Reps. Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Peter Meijer, a Republican from Michigan, said in a joint statement Tuesday that they had traveled to Kabul “to conduct oversight on the mission to evacuate Americans and our allies” and that the trip had been conducted in secret “to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground.”
“As members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,” said Moulton and Meijer, both military veterans who had served in the Middle East. The pair said they had traveled to Afghanistan “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.”
But the trip, ostensibly a typical congressional fact-finding mission, blindsided House leadership and the House Armed Services Committee, according to a senior Democratic leadership aide, as well as the White House, according to a source familiar with the matter.
A US official characterized the visit as an “unhelpful distraction,” telling CNN on Tuesday that the Defense Department was also not given advance notice that the congressmen would fly to Afghanistan.
The visit came as US officials have worked to increase the pace of evacuation flights, and the unannounced arrival of US politicians in the middle of a war zone would have drawn scarce resources and personnel away from the evacuation mission — especially amid a persistent terror threat from ISIS-K and other groups looking to target American and coalition forces.
“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,” the California Democrat wrote. “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.”