Washington Received Embassy Cables in July Warning That Kabul Could Fall Rapidly: Wall Street Journal

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A U.S. Chinook military helicopter flies above the US embassy in Kabul on August 15, 2021. Several hundred employees of the US embassy in Kabul have been evacuated from Afghanistan, a US defense official said on August 15, 2021, as the Taliban entered the capital. (Image: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Washington was aware of the possibility that Kabul would collapse within days once the U.S. troops fully withdrew, the Wall Street Journal learned recently from an anonymous source. 

According to the source, two dozen State Department officials from the Kabul embassy had sent an internal memo to Secretary Antony Blinken and Director of Policy Planning Salman Ahmad in July warning of this eventuality.

At the time, the U.S. had just ended operations at Bagram Airbase, the last major American military installation in Afghanistan. 

The cable, dated July 13, was sent via the confidential dissent channel of the State Department. Dissent memos allow diplomats to express concern regarding a policy if they feel that their suggestions are not being heard via other means. The officials had decided to send the dissent memo as they felt that previous recommendations and warnings issued were being labeled “alarmist” and ignored.

US Embassy called to speed up evacuations in July 

The memo, signed by all 23 staff members of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, provided recommendations to mitigate the crisis as well as to speed up evacuations. The cable also asked the State Department to condemn the Taliban’s atrocities in the harshest language. 

“Mr. Blinken received the cable and reviewed it shortly after receipt, according to the person familiar with the exchange, who added that contingency planning was already under way when it was received, and that Mr. Blinken welcomed their feedback,” the WSJ report states.

The State Department reportedly followed through on some of the issues. However, some recommendations were not implemented quickly, diplomats told CNN

State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on the cable’s content when approached by the media outlet, saying instead that the Secretary of State reads every dissent and has made it clear that he “welcomes and encourages use of the Dissent channel.” 

The closed entrance gate of the US embassy is pictured after the US evacuated its personnel in Kabul on August 15, 2021. (Image: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)

The issue of which recommendations were ignored will possibly be scrutinized by lawmakers in the coming weeks as they investigate what the Biden administration could have done to prevent the unfolding crisis in Kabul. Thousands of Americans are still trapped in the country, many of them unable to get past Taliban checkpoints. Republican Representative Michael McCaul from the House Foreign Affairs Committee has called for a briefing on the cable.

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US Troops Unable to Secure Americans Trapped in Kabul: Pentagon Chief

During a recent Pentagon press briefing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley had claimed that no one expected the Afghan army to collapse so fast. However, he did admit that the possibility of Taliban takeover was being discussed.

“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… Another was a civil war, and a third was a negotiated settlement… Timeframe of a rapid collapse… that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks, months, and even years following our departure,” Milley said to reporters.

Afghan military failure

Failure of the Afghan military in stopping the Taliban has been a critical factor for the derailment in American evacuation plans. Last month, Biden had called the possibility of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan “highly unlikely,” pointing to the U.S. trained Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), its modern equipment, and air force.

And yet, in 11 days, between Aug. 6 and Aug. 16, the 300,000-strong Afghan force fell under gunfire and pressure, allowing the Taliban to capture 34 provinces and declare itself as the ruling regime of the country.

According to a report by The New York Times, intelligence officials have long observed that Afghans tend to make pragmatic calculations as to who would win a conflict and back the winning side. This would explain why Afghan forces surrendered to the Taliban. The same mentality was visible two decades back when the Taliban quickly submitted to U.S.-backed Afghan forces.

Intelligence officials have also made comparisons between ANSF and the South Vietnamese army, known by the acronym ARVN, at the end of the Vietnam War. After U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam, ARVN remained in control for two years before collapsing. Some believed that the Afghan military, funded by Washington, could exist longer.

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