In a move that the AP says stunned and infuriated US military and State Department personnel Tuesday, two congressmen arrived unannounced at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, where they stayed for several hours. Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Peter Meijer, R-Mich., both military veterans and members of the House Armed Services Committee, say the trip was made as part of a push to convince President Biden to extend the Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline, NBC News reports. But a US official tells CNN the trip only served as an "unhelpful distraction." More:
- The purpose: "We have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch," the statement says. "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. ... Washington should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in."
- The secrecy: "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," the statement adds.
- The controversy: That reason didn't appear to assuage any of the sources and officials who spoke to the media and harshly criticized the trip, which was not coordinated with diplomats or military commanders who are in charge of the evacuation.
- Taking up space? Some said the lawmakers might have taken seats on charter aircraft that would otherwise have gone to Americans or Afghans leaving the country, but the lawmakers say they left on a flight with empty seats and that they sat in crew-only seats.
- House leaders also surprised: The congressmen did not inform House leadership or their committee of the trip. Before it became public knowledge, Nancy Pelosi reminded House members Tuesday, "The Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger." Such trips would "unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating Americans and Afghans at risk."
- Criticism from a colleague: Rep. Sara Jacobs, another member of the House Armed Services Committee, tweeted, "Taking up space in a disaster zone for your own ego helps no one."
- In related news: Retired Navy SEAL and author Jocko Willink posted a video on Instagram about how he would handle the Afghanistan debacle if he were president; the message, which involves the US taking control of the country until all Americans and Afghans who wish to leave are out, went viral, Fox News reports.
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