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tv   Don Lemon Tonight  CNN  August 26, 2021 8:00pm-9:00pm PDT

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here's our breaking news tonight. two suicide bombing attacks just outside kabul's airport killing 13 u.s. service members and dozens of afghan civilians. at least 18 service members
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wounded along with 140 afghans. the militant group isis-k claiming responsibility for the deadly attacks. to be the president biden calling the fallen service members heroes and drawing plans to hunt down the terrorists and make them play. the president also saying the u.s. will not be called, that the evacuation will continue through tuesday's deadline to withdraw. we have the very latest now on the developments from cnn's pentagon kcorrespondent. >> reporter: 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
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you pay. i will defend our interests and our people with every measure in my command. >> this graphic video laying bear 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 wheel barrels. >> the threat from isis is very well. we expect those attacks to continue. >> reporter: on wednesday the u.s. warned of threats to the airport, telling americans to stay away from three different gates and only to approach the field when instructed. a suicide bomber passed through a tall ban security check point somehow and approached the abbey gate. it is a moment of vulnerability, a u.s. member face to face with an unscreened outsider. >> these gates, there is no substitute for a young man or
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woman, a young united states man or woman standing up there conducting a search of that person before you let him on. >> 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 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 the troops have withdrawn to find means by which we could 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 around the airport and shared
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some information to prevent attacks. >> we believe others have been thwarted. we give them enough to act in time and space to try to prevent these attacks. >> along with john harwood, oren joins us now. the white us, the pentagon, all bracing for potentially more terror attacks. what will these evacuations look like between now and tuesday? >> first, it's important to note that they're ongoing. president joe biden made that clear. in fact, i'm looking at a flight tracking website on a monofor nex next to me. so the flights continue. the mission continues. but as i pointed out there in that story, the u.s. commanders there have asked the taliban to expand the security corridor, to close down some of the roads leading to the airport. they have already in light of the threats that we have heard in the last few days from isis-k
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and from others increased the security presence at the airport by shifting troops over to security. crucially, though, the evacuation continues. at some point it will start to transition from full evacuation to withdrawal of u.s. forces and that's simply inevitable as we get close tore that end date. but the evacuation continues for u.s. citizens and others. >> john harwood, the president had a clear message for the terrorists, vowing to make these attackers pay, and he said this. >> we will not be deterred by terrorists. we will not let them stop our mission. we will continue the evacuation. i have 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 in the moment of our choosing. >> listen, i know they have to be concerned at the white house to be the about escalation when they are trying to get out of
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there. >> well, i think, don, first of all, isis-k is not a conventional military force. and, so, they're going to strike us where they can regardless. and i think the administration is going to act to degrade their capability whenever it can. however, there is only five days left in this operation. it sounds as if it is going to take a while to both devise those operational plans the president said and when he said at a time and place of our choosing, i think that was an indication it is not likely to happen immediately. they will be completely focussed, i think, for the next five days on getting as many americans and close afghan allies as they can out of afghanistan. >> oren, we are learning that coalition forces conducted controlled explosions within kabul's airport or in the area at least. what can you tell us about that? what are they destroying? >> we don't know specifically
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yet. the u.s. military hasn't put out any information about that. it was the taliban that said it was u.s. forces who destroyed equipment there. we know having listen to john kirby that the u.s. has equipment there and was considering destroying it. there are a number of assets like apatchies, aerial defense systems, all of that instead of leaving it there or trying to get it out, it could be destroyed. commanders on the ground can make the decision whether it is worth taking home or whether it's worth simply destroying it. >> the press secretary, john, has said, jen psaki, said today that president biden has never reconsidered the august 31st deadline. what does that tell you about how he sees the tragic events in the context of his commitment to get troops out? >> look, i think nearly everything that's happened in the last few weeks, don, has reinforced the president's commitment and belief that
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getting out of afghanistan is the right thing to do because the 20-year effort to build up an afghan security force and build up an afghan government failed. those forces collapsed very quickly once the united states began withdrawing. and i think the belief that keeping more and more american troops in harm's way in afghanistan is something that simply is not worth it from a cost benefit analysis. it is not worth the lives of those soldiers. this is obviously the worst nightmare for joe biden. this was the worst day of his presidency. he did not want to have to leave having lost american lives at the end of this mission. and, you know, for two weeks you had 100,000 people taken outwithout any mass casualty events. that period is now over, and i think he's determined to, as we indicated earlier, get as many people out as he can by august
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31st. if there are americans left afterwards to try to figure out through special operations or other means to get them out, the white house acknowledges that there will be deserving afghan allies who will not make it out because they have narrowed the focus of this mission into put the highest priority, of course, on americans and it is a heart-breaking way to end this war. but i think the president is committed, above all, that it needs to end. >> john, oren, thank you very much. i want to turn to cnn's chief national correspondent jim sciutto. i was watching you the day this happened as you were on the air and reporting this breaking news. you reported yesterday morning that intel officials were worried about the increased threat, and now we have 13 u.s. service members dead. what are your sources saying now? is there still a large risk when it comes to the security at the airport for troops still on the ground and the people waiting to get out? >> no question. the same intelligence stream
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that i reported yesterday about isis-k or the islamic state course on wanting to attack particularly those entry points to the airport, those crowds of afghans trying to get into the airport and if they could, the u.s. service members guarding those entry points just as isis-k had both the intent and the capability to carry out those attacks yesterday. that being the concern, they maintain that intent and that capability. and that's why you continue to hear from the white house podium, from the pentagon podium that they are concerned about the terror threat going forward. it's real. and it's a real test for these waning days of the u.s. evacuation operation. >> was it a mistake to count on the taliban to secure the airport? i mean, do we have the use that we needed there and there wasn't -- did we have to use what was needed there and there wasn't a choice? >> the results speak for themselves, right? the part -- part of this
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evacuation plan depended -- two big parts, in fact, depended on the taliban. one being that the taliban allow access to the airport for people eligible to evacuate. americans certainly. green cardholders certainly. but also american sivs as they're known. but in recent days the taliban was not allowing access to many of those people. i spoke personally to families, to siv applicants or visa holders and their families who could not get to the gates. the taliban were beating them back. the other piece being that security around the airport in that the taliban controls the country, controls kabul, the buffer zone, the security around the airport was the taliban's responsibility as well. the u.s. said that the taliban shared an interest in preventing terror attacks like this. but at the end of the day, they were not able to prevent them. on those two fronts, the taliban
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did not come through sufficiently. so it may have been the administration's only choice, perhaps that's what they would argue. they do control the country. the taliban won, in effect. but it was not an effective result. it was certainly not the result that they or anybody else wanted to see. >> listen, i don't think anyone thinks this is just off the cuff. the president was pretty definitive about this saying that the u.s. will find the people responsible for this. that is a pretty big test since we don't have any boots on the ground right now. what are we talking about here? >> so this will be a big test of what is one of the big changes of the u.s. withdrawal. and that is without boots on the ground, that means that you don't have, one, intelligence gather because with those boots come intelligence officers and capabilities for gathering intelligence. it comes -- with it comes proximity to carry out counter terror missions. with it comes airfields to
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launch not just attacks from the air but also surveillance from the air. so now all of those air operations have to come from outside of the country. any boots on the ground kind of mission, ct mission, sale missions, et cetera, have to come from outside the country. and intel dpgathering is compromised. we heard bill burns testify to exactly that. so to deliver on the president's promise, we will have a test of this over the horizon capabilities, in other words, doing it from afar. it is definitely less capability from afar. everyone agrees. the question is how much less and does it prevent following through on the president's promise here? the u.s. still has enormous capabilities. they're not the same. we'll see what they could deliver. >> obvious question and the understatement of the evening. but i have to ask you anyway. there are a lot of groups vying for control of afghanistan right now. so walk us through who they are. >> so the biggest ones, the
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taliban of course, controls the country. the second biggest probably in terms of significance in numbers is al-qaeda. and the taliban and al-qaeda have deep dives. we have reports about al-qaeda fighters alongside the taliban as they were fighting back forces. and then you have isis-k. it's, effect, an offshoot of the taliban, a break-away group. half a dozen years ago. and they are not the taliban's friends, a rival. so those three groups vying for control to some degree. meanwhile, with the departure of the u.s., you have afghanistan becoming once again, this is a sad reality, but becoming once again a magnet for extremists throughout the world. the un reported recently that some eight to nine thousand fighters, militants, extremists have flooded into afghanistan in
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recent weeks and months from as far away as western china, from the former soviet republic in central asia and pakistan as well to join those groups, to train up, to carry out attacks. and that paints not only a dangerous picture for afghanistan going forward because they will continue to carry out terror attacks. they might continue to fight each other but also the possibility they plot and plan attacks outside of afghanistan. >> thank you, sir. you had a long day. get some rest. and a long day tomorrow, sadly. more than 2,000 u.s. service members lost their lives. fareed zakaria next to discuss how we got here, what the future holds.
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if you look at your screen right now, you will see live pictures of kabul airport where an explosion killed 13 u.s. service members and injured 18 more. that was earlier today. the sun obviously coming up there at kabul. america's 20-year war in afghanistan set to come to an end by tuesday. if president biden remains firm on the august 31st withdrawal deadline. but our involvement with impact afghanistan and the region for years to come. joining me now fareed zakaria. as we look at those pictures, doesn't appear to be much going on. i's almost -- well, it will be in 1 hours or so, 24 hours since this happened. but the events are still unfolding. the airport the quiet for now. 13 u.s. service members dead. first american deaths in afghanistan in a year and a
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half. it is really so damn sad and also a reminder that attacks like this have killed more than 2,000 americans throughout this war, two decades on. what does today tell you about our involvement in afghanistan? >> yeah. it is almost 2,500 american troops and then 4,000 american contractors and then the coalition troops. i mean, this has been a tough 20 years. but what it tells me, you know, what is striking about these deaths is that for the most -- best we can tell, these were not inflicted by the taliban. these were inflicted by isis-k, another militant, radical terrorist group. and what it reminds us is that afghanistan is a place where there is a sort of sense of national identity and cohesiveness over in response to a foreign intervention or
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occupation. once the foreigners leave, the afghans begin to fight amongst themselves. what we may be witnessing, what this attack represents is in some ways a challenge to the taliban from another islamist terrorist organization. you mentioned in your previous segment a number of fighters streaming in to afghanistan. but don't think they're all coming there to fight with the taliban. many of them are coming to fight against the taliban. all the ones regard themselves as ethnically different. so what we may be back watching, which is a very sad reality is that once the foreigner leaves, afghanistan becomes a cockpit of ethnic, tribal and regional different groups. so it may get a lot bloodier.
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>> fareed, this war has entangled four u.s. presidents. the public has wanted out for a very long time. but biden's decision to get out and his execution are two different things. how do you think he's handling this. >> i think you put it exactly right. the decision to get out is very different from the execution. the decision to get out, i think, was a brave and courageous decision to recognize that fundamentally we had failed. to put it in very simple terms, our goal was to defeat the taliban. the taliban over the last ten years went from controlling about zero percent of the country to about 30% to 40% of the country measured by population. if you look at 2019, they had stopped attacking americans because of the deal they made with the united states, which is that we would withdraw and they would stop attacking us. but they were attacking afghan
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army units ferociously. 2019 was the worst year in terms of casualties ever. worst year for afghan civilians. 2018 saw 300,000 afghan civilians displaced because of the fighting. don't kid yourself in thinking there was a calm here. there was a calm for the americans because the taliban agreed to do that. so he made a decision that we had failed in our ability to defeat the taliban for whatever reasons and it was 20 years on. it was time to recognize that failure. now, how he did it is still a puzzle to me as to why there was so many mistakes made along the way. and that's one which is worth analyzing on its own. >> you know, the u.s. got into afghanistan during the policy of the bush administration. biden eluded to that today. here it is. >> i have never been of the view
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that we would be sacrificing american lives to try to establish a democratic government in afghanistan, a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country and is made up, and i don't mean this in a derogatory way, made up of different tribes who have never, ever, ever gotten along with each other. >> does our chaotic exit show that nation building just doesn't work? >> no. it shows that it is very, very h hard. it shows there are certain circumstances in which it can work but it is awfully difficult and it is particularly difficult for an outside force to do it. and you use the right phase, nation building because the
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issue is not so much state building, by which i mean building the bureaubureaucracy. it is can you bring together this country as one nation. afghanistan, as i said, has only had a real national cohesion in response to a foreign occupation. otherwise, these are different tribes. they have lived different. so it is hard. and it's very hard to do when you are the outsider. this is something that, you know, if you go back to the period of colonial occupation of all these european countries, one of the biggest difficulties they had was to recognize that the outsiders can never be the agent of creating this kind of national unity, of creating political order. we had extraordinary success in a few places, germany after world war ii, japan, south korea. but what we forgot there is germany and japan were nations. they had come together thousands
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of years before. they were already modern in many ways. south korea was an unusual case where they got cohesion because of the fear of an external threat. but by and large, it's been very hard. think about all the places that the united states has intervened in the greater middle east of, you know, the course of this war on terror. iraq, afghanistan, yemen, somalia. let's think of syria as a partial. none of them can you say the outcome has been satisfactory, right? in none of them has any kind of nation building or state building worked. because you are the outside power and it is very hard to be the agent of change and progress in democracy because at the end of the day your allies, this is what happened to ghani before in afghanistan. they get tainted by the fact that they're the americans, you
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know, favorite government or favorite. so they get tainted. they get delegitimized by that process. nation building is largely a home grown process. it is something that has to happen and take roots internally. you could help on the outside and we have helped. but it is awfully hard. >> fareed, thank you, sir. i appreciate it. >> always a pleasure. >> so the withdrawal deadline only days away, tuesday. what will happen between now and then as we watch these live pictures from kabul airport?
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13 u.s. service members lost in today's attack with just five days left until the deadline for troops to withdraw. things will only get more dangerous and more and more troops leave. i want to bring in retired colnel. the u.s. military under incredible pressure. sur r talk to me about what they're up against in these next few days. >> well, you summarized it pretty well in your question, don. what they're looking at here is trying to execute a critical
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mission to get american citizens, afghans, siv holders and anybody else who is deserving out of the country. and in the meantime of course they have to protect themselves. and as you said, they are surrounded on all sides by the taliban, obviously, and potentially other groups. you know, if the reports are correct, isis-k of course is a big factor here in this frather amorphous thing can put a monkey wrench in this whole operation. >> this withdrawal deadline soon, tuesday. thousands left to evacuate. what needs to happen in that time? >> so what they need to do is they need to bring all of the people they can possibly get into aircraft and then move on yard to intermediate stops like qatar, kuwait and the united
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arab emirates and germany. while they're doing that, they have to pack up all of the equipment they brought with them. this operation is going to be separate from any information to go after isis-k like president biden announced in his speech this evening. so they've got the mission of basically taking care of their logistics, making sure that nothing else happens to them, so there is an intelligence component to this mission at the airport and then what they have to do is they have to get out of there safely and they have to have the cooperation of the taliban to do that. and that's a pretty tall order right now. >> right on. the security situation will get more volatile as more troops start to leave. make sure both evacuees and our troops get out safely. >> they have a security contingent that is with them at the armt. and that security contingent is
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most of the 5,400 or so troops that are there right now. everybody basically is combat ready in that group. and that's why they trimmed down 400 people from that group a few days ago. so everybody here is basically what we call head on a swivel. they are turning around 360 degrees to make sure they could see any type of threat that is directed at them personally if they go anywhere near the outside of the perimeter. on the other side of it, on the intelligence side, there is a lot of what we call intelligence overwatch that is happening here, and that is a lot of tactical collection that's going on as well as national collection that is fed to the troops. and that is essential to their well-being and to their safety. and with all of that, hopefully it will protect them from anything like this in the next few days. >> something the president talked about today, but the last
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year's troops left in early july. it's a heavily fortified compound. the president was asked about it. here it is. >> i asked for their best military judgment. what would be the most efficient way to accomplish the mission. they concluded, the military, that bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on kabul. and, so, i followed that recommendation. >> do you think that we, meaning the u.s., should have waited to leave bagram until the end of the withdrawal? >> well, i'm tempted to think that because it seems to me that with all the space, there was a huge runway that was very useful for military operations. it could have served as basically the launching point for flights from afghanistan to other places. then they could have also used
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the airport which they're of course currently using, not as the launching point for the flights outside afghanistan, but as a collection point for all the people gathering in kabul right now and then take them out of the country. but of course hindsight is 2020 and i don't have all the information that they had, but i do think they could have done something a little differently because the airport is an extremely vulnerable air place as we saw today. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> refugees making their way to the u.s. we will tell you how they are being vetted, who is welcoming them and who's not. that's next. rvana? it feels amazing. when you get a great offer in seconds... (all cheering) it feels too good to be true. it's kicking back and relaxing as we pick up your car. and when you get paid on the spot, it feels like scoring big. you know the feeling.
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while the evacuation of american citizens and afghan allies continues full speed ahead at kabul's airport, refugees already lifted out are we beginning to arrive here in the u.s. many governors rolling out the welcome matt in their states. many raising red flags. are they right to be concerned or just fear mongering? i want to bring in evan perez. evan, thank you so much for joining us. walk us through what is being done to check the backgrounds and the identities of refugees who are coming into this country. >> look, there is an elaborate
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system that is in place, don, that the fbi and homeland security department have a watch list and are checking the names of people coming in and checking the lists from our allies country. look, there is a mess in afghanistan, and the recent events with the bombings sort of illustrate the dangers that are lurking there. but what's been going on, it's been frankly heroic work by some of the people who try to vet those people. look, there are thousands of people who are coming in. a lot of them coming in without paperwork, and that is causing some delays, which i am told is something that, you know, a lot of people are worried about. they are worried about missing something because of the crunch, the time crunch they're under to review all these people. >> but people are coming in, as you said, without papers, but they do eye scans and fingerprints and there is like facial recognition and all these things that -- i mean, this vetting is pretty rigorous,
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correct? as it should be and as americans want it to be. >> it is. and keep in mind, i mean, this country, the united states was in afghanistan for 20 years. we helped set up and funded a bio metric id system that has been rolled out in afghanistan in the last couple of years. that is a tremendous advantage for the screening process compared to, say, earlier refugee flows that came from syria when we had no idea, frankly, what many of those people were. so i think, you know, talking to officials, they feel a lot better about this system, but there is no doubt. i mean, look, there is always a danger that something can happen. >> but also i think that their critics have been saying, well, they found this person who had some sort of tangential connection to some sort of terrorist group. and if they find something like that, that means the system is working, correct? >> it is. it does mean that. so far i think the pentagon has now said more than 50 people's
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names did ping on some watch lists, something that raised a flag. what they did is they investigated those people. in some cases, planes are waiting, people are waiting on planes 8, 10 hours to be screened. there is a tremendous amount of work. the fbi has a command center going 24/7 where they're trying to get these names through so they can review these people before they are allowed into the country. >> yeah. well, we have to see where this goes. a lot of time and a lot of folks they have to process. thank you, evan. i appreciate it. >> thanks. >> heroes, that's what president biden is calling the troops who died in the attacks in kabul as he vows revenge. stay with us. should be ashamed of yourself! just print... please. (crying) do you suffer from cartridge conniptions? be conniption-free, thanks to the cartridge-free epson ecotank printer.
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speaking to the nation tonight, president biden saying that he was outraged, as well as heartbroken at the killing of 13 u.s. service members in the kabul bombing attacks. and calling the fallen troops heroes. >> they were part of the bravest, most capable, the most selfless military on the face of the earth. they are the spine of america the best the country has to offer. >> let's discuss now. cnn presidential historian douglas brinkley joins me.
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thank you for joining us. these are heartbreaking images we are seeing coming out of afghanistan. 13 service members dead. just awful. the white house press secretary said that this is maybe the worst day of a presidency losing service members, like this. you agree with that? >> absolutely, there's nothing like it. you know, at -- it reminded me when i was young in 1983 when ronald reagan was president, and we lost 241 -- um -- u.s. service personnel in beirut, lebanon. and reagan said we got to get out even though we lost 241, we just got to get out of lebanon and not stay there. but having, today, seeing our -- our best marines, 12 of them -- um -- 13th in the army. a number of americans still injured. and the fact that so many of our fellow citizens, don, are still stuck in afghanistan which is -- we're all watching on our tv screens and iphones, just deteriorating at such a rapid clip makes this a kind of livewire story.
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it's not just one event like an oklahoma city bombing but, you know, every minute, we are going to have to pay attention. certainly, between now and tuesday. >> look. what do you think -- i -- i can't imagine, plus, having to make the phone calls, right? but what do you think presidents are dealing with when they make such difficult, life-or-death decisions? >> well, the irony of all this is we haven't had u.s. service personnel killed in afghanistan for 18 months. and joe biden gave us his rationale for getting out. he said it very emphatically. i want no more dead american military personnel. we are getting out. well, low and behold, we're looking at the carnage, the catastrophe that was today with a kind of fearful eye for what may happen tomorrow. so, you know, president biden is -- is -- mournfully talked today about -- about beau, his son, talked about this sort of dark feeling and the empty and hollowness you get.
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he was very resolute about getting revenge, and getting the perpetrators. but he has to be crestfallen about losing this many marines and -- and -- um -- and -- and losing so many of our afghan allies. and in what's turning out to be a very poor strategy, don. we are not going to be studying at west point or the citadel of the biden strategy for afghan evacuation in a positive light. it's all been very helter-skelter this past 12 days. >> yeah. this -- president joe biden is now the fourth president to oversee this particular war in afghanistan. he said that he didn't want to pass this responsibility on to a fifth president. how do you think this is going to go down in history, douglas? >> i could tell right now, that getting out's a good thing. when gerald ford got us out of vietnam, it was a good thing. as i mentioned, reagan got us out of lebanon. it was a good thing. we were there 20 years. in some people's minds, 20 years
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too long. but you are responsible for strategy. and donald trump, you know, made a kind of cockamamie deal with the taliban. biden had to accept it. the timetable got going fast so it's not just biden's white house to -- to blame. but, you know, the state department hadn't properly processed visa applications. the cia estimate said the afghan government would -- would hang in there till october, and that was off. meaning, there seems to be a -- a collapse at every level, except for our brave marines and service personnel at the kabul airport right now. but otherwise, we're looking at a kind of government dysfunction. and because we're in the middle of the covid pandemic, people are getting very weary of dysfunction. but i think biden was right on the principal point of getting us out of afghanistan. but getting us out -- getting us out and through is proving to be very bloody. >> yeah. doug brinkley, thank you, sir.
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i appreciate it. >> thanks, don. >> thank you. and thank you for watching, everyone. tough times that we are dealing with right now. our live coverage continues with chris cuomo. he's right after this very quick break. don't go anywhere. ♪
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hey, everybody. i'm chris cuomo. this is a special, live, late-night edition of "cuomo prime time." and we are doing it because it is 8:30 on friday morning in kabul, where our evacuation mission goes on despite a day of truly profound tragedy. deadly attacks that took the lives of 13 u.s. service members thursday. injured 18 others. some, very seriously. we are also hearing that as


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