Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton says the conditions inside the Kabul airport are harrowing and ‘crazy,’ and says he saw U.S. military members break down over their efforts during his secret trip that drew the ire of party leaders.
Moulton is speaking about what he saw on the ground during a stealthy trip to get a look at the evacuation – which the Pentagon and White House immediately blasted as an imprudent strain on precious resources.
Moulton, who did four tours in Iraq with support from the local population and who has been an advocate for doing more for Afghans seeking special visas, says it gave him a close-up look at the desperation and squalor on the ground.
‘I’ve never seen more people cry, just salty Marines, seasoned State Department veterans just break down in tears, talking about their work, and hugging me, and saying thank you for coming,’ the Iraq War vet told New York Magazine in an account of what he saw and how he got there.
His mini ‘codel,’ taken along with GOP Rep. Peter Meijer, gave Moulton a first-hand look at conditions, after having spent months trying to call attention to the plight of Afghans who assisted U.S. forces.
‘They’re in hangars, some of them are just on the tarmac, and it’s crazy,’ Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) said of the conditions of evacuees in Kabul
He said evacuees were cramped ‘in 120-degree heat literally sheltering under aircraft wings, which is not safe, by the way.’
‘They’re in hangars, some of them are just on the tarmac, and it’s crazy,’ he told the publication.
‘We understood as one only can from being on the ground in Kabul that we were never going to finish this in time, even if we extended to September 11th,’ he said of what he saw – in a trip that preceded Thursday’s deadly bomb attack the U.S. assessed was carried out by ISIS-K.
He had harsh words for how the Biden Administration handled the situation.
‘The thing that everybody needs to understand, even if you completely agree with the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw, the way they have handled this has been a total f****** disaster,’ he said. He said it will be ‘measured in bodies, because a lot of people are dying because they can’t get out.”
‘As crazy as this sounds, we need a positive relationship with the Taliban to have any hope of getting out the thousands of people we’ll leave behind down the road,’ he said.
He defended his trip has having ‘had the lightest footprint of any codel in history’ – without providing precise details on how exactly he pulled it off.
‘Our goal was to be as efficient as possible at finding the truth and saving a few lives,’ he said of he and Meijer, who also served in Iraq.
Rep. Seth Moulton, then a Marine Captain, stands alongside both American and Iraqi soldiers in Iraq. Lt. Col Ehab Hashem Moshen is in the center of the second row. Moulton has spoken about the value added by local translators and others
Moulton and his former Iraqi translator Mohammed Harba
Moulton tweeted out an ‘indescribable’ image of what he saw on his trip, which was criticized by military brass and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Hundreds of people, some holding documents, gather near an evacuation control checkpoint on the perimeter of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021
People are crowded before Thursday’s attack, along a canal near the Abbey Gate at Kabul’s airport, Afghanistan August 26, 2021 in this still grab obtained by REUTERS from a video
The two lawmakers flew to the United Arab Emirates commercially before finding passage on military flights into Kabul. He says they used vacant space inside a crew cabin aboard the C-17 aircraft.
‘Look, man, when you’ve been in the Middle East as long as I have, it’s not that hard to find a friend who can get you on a flight,’ was all he would allow.
Moulton has long been pushing efforts for the government to focus on evacuating Afghans who assisted U.S. forces. He recalls the assistance he got from translators and others while serving in Iraq.
He claims his requests to form an official congressional ‘CODEL’ were denied, although the House Armed Services Committee says he never made a formal request.
‘Peter and I had been talking for a while about going to Kabul because all our official requests had been denied … which I had made many over months, not just recently,’ he told New York.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy both slammed the trip as diverting attention from the evacuation, with some staffers blasting it as an ego trip.
‘Any member that I have heard that might go, I explain to them that I don’t think they should,’ McCarthy said during a briefing. ‘I think it creates a greater risk. You’ve got enough Americans over there to be held hostage. They would make a point out of member of Congress.’
Pelosi said during her own remarks on the matter: ‘This is deadly serious. We do not want members to go.’
‘You need the approval of your committee chair in order to do that. And we have put out the word to committee chairs there ain’t going to be no planes or this or that for people going to the region,’ she continued.
According to his website, Moulton joined the Marines months before the Sept. 11th attacks. ‘As the leader of an infantry platoon, he was among the first Americans to reach Baghdad in 2003,’ it says. ‘He served four tours in Iraq, a war he disagreed with and spoke out against—but he was proud to go, so no one had to go in his place.’
Earlier, Moulton, who put together an ill-fated 2020 presidential campaign, defended his actions in an interview with the the Boston Globe.
‘I don’t care one bit about anonymous quotes from Washington when I’m saving the lives of our allies,’ Moulton told the paper in a phone interview from Doha, Qatar on Wednesday.
‘I got several not just families but groups through the gates,’ Moulton said of his time in Kabul. ‘It’s amazing that people think this is about politics when it’s about innocent lives and saving people who have given everything to us from torture and death.’
‘Every single person that we can get through the gates who is one of our allies, that is the difference between freedom and death,’ he added.
He reiterated: ‘The scoldings mean nothing when we’re saving a few lives.’