Two American congressmen secretly visited Kabul on Tuesday, hitching a ride on military aircraft for an unauthorized 14-hour tour of the already chaotic U.S. evacuation effort in Afghanistan. The two House members—Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. Peter Meijer from Michigan—are both veterans of the Iraq war, and said their fact-finding mission was to give them a better understanding of the situation on the ground in order to provide better congressional oversight of the U.S. wind down of the war effort.
Administration officials expressed dismay with the rogue trip, saying it distracted from the already frenzied effort to get Americans and allies safely out of the country by President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline. Some questioned whether the congressmen took seats from other would-be evacuees and diverted scarce resources to ensure their safety that could have been better used elsewhere. One administration official portrayed the visit to the Washington Post as “moronic” and “selfish” while a U.S. diplomat described it as “one of the most irresponsible things I’ve heard a lawmaker do.” In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to House 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.”
Moulton and Meijer, however, pushed back against this characterization in a statement about how they came to decide to visit Afghanistan. “America has a moral obligation to our citizens and loyal allies, and we wanted to make sure that obligation is being kept,” they said. “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 to minimize the risk to the people on the ground.” Both Moulton and Meijer have been proponents of extending the drawdown date beyond the end of the month and reiterated their calls for an extension based on their trip. “After talking with commanders on the ground today and seeing the situation for ourselves, it is obvious that because we started the evacuation so late, no matter what we do, we won’t get everyone out on time, even by 9/11,” they said.
Since the trip was not part of an official delegation, the two congressmen embarked on a patchwork journey to Kabul, first hopping a commercial flight to the United Arab Emirates. A spokesman said the pair paid for the flights with their own money and then “figured out a way onto an empty military flight going into Kabul” where they landed around midday local time. The lawmakers did not appear to have a return plan when they arrived in Kabul other than they pledged to leave only on a flight that had spare room, so as not to take a spot from someone on the ground. The two House members ultimately departed the country roughly 14 hours later, around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, in seats they say were designated for crew members, not evacuees.