Two House members secretly traveled to Kabul airport amid hurried evacuations

WASHINGTON — Two House members issued a scathing statement Tuesday after they took a secret trip to the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, saying “Washington should be ashamed” about the effort to evacuate Americans and allies.

Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Peter Meijer, R-Mich., said they traveled to Kabul, the capital, on Tuesday as part of an effort to persuade President Joe Biden to extend the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops, which would effectively end the effort to evacuate Americans and others who helped the U.S. over two decades of war.

“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,” the lawmakers, both of whom are veterans, said in a joint statement. “Sadly and frustratingly, getting our people out depends on maintaining the current, bizarre relationship with the Taliban.”

The two lawmakers also criticized the support U.S. troops on the ground in Kabul are receiving.

“Washington should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in, but they represent the best in America,” they said in the statement. “These men and women have been run ragged and are still running strong. Their empathy and dedication to duty are truly inspiring.”

Republicans and Democrats have vocally criticized Biden’s handling of the withdrawal, which he has largely defended as necessary to ending the decadeslong war.

The Taliban effectively took control of the country this month, and since then the U.S. has conducted hurried evacuations from the Kabul airport with the tacit permission of the new government. As recently as Tuesday, a Taliban spokesman warned that after the deadline, they will no longer view a U.S. presence in the country as acceptable, a position that could lead to more violent clashes if U.S. troops remain.

But U.S. officials have warned that it may not be possible to get all Americans and allies out by the deadline.

Biden announced Tuesday that he intended to honor the deadline, saying he has asked the Defense and State departments to craft contingency plans if the evacuations are not complete.

Moulton and Meijer gave House leaders and the Armed Services Committee no notice about their trip, a senior Democratic leadership aide said.

Before the trip became public, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote a letter to tell members they could not travel to Afghanistan.

“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,” she wrote, saying such trips would “unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating Americans and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan.”

Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., a member of the Armed Services Committee, criticized the two for the trip.

“Whether it is Haiti or Afghanistan, taking up space in a disaster zone for your own ego helps no one,” she wrote on Twitter.

Meijer and Moulton pre-emptively defended their decision to travel to the country, saying they did so secretly so they would not draw attention to their presence.

“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,” they said. “We 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.”