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13 U.S. Service Members Killed, 18 Wounded in Kabul Attacks; Former Interpreter Who Helped U.S. Forces Desperate to Escape. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 27, 2021 - 00:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, everybody. I'm Chris Cuomo. This is a special live late-night edition of CUOMO PRIME TIME. And we're 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're also hearing that as many as 60 Afghan citizens were killed, over 130 injured. Many gravely. It's the deadliest day for all of our forces in the country in a decade.

So what will daybreak bring for heroes on the front lines? Again, a lot of Afghans were hurt. A lot of Afghans are afraid. A lot of Afghans and the American troops know that what happened just hours ago claimed by ISIS-K, this new offshoot of a well-known terror organization, could happen again. And crowds were forming, and the desperation to get out is winning over their fear of staying away.

And President Biden is now in revenge.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are outraged as well as heartbroken. For those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this. We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will rescue the Americans. We will get our Afghan allies. And our mission will go on. America will not be intimidated.


CUOMO: The key word that you didn't hear is all. That you will get out all Americans.

Now that's an easier promise to make than all our allies. We are not exactly sure that the White House can say with complete confidence how many Americans there are, let alone how many allies.

Now the president says that terrorists aren't going to stop our mission, but they can make it very bloody and difficult. And the question becomes, how long will you stay in Afghanistan? What will you define as the mission being completed? Will Biden ignore on Tuesday's largely arbitrary deadline to get out?

Now what are the numbers? We're told by the White House, State Department, 1,000 U.S. citizens are believed to be remaining in the country, along with an unknown number of Afghan allies.

What happens now and how do our troops stay safe?

I'm joined now by key members of our White House team, John Harwood and Natasha Bertrand. Thank you both for being with me for this special coverage.

Natasha, I'll start with you. The idea of because of what happened, they will now do things differently. Is that reflected in our reporting? Are they going to be changes made to how the mission is carried out because of the threat?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We don't know yet, Chris, how exactly that mission is going to change, obviously for operational insecurity reasons. The Pentagon has not really wanted to get into details about how they might try to prevent these terrorist attacks.

But what they did say today is that President Biden, the U.S. administration has been in close touch with the Taliban trying to thwart potential terrorist attacks. Obviously today, that did not work. Intelligence has been shared with Taliban partners on the ground.

But clearly, something got through here. Something slipped through the cracks. The Taliban perimeter on the outside was not able to get, to prevent the suicide bomber from getting to that check point, closer to the airport where U.S. service members were screening people.

So right now what we do know, though, is that the Pentagon has been connecting counter-terrorism appreciations throughout the city, trying to prevent ISIS members who are scattered throughout the city, officials believe, from carrying out further attacks.

But again, the general -- General McKenzie said today that they do expect that these threats will continue, whether it's from vehicle- borne IEDs, suicide bonkers, or even rocket attacks.

He even said that ISIS members have been shooting at departing aircraft, so these threats are ongoing. They're persistent. It's really difficult now that we have less of a troop presence on the ground to prevent against those. Again, relying heavily there on the Taliban to provide security.

But the president and the administration have said they are determined still to complete this mission by August 31. There is no surge of troops, for example, over the horizon here.

[00:05:07] CUOMO: The statement, depending on the Taliban to provide security, just gives you a sense of the absurdity of the situation.

John Harwood, in terms of goals, we talked to Natasha about strategy. Will it change? You know, my hope is that we don't see U.S. Marines or any troops on a phalanx out in front of protective cover, as we saw on that choke point where the bombing occurred.

But in terms of the goals, have you heard anything about all Americans will get out before we leave? And what the commitment to allies means in terms of whether they are going to accept, at some point -- they're not saying it, that people will be left behind.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the determination, I think, is that all Americans who want to get out will get out, whether that is by August 31 or after. Some of that, that depends on their decision making. The administration is estimating that about 700 people, Americans, remains in the country and are taking steps to leave. Another 300 may not want to leave. Maybe dual nationals whose families are in Afghanistan and choose to stay.

The pace of evacuations lately has suggested, and some of the special operations that have taken place to go beyond the airport and get some of those Americans, suggests that it is likely there's a good chance that most of those 700 will be out by August 31, but the president said they're not going to stop at that point. And they will still have the capability to send people in on very targeted missions.

In terms of the Afghan allies, that's much more problematic. The president has not made as firm and unequivocal commitments to those SIV holders, the P1 and P2 applicants, those who helped the U.S. war effort.

And in fact, the senior administration official told me the other day that we know that a lot of deserving people are going to be left behind. That would happen under any circumstance when the Taliban took over and the government fell.

So I think the commitment there is not to get everyone. It's to get as many as possible, and it's -- it's possible that some missions would persist for some of those people after August 31, as well.

But as Natasha indicated, this is a president who is convinced deeply that this war is not worth further American lives and is going to pull out troops by August 31, unless there was some exigent circumstance on that day that causes them to remain after that.

CUOMO: And it's going to be a really ugly proposition of who do you want to watch die. Is it going to be troops? Nobody wants to see that. Or the stories that are almost assured to follow once we leave the people who are left behind.

A couple of other beats. The first one is, Natasha, have you heard any of this notion that the United States gave the Taliban lists of people who were supposed to get through the checkpoints? Have you heard about that? BERTRAND: So we haven't independently confirmed that reporting. But

the president did allude to it today in his remarks where he was asked specifically by a reporter to respond to those reports. And he said look, sometimes when we have gotten an indication that certain Americans and Afghans who we believe should be able to get out of the country have been blocked for whatever reason by the Taliban, we have given those Taliban fighters lists of names of these people to convey to them that they need to be allowed through.

He did not say for sure that these were lists that were being given out on a regular basis, for example, that they were just being handed out to the Taliban. But he did say that, in some limited circumstances, the Taliban was getting information about U.S. citizens and Afghans who worked with the United States who are eligible and who have these special immigrant visas to allow them safe passage to the airport.

What we don't know is whether that has worked in all instances, right, because we have heard of multiple cases in which these Afghans have been getting turned away, in addition to U.S. citizens and green card holders and permanent residents.

So the main concern here, obviously, is that once the United States leaves, retribution is going to begin against those Afghan partners based on these lists, if that is indeed what they are, lists. That the administration has given to Taliban fighters.

Obviously, although they are providing a certain amount of security around the airport, there has still been circumstances in which they have sought to avenge against these Afghan allies who worked with the United States.

CUOMO: It's amazing. Once the Taliban fell under the category of terrorists you would not negotiate with, now you're giving them lists of your own people who want to get through.

John Harwood, the idea of ISIS-K. One level is going to be whether or not this expressed animosity between the Taliban and them is really true, because there are reports from the ground there, that some sixpack that the ISIS-K guys are in and among, insinuated among the Taliban numbers there.


But in terms of what the real threat is, that is perceived by the White House. Are they more worried about the Taliban or ISIS-K going forward?

HARWOOD: Well, I think for the next five days, they're more worried about ISIS-K, because as the president indicated today and as General McKenzie indicated, as well, the Taliban and U.S. forces had a significant common purpose, which is to get American troops out of there.

And the Taliban effectively controlled the country, that compels cooperation with them. And to the extent that they want to make sure that Americans leave, it is in their interest to help Americans leave. Obviously, the administration and U.S. military commanders don't entirely trust the Taliban, but they've got to work with them.

In terms of ISIS-K, and on the issue you were just discussing with Natasha, clearly, if ISIS-K had insinuated itself within the Taliban, then that cooperation becomes much more problematic, because then you've got information that's being aggressively used against the interests of U.S. troops. And that is something the administration would want to avoid.

But I do think that, in the immediate instance, they're looking at figuring out what our operational targets that they can strike, how can they degrade ISIS-K's capability. I would expect that would happen after U.S. forces have less left on August 31.

But it's a murky and complicated situation, and they knew enough to know that an attack like this was likely coming. And they say more like this is still to come, but don't do enough to prevent it.

CUOMO: One of the breakouts I want to hear from the numbers, from the Taliban side, is how many of the people they are seeing were seriously injured and killed. They've just been saying Afghan people. They haven't said whether they were members of the Taliban.

John Harwood, thank you very much.

Natasha Bertrand, appreciate you being with us.

All right. Those 1,000 or so American citizens believed to be in Afghanistan tonight include my next guest. What she has seen is as scary as any of the images that you've been watching coming out of Kabul. Why she refuses to leave, next.



CUOMO: For some, the chaos, the carnage in and around the Kabul airport would be a deterrent, something to avoid.

But look at this. When you're desperate, fear becomes a relative assessment. Are you more afraid of what's going to happen if you try to get out, or if you can't get out?

Hundreds of Afghans are still gathered around the perimeter, desperate to flee, no matter the risks. They know that people died where they're standing right now. They know where they are standing right now. There are tens of thousands more, just like them. Do they have hope? What if they have the paperwork? What if they were made promises?

My next guest is an American citizen. She is a former interpreter for the U.S. military. And even she had to go through hoops and hurdles for any promise of getting out. We're going to call her Sarah. Why? Because she's afraid. She's there. She's a woman, and she's someone who worked with Americans. That makes her very, very endangered. All right? We're not going to show her face, just to keep are safe. Sarah, can you hear me?

SARAH, FORMER INTERPRETER FOR THE U.S. MILITARY (via phone): Yes, I do. Hello, Chris.

CUOMO: OK, good. We're not going to show your face, I'm not showing your name, because I care about your safety, and I appreciate what you're doing. I want you to tell people, one, tell us a little bit about the video you sent us a few days ago, just for how serious it is, even before the bombings. Just what the Taliban has been doing to people that you've seen.

SARAH: Actually, we start going to the airport with a few families on August the 16, and we spent two nights there. But we didn't get lucky to get inside.

So, on the 19th, we went back there, early in the morning. And things have been very bad, like it was chaos. I mean, it was very hard for us to get in.

So somehow, we get close to them -- to the gates, but, all of a sudden, we see different units, from Afghan different units. They call it zero one, zero two, zero three. They keep calling us to sit down.

So I sat down with three or four kids that they were with me, and then I got -- someone got shot, right next to me. And all the blood was all over my clothes, and I was really scared. I just wanted to make sure to protect the kids.

So the guy walked away from me, and then as soon as I turn my face, there's another shot, and they just fell on the floor. And he got killed.

CUOMO: Sorry --

SARAH: Right on the spot.

CUOMO: So -- so we just saw -- we just saw you walking, just so I understand, who shot people? Those are a member of the Afghan army? Was that the Taliban? Who did it?

SARAH: It was Afghan -- They think it was Afghan special forces. They were working with Americans. But Americans are not shooting. And in that area, there was no Taliban.

But the question is here. Whose fault it is? But this is the question, whose fault it is. Should they shoot or not to shoot? Because people around that area, they're just trying to push in, to get into the gate. So they have no control but to shoot, because there was no way you control these crowds.

So that is the only reason, they have no choice but to stop shooting. Because the -- none of them are lessening, everyone is there. The military -- the American military, and the Afghan special force have no clue or entry. They're the right person, or the wrong person.


CUOMO: Right.

SARAH: Because everyone is here. Some of them, I feel, just witnessing at myself, I feel like 60 percent of those people were without any recommendation. They never even worked with Americans. But they took opportunity away from those who really worked with Americans.

So you -- it's a chaos. You have no idea what's going on there. Everybody is running around, and it's a sad moment. And I think, trying since August 16, to get these families out of the country, they are failing. Because some of them have approved SIVs. Some of them are pending since 2015, and some of them did not even apply for SIV, because they're living in different provinces. They have no access to Internet, or they have no clue how to fill out these forms.

So I think working around the clock, day and night to fill out their forms, because they're staying in my house. Right now, I have almost 51 people in my house. They're staying here, because they came from different provinces. And my heart goes on for them.

Because I have to be honest, Chris. I want to share something with the world. In Afghanistan, right now, whoever left the country, most of them are people who are big contractors, who have connections, who got sick. Lots of fake recommendation letters, from a lot of different big contractors.

And those people, who really thought, who really supported the U.S. military and different fields, and a battlefield in different provinces, they're all left behind.

And when I came to Afghanistan, not too long ago, I came here. I got stuck to leave the country, and my friends start calling me from the states, including some very close friends who start calling me, Where are you?

I say, I am in Afghanistan. We have family who are leaving the provinces, because their life is in danger, and they're coming on your way. They say, you know what? My house door is open for them, because they were there for us. We are going to be there for them.

CUOMO: So you told -- I heard that it's been very hard for you. Not that you want to talk about it being hard for you. You're talking about everybody else, but people are literally grabbing you by the feet, kissing your feet, begging you for help, and you're not able to provide the help that they need.

And that, you know, the window is getting kind of small for you to leave, even as an American citizen. And you are refusing to leave until you can get more people out?

SARAH: It's just very sad to see them. The women, they have to kiss my feet. It's heartbreaking. And I just can't leave them behind. I have 19 kids in my house, and two of them are disabled. I feed them, I take care of them. I can't leave this country. And since yesterday, I've been waiting for the State Department to

evacuate the families, but they are -- they are saying, right now, they just told me there is no bus available.

Chris, I can't leave -- I can't leave these families. They were there with us. They worked just like I did. And I can't leave them behind. I was there at the end. The government supported me. And I know that the government can help us and support us, because we have a very organized military. I work with them for more than 13, 14 years, and I know they can organize everything and evacuate the right people.

Let's not worry about who's approval this can be, or the spending, but just look at them who worked for them. It doesn't matter about the SIV approval. They have to leave this country. Because a lot of people who came from provinces, they don't even have a place to live. And this is the only shot that they have that they're giving to them, so they can get -- be in a safe place.

How can I leave these kids, go to America, and go to Panera, or Starbucks, and drink my coffee while I'm thinking who's -- I left people behind. Are they going to get killed? I'm -- I still -- I'm a human. I still have a heart inside me. I can't do that.

I did not think as -- normally, I should say that I'm a woman. I'm a mother. And I can't do this. I just -- it's very difficult. I'm not trained to be very hard on people.

I deserve to be, because I look at all these people at their worst. They're all qualified. They all have the recommendation letters, and I want them to go. Right now, I have 60 people waiting, in another place, and I told them please, do not come to my house. I have no room.

They all came from provinces. They came with their kids. They left their homes, because I wouldn't be -- I wouldn't allow myself to talk of why they left their homes, because I don't feel comfortable. Because I'm in danger myself.

But I want the government and everybody in America who supported this war for 20 years, let's just hope those people who supported the military, the service members. It's very important for us to support them now. They need us. They were there for us yesterday, and today, we're here for them.


I personally -- I'm here for them. The last moment, that I can get them help. Because I will not walk away on them. I will not leave them behind.

CUOMO: Sarah, I wish there were more that we could do to help you. You know, as you know, there's just no system set up for this. It's very hard. And, you know, you have been in contact with Ishmael Kondo (ph), who we've had on the show, and is in Seattle trying to work with people to help. They've been filing papers, working with the U.S. senator, but there

-- you know, there is no real system for this. It's all being done, kind of in the moment.

But you know, my promise to you remains. You know, we've been in contact over the last few days to try to find ways to get your story out, and to help you tell your story about what's happening. And our commitment to that will continue all the way through.

If there's any moment, we're getting attention to what you're trying to do, and who you're trying to work with, is helpful. Just let us know. And we will try to knock on any doors that we can for you. You just need to help us with the direction.

SARAH: And Chris, I also wanted to mention, I have my daughter. She's recently diagnosed with brain cancer, she's working around the clock with me, to contact different POCs, different colonels. And I'm very proud of Colonel Hooper who is supporting me. Major Marissa (ph), who's supporting me. And you know, with all these people who are here, and my daughter is working with me, with congressmen, with senators to support us and help us do their part.

I am proud of her and very thankful to all those who are supporting me from the states. Please, we need to help those people who served us and supported us.

CUOMO: I hear you. I believe you. And I appreciate what you're doing, one American to another. And let us know how to help, OK, Sarah?

SARAH: Thank you so much. Thank you for your time. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. God bless.

SARAH: Keep us in your prayers.

CUOMO: I will. God bless and be safe. And we will stay in contact every day.

Let's take a break. We'll be right back.



CUOMO: So you've got a two-pronged effort here, right? Got to get out the good guys. Got to get after the bad guys now. What does that mean? Does that mean going back in? Highly, highly doubtful.

But that's up to President Biden. He says he has plans to strike back at ISIS-K for what they did. Killing scores of people, including U.S. service members, at least 13; 18 others injured, some very badly. Remember, this has all been changing in real time, right? Just days ago, he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: We made clear to the Taliban that any attack, any attack on our forces or disruption or our operations in the airport will be met with swift and forceful response.


CUOMO: Right, but not against the Taliban in this case, right? Because ISIS-K is supposedly their enemy, right?

But we're hearing from the ground that people believe that the ISIS guys are mixed in with the Taliban guys. What's the reality? Do we even know? Do we even have time to find out?

So what will retaliation look like? Let's bring in Bob Baer and retired Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis. Gentlemen, thank you for helping me, especially at the hour. Appreciate you.

Bob, let me start with you. The president had to say that. When American is attacked or any of our service men and women are hurt, you expect the commander-in-chief to knuckle up. But how real is that threat?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: It's not very real, Chris. The problem is the Islamic State as you said, is mixed in with the Taliban and even the Taliban don't know who they are. These suicide bombers can manufacture the stuff at home. They don't have bases. They don't have a command structure like we know. Sometimes they're not up on cellphones.

So to strike back at them is going to be nearly impossible. I know we'd like to, but we just can't.

CUOMO: Colonel, were you able to hear the interview with the woman we had in the last segment?


CUOMO: Man, that kind of desperation. How -- do we have the logistical means and this kind of window to get any kind of process that efficiently can get out any significant number of the people who remain?

DAVIS: I think it's a remarkable achievement where we have gotten so far. I mean, we're -- I think we've just gone over 100,000, and you know when you've got to put that into context, with the original plan, in fact with August 31 even mentioned as a date, was to get up to 2,500 troops by that date.

And then all hell broke loose when the Afghan government and military disintegrated. And now, all of a sudden, it turned into an evacuation. And the fact that we've gotten this many out is really a testament to how fast the military can respond on the fly to a really world-class emergency. So the problem is that clock is ticking. And you know, it's harder to

get in. And I don't know how many more are going to get out. But my heart bleeds for them. And I also have a friend who's one of those trying to get it. So I could feel for what she's saying.

CUOMO: You know, that's a fair point, Bob. Look, you can make the case very easily that the Biden administration did not handle this exit well. But the rapid collapse did create an evacuation scenario that wasn't envisioned.

BAER: Well, absolutely.

CUOMO: Go ahead, Bob.

BAER: Yes. I mean, here's the problem, Chris. We've got to get to the problem. Kabul Airport is indefensible. I don't know whose decision that was. I'd flown in there. I've been to Bagram. Bagram was defensible.

CUOMO: Bagram is like a city, by the way, for the people at home. It's about 40 miles away from where they are. It's remote. There was a decision made during the Trump and Biden administration. Finally, in July they closed it. But it's like a city. OK, Bagram Air Base is literally like a city. Go ahead.

BAER: I've driven in there. You can't get suicide bombers. Maybe to an outpost like Vieta (ph), it was defensible. That was a mistake, doing that, and Kabul is basically in a city. And it's really hit me hard, these guys that died.

I was in Beirut in the Eighties when the Marines got hit, when the embassy got hit. In '83, it was indefensible. And this is what really has hit me hard. You just can't put these people, soldiers in a mob like this, because suicide bombers, you don't know who they are.

There was a horrible mistake made here. And we need to get a grip on this. And our military can fight battles, but it cannot fight mobs that are wearing suicide vests. It's not their training. It's impossible to do.

CUOMO: Colonel, last word to you about the decision to not use Bagram for this, and to do it out of Kabul and what the thinking was at that time and why it's different now.

DAVIS: Yes. I think you've just got to look at the timeline and all of this, and the original plan was to have the 2,500 personnel out. And the reduction plan where we were slowly shutting things down, that made sense then, because nothing in that plan said, hey, the Afghan military has been incinerated and the Taliban is going to roll up on it.

So they felt they had absolutely plenty of time to be able to get that out. Once it became clear that the military fell apart, the -- Bagram was already gone. I mean, we'd already turned it over like a month or so before that. So we can't undo that. And unfortunately, that's just where we are. CUOMO: Bob Baer, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, thank you very much,

gentlemen. I appreciate you.

BAER: My pleasure. Thank you.

CUOMO: Front lines. Back channels. What can be done from a diplomatic standpoint in this rescue mission? Now, what does that mean? That means what about this plan after we leave? Is there really a reasonable expectation of anything good happening? Next.



CUOMO: A few minutes ago, you heard the harrowing experience of an American citizen who's refusing to leave Kabul because there are too many people, she says, who are just as worthy to get out as she is.

Many of our Afghan allies are having a tough time. Even if they worked with the government, with the military, even if they were promised. Even though Biden renewed his commitment to help them, he admitted that not everyone will likely be able to get out.

So what does not mean for after? How will we be able to control anything after?

Rina Amiri is a senior fellow at the NYU center for global affairs. Her family fled Taliban rule in Afghanistan in the Nineties.

Thank you very much for joining us.

RINA AMIRI, SENIOR FELLOW, NYU CENTER FOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS: Thank you very much, Chris, for having me.

CUOMO: So I don't know if you are able to hear our interview with Sarah, but that's not her real name. But you know, we're trying to protect her. She's got 50 people staying in her house. There's another 60 she's trying to help. She says, you know, they're all SIV eligible. These are the families and the people who helped the military, who were promised, and they're not going to get out.

After America leaves, what is the reasonable expectation of an agreement with the Taliban to continue to allow people to leave?

AMIRI: Thank you, Chris.

First, I want to clarify. My family left before the Taliban, but we know what it is to leave your home behind with nothing on your back and how terrifying the prospect of that is. And that is where thousands of Afghans are. And the spacing across uncertain prospects, a tremendous fear for themselves and their families.

The -- unfortunately, the administration is going to have very little at its disposal, very little leverage for the Taliban once it leaves. And that's why there's a hope that it will continue to have as many advancements as possible to leave, including women and human rights defenders.

After the U.S. leaves, I think -- I think the hope is that they can have regional actors who are now in a much stronger position than the U.S. Even right now, Qatar and the UAE and Pakistan have been helpful in the evacuations, that type of work with the regional actors will be really important.

Bringing in the United Nations to help will be really important. Their leadership is critical in a situation like this. The freedom of movement is a law protected, is a right protected by international law.

And right now, Afghans fear for their lives, and those that fear for their lives should have the right to leave. We should have humanitarian quarters (ph), both for freedom of movement, as well as for humanitarian purposes.

We need to get the region to open up their borders, provide visas, and to just create the possibility for these people to -- to leave with their families if that is what they want. The Taliban have made that commitment and they should honor it. And we should use whatever leverage that remains under key relationships that need to be maintained in order to enable that.

CUOMO: Two dynamics. One, the U.N., we know that there is staff there, but it's a small-scale staff and that raises the question: Why isn't the U.N. a dominant force in this situation right now? Why isn't there a huge force there as a peacekeeping thing?

Secondly, how much of a motivator will money be with the Taliban in terms of, I know it's not politically palatable, but as a practicality, literally paying for the access to getting people out?

AMIRI: Very early on, and over the last 10 years, it was determined that there would be no peacekeeping prospects. Because largely it was a case that this was a situation where the war on terror determined the parameters of how internationals engage in Afghanistan.

And U.S. forces, fighting against the Taliban is, essentially, you know, the understanding, and the framework of this war, and the outcome of this piece.

The very middle of this was owned by United Nations, and the way that a lot of other countries that the U.N. engages in have. There is a very unique situation.

Now, there is an opportunity to bring the U.N. and Afghanistan, the mandate is being reviewed in September. And this is the time to call on the secretary-general to invoke the leadership of the U.N., and ensure that it's going to be well-resourced.

Because Afghanistan is not only facing a political crisis, a governance crisis, a humanitarian catastrophe. And for that, the role of the U.S. has absolutely been pivotal.

In terms of money and how important that is for the Taliban. I it's unfair. It's -- the leverage that the U.S. still has is diplomacy and recognition. Money, and U.N. sanctions.

And in terms of the money, the degree to which, you know, sanctioning a country oftentimes ends up hurting the population --

CUOMO: Right.

AMIRI: -- when it comes to economic sanctions, unless you do it in a very targeted way that hurts the leadership rather than the population. And that, I think, would be the critical factor in how -- in how that leverages is used.

CUOMO: Nina Amiri, thank you so much. And just to be clear, your family fled Afghanistan with nothing but the clothes on their back, just before the Taliban had come into control.

So, your family knows the hardship. And you'll have learned, and studied, and now examined the risk of the present day, which is very real to the people who are left behind, especially the women. So we will stay on the story, and thank you for your perspective.

AMIRI: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So we have an Afghanistan war veteran ahead, to get his perspective on what it was like for the troops there. And how does that shape his feeling about how long they should be exposed to the threat that just killed 13 of them and injured 18 more? Next.



CUOMO: It's almost 930 in the morning now in Kabul, the morning after terrorists killed 13 of our troops, injuring 18 others, some seriously. Killed more than 60 Afghan civilians, well over 100 who were injured.

This evacuation mission is going to be very dangerous, and there is every expectation that we haven't seen the last of potential bloodshed.

Let's bring in someone who once served in the war, for perspective on the way forward. Retired Army Major Richard Ojeda, national spokesman for No Dem Left Behind.

First of all, thank you for your service, and thank you for your perspective on this situation. In light of the attacks, and the ongoing threat, what do you think is the right way forward for America here?

RICHARD OJEDA, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, NO DEM LEFT BEHIND: Well, I mean, I think that we have to continue doing what we're doing. I mean, right now, this is a herculean effort to be able to help get civilians, Americans, interpreters, their families, and Afghan refugees, out of the country.

I mean, what has happened over the past few days, over 100,000, you know, people have been flown to safety. And we're on track for another hundred thousand. And I think that is a phenomenal event that's taking place.

And, of course, you know, we can't control when things like, you know, ISIS you know, sneaks in, and does what they do. But I think that we need to continue down this path until, you know, we can get these people out.

CUOMO: Where do you put the blame for the problems of this mission?

OJEDA: Well, I won't put the blame on President Biden. I think that President Biden inherited this. And once again, we're talking about what's taking place right now is absolutely amazing. You know, people are being -- being flown out at numbers that no one could have ever imagined.

You know, this started with, you know, President Trump, you know, making a deal with the Taliban. And President Biden has extended to August the 31st. But I think that we're doing exactly what needs to happen. I think that there were mistakes that have been made.

But at the end of the day, I still believe that we're doing the right thing. There's never a good time to end an unwinnable war. But we need to get out of there.

CUOMO: Now, we need to get out of there, but here's the problem. If you leave people behind, and they are identified as friendlies, and women, we are going to hear horror stories coming out of this country. Unless it is true that the Taliban can be trusted to make the deal, that going forward, they still allow people to leave without U.S. military presence.

Do you buy into that? And how do you balance the need to leave with what kind of pain will be suffered by those who were left behind when you do?

OJEDA: Well, you know, this is a rough situation. It really is. We want to try to get as many people out as we can, and maybe there's an opportunity for us to be able to work something out after August the 31st, to allow people to still be able to leave the country.

You know, I will tell you, I've been working for years. For over 11 years, I've been writing letters to try to help my interpreters and their families.

You know, yesterday morning, I woke up to six photographs of two of my interpreters, their brothers, their parents, and their wives, and their children, on a C-17, leaving, going to Qatar. And I will tell you, I nearly -- I nearly shed tears of joy.


You know, I still have an interpreter that was supposed to be leaving today, but because of this blast, now, it's unsure if he's going to be able to get out of there. And I'm worried about that.

I've got an interpreter that made it to Arizona, and for the past four years, he has been denied the ability to have his wife and child.

How do we deny the wife and child of somebody who stood on our side in combat?

CUOMO: I think --

OJEDA: This is a rough --

CUOMO: I hear that. It's rough. And I think the question is, how do we make good on a promise that we know we have to keep? That's the challenge for America.

Richard Ojeda, thank you for your service, And I appreciate your perspective on the situation. Thank you, sir.

OJEDA: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. And thanks to you for watching. Please stay tuned. Our coverage of the Kabul terror attack will continue, here on CNN.


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