It's not clear what U.S. Representatives Peter Meijer (R-MI) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) were thinking when they decided to make an unauthorized and unannounced trip to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Tuesday, but the Pentagon on Wednesday joined a growing chorus of criticism for their little field trip.
“We were not aware of this visit," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby explained, adding “we are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous, and dynamic situation at that airport and inside Kabul.”
“The secretary, I think, would have appreciated the opportunity to have had a conversation" with the Congressmen before they went to Kabul, Kirby said.
John Kirby on Reps. Seth Moulton and Peter Meijer's unannounced trip to Afghanistan:— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) August 25, 2021
"There was certainly a pull off of the kinds of missions we were trying to do to be able to accommodate that visit...They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day." pic.twitter.com/aN9gyE5Edw
While Rep. Moulton wrote on Twitter to insist the visit was not disruptive to the United States' airlift mission or evacuee attempts to flee Afghanistan, the Pentagon sees it differently.
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.— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) August 25, 2021
“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,” Kirby said. “There was certainly a pull-off of the kinds of missions we were trying to do to be able to accommodate" the Congressman, he added. “They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day."
Whether the two seats occupied by Meijer and Moulton meant two American or Afghan evacuees were denied for the flight, Kirby couldn't say for sure. "I don’t know on the aircraft — they did fly out on a military aircraft," he said. "I honestly don’t know what the seat capacity was on that aircraft.”
In a lengthy Twitter thread, Moulton explained what he gleaned from the unapproved visit: "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 becomes another Democrat to arrive at the conclusion, implicitly at least, that President Biden bungled the Afghan withdrawal and his failed leadership will likely result in Americans and Afghan allies being left behind to fend for themselves.
Earlier on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) bashed the "deadly serious" junket and said Meijer and Moulton "have to make their own case as to why they went and this or that, but it was not, in my view, a good idea."
With House now headed back on summer recess until September 20th, Pelosi writes to House members "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." https://t.co/ZZIdS1iTPi— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) August 24, 2021
"I write 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," Pelosi explained in a Dear Colleague letter:
Ensuring the safe and timely evacuation of individuals at risk requires the full focus and attention of the U.S. military and diplomatic teams on the ground in Afghanistan. Member travel to the[sic] Afghanistan and the surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating America[sic] and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan.