The chaotic evacuation of U.S. personnel at Kabul airport comes at a time when two U.S. lawmakers flew into Afghanistan without notice Tuesday, shocking State Department and military personnel and forcing them to divert already strained resources to provide security and information services to both of them, the Associated Press reported.
The two U.S. lawmakers, Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton and Republican Rep. Peter Meyer, flew to Kabul airport on a chartered plane and left after a few hours. The move prompted complaints from other U.S. officials that the two lawmakers’ actions could have taken up the evacuation seats that should have been reserved for other Americans or Afghans. But Mr. Moulton and Mr. Meyer said in a joint statement that they made sure they left on an empty-seat flight.
“As members of Congress, we have a responsibility to oversee the executive branch, and we conducted this visit in secret and only talked about it after we left to minimize the risk and disruption to airport personnel, because we went there to gather information, not to make a fuss,” the two said in a statement. ”
The two lawmakers also said they were visiting Kabul airport in the hope of “pushing the president to extend the final (withdrawal) deadline of August 31.” After talking to local commanders and seeing what was going on there, it became clear that no matter what we did, even by 11 September, everyone could not be evacuated on time because our evacuation had started too late. ”
Meyer is understood to be a U.S. Army Reserve soldier who served in Iraq before joining a non-governmental organization in Afghanistan to work on humanitarian assistance. Moulton, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, has served in Iraq several times and has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq.
U.S. officials familiar with the travel of two lawmakers to Kabul airport said State Department, Defense and White House officials were outraged by the move because they did not coordinate with diplomats or military commanders who had led the evacuation.
U.S. officials said the U.S. military only discovered the trip when the two lawmakers’ planes arrived in Kabul.
A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration did not think it was helpful for lawmakers to visit Kabul airport. Other officials said the visit was seen as a distraction for U.S. troops and commanders at the airport, who are in a race against time to evacuate thousands of Afghans and others as soon as possible.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Tuesday night noting the desire of some lawmakers to visit Afghanistan and saying she issued a statement to “reaffirm that the Department of Defense and the State Department have asked lawmakers not to travel to Afghanistan and the region during this dangerous period.” Ensuring the safe and timely evacuation of people at risk requires the full attention and attention of the U.S. military and diplomatic team in Afghanistan. ”
The Pentagon has repeatedly expressed concern about security threats in Kabul, including the potential threat from the Islamic State extremist group (ISIS), the report said. U.S. lawmakers have frequently traveled to war zones in Afghanistan over the past two decades, but those trips are usually long-planned and coordinated with local officials to ensure security.