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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Afghan Suicide Bomber Kills U.S. Soldier; Interview with Leon Panetta; Terrorism Number One Threat For Afghanistan

Aired December 13, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, violence in Afghanistan, today, a horrible act of violence. An American soldier was killed here after a suicide attack. It happened at a base in Kandahar, just a couple of hours after I visited the base with the U.S. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta.

And it's a sad reminder of how safe this country remains after 11 years of war. I'll ask the defense secretary about what's next here, as American troops prepare to leave Afghanistan and about the fight for al Qaeda. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett live in Kabul, Afghanistan, tonight for a special edition of OUTFRONT, as we focus on the future of Afghanistan. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States tonight, as well as around the world. Thanks for joining us.

Tonight, violence rocks Afghanistan. A sobering reminder of how America's longest war is still not won. We still do not have a secure Afghanistan. Today, just hours after I wrapped up an interview with the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, in Kandahar at an American base, there was a brazen attack just outside that base.

A suicide bomber struck, the Taliban had taken responsibility, an American service member has been killed. Two Afghan civilians were killed. Three Americans and 18 Afghans were wounded in this attack today.

Now, a Taliban spokesman not only claimed responsibility for the attack, but praised the, quote/unquote "brave Taliban" fighter who carried it out. Also here in Kabul today, Secretary Panetta met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and invited him to Washington to meet with President Obama next month.

Now, the key question for these leaders is where do things now stand and what's next?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): Eleven years, 2 months, and 6 days.

FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We will not waiver. We will not tire. We will not falter and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail. BURNETT: Just one month after 9/11, President George W. Bush launched "Operation Enduring Freedom," the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The sacrifice has been steep.

More than 2,000 Americans dead and more than 18,000 wounded, $642 billion spent, and untold number of Afghan civilians killed, at least 12,000 in the last five years. With that sacrifice came some progress. The Taliban was removed from power and --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda.

BURNETT: But as combat troops prepared to come home in 2014, the Taliban is resurging. Just this week, a member of the Navy's elite SEAL Team Six, the same special ops group that killed Bin Laden, died during a mission to rescue an American doctor who had been abducted by the Taliban.

And earlier this month, nine Taliban suicide bombers attacked the U.S. base in Jalalabad. And Afghan troops aren't ready to fight them. Desertion rates are high, and the United Nations reports policemen are joining the Taliban. Extremists in the Afghan Security Forces have killed 33 Americans this year. And Afghan civilians fear the future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I don't 100 percent believe that our national army is capable. Every day, we hear that our soldiers are killed in the insecure provinces.

BURNETT: Eleven years, 2 months, and 6 days, when will this mission be accomplished?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: The issue of readiness on the part of Afghan Security Forces, to take over the fight against al Qaeda and terrorists in this country is the central issue to determine if America stays and how many American troops will continue to serve in this country.

There was a new Pentagon report out this week. Important it came from the pentagon. They're trying to tell a story of improvement here, but the Pentagon report itself said that only 1 in 23 Afghan brigades is actually ready to fully take over security in this country.

And in an army where 85 percent of the new recruits are illiterate, the challenges can be overwhelming. I spoke exclusively to the Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta today in Kandahar, and asked him about this daunting challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Obviously, there is a literacy problem, with regards to the forces and, you know, we can continue to try to prepare them for the ability to take over all of this security responsibility.

I guess, you know, the good news is that, as a result of the training effort, they are dealing with illiteracy and providing quick classes as these individuals go into the army, so they're meeting that responsibility.

They are developing the kind of training and capability that they need, but this is an area we're just going to have to focus on, intensely because over the next two years, and particularly in 2013, we have to reach a stage where 100 percent of the operations are in the hands of the afghan army. That's going to take a lot more work.

BURNETT: So is that why there's been a bit of a delay? I was just looking at some of the headlines. You said we're going to have a troop count decision in a few weeks. And then the last headline I saw was a couple of weeks ago and you said, I'm going to have a troop count in a few weeks. What's causing that delay? Are you not sure of the right number? Is the president holding it up? Where is the delay?

PANETTA: No, I think -- I think, first and foremost, that General Allen, having developed the campaign plan for Afghanistan, is the one who really has to come forward with the recommendations as the to what the enduring presence will look like. And he's prepared several options.

We've reviewed them and then ultimately they have to be presented to the National Security Consul, which reviews them and then present it to the president for a final decision.

That just takes time, and we want to make sure, obviously, that we make the right decision with regards to the size of that enduring presence.

BURNETT: There are people who are very worried that the U.S. will have too few people to actually provide the security that's required. And some have said that number is 20,000, and fewer than that is not enough. Is that fair?

PANETTA: Well, you know, it depends on the missions that we've got to be able to work on, in that enduring presence. And the key missions are the following. One is counterterrorism, which mean means we'll continue to confront al Qaeda.

And those that, you know, have always continued to plan attacks on the United States, we just want to make sure that there is no al Qaeda threat here in Afghanistan.

Secondly, to do the training and assistance that is necessary for the Afghan Army, and then thirdly, to provide some of the enabling capabilities for the forces that are here.

That will determine the nature of the presence. But the bottom line is that if we're going to accomplish our mission, our main responsibility for securing this country has to rest at Afghan Army.

BURNETT: So you're not yet sure on the number. It's not like you're just waiting to announce it. You're not sure on the number?

PANETTA: No, we're working intently right now to try to determine what that will be.

BURNETT: And it's interesting when you a lot with the mission on what you're trying to accomplish. I mean, the original mission here was, I'll quote the president, right, to defeat, disrupt, and destroy al Qaeda.

PANETTA: Right.

BURNETT: Is that mission accomplished?

PANETTA: The mission of defeating and deterring al Qaeda, I think, is well on the way towards, you know, achieving the mission, with regards to Afghanistan and the threat that we face here.

We continue to face al Qaeda, obviously, elsewhere, not only in Pakistan, but in Yemen and Somalia and elsewhere. But, you know, we have had remarkable success going after special operations against al Qaeda here and we're continuing to do that.

I think, you know, the main challenge here is, obviously, to make sure there's no safe haven for al Qaeda, in which to conduct attacks, but the key to that is in Afghanistan. That can secure and govern itself. Those two are interlocked in terms of the mission that we have in Afghanistan.

BURNETT: But what if they choose the Taliban?

PANETTA: You know, I'm very confident that the Afghan people want to be sovereign, they want to be independent, they want to be free from the Taliban, but they want to be able to determine their future. And that's OK. That's what needs to be done here is to have an Afghanistan that can determine its future.

BURNETT: When you talk about defeating al Qaeda, you know, you think about some of the statistics here. Obviously, there's still an insurgency, 93 policemen in one day joined the Taliban. Do you think al Qaeda will ever be defeated, even here?

PANETTA: I think you can reach a point where you so significantly weaken al Qaeda that although there may still be a few people around, they won't be able to conduct the operations that they've conducted in the past, and they certainly won't be able to plan the kind of attacks that American had happen to it on 9/11. And that's our goal, is to make sure that doesn't happen again.

BURNETT: And when you talk about al Qaeda and where it is, Mali is widely now seen as a safe haven for al Qaeda, and is linked to, inspired by, whatever the words might be, does the United States have to intervene in Mali?

PANETTA: We've got to go after al Qaeda, wherever the hell they're at, and make sure they find no place to hide. Because let's not forget, the main goal of al Qaeda is to attack the United States and we're not going to allow that to happen again. And if we're not going to allow it to happen, we've got to go after them in Yemen, in Somalia and yes, in Mali if necessary.

BURNETT: And final question on al Qaeda, how big of a threat right now, as you assess threat to the homeland, is al Qaeda?

PANETTA: I think we have significantly weakened their ability to do the kind of command and control and planning that would be necessary to conduct another 9/11 attack. At the same time, they still continue to threaten our country. And they still represent, I think, probably the most important threat we still face in the world.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT next, violence in Afghanistan. An American soldier today lost his life in a suicide attack by the Taliban. It happened at a base in Kandahar, just a couple of hours after we did that interview in Kandahar with the defense secretary.

It's a sad reminder of just how unsafe this country is, after 11 years of war. We will be back in just a moment, talking, getting the other side of the story. What do Afghans really think about the safety here? That's coming up after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Despite today's daring suicide bomb attack on the Kandahar Airfield Base just a couple of hours after we were there with the defense secretary, the message from the United States is very clear. Terrorists will not win here in Afghanistan, but what is the reality on the ground?

OUTFRONT tonight, two men who make it their business to know. Matthew Rosenberg is with "The New York Times." He has been based in Afghanistan for the past four years as a foreign correspondent and a former member of the Afghan parliament.

I just want to bring both of you guys in here. Thank you so much for waking up so early here in Kabul to come in and talk to us. Matt, I want to ask you about this attack. Obviously, it happened just a couple of hours after the defense secretary was in Kandahar.

They don't know whether it was related to his visit or not. Major General Robert Abrams used an example of where insurgents have failed in the past here in Kandahar at the airfield base, you told me that two hours before, and then this happened. What's the reality?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, "NEW YORK TIMES" FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, yes, they failed, the base is immense, there are thousands and thousands of soldiers there, but that road has been bombed before. There have been attacks throughout Kandahar before. The environments around the city are still unsafe, that we have a reporter who works for us in Kandahar City. He won't drive to areas outside the city where the surge really plaid out. It's not safe enough for him, never mind westerners. We can never go to those places. So, OK, I guess it's better than it was before -- better than it was at the height of the surge.

But it's not much better, and it's probably more violent than it was in 2009 and 2008 before the surge. So it does raise our question, what did we accomplish?

BURNETT: And that is a real question.

ROSENBERG: Yes.

BURNETT: What's your answer to that? As someone who spends a lot of time here, what did we accomplish?

ROSENBERG: There are areas that are much safer. They really are, but they're not safe enough, yet. And that's the thing. We're leaving now. And is this done, is it ready to hand over to the Afghans?

Every general says, well, the question is sustainability. Can we sustain it? We're going to find out this summer and next summer and I don't think, it's a very -- it's an open question.

BURNETT: And Daoud, you just heard the secretary of defense say, look, we've had success in disrupting al Qaeda. He's not declaring victory, he's saying, we're on the path. He's careful to say that. Is that the reality? When the U.S. leaves? How big is the risk that this place again becomes a sanctuary for terrorism, whatever word you want to put on it?

DAOUD SULTANZOY, FORMER MEMBER OF AFGHAN PARLIAMENT: I think, I don't blame American officials to paint a rosy picture. It's not as rosy as they've painted and it's not as bad as some pessimists think. But I think the most important solution lies in the non-military aspects of what will happen after the U.S. leaves, which is the Afghan government's responsibility.

And also, the turning point will be the Afghan presidential elections. I think the Afghan people can and will help the security situation, as they were confident enough that they have a government that they can relate to, they can be confident of, the rule of law, the government has to be provided.

All those things are a big question. If we don't have that election the way it should be, but then, security will be deteriorating because public support will not be there for the government to help receive support from the Afghan people.

BURNETT: And it's interesting, a lot of the people that we spoke to in the past couple of days, Matt, said, well, we just take it for granted that there's going to be a civil war or a real risk of a civil war when the U.S. leaves. And we went to a bazaar, and asked some Afghans whether they think it's good that the United States is leaving and here's what they said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): America should leave Afghanistan immediately, go back to America. The Muslims themselves should lead Afghanistan and build it with their own hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When they leave, the Afghan government has the capacity to lead and bring peace to the country. We don't need the Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Is there no need for America to stay? I mean, I know there's nationalism, there's pride, but what's the truth?

ROSENBERG: I mean, we do need to stay to hold this together. Now, does our presence here help? It's a much bigger question. You know, there's a strong case to be made that we provide an accelerant, we provide a reason for people to fight against us.

I think that's what these guys are saying to a degree. They're also saying, look, we've got to step up on our own. I think that's what we want. The question is readiness.

And then there's the money piece, that post-2014, between the civilian and military aid, it's like $8 billion a year. Afghanistan's total government revenue is about $1.5 billion.

How much longer can we pay and is there an expectation that they will at some point be able to pay for themselves? That's not really clear.

BURNETT: Here in the neighborhood of Afghanistan, in Kabul, that we're in, wealthy people live here, drug lords, war lords, ministers, all kinds of people. But the streets are terrible. And they're terrible because they want to keep them terrible because they don't want suicide bombers to come. Is that ever going to change?

SULTANZOY: That's a poor excuse, I think, for not paying attention to your job running a city and a country. But I think things will change in this country gradually in some cases. The biggest problems in the Afghan government and the Afghan people have is, things deteriorated from the top down. And we have to fix it that way, from the top down.

BURNETT: Is mafia a fair word to use?

SULTANZOY: Mafia is an understatement because this government and the economy and even the smallest things run in circles of groups of people who are monopolizing things.

From the presidency, all the way down to the lowest thing that produces some major income for people. The wealth was not spread. Management of the country and the big cities is really terrible. And people feel that.

That's why people are not helping the Taliban. They're standing on the sidelines and we have to change that.

BURNETT: All right, Matt, thank you very much. All right, we're going to take a break, but when we come back, we're going to be talking with the future of Afghanistan with the deputy foreign minister. We'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live from Kabul, Afghanistan, tonight. And the attack outside a U.S. military base in Kandahar today was only the latest blow in a national security situation, which is incredibly precarious in this country.

I spoke earlier with the deputy foreign minister here in Afghanistan and I asked him if this act of terror today caught him by surprise.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAWED LUDIN, AFGHAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: No. I'm not surprised. Terrorism remains a threat for Afghanistan. That's the number one threat to Afghanistan's security and also by extension, to the security of the region and the rest of the world. Afghanistan, unfortunately, continues to be one of the worst victims of terrorism.

BURNETT: Can you work with the Taliban? I mean, I'm curious. You've made all this progress in certain areas. You've tried to do things for women's rights and you've tried to have a more free and open society. Will the Taliban be a part of that? Will they actually be a player?

LUDIN: Well, they have to be. That's one of our red lines that we're absolutely ready and I think this is, in the interest of peace in Afghanistan, and absolutely desirable. Nonetheless, there have to be some red lines.

Some of the achievements that we've had in the last 10 years can't be negotiated. We have a constitution that gives rights to men and women in Afghanistan. We have established a democratic person that's very young, still, a long way to go, but it's still one of our biggest achievements.

BURNETT: And I think about the bomb that happened today in Kandahar. I was thinking about some article that I read in the Gulf, I traveled there this week. A prudential police chief was killed and there was another attack, obviously, last week. The Taliban is purposely, and they say, specifically targeting government officials. Do you feel that risk every day?

LUDIN: As an Afghan, yes. Afghanistan is on the threat. Afghanistan faces terrorism, as a threat, on a day-to-day basis. So I think there is no difference between myself and the Afghans who got, unfortunately, got killed and injured in Kandahar today.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BURNETT: Ahead, you'll meet Sergeant First Class Josh Burnt. His story is amazing. He is stationed at a U.S. airbase in Kandahar where the suicide bomber today killed an American service member and injured three others.

He is going to talk about why he thinks he is making a difference and we're going play him a special message this holiday season from his wife and two children.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Welcome back to a special edition of OUTFRONT. We are live in Kabul, Afghanistan, tonight. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We'll have more on our reporting from Afghanistan in just a moment, but first, we want to update you on some of the big stories making news in the United States tonight.

Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, will not be the next secretary of state. A somewhat surprising move in a letter to the president, to President Obama, she withdrew her name from consideration today. She says she's concerned that her criticism of her handling of the attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens would lead to, in her words, a lengthy, disruptive and costly confirmation process.

The president will meet with Rice tomorrow at the White House.

And speaking of White House meetings, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner met at the White House for about an hour tonight. An important meeting and we're glad it was an hour. Maybe they could get something done on the fiscal cliff. The hope is that they'll have a meeting of the minds on the tax hikes and the automatic spending cuts that are set to strike the United States at the beginning of January.

Time is running out. The fiscal cliff is 19 days away. And our Jessica Yellin reports that some in Washington believe that a deal has to be done by tomorrow -- tomorrow, everyone -- in order to get it through Congress before the end of the year.

And back here in Kabul, Afghanistan, where we are taking a look at America's 11-year war, the longest war here in America, where do things stand today? What is the future for Afghanistan?

One of the main concerns here on the ground is security. Just a few hours, we had a stark reminder of that here, when there was a suicide attack right at the entrance of the Kandahar airfield. That was a base that the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had visited two hours before. We interviewed him there. The explosion killed one American service member and two Afghan civilians.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, calling the bomber a, quote/unquote, "brave fighter". Panetta later said terrorists resort to these types of attacks in order to create chaos. Well, chaos or not, there are 68,000 American troops who are risking their lives right here in this country tonight. Many of them are going to be separated from their family and friends for as long as 15 months, serving their country, before they go home. It's a hard and stressful situation. There is so much sacrifice.

But as we learned from the Burnt family, it is something that families at home learn to deal with.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): McKenzie Berndt knows what it means to make sacrifices for your country. Her husband, Army Sergeant First Class Joshua Berndt, is serving in the Second Striker Brigade in Afghanistan. This will be his third Christmas at war.

MCKENZIE BERNDT, WIFE: Most people take for granted their husbands coming home at 5:00 at night or being home on the weekends or being there for holidays and military families don't get that. We don't have that opportunity.

BURNETT: Now in his fourth deployment, Josh is on a mission in Kandahar and he's been away from his wife and two children for seven months.

M. BERNDT: It comes with that, it's missed birthdays, anniversaries, first steps, crawling. They missed out on so many things in life that are just milestones.

BURNETT: Married at age 20, McKenzie says being separated for long stretches has been all she's ever known.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's my book.

BURNETT: And while 5-year-old Josh Jr. and 9-year-old Halle talk to their dad on the phone almost every day from their home in Puyallup, Washington, Halle says it just isn't the same.

HALLE BERNDT, DAUGHTER: The most things I miss about my dad is that he'd always make us laugh and he'd always find something fun for us to do if we didn't know what to do.

BURNETT: McKenzie says living halfway around the world from your spouse can be really hard.

M. BERNDT: I have caught myself having moments, where I say, God, I really wish he was here right now or -- I mean, those are natural to have. But you can't dwell on it. It's not going to change.

BURNETT: The Berndts have learned to bridge the gap, using FaceTime and e-mail. But mostly, they take a lot of pictures, focus on their memories, and anxiously await Josh's next homecoming.

H. BERNDT: Every day we eat one M&M, and that represents one more day of him being closer to coming home. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Sergeant Berndt told me about those M&M's and said it is a special moment for him every single night. He has scheduled to go home in two months. He won't be home in Christmas.

I had a chance to speak with him at the base in Kandahar, where he told me about his job and his thoughts about the future for Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: You go out in this every day?

SGT. 1ST CLASS JOSHUA BERNDT, U.S. ARMY: Yes, ma'am. This is an MRAP. It's a vehicle that we use, it carries roughly five personnel. You have the driver, the T.C., which is the tank commander, which is a passenger, and you have the two dismounts in the back and then the fifth person will be, of course, the gunner, who is up top.

BURNETT: And where do you sit?

BERNDT: I sit on the T.C., the tank commander, which is in control, basically, of the vehicle. And as we go out, you know, I'm in charge of controlling this vehicle, where we're going, what the gunner does, if I need to react to certain things, and I'm basically the passenger, like the T.C. or the shotgun seat, if you want to so.

BURNETT: So do you ever -- I guess I -- do you ever get scared?

BERNDT: I guess it's only human nature to get scared, in some way, shape, or form. But you do it so many times, you get used to it in, in a way. And I've been training with these people so long, we almost know what we're going to do before we do it. So, it is second nature for us and it's pretty easy at the time -- you know, at times.

BURNETT: And you say it's second nature, and you know these people better than anyone in the world. I mean, you've -- is this sort of like a second family to you, in any way?

BERNDT: This is definitely my second family. Even as I came into the military, my wife, in general, we knew that this was a big part of our family. And my wife has accepted everyone that I've trained or been leaders of and it is definitely a second family for me, definitely.

BURNETT: And this has been your career from the beginning?

BERNDT: This has been my career from the beginning. I've been in 12 years. And this is definitely, whatever I do, I excel at, and I try to make the best out of it, and this is definitely what I've done my whole career.

BURNETT: You know a lot of people at home, they wonder, did America really get anything out of this war? What have we accomplished? And you're here ever day, you're fighting, you're patrolling here in Kandahar.

What have we gotten out of this?

BERNDT: We've gotten quite a bit. I mean, honestly, the Afghan people, even from what I was deployed in Iraq in '03, during the invasion, you could see the Iraqi people and the Afghan people starting to do stuff on their own, having more freedoms and stuff like that.

And that is a big thing that I take out of this, is them being able to do stuff on their own, without having someone, you know, telling them exactly what they have to do every day of their lives. And I think that's freedom and stuff like that is a big accomplishment for me, being here, this is my fourth time, and seeing the gains that we have made throughout the years. So --

BURNETT: And do you think, from where you sit, that Afghanistan is going to be ready, for people like you to go home?

BERNDT: Yes, I definitely do. I'm going on patrol with these ANSAF partners --

BURNETT: You go out with them, because you're training them and --

BERNDT: Exactly.

BURNETT: Yes.

BERNDT: And they do things on their own that years ago they were not doing on their own. The logistics part of it and all that stuff. They are sustainable by themselves.

BURNETT: We hear a lot, though, about Afghans who work with Americans and then they will blow themselves up and kill Americans.

Do you have a fear that that could happen?

BERNDT: It would be almost inhuman to think that in the back of your mind, you don't want to get what we call complacent, and always have to have in the (INAUDIBLE). But we've built such a trust with these guys that the in and out days of working with them, you know, that stuff just goes to the wayside, because you have to treat them as one of your brothers, you know, working with them, and one of your own soldiers, also.

BURNETT: And you're able to do that?

BERNDT: Totally fine, yes.

BURNETT: Sergeant, what makes you the most proud about what you've done here?

BERNDT: I think the most proud is just seeing the kids, and that generation that are going to have a bright future here in Afghanistan. The elders and stuff are still in that mindset, but the younger generations, what -- they have something to look forward to as the years progress in this country, in Afghanistan, is that the successes they can make, they can go out and be someone, rather than, you know, being secluded in a country like this, they can make lives for themselves, outside of here.

BURNETT: And would you go to another war, if there was another war? The war on terror continues. Goes somewhere else, would you still go?

BERNDT: Without a doubt, yes. This is what I signed up to do for my country. There are two reasons why I joined the military, for my country and for my family, to support my family, and those are two things I love the most. So I would definitely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: The two things that he loves the most. And when he talked about his family, he was emotional. They actually had prepared a special message for him that we were able to play for Sergeant Berndt. And we wanted to show you what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. BERNDT: Hi, honey. We love you and miss you. We can't wait to see you. We hope that you have a merry Christmas and that you come home soon.

H. BERNDT: Hi, daddy. I love and miss you and have a merry Christmas.

JOSHUA BERNDT, JR., SON: Merry Christmas! Love you. Bye!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

J. BERNDT: Good.

BURNETT: They miss you.

J. BERNDT: I miss them too.

BURNETT: And you know, your wife was really strong.

J. BERNDT: Yes.

BURNETT: She -- what's the hardest part about not being with her?

J. BERNDT: I mean, just being there every day, seeing, you know, their daily routine and what they do and, you know, just going through, kids coming home from school, doing homework, you know, my son playing sports and stuff like that. And things my daughter does, and she's just so, you know, outgoing and does things on her own now that I don't see -- you know, the birthdays, of course, and even the small things like Mother's Day and Father's Day, just things being away from the family.

But we try to do the best, you know. But while I'm deployed, you know, she keeps me so in the loop and we try to do everything together as a family, even though I'm so far away, you know, being there for the kids, singing happy birthday to them and all that stuff while they're opening their presents and stuff, even though I'm so far away in a different country, we deep that bond together until I come home. So --

BURNETT: Your son, I saw something he did at school, where he wrote about how proud he is of you, because you're deployed and you're saving people's lives.

J. BERNDT: Yes, he can become a stickler and hardheaded, but I think that deep down inside, he enjoys and feels so appreciative for what I do, and especially my daughter, Halle, too. They definitely know what I'm doing and they know that I'm safe. So, you know, that's all that matters.

BURNETT: And you said, the one thing she told you is that he was wearing his Packers shirt.

J. BERNDT: Yes, yes. I don't know if I embedded it in his head when he was such a young kid, about being a Packers fan.

BURNETT: Yes.

J. BERNDT: But as soon as he knew he was going to be on TV, he had to wear his Packers jersey.

BURNETT: You were telling me a story about the Packers were playing, but you weren't home.

J. BERNDT: No. Yes, actually, you know, every Sunday or so, I'll call and ask him, and I'll be like, Josh, do you know who the Packers are playing this week? And he knows to a T who they're playing. And I'll ask him if they're going to win or if they're going to lose.

And he always votes against the Packers for some reason. And I asked him, Josh, why do you always vote against the packers, and he said, because you're not here, Dad.

And I get that. A 5-year-old son, you know --

BURNETT: He misses you.

J. BERNDT: Yes, definitely.

BURNETT: He just wants you there.

J. BERNDT: Definitely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Next, my interview Fawzia Koofi. The Taliban had repeatedly threatened to kill her. They tried to kill her and her two little girls. But she's still going to run for president of Afghanistan in 2014. Her view of where the country is headed and an inspirational meeting with her two daughters is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Fawzia Koofi is the first woman elected to Afghanistan's parliament. Her story is an amazing one and an inspiring one. And she is now campaigning for the presidency of Afghanistan.

Now, she has long been a target of the Taliban. She was once attacked with her two daughters. They were shot at in a car as they drove through Afghanistan. In fact, so often she received threats that she actually now writes letters to her daughters every time before she goes away on a business trip, just in case she doesn't make it home.

I visited Koofi in her home and I started by asking her if she even felt safe there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FAWZIA KOOFI, MEMBER OF AFGHAN PARLIAMENT: Living in Afghanistan, you never know where you're safe, because you might be attacked in your home. This is something that happened to the politicians before. They were even attacked in their meeting rooms and they were killed.

BURNETT: In the room that we're sitting right now is where, is part of the way Afghanistan governs differently, maybe than the United States. People come from your province, they come and they ask you for things.

KOOFI: Yes.

BURNETT: And even last week, you said you had a scare, someone that was coming and asking you for help.

KOOFI: Yes.

BURNETT: But you thought they might be wearing a suicide vest.

KOOFI: Sometimes people come with very unusual and exceptional situation and they want to prove that they need really our help.

So like, for instance, last week, this man came who was a patient, who was a sick person. He needed to change his kidneys and the current kidney doesn't work, so he wanted me to help him to get to the minister of health. And as he entered, he looked so unusual that the room was full of people, and I had to go -- I had to run almost to the other side of the room, thinking that he's full of wire and all of those explosives. But then I realized that he is a sick person, asking for my help.

That's an indication of how people of Afghanistan have problems and how much, by doing small things for them, they become happy and that's our job to do small things.

BURNETT: As a woman, do you think a lot of the, some of the achievements that have happened, girls going to school and more women working, women like you, being able to be in parliament now, you've got more women in parliament, 27 percent or 22, 27 percent? It's only 18 percent in the U.S., so it's been real progress.

Do you think a lot of that is going to be rolled back or go away when the U.S. leaves, or do you think Afghanistan will keep that?

KOOFI: We are worried that perhaps in many places, Taliban closed schools for girls, especially in the south, and recently, you are aware of the schoolgirls, especially in north and northeast, being poisoned by Taliban.

So we know their intention. And we are worried that once the international community leaves, all of those things that have come after, as an achievement of the 2001, would be undermined by security and by the sympathy to bring Taliban back to powers.

BURNETT: And are you going to run for president? I know people say, look, it's a long shot. You don't have much of a chance, but are you going to do it anyway and go out with the public speeches? There's obviously risk to that, but is it something that you're determined to do?

KOOFI: I don't want buy this argument, when people say, there is no chance. It's just the mindset. If a woman has a chance in other neighboring Muslim countries of Afghanistan, why not in Afghanistan? Afghanistan has a long history of civilization.

BURNETT: As a member of parliament, you're part of a government that is ranked 179 in corruption in the world, out of 180. That's a pretty terrible rating. And I'm curious, because, you sit here as someone who's trying to help your people.

But does this mean that even you, who has been a hero for women and inspiration, a fighter, the world, the outside world, would they define you as corrupt, every member of parliament corrupt, given these overall numbers that we see? Are we missing something?

KOOFI: I think, yes. Well, 20 percent of the funds who are coming to the government of Afghanistan, 80 percent are being spent through the international organizations. So not only us in the broader picture as the government of Afghanistan, although I'm not in power, in a way that I am not in position, like we are the critics of the government, we are reformists, we would like to bring changes.

I agree in a way that there are corruption, not only money corruption, but also political corruption, administrative corruption, favoritism (ph). I mean, all of that is there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Fawzia has two young daughters. They were beautiful, smart, inspiring girls and I was curious about how she felt about them staying here in Afghanistan if the Taliban comes back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: So, Fawzia, you want your daughters to stay after the U.S. leaves to be able to stay in Afghanistan?

F. KOOFI: They both want to stay here. But if things go to the -- God forbid if things go really bad, I think then we will have no option.

BURNETT: So far, what do you think? What's going to happen when the U.S. leaves?

F. KOOFI: This is our country and we cannot let our country get down. Whatever happen, I need to stay in my country.

BURNETT: And what do you want to be when you grow up?

SHUHRA KOOFI, DAUGHTER: A president.

BURNETT: You want to be the president?

SHUHRA KOOFI: Yes.

BURNETT: The president of Afghanistan?

SHUHRA KOOFI: Yes.

BURNETT: And what about you, Shaharzad?

SHAHARZAD KOOFI, DAUGHTER: I want to be a space engineer.

BURNETT: A space engineer?

SHAHARZAD KOOFI: Yes.

BURNETT: So people who say girls in Afghanistan are going to have big problems, maybe they don't know about you?

SHAHARZAD KOOFI: Yes, maybe.

BURNETT: And what about -- what are your worries about school? Do you think that it's going to be the same next year when the U.S. leaves, that you will be able to stay in school, or are you worried there could be changes that happen fast?

SHAHARZAD KOOFI: I think there could be changes, maybe Taliban come again and maybe not. I don't know really. But I hope they don't come.

BURNETT: Shaharzad, I know you went today and heard your mom speak.

SHAHARZAD KOOFI: Yes.

BURNETT: What did you think? SHAHARZAD KOOFI: I think she really -- she was good and I'm proud of her. I'm proud of being her daughter. And the speech was really nice.

BURNETT: Thank you guys very much.

SHAHARZAD KOOFI: You're welcome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: A space engineer and president. That was an inspiring moment for me to see those girls. And as you obviously noticed, they are very dedicated to their education.

When we were there, we saw them up in their rooms working, they were studying. I think it's fair to make sure that everyone at home understands what that means. They were studying, they were dedicated. In 30-degree Fahrenheit weather with no heat, they were working and getting ready for school.

All right. We're going to take a break. And when we come back, you're going to hear our personal connection to Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: For most Americans, al Qaeda -- Afghanistan is a country that's synonymous with the word al Qaeda, the word war, the word terrorism, with Osama bin Laden.

But this is also a country with an incredible history, an incredible culture, and we at OUTFRONT have a special connection here. One of our colleagues, a publicist here at CNN, actually lived here in Kabul for the first eight years of her life in the 1970s, and I spent some time with her father talking about his life here when Afghanistan was a totally different place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): In the 1960s and '70s, Afghanistan was a cultural hotbed, attracting the likes of jazz greats Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck.

FAIZ KHAIRZADA, FORMER AFGHAN MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND INFORMATION: Dave Brubeck was in Kabul, and he has composed a beautiful piece called "Theravance (ph)".

BURNETT: As an official in the Ministry of Culture and Information, 77-year-old Faiz Khairzada experienced Kabul in its heyday with his wife and two children.

KHAIRZADA: Our house was a place where all the artists, intellectuals from all over the world, would be welcomed and Afghan counterparts would be invited to exchange ideas, to laugh.

BURNETT (on camera): You had the salon of Kabul.

KHAIRZADA: Absolutely.

BURNETT (voice-over): But in 1978, Faiz and his family fled the country after revolution and the Soviet invasion.

KHAIRZADA: It saddens me that on the spot that I had built a stage for Duke Ellington to perform is that awful footage played all over the world of a woman in that blue shroud (ph) being executed by Taliban.

BURNETT: Ghazi soccer stadium once hosted presidents and dignitaries but became an arena for public executions under the Taliban. More recently, soccer has returned, but after more than 30 years of war and oppression, Faiz says Kabul is no longer what it once was. Four years ago, he went back and found his once palatial home bombed out, bullet riddled, and stripped of anything valuable.

(on camera): When you first went back and saw what happened, what was that moment like?

KHAIRZADA: It was a very, very sad moment.

BURNETT (voice-over): His house has since been torn down and turned into a wedding hall. Throughout the city, countless homes and historical monuments have been destroyed. But there's one that has withstood it all, the Minar Elm Wa Jahl, or the minaret of Enlightenment. It still stands among the ruins of Kabul, a small sign of hope, Faiz says, for the future of Afghanistan.

KHAIRZADA: I'm hoping that some day maybe my children, their children would be like all the other minorities who have come to America, like Italians or Greeks or Irish or anybody, that they'll go to the old country just to see their roots. Some day I hope that will happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Tomorrow night on OUTFRONT: more of my exclusive interview with the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. We talked about Iran. He had some surprising comments there on Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon and he also talked about the General Petraeus affair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There's no question in my mind that the overwhelming majority of our men and women in uniform abide by the highest standards. But there are always those that, you know, that engage in the wrong kind of behavior, that do things that abuse the system. And we have to make sure that we do everything possible not only to prosecute and to punish those that do that, but to make sure that we're taking steps to ensure that we are abiding by the highest standards. And that's what I'm doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: You'll hear more from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tomorrow on that, on the impact of the budget cuts, on the Defense Department, and why he thinks it could hurt America so much. All of that coming up tomorrow.

Thanks so much, as always, for watching us, live here tonight from Kabul, Afghanistan.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts now.