US diplomats sent cable warning of potential catastrophe in Afghanistan last month

US diplomats sent cable warning of potential catastrophe in Afghanistan last month
Rahmat Gul/AP

A group of US diplomats wrote a classified cable to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in mid-July warning that swift action needed to be taken because they believed the situation in Afghanistan could rapidly deteriorate and they feared a catastrophe.

They laid out how the department could take swift action to process and evacuate Afghans who had assisted the United States and get them out of the country quickly.

The diplomats decided to send the dissent memo because they felt previous warnings and recommendations they had made were being ignored and labeled alarmist, two State Department officials told CNN.

The classified cable, signed by more than a dozen US diplomats, urged specific steps to be taken, including starting a biometric enrollment program for the Afghans applying for Special Immigrant Visas or refugee status ahead of the evacuation, so they wouldn’t waste time before what they believed would be the imminent collapse of the Afghan government as the US withdrew.

“The secretary reads every dissent and reviews and clears on every reply. He’s made clear that he welcomes and encourages use of the dissent channel, and is committed to its revitalization,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “Just as importantly, we incorporate the channel’s constructive and thoughtful ideas into our policy and planning.

“Maintaining the channel’s integrity and the notion of disciplined dissent is key to that revitalization. It’s why we keep communication strictly between the department’s leadership and the authors of the dissent messages and why we don’t comment publicly on the substance of messages or the replies, regardless of the classification,” he added.

Price also said that the Biden administration values the dissent memo mechanism: “We value constructive internal dissent. It’s patriotic. It’s protected. And it makes us more effective.”

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

Dissent memos are designed as a way for diplomats to express concern over a policy when they feel they have not been heard through other means.

A source familiar with the matter said that the department had responded to the cable within days of receiving it and noted that the department had stood up a task force focused on the Special Immigrant Visa processing in an effort to do everything possible to speed it up.

The memo also called for an airlift operation for Afghans, which was announced the day after the cable was received, the source said. But not all of the recommendations in the memo were implemented, the diplomats told CNN.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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