Return to Transcripts main page

Don Lemon Tonight

U.S. Troops and Afghans Killed in Suicide Attacks Outside Kabul Airport; Afghan Refugees are Beginning to Arrive in U.S. for Resettlement. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 26, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Here's our breaking news tonight, two suicide bombing attacks just outside Kabul's airport, killing 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians. At least 18 U.S. service members wounded along with 140 Afghans. The militant group ISIS-K is claiming responsibility for the deadly attacks.

Tonight, President Biden calling the fallen American service members heroes and ordering the Pentagon to draw plans to strike ISIS-K targets, vowing to hunt down the terrorists and make them pay. President also saying the U.S. will not be cowed, that the evacuation mission in Afghanistan will continue through Tuesday's deadline to withdraw.

We have the very latest now on the developments from CNN's Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chaos outside Kabul airport became a catastrophe Thursday afternoon. Two bombings tore through the crowds, killing 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians.

President Joe Biden promising the U.S. will strike ISIS-K and any others who attacked.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): This graphic video, laying bare the horror of the attacks. The victims are thrown across the street. This man is able to sit up after the attack, unlike so many others. Afghans so desperate to flee the country are now racing to get the wounded medical help, even pushing some of the injured in makeshift wheelbarrows.

KENNETH MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: The threat from ISIS is extremely real. We believe it is their desire to continue those attacks and we expect those attacks to continue.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): On Wednesday, the U.S. warned of threats to the airport, telling Americans to stay away from three different gates, Abbey, east and north gates, and only to approach the field when instructed.

A suicide bomber passed through a Taliban-controlled security checkpoints somehow and approached the Abbey gate, where U.S. forces do another round of screening. It is a moment of vulnerability, U.S. service member face-to-face with and unscreened outside.

MCKENZIE: These gates where people actually come on the airfield, there's no substitute for a young man or woman, a young United States man or woman, standing up there conducting a search of that person before we let him on.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): These are the first U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan since February of last year, shortly before the signing of the agreement that began this withdrawal. The news of troops killed coming just five days, about 100 hours, before the August 31st deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Still, the evacuation operations continue, including for the few hundred U.S. citizens the State Department believes are still in Afghanistan.

BIDEN: We will continue after our troops were withdrawn to find means by which we define any American who wishes to get out of Afghanistan. We will find them and we will get them out.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): The Taliban say they will seek justice for the attack as coordination between U.S. forces and the Taliban continues. U.S. commanders on the ground have asked the Taliban to push out the security corridor around the airfield and share some information to prevent attacks.

MCKENZIE: We believe it's possible that others have been thwarted. We cut down the information we give to Taliban. They don't get full range of information we have but we give them enough to act in time and space to try to prevent these attacks.


LEMON: And Oren Liebermann joins me now, along with CNN White House correspondent John Harwood. Gentlemen, good evening. Oren, I'm going to start with you. The White House, the Pentagon, all bracing for potentially more terror attacks. What will these evacuations look like between now and Tuesday?

LIEBERMANN: First, it is important to note that they're ongoing. President Joe Biden made that clear. General Frank McKenzie made that clear. And in fact, I'm looking at a flight tracking website on the monitor right next to me. There is just a flight that looks like it landed at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany that took off from Afghanistan. So the flights continue, the mission continues. But as I pointed out there in that story, the U.S commanders, they have asked the Taliban to expand the security corridor, to close down some of the roads leading to the airport to prevent a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. They have already, in light of the threat that we've heard in the last few days from ISIS-K and from others, increased the security presence at the airport by shifting troops over to security.

Crucially, though, the evacuation continues. At some point, it will start the transition from full evacuation to withdrawal of U.S. forces and that is simply inevitable as we get closer to the end date.


LIEBERMANN: But the evacuation, as I said, it continues for U.S. citizens and others.

LEMON: John Harwood, the president had a clear message for the terrorists, vowing to make these attackers pay, and he said this.


BIDEN: We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation. I have also ordered my commanders to develop operational assets to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose, in the moment of our choosing.


LEMON: Listen, I know they have to be concerned at the White House tonight about escalation when they're trying to get out of there.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Don, first of all, ISIS-K is not a conventional military force and so they are going to strike us where they can regardless, and I think the administration is going to act to degrade their capability whenever it can.

However, there is only five days left in this operation. It sounds as if it is going to take a while to both devise those operational plans, the president said. And when he said at time and place of our choosing, I think that was an indication it is not likely to happen immediately. They are going to be completely focused, I think, for the next five days on getting as many Americans and close Afghan allies as they can out of Afghanistan.

LEMON: Oren, we are learning the coalition forces have conducted a series of controlled explosions within Kabul's airport, in the area at least. What can you tell us about that? What are they destroying?

LIEBERMANN: Well, we don't know specifically yet. The U.S. Military hasn't put out any information about that. It was actually the Taliban who said that it was U.S. forces who destroyed equipment there. We know having listened to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby that the U.S. has equipment there and was considering destroying it. There are number of assets like (INAUDIBLE), like apaches, like aerial defense systems, all of that, instead of leaving it there or trying to get it out, it could be destroyed, and there is other equipment there. And the commanders on the ground, they can make the decision whether this is worth taking home or whether it is worth saving that space for evacuees perhaps or whether it's worth simply destroying it.

LEMON: The press secretary, John, Jen Psaki, said today that President Biden has never reconsidered the August 31st deadline. What does that tell you about how he sees the tragic events and the context of his commitment to get troops out?

HARWOOD: Look, I think nearly everything that has happened in the last few weeks, Don, has reinforced the president's commitment and belief that getting out of Afghanistan is the right thing to do, because the 20-year effort to build up Afghan security forces and build up an Afghan government failed. Those forces collapsed very quickly once the United States began withdrawing.

And I think the belief that keeping more and more American troops in harm's way in Afghanistan is something that simply is not worth it from a cost-benefit analysis. It is not worth the lives of those soldiers. This is obviously the worst nightmare for Joe Biden. This was the worst day of his presidency.

He did not want to have to leave, having lost American lives at the end of this mission. For two weeks, you had 100,000 people taken out without American casualties, without any mass casualty events. That, of course, is now over. I think he is determined to, as we indicated earlier, to get as many people out as he can by August 31st. If there are Americans left afterwards, to try to figure out through special operations or other means to get them out.

The White House acknowledges that there will be deserved Afghan allies who will not make it out, because they have narrowed the focus of this mission to put the highest priority, of course, on Americans. It is a heartbreaking way to end this war, but I think the president is committed, above all, that it needs to end.

LEMON: John, Oren, thank you very much. I want to turn now to CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, good evening to you. I was watching you today. This happened as you were on the air and reporting this breaking news. You reported yesterday morning that Intel officials were worried about the increased threat. Now, we have 13 U.S. service members dead.

What are your sources saying now? Is there still a large risk when it comes to the security at the airport for troops along the ground and the people waiting to get out?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. The same intelligence stream that I reported yesterday about ISIS-K or Islamic State Khorasan wanting to attack particularly those entry points to the airport, those crowds of Afghans trying to get into the airport and if they could, the U.S. service members guarding those entry points. [23:10:03]

SCIUTTO: Just as ISIS-K had both the intent and the capability to carry out those attacks yesterday, that being the concern, they had maintained that intent and that capability.

That is why you continue to hear from the White House podium, from the Pentagon podium, that they are concerned about the terror threat going forward. It's real and it's a real test for these winning days of U.S. evacuation operation.

LEMON: Jim, was it a mistake to come to count on the Taliban to secure the airport? I mean, do we have to use what we needed there and there wasn't -- do we have to use what was needed there and there wasn't a choice?

SCIUTTO: The results speak for themselves, right? I mean, part of this evacuation plan depended, two big parts, in fact, on the Taliban. One, being that the Taliban allow access to the airport for people eligible to evacuate, Americans certainly, green card holders certainly, but also American SIVs as they are known special immigrant visa holders or applicants.

But in recent days, the Taliban was not allowing access to many of those people. I spoke personally to the families, SIV applicants or visa holders and their families who couldn't get to the gates. The Taliban were beating them back.

The other piece being, of course, the security around the airport, the Taliban controls the country and controls Kabul. The buffer zone, the security around the airport, was the Taliban responsibility as well. The U.S. said it was having communications with them. U.S. said that the Taliban shared an interest in preventing terror attacks like this. But at the end of the day, they were not able to prevent them.

So, on those two fronts, the Taliban did not come through sufficiently. So, it may have been the administration's only choice. Perhaps that is what they would argue. They do control the country. The Taliban won, in effect. But it was not an effective result. Certainly, it was not the result that they or anybody else wanted to see.

LEMON: Listen, I don't think anyone thinks this is off the cuff. The president was pretty definitive about this, saying that the U.S. will find the people responsible for this. That is a pretty big test. We don't have any boots on the ground right now. What are we talking about here?

SCIUTTO: So this will be a big test of what is one of the big changes of the U.S. withdrawal, and that is without boots on the ground. That means that you don't have, one, intelligence gathering because with those boots comes a lot of intelligence officers and capabilities for gathering intelligence. It comes -- with it comes proximity to carry out counter-terror missions. With it comes airfield to launch not just attacks from the air but also surveillance from the air. So now all of those air operations have to come from outside of the country. Any boots on the ground kind of mission, CT missions, Seal missions, etc. have to come from outside the country. And Intel gathering is compromised. We heard the CIA director, Bill Burns, testify to exactly that.

So, to deliver on the president's promise, we are going to have a test of this over the horizon capability, as he describes it. In other words, it is doing it from afar. It is definitely less capability from afar. Everyone agrees. The question is, how much less? Does it prevent following through on the president's promise here? U.S. still has enormous capabilities. They're not the same. We will what they can deliver.

LEMON: Obvious question, the understatement, I think, of the evening, but I have to ask you anyway. There are a lot of groups vying for control of Afghanistan right now. So, walk us through. Who they are?

SCIUTTO: So the biggest ones, the Taliban, of course, controls the country. The second biggest probably in terms of significance in numbers is al-Qaeda. The Taliban and al-Qaeda have deep ties. We have reports in recent weeks that al-Qaeda fighters are on the front lines, alongside the Taliban, as they were fighting the Afghan forces.

Then you have this other piece, and that is ISIS-K or Islamic State Khorasan. It is, in effect, an offshoot of Taliban, a breakaway group, half a dozen years ago and a rival, frankly. They are not the Taliban's friends.

So, those three groups are vying for control to some degree. Meanwhile, with the departure of the U.S., you have Afghanistan becoming once again, this is a sad reality, but becoming once again a magnet for extremists from around the world.

The U.N. reported recently that some 8 to 9,000 fighters, militants, extremists, have flooded into Afghanistan in recent weeks and months from as far away as Xinjiang and Western China, from the caucuses region of the former Soviet Republic, Central Asia, and Pakistan as well to join these groups, to train up, and to carry out attacks.


SCIUTTO: That paints not only a dangerous picture for Afghanistan going forward because they will continue to carry out terror attacks. They might very well fight each other. But also, the possibility that they begin to plot and plan attacks outside of Afghanistan.

LEMON: Jim Sciutto, thank you, sir. I appreciate it. You had a long day. Get some rest. A long day tomorrow, sadly. That's reality. Thank you so much, Jim Sciutto.

More than 2,000 U.S. service members have lost their lives in the 20- year war in Afghanistan. Fareed Zakaria here next to discuss how we got here and what the future holds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: If you're looking at your screen right now, you're going to see some live pictures of the Kabul airport where an explosion killed 13 U.S. service members and injured 18 more.


LEMON: That was earlier today. The sun is obviously coming up there in Kabul. America's 20-year war in Afghanistan is set to come to an end by Tuesday. President Biden remains firm on the August 31st deadline, withdrawal deadline. But our involvement to the conflict will impact Afghanistan and the region for years to come.

So joining me now is Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS." Fareed, as we look at those pictures, there does not appear to be much going on. It is almost -- well, it will be in 12 hours or so, I should say. Twenty-four since this has happened, but the events are still unfolding. The airport is quite for now. Thirteen U.S. service members are dead, first American deaths in Afghanistan in a year and a half.

It is really so damn sad and a also a reminder that attacks like this have killed more than 2,000 Americans throughout this war, two decades on. What does today tell you about our involvement in Afghanistan?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Yes, it's almost 2,500 American troops and about 4,000 American contractors, and then you have the coalition troops. I mean, this has been a tough 20 years. But what it tells me, you know, what is striking about these deaths is that for the most, best we can tell, these were not inflicted by the Taliban. These were inflicted by ISIS-K, another militant, radical terrorist group.

And what it reminds us is that Afghanistan is a place where there is a sort of a sense of national identity and cohesiveness only in response to a foreign intervention or occupation. Once the foreigners leave, the Afghans began to fight amongst themselves. And what we maybe witnessing, what this attack represents is, in some ways, a challenge to the Taliban from another, from terrorist organization.

You mentioned in your previous segment a number of fighters streaming into Afghanistan, but don't think they're all coming there to fight with the Taliban. Many of them are coming to fight against the Taliban. All the ones coming from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan are coming to fight the Taliban because they regard themselves as ethnically different.

So, what we may be back and watching, which is a very sad reality, is that once the foreigner leaves, the Afghanistan once again becomes a cockpit of ethnic, tribal and regional ambitions as various outside players will support different groups. So, it may get a lot bloodier.

LEMON: Fareed, this war has entangled four U.S. presidents. Republicans want it out for a very long time. But Biden's decision to get out and his execution are two different things. How do you think he has handled this?

ZAKARIA: I think you put it exactly right. The decision to get out is very different from the execution. The decision to get out, I think, was a brave and courageous decision, to recognize that fundamentally we have failed. I mean, to put it in very simple terms, our goal was to defeat the Taliban. The Taliban over the last 10 years went from controlling about zero percent of the country to about 30 to 40 percent of the country measured by population.

If you look at 2019, they had stopped attacking Americans because of the deal they made with the United States, which is that we would withdraw and they would stop attacking us. That was the Trump deal. But they were attacking Afghan army units ferociously. Twenty-nineteen was the worst year for the Afghan army in terms of casualties ever, worst year for Afghan civilians ever. Twenty-eighteen saw 300,000 Afghan civilians displaced because of the fighting.

So don't kid yourself into thinking this was -- there was a calm here. It was calm only for the Americans because the Taliban agreed to do that. So he made a decision that we had failed in our ability to defeat the Taliban for whatever reasons. And it was 20 years on. It was time to recognize that failure.

Now, how he did it is still a puzzle to me as to why there were so many mistakes made along the way. That is one which is worth analyzing on its own.

LEMON: Yeah. The U.S. got into Afghanistan during the neoconservative foreign policy of George Bush, the Bush administration. Biden alluded to that today. Here it is.


BIDEN: I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan.


BIDEN: A country that has never once in its entire history been a united country and is made up -- I don't mean this in a derogatory -- made up of different tribes who have never, ever, ever gotten along with one another.


LEMON: Here's a question for you. Does our chaotic exit from Afghanistan show that nation building just doesn't work?

ZAKARIA: No. It shows that it is very, very hard. It shows that in certain circumstances in which it can work, but it is awfully difficult and it is particularly difficult for an outside force to do it.

And you use the right phrase, nation building, because the issue is not so much state building, by which I mean building the bureaucracy. It's can you bring together this country as one nation? Afghanistan, as I said, has only been have had real national cohesion in response to foreign occupation. Otherwise, these are different tribes. They've lived differently. So, it's hard. It's very hard to do when you are the outsider.

This is something that, you know, if you go back to the period of colonial occupation of all these European countries, one of the biggest difficulties they had was to recognize, you know, the outsider can never be the agent of creating this kind of national unity and creating political order.

We had extraordinary success in a few places: Germany after World War II, Japan, South Korea. But we forgot in those cases, Germany and Japan were nations. They had come together hundreds, thousands of years before. They were already modern in many ways. South Korea was an unusual case where they got cohesion because of the fear of an external threat. But by and large, it has been very hard.

Think about all the places that the United States has intervened in the greater Middle East, the course of this war on terror. Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, let's think of Syria as a partial at the end of it (ph). None of them can you say the outcome has been satisfactory, right? And none of them has any kind of nation building or state building worked, because you are the outside power and it is very hard to be the agent of change and progress and democracy.

At the end of the day, your allies -- this is what happened to Ghani and to Karzai before in Afghanistan. They get tainted by the fact that they're the American's, you know, favorite government or favorite elites (ph). So they get tainted, they get delegitimized by that process.

Nation building is largely a homegrown process. It is something that has to happen and take roots internally. You can help on the outside and we have helped, but it is awfully hard.

LEMON: Fareed, thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

ZAKARIA: Always a pleasure.

LEMON: So the withdrawal deadline only days away, Tuesday. What will happen between now and then as we watch these live pictures from Kabul airport?



LEMON: Thirteen U.S. service members lost in today's attack with just five days left until the deadline for troops to withdraw. And things will only get more dangerous as more and more troops leave.

I want to bring in now CNN military analyst retired Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel Leighton, thank you. Appreciate you joining us. The U.S. Military under the greatest pressure in Kabul tonight. Loss of life, imminent threats, Americans and Afghans still to evacuate, and a withdrawal to execute, surrounded by the enemy. So, talk to me about what they are up against in these next few days?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, RETIRED COLONEL: Well, you summarized it pretty well in your question, Don. What they're looking at here is trying to execute a mission, a critical mission, to get American citizens, Afghans, SIV holders and anybody else who is deserving out of the country. And in the meantime, of course, they've got to protect themselves.

And as you said, they are surrounded on all sides by the Taliban, obviously, and potentially other groups. If the reports are correct, ISIS-K, of course, is a big factor here and this rather amorphous group is perhaps the one thing that can really throw a monkey wrench into this whole operation and create some real chaos here.

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, it's Thursday, coming up on Friday here now, but this withdrawal deadline is soon, Tuesday.


LEMON: With the chaotic situation on the ground and thousands left to evacuate, what needs to happen in that time?

LEIGHTON: So what they need to do is they need to bring all of the people they can possibly get into aircraft and then move onward to the intermediate stops like Qatar, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates or Germany. They have to do that. While they are doing that, they also have to pack up all of the equipments that they brought with them.

This operation is going to be separate from any operation to go after ISIS-K like President Biden announced in his speech this evening.


LEIGHTON: So, they have got the mission of basically taking care of the logistics and making sure that nothing else happens to them so there is an intelligence component to this mission at the Hamid Karzai Airport.

And then what they have to do is they have to get out of there safely and they have to have the cooperation of the Taliban to do that. That's a pretty tall order right now.

LEMON: Right on. The security situation, no doubt, is going to get more volatile as more troops start to leave. What capabilities does the U.S. have right now, military, intelligence, strategic, right now to respond to the threats and make sure both evacuees and our troops get out safely?

LEIGHTON: They've got basically a security contingent that is with them at the airport and that security contingent is really most of the 5,400 or so troops that are there right now. Everybody basically is combat-ready in that group. That is why they trimmed down 400 people from that group a few days ago.

So, everybody here is basically what we call head on a swivel. They are turning around 360 degrees to make sure that they can see any type of threat that is directed at them personally if they go anywhere near the outside of the perimeter. On the other side of it, on the intelligence side, there is a lot of what we call intelligence overwatch that happening here. That is a lot of tactical collection that is going on as well as national collection that is fed to the troops at Hamid Karzai. And that is essential to their well-being and to their safety. And with all of that, hopefully, it will protect them from anything like this in the next few days.

LEMON: Colonel, it is something the president talked about today. But the last U.S. troops at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan left in early July. It's a heavily fortified compound. The president was asked about it. Here it is.


BIDEN: I ask for their best military judgment. What would be the most efficient way to accomplish the mission? They concluded, the military, Bagram was not much value added. That it was much wiser to focus on Kabul. And so I followed that recommendation.


LEMON: Do you think that we, meaning the U.S., should've waited to leave Bagram until the end of the withdrawal?

LEIGHTON: Well, I'm tempted to think that, because it seems to me that with all of the space at Bagram, it had a huge runway that was very useful for military operations, it could have served as basically the launching point for flights from Afghanistan to other places.

They could have also used Hamid Karzai airport, which they are of course currently using not as a launching point for the flights outside of Afghanistan, but as a collection point for all of the people who are gathering in Kabul right now, move them from there to Bagram and then take them out of the country from Bagram.

But, of course, hindsight is 20-20 and I don't have all the information that they had. But I do think that they could have done something a little differently because Kabul, Hamid Karzai Airport is an extremely vulnerable place, as we saw today.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, Colonel Leighton. I appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Thank you for your service.

LEIGHTON: Thank you.

LEMON: Refugees making their way to the U.S. We are going to tell you how they are being vetted, who is welcoming them, and who is not. That is next.




LEMON: While the evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies continue full speed ahead at Kabul's airport, refugees already airlifted out of Afghanistan are beginning to arrive here in the U.S. Many governors are rolling out the welcome mat in their states. But some Republicans and right-wing media commentators are raising red flags. Are they right to be concerned or just fearmongering?

I want to bring in now senior justice correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, thank you so much for joining us. Walk us through what is being done to check the backgrounds and the identities of refugees who are coming into this country.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, there is a labyrinth system that is in place, Don. The FBI, the Homeland Security Department, they've got watch lists, that they are checking the names of the people who are coming in. They are checking lists from some of our allied countries.

There is a mess in Afghanistan and the recent events with the bombings sort of illustrate the dangers that are lurking there. But, what has been going on has been frankly heroic work by some of the people who have been trying to vet these people.

Look, there are thousands of people who are coming in. A lot of them are coming in without paperwork and that is causing some delays, which I am told is something that, you know, a lot of people are worried about. They are worried about missing something because of the crunch, the time crunch that they are under to review all these people.

LEMON: But they do -- people are coming in, as you said, without papers. But they do eye scans and fingerprints and there is like facial recognition --

PEREZ: Exactly.

LEMON: -- and all these things. This vetting is pretty rigorous, correct, as it should be and as Americans wanted to be.

PEREZ: It is. Keep in mind, I mean, this country, the United States, was in Afghanistan for 20 years. We helped set up and funded biometric ID systems that has been now rolled out in Afghanistan in the last couple of years.


PEREZ: That is a tremendous advantage for the screening process compared to, say, earlier refugee flows that came from Syria when we had no idea, frankly, what many of those people were. So, I think, you know, talking to officials, they feel a lot better about this system, but there is no doubt. I mean, look, there is always a danger that something could happen.

LEMON: Yeah, but also, I think that, you know, the critics have been saying, well, they found this person who had some sort of tangential connection to some sort of terrorist group. And if they find someone like that, that means the system is working, correct?

PEREZ: It is. It does mean that. So far, I think the Pentagon has now said more than 50 people's names did ping on some watch lists, something that raised a flag. What they did is that they investigated those people. In some cases, planes are waiting -- people are waiting on planes eight to 10 hours to be screened. There is a tremendous amount of work.

The FBI has a command center going 24/7 where they're trying to get these names through so that they can review these people before they are allowed into the country.

LEMON: Yeah. Well, we got to see where this goes. A lot of time and a lot of folks that they have to process. Thank you, Evan. I appreciate it.

PEREZ: Thanks.

LEMON: Heroes, that's what President Biden is calling the troops who died in the attacks in Kabul as he vows revenge. Stay with us.




LEMON: Speaking to the nation tonight, President Biden saying that he was outraged as well as heartbroken at the killing of 13 U.S. service members in the Kabul bombing attacks, and calling the fallen troops heroes.


BIDEN: They're part of the bravest, most capable, and the most selfless military in the face of the earth. And they are part of simply what I call the backbone of America. They are the spine of America. The best the country has to offer.


LEMON: Let's discuss now. CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley joins me. Douglas, good evening to you. Thank you so much for joining us.


LEMON: These are just heartbreaking images that we are seeing coming out of Afghanistan. Thirteen service members, dead. Just awful. The White House press secretary said that this is maybe the worst day of a presidency, losing service members like this. Do you agree with that?

BRINKLEY: Absolutely. There is nothing like it. It reminded me, when I was young, in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was president and we lost 241 U.S. service personnel in Beirut, Lebanon. Reagan said we got to get out. Even though we lost 241, we just got to get out of Lebanon and not stay there.

But having today seeing best marines, 12 of them, 13th in the Army, a number of Americans still injured, and the fact that so many of our fellow citizens, Don, are still stuck in Afghanistan, which is we are all watching on our TV screens, they're just deteriorating, it is such a rapid clip, makes this kind of live wire story.

It is not just one event like in Oklahoma City bombing but, you know, every minute, we are going to have to pay attention certainly between now and Tuesday.

LEMON: What do you think -- I can't imagine. Plus, having to make the phone calls, right? What do you think presidents are dealing with when they make such difficult life or death decisions?

BRINKLEY: Well, the irony of all of this is that we haven't had a U.S. service personnel killed in Afghanistan for 18 months. Joe Biden gave us his rationale for getting out. He said I want no more dead American military personnel. We are getting out. Well, lo and behold, we are looking at the carnage, the catastrophe that was today with kind of fearful eye for what may happen tomorrow.

So, President Biden has mournfully talked today about Beau, his son, talked about this sort of dark feeling, the empty and hollowness you get. He was very resolute about getting revenge and getting the perpetrators. But he has to be crestfallen about losing this many marines and losing so many of our Afghan allies and what is turning out to be a very porous strategy, Don.

We aren't gonna studying at West Point or citadel of the Biden strategy for Afghan evacuation in a positive light. It has all been very helter-skelter these past 12 days.

LEMON: President Joe Biden is now the fourth president to oversee this particular war in Afghanistan. He said that he didn't want to pass this responsibility on to a fifth president. How do you think this is going to go down in history, Douglas?

BRINKLEY: I could tell right now that getting out is a good thing. When Gerald Ford got us out of Vietnam, it was a good thing. As I mentioned, Reagan got us out of Lebanon. It was a good thing. We were there 20 years. In some people's mind, 20 years are too long.

But you are responsible for strategy and Donald Trump made a kind of cockamamie deal with the Taliban. Biden had to accept it. The timetable got going fast. So it's not just Biden's White House to blame.


BRINKLEY: The State Department hadn't properly processed visa applications. The CIA said the Afghan government would hang in there until October and that was off. Meaning, there seems to be a collapse at every level except for our brave marines and service personnel at the Kabul airport right now. But otherwise, we are looking at a kind of government dysfunction. And because we're in the middle of the COVID pandemic, people are getting very weary of dysfunction. But I think Biden was right on the principal point of getting us out of Afghanistan. But getting us out -- getting us out and through is proving to be very bloody.

LEMON: Yeah. Doug Brinkley, thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

BRINKLEY: Thanks, don.

LEMON: Thank you. And thank you for watching, everyone. Tough times that we are dealing with right now. Our live coverage continues with Chris Cuomo. He's right after this very quick break. Don't go anywhere.