Meijer criticized over unexpected Kabul trip amidst evacuation and threats of terror

By: - August 25, 2021 12:10 pm

Peter Meijer in Grand Rapids | Nick Manes

U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) along with Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) flew in and out of the Kabul airport Tuesday amidst the tumultuous evacuation of American and Afghans fleeing the country as the Taliban continue to take over the once U.S.-backed country. 

The unexpected trip required the State Department and U.S. military personnel to redirect resources to provide security and information to the lawmakers. 

According to the Associated Press, officials from the State Department, Defense Department and the White House were furious at the situation due to the lack of coordination with diplomats and military commanders who are in charge of the current evacuation. Some officials also told the AP that the visit was a distraction for troops and commanders who are already overwhelmed with the speedy evacuation of military personnel and Afghan refugees. 

Officials critiqued that the lawmakers were taking seats that could have gone to fleeing people, but the congressman said they made sure to leave on a flight with empty seats. 

When lawmakers have visited war zones over the past two decades, the trips have historically been planned out and coordinated with officials on the ground over long periods of time. 

Both lawmakers are military veterans. Meijer was previously deployed with the Army Reserves and worked in Afghanistan at a nongovernmental organization that provided aid to the region. Moulton served as a Marine, completing multiple tours in Iraq.

Meijer and Moulton cited their military experiences in their statement about unfolding situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in a joint statement following their trip. 

“America has a moral obligation to our citizens and loyal allies, and we must make sure that obligation is being kept,” the congressmen said. “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.”

The members went on in their statement to say their current roles as members of Congress enabled them to want to see the situation in Kabul and said they wanted to keep their trip unannounced in order to mitigate any possible risks and disruptions that may have resulted from their trip. 

“As members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the Executive Branch,” they said. “There is no place in the world right now where oversight matters more. 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.” 

The two lawmakers also said they went there to “push the president” to extend the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline. However, President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he will keep to the Aug. 31 deadline for wrapping up the hazardous evacuation of people from Afghanistan.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement Tuesday urging lawmakers not to visit the country, noting that the Pentagon has requested members of Congress not travel to Afghanistan at this time. Pelosi emphasized that “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.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.