Two US congressmen have revealed that they violated official orders to travel to Kabul during the chaotic airlift that has seen the United States and allies try to evacuate tens of thousands of people fleeing the Taliban.
The revelation by Democratic congressman Seth Moulton and his Republican colleague Peter Meijer prompted an angry statement from the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday.
“Today with @RepMeijer I visited Kabul airport to conduct oversight on the evacuation,” said Moulton. The two men are veterans of the Iraq war.
“We did this visit in secret to reduce risks and impact on the mission and we 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,” Moulton continued on Twitter late Tuesday.
More than 80,000 people have been evacuated since August 14, the day before the Taliban took control of Kabul and seized power in Afghanistan.
But huge crowds remain outside Kabul airport, with countless others hiding in the city and elsewhere in the country still hoping to flee the threat of reprisals and repression under the Islamists’ new regime.
Time is running out to save the rest, with an August 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden looming, and the Taliban saying they will refuse to extend it.
The two representatives flew to the Middle East on their own and then traveled on a military plane from a US-allied country to Kabul, all without coordinating with US diplomats or military command, American media reported.
The goal of the operation was to push Biden to extend the August 31 evacuation cutoff date, according to the two men.
“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,” Moulton tweeted.
Biden said Tuesday during a press conference that the United States would meet the August 31 deadline but stressed that meeting that cutoff would depend on cooperation from the Taliban.
The United States deployed fresh troops to help with evacuations. But that 6,000-plus contingent, as well as hundreds of US officials, 600 Afghan troops and the equipment, will have to be flown out.
Despite the harrowing scenes at Kabul airport, the Taliban have ruled out any extension to next Tuesday’s deadline to pull out foreign troops, describing it as “a red line.”
“We were not aware of this visit, and we are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous and dynamic situation,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told a press conference Wednesday.
On the same day as Meijer and Moulton’s trip, Democratic Speaker of the House Pelosi reminded the Congressional body in a statement that “the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time.”
Such travel “would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating America and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan,” she said, without naming the two representatives in the statement.
“It’s one of the most irresponsible things I’ve heard a lawmaker do,” one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post of the trip.