The leak of a July State Department cable warning senior officials of Kabul’s potential for a swift collapse has increased lawmakers’ concerns about the Biden administration’s grasp of the situation in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that 23 staffers stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul sent a cable on July 13 via the State Department’s dissent channel warning of the Taliban’s rapid advance and potential collapse of the Afghan security forces and calling for evacuation efforts to be increased.
“What this cable does is describe their contingencies that were likely not planned for yet,” Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican, told The Washington Times. “The Cabinet seemed to have been focused more on the press release than on the plan. They were ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the fact that President Biden brought our troops home, that they did not put the planning in place to execute that in a reliable fashion.”
Mr. Hagerty, who served as U.S. ambassador to Japan, said every ambassador is responsible for having a Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) plan in place for evacuating U.S. citizens in the event of an emergency. He said it was clear that the plan for Afghanistan was not sufficient. Mr. Hagerty said he saw first-hand the importance of NEO planning and was hands-on in shaping his embassy’s planning as North Korea began conducting ballistic missile launches over Japan.
He said the plan for Afghanistan should have addressed the potential for a swift Taliban takeover of the country.
“It’s my view based on the failure of the execution of the NEO that they obviously didn’t have a good grasp on the situation on the ground,” he said. “To the extent people try to use the dissent channel to reflect their concerns, it was ignored. It was ignored at the highest levels of the State Department and went all the way up to the secretary.”
The confidential cable, which was made public this week, also directly refutes the administration‘s remarks that the swift Taliban overthrow of the Afghan government and the resulting chaos were unforeseeable.
Several members of the Cabinet this summer had echoed President Biden’s remarks that a speedy Taliban takeover was unlikely after U.S. troops departed.
“I don’t think it’s going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in June. “So I wouldn’t necessarily equate the departure of our forces in July and August or by early September with some kind of immediate deterioration in the situation.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told members of the press this week that there were no indications that Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban in a matter of days.
“There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,” he said at the Pentagon Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers have been critical of Mr. Biden’s decision to fully withdraw from Afghanistan, saying his administration set an arbitrary, unrealistic timeline for the withdrawal that they said would spell disaster for the democratically elected Afghan government. Lawmakers were also critical of the administration’s lack of a plan for ensuring stability in the country and evacuating Afghan allies who supported the U.S.-led war effort.
“For months, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been pleading with the Biden administration to evacuate as many of our Afghan partners as possible before the Taliban found them and killed them,” Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Thursday. “They ignored our calls. If these reports are true, it means this administration also willfully ignored the pleas of their own people on the ground in Kabul and their warnings of how dire the situation truly was.”
The cables became public amid growing calls for congressional investigations into the chaotic withdrawal, with several Democrats saying they will probe the Biden administration on the withdrawal.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat, has invited Mr. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to testify before his committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called for an unclassified telephone briefing for all House members Friday and an in-person classified briefing for a select group of lawmakers Tuesday.