J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized two military veteran congressmen for making a “secret” trip to Kabul, the Afghan capital forcefully overtaken by the Taliban last week, characterizing the choice to enter the region as “deadly serious.”
In a press conference Wednesday morning, Pelosi railed against Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Peter Meijer, R-Mich.
“There’s a real concern about members being in the region,” Pelosi said, adding later, “We do not want members to go.”
The two congressmen publicly disclosed the trip upon their return after The Associated Press had reported on the clandestine reconnaissance mission.
“Like many veterans, we have spent the last few weeks working without sleep to try to get as many people as we could through the gates and to safety,” Moulton and Meijer wrote in a joint statement.
“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,” they continued. “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.”
The White House cautions against travel to Afghanistan
Tensions are high on Capitol Hill as the White House continues to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies from the country before the administration’s Aug. 31 deadline.
The White House said Tuesday it had been unaware of the congressmen’s plan to visit the region and said it remained in the best interest of Americans not to travel to the country at this time.
“Our guidance continues to be to all American citizens, including elected officials, this is not the time to travel to Afghanistan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
“Our focus, our objectives, our resources need to be laser-focused on evacuating Afghan partners, evacuating American citizens. And that’s best done in the hands of the Department of Defense and State Department professionals who are on the ground.”
As many as 1,500 U.S. citizens still need to be evacuated
In the span of 24 hours ending on Tuesday morning, U.S. and coalition forces evacuated some 19,000 people from Kabul. The White House said individuals were evacuated over 90 flights, equaling a flight departing from the country about every 39 minutes.
Since the end of the July, shortly before the Taliban took over, some 88,000 people have been evacuated. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that 4,500 U.S. citizens have left since Aug. 14, and that as many as 1,500 still need to be evacuated. He said that State Department officials are in touch with 500 of them and are reaching out to the others.
In remarks Tuesday, President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to finishing efforts in Afghanistan by Aug. 31. But both Republican and Democratic leaders have expressed skepticism and doubt about the administration’s ability to do so.
Pelosi tells reporters that many Democrats want a deadline extension
News of Moulton and Meijer’s trip to the region prompted uproar from both White House officials and congressional leaders. In a letter issued Tuesday night, Pelosi initially condemned the two lawmakers’ decision to leave while the evacuation effort is underway.
“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.
In her press conference the following morning, she tentatively stuck by the White House’s Aug. 31 deadline but voiced that many members were pushing for an extension.
“People really want to encourage the president to stay longer, but he has to, as I say, weigh the equities of the danger versus the advantage, and I trust his judgment,” Pelosi said.
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