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Interview With Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi; New COVID Variant?; Afghanistan Withdrawal Aftermath; Interview with Pandefense Advisory CEO Larry Brilliant; Interview with author and former U.S. Marine Elliot Ackerman. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired September 01, 2021 - 13:00:00   ET




Here's what's coming up.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It's about ending an era of major military

operations to remake other countries.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The clearest sign yet that America may not be back, but pulling back.

Former U.S. military adviser and Afghanistan expert Sarah Chayes discusses what's at stake.

And the view from Pakistan, the Taliban's strongest ally, with former Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi in Islamabad.

Then: The WHO identifies a new COVID variant of interest, as cases surge amongst the unvaccinated. Epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant joins me for a

reality check.


ELLIOT ACKERMAN, FORMER U.S. MARINE: When you're getting calls from someone who you fought alongside saying, "My brother, my cousin, he cannot

get out, please, I need your help," you're going to help.

AMANPOUR: Hari Sreenivasan talks to a former Marine about how America's military is processing this retreat.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

The future of Afghanistan and American foreign policy lie in the balance, as President Biden declares his withdrawal marks not just an end to that

engagement, but to the whole era of trying to remake other countries.

The Taliban also remains defiant.


MAULVI ZAKERULLAH, TALIBAN (through translator): In the future, the infidels do not need to come and destroy our land. In the future, God

willing, we will go to their land and destroyed their countries, sometimes more than they did to our country.


AMANPOUR: The Taliban staged a military parade in Kandahar, the conservative urban heartland in the south, showing off American-supplied

vehicles and weapons seized when Afghan forces fled.

And a parade of international officials are now beating a path to the Taliban's political leadership in Doha, Qatar, trying to map out a future

relationship. Incredible to witness this change.

And Sarah Chayes first went to Afghanistan as a reporter after 9/11 and later returned to work there with aid agencies in Kandahar. She has also

advised several U.S. military officials, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And her latest book is titled "On Corruption in


She's joining me now to explain the crucial role this has played in derailing the U.S. mission.

Sarah Chayes, welcome from Paris.

So, let me ask you. You know them so well. You were there for so long. And I have heard American military officials say the Taliban used these last 20

years very, very cleverly and strategically. It didn't just happen overnight, this last couple of weeks and the fall.

What do you attribute it? How do you see the steps that were taken that led to where we are now?

SARAH CHAYES, FORMER ADVISER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE: Well, what I would say is, it's not so much especially the Taliban who used

this time so strategically. It was the Pakistani military intelligence agency, which is the organization that really ginned up the Taliban in the

first place back in the early 1990s.

And starting about 2003, I began seeing signs that the ISI, which is the acronym of that agency, that the ISI was reconstituting the Taliban. And,

at that time, no Taliban could even stay inside Afghanistan. They would run in, do one attack, and then run back out across the border.

And then, as time went on, I watched quite a sophisticated campaign plan develop that responded well to where NATO forces had positioned themselves.

And I watched that develop over a matter of years. And it was sometimes discouraging to speak to NATO officers or U.S. officers who were saying,

oh, the Taliban are just opportunistic. They're like water in a plastic bag. You squish it in one place and it pops out somewhere else.

And I said, no, they're not. They're actually executing quite a strategic plan. And I guess I'd say, in terms of today, the same thing is true. Look

how -- look at the simultaneous surrender and defeat of Afghan government forces and civilian leaders all around the country almost at the same time.

Look at the focus on the north first and then the south. Look at the people who flooded across the border from Pakistan into the border town of Spin

Buldak. And I would say, do we really think that this ragtag militia, as we have been told the Taliban were, that they are conducted such an effective

campaign with such obvious planning?


I don't think so. I think they had help from the Pakistani military intelligence agency.

AMANPOUR: So, let's quickly -- and many do actually believe that. And you said you interviewed so many Taliban in the day back in the '90s. They did

have Kandahari accents, but you knew where they had come from. And it was a particular mission by Pakistan.

So, why? Now the question is why. Why after 20 years would Pakistan still throw it's lot in with them?

CHAYES: It was a way to gain at least proxy control or client, patron control over the territory of Afghanistan.

What the Pakistani government did not want was a healthy, happy, forward- looking democratic Afghanistan, because the major Afghan ethnic group, the Pashtuns, also have a large population inside Pakistan. And so if the

Pashtuns in Afghanistan were enjoying a forward-looking, prosperous country, well, maybe their cousins and brothers-in-law across the border in

Pakistan would start demanding an end to the military dictatorship in that country.

And then there's this rivalry with India that Pakistan is always raising as an issue.

AMANPOUR: And, of course, today, as we speak, you have got Pakistani officials, you have got Indian officials, as I said, British officials, all

of them in Doha trying to figure out how to deal with the Taliban.

Now, given what President Biden said, and given the strategic layout that you're presenting--


AMANPOUR: Well, hold on a second.

What does it mean for America and for the region that Biden has said, that's it, under my watch, no more remaking America -- other countries, no

more nation-building? What messages does this send?

CHAYES: First of all, I don't think we ever did any nation-building.

I was there on the ground. And I was also there within at the top levels of the U.S. interagency. And there was a constant refusal to address the most

important nation-building issue, which was the integrity of the Afghan government, and how much it was actually acting in Afghan citizens'

interests, as opposed to the personal interests of members of the government and their cronies.

So I have to say, I didn't see a lot of nation-building. And that's always what we told ourselves. But, in fact, I mean, I have to say it's

distressing to me to look at it this way, but, in the United States, we have a lot of top executives of firms like defense contracting firms and

pharmaceutical firms and financial investment firms and real estate magnates and fossil fuel magnates.

And they cycle in and out of government. And look at the -- look at the policies that they have promulgated, right? It's like two lost wars, a

climate crisis, a financial meltdown that almost brought down the world economy, and failures like that.

And I guess, unfortunately, I would say, yes, maybe we did remake Afghanistan in our image, but that's not an image that I'm very proud of.

And Afghans certainly were not happy with it.

AMANPOUR: What made you go so deep into the issue of corruption? Obviously, for the last 20 years, we have been told how corrupt the Afghan

players were, particularly Afghan government. It had so much money from the international contractors and the aid and all the rest of it.

This is what John Sopko, who was the head of the government accounting office for Afghanistan, told us recently.


JOHN SOPKO, SPECIAL INSPECTOR GENERAL FOR AFGHANISTAN RECONSTRUCTION: Our system -- and we talk about that -- is in place because of rotations of

staff, because of the appropriations cycle to report success.

And there's an incentive -- I use the term not only hubris, but mendacity. There's an incentive by our generals and by senior officials to tell

Congress only the good news.


AMANPOUR: Sarah Chayes, he uses the word hubris and mendacity to talk about his own government, his own military and the adventure in

Afghanistan, and basically saying that nobody wanted to hear bad news over the last 20 years.


Where did -- how did you start focusing on the corruption issue as done by the United States, and how did that play out to where we are today?

CHAYES: I was asked to focus on it by my Afghan neighbors starting 2002.

I was going to set up -- I was in the process of setting up a radio station. I was with some young people just asking them what they wanted to

hear on the radio. And we started talking about security. But, to them, it wasn't about the Taliban. The Taliban were gone. It was the militia

fighters who were wearing U.S. Army uniforms who were violently shaking them down at street corners back in 2002.

And so my Afghan neighbors were beseeching me to explain to the American government that the corruption of the government that we were supporting in

Afghanistan was driving people right straight into the arms of the Taliban.

And I tried. I -- every way at every level I could, I tried to bring that message through. And there's another point that's important to understand.

It's not just the amount of money that may have been pilfered by different officials at different levels.

It's also the humiliation. When a police officer shakes you down in the middle of the road, he doesn't do it politely. It's contemptuous. And as we

all know, Afghans are proud. And after a while, you're a young Afghan man, you have been shaken down in those ways enough times, you want to shoot the


Well, in Kandahar, there were Taliban all around. It was almost hard not to join the Taliban. So I think -- and you didn't need a majority of the

population to take up arms. You just needed people to say, this government is not worth my taking a risk to defend.

And I think we have absolutely seen the results of that in the last couple of weeks.

AMANPOUR: And flash back or forward also to -- it's one thing for the Afghan government to be not worth defending, as you point out, but, again,

you write some extraordinary stuff about how the United States officially decided to just ignore the issue of corruption.

Let me read a little bit about what you have said. In 2011, when the U.S. decided would no longer address corruption in Afghanistan, you write: "It

was now explicit policy to ignore one of the two factors that would determine the fate of all our efforts. That's when I knew today that the

fall of Kabul was inevitable."

Why would they take that categoric decision? It just seems so un-American?

CHAYES: You know, I think -- and this is where I hold civilian, top civilian officials accountable.

I think they really were afraid that it was going to blow up into the newspapers. President Karzai at the time was very deft at making a big

fuss. And at that time, there were two wars going on. The Obama administration had other priorities. And there was a very strong feeling

that I received that the White House did not want Afghanistan to blow up in President Obama's face.

And I also have to say that, if the U.S. government decided to address corruption, well, that was going to be a job for civilians to take on,

right? Men and women in uniform, they're not particularly -- that's not what they know how to do. And those aren't their counterparts.

And I, frankly, don't think the civilian officials wanted to take it on. They didn't want to shoulder that responsibility. It was actually easier to

kind of foist everything off onto the military, and then blame the military.

AMANPOUR: Sarah Chayes, do you think there was another way? And I asked you because I spoke to Rula Ghani, who was the first lady. I spoke to her

earlier this year.

And she also complained quite, quite strongly that, as you know better than I, 75 to 80 percent of Afghan funding and public services is based on

foreign assistance and all that, that comes outside with a deployment like this.

But she said it was often going into the wrong pocket. This is what she told me.


RULA GHANI, FORMER AFGHAN FIRST LADY: The NGO model is not a sustainable one, because it's a cyclical model. And at the end of every cycle, the NGO

people have to go around to their begging bowl and ask for more funds.

They still can receive funds from abroad, but they should be -- they should be accountable to the people they are supposed to be serving.


AMANPOUR: Well, there's Rula Ghani obviously sitting next to Ashraf Ghani, who, as we know, fled on Sunday the 15th, when Kabul fell.


But given your work in NGOs, given what's inevitably going to have to happen -- Afghanistan is going to have to be helped, the people, by foreign

assistance, as half the population lives in poverty -- is there another way? Or are we looking at endless more money going into a dark hole, if,

indeed, that's what the international community does with the Taliban?

CHAYES: Well, first of all, I'd like to say, with respect to the Taliban, I don't think the international community should turn the spigots back on.

I mean, as we have just been discussing, even when we were more or less in charge of how that money was distributed, not much of it made its way --

not enough of it made its way to the ordinary people. Well, what about the Taliban? How can we expect that they would not do exactly what the Western-

backed government did and put the money in their own pockets?

So, I would say, as the West is considering recognition or providing resources again, treat the Taliban like a hostile country, the way you

would a treaty, an arms control treaty, and include verification provisions, that the conditions that the Taliban have announced they would

uphold are, in fact, upheld.

And that means independent verification the ground. And that's what I really wish had happened under the Western-backed government.

AMANPOUR: All right.

CHAYES: The different way of approaching it would have been more oversight. It's not the NGO model that's the problem. It's the lack of


AMANPOUR: Certainly lessons learned.

Sarah Chayes, we will see if, in fact, they are put into practice going forward.

Now, as we said, one country that has a lot at stake as the Taliban takes over is neighboring Pakistan. And my next guest says there is much to fear

if Afghanistan descends again into chaos and civil war.

Maleeha Lodhi is the country's former ambassador to the U.S., the U.K. and the United Nations. And she's joining me now from Islamabad.

Maleeha Lodhi, welcome back to our program.

I guess, first and foremost, I don't know whether you heard Sarah Chayes, but most of the world does believe and knows that the Taliban were a very

close product of your country.

Do you regret that? And 20 years later, do you wish your country had done something different?

MALEEHA LODHI, FORMER PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: I think, Christiane, we have to put this question in its proper perspective.

I can understand the instinct to blame somebody for what has been a U.S.- led Western debacle in Afghanistan; 20 years of a war waged by the most powerful army in the world led to the outcome that you have seen with

President Biden saying there is no military solution.

And he's absolutely right. That's what my country said at the very start of this war, that there would never be a military solution. And as for

Pakistan's role, yes, we kept our channel of communication open with the Taliban.

And if we hadn't, Pakistan would not have been able to play the constructive role that it played in helping in the sequence of events that

led to the Doha agreement between the United States and the Taliban.

Plus, the fact that the U.S. military had no casualties, no combat casualties for a year-and-a-half since the signing of the Doha agreement

was also in large part due to Pakistan's role in persuading and coaxing and nudging the Taliban towards negotiations and towards a political solution.

So, I can tell you Pakistan has the most to gain from peace and stability in Afghanistan. And, as you said, it also has the greatest to fear if

Afghanistan descends into more fighting, another bout of civil war.

AMANPOUR: All right.

LODHI: So, here we are.

And I think it's important -- it's important not to keep obsessing about the past, but to focus on the future and to see how the international

community can contribute to peace and stability in Afghanistan. There are heavy stakes for everyone, not just Pakistan.

AMANPOUR: OK, so that's the big question, Maleeha Lodhi.

Yes, Ambassador, that's the big question. And the fact of the matter is, there was a military solution, and the Taliban won. That was a military

solution, and they won.

And you're now saying that you helped the United States. You -- I think I'm reading through the lines, that it was clear that the U.S. wasn't being

attacked over the last 18 months of the Doha agreement.

So what do you want to see going forward? What will stop Afghanistan descending into another civil war? And then don't forget, even though you

don't like to point the finger of blame, your own prime minister has said that the Taliban has delivered Afghanistan from slavery.


AMANPOUR: What do you want to see there, and what can they deliver?


LODHI: I think, Christiane, what we want to see is peace and stability, because my country has suffered through four decades of war, strife, and

foreign military interventions in Afghanistan.

And the fallout is before you. I mean, you have been to this part of the world. You have traveled through Pakistan and to Afghanistan, and you have

seen. We had to deal with refugees, millions of them. We had to deal with a security challenge. We also had to deal with the problem of drugs. I mean,

we had to deal with the witch's brew of problems that came from that.

And I think what we would like to see in Afghanistan and what we'd like to see the international community do in Afghanistan is to remain united, and

to engage with the new government whenever it's formed and to ensure that Afghanistan, we don't see Afghanistan going into state collapse. That can


Look, the economic situation there is very dire. So, as far as Pakistan is concerned, we, like other neighboring countries, would also like the

Taliban to hold firm to the commitments that they have made to the international community.

For example, they have said that they will not allow their soil to be used against attacks on any other country in the region or, in fact, in the

world. So I think that's what we'd like to hold them to.

But in order to ensure that they are able to deliver on their promises, we need to also ensure that they're not pushed to the wall, and that they are

encouraged, because international engagement so far seems to have had at least an initial moderating effect.

AMANPOUR: So, Ambassador Lodhi, you're a woman. You know firsthand that the biggest fear there is amongst the women, amongst many other people, of

course, but for their rights to be dismissed, as they were before.

I guess what I want to know is, from you -- you have sat at all the negotiating tables in the world of diplomacy since 9/11. Who is going to

teach the Taliban, who have only taken territory and who have never governed, who are going to teach them how to do all the things that you

have just asked?

And what is the world's reaction going to be? Because we have already had very senior Western and other officials -- you just heard Sarah Chayes --

basically saying we should not engage with them, it's a terrorist organization, they must be held accountable to the international norms.

How is that going to happen, do you think?

LODHI: Look, for a start, engagement has made possible the evacuation that took place.

And, as you know, my country also helped to evacuate over 10,000 people. Now, if the West had not engaged with the Taliban, it would have been next

to impossible for them to evacuate themselves, their soldiers and their nationals and their partners, so to speak.

So I think engagement does pay. The international community has asked -- I mean, amongst its three key asks are the following, one, counterterrorism,

make sure that all these violent groups on your soil are not going to attack anyone. Secondly, form an inclusive government, because Afghanistan

is ethnically divided.

And if there isn't a broad-based government, the danger is always there of Afghanistan descending into another bout of civil war or chaos. And, number

three -- and Pakistan is very much part of this international consensus of all these three, four points, respect human rights, and respect women's


Look, I do not wish to have Afghanistan take a path that is any different from the path that many of us in developing countries are taking. And I

think what we have been hearing from the Taliban are a set of promises and commitments, and also that they don't want to go back to the dark days.

Now, we hope that they will not go back to the dark days. There's no guarantee, of course, but I think that the international community should

hold firm, but also stay united.

But, first, Christiane, if the international consensus begins to fray, then I think it will provide wiggle room to the Taliban to back out of these

promises. But they must be held to these promises. And that's what Pakistan would--


AMANPOUR: And we will be watching. And we will be watching Pakistan's influence now in the second 20 years of the Taliban, and hoping that what

they say is not just a one-off for the moment.

Ambassador, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, thank you very much for joining us.

And we turn now to the pandemic, of course, which still rages around the world. As cases surge in the United States, the E.U. is recommending a new

ban on nonessential travel for Americans. At the same time, the WHO has identified a new COVID variant of interest, the Mu variant was first

identified in Colombia, Latin America. And it's since been found in 39 other countries. And it could be more resistant to vaccines.


Epidemiologist Dr. Larry Brilliant helped defeat smallpox back in the 1970s. And he's joining me now from California with his expertise and his

wisdom on these matters.

So, Dr. Larry Brilliant, with these variants, and trying to get a reality check of what's going on right now, and hearing how E.U. might be putting

in various travel bans and the like, what is the thing that's most concerning you right now, as we speak today, with the current surge?

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CEO, PANDEFENSE ADVISORY: First of all, welcome back, Christiane. It's really wonderful to have you.

The new variant spelled Nu is the Greek letter Nu. It may get confusing because it is the newest variant. But even that little anecdote, I think,

reveals what we're seeing, which is a virus, which is continually making, creating, selecting for new variants that have a particular set of


They are either much more transmissible, the Delta variant being perhaps the most transmissible virus we have ever seen in living memory. And the

new variant, which seems to be selecting for ways in which to defeat our vaccines and our previous immunity, I think that's the thing, which has to

worry us the most, is this perpetual spinning off of variants, and particularly because we're not really sure how that happens.

We think it happens when there's an event. It happens sometimes when one individual is immunocompromised, and has the variant or the virus within

them for a long time. And just like the old days of HIV/AIDS, if somebody had tuberculosis, they would create a very resistant form of tuberculosis,

somehow, the virus seems to do something not exactly like that, but similar.

And the other kind of event is when you have something like the Kumbh Mela in India, some huge event with lots of cases all happening all at once.

Variants occur under circumstances like that. But even without those, we have variants--


AMANPOUR: Yes, sorry.

So, obviously, for people who are people in their homes, very human concerns are right now, I guess, for kids going back to school. Let me just

read a couple of things. There's been four to five times increase in COVID cases amongst children in the last month alone in the United States.

And respiratory viruses amongst them are surging. There could be flu as a wild card. Schools don't have mask mandates, and obviously kids under a

certain age don't get vaccines.

What -- do you see this as a potential sort of super-spreader when everybody starts going back to school?

BRILLIANT: Oh, you put your finger on it.

I do see it. I do worry about it. All of the models before we came to the end of the summer in the United States and elsewhere suggests that the

Delta variant was so transmissible that we would get a rapid up and a rapid down, a kind of inverted V kind of epidemic curve.

And that's continued elsewhere in the world, where we are seeing the Delta variant burn hot and quick and then move on. In the United States, we

predicted the same thing. The models all showed that, but now we're plateauing.

And I think that the reason we're plateauing, we must look at the fact that, this week, next week, in a one-month period, 100,000 schools are

opening up, 100,000 schools are opening up, and most of them don't have vaccine mandates, they don't have mask mandates. And for these young

children who we used to think didn't get or carry the virus, they certainly do get, carry and spread the Delta variant.

We're putting them in harm's way. We're not thinking of these kids first who can't be vaccinated yet, are not being masked in some states, can't be

protected with testing because it's too expensive, really, for public schools.

So I'm very worried that that -- what we expected to be that rapid up and down from the Delta variant is running into an event. And this event is the

opening of schools.

AMANPOUR: Which is a shame, because you say it could actually have done the right thing, had it been dealt with in the right way.

So let me just quickly ask you, because vaccine mandates, obviously, it's a big issue. Since the FDA formally approved all these vaccines, we have seen

an uptick in vaccines. That must hearten you.

And does it make you think that there will be more effort and acceptance of vaccine mandates, let's say, in the United States?

BRILLIANT: Yes, it does.

We have about 90 million unvaccinated people in the United States. Maybe half or 40 percent of those are kids, soon I hope we'll be able to get the


The problem that we face is we've always talked in the past about herd immunity and we thought it was something like 60, 70, 80 percent, but with

a variant like Delta, herd immunity approaches 100 percent, 95 percent. These are almost unapproachable levels. So, we have to, first of all, get

as much vaccine as we can to the rest of the world. We are not an island, especially not in a pandemic. And the very first thing we need to do is to

make sure that there's an equitable the amount of vaccine, at least as a baseline, all countries of course, will not be able to get the same amount

of vaccine.

And the second thing, Christiane, we need to do what we have done historically for all the other major diseases, we need to have a global

plan. We need to have global leadership. A global leader. A place we can point to. And those are things which I think are critical right now.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about that because in conversation before this interview, you said that, you know, public health officials,

government officials, the likes, will look back. And I think you also are concerned about some of the failures. And some of the failures are, you

say, viruses will do what virus do. But we have had it in our hands several times to stop this pandemic at various stages. And you list Wuhan and you

list, you know, the United States and you go on.

Just sum up for us how we could have done this differently.

BRILLIANT: I think that there's a whole community of epidemiologists that are predicting that there'd be an epidemic, a pandemic like this and have

said for 30 years, it's not if, it's when. I think that we've got a lot of it right.

The one thing we never got right or even thought of when we did the movie "Contagion" or we've had countless meetings, we didn't expect government

ineptitude and we didn't expect political entry into the response.

In Wuhan, when the Chinese government allowed millions of Chinese tourists and revelers to leave Wuhan for the Chinese New Year carrying the virus all

over the world, if they hadn't done that, we would have been able to have a chance to corner the virus in a small place.

And in the United States, when the virus reached our shores and President Trump said he didn't want those cases counted against his record, even

pushing away or trying to push away a cruise ship, that set a tone where it became political and finding all the cases became adverse to someone's

political career. Fighting all the cases is the necessary condition in order to stop the pandemic. So, when we look back, we'll look back at the

virology, we'll look back at where did it begin, the origin of it and we'll really look back at political ineptitude and partisan politics.

AMANPOUR: I don't know whether this plays into it right now, but the idea of boosters, obviously, is getting a huge amount of play. The U.S. has

suggested that potentially, at least the president, it could happen in the U.S. by the end of the month. But the FDA hasn't weighed in and we've heard

reports of some FDAs quitting because they are not happy about it. Frustration that the U.S. is -- or rather the president is getting ahead of

the FDA on this.

What do you -- where are you on boosters and would it make a big difference right now?

BRILLIANT: First, I'm very saddened by this. Tedros, the director general of WHO, said, don't give boosters until everybody in the world gets a

certain number. Why should some people get three doses and 90 percent of the world get nothing? And I think that's from the equity lens incredibly

important. But it shouldn't be either/or. We have in the United States 10, 14 percent of our population, that's over 65, have some immunocompromised

state and have not had their second dose for six or eight months.

Those people also, not only is it equitable to give it to them, but they also potentially could cook the virus and make it into variants if we're

not careful. So, I think putting these two communities against each other is what makes me sad.

As far a third dose for everybody, you know, it's going to be a tough call. We are finding that two doses of Pfizer are only 40, 45 percent effective

against the Delta variant. People getting it, not getting sick, we have 90 percent protection against getting really sick, getting on a ventilator and

mortality rate is dropping dramatically.

I think we ought to first take care of the people who are immunocompromised, the elderly who not had their second vaccine. There's --

a lot of time has elapsed. And then quickly try to export, not just vaccine, but vaccine manufacturing facilities all over the world. And take

this seriously on a global level as we should. And then we can come back and give third doses to everybody.


AMANPOUR: Really important. Thank you so much. Great to hear from you tonight, Dr. Larry Brilliant.

And now, President Biden also wants to highlight the mental toll of war on service members and veterans. Someone who has experienced that firsthand is

a former marine and best-selling author, Elliot Ackerman. He's served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and he's now helped hundreds of Afghans

escape. He calls it is a Digital Dunkirk and here he is speaking to Hari Sreenivasan about how vets like him view the end of this Afghan war.


HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks. Elliot Ackerman, thanks for joining us.

What had been happening with you and your friends who had served together with Afghans over the past few weeks and months? I mean, who are the people

that served with you? What did they do and help you with? And why was that feeling so visceral for you to respond to these folks that you might not

have seen in years?

ELLIOT ACKERMAN, AUTHOR AND FORMER U.S. MARINE: You know, these are my friends. I mean, these are war buddies. When I served in Afghanistan, I

served exclusively as an adviser to Afghan Special Operations Units. So, when I was in battle, I looked to my left and my right, you know, there

were Afghans I was fighting alongside.

And in the intervening 10 years, many of them have come back -- come to the United States, but they are younger brothers, their cousins, their families

have aligned themselves with the former Afghan government and with our country. And, you know, these are people who basically accepted the

promises that we had made them over two decades at face value and put their lives on the line to make good on those promises.

So, at the end of the day, you know, you have an obligation to help these folks. And so, when you're getting calls from someone who you fought

alongside saying, you know, my brother, my cousin, you know, he cannot get out. Please, I need your help. You know, you're going to help.

SREENIVASAN: What was their immediate fear? I mean, do they know they were on watch lists, as they saw two news of the Taliban taking over one part of

the country and another city and another province?

ACKERMAN: Oh, absolutely. These people -- and first of all -- I mean, just the get attacked to the -- kind of the granular level of it, in

Afghanistan, virtually every person who worked with the United States in any capacity from a soldier to a contractor, we as the U.S. government

collected their biometric data. So, there are vast databases with their, you know, fingerprints, their photos, you name it. And that biometric data

is in the hands of the Taliban right now.

So, these are people who cannot hide. They can't just make a new life for themselves in Afghanistan. You know, they are marked for Taliban justice.

So, these folks, obviously, just like I would, do not want to stick around and find out what Taliban justice is going to mean for them and their


SREENIVASAN: So, what did you and your friends decide to start doing?

ACKERMAN: Well, pretty early on in this evacuation, I started receiving phone calls about individuals organizing private flights because the

government flights weren't coming, weren't moving quickly enough and there were private citizens who were willing to cut off the money (ph) to fly in

charter aircraft. And so, we started trying to raise the money for that and started manifesting families onto these flights.

We were able to get a few of those flights out. Then the conditions at the airport, at Kabul swiftly deteriorated. So, those flights became more

complicated, became very difficult. You can no longer bust people into the airport really after just a few days.

And so, frankly, when it started to demerited, there were some small groups of individuals we knew about and we were trying to get out, guiding them

towards the various gates at the airport, whether it's Abbey Gate, where the suicide bomb was or, you know, the North Gate was a gate where the

marines were able to get some people through. And calling our contacts in the U.S. military and the intelligence community saying, you know, hey, we

have a group coming to you. You know me.

So, you know, the battalion commander is a colonel at the North gate. He and I went through Quantico, our training Quantico as marines together. We

were in our early 20s. So, I've known him for years. And it was really me reaching out to him via text message saying, I hear you're at the North

Gate. He's like, yes, I'm there. I've got people who need your help. OK. I'll have my marines make sure they get in.

I only bring up that personal connection because it shouldn't have come to that. I mean, that's great that I have a personal connection who can help

these Afghans, some of whom I know, mostly whom I don't know, get through the North Gate, but what about the tens of thousands of other Afghans who

don't have that type of connection and have worked for the U.S.

So, what I was witnessing was a complete breakdown of process. There was no process. The process was try to find an American who knows somebody, and if

you're lucky, you'll be able to get on to an airplane.


SREENIVASAN: And when you succeeded in dribs and drabs here, did words spread?

ACKERMAN: It did spread. And it spread to other folks and other networks who -- of people who had Afghans who were seeking to get out. People I

never knew. So, I have a whole connection of folks that I have been placed in touch. You had a group of, you know, 20 individuals here who have done

human rights work who needed to get out or, you know, 30 individuals here who had done work in, you know, entertainment that they would be punished

for in the Taliban. All folks who needed to get out.

And, you know, the phrase a Digital Dunkirk has been thrown around, and it very much was. It was one of the sort of Dunkirkess (ph) processes where

everyone is sailing cross the strait on their little boat trying to just get out whomever they can.

SREENIVASAN: What does this do to young Afghans that, you know, as you point out, I mean, if these 20 years have been this respite for them and

their world view is shaped in a totally different way than under Taliban rule? And how do they perceive this exit by the United States?

ACKERMAN: I think it's a betrayal. I mean, I think it's a massive betrayal. And I think it's a betrayal that will come to haunt the United

States in the long run. I think it will come to haunt the United States among an entire -- what I'm certain is a generation of Afghans who feel as

though we have turned our backs on them and have left them behind. So, I think, you know, we're going to be held account in that regard.

I think we're also going to be held into account with regards to our allies around the globe. I mean, this unequivocally weakens the word of the United

States as a global partner and the system of, you know, relative stability that we have enjoyed as Americans over, you know, 20, 30, however far you

want to go back, you can even particularly go back to after the Second World War, it's really in the near specs (ph) been upheld this idea that,

you know, America's word, American credibility stands for something.

SREENIVASAN: This also seems like a stress test for the institution of the U.S. military. And I mean, from the things that I read, I sense

disillusionment from my other veteran friends who say, well, why do we do this?

ACKERMAN: Yes, Hari. I think that's accurate. I think there are some very strong currents of disillusion that are coursing through the military right

now. You know, profess to speak for the entire U.S. military but I can just tell you what my friends are talking about who in active duty, who are

veterans. And when I look back at the last 20 years for, and one of the things I think that's singular about these wars is the way they have been


You know, every concept that the U.S. has fought since its inception (ph) has -- haven't have a construct to sustain it. A construct around blood and

treasure. You know, how do we man these ways? How do we pay for them? All the way back to -- you know, if we look at our own civil war, right? The

construct was -- the first ever draft come out in civil is actually the first ever income tax. The Second World War, you know, world bond drives

and other draft. The Vietnam War was characterized by a very unpopular draft.

Well, these wars, the post 9/11 wars have been characterized by an all- volunteer military, so that's how we've done the blood. It was all volunteer. And they've been funded through deficit spending. So, there's

never been a war tax. We just put it on the national credit card. And that has really insulated American society from the cost of these wars.

You know, unless you have a child whose volunteer or a close family member, you don't feel them. So, in 2018, there was a Rasmussen Poll during the

midterm elections. And Americans were asked, is the war in Afghanistan going on? 42 percent of Americans couldn't even say whether or not the war

in Afghanistan was still going on. That's how disconnected we had become from these wars.

Now, obviously, it's very much in the headlines today. But I think what's so dangerous about this is you have a U.S. military now that is

increasingly become almost like a subculture, you know, a segregated cast in American society. And, you know, if we looked back through history, you

know, when you have a dynamic and a democracy or you have a very large standing military and extremely dysfunctional politics at home, you know,

democracies don't last long in that environment.

And I'm concerned about, as you said, you know, these currents of disillusionment or betrayal that some of the military feel, even from many

of those who want the war in Afghanistan to end and are concerned, as I am, like, hey, you know, we people are dying there who were born the year that

the war started. But through the same time, you feel it's sort of the haphazard man of this was executed is very concerning and they want

accountability for that.

So, I think anything you see that level of dissatisfaction in our military that is isolated from the society it serves, it doesn't seem to end well.

And I think that is an issue that we as a country should be paying attention to but had paid very little attention to over the last 20 years.


SREENIVASAN: What frustrates you as a veteran? I mean, this is one campaign. This is, obviously, in our lifetime, it's the longest one that we

all can remember. But you've gone through your service. Are those ideals and believes that drew you in and when you see what could be, at least, a

phase and outcome right now, what are you and your friends saying to each other?

ACKERMAN: Well, I would say a strain particularly in recent weeks that I have heard, that I am sympathetic and very much agree with is a call for

accountability. I don't think there's any way to look at what just occurred in Afghanistan over the last three weeks with our withdraw and then

characterize it as anything but utter debacle.

And having served in the military, you know, if I was a captain and I was running a live fire range and a marine got shot on a live fire training

exercise, I would be fired. I would lose my job. It would probably be a career ender for me. And we've just watched the senior ranks of the U.S.

military preside over an absolute debacle in this withdrawal. You know, people like chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, General Milley, or

secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, you know, I would -- you know, the secretary of state, this has been a botched withdrawal based off of failed


Is accountability- (INAUDIBLE)? Will people lose their jobs over this, because they should? And if they don't, there will be no clearer evidence

that at the highest levels of the U.S. government there exists a culture of no accountability. And that just doesn't -- it just doesn't concern me as a

veteran, it also concerns me as a citizen and I think it should concern all of us as citizens. You know, we need to bring back culture of

accountability here.

SREENIVASAN: Well, what when you talk about accountability, right now, it's hard to separate that from the political lens, right? So, let's say

someone should be fired. But does that act, is that act prevented from saying, well, we don't want the other team to score points? It's going to

look like weakness. This is going to head into the midterms. This is going to change our calculus. Et cetera, et cetera. Versus saying, you're

responsible for this. This is unacceptable. You no longer have a job here.

ACKERMAN: I totally agree. I think that's why we should be all concerned. You know, partisanship makes dumb as Americans, it makes -- it erodes the

foundations of our society. It makes us Democrats and Republicans first and Americans second. And if we live in that type of society, the future of

that society is dark.

So, if we live if a society where there's no accountability because accountability means that you might give the other team, the other

Republican or Democratic team a win and so no one can ever be held accountable, you know, then we are really sick and we are really in a

terrible place as a country.

SREENIVASAN: You know, the president has repeatedly said over the past few days, look, there is no good way, essentially, to exit this. Should we have

stayed? Should we have left some sort of a presence there? Because President Biden says he doesn't want to go into the next decade of

committing U.S. soldiers to what seems like quicksand. We don't seem to have a resolution in this process of nation building that we originally

said we didn't want to do, but we began doing.

ACKERMAN: You know, it's very interesting. I was -- as I have been thinking over these last few days, I went back and I rewatched the

Secretary of State Tony Blinken's nomination video, when he accepted President Biden's nomination as secretarty of state. And in that, had told

a story -- I think it was his step great grandfather who was a Jewish in the Second World War. And at the culmination of war, he was hiding from

Germans in a forest when he heard a tank.

The tank rumbled past. He saw that the tank had a five-pointed white star and he tells us -- Blinken tells this very moving story of his grandfather

running up to the tank, dropping onto his knees and saying the only three words of English that he knew, which were God bless America. And this

American tanker jumping down and whisking his grandfather away to freedom and allowing him to live the life that he's had in his family to ascend the

secretary of state.

And he ended that story by saying, because that's who we are. And that story and that sense of who we are is so divorce from the policies that

President Biden seems to be pursuing right now. So, specific to your question, should we have stayed in Afghanistan? I think it begs a larger

question, who are we as the United States? You know, are we a country of isolationist? Do we receive (ph) within our borders when we come to people

and tell them that, you know, we are your allies in pursuing a free and a democratic nation, we'll stand by you, does that mean something?


So, I think, you know, when we look at Afghanistan, you know, Afghanistan in 2009, 2010, 2011, when I served there is a very different place than it

was in 2017 and 2018, kind of in the years where our withdrawal and draw down began.

When I was there, there were 150,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and we're fully engaged in combat operations. By 2018, you know, we had a little over

10,000 troops in Afghanistan. The Afghan National Army greatly increased. Yes, they were actively fighting against the Taliban, but it was a war that

they were by and large fighting and that we were doing a good job helping them fight.

So, I believe there are many models that would have been more beneficial to the United States long-term interests than the model we just executed,

which was, you know, a botched withdrawal and here's hoping that Afghanistan turns out for the best.

So, I think if Afghanistan, I think, the course we pursued is cynical. If you look at, you know, who we are, I don't believe is aligned with at least

what, in my adult lifetime, has been our American values. And I think in the long-term, it's going to be more costly for us than had we kept a

(INAUDIBLE) force presence there and try to keep working with the Afghan government.

SREENIVASAN: Elliot Ackerman, author and marine veteran, thanks so much for joining us.

ACKERMAN: Thanks for having me.


AMANPOUR: And, of course, it is a really important question, who are we and what do we stand for. And finally, who are the Taliban? Ever since they

took charge again, we have been asking that question, what will it do this time around? Well, here's a little flashback for you. Clips of my

conversations with Afghans and one of the very first western interviews with the Taliban official back when they first captured Kabul in 1996.


AMANPOUR: A lot of people on the outside are watching the actions taken by the Taliban. A lot of people want to know what you're going to do about the

women issue? What about women's education? Girls' education? Women working? Widows who have no other way to support themselves?

MOHAMMAD ABBAS STANEKZAI: I know that, especially in Western news media, it's the propaganda against that we are against women education, which is

not right, which is correct.

AMANPOUR: But the girls can't go to school. We've been to schools here that are all closed.

AMANPOUR (voiceover): A head master sits in splendid isolation, keeping the books just in case the Taliban relents and lets his pupils back again.

Not only school, but all women's programs have been stopped. Aid organizations, for instance, can no longer teach women or young girls about

health care, sanitation or mine awareness, mine still accounts for most civilian deaths.

Even the youngest understand something is not right. 10-year-old, Aziza (ph) complains about having to stay home all day. We just do house work,

cleaning, baking bread and sweeping the floors, she says. At the Oxfam Charity, a group of professional women meet again for the first time since

the Taliban told them to quit their jobs here six weeks ago. They have come out because they want the world to know their plight.

FARANAZ, CIVIL ENGINEER: I love my work. It's my right to work and I need to work. I got education in this country and the government spent money on

me and even my family and I want to express myself to my society. I want to serve to people, to my country.

STANEKZAI: We have just told them that for the time being, they should not come to office and school. So, until the time that we can come out with

some sort of solution or we can provide them separated placed so that they can be educated or they can work in offices.

AMANPOUR: What do you say about women who are working and who have to work to support themselves?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About those women, we have already decided some of these women who are working in government offices, you know, we've just

told them the next second order, they should be sitting in their home and they will be paid at their home.


AMANPOUR: Sound familiar? That was 25 years ago and it's come full circle. And that is Mohammad Stanekzai who then the Taliban deputy foreign minister

and how now heads their political office in Doha where he and his cohorts are saying the same things and making the same promises.

That's it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you for watching. And good-bye from London.



ISA SOARES, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Live from CNN London, I'm Isa Soares in for Hala Gorani.

Tonight, we have just heard from the top military commander in the United States. We'll bring you what he had to say on his troops withdrawing from


Then celebrations in Afghanistan as the Taliban hold a victory parade. How will the international community respond to their government? We'll speak

to Qatar's assistant foreign minister.

And then later, food and fuel run out in Louisiana as the state reels from Hurricane Ida. We're live in New Orleans.