US State Dept to allow two House members to view classified Afghanistan document

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By Humeyra Pamuk and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department on Wednesday said two top members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee can view a redacted version of a classified cable about the chaotic August 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan sought by the committee's Republican chairperson.

The chairperson, Representative Michael McCaul, scheduled a committee meeting next week to consider a contempt of Congress charge against Secretary of State Antony Blinken over his refusal to release the cable, sent by U.S. diplomats via the department's "dissent channel". The channel allows State Department officials to air concerns to supervisors.

The State Department will let McCaul and the committee's ranking Democrat, Gregory Meeks, view a redacted version to protect the identity of those using the dissent channel, Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.

In an interview on CNN, McCaul said the State Department's offer to make the cables available was "a really significant step forward". He said if the department agreed to allow the entire committee to see the cables "then I think we've resolved a litigation fight in the courts".

In a letter to McCaul, the department said it would make the material available as soon as possible.

"The Department has engaged extensively with the Committee to respond to your requests. We have provided numerous briefings, thousands of pages of documents, and public testimony from the Department’s senior leaders," the letter said, adding that it was important to protect the dissent channel.

"The accommodations that the Department has provided to date are extraordinary and, as stated in our prior correspondence, already create a serious risk of chilling both future use of, and future candor in, Dissent Channel cables," the letter said.

McCaul has launched an investigation into the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Republicans - and some Democrats - say there has never been a full accounting of the chaotic operation, in which 13 U.S. service members were killed at Kabul's airport.

McCaul has for months been seeking a "dissent channel" cable sent in July 2021 that a Wall Street Journal article in August 2021 said warned top officials of the potential collapse of Kabul soon after the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Patricia Zengerle and Simon Lewis; Editing by Alistair Bell, Lisa Shumaker and Marguerita Choy)