Biden State Dept Moved to Abolish Crisis Response Bureau Months Before Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan

Internal memo says Biden officials canceled Trump-era emergency operations bureau

A Taliban fighter mans a machine gun (Getty Images)
August 18, 2021

The Biden State Department moved in June to cancel a program overseeing the protection and evacuation of American citizens stationed overseas in the case of an emergency, just as the Taliban was taking over Afghanistan, according to an internal State Department memo obtained by the Washington Free Beacon and multiple sources familiar with the matter.

The Biden State Department moved to dissolve the Trump-era crisis response program, according to an internal State Department memo and sources familiar with the matter. That memo, which was marked sensitive but unclassified and was signed by Deputy Secretary Brian McKeon, approved the "discontinuation of the establishment, and termination of, the Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau (CCR)," a new State Department entity created during the Trump administration to coordinate emergency response services overseas.

The CCR bureau was established late last year by then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo. In a notification sent to Congress in October and also obtained by the Free Beacon, the Trump administration said the new bureau would provide "aviation, logistics, and medical support capabilities for the Department's operational bureaus, thereby enhancing the secretary's ability to protect American citizens overseas in connection with overseas evacuations in the aftermath of a natural or man-made disaster."

The decision to dissolve the CCR was handed down just months before the Taliban overtook the Afghan capital of Kabul, leaving the Biden administration scrambling to evacuate more than 15,000 Americans still trapped in the country. It is unclear if the Biden State Department has an alternative plan or a similar bureau that could coordinate emergency services alongside other government agencies, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The State Department on Wednesday informed Americans trapped in Kabul that it "cannot ensure safe passage" to the airport, which is currently surrounded by Taliban militants. Americans had been ordered to shelter in place, but that guidance shifted by Wednesday afternoon. "The United States Government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International Airport," the State Department said in a security alert, according to Defense One.

The Biden administration has been broadly criticized for failing to plan for contingencies related to its long-announced drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. On Monday, President Joe Biden said, "We had put in place to respond to every … contingency—including the rapid collapse we're seeing now."

The Trump-era CCR would have acted as a clearinghouse to coordinate the State Department's response to an overseas emergency situation, such as the one unfolding currently in Afghanistan, according to information about the bureau contained in the October congressional notification.

The current iteration of the Foreign Affairs Manual, the authoritative State Department guide, lists the CCR as a functioning bureau as recently as January of this year. The State Department indicated in January that it paused the CCR's resources pending a review, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

A State Department spokesman, speaking only on background, said the Biden administration did "not abolish any Bureau." The official maintained the CCR Bureau created by the Trump administration "was never established in the first place," a claim that multiple sources who spoke to the Free Beacon disputed.

"On top of that, the proposed Bureau would not have introduced any new capabilities to the Department," the official said. "Every requirement the department delivered on last year, and since the proposed establishment of the bureau, can be delivered today in the same manner."

Update 4:58 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from the State Department.