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At This Hour

Military Leaders Face Second Day of Questions in House Hearing; Brian Laundrie, Parents Went Camping Before He Vanished; Today, Judge Takes Up Request to End Britney Spears Conservatorship. Aired 11:30- 12p ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 11:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was that advice?

MCKENZIE: The advice, his view and my view, were essentially the same view. My view was that we needed to maintain about 2,500, and that we also needed to work with our coalition partners who had about 6,000 troops in there, NATO and other core countries that we'd remain there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did your provision to military opinion changed over the course of the spring?

MCKENZIE: It did not.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, we heard more on that topic. We also heard from the secretary of defense, Kate, Lloyd Austin, who said that there was no risk-free status quo option to stay in Afghanistan, so, again, more of this back and forth. We expect for it to continue throughout the afternoon as these lawmakers, again, getting their first chance to talk to these top military commanders since the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

We also have heard more also about General Milley's calls to China and him saying that he did exactly what needed to be done. He also said, Kate, that he briefed the Senate on that, Senate members yesterday in a classified briefing. He offered to do that on the House side as well. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Great to see you, Jessica. Thank you.

Joining me now for more on this is retired U.S. Army Major General Dana Pittard. He is the co-author of the book, Hunting the Caliphate. I'm tongue-tied today, General. Also with us from Kabul, Afghanistan, CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, if I may start with you, I recall one thing you said that Afghans were asking ahead of these rounds of hearing was why wasn't there more of a plan to get people out? Why were so many people left behind? Do you think they got an answer from top military officials on this?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that the military leaders were actually pretty candid about some of the failings or some of the underestimations, particularly with regards to the collapse of Afghan forces, talking about how the Doha agreements, which was essentially the deal brokered by the Trump administration, to begin the U.S. withdrawal, how that really negatively impacted morale on the ground here in Afghanistan with those Afghan forces, also talking about intelligence failures but also pointing to the fact that U.S. military advisers had not been embedded with the Afghan army for three years.

And I believe it was General Milley who had this very striking line where he said, and I'm paraphrasing him here, you can count the number of weapons they have, you can count the number of soldiers and have all this information, but you can't see into a man's heart using a machine. You need to be there to understand.

And so there was clearly something of a breakdown in communication whereby policymakers and the military high levels -- high levels of the military didn't have a very clear sense of just how quickly things were unraveling within the Afghan military.

At the same time, I think it's important to point out a lot of Afghans had no idea how quickly things would unravel, including Taliban fighters, who said to me that even they were surprised that they were able to take Kabul in a matter of hours without hardly a shot fired.

Is any of this going to provide comfort for the Afghan people who have been asking me these questions? No. For them, this is over now and they have moved to a new chapter, one of trying to survive, trying to find their way out of the country, or for those who support the Taliban, trying to rebuild a new state for themselves.

BOLDUAN: General, as Clarissa is getting at in terms of the lessons learned, they were pressed on this in these hearings. And one thing Austin and McKenzie did point to was that the agreement was the agreement with the Trump administration, the Doha agreement struck with the Taliban. These defense officials say that it negatively impacted Afghan forces. They absolutely said that. But I also want to say what Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley says are lessons learned after Afghanistan fell so fast.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: The mirror imaging of the building of the Afghan National Army based on American doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures. And that made-up that may -- I'm going to wait full evaluation, but may have been overly dependent upon us, our presence, contractors and higher-tech systems in order to fight a counterinsurgency war. That's one area that needs to be fully explored.

Another is the intel, how did we miss the collapse of an army and government that big, that fast at only 11 days. That needs to be pulled apart. And then there are other factors that are not strictly military, but things like legitimacy of the government, corruption, the parasitic nature of the police forces.


BOLDUAN: And he really went there, General Pittard. I mean, what do you think the lessons are?

MAJ. GEN. DANA PITTARD, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, first of all, good morning, Kate. There are a lot of lessons. And I agree with Clarissa that I thought the testimony was very candid and very frank. But we've learned some of those lessons. That's what I was kind of curious about. We learned some of those lessons seven years before, a similar situation -- not the same, but similar when the Iraqi army collapsed in 2014 with ISIS.


We saw five Iraqi divisions melt. We saw the collapse of the Iraqi army at that time. And that's when President Biden was vice President Biden in the Obama administration.

But a different decision was made then than now. The decision back then was to keep a small footprint. Three years before that, in 2011, we had withdrawal all U.S. forces from Iraq. But in 2014, a decision was made to halt the spread of ISIS at that time, which had taken over a third of the country.

Now, we roll the tape forward to now, to Afghanistan, the advice of President Biden's military advisers was to keep a small footprint there. Why that wasn't done, I've got to scratch my head on that one. But the lessons learned of a collapse, one could only believe that the Afghan Security Forces, without having the enablers, American airstrikes, logistics, the contractors, everything else, would do the same thing that the Iraqi military had done seven years beforehand.

So it wasn't a great leap to think that the Afghan Security Forces would, in fact, collapse without our support.

BOLDUAN: Clarissa, you're back in Kabul, of course. The Taliban has been in control for a month. I'm just curious, tell me what you were seeing, what has changed? What's your sense?

WARD: It definitely feels a lot less fraught, a lot less intense and chaotic than it did when I was here in late August. And there is a sense of almost a lull. There's traffic on the streets. People are sort of going about their everyday life.

But simmering just beneath the surface is a palpable sense of unease. And that's unease for several reasons. First of all, the Taliban is adapting a more pragmatic tone. They want to see the aid unfrozen. They want to get recognized by the international community. So, they're not outwardly saying, yes, women can't do this, women can't do that and people shouldn't cut their beards or things of that nature. They're holding off on those kinds of more draconian edicts. But on the ground, people understand. They see writing on the wall. And so they look at small things, like girls can no longer go to school after sixth grade until we work out the dynamics of creating an education system that is a proper Islamic environment. And so they understand what is probably coming down the pipeline, if and when the money does get unfrozen and the Taliban does get recognized internationally, is a much more rigid sort of governance based on their interpretation of Sharia law.

The only other thing I would mention, Kate, is that this country, because that aid is frozen, in no small part, is on the precipice of a major economic crisis. And the first thing people want to talk about on the streets right now is food prices are up, fuel prices are up, salaries aren't being paid, health care workers aren't being paid, teachers aren't being paid. The country is grinding to a halt in a sense. And so survival, frankly, is the primary focus of many people at the moment.

BOLDUAN: And they're making it worse for all those civilians caught in the middle of all of this. Clarissa, thank you so much for being there again. And, General Pittard, it's very good to see you.

Coming up, new details about what Brian Laundrie was doing after he returned home from a trip without his fiancee, Gabby Petito. Plus, the Petito family's new message for Brian Laundrie, that's ahead.



BOLDUAN: New details in the search for Brian Laundrie. CNN has learned that he went camping with his parents after returning home to Florida without his fiancee, of course, his fiancee, Gabby Petito, earlier this month. And that camping trip happened days before Petito's family reported her missing. An attorney for the family also says that he doubts Laundrie's parents will help in the FBI's ongoing search for Brian Laundrie.

CNN's Athena Jones is following the very latest developments here, and she's joining me now. Athena, what are you hearing?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. Well, what's interesting here is now that we're learning a little more about what was going on in that period between when Brian Laundrie returned to Florida in Gabby Petito's white van without her, that was September 1st, and when her family reported her missing, September 11th. There have been a lot of questions about where and what Brian Laundrie was doing during that period of time.

We now know, as has been confirmed through registration at a campsite by the Pinellas County, Florida Parks Department, that the Laundrie family, so Roberta Laundrie and her husband and her son, Brian, all went to this campground about 75 miles north of their home in North Port, Florida. They had a waterfront site at the Fort Desoto campground from September 6th through September 8th. We also noted that the lawyer for the Laundrie family confirms that Brian was there with his parents during that period of time and that they left together.

Now, of course, we don't know whether this has any impact on the larger investigation or gives any extra clues as to where Brian Laundrie is now, but we do know a little bit more about that period before Gabby Petito was reported missing.


We also heard from Gabby Petito's parents yesterday. Her mother and stepfather, her father and stepmother, a group of four, they talked a lot about co-parenting. They thanked media, they thanked law enforcement and they thanked the outpouring of support that they've gotten from all over the world.

They wouldn't answer a lot of questions about anything having to do with the investigation, for instance, their interactions with the Laundrie family. But here is what their lawyer said.


RICK STAFFORD, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING GABBY PETITO'S FAMILY: The Laundries did not help us find Gabby. They're sure not going to help us find Brian. For Brian, we're asking you to turn yourself in to the FBI or the nearest law enforcement agency.


JONES: So, there they are, still very much calling on Brian Laundrie to turn himself in. And they talked also about, of course about justice for Gabby Petito, and that is getting to the bottom of this homicide investigation. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes. Athena, thank you very much for that.

Still for us, Britney Spears in a court hearing that could change her life. Why today is critical for the pop star's fight to end her father's control over here.


BOLDUAN: It could be the day Britney Spears sees freedom for the first time in years. The legal fight that's become a movement is back in court. A judge in Los Angeles will soon take up a request to terminate the conservatorship that Britney has lived under for 13 years, an arrangement she has referred to in court as cruelty.

It is the latest chapter in a saga that has sparked protests, social media campaigns and multiple documentaries, including one by CNN.

Joining me now, CNN Contributor Nischelle Turner, co-host of Entertainment Tonight.

Point of personal privilege, as they say in Washington, I have not seen you. You have not been on the show since I heard the awesome news that you are now anchoring Entertainment Tonight. Congratulations. NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, thank you. You and I go back to that very first day at New Day and CNN. And so I have loved you since then and I appreciate your friendship and your support always, Kate. So, thank you and thanks for having me on today because it's a big day, big news day.

BOLDUAN: This is a big day. Let's talk about the news. I love you so much. Let's talk about the news. What do you think today could mean for Britney Spears? What are the options, Nischelle?

TURNER: Well, it could mean a lot. This could be the day that the judge ends her conservatorship. And I say, could, because it could happen but it's not likely to happen.

Now, all parties involved in this, including Britney's father, have now signed on saying, okay, yes, let's end this conservatorship. Some people look at this as a move to the judge to say, we all want to take our hands off of this and let you make the decision.

So, going into court today, the judge could do three things. The first thing the judge could do is go ahead and end the conservatorship, which, again, could happen but is not likely. The second thing the judge could do is ask for another mental evaluation of Britney. That is something that she has not said that she doesn't want to do, have more evaluations. But the judge may say, I need more information before I decide to end this conservatorship, so I need another mental evaluation. Those could take months. So that could happen.

The third thing that the judge could do is say, listen, all of you all need to work this out. You need to get into a room together and mediate this, figure out what you're going to want to do.

Those three things could happen today but we do know that Britney is not expected to be in court. Her parents are expected to be there by Zoom, but you never know. I mean, it's been so fluid and we heard her being so passionate the last big court hearing. So, you never know. She may want to speak for herself.

She does have a new attorney that has been fighting tooth and nail. He is definitely a dog, Matthew Rosengart. He's definitely a dog for her and has made a lot of headway with the judge and the court system since coming on to her case.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I was wondering about her coming to court. That would be -- I mean, the kind of -- I don't want to call it a circus, but just kind of the attention and the mania around it all, you can only imagine what that would add to it.

I mean, there have been, Nischelle, multiple documentaries released about this fight, even in the last week, including one by CNN. That's on top of The New York Times documentary that really first brought this to the mainstream, if you will. What is Britney Spears' reaction to all of these documentaries, all of this attention?

TURNER: Yes. Well, she did speak out on social media and say that she had recently watched one of the documentaries. She didn't say which one it was. I mean, she could have been talking about the CNN document that Alisyn Camerota did that I thought was very good and informative. And then there was a new Hulu documentary that was released, The New York Times released a second part of their framed Britney Spears documentary as well. And so no one knows which documentary she was talking about. But she did say, I watched it and some of the things made me scratch my head.

Her attorney did file a new amendment to their petition on Monday saying they had learned new information, kind of seeing all of these documentaries, that made them feel like her violation of privacy -- her rights to privacy were violated, and that, you know, this is another reason that her father should be immediately removed from the conservatorship.

Now, we do want to say, Kate, that Britney has also said it's not that she wants the conservatorship to end completely. She actually wants her father removed. And she has said in the past that she would be okay if maybe there was somebody else in charge.


But right now, the big deal for her and her team is to get her father out of the picture.

Again, Jamie Spears has said, I've done nothing wrong. Everything I've done has been within my rights as a conservator, but I love my daughter and I want what's best for her.

BOLDUAN: We will soon see. It's great to see you, Nischelle. Thank you so much.

TURNER: Thank you, Kate. Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: You too.

Thank you all so much for being here with us. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Inside Politics with John King begins after this break.