Tuesday, December 7

US diplomats warned in July of possible catastrophe in Afghanistan


Washington (CNN) — A group of American diplomats wrote a classified cable to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in mid-July warning that swift action was necessary because they believed the situation in Afghanistan could deteriorate rapidly and feared catastrophe.

They explained how the department should act quickly to process and evacuate Afghans who had assisted the United States and get them out of the country quickly.

The diplomats decided to submit the memorandum of dissent because they felt the warnings and recommendations they had previously made were being ignored and labeled as alarmist, two State Department officials told CNN.

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The classified cable, signed by more than a dozen American diplomats, called for specific steps to be taken, including starting a biometric enrollment program for Afghans applying for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) or refugee status before the evacuation, to avoid wasting time before what they believed would be the imminent collapse of the Afghan government with the withdrawal of the United States.

The State Department responded to the cable within days of receiving it and followed up on some of the issues it raised, a source familiar with the matter said. But not all of the recommendations in the memo were quickly implemented, diplomats said.

The question of which councils were not heeded is likely to attract further scrutiny from lawmakers as they examine whether the administration could have done more to stop the chaos unfolding on the ground in Kabul after the fall of the Afghan government. The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Commission, Michael McCaul, has already requested a briefing on the cable.

On Thursday, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer did not deny that diplomats in Kabul warned the administration of a possible catastrophe in Afghanistan, but said the cable “predicted the possible fall of the Afghan government as a result of the withdrawal of forces. Americans on August 31 “.

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“Obviously, everything happened even faster than the cable projected, which was quite concerned about this possibility,” Finer told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” on Thursday.

“I think the cable reflects what we said all along, which is that no one was exactly clear on this when predicting that the Afghan government and military were going to collapse in a matter of days,” he said.

In a statement to CNN, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on the content of the cable, but said that “the secretary reads all dissent cables, reviews and clarifies each answer.”

“He has made it clear that he welcomes and encourages the use of the channel of dissent, and is committed to its revitalization,” Price said Thursday. “Just as important, we incorporate the channel’s constructive and thoughtful ideas into our policy and planning.”

“Maintaining the integrity of the channel and the notion of disciplined dissent is key to that revitalization. That is why we strictly maintain communication between the leadership of the Department and the authors of dissenting messages and why we do not comment publicly on the content of the messages. or the answer, regardless of the classification, “he said.

Price also said the Biden administration values ​​the memorandum of dissent mechanism. “We value constructive internal dissent. It is patriotic. It is protected. And it makes us more effective.”

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the cable.

Memoranda of dissent are designed as a way for diplomats to express concern about a policy when they feel they have not been heard by other means.

A source familiar with the matter noted that the department had organized a task force focused on processing special immigrant visas in an effort to do everything possible to expedite it.

The memo also called for an airlift operation for the Afghans, which was announced the day after the cable was received, the sources said.

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In his interview on CNN, Finer also underscored that the administration had responded to at least some of the concerns outlined in the memo.

“The second thing the cable asked for was evacuation flights by the United States government of applicants for special immigrant visas … they asked to begin on August 1. We started those flights in July,” he said.

The first evacuation flight arrived in the United States on July 30, after pressure not only from diplomats, but also from lawmakers and bipartisan advocates.

Following the rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, many diplomats in Kabul were transferred out of the country and the embassy compound was closed. The remaining main personnel have been transferred to Hamid Karzai International Airport, where they are working urgently to evacuate US citizens, SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.


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