WASHINGTON – Two U.S. congressmen made a previously unannounced trip to the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday for what they said was a visit to assess the ongoing evacuation effort and to pressure U.S. President Joe Biden to extend his August 31 for withdrawing the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
“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,” said a joint statement from Congressman Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Congressman Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican.
The lawmakers, who served on the House Armed Services Committee, released their statement after flying out of Kabul on a charter plane. They said that in their view, after seeing the situation firsthand and speaking to commanders on the ground, “we won’t get everyone out on time.”
Biden said Tuesday he expects the evacuation mission to be completed by the end of the month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Tuesday saying travel to the region by members of the House of Representatives would divert resources from the evacuation operation.
“Given the urgency of this situation, the desire of some Members to travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is understandable and reflective of the high priority that we place on the lives of those on the ground,” Pelosi said. “However, 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. 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.”
The Associated Press cited a senior U.S. official saying the Biden administration viewed the visit by Moulton and Meijer as unhelpful, and other officials saying it was seen as a distraction to the troops who have been tasked with securing the airport to facilitate evacuation flights.
Tens of thousands of people have sought to flee Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control earlier this month.
More than 70,000 people have been evacuated, but crowds remain at the airport and others in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan have been unable to reach the site.
South Korea announced Wednesday it planned to evacuate around 380 people who supported the country’s official activities in Afghanistan.