tv On Assignment With Richard Engel MSNBC September 19, 2021 7:00pm-8:30pm PDT
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kabul airport. afghan families desperate to escape the taliban's fanatical rule. >> they'll run behind you with the ak 47. and boom, boom, boom. our country is right now is finished. no more afghanistan. >> after 20 years of fighting. >> the united states military has begun strikes. the taliban will pay a price. >> and tens of thousands of of a began and american lives lost. >> we try not to think about it, because when you think about it, then i get like this. >> the united states became the latest super power to suffer defeat in afghanistan. >> we have defeated britishers, and now americans. >> and a generation of afghans who grew up knowing freedom saw their dreams denied.
the taliban reimposed strict islamic law. >> i came here on this last trip less than two weeks ago, and afghanistan was a republic, backed by the united states. now it's an islamic emirate, run by the taliban. it did not have to be this way. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ the united states' war in afghanistan started a lot earlier than most people realize. it was in the 1980s when greed was good and reagan number ickes
ruled. most people had never heard of afghanistan, but that changed when afghanistan was invaded. that was suddenly on the cold war, to stop the spread of communism across asia. the cia secretly funded a group of islamic warriors to fight the red. they were called the knew mujahideen. one, charlie wilson, he made sure his afghan freedom fighters were equipped with stinger missiles. and had all the money they needed. >> i'm on the defense sub committee of the appropriations committee, and i was able to aokay, i'll vote for another 50 tanks, but i want my 50 million
bucks for the majority. >> support for the mujahideen went all the way to the white house. ? and as the resistance continues the fight, wian other responsible governments will stand by them. >> gary shrhone helped run the operation, code named "operation cyclone." >> they were good fighters. they welcomed the u.s. and foreign presence. because we supplied them with various sophisticated weapons. >> but among then was osama bin laden. cia officials insist they never paid or backed the saudi exile directly, but bin laden fought alongside many who were on the u.s. payroll. >> people back home on the afghan program knew who bin laden was, but he was considered a minor player who mostly was a
financial facilitator. >> so back then, bin laden and the unite, they were fighting on the same side. >> the logic of my enemy's enemy is my friend made some strange bedfellows. >> yes, it did. and it really wasn't until much later that we understood the threat that this man represented to the u.s. and to the world. >> the only thing the united states cared about back then was pushing the soviet union out of afghanistan. and after ten years of fighting the soviets finally threw in the towel. in 1989, they pulled out in a humiliating defeat. and once again the united states forgot all about afghanistan. but osama bin laden never
forgot. he stayed in afghanistan as a guest of religious extremists called the taliban, who took over after the soviet withdrawal. and, in his mountainous safe haven, bin laden was embolden. if a cowboy from texas and the cia could arm a bunch of islamists with guided missiles and defeat the soviet union, perhaps he could bring down the united states. with guide aircraft. for most americans, 9/11 seemed to come out of nowhere. a sucker punch, master minded by a man they'd never heard of. blow fwrak a covert war most americans never knew happened. but 9/11 woke a slumbering giant. >> usa! usa! >> i can hear you, the rest of
the world hears you. and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon. >> 9/11 was less a failure of intelligence and more a failure of imagination. >> admiral james debridis fought in haiti and iraq and became nato's supreme allied commander. >> we couldn't imagine that a primitive foe, operating from an ungoverned space in afghanistan could have the sophistication to put together a plot with 20 perpetrators, using credit cards, who'd come to america to learn how to fly in a primitive fashion would then be able to take over four jetliners and crash them into iconic american buildings. >> where were you on 9/11? >> i was in the pentagon.
i was in my office, newly-selected one-star officer, and i could look out and catch a glimpse of the airplane as it struck the side of the pentagon. and, as i stumbled out into that grassy field on the side of the pentagon and tried to help the real heroes of the day, the first responders, it occurred to me everything's going to change, and it did. >> we watched the first building burn and saw the plane hit the second building, and when that happened, everybody in the room said bin laden, he's done it. >> gary sh rhone was just weeks away from retiring from the cia, but he was one of the only american intelligence officers with first-hand experience and contacts in the region. so cobra black asked him to go back and carry out one last mission. >> he said i want to you find bin laden, cut off his head and
send it home on dry ice to me so i can take it down and show the president. and i looked at him, thinking, this guy's, is he serious? is he pulling my leg here? and he said, no, i'm serious. and i said, well, i think i can do that. i think our guys, we can do that, but cutting his head off, that might and little iffy. i don't know if i can do that. but the real problem is, where do i get dry ice in afghanistan? >> shrhone was in afghanistan a week later telling his old partners in the mujahideen they had a new mission, topple the taliban and eliminate bin laden. the u.s. sent in millions in cash and dropped in more cia and special forces. they carried out the first american cavalry charge in a century, and once the assets
were in place to pick out targets, the air force started bombing. >> america fights back! here is tom brokaw. >> it does now appear that the american action against afghanistan is under way. >> on my orders, the united states military has begun strikes against al qaeda training camps in afghanistan. >> i knew that when we hit them with 2,500 pound bombs they weren't going to last long. they ended up doing a b-52 run that actually went down the line of bunkers and took each one out, and they could hear this one guy in a bunker, like number five, say, number one just went, number two, number three, oh, my god, number four. that was the enemy. they broke. >> just three months after 9/11, the united states overthrew the
taliban and had al qaeda on the run. it took 100 cia operatives and 300 special forces soldiers. only one cia officer was killed. as wars go, it was short, cheap, effective and victorious. but it wasn't a total victory. there was one major shortcoming that proved critical. bin laden and a few hundred al qaeda militants slipped away, even though the cia had them trapped along the mountainous border with pakistan in an area called tora bora. >> they were driven from power, from all the urban centers, and tora bora was their last redoubt. >> he direct the cia response from washington. he passed on repeated requests from his team on the ground for reenforcements, about a thousand troops, to finish off bin laden.
but general tommy franks and donald rumsfeld refused. >> i think it was a conscious decision, because i passed on the request from our men. >> to the white house? ? yeah, to the white house and centcom, to both. >> and they said can't do it? >> yes. >> why couldn't you get those extra troops to secure the area? >> because work wgt afghans, we had such success to date, and i think there was a sense we could continue doing that, using the small teams with the afghan allies. >> bin laden escaped through the mountains of afghanistan in what may have been a missed opportunity to end the war months after 9/11. months after 9/11.
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. the war in afghanistan was, at first, a big success. the united states avenged september 11, and even though bin laden escaped, he was on the run, and al qaeda's protectors, the taliban, were overthrown. afghans were grateful their country was no longer occupied by religious fanatics. >> the afghan people were turning to the international community. within a month and a half, the people of afghanistan were freed from a creeping extremism, and then we began to flourish. >> hamid was the darling of the west, he was called the chiccest man on the planet. helped by the cia, karzai rode into afghanistan on the back of
a motorcycle and became president. >> afghan people took democracy by heart. they came out and voted. women came back to the workplace. afghanistan once again became the home for all afghans. >> so these early days, it sounds like there was a glory period when things were doing well. >> absolutely a glory period. >> i came to kabul immediately after the fall of taliban. >> she was one of the first women elected to the new democratic parliament in kabul. >> the city was completely destroyed. all these buildings, you could go around kabul, you couldn't see a building that was not destroyed or not damaged. but people were so happy and hopeful. we could breathe, not because there was fresh air, but because there was no oppression, and everybody was hoping for a completely bright and different future for themselves. >> there was no terrorism.
as a matter of fact, probably for the first probably 12 months or 18 months, so it felt very safe. >> saad, an afghan-born investment banker rushed home as soon as the taliban were toppled. >> i don't think there was a tv station, they were hanging tv sets from treetops. >> saud launched a tv and radio network, the first in the country. >> streets were empty, not too many cars in the city of kabul. it was good. they were a wonderful couple of years, actually. >> afghanistan flourished and began a cultural renaissance. but just as afghans were embracing a new life without the taliban, the united states decided one war wasn't enough. president bush launched a new
war against an old enemy of the u.s. and of the bush family, even though iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. >> my fellow citizens, at this hour, american and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations. >> the iraq war soon took up all of the u.s.' attention. 90% of u.s. military assets in the middle east were dedicated to iraq. afghanistan got whatever was left over. with washington focussed on baghdad, the taliban slipped back into afghanistan. they'd been hiding over the border in pakistan, waiting for just this kind of opportunity. the taliban knew they couldn't defeat the americans in a head-to-head fight, so they did what every other insurgency does and switched to guerilla warfare. >> these are warriors who move
at lightning speed. they don't have big logistic tails, they're in their native country fighting. they can rely on support from various segments of the population. they're skilled with small arms. they're expert in small arms tactics. they have battle plans. they will attack and then fade away. and they'll cause casualties. they know that the frustration for america is loss of our soldiers, and they'll pick us off, one by one. ♪ ♪ >> the taliban also had a special hatred for music. considering it a sinful distraction from prayer. so the afghanistan national institute of music, the country's first conservatory was now a target. >> i came here to return the music to the afghan people.
a right that had been taken by the taliban when they're running afghanistan. >> ahmed founded the school. why does the taliban oppose music, hate music so much? >> i'm scholar. you can't find any difference in music. it clearly shows that the taliban are a group of ignorant backward thinking and a group of dark forces that would like to impose their narrow interpretation of holy islam on the afghan people. ♪ ♪ >> the conservatory was an international sensation. performing at the dendy center in washington. ♪ ♪ and at the sydney opera house. a symbol of afghanistan's
rebirth, which the taliban were determined to destroy. musicians from the school were accompanying an ah vaupts guard play, part of a budding theater scene in kabul. the play was a condemnation of suicide bombings. in the audience, sitting just behind the doctor was a suicide bomber. >> i remember when the explosion happened. it was full of smoke. the room was smelling kebad, the smell of the body. people were running up and down screaming. then i saw that my coat was full of blood, i was heavily bleeding from my head.
>> he was initially deafenned by the blast. >> we need to defeat ideology of the taliban. we need to defeat the ideology and the only way to do this is to invest in art, culture and music, and of course education. >> his courage was inspiring, but the taliban's return to afghanistan was a turning point. the glory period was over. violence began to intensify all across afghanistan. american and nato forces were now in a deadly ground war in a land often called the graveyard of empires. i traveled across afghanistan for the next several years.
often going one firefight to the next. it was some of the fiercest, close combat i'd ever seen. second time in less than 24 hours this outpost has come under attack. some of the incoming rounds were so close, could you hear them crack past my head. the united states had easily toppled the taliban after 9/11. now that they'd regrouped, that victory seemed like ancient history. with violence spiraling out of control, in 2010, under pressure from the pentagon, president obama surged in an additional 30,000 troops. his vice president, joe biden, strongly opposed the move. his son, beau, had deployed to iraq, and the vice president thought both wars in afghanistan and iraq were pointless and doomed. but vice president biden lost
the argument and the surge went ahead. one of the soldiers sent to afghanistan for the surge was sergeant lewis loftis. >> before the patrol i always say a few prayers, i'm catholic. ask god to watch over me. as soon as we get outside that wire, it's game on. >> i was with loftis and his patrol. >> we stay off the roads 90% of the time. a lot of times, the only time we're on a road is if we're crossing it. >> it was 112 degrees. it felt even hotter carrying up to 100 pounds of gear. all the gear made them
well-equipped and easy targets. >> sometimes we feel like we're just bait. we walk around until we get ambushed. they're not going to walk down the street with their rpg or ak 47. they'll walk down the street like they're a farmer. before you know it, the guy who was farming has a rocket or rpg and shooting at you. some of us feel like we're just walking around until we get shot. >> every step could lead to an ambush or an improvised explosive device. soldiers say the best defense against ieds is unpredictability. watch where you step and never use the same trail twice. still, troops have suffered 60 injuries, a third losing limbs. what's it like knowing it's so full of ieds?
it's hard, because we've lost so many guys. you keep your eye on the game and there was another guy killed yesterday. there's been 22 or 23 americans killed. >> this month? >> in the last five days. >> in the last five days? >> why do you think that is? >> it's fighting season. >> the strain wasn't just physical. constantly being on edge takes a toll. and this was already
loftis'second tour. often the taliban would sit back and watch the patrols to evaluate their strength, and then spring an attack as soon as the troops returned to their outpost, let down their guard. >> loftis. >> sergeant loftis immediately took up a machine gun. the taliban were up to 50 yards away. so close the troops had to shoot mortars nearly straight up. >> already one soldier has been severely injured. >> the troops called in close air support. and, with overwhelming firepower
firepower, the americans won the fight. adrenaline still pumping, loftis went back to his hooch and tried to unwind. he looked at pictures of his sweetheart, dedra lopez. he wanted to marry her. i asked loftis about his plans and all the soldiers who wouldn't be going home, including one of his friends. >> i'm kind of numb to it, to be honest. i just don't really feel much. i pray for his family. i pray for his soul, you know. you see, i try not to think about it. because when you think about it, then i get like this. >> this was loftis'last fighting season. he'd be going home soon. g home . we did it again. verizon has been named america's most
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couple. >> look how dirty these are. >> i know. >> it's really dirty. it looks like it's been to war. >> people wanted what we had, you know. our love was so genuine. it was just so natural. people saw us together and they just knew we should be together. people that we went to high school with were just like, you guys are perfect together. you complete each other. >> laufis wanted to use the gi bill and study to become an occupational therapist. >> i just wanted to start school, be with my girlfriend, of course, and be home around my family and be more on my own schedule and be in charge of my life. >> but it was a tough time to come home. he returned in the midst of the american great recession. the housing bubble had burst. mortgages were being called in. and one in ten americans was unemployed. >> how is the economy here? >> not too good. i know before i joined the army,
never noitsed that many homeless people. when i got back, i noticed one on every exit off the highway. a lot of my friends lost their jurors and are struggling. >> as the months went by, he was drifting, he wasn't working much, he wasn't going to school. he gained weight, and thoughts of afghanistan kept haunting him. >> you know, my time in the army's always going to be in me. i'm always going to be thinking about it. i still have dreams all the time. i'll have dreams that i'm at ft. bragg or in afghanistan or on patrol. >> make sure you get to this intersection, elliot. >> are they nightmares or dreams? >> sometimes. they're pretty vivid dreams. >> i think the ptsd was kind of right in my face when we would sleep. definitely the first six month months he was home, if i would wake him
up, any noise. the attitude, he couldn't control it, you about i could tell he was trying to. he didn't know how. he didn't know how to come home to this from that. >> do you think had an impact on you mentally, psychologically? >> i definitely think i've been in traumatic situations and i gaurpts that's why very certain dreams that i have. if somebody drops something on the ground i hear that thud, i get that feeling, oh, god, an explosion just went off. >> but you're jumpier than before. >> yeah, i'm always aware. that's part of it. you spend four and a half years in the army and over two years in afghanistan, but there will always be part of my mind that will always be there in my head. >> with warning signs becoming more clear, loftis went for counselor. >> it was obvious that there's things that affected me that were hard to talk about, so i wanted to talk to someone with a ph.d. about it. she helped me out. >> what did she say? did she say it was ptsd.
>> she said i was too distraught to give a diagnosis. meaning i was too emotional. >> i needed him to know that i'm your best friend, i'm your girlfriend. i'm whatever you need to be that's going to help you get through this. >> but even with all the love and support, the stress of all the patrols, the constant tension of kill or be killed hadn't gone away. and one day, driving to the grocery store with dedra, loftis snapped. >> he's screaming things that, hateful things. i hate you. i've killed people overseas that are worth more than you. i knew none of this was lewis. i knew this was the drinking, the ptsd, the depression, the endless nights of terrible sleep or no sleep. so i'm constantly trying to separate him from the, from the
person that the war and the things that he's seen had turned him into. he reached his arm over the front seat, and he started choking me. started choking me. and said he wanted me to die. he screaming at me saying i hate you, and i don't care about you, and i don't care if we all die today. and i'm in the front seat gripping his arm for my life, kick being the front windshield with my feet, screaming and hopele someone would hear me, and they d >> your honor, this is the state of ohio versus lewis loftis. >> lewis was arrested a few days later, charged with domestic violence, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer. he pleaded guilty.
>> i am sorry for what i did. i have a hard time showing my emotions. >> account court was sympathetic to a veteran in trouble, and he had no priors. >> we know he doesn't have the background. dedra lopez is present. >> dedra testified on his behalf. she decided to give him a second chance, even though she was pregnant during the assault. >> he is a good person. but he just, he needs a lot of help. >> loftis was sentenced to six months in jail and a year in a residential correctional facility. dedra waived a restraining order so loftis could be present fort birth of their son mason. >> hey. >> that's the day that i thought or hoped, okay, this is a new beginning, you know. here's the baby. he's in front of you. he's real. >> you wanted it to work out. >> yes, absolutely, i wanted it
to work out. >> what a little baby. >> i knew him before he came back. so to me, that's what i was holding onto, to get back even a little bit of him. because i expected him to not be the same, and i was okay with that. >> after his release, loftis did a little better. he was working construction and masonry jobs, and by now, dedra was pregnant with their second child, nolan. but just as things were looking up. >> i got a call from someone in his family, and it was very brief, and she said i overheard him, and he's doing drugs. i looked at him, and i said i am not here to argue. i'm not here to corner you. i don't even want to be here. but i need you to tell me right now, and just make this easy for us, what drugs are you doing? and how bad is it? >> did he tell you? >> he said, threw his hands up, he goes fine, i've been doing
heroin. and i think physically my mouth was, i, jaw dropped. he said, i don't know why i'm doing it dedra, it just makes me feel numb. i don't feel anything when i'm doing it, so i wish i could tell you if i'm going to stop, why, or, you know, what i'm thinking when i do it, what triggers me to do it, but all i know, the feelings that i had when i had when i got home, i don't have when i'm under the influence of that. >> loftis went back to counselor. he swore he'd quit the drugs. he tried to be a good dad. but he would sometimes disappear for hours without explanation. >> our laundry is down in the basement in the building and mason was helping me, whatever you want to call it, helping me carry it up and i dumped the laundry out, and a syringe falls out with a needle cap.
>> it didn't puncture him? >> no, it was used. it looked like the tip had broken off because it had been through the wash. it looked like a pen to me. it had an orange cap. i was drenched in sweat understanding that i need to tell the guy that's five feet down the hallway to get out of my house right now. he was very calm, had nothing to say about it. and he left, and that was one of the times that he went on a binge. >> dedra didn't see much of loftis after that. he lived alone and would fall off the radar for weeks at a time. >> he died of an overdose. he was found face down in his bed. >> retired sergeant lewis loftis was 30 years old.
he left behind two young boys. according to veterans affairs, 11% to 20% of soldiers deployed to afghanistan or iraq suffer from ptsd. many coped with it. for others, it was too much to bear. >> i would say maybe my soul, the inner part of me just still knows that he was a good person. >> your kids, how much do they know about all of this? >> my kids. so they were 5, 5 and 6 when this happened. and i said, do you guys know what happens when you have a bad heart? and mason said yeah, you would die, because you need your heart to live.
and i started getting tears in my eyes. mason goes, mommy, why are you crying? we don't have bad hearts. and i said no, honey, you do not have bad hearts. i said, but, daddy, daddy had a bad heart. mason stared directly into my eyes. and he said how bad is his heart, mommy? and i literally saw the water fill up in his eyes as i said mason, i am so sorry, but you guys, daddy died. and i feel like i couldn't even believe myself that i just said those words to them. and mason immediately started pleading no, mommy, no! please. can we get him another heart?
mommy, please. it was probably single-handedly the worst moment of my entire life, and i will never, i will never get that look out of my face that, that look that mason gave me when there was a clear understanding that -- >> when he died. >> when he got it. >> in my opinion f you ask me right now if coy sign on the dotted line and say get everyone out of afghanistan i wouldn't hesitate, i would say there's not worth one more soldier getting killed. but i also feel that what i did wasn't a waste. i'm just saying maybe it's a time, let's get our guys home now. home now. this may look like a regular movie night. but if you're a kid with diabetes, it's more. it's the simple act of enjoying time with friends, knowing you understand your glucose levels.
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by the time sergeant lewis loftus died from an overdose in 2018, afghanistan had changed yet again. the u.s. military surge had come and gone. and was largely successful. most american troops had returned to the united states, and kabul was coming back to life. streets and markets filled up again. girls were going to school. >> one of the things that make the last several years exceptional is the fact that people were hopeful, that they had huge expectations that they put on the government. more people were feeling ownership over their situations, their security forces, you know, their country.
>> it wasn't perfect, but a new life was emerging? >> a sense of ownership and identity. >> you have this young generation of afghans who are so different, so much better than i thought they could ever be. they're engaged. they're smart. i mean, i think this urbanization of the country has helped. people are connected by mobile phones and media. the way they dress, they're aspirational, they're ambitious, they're multilingual, they're sophisticated. they have an idea in terms of what they want. >> afghanistan for the first time in years was no longer a combat zone. but that progress was erased when president trump decided he could end the war with one quick deal. leaving afghanistan had been one of president trump's campaign promises, and even though most
troops were already home, during his reelection rallies, pulling them out became an applause line. >> after 19 years of conflict and very close to 20, we can finally begin to bring our amazing troops back home. >> opinion polls said ending the war was universally popular among americans. but the way trump did it may have set in motion a tragedy. president trump sent his secretary of state mike pompeo to doha, qatar, to sign a peace deal with the taliban. it was very straight forward. as long as the taliban stopped attacking american troops, all u.s. forces would leave afghanistan by may 1st, 2021. the taliban got everything they wanted. the afghan government backed by washington wasn't even invited
to the talks, destroying its credibility. >> so it's like a hail mary pass of all time. it's certainly for our region. but i think the question that we're asking, a lot of afghans are asking, well, if the americans really wanted to leave, then why give the taliban the legitimacy that they probably don't deserve? >> we have defeated british before. we defeated former ussr and now americans. >> reporter: the head of the taliban's negotiating team. so you think you have defeated america now? >> on the battlefield, americans were not coming to the negotiation table. it means they are tired. they cannot win it. so that's why they come on the negotiation table. >> reporter: even then, the taliban showed little sign of having changed from when they were in power in the 1990s. when they hosted osama bin laden, banned girls from going
to school, and stoned women for adultery. >> there will be no problem. there was no problem for women. >> there was no problem for women? >> there was no problem for women. >> i spoke to many women who were terribly oppressed. >> you spoke to those women who were belonging to some of the agencies that are against us. but we are committed to give the full right according to islamic sharia to the women. and they have the right of education, and they have the right -- >> according to afghan tradition determined by the taliban? >> what do you mean by this? . there is a lot of ways to interpret this islamic law. a lot of ways to interpret islamic tradition. >> there is one rule. there is no different this time. >> but president trump wasn't in office long enough to see his deal go through. instead, it fell to his successor. while the two men disagreed on
most everything else, president biden also wanted out of afghanistan. he deposed the troop surge while vice president, and he didn't change a word of trump's deal with the taliban. all he did was push back the date for all u.s. troops to leave from may to august 31st. >> war in afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking. we were attacked. we went to war with clear goals. we achieved those objectives. bin laden is dead, and al qaeda is degraded in iraq and afghanistan. and it's time to end the forever war. >> with the deadline looming in kabul, afghans knew they were now in serious danger. especially the hundreds of thousands who had worked for the americans. hiding above a restaurant, a met
a group of afghan translators who worked for u.s. forces. they were begging to get out and complaining no one was listening. >> we pretty much feel abandoned. the taliban will kill us. maybe the al qaeda will kill us. we are not secure. this is a the time for the government to deliver what they have promised and especially to the local afghan interpreters. >> do you think -- i don't want to ask such a crude question. do you think the people in this room, do you think you're going survive? if i came back in a year or two, do you think i'm going to find all you have here? >> no. >> not possible. >> it's not clear. whether we're going to be dead. >> reporter: this was back in may 2021, three months before biden's withdrawal deadline, a time when thousands of american troops were still in the country and the taliban were still far away from kabul. yet little was being done to get
them out. another translator showed me all the documents he had sent to the u.s. embassy in vain. >> this is a letter signed by an american officer confirming that he received a death threat to him and his family because of his services to the u.s. forces. >> yep. >> and all of these are letters of appreciation, letters of recommendation, letters of service. and it's stitt not working. tom, which is what u.s. troops called him on hundreds of missions had been working on his visa application for four years, but he couldn't get through all the red tape. so why is it taking so long? did they give you a reason why it's taking four years? >> a lot of like others, there are waiting for medicals and they are waiting. this process is really hard man. like the other, the british, the
french, they are taking like their interpreters in one month. i don't know what is wrong with us. the u.s. government going to save me because i've been working with them. if they don't, i will be killed. >> reporter: while the state department was taking years just to verify tom's work history, it took us less than 45 minutes to reach his former commanding officer who vouched for him completely. >> i think we owe a debt not just to tom, but to the interpreters that served us and fought alongside us. and i really do think that we need to do something to expedite bringing these people over. >> the cries for help were everywhere. but little was done to evacuate america's afghan allies while there was still time and while american troops remained in afghanistan to protect them.
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bagram air base, once the epicenter of the war, was the largest american base in afghanistan. in july 2021, the u.s. military suddenly abandoned it. when i arrived shortly after u.s. troops pulled out, i was shocked. all around were the relics of the american presence. i borrowed a bicycle soldiers had left behind and pedalled down what had been one of the most active combat runways in the world.
it doesn't just feel like a ghost town. it almost feels post apocalyptic. bagram air base could have been a perfect staging ground for all those american allies who had been pleading to leave. instead, the u.s. pulled out lock, stock and barrel, and in doing so, may have pulled the rug out from under its former allies. the base was no longer functional. and everywhere on bagram was dark. you hand over a base, you can't turn on the power, it's not too useful. this is the emergency room? >> emergency room. >> so you just need power? >> power.
this is the command center. no computers, no lights. no nothing. the americans say they handed over this base to the afghans in an orderly way so they could continue the fight against extremists. they left them a base that the americans, it looks like they looted themselves. how do you feel about the way the americans left this base? >> translator: i don't want to talk about it, he said. many have claimed the afghan army lacked the will and courage to fight, yet more than 60,000 of them died in combat. but without air cover, medevac, intelligence, drones, all provided from this now shell of a base, the army fell to pieces. after bagram, afghan troops began to surrender their
outposts to the taliban in exchange for their lives. the taliban took pictures of their rapid advance, relishing the moment as they collected huge stockpiles of american weapons. >> rpg, grenade. and consoled crying afghan soldiers. the army's ranks had also been weakened by years of corruption. often enabled by the u.s. military and american contractors, who pumped in billions, much of went straight back to american companies. >> so what we have estimated is about a third of the money spent was wasted. >> john zopko was the inspector general for afghanistan, responsible for auditing much of the $2 trillion spent. >> i've been spending the last nine years chasing ghosts,
gangsters, and gas that was stolen from the afghans and from us. >> i just pulled up a couple of examples here. $486 million for death trap aircraft that were later sold for $32,000 and scrap metal. >> that's the famous aircraft that couldn't fly. other than that, they were great airplanes. we decided to buy a navy for a land locked country, but that was okay. they're really beautiful boats, but they never made it to afghanistan. >> wait, is this the -- i think these were the inflatable boats? $3 million for eight boats. >> correct. >> that were then canceled. >> because somebody decided and probably got a promotion for it that the afghans needed a navy. now afghanistan is a land locked country. we built a headquarters for the
surge. the marine general there said don't build it. i won't be here. i won't use it. we don't need it. the surge will be over. but we decided to build it any way. this is what the general warned me. he said somebody needs to look at this. it's the best built headquarters i've ever seen. it was never used. >> do you think the war in afghanistan lasted so long partly because it was just a cycle, just a cycle to make money? it became a self-sustaining industry? >> you're right. once it starts, it's hard to stop it. once that ship starts going down, it's hard to stop. and i didn't see too many people trying to stop this over the last 20 years. >> by early august, nearly all of the afghan army had disintegrated. kabul was still holding out, but it was surrounded by the taliban. and panic was setting in. an office in a shopping mall was
packed with afghans who had worked for the u.s. military, and they all wanted out now before the last american troops were gone. >> so you're all looking for visas? >> yeah. >> and what are these? id cards from the base? >> bagram. >> oh, those are from bagram? so you have id cards from bagram. you have pictures on your phone. did you bring documents as well? >> recommendation. >> a recommendation letter. so everyone showed up with their id cards, pictures of their phone, other ids, recommendation letters, employment contracts, and they're hoping that all this paperwork will be enough to get them a visa immediately so they can get out of this country. they'd come to this office simply because the internet was working and there were computers, even though the taliban were closing in, afghans here were still required to upload their documents in english to the state department website.
there were no embassy officials around to help. this woman has no connection to the u.s. or to the u.s. embassy or a company or contractor, but she is just saying out of mercy, her husband died several years ago, and she is afraid the taliban are going to come, and she is afraid they're going do horrible things to women and children. so she is just here hoping that maybe there is a possibility that she can get a visa for her son. >> reporter: there was a plan for a peaceful transition, a plan for the taliban to enter kabul and then share power with the u.s.-backed government. but there is an old expression in war. no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. as the taliban tightened their noose around kabul, they broke into the main prisons and released thousands of their fighters and thousands of isis extremists.
fearing for his life, the unpopular u.s.-backed president ashraf ghani fled the country, allegedly with millions in cash. he denied taking any money, but ghani abandoned his nation and his people at a vital moment. it was now game over. the taliban said the deal for a smooth transition was off, and their fighters entered kabul, taking the city without resistance. kabul is falling now. we've just left our office, our long-time home in afghanistan, and we're heading to a safer location, what we hope will be a safe location. already we've seen some gunman who look like taliban on the streets. and all of the government checkpoints, all the police, all the soldiers, they're gone. the united states now had a serious problem. its enemy of 20 years, the
taliban, had taken control of kabul sooner than expected, and isis fighters were on the loose. american helicopters flew nonstop rescue missions to evacuate the embassy downtown and carry diplomats and staff to hamid karzai international airport, the last place in afghanistan still under american control. the taliban's rapid takeover and the americans' urgent flight triggered a stampede. afghans believe if they could just get to the airport, they'd be safe. thousands managed to break in. they rushed an american c-17,
grabbing on as it taxied and took off. four fell to their deaths or were crushed by the landing gear. it was a haunting memory of the united states' humiliating withdrawal from saigon at the end of the vietnam war. president biden had promised this would never happen. >> the taliban is not the north vietnamese army. they're not remotely compliment in terms of capability. there is going to be no circumstance where we see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the united states from afghanistan. it is not at all comparable. >> reporter: the u.s. military was forced to fly in thousands of reinforcements, bringing in more troops than had been in afghanistan in years. to oversee what would become one of the largest airlifts in history.
>> it's the saddest day of my life right now. i just cannot imagine leaving, but unfortunately, it's time to go. >> gina aboui, an afghan american from virginia had moved back to afghanistan six years ago to teach. >> you left obviously the house. >> everything, everything. a small little suitcase with my laptop, and that's it. >> she was bringing out 25 members of her extended family. >> you were just looking up at the afghan flag. >> i don't know how much longer it's going to be there. but this is really sad. i don't know if i'll ever be back. i'm hoping, but i don't know if i'll ever be back. >> eventually, her c-17 arrived and maneuvered into position for boarding. for gina, it sunk in. this was it.
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the longer you've been with us... the more rewards you can get. like sharpening your cooking skills with a top chef. join for free on the xfinity app and watch all the rewards float in. our thanks. your rewards. the united states once called its war in afghanistan operation enduring freedom. it didn't live up to its name. unprepared for the taliban's sudden takeover of kabul, the united states was forced to bring in thousands of extra troops to oversee the evacuation. and the withdrawal did something that always seems to happen in afghanistan. it made alliances of convenience among enemies. in coordination with the u.s.
military, the taliban mobilized to protect american forces at the airport by controlling the crowds. and they did it their way. the taliban were making sure foreign troops left on schedule. but while the taliban were helping, the isis fighters they'd freed from prison were determined to land one last blow. as troops were doing pat-downs of evacuees searching for bombs, an isis suicide bomber detonated an explosive. it killed 13 american service members. and nearly 200 afghans. >> we have some sense, like many of you do what the families of these brave heros are feeling today. you get this feeling like you're
being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest. there is no way out. our heartaches for you. >> on edge, the u.s. military carried out a drone strike, initially claiming it thwarted another isis attack. the pentagon later admitted the strike killed ten civilians, including seven children, in a rare admission of error, as the world was watching. the united states and allies from around the world pushed ahead with the evacuation, taking out 124,000 foreign troops and vulnerable afghans. the taliban moved into the airport hours after the americans left. and picked over the spoils. the taliban were now coming out of the shadows and claimed to be
reformed as they sought international recognition. i met the taliban's main spokesman. he arrived with an entourage of guards, some in their olden my's uniforms. this war started when osama bin laden as a guest of the taliban organized 9/11 attacks. can you guarantee that this country will never again be a base for terrorism? >> translator: when osama bin laden became an issue for americans, he was in afghanistan. although there was no proof he was involved, now we have given promises that afghan soil won't be used against anyone. >> you still don't think that osama bin laden carried out 9/11? or masterminded 9/11? >> there is no evidence to prove this. >> it sounds like after 20 years, you're still not accepting any responsibility. >> the united states used that
incident as an excuse for war. we still don't believe that was true. >> the united states went into afghanistan 9/11, toppled the taliban, drove out al qaeda, and won the war in three months. only to lose it over the next 20 years. the united states spent $2 trillion, sacrificed 2,461 american lives, and gave an entire generation of afghans a taste of freedom that didn't last. after the taliban takeover at kabul's bakhtar university, women returned to class, but only a few dared to show up. this woman studied international relations and hoped to become an ambassador. but their dream deferred, had dried up like a raisin in the sun. >> we had a lot of achievement,
especially for females in these 20 years. but nowadays everything is done. >> what is it like to have a dream and then suddenly site disappear? >> sometimes when i'm free, i'm thinking that we are so unlucky that we are afghan. sometimes. so it's so hard. >> reporter: the taliban painted their flag across the abandoned american embassy in kabul. having returned to power far stronger and better armed than they'd ever been before. >> in afghanistan, we didn't fight a 20-year war. we foug 20 one-year wars
because we were constantly rotating troops out. and in the end, the united states didn't have the enthusiasm to continue this conflict. >> we tried things, but it was never with the resolve that we're really going to end this. >> for gary schroen who let in the first cia operatives, afghanistan was a case of mission creep. >> honestly, i don't think that the u.s. government writ large actually ever had a real plan for what to do with afghanistan. we knew how to break it. we just didn't know how to fix it. >> the last american soldier to leave afghanistan was major general chris donahue, commander of the 82nd airborne. sergeant lewis loftus' old division. loftus left behind two sons, mason and nolan. >> hello. >> hello, hello, hello. this is a very cool room. >> thank you.
>> so you guys have a bunch of stuff about your dad? >> yes. this book is basically all about our dad. >> you made this at school? >> yeah. >> or you made this in art class? >> i made it in school. >> in school. and tell me about it. tell me what does it say? my dad is great. he is awesome. he is the greatest dad ever. >> come to daddy, come to daddy, come on, come on! ahh! he took me to the natatorium. i loved him so much. he took me on a water slide. he let me ride on his back. >> here we go, nolan. line up like i showed you. good job. almost. >> that's very nice. >> thank you. >> yeah. >> another memory that we have these blankets. someone made these for. >> and it says the year he died. >> oh, so it's a memory blanket. >> yeah. >> and it's got the year that he died, march 27, 2018.
and it says "my daddy is in heaven." you keep this on your bed? >> yeah. >> you sleep with it at night? >> sometimes, yeah. >> sometimes. >> deidre took the boys to lewis' grave, which was lovingly maintained. >> put the army guys on there. all right, guys, how does it look? >> i like it. >> you sure? >> yes. >> bye, daddy. >> blow him a kiss. say i love you, daddy. >> love you, daddy. >> and we'll see you next time. >> see you next time. >> in like a few months. >> afghanistan lived up to its name, a graveyard of empires.
next, "fireside history with michael beschloss." he examines the short path to america's longest war. a fresh perspective from a member of congress who served in afghanistan. stay with us. afghanistan. stay with us descovy for prep. a once-daily prescription medicine... ...that helps lower the chances of getting hiv through sex. it's not for everyone. descovy for prep has not been studied in people assigned female at birth. talk to your doctor to find out if it's right for you. descovy is another way to prep. descovy does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections, so it's important to use safer sex practices and get tested regularly. you must be hiv-negative to take descovy for prep. so, you need to get tested for hiv immediately before and at least every 3 months while taking it. if you think you were exposed to hiv or have flu-like symptoms, tell your doctor right away. they may check to confirm you are still hiv-negative. serious side effects can occur, including kidney problems and kidney failure. rare, life-threatening side effects include a build-up of lactic acid and liver problems. the most common side effect was diarrhea. tell your doctor about all the medicines and supplements you take, or if you have kidney or liver problems, including hepatitis. if you have hepatitis b, do not stop taking descovy without talking to your doctor.
ask your doctor about your risk of hiv... ...and if descovy for prep is right for you. get help paying for descovy for prep. learn more at stepupprepup.com. growing up in a little red house, on the edge of a forest dein norway,prep. there were three things my family encouraged: kindness, honesty and hard work. over time, i've come to add a fourth: be curious. be curious about the world around us, and then go. go with an open heart, and you will find inspiration anew. viking. exploring the world in comfort. welcome to "fireside history." i'm your host michael beschloss. today we're going to show you a story from american history that is still playing