An internal State Department memo in July warned of the possible collapse of Kabul shortly after America’s Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official and an individual familiar with the document, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
The July 13 cable signed by nearly two dozen Embassy staffers went through the Department of State’s confidential dissent channel and warned of swift ground gains by the Taliban and the subsequent collapse of Afghan security forces, and it also supplied suggestions on how to mitigate the crisis and expedite an evacuation, the two individuals said, according to the outlet.
“The cable, sent via the State Department’s confidential dissent channel, warned of rapid territorial gains by the Taliban and the subsequent collapse of Afghan security forces, and offered recommendations on ways to mitigate the crisis and speed up an evacuation, the two people said,” the Journal reported. “The cable, dated July 13, also called for the State Department to use tougher language in describing the atrocities being committed by the Taliban, one of the people said.”
The outlet reported that the cable had been dispatched to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Director of Policy Planning Salman Ahmed. Blinken examined it not long after it was received, according to a person familiar with the exchange.
“The signatories of the dissent channel cable urged the State Department to begin registering and collecting personal data in advance for all Afghans who qualify for Special Immigrant Visas, aimed at those who worked as translators or interpreters; locally employed embassy staff; and for those eligible for other U.S. refugee programs while there was still six weeks left before the withdrawal deadline,” the outlet reported.
The message also pushed for the administration to start evacuation flights no later than Aug. 1, according to the people, the Journal noted.
The White House announced Operation Allies Refuge on July 14, according to the Journal, which reported that evacuations only shifted into high gear last week and that they have been complicated due to the Taliban’s Sunday takeover of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul.
Here’s more from the Journal:
Several other actions that have since been taken by the administration were consistent with some of the requests and recommendations in the cable, the person familiar with the cable exchange said.
Last week, the administration cited unexpectedly rapid military gains by the Taliban in downsizing its embassy in Kabul and sending about 3,000 troops to aid in the evacuation of U.S. staff. At the time, Mr. Price said the embassy was still open at its regular location, but that soon proved too precarious. Embassy staffers who weren’t being evacuated from country were transferred to a makeshift office at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, with increasing U.S. troop presence.
The person familiar with the contents of the cable said that the actions ultimately taken by the administration were even more drastic than what embassy staffers recommended in the internal memo a month earlier.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said during a press briefing Wednesday that the rapid collapse of the Afghan army and government had not been anticipated.
“I have previously said from this podium and in sworn testimony before Congress that the intelligence clearly indicated multiple scenarios were possible. One of those was an outright Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of the Afghan Security Forces and the government,” Milley said.
But he noted that the estimated time period for a swift collapse “ranged from weeks, to months, and even years, following our departure. There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,” Milley said.
During an interview with ABC News President Biden indicated that there was no way to withdraw from Afghanistan “without chaos ensuing.” The president stated that “the idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.”