“We don’t want anyone to think this was a good idea. There is a real concern that there are members in the region, “Pelosi said of the unauthorized trip that Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan had taken to Afghanistan, which surprised both House leaders also the White House.
Moulton and Meijer announced on Tuesday evening that they had secretly flown to Afghanistan to see the situation for themselves. The two Iraq war veterans said in a joint statement that they had made the trip “to oversee the mission to evacuate the Americans and our allies,” adding that the trip was conducted in secret, “to avoid the risk and disruption the people on the ground. “
The Pentagon said it was “unaware” of Moulton and Meijer’s decision to visit Afghanistan and that their visit “took up time” of the missions that US forces were trying to plan on the day of the visit.
“We are obviously not encouraging VIP visits in a very tense, dangerous and dynamic situation at this airport and in Kabul in general,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, adding that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “appreciated the opportunity to speak.” before the visit.
Kirby added that they needed military protection while they were there, but he does not know if they have taken places that otherwise would have gone to the evacuees when they left Kabul.
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Pelosi and other congressional leaders said the trip was dangerous and a strain on the local military as they desperately try to evacuate American citizens and Afghans from Kabul before the US has to complete the withdrawal on August 31.
“There is a lot of work for the men and women in the military. I think that adds to the burden,” said Gregory Meeks, chairman of the New York House of Representatives. “I don’t think it really helps for us to go there and we’re trying to get people out of there.”
When asked if the trip was irresponsible, Meeks said, “That won’t help the mission.”
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said the two MPs’ trip to Afghanistan was “not the best idea to go”.
“I don’t think it’s right that they left, but I understand their frustration with why they wanted to leave,” he said. “We need the military, every effort to get the people home.”
Before Moulton and Meijer’s trip was announced on Tuesday, Pelosi sent lawmakers a letter preventing them from traveling to Afghanistan. Pelosi said Wednesday she found out about the trip “a little before it was in public”.
But she said safety concerns for the two sparked the initial silence, saying, “We didn’t make it public because it would be dangerous for them.”
“It wouldn’t have been safe for them until they were in the air,” she said. “It’s not just about them going to Afghanistan, into the region, it also costs our resources. That is dead serious.”
Pelosi also said that trips like the one Meijer and Moulton received from their committee chairs must be approved and that Moulton has not received approval from House Armed Services chairman Adam Smith of Washington. She said she did not know if Meijer had asked for permission from Meeks, who on Wednesday said he was “surprised and shocked” to learn about the trip.
Rep. Brian Mast, a Florida Republican and Afghanistan veteran, said he had asked the State Department if a congressional trip itself was possible but was told it was not. Mast respected “her desire to come and witness” what happened on the ground, but noted that the presence of two lawmakers there created “security problems” for the military in a chaotic and dangerous situation around Kabul airport.
“You have brought two congressmen on site unannounced and you have a situation where you suddenly concern yourself with these people’s safety and that can be a dangerous situation or, obviously, another headache for them.” on the mountain of headaches that they have to deal with, “said Mast.
This story was updated on Wednesday with additional developments.
CNN’s Michael Conte contributed to this report.