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America's Longest War: What Went Wrong in Afghanistan; Top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan wrestle with mistakes and regrets as America's longest war ends. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired September 12, 2021 - 22:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER": And year after year, innocent civilians continued to lose their lives. Year after year, increasing the challenge to winning Afghan hearts and minds.

HAMID KARZAI, HAMID KARZAI FORMER PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: The civilian casualties and the manner in which military operations are conducted has been a source of serious concern to the Afghan people for a long, long time.

TAPPER: Coming up.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We have a clear and focused goal.

TAPPER: Obama's search, I probably.

GENERAL STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE (ret.): I probably spent more time thinking about it than anyone else.


RICHARD BROOKSHIRE, FORMER SERGEANT, U.S. ARMY: When he won it was transformative.

We had a first black president commander in chief and I was like, well, if it's any time to serve the country, perhaps now would be a great time.

My name is Richard Brookshire. I was a sergeant and I served in Afghanistan in 2011.

How do I feel about Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan? It's a difficult kind of thing to tread because, you know, as a young black man, you want to admire this person, you know, and I do in many ways. But when I looked at his presidency and the choices that he made, I think Obama was a liar. I think he misled people to believing a hope and change agenda, specifically in Afghanistan.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mastermind of 9/11, the architect of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden is dead.

BROOKSHIRE: They captured and killed Osama bin Laden. And I remember the day that it happened, I was in the chow hall. And nobody was reacting to the fact that Osama bin Laden and gotten killed because we knew that that's not why we were there anymore. It's kind of when I started to really fall out of love with Obama.

OBAMA: The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date, in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda.

BROOKSHIRE: I see him delivering a speech as if he's accomplished some great feat, and perhaps, you know, propagandic sense he had, but all I saw was a lot of money being poured into a country that did not want us there.

There are literally schools in Brooklyn that don't have books in the library. There are breadlines in this country right now. There are people who are facing eviction. What could that money have done for the people who actually call this place home?

OBAMA: So, help me God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gratulations. Mr. President.

TAPPER: In January 2009, America inaugurated a new commander in chief, whose top foreign policy agenda item was the seven-year-old war in Afghanistan, to finish it, and get out.

OBAMA: I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal, to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is a cause that could not be more just.

TAPPER: A just cause, complete with a new strategy and a new commander, General Stanley McChrystal.

MCCHRYSTAL: He didn't talk in that mission statement much about if Afghanistan is unstable and ungovernable and all, but al Qaeda is gone, is that good enough, is that success. So, it became an implied requirement that says you've got to create a sovereign Afghanistan which can defend its own borders, which police inside itself, which can prevent the reemergence of an al Qaeda, safe haven inside.

TAPPER: McChrystal, his predecessor, General David McKiernan, had been sacked by President Obama's Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

ROBERT GATES, OBAMA'S DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed.

CRAIG WHITLOCK, AUTHOR, "THE AFGHANISTAN PAPERS: A SECRET HISTORY OF THE WAR": McKiernan shortly before you've been fired, have been visited by Secretary Gates in Afghanistan and McKiernan spread the word to other senior officers. He said, well, it looks like we maybe have done too good of a job telling people how bad things aren't over here. GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN, FORMER COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE: 2009 is going to be a tough year. There are the baseline problems of poverty and literacy and violence. That's not going to turn around quickly.

WHITLOCK: So, whether Gates intended to do or not, there was a very clear message sent out to other senior officers, which was we don't want you to be pessimistic in public.

MCCHRYSTAL: Secretary Gates tells me go over and do a strategic assessment and tell me what you need to be effective. I came with a number of conclusions, one that the situation was much worse than it was perceived in D.C., the staff came up with a conclusion we needed 40,000 more people and the 40,000 more designed, in my view to be a bridge to allow us to build up Afghan forces over the next couple of years.

TAPPER: McChrystal 66-page assessment calling for a revised mission, refocused on building a stable Afghan military, a drastic jump in troops and a massive financial investment was promptly leaked at the White House unbelieve leaked intentionally to put pressure on the new president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the last 48 hours, Afghanistan is becoming even bigger, probably publicly, President Obama.

MCCHRYSTAL: I was asked to go to Copenhagen to meet President Obama. And we got on Air Force One sat down and had an absolutely pleasant straightforward meeting. I read about it later that you know, it's one of these woodshed moments and --

TAPPER: It wasn't.

MCCHRYSTAL: That's no, no, we didn't even have a conversation about the leak or anything that I remember. And I knew that I hadn't leaked it and I was absolutely confident my people hadn't leaked it.


TAPPER: Regardless of who leaked the assessment, there was a lot of skepticism about it in Washington. Perhaps the leading skeptic, then Vice President Joe Biden.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER U.S. VP PRESIDENT: The surge, I was opposed to it. Now, what I did was, I spent a lot of time in the president tried to convince him as well.

TAPPER: But while most all the focus on McChrystal's plan seem to be on how high troop levels needed to go, the question that others were considering was, if any number of troops at all could solve the problems in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Eikenberry concluded, they would not. And in a classified diplomatic cable to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he explained why. Reason number one, "President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. LT. GEN. KARL EIKENBERRY, COMMANDER, COMBINED FORCES COMMAND- AFGHANISTAN 2005-2007: Not only President Karzai, that many of the Afghan political elite, they just didn't see this war, as we saw it. As we're talking to President Karzai, he said, so, look, I'm with you, as long as you are defining this problem as a war against terrorists. If this is a war, that's going to be fought on my territory, where you're bombing my villages, when really the threat is across the border, I can't support you. And yet, that conversation was lost.

TAPPER: What was your reaction when you read Ambassador Eikenberry's statement when you saw that it had leaked? And do you disagree with him?

MCCHRYSTAL: I was not aware of it was being written. It was sent to me from the chairman. And I didn't agree with it. I think he was the strategic partner we had.

The next 18 months will likely be decisive, and ultimately enable success.

TAPPER: Despite the doubts around town, General McChrystal moved forward with his plan.

MCCHRYSTAL: We can and will accomplish this mission.

TAPPER: And President Obama signed off on a 30,000 troops search, 10,000 fewer than requested. And it came with an expiration date.

OBAMA: After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.

MCCHRYSTAL: I advised against the withdrawal day, but then President Obama asked me if I could support him. And the answer is, of course, because he's the commander in chief and he's got perspectives I don't have.

EIKENBERRY: He believed that we could not have an open-ended commitment.

TAPPER: And at the end of the day, do you think the search worked?

EIKENBERRY: We did achieve some military results on the ground, but they were not to be lasting.

MCCHRYSTAL: In my view, we did see improvement. But that improvement is always limited unless you can follow it with governance and economic development. Otherwise, it's not sustainable.

TAPPER: And how did those other two parts go?

MCCHRYSTAL: Predictably harder.

TAPPER: Soon after the drawdown of troops began in 2011, Afghan security forces found themselves unable to maintain much of the recent territory games. And the influx of cash that had to accompany the increase in forces appear to be backfiring. WHITLOCK: U.S. officials would say we spent too much too fast. We were the biggest drivers of corruption because we were throwing so much money at this country. People were going to put it in their pockets and that severely undermined everything we were trying to accomplish.

MCCHRYSTAL: I didn't start thinking it was going to be easy, but just how hard it was, and Afghanistan really brings to mind, OK, is this strategy viable?

TAPPER: By the time General McChrystal had begun questioning the viability of his own strategy, he was no longer in charge.

OBAMA: Today I accepted general Stanley McChrystal resignation, I did so with considerable regret, but also with certainty that it is the right thing for our mission.

TAPPER: On the job for only a year President Obama fired McChrystal after a controversial magazine profile published unflattering and downright dismissive comments about Obama administration officials, comments made by McChrystal and his close aides, ending a long and distinguished military career.

MCCHRYSTAL: I've probably spent more time thinking about it than anyone else. At the end of the day, President Obama was put in an untenable position, and I put him there. From my command, a story came out that perceived by many people would be almost a direct affront to him as though, you've got a military leader who doesn't respect the commander in chief.


TAPPER: Was it tough to end your, I think a 34-year military career in that way?

MCCHRYSTAL: Of course, it's still tough.

TAPPER: After immediately replacing General McChrystal with Iraq surge mastermind, General David Petraeus, President Obama would appoint four more generals to command the war during his administration.

OBAMA: Our coalition is committed to this plan to bring our war in Afghanistan to a responsible enter.

TAPPER: And all four generals would struggle to end the war, as Obama had claimed that he would.

EIKENBERRY: What was quite interesting is in May of 2011, bin Laden is killed.

OBAMA: Justice has been done.

EIKENBERRY: That would have been President Obama's possibility of saying that mission is completed, and then to begin the withdrawal.

TAPPER: It sounds to me like you're saying, with the benefit of hindsight that you think we should have withdrawn after bin Laden was killed?


GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE: So, Jake, I think that's an important question. Had we left at any point over the past 20 years, there would have been residual risk. The assessment from the Intelligence Committee was al Qaeda would reconstitute and once again, pose a threat.

TAPPER: December 28, 2014, it appeared that the President was ready to assume that risk, releasing a statement announcing the conclusion of the war in Afghanistan. In reality, that conclusion would not come for another seven years.

WHITLOCK: When he claimed that there was an end to the combat mission, that just patently wasn't true. So, you had scores of Americans losing their lives in combat.

MCKIERNAN: It's kind of the lobster pot analogy. Easy to get into, hard to get out of.

TAPPER (voice-over): When we come back.

(On camera): Was the war in Afghanistan, ultimately, a failure?



KATIE COOK, AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERAN: Dusty and I have politically different views. And so, we kind of look at the war through different lenses. Mine's a little bluer than his I would say.

TAPPER: Like most married couples, Katie and Dusty Cook do not agree on everything. For these two married Marines, those disagreements include the decision to end the war in Afghanistan.

COOK: I understand why President Biden made the announcement and as an officer support my commander in chief's decisions, but I did have a bit of concern.

DUSTY COOK, FORMER MAJOR U.S. MARINE CORPS: Today of disappointment. It's a terrible situation. And we're literally just like fessing out in the middle of night. Yeah, I left the keys in the car. You got it. It's got to have a gas by.

K. COOK: Yeah.

D. COOK: What is going on.

TAPPER: Dusty was a major in the Marines and deployed twice to Afghanistan. First in 2009, then again in 2011. Katie Cook, who would become the first female Blue Angels pilot, served in Afghanistan in 2013.

K. COOK: It sucks as a service member looking back at Afghanistan and knowing that you gave them that glimmer of hope and now that it's gone, right, that feels terrible.

I think there's going to be a lot of servicemembers who are thinking like, was it worth it? I literally dedicated my life to this cause. And it's worse off than it was.

D. COOK: It's like a multi-faceted question. Was it worth it? Was it worth it for the loss of life on any side? No. Was it worth it for what we kind of gained? I guess there's an identity together. Maybe. So, I have no regrets. The people that we helped there, like they have a face. I've touched them. I've shaken their hands, like, you know, I've been able to greatly affect their lives in a positive manner. So, at the Marines around me.

K. COOK: Everything that we did there all the money, we spent all the marriages that were sacrificed, or, you know, the events that people miss out on all these things that are intangible losses, in addition to life and limb that, you know, a lot of people sacrifice, was it worth it? And I don't think the answer is yes.

TAPPER: For better or for worse, President Biden will be remembered as the commander in chief who ended the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Yet it was President Trump who set the wheels for withdrawal in motion.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: My original instinct was to pull out. And historically, I like following my instincts.

MCCHRYSTAL: I didn't see a clarity on President Trump's strategy for Afghanistan. I think that it was a four-year period in which we didn't have clarity to ourselves, or to the people that we were fighting against or fighting with.

TAPPER: In fact, in 2020, the Trump administration would strike a historic deal with the Taliban that excluded those the U.S. had been fighting alongside for 20 years, the Afghan government. And while many have argued that the U.S. should have negotiated with the Taliban years earlier, Trump's deal may very well have set the stage for both America's ultimate withdraw and the Taliban takeover.

BIDEN: I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban. Under his agreement, U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.

TAPPER (on camera): Do you think that the Trump administration's agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan was inevitably going to be a roadmap to surrender to the Taliban?

ROYA RAHMANI, FORMER AFGHAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: It definitely facilitated that, they give them the experience of presenting themselves as a state or a quasi-state.


TAPPER: Roya Rahmani was appointed Afghanistan's first female ambassador to the U.S. and served during the negotiations.

RAHMANI: When the negotiation with the Taliban started, it should have been not a two-segment negotiation. One with the U.S. and Taliban, another one, U.S. talking with the Afghan government, it should have been more of trying to bring everyone together.

TAPPER: So that was a mistake, you think?

RAHMANI: That was a mistake, it gave them the platform, it empower them, and it gave them the time.

TAPPER: Time and manpower. The agreement brokered by the Trump administration forced the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners, 1000s of whom would later help topple the Afghan government, leaving the hard- fought progress that U.S. intervention successfully achieved in parts of Afghan society hanging in the balance.

DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE 2010-2011: There was a lot of good that was done of the Afghan people, especially in the cities, cherish what it is that they have come to enjoy.

TAPPER: Women's life expectancy increased by nearly nine years. Literacy jumped 28% for young men, and 19% for young women. And child mortality dropped in half. Yet the full cost of those gains have proven nearly imaginable.

PETRAEUS: The cost was considerable in blood and treasure, lives lost, family shattered. But this is where the 9/11 attacks are planned. It's where the training of the attackers was conducted initially, we got rid of them, we got rid of their leaders. And I felt that this was a mission of consequence for our country and a privilege to perform.

TAPPER: In your view, was the war in Afghanistan worth the cost?

MCCHRYSTAL: I'm probably too emotionally biased to give a really good answer to that. It would be hard if I was at disinterested party to argue that it was. But in my heart, I have a different conclusion. I think it was. If we step back now and say just because we didn't get the exact outcome we wanted, we shouldn't have tried, I think would be a mistake.

DUNFORD: What was our mission to prevent al Qaeda from attacking the United States, prevent Afghanistan from being a sanctuary and also mitigate the risk of mass migration. And I believe over the course of 20 years that was achieved. We shouldn't confuse the outcome with saying that we did that in an appropriate level of investment. What I like to have seen us accomplish that mission with fewer young men and women having lost their lives, family suffering, casualties, there's no question about it. But at the end of the day, I'm not willing to say it wasn't worth it.

MCKIERNAN: I think we had to retaliate in Afghanistan, with the attack on the United States of America now, for the 20 years after that, have we done it the smartest best way? Probably not, probably lots of things we could have done differently.

GEN. DAN MCNEILL, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE 2007-2008: My first impulse is to say, yes, it was worth it. But I no longer am shorten of that, but before I go to my grave, I will get that question answered.

EIKENBERRY: If anyone had said on the 12th of September 2001, when we knew that the attack had come from Afghanistan, we're going to be there now from this point on for about 20 years. And it's going to end with us leaving in Taliban back in power. Could you imagine the reaction of the American people?

TAPPER: Was the war in Afghanistan, ultimately a failure?

EIKENBERRY: The 20-year war in Afghanistan was four the results that we have achieved, were not worth the cost.

TAPPER: When we come back the forever impacts of America's forever war.

BRETT SHEATS, FORMER CAPTAIN, U.S. ARMY: I will never forgive the leaders that cause people that I love to die.

TAPPER: Do those generals lie to us?


TAPPER: For most Americans, the end of the war in Afghanistan has had almost no impact on their lives. But for the small percentage of those who voluntarily served and sacrificed and those who love them, the impact of what they have experienced will linger long after the withdrawal.


LT. COL. JASON DEMPSEY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): In terms of the emotions that the end of all this brings, I realize it's going to take a long time to process. Because I've been thinking and writing and mulling over Afghanistan for so long and I'm coming to the realization I'm still not done. You know, it's going to be another, you know, six, nine, who knows how many years, I'm a little choked up only because, you know, two of the guys I start with my army career with and serve with my young lieutenant age, both committed suicide last month. And it's -- you can't say that it was about Afghanistan, every suicide is a unique of that. And you can never say, well, this is why. But we've lost 30,000 of post 9/11 veterans to suicide.

CAPT. LUIS VEGA, U.S. ARMY RESERVE: Yes. It's hard. When you get back, you lose friends, you know, to suicide. Green is for a new era and prosperity. Survival of that or they go back again, as their sixth deployment. And they don't make it home from that one.

RICHARD BROOKSHIRE, FORMER SERGEANT, U.S. ARMY: Coming home was a difficult process. You just had this experience of being ripped away from everything you knew and loved, thrown in the middle of a war zone, in the middle of a country, so different from your own. And I just felt very isolated in trying to even articulate the difficulties of the transition. I'm just getting my footing. It's been 10 years since I got back.

SHEATS: A lot of folks deal with posttraumatic stress, because when they come back, they're still constantly on heightened alert. I found myself to be extremely short tempered. My fuse was lightning fast. And I realized really quickly something was wrong. I went to therapy outside of the military. It still angers me to this day that Americans died for a war that seemingly had no aim. I will never forgive the leaders that cause people that I love to die. I love this country. But this, this was a massive mistake.

LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO (RET.), COMMANDER, COMBINED FORCES COMMAND AFGHANISTAN, 2003-2006: One of the fundamental questions we need to a real answer as a country is, is defending your nation when called, you know, a fundamental responsibility of citizenship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, go, go. Hurry up.

BARNO: If it is, it shouldn't just be volunteers that do that. If you don't think that being a U.S. citizen entails answering the call to arms if the nation is attacked, then we've kind of lost something that we've always had as part of our history.

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, 2009-2010: I think when we go to war, every zip code should be at risk. Every family should be at risk. Because then the threshold to make decisions to go to war will be a little bit more responsibly arrived at, I think.

TAPPER: But how do you do that? Do you think we should have a draft?

MCCHRYSTAL: I personally think that we should. Now I know many of my peers would disagree. But I think it's very dangerous to have a case where you have that part of service being done by a very small percentage of people.

TAPPER: One of the defining things about the last 20 years is the 1 percent sacrificing, serving, going through everything and the 99 percent, not and whether that chasm is sustainable.

GEN. DAN MCNEILL (RET.), COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, 2007-2008: I feared that would not be. There was some very heavy lifting going on from 2005 and 2011m very heavy lifting.

TAPPER: Because ultimately, the 1 percent would say, we're not doing this anymore.

MCNEILL: Yes. You know, it's almost like looking at America. This is still an experiment and democracy. Nothing is guaranteed. Look at January the 6th. But so far, it's held up beyond my expectations.

TAPPER: We have some questions here if you'll indulge me from a number of Afghan vets. We've read these questions to all of the commanders. The first one is from Jason Dempsey, retired Army. If you could have done something differently as a commander, what would it be?

MCNEILL: I probably would have been far more fervent in my please my first time over there, that more had to be done outside of the military. At that time the State Department was taking only volunteers to go to Afghanistan. They weren't directing anybody. I think we had to look at all the dimensions of U.S. power we're playing there and put it in an expeditionary footing, just like the military was.


TAPPER: Brett Sheats, former Army. If you could have run the war independently, what would you have done differently?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, 2010-2011: Well, I would have tried to get the inputs right a heck of a lot sooner than 10 years after we invaded the country, the right level of forces, the right organizational architecture, the right concepts, the right leaders, we squandered opportunities on which we might have capitalized early on.

TAPPER: John Mike Fairfax, retired Army Special Forces. How do you explain why we've been in Afghanistan for 20 years?

BARNO: I think because we fought 21 year wars, I think, had we had people with a longer time horizon, that we're seeing this as a marathon as opposed to a seven month sprint on a deployment or a 12 month sprint on a deployment to include the commanders who we've rotated through, you know, scandalously often, I think we would had a potentially different outcome because people could have had some accountability for the decisions they made.

TAPPER: Katie Cook, Marine. Do you think the U.S. is now perceived with greater strength or weakness after our involvement in Afghanistan for the past 20 years?

MCCHRYSTAL: Sadly, I think we are viewed with greater weakness. From 9/11 on, I think we sort of showed the world how long the dog's leashes and people learn that there was limits to our ability to do things and we learned ourselves.

TAPPER: Up next, the collapse.

ROYA RAHMANI, FORMER AFGHAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: They were ordered to surrender. They were ordered not to fight.

TAPPER: Who ordered them to do that?



RAHMANI: I wake up every morning, hoping that I'm waking up from a nightmare. But I am waking up into it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fear is spreading in Kabul as the Taliban installed themselves in the presidential palace. Thousands desperate to flee for their lives, Kabul's airport, is it a state of chaos.

RAHMANI: I don't have words to describe the emotions, from guilt, to anger to betrayal.

TAPPER: Who betrayed you?

RAHMANI: Everyone, the entire international community they have on leadership.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been an explosion outside the airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hundred and seventy Afghans killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirteen American troops killed in this horrific attack.

LT. GEN. KARL EIKENBERRY (RET.), COMMANDER, COMBINED FORCES, COMMAND AFGHANISTAN, 2005-2007: There was great surprise in the intelligence community about how fast this collapse occurred. We should have maintained a military presence in Kabul until the so-called mission was complete. I think that the Biden administration strategic choice about ending the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was the correct one but poorly executed.

RAHMANI: We were all watching the speed at which the districts were taken over. When President Ghani came here, this was already the reality that was June. So, what is surprising the fact that military dissolved. The military was not strong.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're proud to report to the American people that the Afghan army is in the fight.

TAPPER: The U.S. has been talking about how great the development of the Afghan military forces has been.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Afghan forces now have full responsibility for security across their country.

TAPPER: For 20 years we've been hearing about this.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Afghans will secure and build their own nation and define their own future.

RAHMANI: The military became more organized, better train in the past 20 years they have ever been. What they lacked was leadership. They were ordered to surrender. They were ordered not to fight.

TAPPER: Who ordered them to do that?

RAHMANI: The Palace.

TAPPER: President Ghani told the Afghan security forces to surrender to the Taliban?

RAHMANI: I cannot say that he himself directly told them. But my understanding is that Kabul decided to tell this Afghan security forces not to fight.

TAPPER: When you heard the President Ghani had fled the country, did that surprise you?

RAHMANI: It was shocking. It was disappointing.

EIKENBERRY: The American military, we could provide advice, we could provide training and support, but we couldn't give that Afghan army a soul. Only the political leadership and people of Afghanistan could do that. And that was a failure. The Afghan Government remained extraordinarily corrupt.

RAHMANI: Corruption was one of the very main reasons of how things turned out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Afghan security force development has been advanced considerably.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Afghan forces are better than we thought they were. And they're better than they thought they were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Afghan commanders who make up that core have never lost a battle against the Taliban, and they never will.

TAPPER: General, there are a lot Americans who look at the collapse of the Afghan military and think, do those generals lie to us?


EIKENBERRY: No, they didn't. You don't stand up in front of 40 infantry men as a young 21-year-old lieutenant and say, troops, I think we've got about a 30 percent chance of taking that hill, follow me. No, you're taught, can do, glass half full.

TAPPER: Do you think that one of the problems may also be that the incentive structure within the U.S. military is to be able to say that something has been achieved, as opposed to acknowledging that something cannot?

EIKENBERRY: It's a very valid point. And, yes, it's more unwitting, it's just the climate, you know, we can get things done. And that's something that the military indeed needs to take a look at, in our history of Afghanistan.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD (RET.), COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, 2013-2014: It's early to do a postmortem. And I'm humble about my ability to articulate all of the things we should have learned along the way at this point. But clearly, the integration of our diplomatic and military efforts, clarity on our objectives, consistency, and the application of pursuing those objectives, I mean, I think there's going to be lessons learned in all of those areas.

PETRAEUS: These are not battles or fights of a decade, much less a few years. This is a generational struggle with Islamist extremism, and you have to keep at it.

GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN (RET.), COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, 2008-2009: I think we still have a ways to go is America to see things through the eyes of the people who live in that country? What is it they want, or don't want, instead of trying to instill or impose a westernized approach to an intervention?

MCCHRYSTAL: Our ability to establish viable governance was just extraordinarily hard. If I have anything where I am most self-critical on it is the understanding or the appreciation for how difficult that would be.

EIKENBERRY: I think there were three inflection points. Point number one was right after 9/11, we missed bin Laden. Had we put a lot of ground troops in there, we probably would have gotten bin Laden.

BUSH: On my order.

EIKENBERRY: Point number two, was when President Bush made the fateful decision to invade Iraq.

BARNO: Iraq was consuming all the options in the room.

GEN. JOHN ALLEN (RET.), COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, 2011-2013: Much of our strategic attention was diverted into Iraq and to the detriment of the war.

EIKENBERRY: The third inflection point was when we finally did kill Osama bin Laden, that would have been President Obama's point to quickly tried to draw down the military mission. There really was no clear political end state that leads to deep questions. Was it worth it? What was it all about?

TAPPER: What do you say to gold star parents or veterans who wonder if it was worth it?

MCNEILL: I'm just simply saying the families for what I have failed to do. I'm sorry. I did the best I could.

TAPPER: Why do you blame yourself?

MCNEILL: If this is a failure, then I carry my share of it.

TAPPER: What's your message to the U.S. veteran sitting at home, he lost a leg in Afghanistan, watching these events, and really having a tough time with it. What do you say to them?

RAHMANI: I would say, you and your comrade, you helps us walk. So many people started thinking differently, doing things differently, expanding their worldview, treating their women better. It's not reversible. That progress would stay forever. And your sacrifices made that happen.

TAPPER: For years now I've worn this bracelet on which are etched the names of the eight soldiers who were killed in 2009 in the battle at combat outpost Keating in Afghanistan. Thomson, Kirk, Scusa, Griffin, Hardt, Gallegos, Martin, and Mace, every one of them was killed doing something to help his brothers there during that battle, whether it's supplying ammunition or returning fire.


So, on the occasions when I'm asked, did they die for nothing? I say no because beyond the achievements for the Afghan people, the sacrifices our service members make are not contingent on victory. Their selflessness exists unto itself. No service member enlists thinking the Pentagon or presidents never make mistakes, that's what makes their willingness to sacrifice all the more remarkable. Now, whether our leaders and the decisions that they made are worthy of these men and women, well, that's another matter. And that is for you to decide.