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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 8/16/21

Guests: Chris Murphy, Atia Abawi, Matt Zeller


Taliban takes over Afghanistan after government collapses. President Joe Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal amid mounting criticism and chaos. Interview with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.


MICHAEL HINOJOSA, SUPERINTENDENT, DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: You know, I`m a former government teacher and I color inside the lines but this time it was different. I had to take a stand. And I`m disappointed at some of my superintendent peers had falling off the wagon when it`s gotten really difficult here.

MEHDI HASAN, MSNBC HOST: Well, I admire you for taking a stand. Dallas County superintendent Michael Hinojosa -- appreciate your time tonight.

HINOJOSA: Thank you.

HASAN: That is ALL IN on this Monday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Mehdi. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

We`re going to start tonight if we can, we are battling technical difficulties, but we`re going to try to start tonight live in Kabul. It is 5:30 in the morning Tuesday morning right now in Kabul.

NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, as you probably know, he has spent big portions of the last two decades of his life in Afghanistan during the U.S. war there. Richard also weeks ago reported on some of the last fierce fighting by elite Afghan commando units fighting against Taliban forces. We now know that was some of the last fighting there was in Afghanistan like that and Richard was right in the middle of it.

But now that the Taliban have been able to take control of, first, all the provincial capitals, and then the whole country including Kabul, without fighting at all, not in a military operation but just in what appears to have been a negotiated surrender by Afghan government forces and the Afghan military, all over the country, as the Taliban have now walked in to Kabul without firing a shot, Richard has been there reporting around the clock as they have taken over.

Again, as I mentioned, we have been battling some technical difficulties as you might imagine for some obvious reasons but I do believe we`ve got our dear friend Richard Engel now joining us live.

Richard, thank you. I`m sorry to have you up at this hour. Thank you.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: No problem at all. It comes with the territory with your show.

MADDOW: Seriously, seriously. I have bad technical gremlins karma as you know from the very beginning.

Richard, let me just ask, how you are right now, what this last few days has been like for you with all that you`ve seen in Kabul over the years, and what you`re expecting over the day that is newly dawning right now where you stand?

ENGEL: So the Taliban are spreading their wings. They are establishing more and more of their control. They`re trying to establish a government.

The first two days in power, they were coming out of the woodwork so to speak. They were battling looters because that happened here. There was a collapse of law and order when Ashraf Ghani, the president fled, when all the police fled, even local security guards fled.

Anyone who wore a uniform or had a gun was frightened the Taliban would come in, think they were a soldier, and attack them. So that created a power vacuum. Kabul is not a small city. There are millions of people here.

So the Taliban have slowly been out showing their presence, battling looters, trying to re-establish some degree of law and order, because that is the Taliban`s main selling point. They say they are the law and order candidates. They will be here to bring order to the streets. Severe order under Islamic justice.

We will see now that some order is being established. What happens next? Will we start seeing the real Taliban emerge? Will they start showing their true colors? So far, they`ve been saying nothing but positive things, that they want to have peace and inclusion and that they are willing to work with some of the old members of the government. But the Taliban is at its core a hard line, fundamentalist organization, a group that believes this was a gift by god. It`s victory.

And if you challenge them and people will start challenging them and people have been challenging them in other areas, they could get nasty very, very quickly. I think we`ll see more and more of what the Taliban rule is really all about.

MADDOW: Richard, I`ve been looking today at Afghan news sources whenever I can to the extent that you can get them online and get machine translations and that sort of thing. I was struck by a bunch of reporting that I felt I was seeing from Afghan news sources saying that the Taliban was asking local officials not like mayors or people in any real position of power but local functionaries in local governments to keep doing what they usually do, basically keep traffic moving, you know, basic services going, and they`ve told at least some media outlets to keep going with normal programming that the Taliban weren`t going to interfere with even news media broadcasts.

Are they trying to make it seem like this is a normal transfer of power between normal political groups?


ENGEL: That is absolutely what they`re saying, but it`s hard to believe that it is the case. Already we`ve seen some of the Islamization creeping in. I`ve spoken to Taliban leaders.

Not in the last couple days when they are bathing in this post victory glow, but they haven`t changed. Their views on women haven`t changed or the ones I`ve spoken to anyway haven`t changed. They still believe that they were right, that their victory here has proven that their path was the right one.

So, they are telling people that. To come back to work and the civil service need to keep the traffic flowing and keep garbage collected and water purified.

But in northern Afghanistan, you have to see what happened in northern Afghanistan, it fell before the south. They did the same thing. They told people come out. Civil servants keep working. No problem. No issues.

But as soon as the civil servants didn`t obey, the Taliban went house to house and said if you don`t go back to work Islamic justice, Taliban justice will come down upon your head.

And on the media, the self-censorship already. They`ve taken women off media. They`ve been covering over signs that showed women make up or I don`t want to call them suggestive, because they weren`t that suggestive to begin with, but anything that was remotely suggestive, sexually suggestive has been taken down off the streets, advertising, things like that.

So, as the Taliban gets more and more confident, they`re often described as very arrogant and right now, because if you believe a hundred thousand percent that your religious, fundamentalist ideology is correct and no other one has been correct and that god has just rewarded you with victory over a great super power because of your devotion to that ideology, you get more -- more over confident, more arrogant, and so, no, I`m not confident that these calls for normality -- normalcy excuse me -- are going to continue.

MADDOW: Yeah, we may be seeing it now but that will dissolve at first contact.

Well, I mean, along those same lines, it`s an extension of the same line of reasoning, I feel like there`s a lot of arm chair quarterbacking in the U.S. and elsewhere right now about how Afghanistan having now been inevitably taken over by the Taliban, the next stage is it will inevitably become a country engulfed in civil war again.

What I am curious about and wondering what you are seeing is who is marshaling any force on the other side? I mean, if the Afghan army just dissolved or crossed sides to join the Taliban, I mean, is anybody standing against the Taliban? Who ultimately will rise up and fight them?

ENGEL: So two people have formed an opposition, the former sort of security chief, Amrullah Saleh, and Ahmad Shah Massoud, who is a lord, his son have formed a bit of a resistance group in the Panjshir Valley, but that`s about it. There was the old generation of warlords.

As people -- it is important to remember a little bit of this history. You had the warlords, the mujahedin who were here. They -- with the CIA`s help pushed out the Soviet Union in the `80s and that was their sort of big moment. And these warlords, because they were able to push out the Soviet Union rose up. They got a lot of clout. They became famous and got a lot of momentum.

And there`s been talk since then that these warlords, these famous mujahedin were going to stand up and fight against the Taliban. They didn`t. A lot of them escaped. They escaped at first contact.

Because over the last 20 years, these warlords were living on their name, on their reputation. They said that they had all these thousands of fighters. They actually didn`t. But they were able to live on that reputation of having pushed out the Soviet Union and it was a giant feather in their cap.

They faded away. They got old. They got lazy.

The Taliban came in and they are now the ones who are going to benefit from the same kind of psychological boost. The initial warlords defeated the Soviets. We the Taliban defeated the United States.

So, there were two scenarios here as things started to deteriorate. One that it would collapse into a civil war. I actually didn`t think that would happen because I saw the toothless old guys, the war lords, they`re not going to rise up. They don`t have the people they think they have. Or that the Taliban would take the country at large and that is what they`ve done.


MADDOW: Richard, in terms of the U.S. retrenchment and the redeployment of U.S. troops back to the airport, what do you think is going to happen at the airport? We`ve got as we understand from the Pentagon tonight, 3,500 U.S. troops there as of -- by the end of the day today, heading toward 6,000.

I mean, obviously, the main effort is to consolidate American assets at the airport including the ambassador and whatever embassy staff remains. But also facilitate these evacuations.

What do you expect is going to happen there? And is the Taliban going to try to stop those evacuations?

ENGEL: So there is an interesting dynamic here. The U.S. wants to protect the people and the U.S. wants to safely evacuate the personnel who are still here. But they keep bringing in more and more people, about 6,000, 7,000 on their way or already here. And those people are also going to have to be evacuated.

So it is going to take longer because they`re bringing in more forces but it sends a message to the Taliban. Every time you slow it down, every time there is an issue, we`re bringing in more and more troops, which is something the Taliban doesn`t want.

So, so far, the Taliban have been tolerant of having the Americans leave, of having the Americans bring in extra troops, but there is a tipping point. There will be some stage when the Taliban says, no more. We don`t want you reoccupying. We don`t want you coming back in the thousands and thousands. This is our country now. It doesn`t take 7,000 of your troops to evacuate a few thousand personnel.

So far, so good. I don`t want to say because nothing about what has happened has been so good. But on the specific question you`re talking about, the evacuation at the airport, it was paused for several hours because of this -- these horrendous scenes where people rushed on to the airport standing on the tarmac and planes couldn`t land because they would have squashed people and they couldn`t take off because people were hanging on to them.

Those people have now been cleared off so the planes are moving again. But I wonder and I watch if the U.S. keeps bringing in people, the Taliban could at some stage say, enough is enough. This is not just evacuation anymore.

MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel who has already burned through the midnight oil is now on to the early morning oil soon on to the noon oil. Richard, thank you, my friend. Be safe. Good luck. I know you`re in there for the long haul.

ENGEL: No problem. Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. In 2010, hard to believe more than a decade ago now, I will never forget that same Richard Engel taking me on a tour in Kabul of a neighborhood that had literally not existed before the U.S. war started in Afghanistan in 2001. This was, you know, a decade into the war at that point.

And this whole new neighborhood in Kabul built from scratch was what people sort of derided as narco palaces. People derided this sort of architecture and what you`d see in this very garish neighborhood as, you know, sort of gangster chic. These big, garish, gigantic, rococo strange-looking places. Places designed to look very, very rich and of course in a very poor country.

These are houses that were often rented out as villas to Westerners. You know, visiting Afghanistan, visiting Kabul as part of the war effort or diplomacy around the war or journalism. All of these places in this neighborhood in Kabul had guards and gates and would rent for lots and lots of money but none of those houses, the whole neighborhood in Kabul, none of those existed before the war effort. They only sprung into existence once the U.S. shipped thousands of troops into Afghanistan and started regularly churning billions of dollars every month into that country into one of the poorest countries on earth.

I`ll never forget that because I feel it taught me something that you can only sort of experience by being there because it makes you feel it in your bones in a way you can`t forget it. I mean, it does say something just mathematically right? If you do churn billions of dollars a month every month into the economy of one of the world`s poorest countries, you send over billions of dollars a month every month, month in and month out for a whole year and then you do that month in and month out for a whole second year and then month in and month out for a whole third year, billions of dollars every month ultimately you do billions of dollars a month for 20 solid years. If you do that, and at the end of the 20 years of investment it is still one of the poorest countries on earth, there is a problem.

That tells you something about what the benefit is of the expenditure. I mean, what were the results of our massive expenditure, our massive effort in Afghanistan?


I mean, the U.S. effort and expenditure in that country did definitely build some stuff. Roads and roundabouts and schools and water projects. Absolutely it did. But part of the reason even that scale of investment over 20 years didn`t materially change more about what it is like to live in Afghanistan is because so much of what we put into Afghanistan was shoveled off and diverted by the boatload by a fantastically corrupt elite.

From the very beginning, and, you know, this was ten years ago this footage of me and Richard looking at this neighborhood in Kabul. It was true from the very beginning and is still true today. You might have seen the Taliban footage of them lounging around inside the home of an Afghan government official right?

This is this weekend. You`re a government official really? Reminds you of the footage of the golden toilet fixtures and tacky ornate palace people finally got to see when the Ukrainian dictator was ousted in 2014 and had to go flee to Moscow to save his skin. Dictator chic is the same the world over. Corruption always smells the same and they really like gold fixtures.

But in Afghanistan, nobody who has spent considerable time there during the U.S. war effort the last 20 years, nobody I`ve talked to has not focused in on that as a really important effect of what we have been doing there for the last 20 years. I mean, there`s basically three forms of impact we had, our effort and expenditure there. Yes, us having, you know, tons of U.S. troops there, spending billions of dollars a month for 20 years, we did build some stuff for that country.

But secondly, that massive, massive sustained spending also supercharged the corruption of a fantastically corrupt elite in that country. It made it so it was really remunerative to acquire political power because once you acquire political power, you could personally get your hands on some American war dollars and make yourself a whole house that looks like Donald Trump`s living room with the big stuffed lion you can ride on, right? I mean, there was great incentive for great corruption.

That in turn was a recipe for terrible governance right? Governance that does nothing for the actual people of the country. And by increasing the ungovernability of the country, by further corrupting the corrupt elite of the country, you`re leaving the country in some ways worse off right? If you have now just incentivized the worst behavior by that country`s leaders, that renders the country if anything less governable than it was before we started spending all this money there.

So, we did build some stuff. We did create a fantastically corrupt elite and thereby perhaps a less governable country.

But there is one other thing that our expenditure and effort there built. One other thing we did buy, and that was a huge amount of weaponry, right? Weapons large and small, weapons high tech and low tech, military facilities, military vehicles, military bases, that`s where a huge amount of our expenditure went. In the end what has become of that?

Well, some of what we were able to destroy in time, some of it we were able to air lift out in time. But anything that we couldn`t destroy or air lift out in time has now become the property of the Taliban, including literally U.S. military bases and helicopters and mortars and rifles and grenades and everything. We have just created a very, very, well armed Taliban fighting force.

The military, the Afghan military we spent all these years building did not want to fight in the end. They walked away. The Taliban takeover of the country was not a military takeover. The Taliban walked into Kabul without firing a shot. The military and the government and all the provincial capitals all surrendered to the Taliban or just walked away.

In Kabul, the central government there and the security forces supposedly defending Kabul, they did the same just as they did out in all the provinces. "The Washington Post" reported in detail on how that came to be over the weekend. You see the headline there. Afghanistan`s military collapse, illicit deals and mass desertions.

Dateline Kabul, quote: The spectacular collapse of Afghanistan`s military that allowed Taliban fighters to walk into the Afghan capital Sunday despite 20 years of training and billions of dollars in American aid began with a series of deals brokered in rural villages. The deals were initially offered starting early last year, when the Taliban capitalized on the uncertainty caused by the February 2020 agreement reached in Doha, Qatar, between the Taliban and the United States, calling for a full American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The negotiated surrenders to the Taliban slowly gained pace in the months following the Doha deal. Over the next year and a half following the Doha deal, the meetings advanced from the rural village level to the district level and then rapidly on to provincial capitals, culminating in a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces, according to interviews with more than a dozen Afghan officers, police special operations troops, and other soldiers.

Quote: Within a little more than a week, Taliban fighters overran more than a dozen provincial capitals and entered Kabul with no resistance, triggering the departure of Afghanistan`s president and the collapse of his government. Afghan security forces in the districts ringing Kabul and the city itself simply melted away, because they agreed with the Taliban in advance that they would do that. Because they started making those deals over the last year and a half when it became crystal clear if it wasn`t before that we would leave.

The previous administration did send Mike Pompeo over to Doha to meet with the Taliban in person. That guy on the right that he is meeting with might end up being the new president of Afghanistan under the Taliban or whatever they`re going to call the role of president.

Mike Pompeo met with him in person to tell him for sure there would be a full and complete U.S. withdrawal. It was an agreement between the U.S. government and the Taliban. No room for misunderstanding there.

Once the Taliban had that personal assurance from the U.S. secretary of state, they started the very practical deal making back home so not as many people would have to die. So the Taliban takeover wouldn`t have to be too bloody when it happened. They started negotiating in the villages, moved up to the small cities and towns, to the provincial capitals, and ultimately secured their deal in Kabul.

And indeed, the army we built and paid for and the government we supposedly propped up with the boatloads of billions of dollars of a month for 20 years, they really did just hand over the keys when the time came.

And now, President Biden, of course, has taken it from all sides for this takeover happening on his watch. The sickening consequences and prospects of what it means for the Taliban to be reassuming control of that country. President Biden admitted today that is happening faster than they thought it would. He said they planned for this as an eventuality but this is faster than they thought it would happen. He said today they are scaling up evacuation plans even now to belatedly try to meet the pace of developments on the ground. We`ll have more on that coming up this hour.

But when it comes to whether or not the U.S. should in fact be leaving, President Biden is taking the criticism and saying he is willing to take the criticism but he is sticking to the fundamental argument which frankly is just a fundamental observation that the premise at the heart of why we were there for so long has been disproven, right? The reason U.S. forces did not leave in 2001 when the Taliban first offered to surrender, the reason U.S. forces did not leave in any of the 20 freaking years since then is because our presence was supposedly doing some good, right? Building up specifically building up some kind of government and some kind of military, some kind of security force internally that could stand on its own and sustain itself after we left. That is why we stayed.

It turns out that was wrong. That maybe what we told ourselves we were building there all this time, we now know that is not what we were actually doing. Boy, did we shovel a lot of money and a lot of lives into that camp fire. But we are kidding ourselves if we tell ourselves now that what we were building is a government and a military that would stand up once we were gone.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.

If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.

American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong -- incredibly well equipped -- a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies.

We gave them every tool they could need.

What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.

There`s some very brave and capable Afghan special forces units and soldiers, but if Afghanistan is unable to mount any real resistance to the Taliban now, there is no chance that 1 year -- 1 more year, 5 more years, or 20 more years of U.S. military boots on the ground would`ve made any difference.


And here`s what I believe to my core: It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan`s own armed forces would not.

I`m now the fourth American president to preside over war in Afghanistan -- two Democrats and two Republicans. I will not pass this responsibly on -- responsibility on to a fifth president.

I will not mislead the American people by claiming that just a little more time in Afghanistan will make all the difference. Nor will I shrink from my share of responsibility for where we are today and how we must move forward from here.

I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me.

I am deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America`s war fighting in Afghanistan and maintain a laser- focus on our counterterrorism missions there and in other parts of the world.

Our mission to degrade the terrorist threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and kill Osama bin Laden was a success.

Our decades-long effort to overcome centuries of history and permanently change and remake Afghanistan was not, and I wrote and believed it never could be.

I cannot and I will not ask our troops to fight on endlessly in another -- in another country`s civil war, taking casualties, suffering life- shattering injuries, leaving families broken by grief and loss.

This is not in our national security interest. It is not what the American people want. It is not what our troops, who have sacrificed so much over the past two decades, deserve.

I made a commitment to the American people when I ran for president that I would bring America`s military involvement in Afghanistan to an end. And while it`s been hard and messy -- and yes, far from perfect -- I`ve honored that commitment.

More importantly, I made a commitment to the brave men and women who serve this nation that I wasn`t going to ask them to continue to risk their lives in a military action that should have ended long ago.

Our leaders did that in Vietnam when I got here as a young man. I will not do it in Afghanistan.

I know my decision will be criticized, but I would rather take all that criticism than pass this decision on to another President of the United States -- yet another one -- a fifth one, because it`s the right one -- it`s the right decision for our people. The right one for our brave service members who have risked their lives serving our nation, and it`s the right one for America.


MADDOW: President Biden speaking today from the White House. We`ve got much more to come. Stay with us tonight.




SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): The Taliban surge is a reason to stick to the withdrawal plan, staying one more year in Afghanistan means we stay forever, because if 20 years of laborious training and equipping of the Afghan security forces have this little impact on their ability to fight, then another 50 years wouldn`t change anything.


MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut speaking last week on the Senate floor in support of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Senator Murphy has supported President Biden`s decision to withdraw troops since April, since President Biden first announced our troops would leave.

Joining us live is Senator Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. He chairs the foreign relations subcommittee that deals with Afghanistan.

Senator, first, it`s nice to have you here. Thanks for your time.

MURPHY: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: So the president tonight talked about the fact that he`s getting criticism and he accepts the criticism for the scenes of what is happening in Afghanistan. He also admitted that the speed at which the Taliban has consolidated control over Afghanistan is something that was a surprise even if that as an eventuality itself wasn`t.

What do you make of those two factors? And what do you make of the president`s remarks today?

MURPHY: Well, the president made a tough decision but the right decision. And frankly, a decision that was essentially forced on him by the Trump administration, which had drawn down our forces to 2,500. It was just not true that we were going to be able to stave off a Taliban offensive with those kinds of numbers. The president had two choices -- either complete the withdrawal or surge back to 8,000, 10,000 troops, something that frankly the American people were not going to support.

I find it incredible that people look at this decision and try to portray it as weakness. What would have been weak would be for the United States of America to continue to play patsy in Afghanistan, to continue to throw money at an Afghan government and Afghan military that wasn`t doing their part. It would be to advertise the United States was willing to be taken advantage of and spend trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives in the process.

This decision was a difficult decision but in the end it was the right one because it tells our future partners around the world that the United States will be in business with you but not forever if you aren`t willing to stand up and do your part. So, these scenes are heart breaking. They`re devastating.

But I just want to be honest with you as somebody who`s been to Afghanistan a number of times, listened to the intel analysts over and over, the Taliban was going to take back this country when the United States left, and the American people were never going to support the United States being there for another 20 or another 50 years.

MADDOW: The very practical consequence, though, of the speed with which the Taliban have consolidated control is the need to speed up the evacuation of everybody who we are trying to get out of that country.


And now, we`ve heard a lot of speechifying and the right kinds of language from leaders of all stripes making sure we have done that, but obviously it needs to be faster and a more -- a larger effort than it has been. Having 6,000 troops on the ground at the airport may facilitate that for people who can get to the airport but there are a lot of questions as to how much of an evacuation effort we can mount.

What role does Congress have in pressuring the government and finding ways to make more evacuations happen?

MURPHY: So first of all, Congress actually authorized an emergency appropriation just about 30 days ago seeing this problem coming. I can`t say we saw the Taliban offensive moving this fast, but the administration actually does have additional resources with which to use to bring these evacuees from Afghanistan back home.

And as someone who has long supported American military withdrawal, I think the president has made the right decision, to temporarily surge forces there to bring them home.

Now, it probably does mean we have to have some dialogue with the Taliban as Richard Engel reported, right now, the Taliban seems to be at least standing aside as we seek to get some of our close allies out of the country. And in the short term, it is probably going to necessitate us having some conversation with the Taliban to make it clear to them that there will be consequences if they don`t continue to allow these evacuations to happen.

I think there will be some questions that need to be answered by the Biden administration and the Trump administration about whether we could have started these evacuations much earlier. But right now, I think Congress stands ready to give any additional resources beyond what we already have to make sure this happens quickly.

MADDOW: Senator Chris Murphy, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee that oversees Afghanistan policy, Democrat of Connecticut, leading light in the Democratic Party on foreign policy -- sir, thanks for your time. It is a difficult, difficult time I know.

MURPHY: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We have much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.



MADDOW: Atia Abawi is a seasoned foreign correspondent and author. She spent years as NBC News` Kabul bureau chief, a time that included some landmark interviews that jolted the U.S. war effort at the time including this one with Hamid Karzai.

We`ve turned to Ms. Abawi both as a colleague and as an explainer when the U.S. has changed in Afghanistan over the years. And so, of course, she joins us tonight.

Atia, it`s really nice to have you here. Thank you for making time. I know it`s a difficult day.

ATIA ABAWI, JOURNALIST: Thank you so much for having me, Rachel. Good to be here to talk to you about this.

MADDOW: Let me just ask about your contacts in Afghanistan, either personal or work colleagues, and what today means for people who you`ve been in touch with?

ABAWI: Rachel, it`s devastating. It`s pure devastation. Everyone I`ve been talking to feels completely betrayed. We can argue about whether America should have pulled out or not but really what matters is how America should have pulled out.

And I spoke to Afghan women who have been the strongest women I`ve ever met in my life who have cracked, who have cried. They said, I thought they were my friends. And I am more worried right now about them getting out. Like how are you going to do it, where are you going to go?

And many of them say we don`t know. We don`t know if we even can go to America, the way that we`ve been betrayed. We thought they were our friends and now we realize they weren`t.

It is a sense of betrayal for the Afghans. A lot of people think these 20 years were not worth it. And we did just press erase for the last 20 years.

But we saw a lot of achievements the last 20 years. We saw girls going to school. We saw women in the workplace, in the government, running for president. These last 20 years were worth it for the Afghan people.

And, unfortunately, right now it is mourning. They are mourning. Anyone who knows Afghanistan who has been to Afghanistan, met an Afghan from Afghanistan who has achieved so much these last 20 years, they are in mourning as well.

MADDOW: Atia, is there anything that the U.S. government can do now? You talk about how, you know, whether or not the United States was ever going to leave, the question of how you leave ended up becoming a determinative thing in terms of whether this was a betrayal in terms of what happens to the Afghan people with this departure.

Is there anything the United States can sort of remediate now with 6,000 troops going back in, with these evacuations scaling back up, with soberness with which this collapse is being greeted in the U.S., is any of this ground retakable?

ABAWI: Honestly, right now, it`s not about retaking ground is about saving our friends. I can`t tell you, I`ve been awake for the last few nights, on the phone, constantly awake during the day time here to contact sources in America, awake at night talking to my friends, to politicians, to people I met along the way, to people that U.S. service members here in America are connecting me to, finding my e-mail for my website saying help this soldier that I was with. I don`t know what to do.

And I personally don`t know what to do but I`m trying. I`m talking to a female commando, two sisters who are part of the Afghan special operations who are trained by U.S. service members who are now hiding from the Taliban. The Taliban went into their home, luckily, they escaped just minutes before hand because they saw them outside.

This is in Kabul. I`m begging people to let them come in to the Kabul military airport. They said they would sleep on the ground. They said they know they would die outside of those gates. But there is no one to help. They`re stuck there.

A female politician that I was talking to, she had no idea this was going to happen and now the Taliban have sent people to stay right in front of her house, trapping her inside with her three daughters. She can`t get out. She could try to get out but the problem is she said even if I try to get out right now, I couldn`t make it to the airport. No one is there to let me in.

So these are our friends we left without any way out.

MADDOW: Atia Abawi, the former NBC News bureau chief in Kabul, journalist, author -- Atia, thank you so much for being here tonight. We`ll have you back in coming days as this continues to unspool.

ABAWI: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. You heard Atia mention there that there are U.S. Army - - excuse me, U.S. military veterans of the Afghanistan war who have been working on their own to try to get their own friends and allies and people who helped them during their tours to try to help them get out. We`ll be speaking with one of those U.S. military veterans right after this.

Stay with us.




MATT ZELLER, MILITARY VETERAN: They`re hunting these people down one by one systematically. The reality is that the Taliban does not care about our standard of vetting or who gets a visa and doesn`t. If you worked a day with us, they`re going to kill you. If we fail to do this, mass murder is going to take place and we have all the means to prevent it.


MADDOW: We have the means to prevent it. That was Major Matt Zeller here on this show, July 7th, over a month ago. Zeller is a veteran. He served in Afghanistan.

Facing the prospect of a Taliban takeover of this country, he and the organization he co-founded, No One Left Behind, have been sounding the alarm for months about the need to get going, to evacuate thousands of Afghan men and women who are at grave risk from the Taliban simply because they worked alongside and helped U.S. troops during our war effort there.

We now know as of what`s happening right now in Kabul, we know the alarms that Matt Zeller and others were sounding were accurate, they were right, including about the timing.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul is now fully closed, all staff has left. The U.S. has been able to relocate and evacuate some interpreters and their families but thousands more remain on the ground waiting for visas amid chaos and frustration.

So what happens now? Can meaningful action be taken in the coming hours and days to make a difference?

Joining us is Major Matt Zeller. He`s the cofounder of No One Left Behind, an organization dedicated to bring Afghan interpreters safely to the U.S.

Matt, thank you so much for being here. I know you haven`t slept and it`s been a difficult time.

ZELLER: Thanks for having me. Yeah, I have family in Kabul right now. This has been tough.

MADDOW: Tell me about what can be done. I ask you that first because I am so clear that you have been sounding the alarm, warning that it was going to go this way for so long. You were right, for weeks and months before this finally happened.

Now that we are here and everybody`s scrambling to figure out what can be done, I feel like we owe it to you, who has been right, to ask what can be done now.

ZELLER: The first thing I`d ask is that the president of the United States take a meeting with our team. We want to be proactive partners and have wanted to be the whole time. And we have a plan and solution. There are an army of Americans right now at work, private organizations, private citizens, human rights organization, veterans organizations, faith based organizations, from all walks of life, there are people in the government busting their butts right now from all sides of the aisle, this is a whole of American effort. It`s probably the thing I`m most proud of to see how much our American citizens are rallying and how we`re finally trying to get this right.

There`s a will to do this. The president needs to understand that the American people want to exit honorably and we have thus far screwed it up but we can still fix it.

So, here`s how we do it. We have a beachhead in Kabul right now. And I know it`s going to sound crazy, but the Taliban are afraid of us. They`re afraid if we stay, they could lose the country. They`re not going to fight us for these people and I`m willing to risk that bet.

We have the largest military in the planet. Use it for one good purpose, to get these people out. We have a beachhead in Kabul. We need to keep it open for as long as we can and put as many people on to as many planes as we possibly can and then we need to go to places that we don`t have beachheads at.

There`s a guy I`m talking to right now in Mazar-i-Sharif. I haven`t told anybody this, was talking to him privately one on one, because I needed to talk to somebody and I needed to hear from someone who is inside Taliban territory to hear what it was like for myself. I talked to him the night the Taliban took over the city. He told me the next day, he said, Matt, I told my wife Matt Zeller called me and now we have hope because maybe you can help get us out.

They have hope in the American people. I told him, brother, I don`t know what`s going to happen, I can`t advise you, I only know that we have one airport in Kabul that doesn`t seem to be functioning at this point. It is now but wasn`t then. I said I can`t tell what you to do.

He said, well, I`m going to have to think on it but I don`t -- he said he still loved us, he was still proud of the service he did with us and he wouldn`t change it and he thanked us for a good life.

That guy is worth fighting for. Those are our people. We can go in and get them. He`s still alive. They haven`t killed these people yet.

And the places they`re going door to door and cities where they are not, they`re just taking them away. In Kabul, they`re just telling them, hey, we`re putting you on a list and we`re going to be coming back when the Americans are gone.

And in some cases, yes, it sounds like, according to what your correspondent said, they`re not actually starting take people away.


We need to use the military that we have to take -- I know it`s controversial, I know it`s not popular, but my goodness, what is more popular, the mass death you`re about to see on TV or knowing we could solve this problem? And I think we still can. We just got to keep this beachhead open for as long as possible.

And the only person in the world who can order that is the president of the United States.

And so, I`m asking -- please, sir, we have a solution in place. We can tell you how to do it. Our team wants to be of help. We`re trying our best. We just wanted to solve this whole time. This is a disaster that still hasn`t fully unfolded yet. We can still save these people.

MADDOW: Matt Zeller, the co-founder of No One Left Behind, veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Matt, thank you for being here for your clarity and for your commitment on this. Thanks, man. Thank you.

ZELLER: Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: All right. We got more ahead. Stay with us.


MADDOW: I made a lot of very dark, very heavy news in the world right now, I have a very, very bright silver lining for you.


Lawrence is back, which is a wonderful thing.

Good evening, Lawrence. We missed you terribly.