2 Congressmen secretly visited Kabul during evacuation efforts

Two members of Congress secretly traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan, as the U.S. evacuates tens of thousands of Americans and vulnerable Afghans after the country fell to the Taliban. 

Representatives Seth Moulton, a Democrat, and Republican Peter Meijer, both Iraq War veterans, made a stealth visit to the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Tuesday “to conduct oversight” on the evacuation, their offices said in a statement after they departed Afghanistan. 

“There is no place in the world right now where oversight matters more. 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 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,” the statement added. 

Both lawmakers wanted President Joe Biden to extend his August 31 deadline of withdrawing all U.S. forces from Afghanistan and expressed doubt after their trip that the U.S. would be able to finish the evacuations in time. 

“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. Sadly and frustratingly, getting our people out depends on maintaining the current, bizarre relationship with the Taliban,” they said. 

Mr. Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. is “on pace” to meet the deadline, but that also depends on the Taliban’s cooperation in allowing access to the airport. 

Mr. Biden said the U.S. has evacuated more than 70,000 people since August 14. U.S. officials have repeatedly said they do not know how many Americans are in country, but vowed to get all Americans who want to leave Afghanistan out. 

Moulton and Meijer faced criticism from other government officials over the unauthorized trip.

“It’s selfish, irresponsible, and dangerous for our brave women and men on the ground. They will be occupying seats on their return to the U.S. that should be going to those in need,” a U.S. official told CBS News.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged members of Congress not to travel to Afghanistan or the region, citing a request from the Defense Department and State Department. 

“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 Afghanistan and the surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating America and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan,” Pelosi wrote to lawmakers on Tuesday. 

In a series of tweets, Moulton said he was deeply moved by the dedication of U.S. service members stationed at the Kabul airport. 

“The world has truly never seen anything like what America is doing in Kabul this week — deeply tragic and highly heroic. Fear and desperation at their worst; hope and humanity at their finest,” he said. “Washington should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in, but they represent the best in America. These men and women have been run ragged and are still running strong. Their empathy and dedication to duty are truly inspiring.” 

Ed O’Keefe contributed reporting.