Jake Tapper Talks About ‘The Outpost’ And What It Says About The Ongoing U.S. Mission In Afghanistan: Q&A
Next week, one of the first movies to debut as theaters reopen will be The Outpost, an adaptation of Jake Tapper’s book that tells the true story of the U.S. soldiers who battled a Taliban attack on their camp in a mountainous remote area of northeastern Afghanistan.
The project, directed by Rod Lurie, tells of the soldiers’ risky assignment at Combat Outpost Keating, made all the more dangerous by the placement of the camp in a valley surrounded by the steep terrain. But it was an element of a counter-insurgency strategy, as the outpost was close to the border with Pakistan. Eight Americans died in the attack, but by the end of the day, the soldiers regained control. Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha and Staff Sgt. Ty Carter were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle.
In a Q&A, Tapper tells Deadline about why he thinks it’s important that this story be told, even as the attention of the country is on the pandemic, racial justice and massive economic uncertainty.
DEADLINE: Given how much time you spent interviewing these veterans, did you have any hesitation of how this movie would be adapted?
JAKE TAPPER: I did a lot of due diligence in terms of who we got involved. Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasay, who wrote the screenplay, have a lot of experience bringing true life stories to the screen. And then [director] Rod Lurie, who attended West Point, had a real special feel for the project, not just in terms of how compelling a movie it could be, but how important a story it was. When he signed on, I said to him, ‘You’re going to meet all these incredible men and women, veterans and Gold Star families and others, and they’re going to become a part of your lives for the rest of your life, as they have with mine.’
Nothing was more important to me and more nerve wracking than last October, when we showed it to them. It was right around the time of the 10th anniversary of the battle, and Millennium Films flew in a number of the Gold Star families, anybody who had a loved one depicted in the film who had been killed in the battle. It was nerve wracking for both Rod and myself, and for other producers, because we wanted them to appreciate the film for what it was, but also it’s tough to imagine what they’re going through. A, Gold Star families, people who have lost their sons or their husbands in battle, and B, watching those last ones depicted on screen, and then C, and most importantly, and most devastatingly potentially, seeing their loved ones’ death depicted on screen.
Then after the film, I walked around to each one of the families in addition to the veterans, and was very heartened to hear that every one of them told me that they thought that the film honored their loved one. And so I think what Rod did is [he] really achieved a very difficult task, which is he made a very, very compelling film that really immerses you in Combat Outpost Keating, while also doing so in such a way that is truly reverent and respectful, so that even the toughest critics, potentially the family members, felt positive about their loved ones’ stories being told.
DEADLINE: Since your book was published, does it surprise you that that we’re still there?
TAPPER: It is astounding to me that we are still there. There’s a line in the book about how the United States had not fought a 10-year war. It had fought a one-year war, 10 times. And it’s the same thing going on. We haven’t fought a 19-year war, we fought a one-year war 19 times. One of the great things about the military is that whatever task our politicians send them to do, they address it with, ‘Okay, we can do that. We will do that and we will succeed.’ And it’s a great attitude. But then, that also doesn’t necessarily address the idea of whether the mission is the right one. And so, yeah, it’s, it’s stunning to me that we’re still there, and that many of the same mistakes are still being made, in terms of whether the mission is too broad for any foreign occupying force to achieve, whether at the end of the day, this is something that the Afghans need to do or not do on their own, [and] whether the Afghans even want to have a country where this province has to report to Kabul. I mean this these are just big questions, and they’ve been going on for centuries.
DEADLINE: What about the efforts at reaching a peace deal with the Taliban. What do you think that reaction would be of these veterans, if the Trump administration entered into something like that?
TAPPER: I don’t know. … On the one level you know you don’t make peace with your friends You make peace with your enemies, and so any sort of sustained peace that would have negotiated with the Taliban. But by the same token, I think there are serious questions as to whether or not the Taliban has truly renounced terrorism or relationships with al Qaeda, or ISIS. I don’t know. I know that these men and women have sacrificed so much for this mission. And I do feel like sometimes our leaders, Democrats and Republicans, have not been worthy of the troops serving under them.
DEADLINE: You wrote about this kind of deep-rooted inertia that was to blame for not closing or better fortifying Outpost Keating. Do you have any sense, talking to these veterans, that the U.S. is any better at counterinsurgency?
TAPPER: The U.S. has learned the lesson about putting these small difficult, if not impossible to defend outposts scattered throughout Afghanistan. That seems to have been rectified, that they are more fortified and safer locations than they used to be.
One of the reasons I set about writing the book was, when I heard the story, and everybody was talking about the fact that it didn’t make any sense to put this outpost at the bottom of [the] mountains, I wanted to know why it was put there. … And then the Army did its study, its after-action report after the battle, and it just concluded that it shouldn’t have been there, but again they never answered the question. I found the guy that put the outpost there, and the reason it was put there was because most of the helicopters were in Iraq, and they didn’t have many helicopters in Afghanistan. So in order to set up a base it needed to be by the road, and the roads are in the valley, not on the top of the mountain. So it was that simple really.
DEADLINE: What surprised you the most about the movie when you first saw the completed project?
TAPPER: Rod did such a fantastic job of just immersing the viewer in the camp, so you feel like you’re there. And it has that quality of, almost like the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, where you just really feel like you’re on one of those ships. one of those boats coming to the to the beach.
There is some conflation of characters, but I guess what surprises me the most is how much is just true, how much just happened, how much is accurate. I was watching the trailer last night, with some friends, and at the very end of the trailer, where Clinton Romesha’s character, played by Scott Eastwood, says in the throes of battle after losing the camp, ‘We’re taking this bitch back.’ That sounds like a movie line, but Clint Romesha really said that.
DEADLINE: This movie is also going be released in theaters — one of the first after reopenings. What is your take on that?
TAPPER: I don’t know, I mean it really depends on the theater. … We’re in the middle of a health crisis, so it’s tough to complain about a film not getting the wide release that you want it to because 120,000 Americans are dead. That’s seems like a minor complaint given the overall issue. I just hope people follow health officials’ advice, wherever they are, and then see the film.
DEADLINE: What do you think it’s important to tell the story now? The reason I ask is you can make the case that there is even less attention to the fact that the U.S. is still over there than there was in 2012 or in 2009.
TAPPER: Amazingly, I think you’re right. One of the reasons I wrote the book was, even though I was a White House correspondent and covering the Afghanistan war, it wasn’t getting a lot of coverage. And now [we are] in the midst of everything going on in this country, with the pandemic, and policing reform, and unrest and of course the 2020 election. And to be honest, a lot of politicians are not talking about Afghanistan. I don’t think it’s getting as much attention as it should. My impression is President Trump and Vice President Biden, probably given their druthers, would land basically in the same place on the war, which is to say they would they would basically like to have some sort of peace process completed and leave behind some sort of counterterrorism force, but a very small footprint in Bagram [Air Base], and then withdraw most of the other troops.
I’m not saying that that’s hundred percent what’s going to happen, but honestly a few months ago, when I had Vice President Biden on my show, I asked him about the latest developments on the peace process, and he wasn’t up to speed on it. And he used to be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, and obviously has a lot of foreign policy chops, so I do think that it’s something to note. And not to pick on Biden. I don’t hear President Trump talking about Afghanistan very much and he is commander in chief. So I do think that it’s something that has fallen by the wayside, which is a shame because we still have thousands of Americans over there.
DEADLINE: How difficult is it getting the network to do segments on Afghanistan.
TAPPER: It is not difficult. I can do it any time I want. The truth is, I do spend a lot of time focused on the war when it comes to social media. But there haven’t been major developments out of that country, and the peace process has still been ebbing and flowing with no major achievements. There haven’t been any major battles in recent weeks. So I do cover it when I can, but there haven’t been any major developments, partly I think because the footprint has been reduced as much as it has. But it shouldn’t be blamed on [CNN chief Jeff] Zucker. I mean, I have two shows and I can cover it anytime I want. So that’s on me. That’s not on that’s not on anyone else.
DEADLINE: In writing your book, what did you learn about what questions to ask these veterans and how to ask them?
TAPPER: The book remains the single piece of journalism I am proudest of in my life, period. Not even close. Nothing else comes close. And it was about educating my readers but also educating myself, and getting to know a culture that I have not really been in any way a part of. It’s tough talking to a stranger, me, about the worst day of your life. Part of journalism to a degree is finding people, and talking to them about the worst things that have ever happened to them. So that wasn’t new. But then just also trying to respect the boundaries that they had and moments that they had where they were vulnerable. I mean it’s humbling for somebody, like myself, who has not served, to be talking on the phone with somebody who has, and having them weep on the phone, telling me their story. And that happened a number of times.
Let me put it this way. One day I came back from a lunch. I went to lunch with two guys who served with the 101st Airborne, David Roller and Alex Newsom, who are in the book, and they were telling me about their friends they have lost and in being there from 2007 to 2008. And I came back and I told my wife, ‘These guys, I’m just garbage.’ The thing about Dave and Alex is, they came from relatively privileged backgrounds. Coral Gables Florida and Beverly Hills, California. And so these guys have sacrificed everything, and I’ve done nothing. I’ve done nothing. Everything I’ve done has just been for my own career. And these guys were doing this for their country, not even knowing if their country knew what they were doing. My wife said that you can tell their stories. You can make sure that people know about them. And so there is some solace in feeling like, ‘OK, well that is my role.’ Here are these brave people doing these wonderful things and courageous things. And yeah, I’m not them. But I can make sure my platform that that people know the names of Ben Keating and Clint Romesha and the others.
DEADLINE: You have not been to see the actual location of Outpost Keating. Do you think there will be a time when you will get to that area?
TAPPER: I’ve been [to Afghanistan] twice now while researching the book. Once with President Obama on Air Force One, and then another time, I was embedded, and I got as close as I could. I got to Forward Operating Base Bostick, which has since been turned over to the Afghans. … I asked one of the guys, Captain Matthew Schachman, if we could go there. He said, ‘Well, in Afghanistan, you can go anywhere. You just can’t get back.’ So I don’t know is the short answer. I mean that part of the country, that part of Afghanistan, is so beautiful. And if there ever were peace and prosperity in that region, it would be an amazing place for people to go on vacations. But I don’t know that that’s gonna happen in my lifetime.
DEADLINE: Did you get to the set?
TAPPER: They were filming in Bulgaria [in 2018]. They found this place outside of the city of Sofia. And they recreated the entire base at the base of one mountain. The other two mountains are CGI. It was incredible, because I never got to see the outpost. I never got to see it. It was gone by the time I really even heard of that story. But there were three soldiers who served as actors and consultants on the film — Ty Carter, Hank Hughes and Dan Rodriguez — and all three of them said it was so similar that it was eerie, but also cathartic to be there.
But yeah, it was weird because the whole origin of my interest in the story was, my son was born October 2, 2009, and the outpost was attacked October 3, 2009. So sometime in that week, I was sitting in the hospital with my wife in her room holding my son, and watching the news and hearing about eight other sons taken from this planet. There was something very poignant in the moment, that set me on this path to tell the story. And so flash forward to 2018, nine years later, and Dan Rodriguez, who was the first one fired upon that morning, at 6 AM he’s walking across the [camp] and the Taliban start firing, and he runs. And I’m watching Dan Rodriguez recreate that run with my son. I was just, ‘Wow, I couldn’t even believe I was watching this.’ The whole experience had come full circle, where that son that I was holding was now learning this story first hand, in the recreation of the combat outposts. It was just so meaningful because I want my family, I want my children to understand, in a way that I not did not understand when I was their age, what the sacrifice of these people, who served for us, what they go through.
DEADLINE: What do you hope people take away from this?
TAPPER: I hope that people just learn their names. Ben Keating and Rob Yllescas and Stephan Mace and Josh Kirk and Josh Hardt and all the others out there. Learn more about their stories. And at the very least I hope that they just think about the fact that we send these men and women to these places for our security, and that we should be paying more attention to what we’re asking them to do.
This article was printed from https://deadline.com/2020/06/jake-tapper-the-outpost-movie-rod-lurie-1202970746/