Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Rep. Dan Crenshaw (D-TX); Death Toll in Haiti Soars to Nearly 1,300, Thousands Injured; Afghan Government Falls as Taliban Take Control of Kabul. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired August 15, 2021 - 19:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Sunday.

Tonight, our breaking news. A desperate situation in Kabul. The Afghan finally capital which has all but fallen to the Taliban, leaving Afghanistan after 20 years of war back in the hands of the Islamic militants who held it before the U.S. invasion launched in October of 2001.

This was just a few hours ago at the presidential palace in Kabul. Taliban militants sitting at the desk of the president, or former president, we should say. A clear sign the war for Afghanistan is essentially over.

Meantime, President Biden is sending an additional 1,000 troops to protect the airport. One of the last places in Afghanistan that is not under Taliban control.

Take a look right here. This is scene at the airport tonight. A mad scramble to get out of Kabul before it is too late. But no one can say if there are days or just hours before the last plane departs, leaving Afghan people to an unknown fate.

Events are moving with lightning speed tonight. The time evacuate Americans from Afghanistan is running out and the Pentagon is already making some tough choices.

I'm joined now by Oren Liebermann.

Oren, how many Americans are being evacuated?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: On Sunday Defense officials says there were about 500 U.S. embassy staff evacuated but there are still a number to go here. Two Defense officials say the total number that need to be evacuated from the embassy is 4,000. At some point in the future, in the next coming days, the U.S. military will be able to move about 5,000 people a day. That's sort of the maximum capacity of people they can move.

But they're not at that number yet. And as you pointed out, time is critical here. The Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sending in another 1,000 troops into Afghanistan. That will be a total of 6,000 in the coming hours or days. Their primary mission, to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport, the international gateway into and critically out of Afghanistan at this point.

If that were to fall into the hands of the Taliban, that would very much be a worst-case scenario. The airport is the critical point for getting Americans and Afghan interpreters and others who have helped the U.S. out of Afghanistan.

We've been tracking flights in and out of the country, it appears from what we're seeing on these Web sites that track flights that there are ongoing flights into and out of the country as this process of trying to get Americans out as quickly as possible continues. We've learned from some officials that the effort to bring in Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants, that is the Afghan interpreters who have helped Americans, that has been temporarily curtailed for now.

The focus on American citizens to get them out as quickly as possible. And Pamela, you get a sense just from everything we're seeing here, how critical and how quickly this situation is deteriorating. A Defense official says the airport is not entirely secure. That's the assumption they're working under right now and you see those images, the chaos, the panic as Afghan civilians make a rush for pretty much the only way out of the country right now.

BROWN: And Oren, it appears right now, at least, the Taliban is allowing these evacuations to proceed. But how long do officials expect that to happen? How long do they expect them to just wait for these evacuations to happen?

LIEBERMANN: Officials won't put a time line on that answer and say we have three days to finish this or five days to finish this. They have made clear to Taliban representatives in Doha as part of the discussions, that if the Taliban were to attack U.S. forces, that would be met with a strong and harsh response against the Taliban. So far, and this is a critical point. Although there have been security incidents at and near the airport, according to a Defense official, U.S. troops at the airport have not been fired upon.

They have not been targeted and they have not fired upon anybody else. So at least at this point the assessment is the Taliban has taken the decision not to attack U.S. forces, which means the evacuation can continue. That timeline, how much wiggle room is there, how much room to maneuver is there, that's a critical question and one we're going to keep hammering a way out. How much time do you have left to evacuate what is not only thousands of Americans but tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families.

Whatever time there was for this, there is now less time to finish a very difficult mission. The fall of Hamid Karzai International Airport, were it to happen, would be a very much worst-case scenario.

BROWN: Oren Liebermann, thank you so much for that.

And Nick Paton Walsh is in Afghanistan and the capital Kabul with the latest on what's happening there on the ground. NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Pam, an utterly

extraordinary day. I think the image of which will be in everybody's minds, the sight of seeing Taliban fighters calmly sat inside what seems to be one of the key offices of now, I think it's fair to say, former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.


Calm, being addressed by a reporter from Al Jazeera Arabic, seemingly able to ignore some questions but at one point one of the men speaking clearly in English to say that he was in Guantanamo Bay for eight years.

These images are utterly startling because that is essentially the seat of power and American money for the past 20 years or so, and there they sit with their weapons calmly demonstrating how they've walked into the capital. A city that frankly most have thought was utterly impregnable to them until a matter of days ago.

It caps an extraordinary series of events where in the early parts of the day, there were efforts of Taliban on the city's outskirts, panic over an instance at a bank we've seen, (INAUDIBLE) gunfire. But then without telling anybody, the president of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani left the country. Quite startling because 24 hours earlier he delivered a record message saying to everybody that he would stick on to try and get a negotiated solution but he left with a small number of his own aides.

Unclear where he actually is at this point. He seems to have gone via Tajikistan, according to some sources. But he released a message essentially saying he had a choice to stay and try and negotiate or face the armed Taliban, who we now see are in fact inside what used to be his palace.

What next? Well, furious activities in the skies above me of U.S. aircraft. The constant noise of helicopters. That is obviously them speeding up their evacuation, air cover, protecting what is now likely 5,000 American troops here. Double the number that we've taken back as part of the withdrawal process President Joe Biden put underway. Startling scenes at the airport. People desperate to get in. People desperate to be on a flight out of here.

And certainly troubling few days ahead as we see how this residual and growing American force accommodates itself alongside the Taliban who frankly appeared in charge of most of the city at this stage and giving a message of wanting foreigners, diplomats to feel safe, to feel secure, to stay where they are, possibly hoping for border international legitimacy.

We'll just have to see what kind of Kabul people wake up to -- Pam.

Nick Paton Walsh from Kabul, thank you so much.

Well, the United Nations is warning of an almost inevitable humanitarian crisis as Afghanistan falls again to the Taliban. Particularly for women and children there. Women's rights activists in Afghanistan say the future there looks bleaker than ever.


PASHTANA DURRANI, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LEARN: As of this moment, I have cried. So there are no more tears in my eyes to even like, you know, mourn. I can show you my WhatsApp, and I kid you not, not even the goods, the men, the people that I work with, they are all telling me, 18 years of studying, I am now nothing.

MAHBOUBA SERAJ, WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I came to Afghanistan to be the voice of the voiceless women of my country. All of those women, they are living in the provinces of Afghanistan, all the way back in the districts, and nobody hears their voices and they are in dire need of help. They are poor. They are not educated. The children are dying because they are sick.

WAZHMA FROGH, FOUNDER, WOMEN AND PEACE STUDIES ORGANIZATION: I keep getting calls from like all over who just keep asking. Can you help us? Can you help us get out of Afghanistan? And that hurts me so much because this country, we put our blood, our sweat in those (INAUDIBLE).


BROWN: And I'm joined now by Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He is a CNN military analyst and former commanding general for U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army, and CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

General Hertling, I want to start with you. Just heartbreaking hearing from those women and just the desperation in their voices. I want to go back to what President Biden said about Afghanistan back on July 8th.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Afghan troops have 300,000 well equipped, as well equipped as any army in the world. And an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable. The jury is still out. That the likelihood will be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.


BROWN: That was a month ago. What happened?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, what we've seen, Pamela, is a disconnect between quantity versus quality. And a belief in a government, the Afghan government by the Afghan army and security forces, and also, a belief in the ideology which the government purported. What you've seen is that's a contest of wills with the Taliban that have a very different ideology, backed up by threats and intimidations. They were able to basically prevail in terms of their momentum across the various provinces within the capitals at a much faster rate than anyone expected. [19:10:06]

And it's saddening and disgusting and it's very depressing today to see what may happen to those in Afghanistan who believed in a brighter future, to be facing what they're facing now.

BROWN: And to think about some, you know, some of the women and the girls, they've only known Afghanistan that wasn't under Taliban control over these last 20 years. And now that the Taliban is taking over, we just heard from those women, all of the concern there.

Doug, I want to show what Secretary of State Antony Blinken told both CNN and ABC this morning.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: 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?

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: No. We're not. Remember, this is not Saigon. We went to Afghanistan 20 years ago with one mission. And that mission was to deal with the folks who attacked us on 9/11.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEW: Isn't that exactly what we're seeing now? I mean, even the images are evocative of what happened in Vietnam.

BLINKEN: Let's take a step back. This is manifestly not Saigon.


BROWN: But look at these pictures. On the left you see that famous picture of the helicopter fleeing the U.S. embassy in Saigon. On the right, another helicopter, another U.S. embassy but that's this morning in Kabul. Is Blinken wrong or right here?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think Blinken is wrong. I mean, anybody would think about Saigon of a certain age. You know, we had Operation Frequent Wind back then. And we were able to get not just the Americans out under President Gerald Ford but we brought 6,000 Vietnamese into America. So if you go to Houston, or Long Beach, in New Orleans, and go to Vietnamese American communities, it's because President Ford overriding Henry Kissinger in his own National security apparatus said I want the people that worked with us, that are our allies and our friends in Vietnam, I want them to come to the United States.

As of this evening, President Biden is saying well, we're going to get the Americans out, which is great. But we've got to bring our allies out. We can't be the country that just cuts and runs, and leaves total mayhem in our wake, and with, Pam, the women you just mentioned, what could happen to them in the coming days and weeks and months?

Joe Biden is sitting at Camp Davis right now. He must be humiliated watching these images on TV but he needs to get into a commander-in- chief mode where he brings home not just the Americans in Afghanistan, which is number one priority, but number two, we must bring the translators and our friends, people that fought for an American-like democracy in Afghanistan. We have an obligation to bring them to a NATO country.

BROWN: Right. And he is -- go ahead. I mean, I was just going to point out he's only released a statement since we really heard from him on this earlier last week, I believe it was on Tuesday. And he as said look, this evacuation will reflect American values. But now as you point out, we're finding out that flights for those Afghan allies are being curtailed to get U.S. citizens out.

And so this raises the question, General Herling, about why they weren't evacuated sooner, before we got to this point? I want to just read this tweet from you, from Jake Wood, who was a combat veteran who we'll be interviewing later on the show, he said, we should have reinforced Kabul until our evacuation of Afghan allies was concluded. That should have included a clear-eyed threat to the Taliban that any of their forces that came within 50 miles of the city would be destroyed and then leave. What do you think of that?

HERTLING: Yes, that's the part, Pamela, that really confound me. Having been involved in noncombative evacuation operations, the so- called neo-operations, when the press, the Defense press secretary John Kirby last week started talking about the number of forces that were going in on Wednesday and Thursday, that to me spoke of an early arrival of a force that would be part of a neo evacuation.

Followed up by others, to include the quick reaction force that John mentioned would be in Kuwait. But to me that was too late. The anticipation of a neo-operation, not just for the State Department officials, the U.S. citizens, but also the Iraqi -- excuse me, Afghan translators should have happened long before that. That may have been caused by some -- truthfully some screwups and some hubris in terms of the planning process.

When you have an intelligence estimate that initially says it will take six to eight months before Kabul falls, that tells me that they were looking at a long-term planning requirement when in fact as the momentum of the Taliban increased, that became a very short-term planning requirement. And it's not capable to do the kind of evacuation they were talking about in the few days that they have right now.


BROWN: Yes. It seems at the very least there was an overestimating of the Afghan forces, underestimating of the Taliban.

And Doug, let's be honest. This looks like a disaster. We're seeing these pictures right now at the airport. This hasn't been a popular war. What does this mean politically for the president? Saigon was an ugly moment, too, but Americans wanted that war to end as well.

BRINKLEY: Well, this is Biden's boondoggle. He's done a lot of important and great things since he's been inaugurated but this is a foreign policy disaster in the making. And it's going to have political ramifications. That unlikely phrase that you played about the Taliban just rushing in to Kabul, that's going to be played over and over again against him. It's his George W. Bush had his mission accomplished moment that was used against him. That quip is going to be used because it showed he was dead wrong a major foreign policy issue.

And I'm not sure why he ever had to go there and say unlikely in kind of way. But let's not forget that George W. Bush got America into this war. Let's not forget Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld. And it's never really gelled. Because, you know, the old Colin Powell adage, you break it, you own it. We went in and did some great things in Afghanistan. I think Operation Neptune Spear with Barack Obama and Admiral McRaven and our SEALs, and getting of Osama bin Laden.

But the American people got apathetic. I don't even think most Americans realized that we were still in Afghanistan. And I'd like to take this moment just to thank every person who served in our armed forces, men, women, and not just only in the United States, people who helped us in this failed endeavor. They're not the problem. This has been a political disaster and it's going to be a dark stain in the annals of U.S. foreign policy.

BROWN: Yes. I know my husband served in Afghanistan, I know a lot of people who served there are doing a lot of reflecting right now, trying to absorb this moment in history.

Douglas Brinkley, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you both.

And our coverage of the Taliban takeover continues. I'll be speaking to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who served in Afghanistan.

Also tonight, the devastating aftermath of the 7.2 earthquake in Haiti. Nearly 1300 dead. Thousands more injured. CNN is in the disaster zone tonight. We'll be right back.



BROWN: It is officially over, the Taliban have taken control of the Afghan government despite 20 years of U.S. military and financial support.

Today on Capitol Hill, lawmakers pressed top Defense officials for answers on how this went so wrong so fast. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said terrorist groups including al Qaeda could regroup sooner than the two-year estimate. And senators also learned that up to 60,000 people, including our Afghan allies, could qualify to enter the U.S. and need to be evacuated.

I'm joined now by a lawmaker who joined the Marines after college and served in Afghanistan, Democratic Congressman Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts. Congressman, thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for

your service. I know you are trying to absorb what is playing out in Afghanistan right now. It's especially personal for you because you served on the ground there.

Secretary of State Tony Blinken said earlier today, keeping troops in Afghanistan is simply not in the national interest. Yet, I interviewed former DNI James Clapper who told me last hour that Afghanistan could now be a safe haven for terror groups. So how does that square? What is your reaction to that?

REP. JAKE AUCHINCLOSS (D), AFGHAN WAR VETERAN: The United States is going to maintain its over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities. This president has committed that he will not permit terrorists to gain harbor in Afghanistan or frankly in any nation in this world. The United States always maintains its prerogative to neutralize terrorist threats wherever they may be residing.

BROWN: So on that note I actually talked to James Clapper about that because the question is, if Afghanistan becomes a terror haven, how will the U.S. have the intelligence capabilities to know that and know what they are planning? And he essentially said that we would have a huge blind spot which we have seen in Syria and other countries because the U.S. didn't have an intelligence presence there. Is that a concern for you?

AUCHINCLOSS: That needs to be a concern for lawmakers and for the administration. And we will be holding this administration to account to maintain the security of the United States homeland as well as to protect American personnel who are currently there, and to evacuate Afghan allies, whether they were interpreters, contractors, truck drivers who are at high risk for retaliation. That also includes, I would add, people who are outspoken on rights for women and girls, journalists, others who may be in the sites of the Taliban. We made promises to them. We need to keep it.

BROWN: Are you disappointed that the administration didn't do more earlier to get them out safely before it got to this point?

AUCHINCLOSS: You know, Earnest hemming once wrote that a man goes bankrupt gradually and then suddenly. And that has been the story of Afghanistan. This has been a two-decade culmination of failures of national security leadership, first in Kabul, front and center, where given the opportunity to build a new nation state, they instead chose incompetence and corruption at every turn, leaving their front lines demoralized and bereft.

And also here in the United States, where in situation room after situation room, smarter people than me knew that we could not win a counter insurgency effort in Afghanistan. They had only to look to the Soviet Union and to Great Britain. And yet continue to lie to the American people.

This president had the integrity to tell a hard truth to the American body politic and to the Afghans that this failed forever war must end.

BROWN: You commanded infantry in Afghanistan. I want to remind our viewers of that.


So it's interesting hearing your perspective there. When you were there on the ground serving, did you have that same feeling? Did you feel like the strategic objective could not be attained?

AUCHINCLOSS: Absolutely. I was a platoon commander in Southern Helmand in 2012 at the tail end of President Obama's surge. We patrolled through three Taliban-controlled villages and I can tell you, it was blindingly obvious, even to a lieutenant, even nine years ago, that without a political partner there can be no solution to a counterinsurgency effort. Counterinsurgency is not fundamentally a military problem. It's a political one. We have no partner in Afghanistan.

BROWN: And you, when you were on the ground there, presumably worked along Afghan translators, interpreters, other allies that are now waiting to get out of Afghanistan. Did the U.S. fail them by not having that plan for evacuation in advance? We just found out that they're curtailing flights now for those Afghan allies to get Americans out instead.

I mean, is there any other way to look at this than a failure of execution?

AUCHINCLOSS: In the National Security briefing this morning for members of Congress, the administration made clear that they are working with NGOs to continue evacuations both in and outside of Kabul for Afghan allies. And as I said, I and others in Congress, especially veterans, are going to hold them to that commitment. Because when the United States makes promises to those who worked with us at risk of their own lives and their families' lives, we need to honor them.

BROWN: Leading up to this withdrawal, President Biden maintained that a Taliban takeover was inevitable. Yet it happened. It happened in the blink of an eye. Talking to people like you and other troops who served on the ground, they say it's not surprising. So how did he get this so wrong?

AUCHINCLOSS: One of the scenarios mapped out to this president was a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. This was conceivable when he made the decision. But he made the tough and high integrity call to not pass this failed war on to yet another president. He was given a series of bad options from his predecessors. And he looked at the situation on the ground and said, what do I get for another six months? For Another year? For another 10, 20 years?

The United States will win every battle that we fight with the Taliban and still lose the war. Because to bring peace and justice to Afghanistan, we need political statesmanship and leadership. And yet the Afghan leaders were not even able to provide rations and bullets to their frontline troops at their moment of reckoning.

BROWN: But even though president is standing by his decision, expressing no regret, sources I've spoken to, my colleagues who have spoken to, say there is widespread surprise in the administration that this is how it's unfolding so quickly.

Congressman Jake Auchincloss, thank you so much for coming on the show. And thank you again for your service.

AUCHINCLOSS: Have a good night.

BROWN: And our next guest also served in Afghanistan and has harsh words for how the commander in chief is handling this chaos, Congressman Dan Crenshaw joins us with his perspective in a moment.

Also tonight, nearly 1300 dead, thousands more injured after a huge quake hits Haiti. Our Matt Rivers is on the scene, up next.



PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Just three days ago, U.S. officials told CNN, the capital of Afghanistan could potentially fall in the next 30 to 90 days. The reality was 30 to 90 hours. By the end of this weekend, the Taliban had overtaken the presidential palace.

I'm joined now by someone who served as a Navy SEAL and lost an eye fighting in Afghanistan. Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas.

Congressman, thank you for coming on. Let's just start off with your experience. You served in Afghanistan, as an Afghan War veteran, tell me your reaction to what we're seeing on the ground in Afghanistan right now?

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): Well, it's heartbreaking. I mean, it's just completely preventable. It was completely predictable, too, and there was no effort at all to mitigate the disaster. I mean, not at all. There was no planning at all in this.

And we basically allowed emotional slogans to dictate our foreign policy. That's effectively what's happened here. And you know, my colleague who was just on, he mentioned one of those slogans, the forever wars, and these forever wars have become this rallying cry. But it's a hollow, it's a very hollow argument.

Look, the reality is, is that you put people like me out there, we're not victims, we're not victims of this foreign policy. We understand that we go there because we need to put pressure on an enemy that desires to kill you, that desires to kill more Americans and commit another 9/11. So look, and I want to say this to my fellow veterans and Gold Star families, your sacrifices were not in vain. You kept America safe for 20 years. What did we get out of all of that? We prevented 9/11's from happening.

And I think that's what again, my colleague who was just on completely forgets, and that's a real shame and that's what we're losing in this.

BROWN: When you were there, can you remember a time when you thought, we're going to win, we are going to achieve our strategic objective. As you point out, the last Democratic Congressman I spoke to said he also served in Afghanistan, said he knew the whole time this was not a war the U.S. would win and he praised Biden for making, in his words, making a bold move to pull the U.S. out instead of passing the buck to the next President. What do you say to that?

CRENSHAW: Yes, the biggest failure of foreign policy and this is the miscommunication with the American people about what the point was. Now, I just outlined what the actual point was of going to Afghanistan, it was to deny a terrorist safe haven. Fundamentally that was it.

So, I'm not sure what he is talking about when he says, achieve our strategic objective. We did achieve that. Every single day that we had no more 9/11's, that's achieving the strategic objective.

Now that takes a while, and it tests people's patience, and I totally understand that. But what we did in the last few years was find that right balance, we have a pretty small contingent of troops that are denying access, that are denying safe haven, and we're not costing ourselves a lot either. We haven't had a combat casualty in Afghanistan for 18 months. Does that really sound like a forever war? Of course not.

BROWN: Yes, I believe it was February 2020.

CRENSHAW: All right, this is a -- it's a strategic security -- it's a strategic security presence in a country just like we have in literally hundreds of countries, Special Operations guys like me, you know, we're in over a hundred countries, and that's because we have a security network around the world where we, where we uplift our allies and we make sure that our national security interests are implemented. That's a really important part of national defense.

And the forever war sloganeers just don't seem to understand that. They can't distinguish between nation building, which is a lot of waste of blood and treasure, and a small security contingent that denies terrorist safe haven. And because they couldn't distinguish between that, because this administration completely failed to distinguish between those two things, they let emotional slogans dictate their foreign policy, and we have a complete disaster on our hands and there is nothing to celebrate about that.

BROWN: Well, you opposed President Trump's initial withdrawal plan that set this into motion? Does he deserve someone to blame?

CRENSHAW: Exactly. Well, he's not the President here and he ended up not doing the things that I was worried about. So, you know -- no, that's a hypothetical.

BROWN: Well, they cut the deal. They did cut the deal for them to be withdrawn after May.

CRENSHAW: Yes. But Biden didn't have to stick to that, and the Trump administration had already reneged on that deal, because the Taliban kept crossing those red lines. Trump, at least stuck to his red lines and what we saw here was a complete inability to do that, a very hasty withdrawal, no plan in place whatsoever. So, those trying to blame Trump for this, it is quite the stretch.

It's quite the analytical lead.

BROWN: Right. And of course, there's going to be a lot of post mortem looking at this reflecting who is to blame, but I do want to point out that Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo suggested the Taliban would be fighting terrorism alongside the U.S. For years, we were told the Taliban were negotiating in good faith. Was this Intel fair?


BROWN: Did both administrations get duped? What happened?

CRENSHAW: I think politicians on both sides have been making the wrong arguments on this for years, you know, and again, I've never told the party line on this. I was openly disagreeing with Trump on this. And you know, I wrote a letter with 20 of my colleagues demanding a much more careful look at those Taliban negotiations.

So look, I've always been consistent on this, you know, and it is frustrating to see some of my colleagues like the one who was just on before me, really just toe the party line on this. We have to be intellectually honest and intellectually honest with the American people about what the point is of sending guys like me to a place like that. We've never explained it to them well, and I will continue to try until I am blue in the face.

BROWN: Just very, very quickly. There's been a lot of finger pointing out the Afghan forces saying, I can't believe, you know, U.S. officials are saying they're just -- it is so disconcerting how quickly they melted, but as someone who served alongside them, are you surprised? Can you hear me?

CRENSHAW: Lost you.

BROWN: Okay. I think -- I was just saying, were you surprised that the Afghan forces melted in the face of the Taliban so quickly? Because U.S. officials are saying that they were surprised by that.

CRENSHAW: Great question. It's another myth bust that needs to happen, right? This false notion that the Afghan Army could just withstand such a strong insurgency, you know, they were only created in the last couple of decades, that's a very young country. There is not a lot of stabilizing forces there.

There's not a lot of foundations to build off of. It takes a lot more time than people are thinking. We can't just train them for a few years, and then they'll be off and running and able to destroy one of the leanest, and biggest insurgencies that the world has ever known.

All right, it's just not that easy. You can't tell a man to learn how to swim as he is drowning, and you remove the life raft from it. That's basically what happened.

BROWN: All right, Congressman Dan Crenshaw, we appreciate you sharing your time with us tonight and we also appreciate all of your service. Thank you.

CRENSHAW: Thanks for having me.

BROWN: a humanitarian crisis is unfolding right now in Haiti. Our Matt Rivers just returned from one of the hardest in areas of Saturday's devastating earthquake. He's going to tell us what he saw up next.



BROWN: More devastating news out of Haiti tonight. The death toll from yesterday's powerful earthquake has jumped to nearly 1,300 people; thousands more are injured or unaccounted for. CNN's Matt Rivers just got back to the Capitol after visiting one of the worst hit areas and he joins us on the phone.

Matt, the death toll just keeps rising. How dire is the situation there right now?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, Pamela, I think you can tell by the fact that the death toll keeps rising that this is an ongoing situation and it's one that is just not going to get better anytime soon, unfortunately.

We actually just had a conversation with the Director of Civil Protection here in Haiti. He is the guy who is in charge of all search and rescue operations, and he didn't mince words. He said, this is a very bad situation. He actually gave us those latest death toll numbers that just went up.


RIVERS: And he said, a lot of these places as compared to the earthquake in 2010, which this one does not appear to be as bad. But he said, what happened in 2010 was that a lot of this damage was in the Port-au-Prince, and these were places that were relatively accessible, at least, you know, a lot of the people that were affected, it was more easily accessible.

In a lot of this, where the epicenter is now, which is further west of Port-au-Prince, some of these areas are harder to reach. The government is having a difficult time getting to these places, both because of access issues on blocked roads, and also gang violence. That's why we actually had to take a helicopter out earlier today to see some of this damage.

But the damage that we did manage to see as we said, we visited a luxury hotel four-stories tall, it had collapsed. Multiple people we have learned died there and we saw people actually going through the rubble basically taking things to sell. And it just goes to the desperation in this part of the country, not only as people continue to look for those who are missing, to help those who are injured, but also people who are dealing with dire circumstances at the moment in a country that already was reeling after a series of natural disasters, the assassination of the President just a month ago. And now yet, another natural disaster on top of that.

And Pamela, I'll close just by saying that there is a tropical storm that is coming this way. I think it has now been downgraded to a tropical depression, but still, it could bring wind and rain here this time tomorrow. And you and I both know that that's going to complicate the already complicated situation here.

BROWN: Just horrible, Matt Rivers, thank you.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was already an emotional chapter for America's veterans. Now, the chaotic way it is playing out is taking an even bigger toll for those who fought to avoid a scenario like this. One of those veterans joins me next with his reflections.



BROWN: We're following today's harrowing developments on the state that the Taliban toppled the Afghan government. This is the exact opposite of what so many American servicemen and women fought for, for nearly 20 years.

Former U.S. Marine and Afghanistan combat veteran, Jake Wood joins me now. He is the author of "Once a Warrior: How One Veteran Found a New Mission Closer to Home."

Jake, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for your military service. For 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. spent more than $2 trillion, trained more than 350,000 Afghan Security Forces, and of course, worst of all, nearly 2,000 of your fellow service members lost their lives. How does that sit with you today as you watch the Taliban quickly take over Afghanistan?

JAKE WOOD, FORMER U.S. MARINE, SERVED IN AFGHANISTAN AND AUTHOR, "ONCE A WARRIOR": Yes, Pam, the last 72 hours have been really hard. And honestly, when I woke up this morning and saw that Kabul had had fallen. I didn't quite know how to react.

I think it was just this terrible way to kind of close the book on what has been, you know, a two-decade long war, and I think for the men and women that I served with and that I've gotten to know in my decades since getting out of the military, you know, I think it's just this tragic ending that we all kind of knew was inevitable, and was going to happen at some point in time, but to see it play out in a way that it has, has just been, I think deeply troubling and hurtful.

BROWN: Did you feel that way when you were on the ground serving in Afghanistan?

WOOD: I served in Afghanistan in 2008. I was in the Helmand Valley in a city known as Sangin, and it was a brutal period of the war. It was a violent tour, I served in a capacity as a scout sniper and at the end of my tour, I knew as even as a sergeant in the Marine Corps, I knew that this war was not going to be won and that, you know, our efforts there were misplaced and somewhat misguided. And, you know, I tragically -- we left Sangin, we didn't reinforce it

when our battalion left. Effectively, the Taliban took it back over and three years later, the Marine Corps sent in two or three battalions to wrest control of it back. And that's been how this war has played out.

It has been a seesaw of taking land and giving it back to the Taliban. And ultimately, we knew how this chapter was going to end. We knew that the Taliban was going to wrest control back from this fledgling government. And, you know, I think that this future was always written.

BROWN: Today you tweeted, "We should have reinforced Kabul until our evacuation of Afghan allies was completed. That should have included a clear eyed threat to the Taliban that any of their forces that came within 50 miles of the city would be destroyed, then leave." What is your response to now the US curtailing flights for Afghan allies so that U.S. citizens can get out of Afghanistan at this point right now?

WOOD: Well, let me be just as clear eyed as I can be. It was a stain. It is a stain on our nation's integrity and honor that even just a few months ago, we were not meeting our obligation to the men and women, our Afghan allies who served alongside us as interpreters and other aides in this war. We owe them these Special Immigrant Visas, we owe them safety, every bit as much as we owe the safety to our embassy workers in Kabul.

And so to see this unfold, and to see us leaving these allies high and dry, to effectively be hunted down and assassinated and Lord knows what will happen to their families and extended families in the aftermath of those assassinations. I can't say strongly enough how shameful it is that we have allowed this to play out and that we're continuing to allow this to play out.

BROWN: Very quickly, Jake, are you surprised that the Afghan allies just kind of melted in the face of the Taliban so quickly -- the forces, I should say.

WOOD: I am not. I saw earlier today -- I saw someone early earlier today say that the presence of U.S. troops in warplanes stiffen the spine of the ally or the Afghan forces when we were there. I am not surprised at all to see those spines melt as we have left.

It's unfortunate, it's tragic. But, you know, unfortunately, I don't think that there's a nation that they see worth fighting for right now.

BROWN: All right, Marine Corps veteran and author, speaker, Jake Wood. Thank you for your time tonight, and again, all that you have done for this country.

WOOD: Thank you, Pam.

BROWN: Coming up next hour, President Biden vowed that thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. during their time in the country would not be left behind. CNN speaks to one interpreter who worked for the U.S. Marines, who is still waiting for help.

We'll be right back.