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Diplomats urged State Department to begin evacuations out of Afghanistan last month

A cable from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul called on Washington to be firm and direct in describing atrocities by the Taliban.

WASHINGTON — Last month, two dozen diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, warned about the possibility of a Taliban takeover and urged the State Department to begin an airlift operation in a dissent cable sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The July 13 cable called on Washington to be firm and direct in describing atrocities by the Taliban, the source said. NBC News has not seen the cable.

A dissent channel cable is a confidential, formal way for State Department diplomats to voice disagreement or concern about U.S. policies without fear of retribution.

The cable was first Thursday by The Wall Street Journal.

The day after the cable was sent, the Biden administration announced Operation Allies Refuge, a program to transport Afghans and their families at risk of retaliation from the Taliban for their work with U.S. troops. State Department leaders sent a response a few days later thanking the writers of the dissent cable and describing the task force set up to facilitate evacuations of Special Immigrant Visa applicants, the source said.

"We value constructive internal dissent. It's patriotic. It's protected. And it makes us more effective," State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday. "Maintaining the channel's integrity and the notion of disciplined dissent is key to that revitalization. It's why we keep communication strictly between the Department's leadership and the authors of the dissent messages and why we don't comment publicly on the substance of messages or the replies, regardless of the classification."

Despite the quick collapse of the Afghan military and government, the Taliban takeover of the country and the ensuing chaos as thousands of people desperate to leave the country crowded at the airport, President Joe Biden has stood by his decision to end the U.S. military operation.

"Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country," Biden told the country Monday. "The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision."

The administration has also defended the timeline of the U.S. troop withdrawal. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said this week that decisions were "made based on the information we had at the time, while preparing for the alternative contingency."

U.S. officials are racing to evacuate thousands of Americans and Afghans. The Defense Department has said it would soon be able to bring as many as 9,000 Americans and eligible Afghans out of the country every day by air.