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State Dept. internal memo warned of Afghan collapse in July: Report

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
August 20, 2021

An internal memo at the State Department in July warned that Kabul could collapse after the United States troop withdrawal deadline on August 31, an official and person familiar with the cable stated, according to Thursday reporting by The Wall Street Journal.  

The cable was sent through the State Department’s confidential dissent channel on July 13, and warned the Afghanistan military would be unable to stop a Taliban advance. The memo alerted officials of imminent movement by the terrorist organization, and recommended several ways to alleviate the impending crisis, in addition to expediting evacuation.  

One of the sources familiar with the cable also noted that it included a call for the State Department to use harsher language when describing the Taliban’s brutality. Twenty-three U.S. Embassy employees signed the cable.

According to WSJ, the cable was sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Director of Policy Planning Salman Ahmed. Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on the memo, but told the outlet that Blinken reviews every dissent and reply.

“He’s made clear that he welcomes and encourages use of the dissent channel, and is committed to its revitalization,” Price said. “We value constructive internal dissent.”

The cable contradicts White House claims that the intelligence community could not predict the rapid fall of Afghanistan over the last week. On Thursday, President Joe Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he rejected reports that military leaders warned of an impending collapse.

“The intelligence community did not say, back in June or July, that in fact this was going to collapse like it did,” Biden said, noting that he was warned the Taliban would regain control, but not as quickly as it did.

“Not even close,” Biden added.

Thousands of Americans have been left behind in Afghanistan amid the chaotic withdrawal, including at least 11,000 who have identified themselves to the State Department. Thousands more – an estimated 15,000 – could still be in the country.

In a Wednesday advisory, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said, “The United States government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.”

When asked if U.S. forces would “extract” Americans not able to reach the Kabul airport for fear of being stopped or taken by the Taliban, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin responded, “I would draw a distinction between extracting someone in an extreme condition or circumstance versus going out and collecting large numbers of American citizens.”

“We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” Austin added.