Dozens of U.S. diplomats have reportedly called for airstrikes against the government of Syria's President Bashar Assad in an internal memo that amounted to a scathing critique of White House policy.
The "dissent channel cable" was signed by 51 State Department officers who have been involved with U.S.-Syria policy, an official familiar with the memo told The Wall Street Journal.
The document repeatedly called for "targeted military strikes" against Assad, who with the backing of Russia and Iran has been fighting a collection of rebels — including ISIS — for over five years, the newspaper reported late Thursday.
“Failure to stem Assad’s flagrant abuses will only bolster the ideological appeal of groups such as Daesh, even as they endure tactical setbacks on the battlefield,” the cable read, according to the Journal. Daesh is an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
Letting Assad's government commit human rights abuses “against the Syrian people undermines both morally and materially, the unity of the anti-Daesh coalition,” the cable reportedly added.
State Department Spokesperson John Kirby confirmed the cable was being reviewed but would not comment on its contents.
"We are aware of a dissent channel cable written by a group of State Department employees regarding the situation in Syria," he said. "We are reviewing the cable now."
The "dissent channel" allows for all State Department employees to express disagreement on a policy matter to senior leadership without fear of penalty. The agency's employee manual says those who express their dissent will receive "a substantive reply normally within 30-60 working days."
The document called for the "judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process," according to The New York Times, which also saw a copy of the memo.
Direct strikes against the Syrian government would be a reversal for the Obama Administration, which has opposed directly involving the U.S. in a conflict that has already killed hundreds of thousands, created millions of refugees and helped destabilize the region. U.S.-backed attempts to train "moderate" rebels and craft a negotiated political transition that would see Assad step down have also failed.
Such dissent channel cables are not unusual but the number of signatures on this latest document is very large, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told Reuters.
"That is an astonishingly high number," said Ford, who resigned in 2014 over policy disagreements and is now at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington.
"For the last four years, the working level at the State Department has been urging that there be more pressure on Bashar Assad's government to move to a negotiated solution" to Syria's civil war, he said.
News of the cable comes as CIA Director John Brennan on Thursday told a congressional hearing that Assad was stronger position than a year ago thanks to help from Russian, which was hitting the government's moderate opposition.
Brennan also said the "terrorism capacity and global reach" of ISIS had not been reduced.