CNN Interview Transcript: Afghanistan

17 August 2021

Transcript from 16 August 2021 interview with CNN

1022hrs EST US

Reporters: Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto

Guest: Jason Criss Howk, Afghanistan veteran (2002 and later) who was an insider for various US/NATO Afghan policy discussions during the Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations.

(*note this is not a word-for-word transcript but what is written is as intended when spoken)

  • Introductions
  • Jim Sciutto: You are doing your best to get people out of Afghanistan who are you talking to and is it possible?

Jason Howk: People in the US and across NATO are fielding calls and helping get our friends out. The Kabul airport has consular services for many nations including the US.

  • Poppy Harlow: You helped build the Afghan National Army Jason and you wrote earlier this year “the ANDSF and their leadership have always been the key to victory.” Let’s listen to former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker on what he thinks partially broke the ANDSF’s will to fight. Crocker said the Trump administration negotiations with the Taliban that cut the Afghans out was a key moment.

Crocker audio: That was a key taliban demand and we accepted it. It was a huge demoralizing factor for the Afghan government and the ANDSF.

Do you agree?

Jason Howk: Absolutely, Crocker is correct.

I started working to build the ANA in 2002 when we produced some of the first infantry battalions (Kandaks).

The ANDSF was on their way, but they were still a young army at 19 years old. Give me a break, think of a 19-year-old kid. (Referring to being able to take on the Pakistan terrorist network alone, after NATO refused to do it with 50 nations.)

We (US/NATO) didn’t do the one thing that mattered and Crocker didn’t do it in his time either. We did not stop the Pakistan ISI from running a terrorist pipeline out of their country and feeding them into Afghanistan.

When we (US) made a deal with the Taliban to get ourselves out…the Afghans, all Afghans– the military, government, civilians knew that they had been completely betrayed over Pakistan. And that Pakistan was going to make good on their promise (to Afghans) that they were going to turn Afghanistan into a 5th province.

AND they did. They launched every terrorist asset they had in there and bought their way around the country, avoiding a fight, until they swamped the entire country.

  • Jim: That is a good point that the Taliban had safe zones they had bases outside their country in Pakistan.
  • Jim: I want to ask you this. You will hear from a lot of people, including the Biden Administration that we had no choice. “To end the endless wars, we had to get out.”  Is that the truth? Could the US have kept a relatively small footprint there and avoided this? And would that have been in our interest?

Jason Howk: Absolutely! When the Taliban didn’t want to play ball in the Doha peace process, we just needed to suspend the talks, blacklist them as terrorists, put terrorism support sanctions on Pakistan for supporting them, and then hold Bagram and Kabul with a counter-terrorism task force.

We do this all the time all over the world, we are in 100 countries with our special operations forces, they do this for a living.

Pakistan doesn’t want a war with America. They are happy to send their paramilitary forces and terrorists to go wipe out Afghans. We just opened the door for them.

  • Poppy: But for how long Major? There is the counter argument from the Biden administration and members of congress like former republican congressman Justin Amash, (she reads his tweet)

Still Poppy: Is your argument then forever? Keep US forces there for the foreseeable future?

Jason Howk: When you have a nuclear capable state like Pakistan that runs the largest terrorism factory in South Asia and we walk away from the only country that is our strong ally against them, what do we expect?

We have not left Korea yet and I’m pretty sure we ended that quite a while ago. We are still in Japan, Italy, Germany…

We (simply) don’t have the spine to say that Pakistan is the biggest terrorist in South Asia. They hid Bin Laden, they hid Haqqani, they hid the Taliban, they have 20 other terrorist groups there.

We need the to investigate Pakistan. And anyone (US Govt) that didn’t sanction Pakistan over the last 20 years—because they put a lot of soldiers at risk, and diplomats.

And Afghans sacrificed everything, and trusted us, and got BETRAYED, and we turned them over to Pakistan.

Pakistanis are cheering in the streets, as are China and Russia right now, because of what we did and how we left them.

  • Wrap up of segment/thank you

Guests Biography

Jason has worked on Afghanistan since 2002 assisting the most senior Generals, Ambassadors, and policy-makers in building the Afghan National Army; developing the International Security Sector Reform (SSR) program in Kabul; conducting the U.S. and NATO strategic assessment of the Afghan War in 2009; helping the Afghan government create an Afghan Peace, Reintegration, and Reconciliation policy; and also leading two teams that monitored Afghanistan and Pakistan issues for senior Defense and Joint Staff leaders and the National Security Staff at the White House. He continues to monitor Afghanistan and advise various entities on conflict resolution and security prospects.

Jason Criss Howk, has spent over 30 years in the national security arena in defense, diplomacy, and intelligence roles. He educates, writes, and speaks about Afghanistan, Interfaith issues, Islam, and other foreign policy and national security topics.

To contact Jason about video appearances or speaking engagements you can email him at: wjtaNC at

He holds a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern and South-Asian studies, was a term-member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is a Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies.  He also studied Afghan Farsi (Dari) and Arabic, and has published numerous works on the Broader Middle East and Islam.

His column can be found at

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