Republicans Seeking Info on Bungled Afghanistan Withdrawal Hit Blinken With Subpoena

Rep. McCaul wants classified doc believed to show officials knew Afghanistan government would collapse

Secretary of State Antony Blinken / Getty Images
March 29, 2023

Republicans in Congress hit Secretary of State Antony Blinken with a subpoena on Tuesday that will force the State Department to disclose classified information believed to show that U.S. officials knew Afghanistan’s government would immediately collapse in 2021 when the administration decided to withdraw from the country.

The subpoena marks the first issued by Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas) as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It is expected the Biden administration will try to block the release of these internal communications.

The document in question is a classified July 2021 dissent cable issued by 23 State Department officials warning the administration that they were unprepared for a precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan and feared the Taliban would quickly retake control. The worst-case scenario played out just a month later, when President Joe Biden moved forward with a hasty withdrawal that left 13 Americans dead. Thousands of Americans were stranded in the country, with the State Department unable to rescue them for weeks.

McCaul said in a statement that he has "made multiple good faith attempts" to review the dissent cable while protecting U.S. national security interests. "Unfortunately, Secretary Blinken has refused to provide the Dissent Cable and his response to the cable." The document, McCaul added, would provide the American public with needed "answers as to how this tragedy unfolded."

McCaul threatened to subpoena Blinken last week after his State Department failed to meet a congressional deadline to produce these internal documents. In addition to the dissent cable, McCaul is seeking State Department communications regarding "all reports, intelligence assessments, and intelligence community products."

A State Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon it is trying to produce the requested information but that it is hamstrung by the large amount of classified information.

"We are working as expeditiously as possible to accommodate what was an extensive and detailed request, and our provision of information and documents to the committee will continue as we collect and process additional responsive records," the spokesman said.

The dissent cable is particularly problematic, according to the State Department.

"It is vital to me that we preserve the integrity of that process and of that channel, that we not take any steps that could have a chilling effect on the willingness of others to come forward in the future, to express dissenting views on the policies that are being pursued," Blinken told Congress last week.

The State Department has produced only a fraction of documents related to the Afghanistan withdrawal during the last year, and much is heavily redacted. A 218-page document cache provided to the Foreign Affairs Committee consisted of mostly publicly available information and censored talking points that were ultimately provided to reporters.

"Many of the redactions in this production appear to cover answers prepared for the question-and-answer portion of documents containing talking points for press engagements," McCaul said at the time.

The State Department maintains that it has "provided thousands of pages of documents responsive to [McCaul’s] request regarding Afghanistan." U.S. officials also have briefed members more than 200 times since the withdrawal, and the State Department "has responded to numerous requests for information from members and their staffs related to Afghanistan policy," according to the spokesman.

The 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal has emerged as a top investigative issue for House Republicans since retaking control of the body. Earlier this month, a U.S. veteran stationed in the country told Congress he and his team were forbidden from shooting the suspected terrorist who carried out the bombing that killed 13 Americans.

Government oversight reports also indicate that the Biden administration abandoned nearly $7.2 billion worth of military equipment in Afghanistan that is now in the Taliban’s hands.