The Pentagon blasted two U.S. lawmakers who took a secret trip to the Kabul, Afghanistan, airport on Tuesday, saying their unannounced trip hampered American evacuation efforts and forced the military to protect them while they were in country.
The bipartisan pair, Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), both of whom served in Iraq, sneaked into Kabul to see firsthand how the rescue operation is going.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was not too happy.
“We were not aware of this visit and we are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous, and dynamic situation at the airport and inside Kabul generally. And the Secretary [of Defense Lloyd Austin] I think would have appreciated the opportunity to have had a conversation before the visit took place,” Kirby said.
“They got a chance to talk to commanders, as I understand it, to talk to troops. But to say that there wasn’t a need to flex and to alter the day’s flow, including the need to have protection for these members of Congress, that wouldn’t be a genuine thing for me to assert,” Mr. Kirby said. “There was certainly a pull-off of the kinds of the missions we were trying to do to accommodate that visit.”
“They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day,” he continued. “And I don’t know, on the aircraft. They did fly out on a military aircraft. I honestly don’t know what the seat capacity was on that” and whether those seats would have been given to evacuees.
But the congressmen said they simply had to see for themselves and insisted they required no special treatment.
“As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch. There is no place in the world right now where oversight matters more. 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. We left on a plane with empty seats, seated in crew-only seats to ensure that nobody who needed a seat would lose one because of our presence,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
The pair said the situation is worse than what’s being portrayed in the media.
“Washington 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. The acts of heroism and selflessness we witnessed at HKIA [Hamid Karzai International Airport] make America proud,” the legislators said.
They said that the U.S. will not be able to evacuate everyone either by August 31, the deadline set by the Taliban and accepted by President Joe Biden, or even by September 11.
“We came into this visit wanting, like most veterans, to push the president to extend the August 31st deadline. 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.”