WATCH: Special Report: 12 US service members killed in explosions near Kabul airport

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Transcript for Special Report: 12 US service members killed in explosions near Kabul airport

this is an ABC news special report. Now This is a ABC special report. Reporting is David Muir. We are coming on this hour, because the president is to share with the American people the scope of this loss of life in kabul after a deadly attack. A suspected suicide bomber outside of the abbey gate. Today, the briefing will belong to general Mackenzie, director of central command. Can you hear me? I can hear you fine. He is going to have opening remarks and address the events in kabul, and the mission, and where we are going, and I will moderate the questions as before, andly I will call on you before you ask the questions and identify yourselves so that the general knows who he is talking to, and we have a hard stop at 3:30. So with that, over to you, general Mackenzie. It is a hard day today. Two suicide bombers assessed to be ISIS bombers at the abbey gate and in the vicinity of the baron hotel. The attack on the abbey gate was followed by a gunman who opened fire, and 12 service members have been killed and more service members were injured. And we are treating some of them aboard H Kia. We don’t know what total loss is. The loss is weighing heavily on us all, and we will talk about it more as I go through the prepared remarks. We continue to focus on the protection of the forces and the evacuees. Let me be clear while we are saddened by the loss of life, we are determined to execute the mission, evacuate the Americans, siv holders and afghanis at risk. Despite the attack, we are continuing the mission. Today we have approximately 5,000 evacuees on the ramp at hkia. Since August 14th, we have evacuated more than 85,000. That is by the U.S. And the partners. The secretary of state said yesterday that we believe that there about 1,000 American citizens left in Afghanistan at this point. We are doing everything that we can in concert with that department of state partners to reach out to them to help them leave if they want to leave and not everybody wants to leave. Yesterday we brought in 500 American citizens. It is difficult to underestimate the competing challenges that our ground forces have faced. The threat to forces particularly from isis-k is very real as we have seen today. I would also like to express the sense oof profound pride in which our forces have overcome the challenges, and the remarkable number of people we have extracted from Afghanistan. It would be remiss for me not to mention the contributions of the coalition partners who have stood on the ground at hkia and the international partners who have supported the evacuation and the soldiers and the sailors and coast guardsmen, and across the central, and the southern and the marine command in this responsibility. The evacuation could not have been done without them amazing flexibility of the U.S. Transportation command. No other military in the world has anything like it. I would like to thank the host nations who have generally hosted access to their facilitying for the processing and the care and the feeding of our evacuees. I also need to acknowledge some of the temporary suffering that some of the evacuees have had to endure. We execute the mission to get as many U.S. Citizens and others out of Afghanistan as possible. We also want to have safe and humane and sanitary conditions for the evacuees while looking for ultimate ways to expedite the processes to the united States and other destination. I would like to close out the remarks for a moment to describe the heroism that our Marines, soldiers and sailors are exhibiting as they are screening the people coming on the airfield. This is close-up work. The breath of the person you are searching is upon you. While we have overwatching in place, we have to touch clothes of the person coming in. You can all appreciate the courage and the dedication that is 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 servicemen andwomen 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 is a noble mission, and today we have seen firsthand how dangerous this mission is. ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing the mission, I will assure you. All Americans should be proud of the U.S. Forces who have faced these dangers head-on with the international forces, and we appreciate the thoughts and prayers for all of the servicemen and women carrying out this operation. John, I am ready for questions. Okay. We start with Leda. Leda from A.P. Thank you for taking the time to do this. Can you give us the assessment of the threat of ISIS going forward and what are you seeing to ground now? Does it cut the evacuation short do you believe, and are people able to get on to the airport now, and then 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, and let me try to take them in the threat of ISIS is real, and we have been talking about it for days. It has only manifested itself here with an actual attack. We believe it is their desire to continue the attacks to continue, and we are doing everything we can to be prepared for the attacks and that is including reaching out to the Taliban who are providing the outer security in the outer field for what we expect them to do to protect us, and we will continue to coordinate with them going forward and we are continuing to bring the people on to the airfield and we just brought a number of buss on the the airfield in the last few hours and continue to process and float people out. The plan is designed to operate while under stress, and under attack, and Weill continue to do that. We will coordinate very carefully to make sure it is safe for American citizens to come to the airfield. If it is not, we will tell them to hold, and work other ways to get to the airfield, but the mission remains that we are still committed into flowing people out until we terminate the operations at some point towards the end of the month, but we have the ability to do all of those thing as we go forward. Let me just come back one moment, and you talked about going after ISIS. Yes, if we can find who is associated with this, we will go after them. We have been clear all along that we will retain the right to operate and find out who is responsible for this cowardly act, and 24/7, we are looking for them. David? General David Barton with CBS. 27 casualties is a terrible number. 12 dead. Could you explain the circumstances of these attacks which resulted in such high casualties for the U.S.? Sure, David. So first of all, you will understand that we are still investigating the exact circumstances, but what I can tell you is this. The attack occurred at the gate. At the gate, we have to check people before they get on to the airfield and make sure they are not carrying a bomb or other weapon the make its way on to aircraft and that requires physical screening and you can’t do that with standoff, you have to get close to the person. So if the air base itself is surrounded by t-walls or bunkered in, and we have done a variety of things to protect ourselves, but at the interface places where the people come on to the airfields, there is no substitute for a young man or woman, or United States man or woman standing there to conducting a search of that person before we let them on. The Taliban have conducted a search before they get to that point, and sometimes searches have been good or not, and I will simply note that before this attack, we have passed 104,000 people through, and so this attack is one too many, but we will evaluate what happened, but the key thing is that you don’t want to let anybody on a plane carrying a bomb, because that would be a massive loss of life, so you have to work with the elements on the ground to conduct those searches, but ultimately Americans have to be in danger to do the searches, and there is no other way to do it. Again, I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the daily heroism of the men and women who are out there doing this work. Typically soldiers, sailors and Marines doing the work, and they are right up close to thousands of people flowing through the airfield, and you have all seen the images, and to be able to do it day after day, it is remarkable. This time, it looks like somebody got close to us, and we will find out why, and improve the procedureprocedures, and 12 service members dying, and nobody feels that more closely than me, and we will evaluate the procedures and at the same time, we have to own the airfield, and we are not there to defend ourself, but process the American citizens first and the other categories and get them to the place to fly them out to a safer and better future. To be clear, this suicide bomber was going through the gate being searched, checked by U.S. Service members when he detonated his vest? David, that is my working assumption, but he did not get on the installation, but at the interface point when this attack occurred, and we don’t know more right now, and we are gathering this information. You will understand that we are investigating that but you will see that we have other extremely active threats against the airfield and we have to make sure that we are taking the steps to protect ourselves there, and our focus is there. And over the next hours or a day or two, we will find out more of what happened here, and we will share it with you, but right now, the focus is going forward to ensuring that another attack of this nature does not occur, because as you know, that typically the pattern is multiple attacks, and we want to be prepared and ready to defend against that. Courtney. Can you take — general Mackenzie, it is Courtney KUBE, NBC, and can you tell us more about if this is ISIS and more suicide attacks and the steps to mitigate the suicide attacks and would it include taking Marines outside of the Gates for more security, and finally with all of this, any discussion of sending any additional troops to kabul for any additional security measures. Let me answer the last part of the question first. We have assessed that we need the sour forces that we have there. I am in constant communication with the secretary, so if I need anything, I will be able to get them. And talking about the threat string, and what we would call tactical, and imminent that could occur at any moment, ranging from rocket attacks. We know they would like to lob a rocket in there, and we have good protection against that, and we have anti-rocket and mortar system, and the gun systems who you have been out there, they are effective against these attacks. We are well positioned around the boundary of the airfield and in good shape should that kind of attack occur. We know they aim to get a suicide vehicle-borne suicide attack in from a small to large vehicle, and working all of the options, and we have seen the ability to get a walk-in suicide attacker in. All of those things we look at. And now, we share versions of this information with the Taliban so they can actually do some searching out there for us, and some of the attacks have been thwarted by them. Again, we have been doing this since the 14th, and this is an attack that has been carried out, and we believe that others have been thwarted. We cut down the information for the Taliban and they don’t get the full information that we have, but we give them enough to act in time and space to prevent these attacks. Another thing that we try to do is to push out the boundary further so that we don’t get large crowds amassing at the gate. At abbey gate, we had a larger crowd than we like. It shows you that the system is not perfect, but with we have have large elements at the gate, and standoffs like this is the best defense, but we don’t have the opportunity with the geography or the ground that we are on to gain that standoff. Let me close up the question by saying that we take the threat of these attacks very seriously, and we are working them very hard and doing a variety of things. As you know, we have ax-64 attack helicopters on the ground to take a look and they have thermal and optical imaging systems and others overhead taking a look, and we have other systems is taking a look in defense of the airfield and all on a continual basis and vectored by the intelligence that we receive and also with the intelligence from the Taliban. Over to the Washington post. Alex, are you there? Yes. Unmuting. This is Alex Horton with the Washington post, and thank you for doing this. Can you give us a sense of where you are in casualty notification for the folks on the ground, and how long you expect it to take given that it is a large number, and also, can you tell us a little bit about how the forces reacted, and that you said that you introduced a probably more standoff at this point, but what other measures to increase the security after the attack? Sure. I would ask that the notification would be ongoing and I don’t have visibility, and it is day-to-day threat that we face in theatre, but there are other people who can answer that question for you, but I am not that person, Alex. In terms of the practical things that we are doing, okay, again, we have reached out to the Taliban. We have told them that you need to reach out to security perimeter and identified the roads that you need to close, and we have identified they will be willing to close the roads, because we have assessed the threat of a suicide vehicle threat is high, and so we want to assess the vehicles to be closed there, and we have talked about the overwatch in place, and I will review it again, and we have the unmanned aircraft, and mq-9s and other drones and other optical means to look down, and see what is happening around the Gates and identify the patterns and highly trained people who take a look at that, and we have the aircraft that we fly locally, and at the A-64s that I mentioned a moment ago and other unmanned aircraft off of the carrier that we have off of the coast, as well as U.S. Air force aircraft that we bring up from out of Afghanistan. Everything ranging from the F-15s and the ac-130 gunship which is a highly targeting system, and it is a visible platform, and we know that from the long experience that visible demonstration of these kinds of isr tend to dissuade the attacker, because they know that if we can see them do it, we will strike them immediately, and we will be prepared to do that if it is necessary to defend the base. We are looking hard, and we are in the period of heightened warning right now, and we are looking through that as aggressively as we can, over. Gordon. Yes, general. Gordon from “The Wall Street journal,” and can you tell us if the potential for staying after August 31st, would change because of this threat stream, or if you are concerned about the threat stream, and also, you and the Taliban have been coordinating very closely on various things. Do you still trust the Taliban, and it is possible that they let this happen? So, as to whether or not they let it happen, I don’t know. I don’t think there is anything to convince me that they let it as to whether or not I trust them is not necessarily a word that I use very carefully and you have heard me say, it is not what they say, but what they do. They have a practical reason for getting us out of here August 31st. They want to reclaim the we want to get out of that day as well. So we share a common purpose. As long as we keep the common purpose aligned, they have been useful to work with. They have cut some of our security concerns down, and they have been useful to work with going forward. Now, long term, I don’t know what that is going to be, but I will tell you this, any time you build a noncombatant evacuation plan like this, and bring in the forces, you expect to be attacked. So we expected. We thought that it would happen sooner or later, and it is tragic it happened today, and tragic for the loss of life, and we will be prepared to continue the mission. I will not tell you my advice, as you understand, Gordon, but we will continue the mission even while receiving attacks like this. General, Harris Smith from “The New York Times,” and even with these attacks just four days or so from leaving, and how soon do you to diminishing the evacuation flights if indeed those can continue to make space and time for the military retrograde, and that is the withdrawal of the remaining troops there and the equipment? So, Eric, without getting into the specifics, I would tell you that the plan is to maximize the throughput of the evacuees as we prepare to drawdown the force on the ground. We understand that there is a need to balance the two, and we won’t get to the point to turn off the spigot, and it is not useful for me to share the date of when we draw down the flights, but we will do it at some point, and at the same time, I want to emphasize again, the plan is to maximize pushing people Outen as we reconfigure the force, and continue to defend ourselves, and get ready to bring out the equipment, and our own military personnel. General, if I could follow up on that, and do you also to have develop alternative routes to get those remaining Americans in kabul safely to the airport? I will tell you that we have worked over the last week, and we brought in hundreds of Americans by bringing in alternate routes and establishing contact and working down steady different ways to get to the airport. The jsoc element does it on the ground effectively in coordination with admiral vaseley who is the commander there, and that not something that we are beginning now, but we have done it all along and we will continue to do it up until the last moment. General Mackenzie, Jennifer griffin, Fox News, can you say if there is one or two suicide bombers at the abbey gate, and can you tell us if it is a male bomber, and can you tell us the explosion at the baron hotel if it was a person bomber or car bomber, and were there other U.S. Citizens killed in the attack, and why were the Marines so close together that so many were killed in one strike? So we think that one suicide bomb at abbey gate, and don’t know if it was male or female. We don’t have that information. Don’t know much about the second bomb that went off near the baron hotel, and it is a deeply bunkered place, and there were not any other casualties other than Afghan casualties. So some were taken to the hospital, and I am trying to gather more information about it. The last point, I would tell you that I don’t know the size of the bomb. And the size of the bomb is directly related to how many people are going to be affected by the blast radius of the weapon. And so, I — we will investigate that, and as I have noted before, you are at the interface at the Gates and someone has to look at the somebody in the eyes and decide if they are ready to come in. We will not want to speculate beyond that. Any other American citizens from the state department who were killed? None that I am aware of now. Back to the phones. Lori Sullivan. Hi, general, thank you so much for doing this. A couple of questions. First of all, can you tell me that we have heard reports of a third and possibly a fourth attack in kabul today, and can you confirm those. 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? Well, locations of other attacks in kabul, but we have not been able to run that information down. So we see it, and we get the open source reporting on it, but I cannot confirm that there have been other attacks in kabul away from hkia today. We will look at that hard. The safety of the aircraft coming in and out is of paramount importance, because obviously the opportunity there with 450 or more people to die if you have a significant mishap with the aircraft. We know that ISIS would like to get after those aircraft if they can. We don’t believe they have the manpad to do it, but they have taken shots at the aircraft, and we believe it is going to continue, but military aircraft have a variety of self-defense systems, but more vulnerable are the commercial aircraft. So with the isr, we are looking carefully at the approach pattern and the departure pattern off of the runway to see if we see any signs of something that might pose a threat to the aircraft that is one of the things that we look at religiously throughout the day and tonight as we are conducting operation, because the aircraft is the only way to get people out of there, and we are keenly sensitive to the threats to the One more question, and — sorry, guys, we have to move, and get one more question and the general with a chance to close out. General, it is early, but at this point in time, how do you believe the suicide bombers made it through several checkpoints ether it was Taliban or the Afghan forces to the Marines. Do you believe it was a failure or how they were able to evade them and make it into the Marines? Clearly, if they were able to make it to the screening of the entry point of the base, it was a failure somewhere, and the Taliban operate with varying degrees of competence. Some are very, very good and others are not. So you can be assured we will continue to look at it, and make all of the practices better as we go forward. We will let the general close out. General, any closing thoughts that you may have, sir. John, thanks. I would like to say today is a hard day, but I — the thing they come back to is that remarkable professionalism that the force on the ground is showing. As I noted before, the screening points in particular, you have to get up close and personal to the people that you are bringing out. There is no way to do it safely from a distance, and we should all bear in mind that we have been doing it well over a week, and we have brought 4,000 people out, and that is a tremendous number of contacts that every marine, soldier or sailor has had to contact. It is with a heavy heart that I do this conversation with you today, and nobody feels it more than me or the other members of the chain of command, and when we do everything that we can to make sure it is safe as possible for everybody on the ground who is doing this dirty and dangerous work on the job. Thank you. Time for another question. No. That is it. General Mackenzie there with just devasating news for the country revealing right off of the top saying that it is a hard day today. 12 U.S. Service members kill and 12 more injure and talked about the loss of Afghan life as well, and believed they were ISIS fighters right at abbey gate and then a short distance away as well another attack at the baron hotel. He said that despite the attack, the evacuation will continue. He was pressed how did this happen, and he acknowledged there was a failure somewhere for this suicide bomber to have gotten this close to U.S. Service members.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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