WASHINGTON: Two members of Congress flew unannounced into Kabul airport in the middle of the ongoing chaotic evacuation Tuesday, stunning State Department and U.S. military personnel who had to divert resources to provide security and information to the lawmakers, U.S. officials said.
Officials said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., flew in on a charter aircraft and were on the ground at the Kabul airport for several hours. Officials said the two men were flying out of Kabul on another charter aircraft, prompting officials to complain that they were taking seats that could have gone to other Americans or Afghans fleeing the country.
Two officials familiar with the flight said that State Department, Defense Department and White House officials were furious about the incident because it was done without coordination with diplomats or military commanders directing the evacuation.
The U.S. military found out about the visit as the legislators’ aircraft was inbound to Kabul, according to the officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations.
The Associated Press reached out to the offices of Moulton and Meijer but did not receive any immediate comment. Moulton served in the Marine Corps.
One senior U.S. official said the administration saw the lawmakers’ visit as manifestly unhelpful and other officials said the visit was viewed as a distraction for troops and commanders at the airport who are waging a race against time to evacuate thousands of Americans, at-risk Afghans and others as quickly as possible.
The Pentagon has repeatedly expressed concerns about security threats in Kabul, including by the Islamic State group. When members of Congress have routinely gone to war zones over the past two decades, their visits are typically long planned and coordinated with officials on the ground in order to ensure their safety.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he is sticking to his Aug. 31 deadline for completing the risky airlift as people flee Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. He said a key reason for the deadline is the ongoing IS threat targeting the airport. The Islamic State groups Afghanistan affiliate is known for staging suicide attacks on civilians.
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