WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today reintroduced a bill to require the U.S. State Department to release a public, unclassified version of the July 13, 2021, internal dissent channel cable that reportedly warned of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s ability to capture Kabul. The bill would also require the State Department to provide Congress with a classified version of the dissent cable, removing any personally identifiable information of the senders.
“As the Biden administration continues to pass the buck and stonewall accountability measures for its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, this legislation would finally provide the American people and Congress with answers about the dire warnings that the administration ignored,” said Thune. “The administration’s after-action reports confirmed the tragic error of withdrawing troops based on a date advertised to the Taliban instead of the security conditions on the ground. They also lacked any assessment of the failed decision-making that led to the chaos in Kabul, eroded the security situation in Afghanistan, and undercut U.S. credibility globally.”
“More than a year and a half after the Biden Administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the State Department continues to refuse to provide Congress with a copy of the July 13, 2021, dissent cable warning of the rapidly deteriorating situation. Not only have repeated requests for this document been ignored, but the administration has buried lessons learned in a classified after-action report that may prevent a similar catastrophe from happening again,” said Risch. “The American people deserve transparency. I will continue working with Senator Thune and our colleagues to obtain a copy of the dissent cable and to hold this administration accountable.”
The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Ted Budd (R-N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla).
The July 13 dissent cable reportedly warned the Biden administration of the mounting deterioration of Afghanistan’s security and the need to immediately begin evacuations. Regrettably, it was apparently met with inaction, evidenced by the National Security Council Deputies Committee’s decision to delay its first meeting to discuss evacuating Afghanistan until a full month after the dissent cable was sent. The flagrant shortcomings of the Biden administration’s management of the United States’ exit from Afghanistan are further detailed in Ranking Member Risch’s report entitled “Left Behind: A Brief Assessment of the Biden Administration’s Strategic Failures during the Afghanistan Evacuation” and investigations conducted by U.S. Central Command.
According to the State Department, the dissent channel “is a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels or procedures,” which underscores the urgent nature of the warnings sent by U.S. diplomats. Dissent cables are distributed among senior State Department officials, and the State Department Policy Planning Staff are responsible for “acknowledging receipt of a Dissent message within 2 working days and for providing a substantive reply, normally within 30-60 working days.” The State Department cable addressed by this legislation was first reported on August 19, 2021.
On March 27, 2023, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) signed a subpoena addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the dissent cable. As of today, Secretary Blinken had not complied with the subpoena.
On April 6, 2023, the Biden administration released an after-action report, including an unclassified summary, detailing its own assessment of the administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.