate isis-k claiming it is behind the suicide blasts which killed more than 13 u.s. service members and dozens of afghans. president biden said the u.s. will move forward with evacuations but made it clear that the nation will neither forgive nor forget. >> we will not be deterred by terrorists. we will not let them stop our mission. we will continue the evacuation.
i've also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike isis-k assets, leadership, and facilities. we will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, and the moment of our choosing. >> let's take a closer look at isis-k. cnn's jomana karadsheh is in istanbul. she's extensively covered the rise and fall of isis in iraq. isis-k carried out some brutal, devastating attacks in the past. what do we know about their capabilities in afghanistan at the moment? >> reporter: well, michael, i mean they have been a threat, a major threat according to u.s. officials in the country. they have been the target of military operations, counter-terrorism operations in the country. and as you mentioned, we've seen those devastating attacks since 2016 and also in recent months
they have shown the ability to choose their targets, carry out the attacks whenever and however they want, michael. they have remained a serious threat in the country. now, when it comes to their numbers, there's all sorts of estimates, something around 1,000 to 1,500. but what has really concerned officials -- and we've heard this from u.s. military officials also in recent days as well as president biden -- these prison breaks that you saw in afghanistan as the taliban swept across the country. hundreds of isis prisoners who were released from these prisons and who are believed to have joined the ranks of these groups, really raising concerns about their ability to carry out more of these devastating attacks. i think what is very interesting, michael, here is that of course if you look at thursday's attack, this was, again, what would be described as a complex, coordinated attack. but also a target of
opportunity. you had these large crowds. you and i have covered these sort of bombings in the past. different groups, whether it's isis or others, have carried out very similar attacks. it doesn't take much to inflict maximum damage, maximum casualties, the maximum horror that we saw unfold on thursday by infiltrating these large crowds. i think one thing to keep an eye on, what u.s. officials might say in the coming hours, coming days about their bomb-making abilities, what sort of forensics is going to come out of this investigation in terms of the explosive use, the device that was used, very important to keep an eye on. something that is also very concerning, michael, i found in that claim of responsibility by that group, isis-k, they say that not only were they targeting u.s. military service members, they were also targeting what they described as the collaborators, the spies, the translators who worked with the americans.
really, again, underscoring the kind of risks america's allies and partners are facing right now with the fears they're going to be left behind, michael. >> as many most certainly will. jomana karadsheh, appreciate it. thanks so much. so if isis-k is behind the airport attack as it claims, what was the group hoping to accomplish? to discuss all of this, the international security director for the asia-pacific foundation and an expert on terrorism joins me. good to have you with us. we've heard the u.s. president and others say that isis-k is a sworn enemy of the taliban. but you write about how the relationship is more murky than that, that in many ways they're intertwined. >> indeed, michael. there are many shades of gray between isis-k and the taliban. they will fight and kill each other on one day, and they will potentially then cooperate the
next day for strategic reasons, mutual interests, convergence, such as for example trying to force western troops out of afghanistan. and you also have to remember that isis-k are made up of individuals from both pakistan and afghanistan. they are ethnic, tribal clan lineages with the taliban. so it is a much more murkier nexus than perhaps looking at it from a black and white perspective. >> yeah, that's fascinating. i guess when it comes to this attack, tactically it achieves exactly what isis likes to do -- american casualties primarily but also chaos on the ground. what else might isis-k be looking to do, and what does this attack suggest about its reach and capability in afghanistan? >> well, if we look at some of the attacks that they have carried out over the last year, you mentioned the attack on the
maternity ward. they murdered women who were in the process of giving birth. they targeted a girls' school and dozens of young children were murdered. and of course now this very awful, horrific attack at the airport. it's about power. it's about control and intimidation. they want to show the afghans that they are there, that they have a stake in afghanistan's very dystopian future now that the west is leaving, and that they're going to compete with the taliban for control of the country. and unfortunately the afghan people are sandwiched now between the taliban on one side and isis-k on the other side. >> yeah. a choice between who is more brutal. i wanted to ask you this too because the u.s. pounded isis-k, you know, relentlessly for a while there, and they sort of
went quiet. how much of an impact did the taliban's release of isis prisoners during their sweep across the country have on isis-k's operating strength? >> well, certainly isis-k's ability to operate has been enhanced and increased after the taliban freed dozens of their prisoners, if not hundreds from various jails across afghanistan as the taliban was sweeping across afghanistan. there are isis-k fighters that have now emerged from the woodwork that were based in pakistan, and therein lies another problem, is the fact that it wasn't just the taliban that were lying louw in pakista by icsis-k too. they've had this aspect of strategic depth for afghanistan, and again the concern is that what role will pakistan play in afghanistan's future, especially
vis-a-vis all these groups when you've got imran khan's government wanting to get international recognition for the taliban, but how can one do that when they retain these odd ties with all these different terrorist group who's are murdering civilians? and also we are looking at the death of 13 u.s. marines who were trying to save lives in afghanistan. >> yeah. it's a complex neighborhood, that's for sure. i wish we had more time. i really appreciate the analysis as always. thanks so much. >> pleasure. all right. coming up here on "cnn newsroom," u.s. president joe biden wants military options to strike back at isis-k. we speak to a retired u.s. air force colonel and cnn military analyst about what that might look like. we'll be right back.
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we will hunt you down and make you pay. that vow from the u.s. president after an isis affiliate said it is behind the deadly attack thursday in afghanistan. well, right now it's about noon in kabul, and all eyes are on the airport where so much heartbreak and so much emotion has been unfolding all week, especially after those suicide blasts. a warning, we're about to air graphic images that might be difficult to watch, but if is
important to show them because they expose the inhumanity that is happening right now in afghanistan. the death toll has risen to more than 90 afghans and 13 u.s. troops, and the pentagon warns that there are valid fears another attack could happen. >> let's talk a little bit about the threat strains. very, very real threat stains. very what we would call tactical, which means imminent. we assess the threat is high right now. >> despite the risk of further attacks, the u.s. will push ahead with evacuations. but the british armed forces just announced that they have entered the final stages of their evacuation from the airport. that means it will continue to evacuate those already at the airport, but will stop calling anyone outside to come there. now, britain's defense secretary
says its operation will end in a matter of hours. let's talk more about cnn military analyst cedric leighton. good to see you, colonel, there in washington. president biden promised a swift response to any attack on u.s. forces. he now says he's going to hunt the perpetrators down. how much pressure is there on him to follow through, and how does he respond if it's isis-k? how to reach them in a taliban-controlled environment? >> well, that's going to be the toughest thing, michael. one of the things that he has to do, of course, is vince his domestic political constituency that he's on the right path and americans tend to want a strong military action after something like this happens. in this case, he's got some difficulties because he's getting into an area where we have very little intelligence. we don't know as much about
isis-k as we would perhaps have known about the taliban if they had done this. so he's going to have to deal with the intelligence challenges and then of course with the operational challenges. the terrain that isis-k inhabits is very forbidding terrain, kind of like what osama bin laden inhabited for many years during his time between afghanistan and pakistan, and that's a real big deal. >> exactly. what does it suggest about security going forward in the context of what is left of this evacuation process? how much more difficult will it be, and of course most certainly forced protection will be ramped up. it could be tough to get people out. >> force protection is actually job one for all deployed commanders in the united states military, and that normally means protecting your own force and allied forces. this is a little bit more difficult because you also have a civilian population that you also want to protect, and that is i think one of the big issues
here because force protection obviously, there were measures in place, but they didn't work as they wanted them to, as they were intended to. and that makes for a big difference. i think you have a situation where when a disaster like this occurs, you have to change a lot of practices, and you have to change them on the fly, and that becomes a challenge for the deployed commander. >> the taliban is no friend of isis, but they will work together if there is a common enemy. we've seen it before. what are the risks of an ice f -- isis foothold in the country and an ability to operate in afghanistan? >> i think the risks are considerable. like you point out, michael, they have a very good relationship when they want to have a good relationship. they will fight terribly against each other under normal circumstances, but if there is a common enemy -- and sometimes that common enemy has been the united states -- that will be a
significant challenge for us, but it can also be a significant challenge for any other country that tries to get into afghanistan. and that becomes a huge issue, i think, going forward. when you look at the way isis and the taliban relate to each other, especially isis-k, for the most part, they are enemies, but there can be some situations where they would work together. right now that's not the case, but i think in the future there's certainly a possibility of that happening. >> you and i have talked about this a lot. i know you and i both share a grave concern for wartime allies who will not get out almost certainly. i mean with the evacuation efforts, the fact is that this did not have to be so chaotic. the u.s. knew it was leaving, could have started the evacuations literally months ago. how big of a blunder was that? it will cost lives. >> it will cost lives and that makes it a huge blunder. i think one of the most important things when you build a coalition, especially a
military coalition, is to make sure you can take care of each other and that goes for the junior partner as well as the senior partner. in these cases where the united states is almost assuredly leaving people behind, that really portends a grave issue for us going forward. it's a grave mistake because other countries, other groups are going to look at what we do in afghanistan, and they're going to look at it, i think, with a very jaundiced eye. they're going to look askance at this, and they're going to say if the united states abandons its afghan allies, what are they going to do with us? this is something we have to be careful of going forward. >> thanks so much as always. >> you bet, michael. anytime. there's more to come on the deadly terror attack on kabul. how president biden's political future might be affected by all of this. we'll talk to one of the best political minds around when we come back.
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u.s. deadline to formally withdraw from afghanistan. now, the carnage, the fears of further violence, and nagging questions about what could have been done differently have all made for what joe biden's aides call the worst day of his presidency. now, of course washington being what it is these days, some republicans are demanding his resignation, saying he has blood on his hands. here's what the white house press secretary had to say. >> it's not a day for politics, and we would expect that any american, whether they're elected or not, would stand with us in our commitment to going after and fighting and killing those terrorists wherever they live and to honoring the memory of service members. and that's what this day is for. >> ron brownstein joins me now. he's a cnn senior political analyst and senior editor at "the "the atlantic." just before we came to you, we heard jen psaki say it's not a
day for politics, but sadly these days it's all about politics. what is the likely political cost, if any, for joe biden as a result of what's happened? >> first of all, good to be with you michael although unfortunate on such a tragic day for america and these young service members and their families. i don't think this by itself will be a significant long-term political issue for biden. i think it will obviously have a short-term impact on his political standing. his approval rate was already sinking, and i think this will push it further. in 1983, 20 times as many marines were killed in the -- i think this becomes a lasting political problem for biden only if can become part of a broader narrative that republicans will try to put together that events are overwhelming him, and that has more to do with covid, inflation, crime, the border, others issues. if all of those things are still
going in the wrong direction for him next year, i think it is a political problem. if not, i think he can surmount this. >> given the view of americans in terms of their support for the broader withdrawal, do you see any likely impact on the '22 election campaign for him? >> well, look, i think biden is at this moment in a kind of split-screen presidency. on one screen, he is moving steadily if bumpily toward historic legislative achievement. this congress just in that single reconciliation bill they are moving forward is poised to pass the most significant dreamt legislative agenda since lyndon johnson in 1965 and 1966. on the other screen, in the here and now, there are a whole series of trends in daily life that polls show americans are
uneasy about -- the trends in covid, inflation, crime, for republicans what's happening at the border, and certainly the way the afghanistan withdrawal has been handled. i think if all of those things are still seen to be going in the wrong direction next year, yes, it will be a significant drag on democrats. but if he gets control of the broader circumstances, particularly covid and the economy, i think that this particular, you know, reversal and tragedy will not be a lasting blow. >> and meanwhile, how do you think republicans are going to handle what happened politically when we're already seeing, you know, they're behaving like there is blood in the water? >> yes. well, look, i think it is indicative of where we are that you have had republican senators calling for biden a resignation because of this. i don't remember whether there were democrats who called for george w. bush's resignation after 9/11 or even during the darkest days of iraq, much less
democrats who called for ronald reagan's resignation after the marine bombing. so it is just a reflection of where we are politically and i think also a reminder. i think if republicans gain control of the congress in 2022, it is highly likely that they will find a reason to impeach joe biden. sentence first, verdict afterwards. i think they will find a cause to do it, and i think the reaction to this is just a reminder that that is one of the likely outcomes if republicans gain the house in the 2022 election. >> just payback. >> yeah. well, or just because the demand from the base is so overwhelming. i mean the view as we've seen, you know, 75% of republicans believe the big lie that the election was stolen. they view biden as fundamentally illegitimate, and we see kevin mccarthy showing no effort to discipline the most extreme voices of his caucus. and i think it will be very hard for them to avoid finding some reason to -- even lindsey
graham, who, you know, is theoretically someone not at the far militant end of the party was talking about impeaching biden over this. so i think that's just a reflection of where we are politically. he does have to get this under control. i mean, you know, in some ways they seem to be heading toward that with the enormous amount of people they have moved out in the past few days. but this is a reminder of how much exposure and vulnerability both literally for our service members and politically for the president we have each day that we have that presence at the airport in kabul. >> ron brownstein, always a pleasure. thanks so much. >> thank you, michael. when we come back here on the program, a u.s. air base in germany has become a major transit point for those who managed to safely flee afghanistan. so far, thousands of evacuees have passed through. we'll take you there when we come back. it's a simple fact: it even kills the e covid-19 virus.
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sad, i imagine. >> reporter: yeah. i think it's really mixed emotions for many of the evacuees getting on those departing flights. the other day we were able to go to hangar five, and that's this giant military airplane hangar which normally houses these huge planes but has been transformed into a kind of international terminal. we were able to speak to a few evacuees. many were happy. they were very excited. they talked about plans to visit families in virginia and los angeles. but there was mixed feelings with many families who had to leave family members behind. one man we spoke to had four sisters. he was only able to bring one m. we heard a lot of stories like that. but having said that, these are the lucky ones who are able to get on a departing flight. there are still thousands more
in this huge tent city on the tarmac of the air base. they are still being processed, waiting to get on these departing flights, and it's going to get more crowded in the next 24 hours. another 10,000 evacuees are expected to arrive here at the base. michael? >> all right. atika schubert at ramstein air base, thanks so much. i'm michael holmes. our coverage continues in just a moment. this is cnn. my plaque psoriasis... ...the itching ...the burning. the stinging. my skin was no longer mine. my psoriatic arthritis, made my joints stitiff, swollen... painful. emerge tremfyant™. with tremfya®, adults with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis...
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welcome to our viewers here in the united states and all around the world. i'm michael holmes, appreciate your company. u.s. military leaders warning that the deadly suicide bombings are likely just the beginning. more than 90 afghans and 13 u.s. service members were killed at the airport's main entrance for evacuees and at the nearby baron hotel. we're about to show you some graphic video of the scene but we think it is important to document the brutality of what is happening. the jihadist group isis-k has claimed responsibility for the attack. one of the bombers detonating his explosives in a sewer drench