As the State Department and Pentagon focus their efforts on evacuating Americans and vulnerable Afghans out of Kabul, two congressmen admitted to sneaking into the Afghan capital early on Tuesday morning.
The Washington Post first reported that Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton and Michigan Republican Peter Meijer arrived unannounced at the Hamid Karzai International Airport on a chartered flight around 4 a.m. local time. The visit by the two veterans, which was not authorized as a congressional fact-finding mission, reportedly “served as a distraction for military and civilian staffers attempting to carry out frenzied rescue efforts,” according to officials familiar with the trip. After arriving on a commercial plane in the United Arab Emirates then getting a seat on a flight to Kabul, Moulton and Meijer ultimately left Afghanistan less than 24 hours after their arrival. The pair took up space on a flight home — sitting in seats for crew members — as American citizens and Afghan allies rush to get out as the Taliban consolidates its rule.
The trip by Moulton and Meijer enraged some officials at the State Department, the Pentagon, and in the White House. “It’s as moronic as it is selfish,” one senior administration official told the 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.” One diplomat said the trip was “one of the most irresponsible things I’ve heard a lawmaker do” and that their action “deserves admonishment.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also wrote to representatives on 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.”
Moulton and Meijer have been critical in public of the evacuation, while Moulton has reportedly discussed in private whether or not Biden should fire national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who warned Sunday that the threat of an attack on the Kabul airport by Islamic State is “real”and “acute.” As their excursion became the talk of Washington on Tuesday night, a representative for the pair defended their decision, stating that they “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.”