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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Ten U.S. Sailors Missing After USS McCain Crash. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Another tragedy at sea for the U.S. Navy. Ten sailors are now missing after a Navy destroyer collides with a merchant ship. Why do these tragedies keep happening?

Going broke. Protecting the president. The Secret Service says it's running out of money. An old problem exacerbated significantly by this president, his large brood, and their multiple trips. I wonder if President Trump ever attacked President Obama for traveling too much?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper coming to you live from Racine, Wisconsin. It's the site of tonight's town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan. This comes at a very tense time in this nation with racial tensions bubbling over in Charlottesville, Virginia, and elsewhere, and with many Republicans publicly breaking ranks with President Trump.

And tonight in just a little under five hours right before our live town hall with Speaker Ryan, with critics on both sides questioning the president's leadership and his moral authority, in a prime time address live on CNN, the commander-in-chief, President Trump, will ask Americans implicitly to trust him on his new strategy for Afghanistan.

The president will speak from Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia. And that's where we find CNN's Athena Jones live for us this hour.

Athena, what are we expecting the president to say?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. Well, we'll likely to hear the president lay out a plan that would increase troop levels -- U.S. troop levels by several thousand and also address the U.S. relationship with other countries in the region, principally Pakistan.

As you mentioned, the president's speech comes against a backdrop of weeks of West Wing chaos and the controversy over his response to the violence in Charlottesville. This is a chance to turn the page, focus on national security. The question is, how effective will this new strategy be in making gains in Afghanistan and how effectively can the president sell it to the American people?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): A new commander-in-chief, a new strategy in America's longest war. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a very big

decision for me. I took over a mess. And we're going to make it a lot less messy.

JONES: President Trump back at the White House after his working vacation is set to lay out his administration's plans for the fight in Afghanistan. A 16-year conflict the top general there warned in February has reached a critical juncture.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES CHAIRMAN: In your overall commander's assessment, are we winning or losing?

GEN. JOHN NICHOLSON, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES AFGHANISTAN: Mr. Chairman, I believe we're in a stalemate.

JONES: A conclusion Defense Secretary James Mattis echoed in June.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We're not winning in Afghanistan right now.

JONES: The president addressing the nation in prime time after months-long deliberations wrapped up this weekend at Camp David during which he was presented with a range of strategies. From a full withdrawal to deploying up to 4,000 more soldiers, in addition to roughly 8,000 U.S. forces already there.

Those additional troops would allow Americans to train and assist Afghan forces, much as they are doing in the fight against ISIS in Iraq. A move to increase troop levels would be at odds with Trump's own statements on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: They're going to be there for the next 200 years. You know, at some point, what's going on? It's going to be a long time. We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. Wasted, $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East. We could have rebuilt our country twice. That have produced only more terrorism, more death, more suffering.

JONES: And even before he was a candidate going back years, tweeting in 2012, "It is time to get out of Afghanistan."

The decision on strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia coming as the president tries to steady his administration after weeks of infighting and tumult leading to the departure of several top aides, most recently chief strategist Steve Bannon, who opposed sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

All this as the president struggles in the polls in the wake of his controversial remarks about racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

TRUMP: You also have people that were very fine people on both sides.

JONES: A new survey by NBC-Marist showing his approval numbers sinking below 40 percent in three states that helped sweep him into office in November. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: And Jake, one more thing about Afghanistan strategy. The president faces a challenge tonight in convincing his supporters that any increase in engagement in Afghanistan is the right move after spending so much time arguing for a full withdrawal -- Jake.

TAPPER: Athena Jones, thank you so much.

With thousands of U.S. service members in Afghanistan, America's longest war has been left in limbo since President Trump took office, at least in terms of a new direction.

So what are the options for the way forward? We took a deeper look at the potential strategies presented to the commander-in-chief.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Look at Afghanistan. What a mess.

[16:05:03] TAPPER (voice-over): Some 8400 American service members are currently in Afghanistan. And sources tell CNN despite blunt talk in the campaign trail President Trump is likely to commit as many as 4,000 more.

TRUMP: That's a very big decision for me. I took over a mess.

TAPPER: A troop increase is not the president's only option, of course. On Thursday Defense Secretary Mattis said all possibilities remained on the table, including greater use of private contractors or even a full withdrawal from Afghanistan.

If it were entirely up to commanders on the ground, the president would send additional special operations forces and more military advisers. That's according to a senior military official who added that those military advisers will need more protection as well. Not having that protection means advising teams are only 75 percent as effective as they could be, the Pentagon says.

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On my orders, the United States Military has begun strikes.

TAPPER: Since America's war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, more than 2,250 American uniforms, men and women, have been killed in that mission. And that number continues to rise.

TRUMP: It's our longest war in history, 17 years. That's unacceptable.

TAPPER: Regardless, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, says more Americans are needed there.

NICHOLSON: Let me be clear. We will not relent in our mission to fight alongside our Afghan comrades to destroy ISIS-K in 2017.

TAPPER: Whether Trump is committed to Nicholson, however, is another matter.