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State of the Union

Taliban Enter Kabul as Afghan President Flees the County; President Ghani Has Left Afghanistan Amid Taliban Takeover; U.S. Embassy in Kabul Will be Shuttered by Tuesday; American Flag Taken Down at U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan; U.S. Considering Need for Additional Forces in Afghanistan; Former Obama Ambassador: U.S. Exit is a "Handover to the Taliban"; Biden in July: "Unlikely" Taliban Will Fully Take Over Afghanistan; U.S. Troops Scramble to Evacuate Diplomats From Afghan Capital; Secretary Blinken on Afghanistan Exit: "This is Not Saigon"; One-on-One with Top Republican Rep. Michael McCaul; Top House Republican: Biden Will Have "Blood on His Hands"; Biden: Longer U.S. Presence "Would Not Have Made a Difference"; Kinzinger, Cheney Point Blame at Trump and Biden on Afghanistan; Trump Administration Touted U.S. Deal with Taliban in Afghanistan; Veterans, Gold Star Families are Feeling Range of Emotions; Remembering the Americans Who Gave Their Lives in Afghanistan; What is the Lasting Legacy of Americans Who Died in Afghanistan?; Aired 12-1p ET.

Aired August 15, 2021 - 12:00   ET



BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: CNN's live coverage continues now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper, live in Washington where the state of our union is watching a tragic foreign policy disaster unfold before our eyes. We begin with the breaking news.

In just the past few hours the situation in Afghanistan has gone from threatening to dire as the Taliban easily breach the last stronghold of the Afghan government. Afghan President Ghani has now fled the country and Taliban fighters have entered the capital city of Kabul where the American flag has now been taken down from the U.S. embassy as the U.S undertakes in an urgent evacuation of American personnel.

The rapid crumbling of the country shocked the U.S. and the U.S. allies and caught the Biden White House flatfooted. On Saturday after pulling out almost all of the 2,500 troops who were there when he took office, President Biden announced that he would deploy more U.S. troops, 5,000 now total back into the country for the limited mission of getting Americans and others fleeing safely out of Kabul, warning of a, quote, "swift and strong U.S. response if the Taliban interfere."

And with the constant thrum of helicopters overhead, sources tell CNN that the majority of the U.S. embassy staff are now out of the embassy compound. That is a sharp turnaround from six weeks ago when President Biden called it, quote, "highly unlikely" that the Taliban would overrun the country, and assessment that even at the time struck many experts in his own administration as unrealistic and prompting questions today as to whether President Biden was cherry picking intelligence or indifferent to it.

Now as American diplomats rush to shred embassy documents and escape, it seems shocking that President Biden could have been so utterly wrong. The U.S has not yet been able to evacuate the 18,000 Afghan translators and their families who risked their lives to help the U.S. and who are now in grave danger, and across the country desperate Afghans already struggling with extreme poverty, and especially women and girls, and are contemplating an even more dismal life under Taliban rule as reports from the - from the country emerge of young girls being kidnapped as essentially sex slaves to Taliban fighters.

U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, will join us in a moment, but let's start right now in Kabul with Clarissa Ward who is sheltering there, and Clarissa, first of all we're glad you're safe. The Taliban have entered the city. I've heard reports of armed Taliban fighters in Kabul. What more do you know?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This morning the Taliban said that they had no intention of coming into the city, that they were on the outskirts, that they were waiting for some kind of a peaceful agreement and then they would finally come in.

Fast forward five or six hours, President Ashraf Ghani has left the country. Taliban fighters are roaming the streets. The Taliban spokesperson issued a statement telling people to stay at home, urging people not to panic, saying that in order to avoid chaos everybody needs to just hunker down.

And so, we're doing that just the same as most Afghans are, Jake, but there's been an absolute crush today of people desperately trying to leave the country. The road to the airport was completely overrun by vehicles. I spoke to an American who was at the airport.

So many were evacuating he said that shooting broke out at one stage because there was such chaos at the entrance. There was also another incident where people had to take shelter because there was concern about incoming mortar fire, all of which I think gives you a sense of just how chaotic this pandemonium really that has struck.

It's a little calmer tonight because I think everyone is at home and waiting to see what tomorrow will bring, who will be in charge. We know it's not going to be President Ashraf Ghani's government. The Taliban has said that they will start to assume positions of responsibilities in the various ministries, but really still a huge amount of uncertainty as to what happens now.

TAPPER: We're just learning that the American flag has been lowered at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Other networks are reporting that the charge affair (ph), the Acting U.S. Ambassador has left the embassy, on his way to the airport. What does that signal to the Afghan people and to the world?

WARD: You know, it was just three days ago that we were hearing this isn't an evacuation. It's a withdrawal. It will take two weeks. It'll be done by August 31. The embassy is still open. The message is one of enduring partnership, but you know what, Jake? The Afghan people I spoke to, they saw the writing on the wall. They knew that people were fleeing. They knew that this was an evacuation. Now by Tuesday morning the U.S. embassy will be completely shuddered. All that's there anyway is a skeleton crew, and most of them have been relocated to the Kabul airport.


And I do think there's a sense that people here feel like they've been abandoned. Not that they expected America to stay and keep fighting this war for them for endless decades, but there's a great deal of anger and resentment about this sort of chaotic and hasty nature of this withdrawal. There's a sense that all the precautions weren't taken that could have been in order to facilitate a slightly more measured and organized or orderly withdrawal.

TAPPER: What are you hearing about the Taliban presence at the Presidential Palace in terms of who is there and how much the Taliban might actually be controlling or using elements of the Afghan military?

WARD: So earlier we spoke to a source inside the Presidential Palace who told us there were about eight or nine Taliban representatives from the sort of Doha contingency who've been participating in the ongoing negotiations. The best known of them Anas Haqqani, who is the brother of the Deputy Leader of the Taliban, certainly well known to many in national security circles in the U.S.

We don't know if they are continuing to occupy the Presidential Palace, if they plan to take it over. There's been discussions about some kind of a transitional government, some sort of a power - peaceful trasnferral (ph) of power, but we still don't know what that looks like yet, and we're hearing so many messages coming out, Jake, from members of the Afghan government who are so furious with Ashraf Ghani, who feel so deceived by him that he has sort of abandoned this sinking ship, saving himself and leaving so many others to an uncertain fate without first implementing a plan that might do something to mitigate further bloodshed.

TAPPER: And we're told that the U.S. embassy in Kabul is telling any Americans who are still Afghanistan to shelter in place. Clarissa, what are you hearing about the airport? I've heard reports of flights - commercial flights not being allowed to land at the airport and flight tracker would seem to suggest that that's accurate.

WARD: Yes. We had heard something similar. We had some colleagues who were able to come into the country then another colleague who was not able to come in on a flight from Dubai because that flight was turned around. It's unclear if that's because of the security situation or because the Americans have so many military flights going in and out that that is kind of choking up the air space. We do know from an American I spoke to who was at the airport until very recently that there are a huge amount of foreigners there, and I should say that this person is on the military side of the airport, not on the civilian side of the airport. Huge amount of foreigners, some of them greatly distressed. One woman apparently had not been in the country for very long and certainly was not prepared for all the insanity for lack of a better word of the last week or so.

And the objective now is to get them out of the country as quickly as possible. But what happens to civilian flights? Do they resume? Will people be able to leave the country if they can because let's be clear, Jake, that's the only way out of Afghanistan right now.

All the border crossings are controlled by the Taliban. The city is surrounded and, indeed, now infiltrated by the Taliban, so the only way you're getting out now is if you can get to Kabul airport and get on a civilian flight, but as I said no guarantees that those civilian flights will keep running.

TAPPER: And we're now learning that the U.S. military is considering the need for even more new service members forces in Afghanistan in additional to the five - in addition to the 5,000 that Biden has approved. That's after, of course, withdrawing 2,500. What does that signal to you about this evacuation?

WARD: Well it signals to me just how worried the Americans are about coming under attack potentially, about being able to evacuate all these people in an orderly manner. The first contingency of U.S. embassy American personnel is just the tip of the iceberg, Jake.

Then they have to evacuate all U.S. nationals, all U.S. dual nationals. Then they want to evacuate anyone who's worked with the U.S. embassy, anyone who has one of those SIV passes. They want to try to expedite for people who are still in the bureaucratic process of trying to get their SIV approved so that they can leave.

Then they're also looking at Afghan employees who worked with, you know, a number of NGOs, for example, American NGOs or journalistic organizations.


So they're anticipating potentially having to evacuate, you know, well over 10,000 people, and that is a huge undertaking particularly when you have an insurgency that has taken over the city.

TAPPER: Clarissa, I know I speak for all of the viewers watching right now. Thank you for your incredible reporting as always, and please stay safe. We do worry about you.

WARD: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up, I'm going to ask U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, how the U.S. was caught so off guard by the Taliban offensive. Plus the top foreign policy Republican in the House says the debacle in Afghanistan makes Americans less safe. Congressman Michael McCaul is also coming up. Stay with us.



Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper. The U.S. is urgently working to evacuate American personnel from Kabul as the Afghan President has fled that country and the Taliban are entering the capital city all at an incredibly rapid pace. Joining us now, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.

Secretary Blinken, thanks so much for joining us. Take a listen to what President Biden was saying less than six weeks ago.


REPORTER: Your own intelligence community has assessed that the Afghan government will likely collapse.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is not true. They did not - they didn't - did not reach that conclusion. There's going to be no circumstance you're going to see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy. The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


TAPPER: Secretary Blinken, as you know the Taliban has closed in on Kabul. We're evacuating the embassy, burning documents. Biden increased troops, deploying to the country twice in three days just to rescue those there. This is not just about the overall idea of leaving Afghanistan. This is about leaving hastily and ineptly. Secretary Blinken, how did President Biden get this so wrong?

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Jake, first let's put this in context. And as we've discussed before we were in Afghanistan for one overriding purpose, to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11. That's why we went there 20 years ago, and over those 20 years we brought bin Laden to justice.

We vastly diminished the threat posed by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to the United States to the point where it's not capable of conducting such an attack again from Afghanistan. We're going to keep in place in the region the capacity to see if any reemergence of a terrorist threat and to be able to deal with it, and on the terms that we went into Afghanistan in the first place we've succeeded in achieving our objectives.

When the president came to office he had a decision to make. The previous administration negotiated an agreement with the Taliban that said our forces, our remaining forces, only about 2,500 would be out of the country on May 1, and the idea that the status quo could have been maintained by keeping our forces there I think is simply wrong.

The fact of the matter is had the president decided to keep forces in Afghanistan before May 1 attacks would have resumed on our forces. The Taliban had not been attacking our forces and NATO during the period from which the agreement was reached to May 1. The offensive you're seeing across the country now to take these provincial capitals would have commenced, and we would have been back at war with the Taliban.

And I'd probably be on this program today explaining why we were sending tens of thousands of American forces back into Afghanistan and back to war, something the American people simply don't support.


BLINKEN: That is the - that is the reality. That's the context that we're dealing with.

TAPPER: You've cited the May 1 deadline negotiated by the Trump administration. You did blow back - blow through that deadline. We did have troops there after May 1, but I think, again, the issue here is not just the withdrawal of U.S. forces. It's how they were withdrawn. The rapidity, the hastiness.

President Obama's former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, he called the way this was done, quote, "a handover to the Taliban", and quote, "we have hung them out to dry", about the Afghan people. Crocker continued, quote, "I'm left with some grave questions in my mind about Biden's ability to lead our nation as commander-in-chief to have read this so wrong - or even worse, to have understood what was likely to happen and not care," unquote. Does President Biden not bear the blame for this disastrous exit from Afghanistan?

BLINKEN: Jake, we've seen two things. First we've known all along - we've said all along, including the president, that the Taliban was at its greatest position of strength at any time since 2001 when it was last in charge of the country. That is the Taliban that we inherited. And so, we saw that they were very much capable of going on the offensive and beginning to take back the country.

But at the same time we have invested over four administrations, billions of dollars along with the international security in the Afghan Security and Defense Forces building a modern military with the most sophisticated equipment, 300,000 forces strong with an air force that the Taliban didn't have, and the fact of the matter is we've seen that that force has been unable to defend the country, and that has happened more quickly than we anticipated.

TAPPER: Well the idea of them - the force not being able to defend, I mean, what a lot of experts believe - and you can disagree with this if you want, is that having U.S. air support, having U.S. intelligence there to help the Afghan troops on the ground is what stiffens their spine, enables them to do what they do. And that's part of the larger issue about whether or not the U.S. should have left behind any sort of residual force.


But beyond that is, again, the question of how poorly this was done. The idea that President Biden ordered 2,500 service members out and now is sending up to 5,000 service members back in. Does that not on its face show that the exit - that the exit was ineptly planned, and again, look, you told me a few months ago on this program that you thought it was entirely likely that the Taliban would be taking over the country, but President Biden just last month, quote, "The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely." He was wrong.

BLINKEN: Jake, what we've done, what the president has done is make sure that we were able to adjust to anything happening on the ground, and the fact that we - that he sent additional forces in, we had those forces at the ready fully prepared to go in the event that this moved in the direction where if we needed forces in place to ensure that our personnel was safe and secure, to ensure also that we could do everything possible to bring out of Afghanistan those Afghans most at risk.

That's exactly what we're doing.

TAPPER: Why didn't' you have that troops in there and then let that happen first before taking them out?

BLINKEN: Again, I come back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago, which is that that status quo was not sustainable. Like it or not there was an agreement that the forces would come out on May 1. Had they not - had we not begun that process, which is what the president did and the Taliban saw, then we would have been back at war with the Taliban, and we would have been back at war with tens of thousands of troops having to go in because the 2,500 troops we had there and the air power would not have sufficed to deal with this situation, especially as we see, alas, the hollowness of the Afghan Security Forces.

And by the way, from the perspective of our strategic competitors around the world there's nothing they would like more than to see us in Afghanistan for another 5, 10, 20 years. It's simply not in the national interest.

TAPPER: You keep changing the subject to whether or not we should be there forever, and I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about whether or not this exit was done properly, taking out all the service members before those Americans and those Afghan translators could get out. That's what I'm talking about, and then you have to send people back in.

That shows - that's a definition of, oh, we shouldn't have taken those troops out because now we have to send twice as many back in.

BLINKEN: Look, I think it shows that we were prepared, the president was prepared for every contingency as this moved forward. We had those forces on hand, and they were able to deploy very quickly, again, to make sure that we could move out safely and securely as the situation on the ground changed.

TAPPER: Let me just ask you is the Biden administration right now offering the Taliban anything in exchange for a promise of safe passage for Americans and others out of Afghanistan? BLINKEN: No. We haven't asked the Taliban for anything. We've told the Taliban that if they interfere with our personnel, with our operations as we're proceeding with this draw down, there will be a swift and decisive response.

TAPPER: How many Americans are left in Kabul do you think? And how long will it take to get them out? Can you promise that all Americans will get out safely?

BLINKEN: That is job number one. That is our number one mission, and that's what we're working on with a whole of government effort led by the State Department right now. And so, we have our personnel at the embassy. We have some American citizens who are still mostly bi- nationals who are left in Afghanistan. If they want to leave, we have in place the means to do that.

And beyond that, Jake, we have men and women who've worked for us, worked for the military, worked for the embassy over the years as interpreters and translators. We are doubling down on efforts to get them out if they want to leave, and also other Afghans at risk who may not qualify for these so-called special immigrant visas that the folks who worked directly for us qualify for, to do everything we possibly can for as long as we can to get them out if that's what they want.

TAPPER: Why now? Why are you just doing that now? On this show we've been talking for months about the need to evacuate these thousands of Afghan translators and others who helped U.S. service members during the war. President Biden just named an ambassador just a few days ago to run an interagency task force on this. Thousands of these folks are now trapped in their homes. They cannot even try to get to Kabul. It's not safe.

I know two lieutenants, veterans who are like setting up a GoFundMe to save their translators from COP Keating. Why did President Biden wait so long to set up the interagency task force?

BLINKEN: In fact, that task force has been going for many, many weeks now, and Ambassador Jacobson, who is leading, has actually been in place for many, many weeks, and we have been working this from day one.

We had to put in place an entire system to deal with this. Unfortunately, none of that work was done when we came in and we had to put that in place. As you know, the refugee admissions process and support system was decimated in recent years.


We've been working to rebuild that, and it's taken time to get all of that in place, but we have a whole of government effort going on right now to do everything we possibly can to get people out of harm's way if that's what they want to do.

TAPPER: People I know who are active in this, veterans say that they only heard from the State Department within the last few days asking for their lists of people. BLINKEN: The embassy has had lists of people for a long time. We are doubling down, making sure that we know to the best of our ability everyone who may be at high risk and trying to find ways to account for them. So all of this is consistent with the effort to make sure we have the best possible information, and we're doing everything we can to get people out of harm's way.

TAPPER: China is reportedly prepared to recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government. Would the Biden administration ever consider doing that?

BLINKEN: A future Afghan government that upholds the basic rights of its people and that doesn't harbor terrorists is a government we can work with and recognize. Conversely, a government that doesn't do that, that doesn't uphold the basic rights of its people, including women and girls, that harbors terrorists groups that have designs on the United States or our allies and partners, certainly that's not going to happen.

And beyond that to the extent that the Taliban has a self interest if it's leading the government in Afghanistan of assistance from the international community, support from the international community, none of that will be forthcoming. Sanctions won't be lifted, their ability to travel won't happen if they're not sustaining the basic rights of the Afghan people and if they revert to supporting or harboring terrorists that might strike us.

TAPPER: Well I mean, that sounds like a no you would never recognize them because based on what we know about the Taliban they don't respect the rights of women and girls. There are reports from Afghanistan right now that they are forcing young girls into sexual slavery.

BLINKEN: Jake, this is - this is heart wrenching stuff. I've met myself, as I know you have, with remarkable women who've been leaders in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, who've advanced the rights of women and girls with our very, very strong support. I met with a number of them just a few months ago the last time I was in Kabul this spring.

I think it's incumbent on the international community, including the United States, to do everything we can using every tool that we have - economic, diplomatic, political - to work to sustain their rights and at the same time, as I said, to make sure that if the Taliban does not do that if it's in charge that it clearly faces the penalties for not upholding those rights, and we will do everything we can to make sure that's the case.

TAPPER: Everything except for use the U.S. military. President Biden is intent on avoiding a Saigon moment. That's a reference, of course, to the hasty and humiliating U.S. evacuation from Vietnam, but with this troop surge to airlift Americans out of Afghanistan aren't we already in the midst of a Saigon moment?

BLINKEN: No, we're not. Remember this is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission, and that mission to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11, and we have succeeded in that mission. The objective that we set, bringing those who attacked us to justice, making sure that they couldn't attack us again from Afghanistan, we've succeeded in that mission. And in fact, we succeeded awhile ago.

And at the same time remaining in Afghanistan for another 1, 5, 10 years is not in the national interest. You know, the British were there for a long time in the 19th century. The Russians were there for a long time in the 20th century. We've now been there twice as long as the Russians, and how that's in our national interest I don't see.

And as I'd mentioned a moment ago I think most of our strategic competitors around the world would like nothing better than for us to remain in Afghanistan for another year, 5 years, 10 years and have those resources dedicated to being in the midst of a civil war. It's simply not in our interest.

TAPPER: You don't think that Afghanistan now is going to become a hotbed of terrorism?

BLINKEN: Jake, we have tremendously more capacity than we had before 9/11 when it comes to counterterrorism. In places around the world where we don't have forces on the ground. In Yemen, in parts of Africa, in parts of Syria we're able to deal with any potential terrorist threat to our country, and we're doing that every single day. We're going to retain in the region the over-the-horizon capacity as we - as we call it to see and deal with any reemergence of a terrorist threat.

And look, I can't tell you what the Taliban is going to do, but again in their self interest allowing a repeat of what happened before 9/11, which is a terrorist group to reemerge in Afghanistan that has designs on the United States, well they know what happened last time, so I don't think it's in their self interest to allow that to happen again.

TAPPER: All right. Secretary Antony Blinken, thanks so much in taking our questions today. We appreciate it.

BLINKEN: Thanks for having me, Jake.


TAPPER: President Trump signed the deal for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. So how much blame does the previous administration shoulder for the Taliban's takeover? The top House Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee will join us next to discuss. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to State of the Union. I'm Jake Tapper.

As the Taliban enters Kabul and the U.S. government scrambles to evacuate Americans top congressional officials have been voicing concerns this morning about the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. After 20 years, billions of dollars, thousands of American and Afghan

lives lost some lawmakers, not to mention veterans who fought in the war and lost friends are wondering what was it all for?


Joining us now to discuss, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Congress Michael McCaul of Texas.


TAPPER: Congressman, thanks for joining us. So I do want to give you an opportunity to respond --


TAPPER: -- to what you just heard from Secretary Blinken.

MCCAUL: You know I think the secretary's been devoid of reality this whole time. Since the decision was made in May I think it's an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. And I think the president -- this is going to be a stain on this president and his presidency. And I think he's going to have blood on his hands for what they did.

You know, for months we've been warning. Ambassador Crocker and I wrote an op-ed in "The New York Times" about what we need to do now to save the interpreters. What we need to do to have our ISR intelligence surveillance recognizant capabilities in the region. Now we are going dark. They totally blew this one. They completely underestimated the strength of the Taliban.

And you know, Jake, they didn't listen to the intelligence community because every time I got an I.C. briefing assessment it was probably the grimmest assessment I've ever heard on Afghanistan and yet they -- the State Department, Secretary Blinken, the politicos in the White House wanted to paint this rosy picture of that somehow these peace talks and Doha were going to deliver a rabbit out of the hat at the 11th hour.

Well guess what, that didn't happen. And now they're sending 5,000 troops in to try to save our embassy personnel. They're destroying classified documents as I speak. The visa process has stopped and now, you know, President Biden said in July this is not going to be a Saigon, it's not like South Vietnam. And guess what? When I talked to Ambassador Crocker, we think it's going to be worse than Saigon.

TAPPER: President Biden --

MCCAUL: When they raise the black flag of Taliban over our United States embassy, think about that visual.

TAPPER: President Biden released a statement yesterday defending his decision saying, quote, "One more year of five more years of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable to me."

What do you make of that argument, if after 20 years the Taliban could take over so easily, the Afghan military would fold so easily that no amount of time would have solved the problem?

MCCAUL: Well I think history's repeating itself. Remember it was Obama and the vice president, at that time Biden, who decided to withdrawal completely out of Iraq and look what happened. ISIS reared its ugly head.

I -- you know -- I persuaded President Trump to keep a residual force in Syria and how you're looking at a very light footprint. A very, if you will, insurance policy for stability in the region and they knew given the I.C. assessment what was going to happen if we withdrew.

They knew if it wasn't conditions based, and that's very important here, had to be conditions based as the February agreement stated, it wasn't done that way and we allowed the Taliban to hit the provincial capitals, they never cut their ties to Al-Qaeda.

I don't know what the secretary's talking about when he says that, you know, we could maybe recognize them as a legitimate government there. They have never cut their ties to Al-Qaeda.

We are going to go back, Jake, to a pre-9/11 state. A breeding ground for terrorism. And, you know, I hate to say this. I hope we don't have to go back there, but it will be a threat to the homeland in a matter of time.

TAPPER: Your fellow Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger tweeted that, quote, "Between Trump and Biden they own this." Congresswoman Liz Cheney another Republican called it the, quote, "Trump-Biden Calamity." Saying this began with, quote, "Trump administration negotiating with terrorists." Senator Ben Sasse put out a similar statement.

Does former President Trump share the blame for what we're seeing in Afghanistan because of the deal he made with the Taliban? And the fact Secretary Blinken wasn't wrong when he said that the Taliban was stronger in January of this year than it had been since 9/11?

MCCAUL: Well, you know, and I've talked to National Security Advisor O'Brien about, you know, this whole -- it was always going to be conditions based. They are violating two principles of that agreement. One attacking provincial capitals. And two, never cutting ties with Al-Qaeda.

In his words when he talked to President Trump he told him that I will not allow to have another Saigon on my watch. And they even talked about B-52s, so. But we can talk hypothetically about, you know, what the prior president may have -- may or may not have done.

But you know, Harry Truman once said the buck stops here. And, you know, for President Biden to try to throw all this on the former administration is a lack of responsibility and accountability. He owns this. Absolutely, 100 percent. How owns it. He made the decision. [12:40:08]

And what's worse, Jake, is when you and I started to get engaged on this once he made the decision he could have done certain things, he could have planned for it, he could have had a strategy for this.

But instead they had no strategy and now they're knocking on the doorstep of Kabul. The noose is tightening around the Kabul neck. And there's still no strategy other than raise to the airport and evacuate as many people as you can.

This a really sad day, not only for American but for the Afghan people, the women left behind and I would say our international standing in the world we look so weak and it's so embarrassing.

And you're right, China hosted the Taliban in China saying they would call them a legitimate government. Don't think for a minute now the Chinese are not going to go into Afghanistan, get their rare earth minerals and a -- and put a base of operations in Afghanistan.

We have negotiated out of weakness here and the Taliban -- I'm sorry, our foreign advisories are emboldened. That being Russia, China, Iran, remember we have no ISR capability anymore.


MCCAUL: We are going dark in Afghanistan as a dark veil covers the country.

TAPPER: What do you make of the pushback from the Biden administration? And I don't disagree, the buck stops with whomever -- whoever is behind the resolute desk. But the pushback that Trump set the stage for all of this in the sense that he was talking about inviting the Taliban to Camp David. The last year -- just last year Trump and Secretary Pompeo were suggesting that the Taliban would be the partner with the U.S. in fighting terrorism.

Trump said that the Taliban would be, quote, "Killing terrorists." Pompeo said that the Taliban would, quote, "Work alongside us to destroy and deny resources to Al-Qaeda. Have -- first of all, have you seen any evidence that that's happening?

MCCAUL: Well, I think their strategy was they knew that a transitional government would have to necessarily include the Taliban. I don't think anybody likes the Taliban. I don't equate (ph) negotiating with the Taliban like negotiating with the Ayatollah. I'm not personally think that's a very great idea. But I think that was the thinking of the time.

But again, this agreement was conditions based and the conditions have not been fulfilled. And I do think Biden does own this. He's reversed so many policies of Trump's in the past, whether it be Remain in Mexico to, you know, the Paris Accords, the Iran JCPOA. The idea that President Biden couldn't come in and reverse this, you know, agreement, why this one, right?


MCCAUL: He had -- he's the president of the United State, she's the commander-in-chief and for him to skirt this responsibility when it was his decision and it's the consequences from a national security standpoint are severe because now they can say they defeated the United States in Afghanistan, the infidel, just like they defeated the Soviet Union. This will have long-term ramifications.

TAPPER: Congressman Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, thank you for your time sir. Good to see you.

MCCAUL: You too Jake.

TAPPER: As the U.S. departs from Afghanistan and the Taliban takes control veterans and Gold Star families are asking what it was all for.

That's next.



TAPPER: As you might imagine it has been a particularly intense week for those in the U.S. and veteran community, including especially for Gold Star families who lost loved ones in Afghanistan.

And based on those veterans and Gold Star families, I have the honor of knowing because my coverage of the war and veterans, I can say the emotions seem to be all over the map from the Gold Star mom asking if this all means her son's death was for nothing, for no reason.

To the more hardened former officer who told me he always knew it was going to end this way and he's glad no more Gold Star families will be created in Afghanistan. To the two former lieutenants who started a GoFundMe to try to rescue two interpreters and their families.

And right now I want to take a moment if you'll indulge me to talk to them, to talk to those who sacrificed over there, whether losing a friend or a loved one or a limb or the ability to sleep soundly at night or whatever. I have worn this bracelet for years now.

It has the name of the eight men who were killed at combat Outpost Keating on October 2, 2009. Kevin Thomson, Josh Kirk, Michael Scusa, Chris Griffin, Josh Hardt, Justin Gallegos, Vernon Martin and Stefan Mace. Every one of those eight men, every one of them was killed that day trying to help defend the camp. Trying to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.

And yes, that combat outpost was ultimately abandoned. And yes, we can question why they were there defending an outpost that served little purpose at that point other than defending itself. And that's an important question as are similar ones about the war in general. And I'm not downplaying any of them. I covered these issues extensively and will continue to do so.


But the way I look at on an individual level, on a personal level, separating it from the larger foreign policy debates, which we must have for those mourning. I have to say that those acts of heroism and selflessness, as is written in the "Book of John," No greater love has no one than this: that someone laid down his life for his friends. And to me that's why they were lost, for that act of principle.

There's no soldier who volunteers to defend this country and its principles to step into harms way. On behalf of all of us and on behalf of his or her fellow service members no service member does so thinking that the United States public, United States politicians, United States generals always make the right decision, always know what they're doing.

Our service members know the risks of our system and of dangerous terrain and that continued willingness to continue walking down that road know this. Knowing that they're walking towards trouble. That's what makes them all the more heroic.

The act of volunteering to go to a dangerous place, the mere presence as a service member in Afghanistan, that selflessness, that to me is why you're loved ones are no longer here, because of their love of country and their fundamental strength of character and because of their love of the rest of us.

And that is how I think of these eight men who's names are on my wrist.

We'll be right back.



TAPPER: Thanks for joining us today. Stay with CNN for updates on all the Breaking News this weekend. That continues next.