Reps. Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer infuriated White House, Pentagon, and State Department officials who accused them of using vital resources in the midst of the chaotic American withdrawal.
Moulton (D-Mass.) and Meijer (R-Mich.) warned in a joint statement that US forces “won’t get everyone out on time,” even if the withdrawal deadline is pushed to its original Sept. 11 date.
“As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,’” the two said. “We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.”
The two lawmakers, both military veterans and members of the House Armed Services Committee, remained at Hamid Karzai International Airport for several hours after arriving on a military flight from the United Arab Emirates.
The journey angered administration officials, the AP reported, because Moulton and Meijer did not give a heads-up to diplomats or military commanders directing ongoing efforts to get Americans and their Afghan allies out of the Taliban-controlled country. The AP reported that the military found out about the trip as the lawmakers’ plane was approaching Kabul early Tuesday morning US time.
“It’s as moronic as it is selfish,” one official told The Washington Post. “They’re taking seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans — while putting our diplomats and service members at greater risk — so they can have a moment in front of the cameras.”
Moulton responded by tweeting that he and Meijer “insisted on leaving in a plane that was not full, in a seat designated for crew so that we didn’t take a seat from someone else.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote to members Tuesday to “reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger. Ensuring the safe and timely evacuation of individuals at risk requires the full focus and attention of the US military and diplomatic teams on the ground in Afghanistan.”
Earlier Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that he had asked the Pentagon and State Department to draw up “contingency plans” if American troops are needed to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of this month. However, Biden also added the US and its allies “are currently on a pace” to finish evacuations by Aug. 31, a date the Taliban has said is a “red line” beyond which no American troops can remain.
“The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops,” the president said. “But the completion by August 31st depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport.”
Moulton and Meijer said that they had originally come to Afghanistan “to push the president to extend the August 31st deadline,” but found that after “talking with commanders on the ground and seeing the situation here, it is obvious that because we started the evacuation so late, that no matter what we do, we won’t get everyone out on time, even by September 11.
“Sadly and frustratingly, getting our people out depends on maintaining the current, bizarre relationship with the Taliban,” they added.
Earlier in their statement, Moulton and Meijer had said that the US government “should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in, but they represent the best in America. These men and women have been run ragged and are still running strong. Their empathy and dedication to duty are truly inspiring.”
“We want the world to know first & foremost,” the lawmakers concluded, “we have never been prouder to be Americans.”
With Post wires