The ultimate Afghanistan nightmare would be Americans left behind there, effectively becoming hostages at the mercy of the Taliban. Yet that is precisely what an experienced Afghanistan hand predicted on CNN's New Day Tuesday morning, unless the August 31st evacuation deadline can be extended.
CNN's guest was Army Reserve Major Matt Zeller, who is also a former CIA analyst. He is part of an informal network of military and intel people with previous Afghanistan experience who are now trying to help Afghan allies to evacuate.
Since then, CNN has reported that Biden has decided to stick to the August 31st deadline. Sounds like the Taliban leader wasn't in a cooperative mood when he met with the CIA Director. If Major Zeller is right, Biden could be putting Americans at risk of being trapped in Afghanistan.
When co-host John Berman asked Zeller what it tells him that the CIA Director has reportedly met with the head of the Taliban, Zeller bluntly said, "it tells me they have won . . . Only a couple of years ago [the CIA Director] was probably trying to kill the person they met with a couple of days ago."
Berman sought to bring Zeller around to the situation on the ground, and whether the meeting signifies that the US is trying to get an extension on the August 31st deadline.
Zeller said he hoped so. He laid out the math indicating that even at the present evacuation rate of 20,000 people per day, it would be impossible to meet the August 31st deadline. It would be necessary to increase the rate to 30,000 per day, and the runway capacity at Kabul doesn't permit that.
"The reality is, we do need more time, or . . . we're going to end up probably leaving not just behind a lot of our Afghans, which is a guarantee at this point. We still do not have an evacuation plan for anyone outside of Kabul, and that could be up to another additional 50,000 people that we could be leaving behind."
Zeller then added ominously:
"At this point, if we don't do this well past August 31st, if we don't get a time that -- an additional time to do this, there's a significant chance we'll end up leaving Americans also behind in Afghanistan to be under the Taliban's rule."
Note that Zeller is a Democrat, who in 2010 was the unsuccessful candidate in New York's 29th congressional district.
Yet his Twitter feed makes clear that in addition to criticizing Trump's plan, he condemns Biden's withdrawal, writing:
"So many of us are disappointed & frustrated with @POTUS & his admin. None of this chaos was inevitable. An orderly withdrawal was possible. Trump, Pompeo, & Miller set the conditions for this fiasco. Biden could have avoided it, instead he ignored us."
Army Reserve Major Matt Zeller telling CNN that without an extension of the August 31st evacuation deadline there's a significant chance Americans will be left behind in Afghanistan was sponsored in part by Lincoln, Amazon, Applebee's and Tractor Supply.
Here's the transcript.
7:07 am EDT
JOHN BERMAN: The Washington Post reports this morning that CIA director William Burns has been in Kabul meeting with the de facto Taliban leader. Joining us now is U.S. Army Reserve major and former CIA analyst Matt Zeller, who has spent so much time the last few weeks trying to help Afghans get out of the country. Matt, is it a pleasure to see you. Thank you for the efforts that have been underway in your house at that desk no doubt.
First, I want you to react to this news that CIA Director William Burns, in Kabul, meeting with the de facto Taliban leader. What does that tell you?
MATT ZELLER: It tells me that they've won. Right? I mean, we're not meeting with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan [the now-deposed civilian government] anymore to discuss security in Kabul because right now the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan only has a government that's in Panjshir [the only Afghan province not under Taliban rule.]
It's interesting, how a difference of a couple of years makes. Only a couple of years ago, that very same Director, not that individual but whoever held their office, was probably trying to kill the person they met with just a couple of days ago.
BERMAN: But Matt, and I do understand what you're saying there in terms of what it means geopolitically. But what do you think it means for people on the ground there? Do you think it means that there's a push to extend this window to get more people out? Why else would the CIA Director be there?
ZELLER: That's my hope, right? It's very clear. We did the math. Even at the current rate of the pace of evacuations, it's still going to take until mid-September to move everybody, even if we're moving 20,000 people a day.
We actually need to be moving about 30,000 a day to meet an August 31st deadline. So as impressive as that 20,000 number is, they need to increase it by a third just to be able to hit August 31st, and I don't think they can do that. I think they have probably maximized the runway capability at Kabul. So the reality is we do need more time.
The president has to keep that beachhead open or it's going to come down to this. We're going to end up probably leaving not just behind a lot of our Afghans, which is a guarantee at this point. We still do not have an evacuation plan for anyone outside of Kabul, and that could be up to an another additional 50,000 people that we could be leaving behind.
But at this point, if we don't do this well past August 31st, if we don't get a time that -- an additional time to do this, there's a significant chance we'll end up leaving Americans also behind in Afghanistan to be under the Taliban's rule.