The State Department and Ambassador Ross Wilson have taken much of the blame for delaying the evacuation. The ‘dissent channel’ cable warning that a collapse was coming has been the focus of House Oversight Committee investigations.
The cable, sent via the State Department’s confidential dissent channel, warned of rapid territorial gains by the Taliban and the subsequent collapse of Afghan security forces, and offered recommendations on ways to mitigate the crisis and speed up an evacuation, the two people said.
The cable, dated July 13, also called for the State Department to use tougher language in describing the atrocities being committed by the Taliban, one of the people said.
In all, 23 U.S. Embassy staffers, all Americans, signed the July 13 cable, the two people said. The U.S. official said there was a rush to deliver it, given circumstances on the ground in Kabul.
Previous accounts had Wilson delaying any kind of steps. That’s the story that also shows up in Foer’s Atlantic insider article which I had previously discussed.
Sherwood-Randall’s group unanimously agreed that it was too soon to declare a NEO (noncombatant-evacuation operation). The embassy in Kabul was particularly forceful on this point. The acting ambassador, Ross Wilson, wanted to avoid cultivating a sense of panic in Kabul, which would further collapse the army and the state…
Secretary of Defense Austin convened a videoconference with the top civilian and military officials in Kabul. He wanted updates from them before he headed to the White House to brief the president.
Ross Wilson, the acting ambassador, told him, “I need 72 hours before I can begin destroying sensitive documents.”
“You have to be done in 72 hours,” Austin replied.
Ambassador Wilson went to the embassy lobby for the ceremonial lowering of the flag. Emotionally drained and worried about his own safety, he prepared to leave the embassy behind, a monument to his nation’s defeat.
But toward the end a hell of a kicker emerges.
John Bass was having a hard time keeping his mind on the task at hand. From 2017 to 2020, he had served as Washington’s ambassador to Afghanistan….
As class was beginning, his phone lit up. Bass saw the number of the State Department Operations Center. He apologized and stepped out to take the call.
“Are you available to talk to Deputy Secretary Sherman?”
The familiar voice of Wendy Sherman, the No. 2 at the department, came on the line. “I have a mission for you. You must take it, and you need to leave today.” Sherman then told him: “I’m calling to ask you to go back to Kabul to lead the evacuation effort.”
Ambassador Wilson was shattered by the experience of the past week and wasn’t “able to function at the level that was necessary” to complete the job on his own. Sherman needed Bass to help manage the exodus.
What happened to Wilson? It’s not hard to fill in some of the potential dots here. But whatever happened, the State Department felt it had to relieve and replace Wilson. And yet this is the first time we’re hearing of this.
Did Wilson suffer an emotional or mental breakdown? And did that end up tangling the evac further?
Wilson had resisted the evacuation. Once the disaster was upon him, this implies that he did the usual thing that failed commanders who refuse to see what’s right in front of their eyes in old movies do, and became incapable of functioning. That’s the kind of thing that deserves to be explored further rather than brushed past.
Then again, based on this, the rest of the State Department was an equally pathetic mess.
Fielding an overwhelming volume of emails describing hardship cases, they easily imagined the faces of refugees. They felt the shame and anger that come with the inability to help. To deal with the trauma, the State Department procured therapy dogs that might ease the staff’s pain.
We’ve gone from a world power to a pathetic wreck where we bring in therapy dogs to help the diplomatic service cope with the fallout from the collapse that they engineered.
Wendy Sherman, the Deputy Secretary of State, also needed her therapy dogs.
All day long, Sherman responded to pleas for help: from foreign governments’ representatives, who joined a daily videoconference she hosted; from members of Congress; from the cellist Yo‑Yo Ma, writing on behalf of musicians. Amid the crush, she felt compelled to go down to the first floor, to spend 15 minutes cuddling the therapy dogs.
No wonder China and Russia are laughing at us.