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Rep. Seth Moulton says leaving Bagram Air Field made Afghan withdrawal dangerous

Giving up the security of Bagram Air Field — and funneling everyone to Kabul's civilian airport — fueled the chaotic and deadly departure underway in Afghanistan, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) told Axios.

Why it matters: Moulton was lambasted for his secret trip to Kabul, but he brought along a former Marine infantry officer's perspective. What would he have done differently? "There's one very simple order, which would have been to start this evacuation months ago."

  • "It's hard to see a disaster unfold of our own making, a disaster that we could have prevented by just starting this earlier."
  • "I think it was a terrible decision to give up Bagram. ... Why on earth would you give up our primary [military] airfield when you know we have to evacuate tens of thousands of people? It just blew my mind."

Moulton and Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) traveled to Kabul on Tuesday. Their unsanctioned travel sparked criticism from the State and Defense departments, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). She and Moulton two have clashed before.

  • Both congressmen are veterans and tried to avoid the usual impositions of visiting lawmakers: they took their own food and water — even toilet paper.
  • They also traveled mostly commercial: In Moulton's case, from Boston to the United Arab Emirates; military to Kabul and back to Kuwait on a space-available basis; then commercial to Qatar, Spain and New York City.
  • "I understand how often they can be burdensome, or distracting," he said of congressional delegation visits. "I guarantee you this CODEL had the lightest footprint of any CODEL in history."

Moulton, 42, said he felt compelled to make the trip after failing to get clarity about the situation on the ground and failing to win safe passage for several Afghan families he knew had assisted America's war effort.

  • "When you can't get answers, you have to know what's going on on the ground," he said. "I'm sorry if people get upset about that, but that's the right thing to do, that's what I owe to them."

The congressman said he left believing the Aug. 31 departure deadline should be extended. He came back feeling the opposite.

  • "We talked to people who have literally been negotiating with the Taliban about the consequences of staying beyond the president's deadline, and we learned that, even if we stayed until Sept. 11th, we were going to leave thousands and thousands of people behind — because we started this so late.
  • "And, so, another cruel irony is that when we leave, we're still going to have a productive diplomatic relationship with the Taliban if we have any hope of getting more people out in the future."
  • He also said he came to realize the coming plight for the tens of thousands of evacuees being funneled into refugee camps in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere and will need food, housing and other support.

"Being on the ground definitely changed our minds on a few very important questions for Congress and the administration," Moulton said.

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