Pentagon: US lawmakers' visit to Afghanistan 'took time away' from mission

The surprise decision by two lawmakers to travel to Afghanistan, which Pentagon officials were “not aware” of in advance, distracted from the evacuation mission underway at the Kabul airport, according to the Defense Department’s top spokesperson.

Reps. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonBill seeks to aid families of Black WWII veterans deprived of GI benefits How lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation GOP lawmaker says he did not threaten US Embassy staff in Tajikistan MORE (D-Mass.) and Peter MeijerPeter MeijerTrump endorses primary challenger to Peter Meijer in Michigan The 9 Republicans who voted to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress House votes to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress MORE (R-Mich.) on Tuesday secretly traveled to Afghanistan to see conditions on the ground and push President BidenJoe BidenBiden to provide update Monday on US response to omicron variant Restless progressives eye 2024 Emhoff lights first candle in National Menorah-lighting ceremony MORE to extend his Aug. 31 deadline to pull all U.S. forces from the country.

But the visit “took time away from what [U.S. military forces] had been planning to do that day,” in order to provide protections for the two lawmakers, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

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“We are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous and dynamic situation at that airport and inside Kabul generally,” Kirby said, adding that Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinFormer defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute GOP holds on Biden nominees set back gains for women in top positions Drones are a strategic liability for US MORE “would have appreciated the opportunity to have had a conversation before the visit took place.”

Kirby also said he didn’t know if Moulton and Meijer took seats that would’ve otherwise gone to evacuees when they left Kabul.

The congressmen said in a Tuesday statement they sat in crew-only seats so that their presence didn't reduce the number of available seats for others, and that they left Afghanistan less than 24 hours after arriving.

“They got a chance to talk to commanders, as I understand,” said Kirby. “They got a chance to talk to troops.”

The two lawmakers have since been criticized by Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNews media's sausage-making obsession helps no one Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-Calif.), who sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter on Tuesday afternoon in an apparent response to their trip.

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“Member travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating Americans and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan," Pelosi wrote. 

President Biden on Tuesday said the United States will stick with his Aug. 31 timeline to evacuate all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, reasoning that threats against American and Afghan forces and civilians would only grow the longer the U.S. remains.

The Taliban has also warned of “consequences” should a U.S. military presence remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of the month.