US Embassy Kabul Suspends Operations on 8/31/21; Next, the Afghanistan Affairs Unit in Qatar?

 

The US Embassy in Kabul issued a Security Message announcing its suspension of operations:
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul suspended operations on August 31, 2021.  While the U.S. government has withdrawn its personnel from Kabul, we will continue to assist U.S. citizens and their families in Afghanistan from Doha, Qatar.
After 20 years, one ‘forever’ war finally ended and one of the largest US embassies in the world just closed its doors.
We are assuming that the US Embassy Kabul will now transition to the Afghanistan Affairs Unit (AAU) operating out of the US Embassy Doha in Qatar. This is a guess given the precedence with four other remote units after the suspension of diplomatic operations in Yemen, Venezuela, Libya, and much earlier, Somalia.

— Yemen Affairs Unit (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

— Venezuela Affairs Unit (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia)
— Libya External Office (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisia))
U.S. Embassy Mogadishu, Somalia (Remote Mission Site: U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya) – the Department officially established Embassy Mogadishu as a permanent post in 2019. The IG says that although the  Somalia Unit no longer exists as a remote mission, some staff continue to be based at Embassy Nairobi, and Embassy Mogadishu continues to rely on Embassy Nairobi for support services.
According to the IG audit, the VAU has been open for  almost 2 years; the YAU has been open for more than 6 years; and the Libya External Office has been  open for almost 7 years. The Somalia Unit operated from U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya, for more than  9 years before the Department reestablished a permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia.
The most recent OIG report we could locate for Qatar is dated 2010. At that time, the OIG describes Embassy Doha as a mid-size embassy, with a staff of 82 U.S. direct-hire person­nel, 113 foreign national staff, and 11 locally hired American personnel. No Qatari citizens are employed by the mission. Operations under chief of mission authority include representatives from the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Foreign Commercial Service. Operating budgets for U.S. Gov­ernment agencies under chief of mission authority total approximately $13.7 million.  Post is likely supersized already. We just don’t know by how many. Would be interested to see what the staffing pattern is going to be like for the AAU in Doha.

From way, way back in 2015:

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USAID’s Tresja Denysenko Dies Unexpectedly While Serving With DART in Haiti Earthquake Response

 

USAID Administrator Samantha Power released a statement on Tresja Denysenko’s unexpected passing while serving with the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Haiti. Excerpt below:

It is with great sadness that on behalf of the USAID family I relay the passing of Tresja Denysenko, a tireless disaster response expert with our Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. Tresja passed away unexpectedly on August 19, 2021, while serving on USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) responding to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I want to express my heartfelt condolences to Tresja’s family, friends, and colleagues.

Tresja first joined USAID in 2005, and during her career she responded to many humanitarian emergencies, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the West Africa Ebola outbreak, the Venezuela regional crisis, and the conflicts in South Sudan and the Tigray region of Ethiopia. In all of her postings, she played a critical role in providing aid to the world’s most deprived and marginalized people. In addition to her work on disaster responses, Tresja was instrumental in establishing and refining the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance’s processes for delivering aid into the hands of those most in need. Tresja was also an inspiring mentor, training staff across the Bureau on how to deliver aid quickly and appropriately to save lives in some of the world’s most complex and dire humanitarian crises. Tresja’s legacy will live on in USAID through the work of the many colleagues who learned from her and who now occupy a wide range of roles across the Agency.

Originally from Minnesota, Tresja is survived by her husband and daughter, as well as her mother and stepfather. She is remembered as a beloved wife, mother, daughter, and dear friend. Tresja’s kindness and heartfelt passion for providing humanitarian assistance and improving the lives of people in need touched many communities around the world and here at home.

State/OIG Audits CA’s Official and Diplomatic Passport Records

 

 

Via State/OIG:
(U) Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Concerns

(U) In September 2020, OIG received a referral from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). According to the referral, in 2019, during an audit of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) passport management and security controls,19 TIGTA requested from CA information associated with diplomatic and official passports issued to IRS employees and appointees for the last 20 years, as of March 31, 2019. Specifically, for each passport issued, TIGTA requested the applicant’s name, passport number, passport type, issuance date, and passport status (e.g., cancelled, lost, or stolen).

(U) According to TIGTA officials, TIGTA received three separate passport datasets from CA. However, TIGTA found that the data provided in each dataset were incomplete. For example, some passport records had blank issuance and expiration date fields. Furthermore, the data identified onlyfive passports that were issued in 2016 and indicated that no passports were issued to IRS employees from 2017 through 2019. However, IRS records indicated that more than 200 official or diplomatic passports were issued to employees between 2016 and 2019. Lastly, one dataset included only Department of Treasury employees and not IRS employees. According to TIGTA officials, CA officials could not explain why the database was providing incomplete data. Based on the missing records and data fields, TIGTA deemed CA’s information as unreliable for use in its audit.
[…]
(U) In response to TIGTA’s concerns about receiving incomplete data from CA, OIG reviewed the  847,880 official and diplomatic passport records provided to OIG by CA and found that none of  the passport records had blank issuance or expiration date fields. Furthermore, the records  showed that CA issued 652 official and diplomatic passports to IRS employees and their family  members from FY 2017 through FY 2019 as opposed to the data provided to TIGTA, which showed that no passports were issued to IRS employees from FY 2017 through FY 2019.

The Special Issuance Agency (SIA) did not review the data!

(U) When asked about TIGTA’s concerns, CA officials stated that CA’s Office of Consular Systems and Technology ran a query in TDIS using sponsor codes28 that are associated with IRS to obtain the data requested by TIGTA. CA’s Office of Legal Affairs and Law Enforcement Liaison and the  Office of Passport Integrity and Internal Controls reviewed the data before the data were  released to TIGTA. SIA did not review the data. If SIA employees had reviewed the data, they  would have recognized that it was incomplete. SIA employees would know, because of  reimbursement data, the number of passports issued to IRS employees. CA officials also stated  that, although there are processes in place for reviewing and clearing data prior to release to Federal customers, there is not a formal written policy or standard operating procedures. CA officials are formalizing procedures to address this deficiency.

(U) CA officials indicated that requests for passport information from other agencies are infrequent—there have been none since TIGTA’s request in 2019. However, it is important that CA have effective internal control activities in place to ensure that quality data are provided to other Government agencies. Internal control is a process effected by an entity’s management that provides reasonable assurance that the objectives of an entity will be achieved.29 Management should establish control activities through policies and procedures to achieve objectives.30 Because CA had not implemented effective internal control activities to ensure that the data provided to TIGTA in response to its request were properly reviewed and validated, it failed to meet its objective of delivering a high level of customer service and earning customer trust, which consequently impacted TIGTA’s ability to conduct an audit of passport management and security at the IRS. Although OIG acknowledges that CA is developing internal control activities and associated procedures to help ensure that the incident with TIGTA is not repeated, OIG is making the following recommendation and will track its implementation through the audit compliance process to confirm that the identified deficiency has been fully addressed.

(U) Prior Office of Inspector General Reports

(U) During this audit, OIG was alerted that a former Department of State employee had  allegedly not surrendered their diplomatic passport upon separation from the Department.  Department employees’ entitlement to an official or diplomatic passport, in most instances,  ends when they separate from the Department, and the passport must be surrendered for  cancellation.

(U) OIG found that CA had not electronically cancelled one of the former employee’s diplomatic  passports. Based on that information, OIG performed additional steps to determine whether CA  had cancelled other diplomatic or official passports once an employee had separated from the  Department of State. OIG found that CA had not electronically cancelled 57 of 134 (43 percent)  passports tested.5 In addition, of these 57 passports, 47 (82 percent) had not expired as of  February 1, 2021, meaning they could still be valid. One reason for the deficiencies identified is  that bureaus and offices did not always maintain proper accountability of passports and could  not confirm whether separating employees had surrendered their passports for cancellation.  OIG made one recommendation that is intended to improve the accountability of official and  diplomatic passports of separating employees. As of June 2021, OIG considers the  recommendation resolved, pending further action.

WaPo: Surprise, Panic and Fateful Choices, the Fall of Kabul

 

Tuesday before the fall of Kabul, the U.S. Senate had just confirmed the nominations of Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary Rena Bitter and Diplomatic Security Assistant Secretary Gentry Smith. There is no Senate confirmed official for the Bureau of Administration, the agency’s logistics arm. There is no Senate confirmed official for the Under Secretary for Management, the umbrella office that provides leadership to 10 bureaus; a post currently encumbered by an Acting/M.
On August 18, three days after the fall of Kabul, the State Department announced that President Biden’s “M” nominee will be sent to Kabul (@StateDept Sends M Nominee John Bass to Kabul to Leverage “Logistics Experience” in Evacuation). In the coming days, there will likely be a louder push to examine the evacuation from Kabul. Some will be politically-motivated; we’re already seeing shades of Benghazi in online rhetoric.  For people living in the rational  universe, it would still be important to understand what happened there, how it happened, and why.
WaPo has a ‘must-read’ account on the fall of Kabul.  We would like to see the tic-toc inside Foggy Bottom during these fateful days. As P/Nuland was frantically calling foreign ministers to ask them to help with evacuation efforts, what was happening elsewhere?

On the Friday afternoon before Kabul fell, the White House was starting to empty out, as many of the senior staff prepared to take their first vacations of Biden’s young presidency. Earlier in the day, Biden had arrived at Camp David, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was already in the Hamptons.

But by Saturday, the fall of Mazar-e Sharif — site of furious battles between pro and anti-Taliban forces in the 1990s — convinced U.S. officials that they needed to scramble. How quickly was a subject of dispute between the Pentagon and State Department.

In a conference call with Biden and his top security aides that day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for the immediate relocation of all U.S. Embassy personnel to the Kabul airport, according to a U.S. official familiar with the call.

Wilson’s embassy colleagues had been racing to destroy classified documents and equipment in the compound since Friday. An internal memo, obtained by The Washington Post, implored staff to destroy sensitive materials using incinerators, disintegrators and “burn bins.” The directive also called for the destruction of “American flags, or items which could be misused in propaganda efforts.”

Wilson said U.S. personnel needed more time to complete their work. But Austin insisted time had run out, the official said.
[…]
Within the palace, too, the illusion of calm was being punctured. Around midday, much of the staff had been dismissed for lunch. While they were gone, according to officials, a top adviser informed the president that militants had entered the palace and were going room to room looking for him.

That does not appear to have been true. The Taliban had announced that while its fighters were at the edges of Kabul, having entered through the city’s main checkpoints after security forces withdrew, it did not intend to take over violently. There was an agreement in place for a peaceful transition, and the group intended to honor it.

Yet that wasn’t the message that was being delivered to Ghani. The president was told by his closest aides that he needed to get out — fast.
[…]
For the United States, the scope of defeat was total — and was vividly rendered as helicopters evacuated embassy personnel to the airport. Before the American flag was lowered one last time, diplomats engaged in a frenzy of destruction, burning documents and smashing sensitive equipment.

“It was extremely loud,” said a senior U.S. official. “There were controlled fires, the shredding of classified paper documents, and a constant pounding noise from the destruction of hard drives and weapons.”
[…]
At the State Department, top brass, including Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s deputy, and Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, were frantically calling foreign ministers to ask them to help with evacuation efforts and to coordinate a statement signed by 114 countries urging the Taliban to allow safe passage for evacuees. This, they realized, would be a historic evacuation effort.

A Third of U.S. Diplomats Eyeing the Exits? An FSO Responds

 

Below is a piece by Zed Tarar, a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service currently serving in London. This was published on Medium with the following Disclaimer: “Zed Tarar is a career U.S. diplomat. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of his employer or the U.S. government.”
Excerpt below from Analysis | A third of U.S. diplomats are eyeing the exits:
….While the headaches of finding fulfilling postings with progressively greater responsibility are well understood and documented, the knock-on effects are less discussed. When employees feel that rewards are unlinked to performance and recognition processes lack fairness and transparency, they leave, according to research. Here again the Viewpoint Survey paints a striking picture, stretching back to at least 2010 and remaining consistent: only two in five State employees believe promotions are based on merit. Such a staggering loss of confidence in the most basic talent management principle should give senior leaders pause. Yet, the diplomatic service maintains the same promotion and assignment system designed in the early 1980s, save for a few cosmetic changes and a move to managing paperwork on the cloud. Career diplomats will be quick to clarify that the issue is fairness and transparency. Knowing a better-suited colleague is headed to the job you wanted in Senegal is welcome; what “crushes morale” is the apparent randomness of postings and seeing poor performers given increasing responsibility and high-profile assignments.
[…]
If the 2,800 survey respondents in the retention study are to be believed, we may finally have a measurable negative consequence. Should up to a third of serving diplomats leave public service in the next few years, it may finally spur senior leadership within State to implement the organizational reforms needed. As it stands, the study’s findings seems to be attracting little attention from the top echelons of the department: a recent piece in Politico notes, “a senior State Department official responded that frustrations about promotions notwithstanding, only about 3 percent of these officials actually end up leaving the department annually.” In other words: how bad can it really be if people are choosing to stay?
Read more below:

US Embassy Kabul Evacuates 2,800 Locally Employed Staff and Families

 

Related:

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Snapshot: @StateDept Entities Involved in Lebanon Evacuation (2006)

 

General Mark Milley apparently told lawmakers on a briefing call that the Afghanistan evacuation is “This is probably going to end up as the second largest non-combatant evacuation operation ever conducted by the United States.” How close could this be to becoming the largest NEO?
One of the largest evacuations conducted by the State Department with DOD prior to the current one is the evacuation of US citizens from Lebanon in 2006. Nearly 15,000 American citizens were evacuated from Lebanon via Cyprus between July and August 2006.

 

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Biden Taps Former “P” Nicholas Burns to be the Next Ambassador to Beijing

 

 

President Biden announced his intent to nominate former Ambassador Nicholas Burns as his Ambassador to China. The WH released the following brief bio:

R. Nicholas Burns, Nominee for Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the People’s Republic of China

Ambassador (ret.) Nicholas Burns, a respected former career member of the Foreign Service, currently serves as Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is also Executive Director of the Aspen Strategy Group and Security Forum and Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group. During his State Department career, Burns served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ambassador to NATO and to Greece, State Department Spokesman, and on the National Security Council staff on Soviet and Russian Affairs. As Under Secretary, he worked with the Chinese government on issues as diverse as Afghanistan, United Nations Sanctions against Iran, North Korea ,and U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific. At the Aspen Strategy Group, he organized a policy dialogue with the Chinese government’s Central Party School.  He has taught, written, and spoken on current U.S.-China relations. Burns earned his B.A. degree from Boston College and an M.A. from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. His numerous awards include a Presidential Distinguished Service Award and the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award. He speaks fluent French and has familiarity with Arabic and Greek.

The WH somehow forgot to include the nominee’s Entegris bio. Click here for a longer bio via the George W. Bush White House archive, and  the Policy Planning bio from 2009-2017 via state.gov. His Cohen Group bio where he is senior counselor is available here.
After the announcement, China expressed hope that Ambassador Burns would “play a constructive role” in China-US relations and “make constructive contributions to the stable development of bilateral ties.”
If confirmed, Ambassador Burns would succeed Terry E. Branstad who served in Beijing from July 12, 2017–October 4, 2020. A previous appointee to this position once announced that “The ambassador doesn’t work for the State Department.” That one managed to work at the US Embassy in Beijing from March 20, 2014–January 16, 2017 presumably without working for the State Department.

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