GOP Pushes for Public Release of Classified Info Related to Afghan Withdrawal

Dissent cable believed to show Biden knew Afghan withdrawal would end in disaster

(Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)
July 31, 2023

Congressional Republicans are spearheading legislation that would force the State Department to publicly disclose classified intelligence that is believed to show the Biden administration knew in advance that its withdrawal from Afghanistan would end in disaster.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, filed legislation late last week that would require the State Department to declassify a dissent cable believed to show Biden administration officials were aware the Taliban would quickly reassume control of the country once American forces departed. The document is seen as pivotal to Congress’s investigation into the Afghanistan debacle, and Issa’s legislation marks an unprecedented effort to move it into the public domain.

The dissent cable—authored by a group of State Department diplomats prior to the September 2021 departure of American forces—became an albatross for the Biden administration earlier this year when House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt if he did not provide lawmakers with access to the highly classified document. The State Department caved to McCaul’s request in May, but the document has been kept from public view, even as Republican lawmakers say it is the smoking gun that proves the Biden administration knew its withdrawal would not be successful.

Issa’s legislation is a rare attempt by Congress to force the declassification of sensitive intelligence related to a national security disaster. It is also certain to renew debate over the administration’s claims that it was prepared for the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan. Senior congressional sources working on the matter told the Washington Free Beacon that the measure is tailored to ratchet up pressure on the Biden administration to come clean about internal warnings leading up to the 2021 withdrawal.

"The Afghanistan dissent cable obliterates the administration's big lie on Afghanistan: what happened could not have been foretold, nobody could have seen this coming, nothing could have been done to prevent it. And yet we know the dissent cable was received and we know it wasn't followed," Issa told the Free Beacon. "That’s why the Biden administration has kept it hidden from public view. That’s why we won’t stop until it is shown to the American people."

The legislation, a copy of which was obtained by the Free Beacon, is co-sponsored by Reps. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.), Brian Mast (R., Fla.), and Cory Mills (R., Fla.). McCaul is also said to be supportive, sources said, indicating the bill will quickly move through the committee and to a full vote in the Republican-controlled House.

Passage in the Democrat-controlled Senate could prove difficult, but sources working on the bill said the debate will increase pressure on the Biden administration to either release the dissent cable or provide a public accounting of its contents.

If passed, the bill gives the State Department 60 days to release a "complete" and "unredacted" copy of the dissent cable, which was authored around July 2021, when the Biden administration was preparing for its September withdrawal deadline. The names of those who authored the cable may be redacted under the legislation in order to protect those who may have objected to the State Department’s plan.

"The American people deserve to understand the events and decision-making which resulted in the chaotic withdrawal of United States personnel from Afghanistan," the bill states.

Current and former U.S. military officials disclosed last week that in early July 2021—around the time the cable was authored—the Biden administration decided to abandon Bagram Air Base and use the smaller, less secure Kabul airport as the base of its evacuation effort.

This decision was made against the advice of Command Sergeant Major Jacob Smith, who oversaw operations at Bagram during that time and told the administration the Kabul airport was not equipped to handle a mass exodus of Americans. Bagram, on the other hand, Smith said, "had a completely secured airfield that would require a massive military offensive to overrun or breach."

This information, Issa said in his comments to the Free Beacon, is fueling efforts to make the dissent cable public.

"Our American personnel on the ground in Afghanistan," he said, "saw what was happening, reported it, warned the Biden administration, and were ignored."

McCaul also claimed during a hearing last week that the dissent cable shows the White House "didn’t have a plan of action." The cable "predicted exactly what was going to happen if we didn’t act fast," McCaul said.

The State Department said it would not comment on pending legislation. A spokesperson also said that the classified briefing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and providing members with the ability to view the classified dissent cable sufficiently addressed the committee's needs.