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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 8/18/21

Guests: Irwin Redlener, Mike Murphy, Jeremy Bash


President Biden said U.S. troops could stay in Afghanistan past August 31 to get all Americans out. Chaos, cries for help outside Kabul airport as Taliban crack down on protestors. The US president tells ABC News that there was nothing his administration could have done to avoid chaos. Military intelligence did not predict Afghanistan`s rapid fall. COVID-19 booster shot will be offered to Americans fully vaccinated with Pfizer, Moderna. Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates. Republicans risk becoming face of delta surge as key GOP governors oppose anti-COVID measures. CIA warned of rapid Afghanistan collapse. Raging California wildfire doubles to 50,000 acres.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again day 211 of the Biden administration, which is racing to put out the firestorm ignited by the debacle of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Tonight, the President told ABC news that the military mission to get Americans out of the country, Taliban permitting could extend past August 31.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: All troops are supposed to be out by August 31. Even if Americans and our Afghan allies are still trying to get out, they`re going to leave?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We`re going to do everything in our power to get all Americans out and our allies out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean troops will stay beyond August 31, if necessary?

BIDEN: It depends on where we are. And whether we can get ramped these numbers up to five to 7,000 a day coming out. If that`s the case, they`ll all be out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So Americans should understand the troops might have to be there beyond August 31?

BIDEN: No, Americans would understand that we`re going to try to get it done before August 31.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if we don`t, the troops will stay.

BIDEN: If we don`t, we`ll determine at the time who`s left.


BIDEN: And if American force -- if there`s American citizens left, we`re going to stay that we get them all out.


WILLIAMS: Situation on the ground in Afghanistan remain tense as the Taliban now dig in and assert control over that country. Our veteran chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Kabul again for us tonight.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. led evacuation today is finally moving quickly and smoothly from the military side of Kabul airport. Planes arriving and departing around the clock. It`s a far cry from the Bedlam Monday, when thousands of Afghans broke into the airport so desperate to escape the Taliban. They clung on to departing aircraft.

Now, more American troops have been brought in for security. Today, we watch troops get ready for a patrol. They`re relaxed, but U.S. forces may be doing this for several more days, or even weeks.

As U.S. officials say up to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan, along with tens of thousands of Afghans who may be eligible for asylum. This afternoon, we saw hundreds of Afghans being processed, waiting to start new but still uncertain lives.

(on camera): While this base is now much more orderly, much more secure. The biggest problem is getting here.

(voice-over): Because outside the perimeter, the Taliban are in control. The U.S. military asked them to keep back the crowds but the Taliban are doing it their way. Firing in the air, sometimes beating Afghans who try to approach.

In Jalalabad, Afghans demonstrated carrying the tri colored Afghan flag saying it represents them, not the Taliban flag.

Witnesses say the Taliban open fire killing at least three demonstrators.

Overnight, Afghanistan`s new presumptive leader arrived in the country moving through the Taliban stronghold city of Kandahar. He`s Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, he was deputy leader of the Taliban when it hosted and protected Osama bin Laden while he plotted 9/11. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed a peace deal with them under President Trump. A deal President Biden implemented rapidly pulling out American troops triggering the rapid collapse of the Afghan army and the Taliban`s rapid takeover. Richard Engel, NBC News, Kabul.


WILLIAMS: Now, meanwhile, President Biden in that interview with ABC News tonight continues to defend his handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan arguing there was no way to pull out without risking turmoil.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don`t think this could have been handled, this exit could have been handled better in any way. No mistakes.

BIDEN: No, I don`t think it could have been handled in a way that there we -- we`re going to go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there`s a way to have gotten out without chaos and suing. I don`t know how that happens. I don`t know how that happened.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So for you that was always priced into the decision.



WILLIAMS: Earlier today, Secretary of Defense retired General Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, two men who know from Afghanistan also defended our drawdown strategy. General Milley said this about U.S. intelligence leading up to the collapse of Afghanistan.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The intelligence clearly indicated multiple scenarios were possible. One of those was an outright Taliban takeover, following a rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the government. Another was a civil war, and a third was a negotiated settlement.

However, the timeframe of rapid collapse apps that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure. That was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure.


It was nothing that I or everyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11days.


WILLIAMS: Now, congressional leaders are asking the White House for a briefing for the so called Gang of Eight, the top leadership, and some are already planning investigations of what went down here on why.

This was also the day the administration went public with their plan for booster vaccines. Anyone who received a two dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine can get a third shot eight months later. The government says shots will be available September 20.

CDC says three studies showing declines in our immunity rates against the virus persuaded them to make this move toward boosters, although the FDA has still yet to sign off on it.

Meanwhile, an Israeli study shows that Pfizer`s booster can improve immunity in people 60 and older. Federal official say they`re also reviewing data on boosters for people who have received that one and done Johnson and Johnson vaccine.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Right now the FDA is now looking at the J&J the approval, the EUA and how that would fit in. We`re not forgetting at all about the people with J&J.


WILLIAMS: President Biden also escalated his confrontation with Republican governors over school mascot mandates today he was direct about it. President said he has directed the education department to use all means necessary to help local officials enact those measures.

Well with that, let`s introduce the starting line on this Wednesday night. Lisa Lerer, national political correspondent for The New York Times, retired four star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, decorated combat veteran of Vietnam former battlefield commander in the Persian Gulf, former cabinet member, former member of the National Security Council, and Dr. Irwin Redlener, founding director of Columbia University`s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. He advises us on public health, also a professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Good evening, and welcome to you all.

General, given the topic at hand, I`d like to begin with you 15,000 Americans left in Afghanistan, what do you make of the President`s comments of staying beyond 31 August if necessary? And I don`t mean this in any way, but seriously, are we asking the Taliban or telling the Taliban about getting these people through those cordons to the airport?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. AMRY (RET.): Or you went right to the heart of the matter? I was shocked that President Biden who have more experience got provoked into that answer by Stephanopoulos that we`d stay beyond 31 August, we had to get the Americans out. We do not want to be putting down red lines in public, but Major General Chris Donahue, who`s now going in as a direct negotiator to the Taliban military caught through these things.

We -- It could possibly be that the majority of Americans would be out by 31 August. It sounds highly unlikely that 18,000 interpreters and 20,000 commanded -- 20 or 30,000 people at work for the U.S. directly and NGOs would all get out with their families prior to the end of the month. So this is something -- that airfield, evac airfield is now strongly defended. Nobody but nobody`s taking on 7th Battalion Marines and paratroopers, but they can close down the interdiction any hour they wish and they`re going to control who comes into the perimeter, and we`re not going to expand the footprint.

So we need to talk privately to the Taliban and we got to get out of there without fighting and get out of there with all the Americans and as many Afghans as we can feasibly transport.

WILLIAMS: Lisa Lerer, this Biden administration is getting dragged and roasted in ways and with severity that they are not used to. Visually people point to the big mistake over this past weekend and that was showing the president all alone at the conference table at Camp David while the world seemingly melted around him. He was on video link with among other people, the Vice President, the Pentagon and places around the world, but it was reminiscent of that photo of Donald Trump signing a blank piece of paper at Walter Reed during his hospitalization.

Let`s talk about the communication shop. Politico is reporting tonight, they`re going to adjust their communication strategy. And make it more in line with you`ll forgive me but this botched evacuation that we`re all witnessing.


LISA LERER, THE NEW YORK TIMES NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That`s exactly right, Brian. I think the way he has his initial approach was to try to sort of change the timeframe of what they were talking about here and get people to focus on the 20-year time frame, which is something generally Americans are supportive of, most Americans don`t want to remain in Afghanistan, rather than the really somewhat disastrous past four or five days. That`s been very unsuccessful.

And I suspect the President`s comments in the interview that he always anticipated this kind of chaotic withdrawal is not going to help but his public statements in April and July, where he`s talking about secure an orderly transition, that a Taliban takeover simply wasn`t evitable don`t comport with that argument.

And I don`t think it`s going to be something that is going to do much to mollify his critics within his own party or allies abroad is you mentioned at the top of the show multiple congressional committees, I believe we`re up to four right now are talking about looking into how this all came to be. And the administration recognizes that they need to really bolster their communications outreach and how they`re handling this situation.

There`s -- They`re making a lot of calls and private calls to allies, behalf, both abroad and at home. And I think we`ll see a much more aggressive push from them going forward. The question is whether this is something at this point that can be particularly undone with just communications, it seems like Congress is on a track to dig into this, and they`re going to have to be ready for those kinds of hearings, potentially.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, we`ve hardly heard the last of this. Doctor, over to you. I`ve been eager to get you on the record on the topic of booster shots. Does eight months seem about right to you as a public health physician? And what do the people watching tonight need to know?

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, EXPERT ON PANDEMIC INFLUENZA: Yes, so let me try to unpack that, Brian. But before I do it, just want to say that this unbelievable catastrophic, military and political crisis in Afghanistan is not without its public health ramifications as well, you know, eventually, one way or another, this is going to get solved. And we`ll be leaving behind an unbelievable crisis, especially for the girls and women of 15 million of them in Afghanistan, once the Taliban fully takes over.

Anyway, to get to your question, Brian, I think this issue of a booster shot has been a little whipsawing here. Last week, I was on the air talking about how only people who are immunocompromised should be getting a booster shot or a third shot if they`ve gotten the Moderna or Pfizer versions of the vaccine.

But today, and I was on a briefing call with the White House earlier. But now we`re moving to a different agenda, which has to do with this race between the virus and the vaccine. And with Delta, what we`re going to see is increasingly diminishing of the immune response from the original two shocks that most people have done.

And what the government is trying to do is anticipate a period of time roughly eight months after your last shot, when your immune levels from the vaccine maybe and I say may be diminished enough to leave you more vulnerable. In the meantime, no one is questioning the fact that all of the vaccines currently available in the U.S. are able to protect against hospitalizations, and death, maybe diminishing prospects of protecting against an infection or even contagious infections. But in the meantime, I think the government`s trying to get ahead of the curve here and be ready to administer third shots as needed.

WILLIAMS: General, back over to you. First of all, when we hear from an expert like Dr. Redlener, who is refocusing our attention to include the rolling public health crisis that we are witnessing an Afghanistan that has a way of focusing the mind and getting our attention there. But number two for our viewers, tell people about the kind of leadership they can expect. You have known General Milley and former general Austin now Secretary Austin for a long time. They have known Afghanistan for a long time. And you invoked his name earlier talk to us about the general in charge of the 82nd Airborne. It will be his show to run from now on.

MCCAFFREY: Brian, I think primarily what they to do is get out there and talk with Taliban fighters who are now ringing the evacuation airfield. He`s a remarkable, eerily talented officer. I`ve known off and on for years. West Pointer, Harvard fellow, Naval War College, master`s degree in national security studies. As a young guy they made him the personal assistant secretaryWest Point or Harvard fellow Naval War College master`s degree in National Security Studies.


As a young guy, they made him the Personal Assistant Secretary of Defense. He knows Afghanistan, and he knows our mores and customs. So I think that`s a real plus.

I think the airfield operations going to work just fine. What isn`t going to work just fine is getting Afghans SIV or other categories through the Taliban perimeter, that we had a U.S. Embassy there with 4,000 people on it. And they couldn`t process these SIV`s for over a year, for God`s sakes. Now there`s a handful of them behind gates being besieged with Marine guards, trying to sort it out.

So that`s going to be a problem of focus have to be get the Americans out, get the NATO civilians, get the NGOs, and then see who else we can pick up. This will go on for two, three, five years. There`ll be caught out through a Rand Pakistan, Central Asian republics, then we can hopefully get them back into the U.S. or another neutral country.

But the Taliban hold all the cards on that evacuation airfield. By the way, I would add, I`m sort of empathetic to the government`s challenge when Biden ordered a drawdown starting with a base of only 2,500 troops. It`s hard to imagine we could have told 15,000 Americans and the interpreters and others were going to sneak you out of here, because we think it`s going to collapse. And I don`t think anybody understood was going to go under this quickly. No political surrender from village level all the way to the Ghani government.

WILLIAMS: A great point and I`m glad you made it. Lisa, back to you and your beat. Is it us? Or does Biden suddenly seem more defiant on the virus and vaccinations being more direct, at least in taking on these Republican governors who are endangering lives by one way of looking at it to stay on brand?

LERER: No, he is remarkably defiant on both issues. And we, you know, we saw that in the interview today. We saw that in his remarks on COVID. And, you know, this, this direct blaming of Republican and Republican governors really marks a shift for the White House at the beginning, you know, the Biden entered office with a lot of talk about building bridges and bipartisanship. And the administration was very reluctant to directly blame Republicans for the vaccination rates. Clearly, that`s changed and you see him going directly at people like governor Ron DeSantis in Florida.

In part, that`s because, you know, the administration is hoping to continue pressuring private businesses and local jurisdictions to increase mass requirements increase vaccination rates, rather than have to impose their own kind of mandates. It`s also a slightly easier approach by going after Republican governors. The administration is in the thorny, or political position of withholding funding from states completely, or withholding funding from school districts that say, don`t impose a mask mandate, something that could put them crosswise with, you know, other political interests, like the teachers unions, which historically have been strong allies to the Democratic Party.

So I think in some ways, Republican governors are easier targets for the administration politically, but they`re also of course, there`s some truth when you look at what`s going on in those states in terms of hospitalization rates, and vaccine rates and all of that. So it`s both a political approach and a bit of a policy approach to

WILLIAMS: Doctor, last word goes to you. What are your logistic concerns about getting shot number three in arms? And I`m guessing, you hope that by example, the anti-vaxx community will see people getting their third and wonder perhaps, again, whether or not they ought to get their first.

REDLENER: Well, one would hope, Brian, but I don`t know. I think the administration, in some ways was caught off guard by the strength of the anti-vaxxers resistance. And secondly, by this extraordinary combination of breathtaking ignorance, and incredible craven politics, opportunistic politics, expressed by governors in Texas, in Florida and elsewhere. And I don`t know what`s going to have to happen to make these people yield to science and to the objective capability that we need to have in order to get this pandemic under control.

But it`s, I think, calling for strategies that we haven`t really considered sufficiently but the more pressure that President Biden to put on these governors for out of control and helping us lose the fight against the pandemic, the better. And I think he should up the amps on this on these strategies. And keep pushing this as hard and as often as he can, in my opinion, Brian.


WILLIAMS: Hard to believe but that`s where we are. We could not have had three better guests to start this discussion. We`re so appreciative of our starting line tonight. Lisa Lerer, General Barry McCaffrey, Dr. Irwin Redlener, our thanks.

Coming up for us. We`ll hear more from the President on the collapse of Afghanistan, as this White House again faces criticisms from both sides of the aisle. And later, Republican governors, Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, all trying to keep masks off the faces of kids in the classroom. How the White House plans to further push back. All of it as the 11th Hour is just getting underway on this Wednesday night.



BIDEN: The idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that the somehow the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped was going to just collapse, are going to give up. I don`t think anybody anticipated that.


WILLIAMS: Presidents on defense in the wake of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, his own party about to convene congressional hearings. Politico reports that this way and we quote, the pending democratic led investigations on the chaotic withdrawal and intelligence failures will keep Afghanistan front and center in the coming months as the administration tries to pass Biden`s economic agenda. Remember they`re talking about fellow Democrats here.

Back with us tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post and Mike Murphy, veteran Republican strategist, co- director of the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California. Short answer they have discovered one. He is also co- host of the Hacks on Tap podcast. Gentlemen, good evening and welcome.


And Eugene, I`d like to begin with you by reading a quote from our mutual friend, Matthew Dowd. And he writes this today, the response by the GOP and so many Democrats in D.C. to events in Afghanistan, underlines what I have been saying for years. GOP feels no shame. Democrats feel shame way too quickly. Biden is right in what he is doing. Support him vigorously. Eugene, what do you make of that sentiment?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTONG POST COLUMNIST: Well, I think his lying about Republicans feeling no shame and Democrats feeling shame too quickly is certainly right. We`ve seen that time and time again. And I think there is a bottom line question here. Do you or do you not think it was time for the United States still leave Afghanistan after 20 years? Should we have stayed? Or should we have left? And if you think we should have stayed, don`t have to say for how much longer, but if you think we should have stayed then maybe you have a point to make. If you if you agree with the basic premise that we should have left, then I think President Biden maybe he sounds defensive, maybe he sound self-justified. But I think you`re right.

I think there was there is no graceful way to lose this war. There was no graceful way, non-chaotic way to leave Afghanistan. You don`t sneak 15,000 Americans and untold tens of thousands of Afghan collaborators out of the country without anybody noticing, without that having an impact.

You don`t -- the Taliban was stronger than it had been in 20 years, and it`s very clear that the Afghan army and, you know, I know they thought a lot of them died defending their idea of Afghanistan. But in the end, they were a paper tiger and they collapsed. And this is the result. This is where we are. But that`s the basic question. Do you think we should have worked or not?

WILLIAMS: Mike, indeed, Matthew Dowd is energized on this point and said tonight, this wasn`t Joe Biden abandoning our friends and allies. They were abandoned by their government, the leadership in Afghanistan, hell, the President got on a plane and left town, left the country behind. And maybe someday we can ask him about that if we find them in the south of France.

Mike, I got one for you, though. What in your view looked worse for the United States, the sacking of our own capital by our own people, or the botched evacuation from Afghanistan?

MIKE MURPHY, VETERAN REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that`s a close one, Brian, but I`d have to say the sacking of our own capital. I mean, you have to go back to the Redcoats to see that. And so as an assault on our democracy, it was the worst but make no mistake, this was the disaster in Afghanistan. And there`s been a tremendous amount of damage to American prestige.

I mean, my friend Matthew is debating the song The White House wants to sing, which is in the big picture. It was time to leave Afghanistan. And most people agree with that idea. But what Biden owns and doesn`t really want to take response for, or at least is doing it reluctantly and defensively is the fiasco on his watch as we left Afghanistan.

I believe and I think a lot of national security people do if the 6,000 troops we had there now that are holding that airport, really holding the runway, and half the airport had been there earlier, the Taliban would have slowed its advance and given a bigger window to get people out in a much more orderly way.

I think that`s what the White House thought would happen with all this faulty intelligence. So now we`re all reading the leaks the Intelligence Committee and saying, Wait a minute, we told him -- we knew it was the scenario and Biden didn`t want to listen. So you can debate the big picture, which is smart politics for the President.

But the fact is, he owns this and this is bad. And just parenthetically, I`d say the Europeans are hopping mad because the way it was conducted and the way they were briefed and warned was not existed. It was a Trump level stumbled bum mistake, which is the last thing I think people were expecting from Joe Biden who ran is somebody who have great experience in these areas.

WILLIAMS: And as I`ve tried to point out every night, we had a great airport. It was called Bagram Air Base, and we shut it down. And now we`re at the mercy of this one Metropolitan airport and it`s one runway, one way in and one way out at the mercy of the Taliban.

To our viewers, both of these jobs. All men have agreed to stay with us. We`re going to fit in a break.


Coming up when we continue our conversation how the president and some school districts are fighting back against some anti-masker duly elected American governors when we come back.



GOV. RON DESTANTIS (R-FL): Politicians want to force you to cover your face as a way for them to cover their own asses. That`s just the truth. And they want to be able to say, they`re taking this on and they`re doing this, even though they doesn`t -- it`s not -- it`s not proven to be effective. They want to continue to do it.


WILLIAMS: Not proven to be effective that clip from our friends over at the recount. Florida`s governor mocking mask wearing even at his state remains a leader in new COVID cases. President meanwhile vowing to use the power of the federal government whenever, wherever he can to counteract these anti- mask mandates. Tonight as we said he`s ordered the Secretary of Education to help him get it done.

Still with us, Eugene Robinson and Mike Murphy. Mike, this is as Dr. Redlener put it so craven, so ghoulish. I know I have asked you various forms of this before we`re going to ask again. When exactly did it become on brand for Republican governors to cast aside any seeming custodial function in their states and push policies that promote illness and can cause death, alter, earn the ardor of the anti-science political base of a twice impeached retired politician in Florida.


MURPHY: Well, I`ll start with a weaselly footnote just to say not all Republican governors have gone down the crazy path the Larry Hogan has to Charlie Baker`s even Asa Hutchinson was doing a 180 in Arkansas. So, you know, it`s not all this bad, but DeSantis is the drum major now for super spreading. You know, clearly Bill Nye, the Science Guy doesn`t have to worry about losing his job to the Ivy League educated, so therefore, he knows better. Governor of Florida who just thinks that being a militant on this is a fast path to the Republican presidential nominee. I think he`s making a mistake. I think he`s just making things too simple.

And he ought to keep an eye on his reelect in Florida where he is currently tied or slightly behind in the polls to two different Democrat potential opponents. So, you know, I think it is shrewd for Biden politically, to attack on this with the political weapon of you want to close the schools, you want to own that, because that`s what most people are most afraid of, is when schools close people can`t go to work, and the economy tanks.

So you know, DeSantis is making a big bet here, but I`m not sure it`s a smart one. And by the way, last thing, he`s got Trump looking at it, and the more he steals the spotlight is the king mask hater. It`s like Stalin, if you were a Russian general, you didn`t want to lose the battle, you get shot, but you didn`t want to win too big. You`d get shot. You know, you get a little publicity and get popular. So we`re, you know, we`re see how this strategy works out. I wouldn`t go long on the guy myself.

WILLIAMS: Eugene Robinson, I`m going to read you what governor Abbott tweeted today, and I will, I`ll see Mike`s weaselly footnote and raise him one. Governor Abbott, by the way has COVID, he wrote this. Joe Biden goes after publican governors. Yes, that`s true. Joe Biden goes after Republican governors tougher than he does the Taliban. He wants to take dubious legal action against Republican governors, but he won`t enforce the immigration laws passed by Congress. Gene, is this just a public service? I`m not sure you knew this was about immigration.

ROBINSON: Yes, right. Exactly. I mean, Abbott should just shut up at this point. He`s, you know, he has COVID. I hope he`s fine. I hope he doesn`t have symptoms. But if he does, I don`t think they`re mild. And they`re not mild. I hope he recovers.

But, you know, he has availed himself of at least to vaccines. Some reports are that he`s had a third and he`s been given Regeneron, his office said that monoclonal antibody treatment, that`s not universally available, but was available to him. And so yes, he`s going to be just fine.

And meanwhile, he is trying his best to keep schools and businesses and everybody else from simply requiring masks, which will keep other people who don`t have the ability to avail themselves of all these multiple treatments. You know, they`ll just try to keep these people safe. And he won`t allow it again, for political reasons. It is -- it`s shocking.

And at this point, there`s very little bit shocks in our politics. But Abbott really is shocking. It`s like he`s in a race to the bottom with DeSantis. As I`ve said many times on the show, I don`t think there is an actual bottom. But there`s that direction. And I think Abbott actually nudged ahead of DeSantis this week, in terms of where it`s headed.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, if this isn`t rock bottom, it`ll do till rock bottom gets here. I wasn`t expecting Uncle Joe Stalin to make a cameo appearance in today`s segment. But there you go. Eugene Robinson, Mike Murphy, two longtime friends of this broadcast. Gentlemen, thank you both for hanging out with us tonight. Appreciate it.

Coming up for us, a former U.S. intelligence official here to talk about just how it is that Afghanistan fell so far, so fast to those guys.



WILLIAMS: NBC news reporting that as the Taliban started making gains across Afghanistan with lightning speed, the CIA warned that the country could rapidly collapse at least that`s what we`re being told now. Earlier today, a senior U.S. intelligence official told NBC News and we quote, we consistently identified the risk of a rapid collapse of the Afghan government. This was less an issue of Afghan military capabilities and more a reflection of Afghan leadership, cohesion and willpower. That said, the Afghan government unraveled even more quickly than we anticipated.

Indeed, as we mentioned earlier this hour General Milley says nothing he saw indicated the country would collapse in the space of 11 days.

Back with us tonight, and for good reason, Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff over at CIA and the Pentagon. And Jeremy, any of your former colleagues think this would happen so quickly and or are they surprised to see it now?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, first, I don`t think anyone inside the intelligence community really believes that this was an intelligence failure. Because for the last year and a half the intelligence community has been warning that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan, if the coalition left.

In fact, in early April of this year, the intelligence community released its annual worldwide threat assessment. This is just days before President Biden made his announcement announcing the withdrawal. And in that assessment, they said that the Taliban would struggle excuse me, the Afghan government would struggle to keep the Taliban at bay. Well, boy, were they right.

Now, I think what`s fair, though, is that it`s unclear at this hour, whether or not the intelligence assessments presented to the National Security Council principles were specific as to the timing that Kabul will fall. But to be fair, you know, intelligence assessment can kind of get the big picture, right, which is the Afghan national security forces are weak, they will ultimately crumble.

But to kind of get the timing right, whether it`s 11 days or 11 weeks is difficult, because what you`re fundamentally assessing is are those forces not that they have the capability, they have the weapons, they have the size, but are they motivated? Do they have courage, do they have will? That`s a very difficult thing for an American and colleges community to assess, of course now we see that the main planning assumption that the Biden administration operate under that they would have several weeks to maintain an embassy process phases and have an orderly exit that, of course, turned out to be not the proper planning assessment. And we see what`s unfolded.


WILLIAMS: They sure have a lot of AKs on the street, some of the pictures coming out of there looks like every grown male is carrying a weapon on the streets of Kabul.

Let me ask you, what`s next for the 15,000 American souls and many, many more thousands of Afghanistan, who would Afghans who would like very much to get out of there? What`s our leverage? How do we enforce our will? Are we asking as I asked General McCaffrey, are we asking the Taliban or telling the Taliban what we like and what we would expect to do?

BASH: We`re telling them, and it`s backed by the force of the 82nd Airborne, and my hat goes off to the United States military, because effectively they were told, leave the country. But wait, don`t leave too quickly, in fact, come back in force. And I talked to a senior Pentagon official tonight, and they said, it`s been a chaotic couple of days. But thank goodness, no American has been killed. They`ve managed to secure the airport. They evacuated the embassy in 48 hours, burning down all the documents and all the materials that had collected in that building for many, many years. They got over to the airport, and they are now processing and exfiltrating, several 100 maybe up to 1,000 a day, they I think had 6,000 people leave Afghanistan.

So, you know, if we`re looking at a population of say, you know, 30,000 people who are going to want to leave ultimately, you know, that`s several days, maybe several weeks worth of work. And I think the President was absolutely correct in his interview on ABC tonight, to say that we will probably have to stay beyond August 31. I know he didn`t want to telegraph it too much. But I think that`s really our only option. And that`s what we should embrace. We`ve got the troops there to do that. And that`s fundamentally what U.S. policy should now be.

WILLIAMS: Who knows now that they`ve been briefed on its lift capability, maybe Congress will indeed renew the C-17 program for the aircraft that it is and has proven to be over there. It`s our lifeline right now. Jeremy Bash, can`t thank you enough for bringing your expertise and taking our questions on tonight`s broadcast. Always a pleasure.

Coming up for us, new evacuations in California as one devastating wildfire grows eight times in size continues to burn out of control tonight. Not even close to under control. That`s ahead.



WILLIAMS: So far just this year, 1.3 million acres in California have burned. Today another wildfire exploded in size still not contained. The fire threatens many homes as thousands are on the run and forced to evacuate. Our report tonight from NBC News correspondent Jake Ward in Grizzly Flats, California.


JACOB WARD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Overnight, the Kaldor fire just outside of Sacramento exploded, doubling in size.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This area is extremely hard for us to get into.

WARD: In California, some 31,000 residents are under evacuation orders. At least two civilians were injured in the fire, which remains entirely uncontained.

THOM PORTER, CALIFORNIA FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR: We are seeing generational destruction of forests because of what these fires are doing. This is going to take a long time to come back from.

WARD: Gusty winds and dry drought conditions creating a dangerous situation destroying numerous homes and property.

(on camera): This classroom used to belong to the elementary school students here in this small town. It`s a reminder that wildfires don`t just touch down in remote areas. Increasingly they are sweeping through our lives.

(voice-over): Residents racing to get out and making their way to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s just very -- it`s sad what`s happening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s hurting my heart right now because as I`m driving up here right now I feel this is the last time I ever see this area. Be heartbreaking for me.

WARD: These satellite images from NASA show the dark smoke reaching all the way to Nevada, where ash rain down.

Tonight in California firefighters face another difficult night ahead.


WILLIAMS: Indeed they do. And our thanks to Jake Ward for that report from the field in California tonight. Coming up for us, remembering a man who told the stories of those unable to speak for themselves.



WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight we mourn the death of a giant named Joe Galloway. Joe was quite simply the Ernie Pyle of the Vietnam War. He was a war correspondent who covered combat at ground level and alongside the men he grew to love. He routinely referred to himself as a noncombatant. But more than once, when it was do or die kill or be killed. He was handed a weapon and he used it.

Joe Galloway was born into a military family in Texas. And as a young 24- year-old journalist for United Press International, he arrived in Vietnam, where he covered the first major engagement with the North Vietnamese, the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in 1965. It was a test of the new American military concept of Air Cavalry. It became a hellacious ground fight and when the brutality was over, 499 Americans were killed, wounded or missing.

Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore was the commanding officer. Galloway and Moore lifelong friends back in the U.S. later co-authored the book, "We Were Soldiers Once and Young," easily one of the best accounts of the Vietnam War.

It was later made into a feature film Galloway was portrayed by the actor Barry Pepper. Years after the battle, Joe Galloway was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor for disregarding his own safety to rescue two GIs after a napalm strike. He was the only civilian so decorated by the U.S. Army in all of the Vietnam War.

Joe was brave and direct, brutally honest and always modest. He was always all about the soldiers he covered on the battlefield.

One side note here for the cover of their book, Joe and Hal Moore chose a photo of a brave platoon leader named Rick Rescorla, natural leader bronze and silver star recipient who survived the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley. Rick Rescorla came home to the U.S. earn three college degrees, build a life for himself became head of security for Morgan Stanley.

He evacuated over 2,000 people from the World Trade Center on September 11, where he was killed while heading up the stairwell when the building collapsed.

So another way of putting it, a few days from now on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 will be marking his death, just as we remember the great Joe Galloway tonight gone at the age of 79.

That is our broadcast for this Wednesday night with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all our colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.