At least 13 U.S. service members, dozens of Afghan civilians dead in Kabul airport attack. President Biden vows to respond with force and precision after Kabul airport bombing. Interview with Colorado Democratic Congressman Jason Crow.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, thank you as always for making time tonight, sir. Appreciate it.
ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thanks for having me.
HAYES: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It was just over ten years ago -- it was actually ten years ago, almost exactly. An elite U.S. Army Ranger unit had gone on a mission in a dangerous part of Wardak Province. Wardak Province is just southwest of Kabul.
And those elite rangers were on a mission to go after a senior figure in the Taliban. And they were inserted to go start that mission, to go find their target inserted by air, by helicopter. Once they were on the ground, they ended up in some sort of significant fight on the ground. And a decision was made that a second bolstering force would be sent in, basically, to help them to bolster what they were doing and also to get them. That force was a considerable force, bringing with them a considerable amount of weaponry, skill, combat experience, almost unparalleled among the U.S. military.
And that second force was sent in on one of these, a huge U.S. army Chinook helicopter. There were 38 U.S. personnel -- excuse me, there were 38 personnel onboard that Chinook that went in as that bolstering force that night. It was ten years ago this month, it was august 6th, 2011, and that night somehow it may have just been a lucky shot with a low-tech rocket- propelled grenade. But somehow, that gigantic Chinook helicopter with all those men onboard was shot down.
And the toll was absolutely devastating. Everybody onboard was killed. It was 22 U.S. Navy SEALs, three U.S. Air Force Airmen, five U.S. Army and Army National Guard soldiers, seven commandos from the Afghan national army, seven Afghan commandos, an Afghan translator. Also, a U.S. military working dog that was assigned to members of one of the SEAL teams onboard.
Thirty-eight personnel onboard. All 38 of them killed. That was the single deadliest combat incident in the history of the U.S. Navy SEALs. that was the single deadliest combat incident in the history of U.S. Special Forces of all kinds. It was the single deadliest incident in the entirety of the U.S. war in Afghanistan for U.S. forces.
And at the time this happened, again, ten years ago this month, we were just about ten years into the war. At the time, that Chinook was shot down, there was something on the order of 98,000 U.S. personnel in country, 98,000 U.S. troops. It was at a time when our troop presence there was at one of its highest points, one of its most sprawling points. We had more personnel there then and more parts of Afghanistan than we had in almost any other part of the war. That was ten years ago.
Today, the U.S. troop presence is at one of our smallest and most concentrated points with 5,000-or-so U.S. troops concentrated basically exclusively at the airport in Kabul, carrying out a mission to evacuate Americans, people affiliated with U.S. forces, Afghan allies, and others.
And today, U.S. forces had their deadliest day of the Afghanistan war since that devastating loss of that Chinook ten years ago with those 38 men onboard.
Today, for most of the day, the U.S. death toll associated with the suicide bombing in the crowd at the gates of Kabul airport. For most of the day, that toll was 12 U.S. service members, ten U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy corpsman. One additional U.S. service member, for whom we do not have a service affiliation.
But tonight, just as we are going to air, the Pentagon confirmed that it`s not 12, it`s 13. An additional U.S. service member has now died.
Now, the number of U.S. service members wounded is said to be 18. We do not know much about the severity of those injuries.
Getting a handle on the toll among the Afghan civilians who bore even more of the brunt of this blast, that has been difficult to the point of impossible today. Estimates at the toll among Afghan civilians at the gates at the airport ranges from as low as 13 to as high as dozens, perhaps 60 or more. They definitely include not just men but women and children, including some very young children.
Today, the commanding general for all U.S. forces in Central Command, the CentCom commander, General Frank McKenzie, confirmed the toll among U.S. service members. And in so doing, he is a reserved commanding officer and speaks in reserved, almost clipped tones.
But in confirming the toll today and briefing the Pentagon press corps about what happened, he spoke at one point quietly and in sort of unexpectedly human terms, about the actual work that the corpsmen and marines were doing today when they were killed in the line of duty. He talked about the inherently dangerous nature of the actual person-by- person, hour-by-hour work of what it really means on the ground to run this evacuation airlift, the closeness, the hands-on proximity of what they have been doing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Taking a moment to describe the heroism that our marines, soldiers, and sailors are exhibiting as they screen the people who are coming onto the airfield. This is close- up war.
The breath of the person you are searching is upon you. While we have over- watch in place, we still have to touch the clothes of the person that`s coming in. I think you all can appreciate the courage and the dedication that is necessary to do this job. And to do it time after time.
Please remember that we have screened over 104,000 people. I`d like to offer my profound condolences to the families of our servicemen and women and Afghan civilians who lost their lives today.
We have put more than 5,000 U.S. service members at risk to save as many civilians as we can. It`s a noble mission. And today, we have seen, firsthand, how dangerous that mission is.
ISIS will not deter us from accomplishing the mission. I can assure you of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He says this is close-up war. The breath of the person you are searching is upon you. We touch the clothes of the person that is coming in. CentCom commander, General Frank McKenzie today.
The attack today came at the Kabul airport after a warning from the U.S. embassy in Kabul that was eerily, eerily accurate. I mean, uncannily accurate. This -- this was the warning from the Kabul embassy last night, word for word.
Quote, because of security threats outside the gates of Kabul airport, we are advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport. To avoid airport gates at this time unless you receive individual instructions from a U.S. government representative to do so.
Quote, U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, the east gate, or the north gate should now leave immediately. Leave immediately.
Just hours after that very explicit warnings, U.S. citizens at the Abbey Gate should leave immediately. It was hours after that directive when Abbey Gate was, in fact, where one of the two suicide bombs today detonated. Exactly as that warning from the Kabul embassy said it would.
And while the days-long crush of humanity bottlenecked at the gates of the airport has been an obvious soft target for a potential suicide bombing or some other kind of attack for days now. How did the U.S. have intel that clear about the location and the timing of the threat when U.S. persons needed to be told to leave immediately, how did they know when and where? We`re going to talk about that tonight. But also, the question of who.
Because when the group, ISIS, claimed responsibility, ISIS-K or ISIS Khorasan, the Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State or ISIS. That, too, was something that we have had repeated, explicit, and increasingly urgent warnings about from U.S. officials. Warnings about that exact threat from that exact group that claimed responsibility for what happened today, those warnings started more than a week ago. And they came from U.S. officials, up to and including the secretary of state and even the president, himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are, also, keeping a close watch on any potential terrorist threat at or around the airport, including from the ISIS affiliates in Afghanistan who were released from prison when the prisons were emptied. And because they are, by the way, make everybody understand that the -- the ISIS in Afghanistan are -- have been the sworn enemy of the Taliban.
JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There is complexity and there is turbulence on the ground in -- in Kabul. And it`s very risky and dangerous because there`s a genuine threat from ISIS-K. That is the reality of what we are up against, and I`m not going to sugarcoat that reality.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: How real is this ISIS threat?
SULLIVAN: The threat is real. It is acute. It is persistent.
BIDEN: ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of the Taliban. And they have a history of fighting one another. But every day, we have troops on the ground. These troops and innocent civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K from a distance even though we`re moving back the perimeter significantly.
SULLIVAN: We are sustaining the highest level of vigilance for an attack against the airport by ISIS-K or another terrorist group.
BIDEN: They`re real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration. The longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, which is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, as well. Every day we`re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians.
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: It`s hard to overstate the complexity and the danger of this effort. We`re operating in a hostile environment in a city and country now controlled by the Taliban with the very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack. We`re taking every precaution. But this is very high risk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This is very high risk. The very real possibility of an ISIS-K attack. ISIS-K.
From the president, ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan. Every day we are on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and allied forces and innocent civilians, which is exactly what happened.
For -- for a -- a week now, up to and including yesterday with those remarks from Secretary of State Antony Blinken, up to and including overnight last night, that urgent directive from the U.S. embassy in Kabul that all Americans should leave the Abbey Gate immediately because of a specific threat there. They have been on this as an increasingly explicit threat of something they believed could and would happen.
They said they believed it would happen at the airport. It would target U.S. forces. It would target innocent civilians at the airport. It would come from ISIS-K. I mean, the president was explicit that with each, passing day that we kept going with these evacuation mission at the airport, an attack like the one we saw today was more likely.
Would you rather they had been blindsided? No, of course not. They were sounding the alarm that this was the biggest threat to U.S. forces there, and it was getting to be a more dangerous threat every day. They have obviously been doing everything they could to try to prevent this but they knew it was a possibility.
The urgency about getting the airlift evacuation mission done and over with has been driven, in part, but explicitly, by what they clearly and repeatedly reiterated was the risk of exactly this kind of attack by exactly this attacker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCKENZIE: We expect we -- we -- we didn`t -- we thought this would happen sooner or later. It`s tragic that it happened today. It`s tragic there was this much loss of life. We are prepared to continue the mission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We thought this would happen sooner or later. We`re prepared to continue the mission.
General McKenzie speaking today in the wake of the attack, President Biden late this afternoon, in an address to the nation said the same, but with sort of a presidential exclamation point and also a very explicit threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Over the past few weeks, I know you -- many of you are probably tired of hearing me say it. We`ve been made aware by our intelligence community that the ISIS-K, an arch enemy of the Taliban, people who were freed when both those prisons were opened, has been planning a complex set of attacks on United States personnel and others. This is why, from the outset, I`ve repeatedly said this mission was extraordinarily dangerous, and why I have been so determined to limit the duration of this mission.
As General McKenzie said, this is why our mission was designed -- this is the way it was designed to operate, operate under severe stress and attack. And as I`ve been in constant contact with our senior-military leaders, and I mean constant, round the clock, and our commanders on the ground throughout the day. They made it clear that we can and we must complete this mission and we will. And that`s what I`ve ordered them to do.
We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation. I have also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership, and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing.
Here`s what you need to know. These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans who are there. We will get our Afghan allies out. Our mission will go on. America will not be intimidated.
For those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive.
We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Will make you pay. And we will continue the mission to get our -- our allies out. Even after what today was the most deadly day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since the worst day of the war and the worst day in special forces history, that day ten years ago this month.
Joining us now is Congressman Jason Crow. As an Army Ranger in the 82nd Airborne, he served in both the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War. He`s a member of the Intelligence Committee and the Armed Services Committee. I should also tell you that Congressman Crow has spearheaded efforts in Congress to speed up processing of visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops during our long war there.
Congressman, sir, thank you so much for making time to be here tonight. I know it`s a tough day.
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Thanks, Rachel. Yeah, it is a tough day and I join you in extending our sympathy to the families of those we lost.
MADDOW: I have to ask you just as a -- as a veteran, I have heard from so many friends today who are veterans just about how this is something for which there isn`t really words. The veteran`s community, military families talking to one another about this but it`s -- it`s a different kind of loss.
CROW: It is a different type of loss. I actually had a friend who`s been manning the gates. The gate that was under attack and he survived the attack, thankfully. But this is very personal to all of us.
And one of the things that I have heard a lot from my friends in the last couple of weeks, and you actually indicated this in your lead-in is, you know, this has been happening for 20 years. We have been fighting this war for 20 years, day in, day out, hundreds of thousands of Americans. Over 2,400 have given their lives and this was a tragic day. There is no doubt about that.
At the same time, we need to make sure we`re having the conversation -- the tough conversation that we`re having right now as a country, matter of fact. Why we have done this. Why we are 20 years in the making here.
This is not a one-week problem. This is not a one-month problem. This is a 20-year problem for our country.
MADDOW: I`m struck tonight by the explicitness of the recent warnings we`ve had from U.S. officials about an attack of exactly this kind. Um, I am struck by the president saying the threat of exactly this kind of attack which they knew was a real possibility has been a big part of why he`s committed to limit this operation and get out as soon as possible. I am also struck by his simultaneous and now-repeated commitment that we won`t leave anyone behind. I mean, all of those things are -- are coming together into what feels like a very difficult decision tree about to do, hour by hour and day by day.
What -- what do you hope to happen here? Balancing those risks and the -- and the commitments that we`ve made?
CROW: There is no doubt this is hard and it`s easy to sit here in the comfort of a living room and to Monday-morning quarterback this. But I think back to my time as Private Crow, I think back to my time as a ranger, as a paratrooper when I was on the ground, it`s hot, it`s dusty. There is yelling and screaming, there`s gunshots. There`s bomb blasts.
You are largely sitting here with 18, 19, 20-year-olds carrying rifles trying to figure this out, and under very, very difficult circumstances. So there is sometimes a huge gap between the intelligence we gather and the information we know and how we can put that into practice on the ground.
And then, that`s no reflection on our men and women because they are doing an incredible job. We are asking them to do almost impossible things sometime. But it`s hard and it`s imperfect, it`s dirty and that`s why it`s important, you know, as we sit here on the Hill in Washington, D.C., and we have conversations about these policies, we have to understand that downstream, downrange is an 18 or 19-year-old that has to carry it out.
So what I hope is that we actually have the tough conversation and we learn from it, in the long term. In the near term, we need to protect our troops. We need to expand the perimeter that`s -- that`s necessary to protect them. At the same time, we do have an obligation to get U.S. citizens out and as many of our Afghan partners out as we can.
That is the mission and I don`t believe that should have a calendar deadline. I think we should pull out when we accomplish that mission.
MADDOW: We know from talking with your staff, Congressman, that you and your team have helped push through hundreds and hundreds, more than a thousand, evacuation and visa requests just over these past ten days. Given that hands-on work that you have been doing, what do you think the American people should know? What can you tell us about how you see the scale of the task that remains, how hard it`s going to be to get it done?
I know that you said it shouldn`t be a date certain on the calendar. It should be about getting that mission done. Tell us about that -- that scale and the enormity of -- of -- of what -- what you`re talking about in terms of what remains.
CROW: Yeah. Well, the scale is obviously very challenging. We know we have a certain number of American citizens. I`m not going to say that number for obvious reasons. We don`t want to jeopardize certain folks. But we do know that there is a certain number of American citizens who have said that they want to be evacuated from the country.
I think it`s also important to -- to note that there are American citizens who have said they don`t want to leave the country. We can`t force them to leave. And there are some folks that have said they want to stay.
And then, there are others who we don`t even know. That didn`t inform the U.S. government or the state department that they`re there. We`re trying to find them. But that`s extremely challenging and tough work.
So there is kind of these three categories of American citizen. In addition to that, we have our Afghan partners. We have the special immigrant visa holders. We have the priority one and priority two folks, other at-risk and vulnerable populations. We`re trying to sort them out as quickly as we can. It`s tough. It`s challenging.
But that`s also why I have been, as you know, Rachel, since April sounding the alarm, banging the drum saying let`s start the evacuation. We would be in a very different position right now if we had started the evacuation of our Afghan partners back in April than we certainly are right now. But that doesn`t change the position we`re in right now. And it just makes it more challenging and that`s why I have is said we have to get it done.
MADDOW: If this mission has to go -- I mean, we`re -- we`re in August now and the date certain is supposedly August 31st. But if this mission, in order to get it done the way that you are describing, to get not only Americans but priority one and priority two visa holders, those SIV visa holders and applicants. If that took into -- to the end of September, to the end of November, to the end of the year, would that be okay with you?
CROW: I don`t think it needs to go that far, actually. I think that you looked at numbers we are well in excess of 100,000 people that have been evacuated at this point. The numbers are very high. You know, 10,000 to 20,000 a day.
We actually have a sense for the numbers we are talking about. There is a certain number of American citizens. There`s a certain number of SIV applicants and their family members.
I`m of the belief that we can get that done probably in a matter of weeks substantially. I don`t think there`s a path to get that done between now and the end of the month and that`s why I`ve said we have to make sure that we`re focusing on the mission and the actual numbers, as opposed to a date on the calendar.
But I`m not talking about a mission that goes in perpetuity or even months. I think we can do this in a couple of weeks but we certainly have to be diligent about it and it`s not without risk.
MADDOW: Colorado congressman and combat veteran, Jason Crow -- sir, thank you very much for your time tonight. I know there are a lot of demands on your time right now. I appreciate you spending some of it with us.
CROW: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Joining us now is retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs. He is recipient of the Medal of Honor for his service during the Vietnam War.
Colonel Jack, I really appreciate you making time today. I know you have been very busy trying to make sense of this, reporting what you know from the ground and helping us all understand. Thanks for making time tonight.
COL. JACK JACOBS (RET), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: My pleasure.
MADDOW: First of all, let me just put to you that some of that sound that we just played a moment ago about all these very explicit warnings that not only was this place going to be targeted. Likely, going to be targeted but it was going to be targeted by this group that has now claimed responsibility for it and that with each, passing day, the likelihood that would happen was going to get more extreme.
What was the nature of that intelligence? And why was it so spot on?
JACOBS: Well, there were -- there are three ways that this confirmed itself.
One is that we`re constantly listening to phone conversations of the targeted people, people who might be -- turn out to be terrorists or we know are terrorists, are in the chain of command of terrorist organizations. But particularly, this one. So, we`ve been listening to what they`ve been talking about to each other.
Second, we received credibility information from Afghans we know who passed this information to us. And then, further confirm by conversations with our allies whose Afghan friends confirm what we had already heard and what we learn from our Afghan friends. And that`s why the administration, the military establishment was so, so certain that something like this was going to happen and they predicted it quite well.
MADDOW: And, Colonel Jack, the president issued a very explicit threat to the perpetrators of today`s attack that claimed so many U.S. lives and so many Afghan lives. He said we will hunt you down and we will make you pay. He`s essentially ordering a new mission. And he said explicitly that he`s ordered U.S. military commanders to develop a plan to attack ISIS-K, this ISIS Khorasan group that`s claimed responsibility.
That`s a new mission for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
MADDOW: What -- on top of the evacuation, what do you make of that?
JACOBS: Well, I -- we`re going to do things from over the horizon, as they say. We`ll identify where they are if we can -- assembly areas, ammunition stores, locations of leadership and what their positions are, and then, attack them with long-distance precision-guided munitions.
But because we`re not on the ground anymore, it becomes extremely difficult for us to exactly pinpoint where all these things are. We`re not going to be able to rely on people on the ground. Afghans on the ground even to tell us what`s going on. We`re going to have to listen to lots and lots of phone conversations. Go up a lot of blind alleys before we -- look, we got Osama bin Laden after missing him a number of times. It took us a long, long time to get him. We finally got him.
I think if -- if the -- if the government has decided we`re going to make these people pay, we`ll find the people who -- who gave the order and make them pay.
In the meantime, however, we`ve got a bigger problem trying to find pockets of these people and destroy them before they -- cells of them -- before they do something else. It`s -- it`s a very difficult group to track down. They grew as big as they did principally as a function of using castoffs from the Taliban. They were Taliban soldiers who left, got fed up with the Taliban and then joined ISIS-K.
They will, at some juncture, have to assemble in various places and if we find them, we can target them. But the end of the day, it`s the leadership we want to get and that may take a long time, Rachel.
MADDOW: Retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs -- sir, it`s always good to speak with you. It`s too often on terrible days like this. But your expertise is -- is priceless. Thank you, sir.
JACOBS: Thanks so much.
MADDOW: All right. We have got more ahead here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us now live is a man named Marcus Yam. Mr. Yam is a foreign correspondent. He is also an award-winning photojournalist working for "The Los Angeles Times."
He is joining us live now from Kabul. Mr. Yam plans to remain there. He was at the site of the bombing outside the gates of the Kabul airport.
Marcus Yam, thank you so much for taking pains to be with us tonight. I know this is not an easy time difference or, indeed, an easy time.
MARCUS YAM, LOS ANGELES TIMES FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you for having me on the show.
MADDOW: So, U.S. officials up to and including president Biden had repeatedly warned that crowds at the airport might be targeted by an ISIS terrorist attack. When you`ve been there in recent days, when you have been among the crowds at the airport, what -- what was it like? Did it seem like it was a soft target for a potential attack? Did it seem like those -- those sort of warnings were -- were warranted on the ground?
YAM: I mean, first of all, I mean, generally (INAUDIBLE) and yes, it seems like those warnings are definitely warranted. Those crowds unchecked. I mean, there are thousands of people just milling around.
(INAUDIBLE) I usually keep in mind that the -- the fact that there -- there is a potential for something like this to happen. I mean, and we -- we`ve feared that something like this will happen for a while now even amongst us journalists. And I feel like to -- you know, yesterday, last night, we basically unfortunately saw it happen.
MADDOW: I know that you don`t want to put yourself too much at the center of the story, but I also know that you and a colleague were essentially beaten up by Taliban figures last week while you were covering an anti- Taliban demonstration in Kabul. They did ultimately let you go. But I wonder if you can just tell us about that a little bit and what we should understand about how the Taliban is moving among people. Whether their checkpoints, in fact, serve any sort of security purpose at all, what it`s like on the street?
YAM: Things are constantly changing on the ground every day. I mean, the Taliban -- as of yesterday or the day before yesterday, has issued a lot of us, foreign journalists, media accreditation. And now, you know, with this media accreditation, we`re supposedly -- are -- are -- supposedly are able to move around easier and avoid, you know, any aggressive confrontations with, you know, security forces or from their fighters in general.
But we have yet to see, you know, things go smoothly, for example, you know, I ever had fighters tell me that I still cannot do my job. I still cannot take pictures in some checkpoints just because, you know, like doesn`t matter if I have that media accreditation. And some fighters recognize this. Some fighters don`t. So it`s a mixed bag.
It`s not complete -- it`s not -- it`s not a complete standard basically, and when it comes to my experience getting beat up and assaulted by a Taliban fighter. And I think -- I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that, you know, the Taliban are using a lot of ad hoc fighters from out in the provinces, and the fact that they`re not actually made for -- they`re not trained for crowd control. They are not trained to deal with -- a lot of them have never dealt with journalists. A lot of them have never dealt with media. So that`s, I think, one of the factors that played into it, too.
MADDOW: Marcus Yam, foreign correspondent, photojournalist for "The Los Angeles Times" -- live in Kabul tonight. While we have been talking to you, sir, we have been able to show some of your recent work, some of your photos including the aftermath of some of these incredibly bloody attacks. Take care. Stay safe. I know you are planning on -- on staying there as long as you can. Thank you for your work. Thanks for joining us tonight.
YAM: I appreciate it. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right.
As we have been talking about the group that claimed responsibility for today`s attack, ISIS-K, or ISIS Khorasan, they are essentially the Afghanistan affiliate of the Islamic State. They did claim responsibility for today`s killings on the group`s news channel.
And U.S. officials had been warning not just that there could be an attack on U.S. forces and civilians at the airport but that it would specifically come from this group. Well, who is this group? Why did the U.S. have such clarity that this was the group that was going to attack and attack exactly like this?
What does that mean for the next few days? For what President Biden now says will be retaliation against that group? And for the continuing evacuation effort which continues. Another 7,500 people airlifted out even today. Even with all of this. Even with those photos of people that -- that you just saw in the aftermath of today`s attack. People bloodied and injured at the gates of the airport, evacuation efforts continue.
Joining us now is counterintelligence analyst, Laith Alkhouri, who studies these things intensively.
Mr. Alkhouri, thank you so much for being with us tonight. It`s been a long time since we have seen you. It`s always bad news whenever you are going to be here to talk about one of these things, but I appreciate you -- you making the time.
LAITH ALKHOURI, COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Thank so much for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Tell me about what you make of U.S. officials warning the public, warning explicitly over and over again in recent days that an ISIS-K attack, ISIS Khorasan at the airport targeting U.S. personnel, targeting civilians just like we saw today. That it was not only a threat but that it was a severe threat and an increasingly likely one?
ALKHOURI: Look. ISIS has demonstrated, over and again, that it`s masterfully opportunistic, especially when it comes to vacuums of power. In fact, some of the chatter that I had been looking at just before the attack talked about how ISIS was poised to launch attacks specifically because two of its enemies are out of the picture. That is the Afghan security forces and, of course, the U.S. troops.
Now that they are out of the picture, they only have one more enemy left and this enemy is extremely busy right now trying to control Afghanistan all over again, trying to put logistics in place.
But the other point is that, as ISIS is taking advantage of this power vacuum, it also realizes that it can attract fighters from the ranks of the Taliban by showcasing the group as weak, as unable to govern, as, also, a group that is nationalistic and sitting at the negotiations table with the West, sitting at the negotiations table with tyrants in the region, aka having a political office in Qatar. So, ISIS has mastered this technique before. And we are seeing it unfold, again.
And the last point, I would say is that ISIS has been operating in Afghanistan for, you know, over six years now. And this is a lot of time for it to recruit fighters, to garner weapon and galvanize support. And it has launched some of the most deadly attacks we have witnessed in Afghanistan, whether at a maternity ward at a hospital, whether at funerals, whether at places of worship.
So this comes absolutely as no surprise that there had been warnings and unfortunately these attacks actualized.
MADDOW: Laith, are ISIS and the Taliban going to go to war in Afghanistan? Is ISIS -- this ISIS affiliate -- is it strong enough, motivated enough, and resourced enough that they can challenge the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan? I mean, it`s -- I think that we, from a distance, we tend -- we tend to lump these groups together. They are enemies.
What`s their conflict going to look like?
ALKHOURI: ISIS will absolutely butt heads with the Taliban. It has been doing so. In fact, over the past five years, it`s been conducting regular assassinations against Taliban commanders, as well as foot soldiers in a range of places. Not only where ISIS is concentrated today in Afghanistan, which is in the east in the Nangarhar Province. But also, target -- it has targeted them in places like Kandahar, in places like Kabul, and other provinces of Afghanistan.
So ISIS has already been doing that. What has been keeping it at bay mostly are the Afghan commandos and the U.S. forces.
Now that they are not in the picture or the calculation, ISIS will undoubtedly launch more strategic attacks, targeting painful spots for the Taliban. That will include some of the infrastructure that the Taliban needs to govern.
Of course, you know, Kabul airport is case in point.
MADDOW: Last question for you, Laith. As President Biden threatens, in no uncertain terms today, the people who carried out this bombing will pay, that they will be hunted down and they will pay. Is it possible that the Taliban is going to help the U.S. in targeting ISIS if the U.S. decides to launch some sort of either assassination of the leadership effort? Or assassination effort targeting their leadership or some other major, violent counterterrorism offensive here? Is this something where the Taliban and the U.S. actually have common cause to make?
ALKHOURI: There is certainly common cause. I don`t see the Taliban and the U.S. forces having some sort of joint operations together. But I do believe that the Taliban is going to put extra resources to target ISIS, specifically in the east of the country.
And that goes for the Taliban to showcase that it`s capable actually of acting as a de facto governing body in Afghanistan. That, you know, a ragtag terrorist group is not going to do the work that empires like the British empire, the Soviets, and of course the Americans were not able to accomplish.
So it`s going to put extra resources to showcase its strength to potentially try to uproot ISIS from Afghanistan. I don`t think, though, the U.S. and the Taliban will be communicating on the results of those countermeasures to target ISIS. I do believe that the U.S. is going to use air power as much as possible, in addition to, you know, eavesdropping on communication at large.
But I think the Taliban are going to rely on human sources to bring them the -- the intelligence in order for them to know the locations of the ISIS cells and target them.
MADDOW: Laith Alkhouri, counterintelligence analyst and adviser, Laith, thank you for taking the time. It`s good to have you back. Thank you.
ALKHOURI: Thanks so much, Rachel.
MADDOW: They say, you know, the enemy of I my enemy is my friend. In this case, the enemy of my enemy is an enemy and it`s a whole world full of enemies in this case. Just an absolutely terrible day in Afghanistan.
All right. We`ve got more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: During the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, a person participating in the attack, a woman named Ashli Babbitt was shot by a Capitol police officer. She and several others were in the process of smashing in the glass window of a door inside the House of Representatives, trying to force their way into where members of Congress were sheltering from the mob. Since that day, U.S. Capitol Police have withheld the name of the officer who fired the shot. Over fears that far-right sympathizers of the Capitol rioters might try to single him out for retribution.
And those fears were not hypothetical. After the attacks, specifically white supremacists first and then other far-right groups not only did demand the name of the officer who fired the shot, they -- they did that alongside increasingly ghoulish efforts to try to turn Ashli Babbitt into a martyr. Images, pretty soon, started turning up on far-right social media outlets of something they call the Babbitt flag showing the outline of a woman that`s supposed to be her in front of the Capitol. And you see, underneath her chin, there`s that drop of blood.
There is several versions of that flag. Some with tag lines like the word vengeance written on them. Meaning, vengeance for her. Note, also, in this one the Star of David on the Capitol there, presumably to suggest that the government is controlled by a Jewish conspiracy and so we need, you know, vengeance on the Jews or whatever.
That far-right and, indeed, white supremacist attempt to turn Ashli Babbitt into a white nationalist martyr who must be avenged, who must be the, you know, cause behind which we organize the race war. That started from the very bleeding edges of far-right and white-supremacist online discourse.
And then, it creeped into the conservative mainstream, amplified by conservative pundits and conservative members of Congress, and then eventually, by the man at the center of it all, former President Trump, who started at his post-presidential rallies demanding to know the name of the police officer who fired that shot, shouting, who shot Ashli Babbitt? As a regular feature of his rallies now.
Well, now, in a remarkable turn of events -- we know the answer to that question because the officer who shot Ashli Babbitt, while protecting members of Congress on his own terms chose, today, to speak publicly for the first time with NBC`s Lester Holt.
(BEGIN VIEO CLIP)
LT. MICHAEL BYRD, CAPITOL POLICE: My name is Michael Byrd. I am a lieutenant for the United States Capitol Police.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over): For months, he has lived in hiding. He says over this moment, his decision to use deadly force against a rioter as she climbed through a barricaded door that leads to the House chamber. In the months since, he has been the target of threats.
Can you give us the nature of some of those threats?
BYRD: They talked about, you know, killing me. Cutting off my head.You know, very vicious and cruel things.
HOLT: He says officers barricaded the door. What he considered the last line of defense.
BYRD: I had been yelling and screaming as loud as I was. Please, stop. Get back. Get back. Stop. We had our weapons drawn.
HOLT: Byrd, only his hand and gun visible, he targeted a figure trying to climb through the window. He fired a single fatal shot hitting Ashley Babbitt. She was 35 years old, an Air Force veteran, Trump supporter and QAnon follower.
We see your arm out there for a considerable amount of time, were you wavering?
BYRD: I was taking a tactical stance, ultimately hoping your commands will be complied with, and unfortunately, they were not.
HOLT: When you fired, what could you see? Where were you aiming?
BYRD: You`re taught to aim for center mass. The subject was sideways and I could not see the full motion of her hands or anything. So I guess her movement, you know, caused the discharge to fall where it did.
HOLT: What did you think this individual was doing?
BYRD: She was posing a threat to the United States House of Representatives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: She was posing a threat to the United States House of Representatives.
That is Lieutenant Michael Byrd of the United States Capitol Police coming forward, identifying himself, speaking on his own terms. Talking not only about what happened that day but about the attacks and threats against him since.
Joining us now is Ryan Reilly. He`s the senior justice reporter for the "Huffington Post." He`s been following the rioters from the very, very beginning.
Ryan, thanks for making time tonight. I appreciate you being here.
RYAN REILLY, SENIOR JUSTICE REPORTER, HUFFINGTON POST: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Tell us a little bit about the role that Lieutenant Byrd, who has now identified himself publicly, and the shooting of Ashley Babbitt have played in far right circles online since the January 6 attack.
REILLY: It`s a real motivating force, you know, as someone who everyone is sort of rallying against on, rally for on the far right, and obviously, the factor that cannot be removed at all is the race of the officer who shot Ashli Babbitt. That just plays a tremendous factor here.
I would say, you know, it is amazing how quickly this alliance between the police and the Republican Party broke down both on January 6 and more broadly with Trump. You know, the idea that Donald Trump made himself out to be this law enforcement candidate, and the guy for law and order, the guy who has the cops` back, is now attacking a police officer and demanding his name when it was a violent rioter who broke into the U.S. Capitol and went into, in fact, one of the most sacrosanct and sacred chambers of Congress, through a broken window, it really is just amazing to see those attacks.
And, you know, I think thought experiment to do here is just think for a moment how the right and Republicans and Trump would have reacted had an officer in some random city last summer who was perhaps off duty and guarding, say, a local liquor store, had that officer shot someone who broke into a window of some random liquor store.
What we`re talking about here, that was the most important spot in America on January 6. That was about democracy, about the transfer of power, and it really is just astonishing how quickly the people abandoned support for law enforcement in the scenario simply because of her political ties and so much because of the political movement supports really what it was all about, was trying to stop -- she had this delusional belief that the election had been stolen and that was really widespread on the Republican Party. So, that`s something they see as justified in many aspects.
MADDOW: Given the way that narrative has taken shape around her and around her killing on January 6 and the way that President Trump, first among all of them, has been demanding the identity of this officer in a very threatening way, and he talked tonight about the threats he`s had, what do you make of his decision to identify himself, to go on camera to say, it was me, this is my name, this is where I worked, this is what happened?
REILLY: Yeah. I mean, it`s a bold move and I think he sort of weighed out why he was deciding to do that because, you know, he stood up on January 6 and he`s standing up then. And he wants to -- you know, I think he believes he saved lives, and I believe if you simply look at the video, that was that final line of defense. If the rioters had broken through that line of defense, they would have had direct access to members of Congress.
So, I just think that, you know, he really wants to stand up. I think the threats more broadly are something that is getting more attention as we go on. You know, I can report that there were some prosecutors who were working on the January 6 cases who have received threats, and that`s something that the FBI is looking into and urging anyone to communicate when they receive those sort of things.
But because there is this huge political movement bubbling up on the right, in fact, someone who is formally on Trump`s campaign is organizing this movement and this rally next month to sort of gather in support of people who have been locked up ahead of trial, until trial.
Now, these are -- the people locked up pre-trial at this moment are some dangerous folks.
And I think that that`s -- overall, they are caught on video committing violence against law enforcement and believe in these delusional conspiracy theories dangerous folks. Overall they are caught on video committing violence against law enforcement and believe in these delusional conspiracy theories about a stolen election, and in many cases have expressed their desire to continue fighting this battle.
So for someone from -- in so close in Trump`s orbit who, you know, literally pushed around a golden idol of Trump at CPAC to come in and now declare that we want to get these people who attacked cops out of jail is just such a mind-blowing scenario when you look back at what the Trump campaign was all about which is law and order. The idea that they are backing criminals who are caught on video attacking police officers is really just astonishing.
That was a major attack during the campaign, was that, you know, say, the now vice president was supporting bail funds for people who are charged with more minor crimes during some of the unrest last summer. And now, we`ve had a total flip on that. We`re just completely -- everything is sort of thrown off and it`s amazing how quickly the tables turned there.
MADDOW: Ryan Reilly, senior justice reporter for "The Huffington Post", Ryan, thank you. Thank you for joining us tonight. It`s good to have you here.
REILLY: Thanks much.
MADDOW: Underscoring that reporting there, the FBI investigating threats against prosecutors who are working on January 6 cases. That is news.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This time last night, I gave you a heads up that we were going to have a special report tonight on a new disinformation-fueled surge in this latest, like, really dangerous snake oil nonsense around COVID. We obviously held that special report tonight because of the events in Afghanistan today, but we will bring that report to you tomorrow night.
I will see you then.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORLD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.