US Embassy in Kabul urges staff to destroy sensitive material

KABUL (thehill): The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Friday ordered staff to destroy classified and other sensitive materials as the office prepares to reduce its number of diplomats amid growing territorial gains by the Taliban, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to The Hill.

The Washington Post and CNN first reported that an internal memo from embassy leadership told staff to use incinerators, disintegrators and “burn bins” within the compound to destroy “sensitive material.”

The memo also reportedly said to destroy “embassy or agency logos, American flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts.”

A State Department spokesperson told The Hill that the Kabul Embassy “is conducting their drawdown in accordance with this standard operating procedure.”

“Drawdowns at our diplomatic posts around the world follow a standard operating procedure designed to minimize our footprint across various categories, including staffing, equipment, and supplies,” the spokesperson added.

The Post reported that another memo sent to staff from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Bureau called on volunteers with “High Threat, High Risk” and overseas experience for “potential 24/7 operations supporting U.S. Embassy Kabul.”

The developments follow the State Department’s announcement Thursday that it would draw down its Afghanistan embassy staff to a core group and that the Department of Defense would temporarily deploy 3,000 additional U.S. troops to assist in the staff departure.

The increase adds to the 650 or so that remain in Afghanistan, bringing the number of U.S. troops near levels before President Biden ordered the withdrawal. Biden ordered soldiers to reach a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Increased territorial gains by the Taliban have fueled fears that the group could eventually topple the government in Kabul, with the Taliban holding roughly half of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as of Friday.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday issued an advisory telling all American citizens in Afghanistan to “immediately” leave the country “using available commercial flight options.”

The embassy is also offering reparation loans to citizens who may not be able to afford an airline ticket.

The Taliban’s growing strength has also fueled more discontent from GOP lawmakers, who are blaming Biden’s rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces for the increased threat the Taliban poses for the stability of Afghanistan.

Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) said in a Fox News op-ed published Friday that the current situation was “heartbreaking and infuriating,” adding that the Taliban was “barreling towards seizing control of the country and could very well take Kabul before the 20th anniversary of September 11th.”