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State of the Union

Interview With Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI); Interview With Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA); Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 29, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Specific, credible threat. President Biden warns another Kabul attack is highly likely, as the U.S. withdrawal deadline approaches.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We may very well have another attack.

TAPPER: Are Americans now more or less safe? I'll speak to White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Republican Senator Mitt Romney next.

And firsthand account. A controversial trip to Kabul led to new support for President Biden's deadline from two veterans and bipartisan members of Congress.

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): I vowed that I would not be a member of Congress who left our troops behind.

TAPPER: Democrat Seth Moulton and Republican Peter Meijer join me exclusively to discuss their trip in moments.

Plus: unthinkable loss, 13 American service members brutally killed in a suicide attack, alongside 170 Afghans in Kabul. A look at the lives of these brave heroes who died helping to save the lives of others.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is trying to pull off an infinite number of miracles. That's how one veteran described the race to save Americans and Afghan allies still stuck in Afghanistan.

And in addition to the terrifying situation the ground in Kabul, we're covering on this special two-hour STATE OF THE UNION two other crises. The second is on the Gulf Coast of the United States, where, on this anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, folks are waking up to horrible news.

Hurricane Ida grew rapidly overnight to become a dangerous Category 4 storm. We will talk to Louisiana's Governor John Bel Edwards coming up, and, of course, the third crisis, which has been with us since last year, COVID.

We will ask Dr. Anthony Fauci about rising COVID deaths, boosters and vaccines for children.

But let's begin on Afghanistan, because, as we learn the names of the 13 U.S. service members killed by terrorists on Thursday, we are now just two days away from the August 31 deadline to get U.S. service members out of what is now, sadly, the Taliban's turf.

This morning, President Biden is meeting with the families of those Americans killed at Dover Air Force Base before the dignified transfer of their flag-draped caskets.

Meanwhile, Biden is warning another imminent attack on the Kabul Airport is highly likely, the president also pledging the U.S. will continue to retaliate for the terrorist attack and that a U.S. airstrike that took out two of its leaders Friday was not the last.

The Pentagon announced this weekend that the U.S. military has already begun leaving the Kabul Airport, though it remains in control there as of now, and is continuing to evacuate people. Two thousand were flown out over a 12-hour period yesterday.


TAPPER: Joining us now, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Jake, thanks for joining us.

You have been worried about a terrorist attack specifically at the Kabul Airport from the very beginning of this evacuation process. Unfortunately, that came to pass on Thursday.

The White House says that an attack is imminent. What can you tell us? Just how much danger are U.S. service members in or Afghans and Americans and others up by the airport?

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is an exceedingly dangerous moment and an exceedingly dangerous mission, Jake.

And we are doing everything in our power to prevent and disrupt the threat streams that we are seeing and stopping any kind of attack that would endanger the lives of American service members or civilians trying to get into the airport.

But all we can do is mitigate risk. We cannot eliminate it. And we are in a period of serious danger, given what we are seeing in the intelligence.

We are taking every possible measure, at the direction of the president, to ensure that our forces are protected on the ground even as they complete their mission of bringing in the remaining American citizens and Afghan allies.

TAPPER: And, obviously, this terrorist threat complicates the evacuation procedures.

We're now just 48 hours from this August 31 deadline. You and I both know there are Americans on the ground in Kabul right now who can't get into the airport. They can't even reach it.

There are legal permanent of the United States who can't get out there. There are Afghans who have the special immigrant visas who cannot get out. They're obviously not all going to get out by the deadline. They just aren't.

So, what happens to them after Tuesday?

SULLIVAN: So, first, Jake, we believe that we're down to a population of 300 or fewer American citizens who have yet to get out. We have evacuated more than 5,000. We evacuated well more than 300 just yesterday.

So, we believe there's still an opportunity for American citizens to jump to the airport, get on planes and get home.

But, you're right. August 31 is not a cliff. After August 31, we believe that we have substantial leverage to hold the Taliban to its commitments to allow safe passage for American citizens, legal permanent residents and the Afghan allies who have travel documentation come to the United States.


We will use that leverage to the maximum extent. And we will work with the rest of the international community to ensure the Taliban does not falter on these commitments.

TAPPER: It seems, based on public statements and from what I'm hearing from folks involved in the evacuation efforts, that the U.S. government is distinguishing between American citizens and Americans who are legal permanent residents. Is that fair?

SULLIVAN: We have pledged to assist and help evacuate and then post- date 31 help get safe passage for every single American citizen, every single American legal permanent resident, and every person who has worked with the United States government and has what called these Special Immigrant Visas.


TAPPER: But in that order, right, in that order of priority?

SULLIVAN: American citizens will always be the paramount priority for the United States, but legal permanent residents of the United States, many of whom have family here who are American citizens, are also an urgent priority.

We have evacuated thousands of them, and we will continue to work hard to evacuate all of those who are remaining in Kabul.

TAPPER: U.S. officials are warning of a possible threat to the U.S. homeland here at home, here in the U.S., in wake of this evacuation.

It could be from Islamist terrorists. It could be from racist white supremacists.

Do you know of any credible threats to the U.S. homeland in the wake of this withdrawal, and how concerned are you?

SULLIVAN: Well, the general threat is credible. I don't have any specific threat streams focused on the homeland from the point of view of a white supremacist group or an Islamist terrorist to report to you today.

But we are tracking that day by day.

And there are multiple terrorist groups, Jake, from Yemen and Syria and Somalia who are actively seeking the capability to attack the United States. So, we are constantly looking back at that.

And then, finally, of course we have to be attune to the possibility that ISIS-K or any other group within Afghanistan would look to extend its reach beyond Afghanistan itself.

The intelligence community has briefed us over time that their current capability to threaten the homeland is not there. But that is a capability that they are seeking. And we will continue to pay close attention to that and try to disrupt it to the maximum extent possible.

TAPPER: The Biden administration says that the military killed two high-profile ISIS-K targets in an airstrike Friday after the president promised to hunt them down and make them pay.

Were these people who planned the attack of the airport or are they individuals planning additional attacks?

SULLIVAN: These are individuals who are planning additional attacks.

And we believe that, by taking them out, we have disrupted those attacks. They are individuals involved in the facilitation and planning and production of explosive devices. And they are part of the larger network of ISIS-K that is seeking to target both Americans at the airport and ultimately to try to represent a greater threat to our interests both in Afghanistan and beyond.

And, yes, we are currently seeking to develop an action, further targets, using our over-the-horizon capabilities. And as we develop those targets, the president will issue orders to take them out.

TAPPER: There are questions, of course, about how much you're going to be able to do that without a U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

But I want you -- you talked about the commitment to Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants. There was a report that the Biden administration has not disputed that U.S. government employees gave a list of Afghan SIVs who the U.S. is trying of evacuate through the Taliban so as to allow them through checkpoints. I understand the U.S. has relied upon the Taliban for this evacuation

process. But with all due respect, a lot of these Afghan SIVs, as you know better than I, they think the Talibans are going to kill them. And you've given them a list of their names.

SULLIVAN: Jake, we've actually aggressively and decisively disputed that report.

We have given no list of all of the American SIV holders to the Taliban or any other kind of big list.

What your viewers need to seriously understand is that the way that we are moving thousands and thousands of Afghans at risk to the airport is asking them to muster, many of them on buses, bringing them to the airport, and then we work with the Taliban, group by group, bus by bus, to get them through the Taliban checkpoints and onto the airport compound.

That is the type of coordination we've done with the Taliban. That has resulted in journalists and women and pilots and other SIVs being able to get through and get on planes and out of the country.

But some idea that we're handing over databases or lists to the Taliban is simply unfounded and inaccurate. What we're doing is working with -- for discrete groups of individuals to get them on to the airfield.


That has allowed us to literally move thousands and tens of thousands of people through Kabul, to the airport, and out of the country.

TAPPER: Well, there was a Pentagon official in that report that referred to this as a kill list.

Are you disputing that any of this information was given? Or are you just disputing that it was a huge comprehensive list? I mean, maybe there was a smaller list and those SIVs did not get into the airport. Is there any -- is there any chance that that happened?

SULLIVAN: I have just laid out for you the process that we have used, which was to have groups of people move to locations that we have identified, to work with the Taliban to get them through those locations and through the airport.

And we have not, to my knowledge, had instances where, when we have coordinated to get a particular movement onto the airfield outside of HKIA, that we have been unable to get that group that we, the United States government, has said, this is a priority for us, we need to move it on to the airfield.

Of course, there have been people turned away at Taliban checkpoints. And we are now working to try to resolve all of those cases, so that, if there is anyone eligible to come to the United States, we're able to get them here. But the idea of what you just quoted from a Pentagon official is not,

flat-out not correct. There is no such -- quote, unquote -- "kill list." That is -- it is nonsense, it is irresponsible and unfounded reporting.

TAPPER: And just for anybody listening, when Jake said HKIA, he is referring to Hamid Karzai International Airport.

That's the -- I don't want anybody mishearing that. And he's referring to the airport.

I want you to take a listen, Jake, to something President Biden told presidential appointees on Inauguration Day.


BIDEN: I'm going to make mistakes. I'm going to make mistakes. When I make them, I will acknowledge them. And I will tell you. And I will need your help to help me correct them. We're not going to walk away. We're going to take responsibility. That's what we do.


TAPPER: I don't dispute the talking point, the idea which you and the president keep saying that this was going to be messy and ugly no matter what, no matter how it was done.

I don't think anybody who has paid attention to war could dispute the idea that there is no clean way to get out entirely.

But does the president acknowledge any mistakes having been made with withdrawal or evacuation? I mean, there are Democrats who are calling for hearings to find out what went wrong.

SULLIVAN: So first, Jake, it's not a talking point. It's a reality, that the end of a 20-year-war was going to involve complexity and difficulty and, yes, even some human cost, of course.

And that is what has unfolded. Now, we will have an opportunity, as I have said before, to do a hot wash, to do an after-action report, to look at everything that unfolded over the course of the past few months.

And finally, Jake, I just want to say that, when 13 service members lose their lives in service of the worthy mission of saving tens of thousands, more than 100,000 people, all of us who work on these issues lie awake at night and wonder, what could we have done differently? What could we have done better?

Those are questions we will ask. Those are questions we will answer. But, for the next 48 hours, our overriding focus is on getting the remaining American citizens out of the country, and making sure that our troops get home safely. And that's what we're going to put our energy into.

TAPPER: So, just one last question, Jake. There are names and passport numbers and phone numbers of American

citizens in Kabul right now that members of Congress and journalists and members of the administration, members of the military are sending you, sending abroad.

What happens to these people? Are they going to get out?

SULLIVAN: I am personally fielding some of these calls.

I -- and all of us, every single person enforcing this effort is, in a systematic and dedicated way, getting the names and phone numbers of any American citizens still in Kabul to our task force on the ground to get them inside the gate over the course of the coming hours.

We are working at that. And we're going to try to achieve that, so that every person who wants to come to the airport gets inside the airport. Our commitment is to do everything in our power to make that happen by August 31.

And then, after August 31, any person in country who is an American citizen or a legal permanent resident or an SIV holder or otherwise, we will work to ensure their safe passage out of the country and to the United States.

TAPPER: All right, Jake Sullivan, thank you so much. And best of luck in the next 24 to 48 hours.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Senator Mitt Romney blasting the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and risk leaving any Americans behind.

How long would he have stayed? We will talk next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Service members in Afghanistan under high alert today, as President Biden warns another terrorist attack is highly likely.

Back in Washington, Biden's decision to withdraw and the chaotic evacuation which followed former President Trump's deal with the Taliban is being heavily criticized by both Republicans and some Democrats, who say the move makes the United States less safe.

Joining us now, Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

The Pentagon released the names of the 13 service members killed in Kabul. And those names include Staff Sergeant Darin Taylor Hoover from your state of Utah. His parents say he's the best son -- he was the best son that two parents could ever ask for. How do you think Staff Sergeant Hoover is going to be remembered?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Well, I think as an American hero there.

There's no question that but these men and very young women showed compassion and courage and did everything they could to help evacuate Americans and others who would come here legally.

It's an extraordinary sacrifices that they make and is very much in keeping with our extraordinary national heritage.

TAPPER: You have said that it's unthinkable that the U.S. would leave anyone behind, but you just heard Jake Sullivan talk about how August 31 is not a cliff and some people might be left behind.

And, to be fair, the White House says another terrorist attack at the airport is imminent, which is obviously complicating the evacuation efforts. Should the U.S. stay? Should there be a U.S. military presence in the Kabul Airport until every American citizen and legal permanent resident and Afghan SIV applicant is gone, even if that means service members staying for weeks or months, and, of course, there's this very real possibility of more American casualties?

ROMNEY: Leaving Americans behind and leaving our Afghan friends behind who've worked with us would put upon us and will put upon us a moral stain.


And this is the result of very ineffective decisions, terrible decisions made by the prior administration and by the current administration. This did not have to happen. It was -- it was preventable.

And let me note, that's very different than the military. Our military came in at the very last moment and has performed admirably, as far as I can tell, to move people out as quickly as possible.

But we didn't have to be in this rush-rush circumstance with terrorists breathing down our neck. But it's really the responsibility of the prior administration and this administration that has caused this crisis to be upon us and has led to what is without question a humanitarian and foreign policy tragedy.

TAPPER: But this is the situation we're in, regardless of how we got here.

And there is this very real tradeoff that we were talking about on this -- on my show during the weekend also here before the terrorist attack. The risk of keeping American service members there is what happened Thursday.

So, if we stay there until no American and no Afghan SIV applicant is left behind, we risk more events like Thursday.

ROMNEY: Yes, but, Jake, if you focus on, gosh, what should we do right now, recognize that we're in the position we're in right now because of terrible decisions made by two administrations, one, the Trump administration negotiating directly with the Taliban, getting ready to invite them to Camp David, opening up a prison of 5,000 Taliban and probably ISIS-K individuals and letting them free.

I mean, we don't know whether some of them were involved in the attack that occurred. These were the decisions that led to what you're seeing and the danger that exists at the airport. This should not have happened. President Biden closing the Bagram Air Base, that's what's led to what's happening.

So, right now, you have to ask, OK, what's the action we can take at this very last minute which is most likely to get most Americans and most of our friends out of Afghanistan? That's a decision that the commanders on the ground are going to have to make.

But the reality is, the fact that we're in this position is the result of bad decisions made by two administrations.

TAPPER: They -- just to play devil's advocate here, Senator, both Trump and Biden were trying to end the war in Afghanistan. And I recognize that you disagree with the decision to pull all troops out. You have said you would have left behind a residual force of I think you said around 5,000 service members that mainly focused on counterterrorism.

Many of the service members killed on Thursday were just born when the war began in 2001. How do you respond to people who say that fact, that we have been there 20 years, the collapse of the Afghan government and the Afghan military is just more evidence that the American people, American service members, no matter how brave, no matter how valorous, they were never going to be able to stabilize Afghanistan, and this shows that the U.S. is correct in leaving?

ROMNEY: Well, Jake, there's a political slogan, end endless wars.

But that doesn't translate it into a serious policy decision. And the real policy is this. You can't, as one party, end a war. It takes two parties to end a war. The Taliban and the radical violent jihadists in the world, they haven't stopped fighting. They're going to continue to fight us.

The war is not over. We're just no longer at a place where the war had its apex, where the Taliban was able to allow al Qaeda to grow and to attack us on 9/11. We went to Afghanistan because we got attacked on 9/11 and lost thousands of American lives.

Now America is more in danger. The reason we have a military is to protect America. And by -- the decision to pull our military out of Afghanistan puts us in greater danger.

We -- look, don't forget, we went to Afghanistan to knock down al Qaeda. But we stayed in Afghanistan to make sure they couldn't reconstitute to attack us again. So, pulling out means we are less safe. And, also, recognize the war is not over. We're just in a weaker position. We don't have boots on the ground. We don't have eyes on the ground.

When they say, look, we have over-the-horizon capacity, that's a fancy phrase. What does that mean? It means we're not there. The nearest American air base is, what, 1,000 miles away?

I mean I had eyes on my -- over the horizon on my teenagers, but that meant I had no idea what they were doing. Likewise, this idea that somehow we're still in control is not real. And America's in greater danger.

TAPPER: So, I hear you saying that you think we're less safe for leaving Afghanistan than if we have stayed.

Do you think that we are less safe now than we were before we went into Afghanistan 20 years ago?

ROMNEY: Well, I think that's hard to measure, but we're certainly less safe than we were when we had a group of, let's say, 5,000 members record service people in Afghanistan standing up as the backbone behind some 250,000 Afghan troops who are keeping at bay the Taliban and other terror groups.


That made us a great deal safer. And, by the way, we have thousands of troops, tens of thousands of troops in Germany, in South Korea, in Japan.

Why are they there? They're there not as favors to those countries, but because we believe that keeps us and the world safer. And the idea that we would keep several thousand troops in Afghanistan as long as necessary to keep us more safe is, of course, the appropriate policy to take.

But these political slogans come in the way: End endless wars.

The war is not ended when only one party pulls out, and the others are continuing to fight, and now fight with more aggression. Look, going forward, we're going to have to recognize we're in a much more dangerous position. And we're going to have to invest, I'm afraid, more resources to keep ourselves safe.

TAPPER: I have heard that argument before about the fact that we -- the service members are stationed in Germany and Japan and in South Korea.

But it's also true that they're not being killed by IEDs or by an insurgent group. And I have talked to -- look, veterans, like everybody else, are all over the map when it comes to this decision and this horrible week and this and that, but I have talked to some veterans, conservatives, even, who say, I'm glad we're getting out. I don't want any more Gold Star families created.

ROMNEY: Yes, the reality is, we're -- even have a greater reason to main -- troops in a place where there is hostility, where -- because those people are going to bring their hostility to America and to Americans and to our friends, whether we like it or not.

The idea that somehow we can pull out of a dangerous place where radical violent jihadists are organizing, and that we can pull out of that, and that's going to stop them, well, that's fantasy. They're going to continue in their effort to regroup and to come after America.

Don't forget what they did on 9/11. The reason, again, we're in Afghanistan was to keep another 9/11 from happening. Now we pull out, and the Taliban is much stronger than they were before, in part because of all the armament we have given them. ISIS-K is now alive. The old ISIS that was -- that still is in Syria and Iraq, they're stronger.

These forces of hate that consider America the great Satan, they're still out there. They're still fighting us. That war, unfortunately, goes on. And the idea that we pulled out of one of the places that was essential to push back against them is an idea that makes me far more concerned that, had we retained a small footprint there to support the people on the front lines, the Afghan national security forces that were doing a pretty darn good job.

TAPPER: Your home state of Utah is welcoming Afghan refugees, as I would expect from Utah, frankly.

But many conservative voices, including Republican lawmakers, have been speaking out against letting Afghans come into the country.

Congressman Matt Rosendale said this crisis -- quote -- "is not an excuse to flood our country with refugees from Afghanistan," and on and on.

How do you think the majority of Republicans in the House and Senate would vote if asked whether the U.S. should accept Afghan refugees?

ROMNEY: Well, I don't really know, of course.

But I believe, in their heart of hearts, they recognize that we have a moral responsibility. And, in keeping with our national character, we welcome people into our country who seek asylum, and those particularly who have fought alongside our troops and have enabled our troops to have a higher degree of safety than they would have had otherwise, that those are people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, and we would welcome them into our country.

Look, I -- I think it's one of the characteristics of our great nation that we are a nation that welcomes with open arms our friends from around the world. And don't forget, we're talking about, I don't know, 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, maybe 50,000 Afghans.

How many people are coming across the border illegally? That number is exceeded almost every month. So let's put this in perspective. And I, for one, am very pleased that we're going to have individuals that come to our country that can contribute to America and believe in the principles upon which our nation was founded.

TAPPER: Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, thanks for being with us today. We really appreciate it.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: We're just getting word of another explosion in Kabul near the airport today. What are we learning about that blast? That's next.

Plus, two lawmakers and Iraq War veterans shocked Washington by flying into Kabul when everyone else was trying to get out. They came back with a different perspective that they will share next.

Stay with us.




We're just learning moments ago about an explosion in a neighborhood in Kabul close to the airport, according to eyewitnesses. The cause is unknown. We're going to continue to keep you updated as we learn more.

My next guests were at the same gate outside the Kabul Airport where a suicide bomber blew himself up just days before the explosion.

Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Peter Meijer of Michigan, both Iraq War veterans, have been sharply criticized since their return by the Biden administration, the Pentagon, and their own colleagues in Congress for their unannounced trip to Kabul last Tuesday.

They say it was an attempt to get answers that they're not getting from the Biden administration. And they came back with a much different view of things, they say.

Congressmen Democrat Seth Moulton and Republican Peter Meijer join us now.


Before we get to what you saw and learned, Congressman Moulton, let me start with you.

You must know how furious so many of your colleagues are, as well as people in the Pentagon and the Biden administration, about the trip. They say you diverted resources needing to protect the evacuation just two days before the terrorist attack there.

Congressman Moulton, how do you respond?

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): Lookit, those accusations are just not true.

But, Jake, at the end of the day, I don't care what pundits in Washington are saying. They have been wrong about this war for 20 years. When I was on the ground in Iraq, I felt forgotten by the United States Congress, by people in Washington making decisions that cost lives on the ground, because they had no idea what was actually going on.

And so why should Marines and soldiers in another war be betrayed by Congress in the same way?

TAPPER: Congressman Meijer, at least two other members of Congress were reportedly blocked from also trying to travel to Kabul after your trip.

Do you think that just any of the 535 members of the House and Senate should be able to fly into Kabul in the midst of a chaotic and dangerous evacuation, as you two did?

REP. PETER MEIJER (R-MI): Yes, thank you, Jake.

That was one of the things that we strongly had in the back of our minds. The fact is that Seth and I are uniquely positioned to better understand and also to have as light a footprint as possible. And not only we both served with the military in Iraq. We'd also spent time in Afghanistan as civilians.

I was a conflict analyst there helping NGOs coordinate evacuations from 2013 to 2015. So, we were uniquely situated to be able to get in, get out, be as quiet as possible, but also take away as much information as possible.

TAPPER: Congressman Moulton, 11 of the 13 Americans killed in Thursday's attack were Marines. You're a retired Marine captain.

President Biden's defenders, as you heard Jake Sullivan earlier in the show, they say this exit was always going to be chaotic, there was always going to be the risk of loss of life, including American lives.

Do you agree? And how much of what happened Thursday do you think is the result of bad planning, as opposed to just trying to get out of a war?

MOULTON: You know, sadly, Jake, this was preventable, because we wouldn't have had to put Marines in this position if we had started the evacuation much earlier.

But I don't want to lose sight of the heroism of these Marines, because, in spite of this terrible position that they were put in, they were doing unbelievable work, I mean literally sifting through this sea of humanity to find our allies feet from the Taliban with their horse whips, and putting little -- putting little Afghan boys and girls on their shoulders, holding brave Afghans who stood by our side by the hand and carrying them to freedom.

I mean, I expected to see a gate with Afghans on one side and Americans on the other. But, no, they had -- the Marines had to go out there, out there in the face of this danger.

And maybe the most amazing thing is that their friends, their fellow Marines, after they were killed, went out and continued to do that mission. I was in touch with some of them just last night continuing to do that mission, literally risking their lives for others.

I will tell you, Jake, I saw a lot over four tours in Iraq. I have never been more proud to be an American than I was that day at Abbey Gate.

TAPPER: Congressman Meijer, you and Congressman Moulton both went to Kabul thinking that the August 31 deadline needs to be extended, but what you saw there changed your mind.

Why? What changed your mind?

MEIJER: We realized that we did not have that leverage.

We were wholly dependent on the cooperation of the Taliban. That's a position we should have never been in. It's an absurd scenario. It's an upside-down world that is not lost on any of the folks on the ground.

But just the fact of how vulnerable our forces were, not only against ISIS Khorasan, as we saw with the attack on Abbey Gate on Thursday, but just the way in which we had to work with the Taliban just meters apart from one another. We did not have an option.

If it came down to an urban conflict, urban combat scenario, you are talking about a multiplied casualty count. You're talking about grave civilian harm. And you're also talking about the fact that we would not be able to get our Afghan allies and American citizens who are trapped in Afghanistan, we wouldn't even be able to get them into the airport.

So we are not in a good scenario, bad scenario. This is the least worst of the options that are before us. But we should have never been in this position in the first place.

TAPPER: Congressman Moulton, you both have been involved in trying to get American citizens and green card holders and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants out. I know a lot of people who have been trying to do this.

Is the process going as smoothly as the White House describes it?

MOULTON: No, Jake.

I mean, look, the -- one of the things we learned on the ground there is that one of the biggest burdens on the troops are all these haphazard requests coming in from members of Congress and members of the administration in not -- in no sort of organized way.


So, the troops again on the ground are doing this incredibly heroic effort, not only out there in the -- in front of the gate to find these Afghans, but behind the wire in the airport to simply identify which ones we need to get, to sift through thousands and thousands of requests, and figure out which ones we need to bring over the wire. So, the system is not working very well. I mean, look, one thing

President Biden needs to do is give these Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen a Presidential Unit Citation for what they're doing on the ground, because it's absolutely incredible work.

And there's not a system set up to make it happen.

TAPPER: So, we only have a couple minutes left. And I want to just ask you both, as veterans and people who have been to Afghanistan, 20 years into the war, this is how it's ending.

Congressman Meijer, I will start with you. Was the war in Afghanistan worth it, worth the cost to American lives, the Afghan lives, the $2 trillion? Was it worth it?

MEIJER: I think it's impossible to sit here today and say yes, knowing what we know, knowing what we saw.

I mean, we have seen some of the best of the American people, especially in the last two weeks, some of the best of our troops on the ground, in the heroic way they're carrying out this mission.

But we have also seen some of the worst of American leadership. And if you draw this over the past two decades, at any one year, you could say, what is our mission there, and you would get a different answer from the other 19.

I mean, we should have never -- there needs to be unsparing accountability. We should have never put our American men and women in this position. And we need to realign our strategic and operational priorities to ensure that it never happens again. This is a failure upon failure.

TAPPER: Congressman Moulton?

MOULTON: I think Peter is right. It's failure upon failure.

And the one way I could only imagine this going worse as if it had happened under Trump with the May 1 deadline even earlier. And he probably wouldn't have had any effort to evacuate our allies because he's so anti-immigrant. I mean, there was no airlift after he retreated from Syria. But the point is that this has been the failure of multiple administrations.

But let's not forget, in all of this, what this says about us as a people. One thing that Peter and I are so committed to is telling the story of those brave Americans, not only service men and women, but consular officials at the gates, at Abbey Gate, literally saving thousands of lives.

That represents the absolute best of America. And that's a story that every -- everybody in the world and every single American needs to hear.

TAPPER: Congressman Seth Moulton, Congressman Peter Meijer, thank you so much for your time today. And, of course, as always, thank you for your service.

MOULTON: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: An extremely dangerous Category 4 storm now less than 50 miles from the Louisiana coast -- the latest on Hurricane Ida coming up.

Plus: a tribute to those who gave their lives to save Americans and Afghans in Kabul, that's next.


TAPPER: I want you to take a moment now to take a look at this photo. It's Marine Sergeant Nicole Gee at the Kabul airport, cradling an Afghan baby. She posted this picture on Instagram and she captioned it, "I love my job."

Take a look at the humanity in this photograph. One human, fortunate enough to have been born in the United States, holding a baby who wasn't as lucky. In one instant on Thursday that love was destroyed by pure evil, by the pure evil of the terrorist attack. And Sergeant Gee was killed along with 170 Afghans and 12 other U.S. Service members, including Staff Sergeant Darin Hoover, 31, whose family remembered his goofy grin and said he always stepped up to defend the little guy. His older sister says she would give anything to hear Hoover give her a pep talk one more time.

Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, remembered as a vibrant woman who wanted to give back to her community.

Corporal Hunter Lopez, 22, he wanted to be a sheriff's deputy. He proudly told his mom that during his tour he had carried a small Afghan boy on his shoulders for five miles to safety.

Corporal Daegan Page, 23, was an animal lover with an especially soft spot for dogs. His family said Page had a tough outer shell but a giant heart.

Corporal Humberto Sanchez, 22, was a varsity soccer player, an artist who was one of six people in his high school class to enlist in the Marines.

Corporal David Espinoza, 20, whose parents were so proud of him, they told him what he meant to them all the time, something that they say gives them a small bit of comfort now.

Corporal Jared Schmitz, 20, who's father said he loved being a Marine. He leaves behind a 9-year-old special needs sister, who Schmitz would meet a the bus stop every day so that he could carry her backpack home for her.

Corporal Rylee McCollum, 20, who with his wife was expecting a baby in just three weeks. He was just a baby himself when the war in Afghanistan began. As a toddler, his family said McCollum carried a toy rifle around in his diaper, and always wanted to be a Marine. Corporal Dylan Merola, 20, hoped to go on to study engineering at

college. He had been stationed in Kabul for less than two weeks.

Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, 20, was funny, charming, driven, and dedicated to being a Marine, his aunt said.

Navy Hospitalman Maxton Soviak, 22, had 12 siblings and was a champion wrestler. Just before he died, Soviak told his mom on FaceTime that the guys wouldn't let anything happen to him. He later realized (ph), he and his friends all were killed together.

And Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss, 23, who at age 14 wrote a paper in class saying that a role model is anyone who stands up to power to help others. He certainly grew up to become a role model.

Their specific mission, these 13 service members, was about as clear as it gets, save Americans, Afghans and others fleeing the barbaric Taliban and other dangers rooted in evil. Where does the United States get such young men and women willing to risk their lives for others? May their memories be a blessing. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to our two-hour edition of "State of the Union." We're following an explosion just moments ago in a neighborhood in Kabul, close to the airport, according to eyewitnesses. The cause is unknown. We're going to continue to keep you updated as we learn more.

Stay right there, because the second hour of "State of the Union" is next. Sixteen years to the day after Hurricane Katrina hit, we'll bring you an update on fast approaching Hurricane Ida, with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. Dr. Anthony Fauci will also join us for the latest on COVID boosters and kids in schools. That's after this quick break. We'll be right back.