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Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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 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.

Go deeper

Updated Aug 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Taliban declare victory in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters sit on a vehicle along the street in Jalalabad province on Sunday. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

Taliban leaders declared Monday "the war is over," after taking control of Afghanistan nearly 20 years on from the militant group fleeing a U.S.-led coalition march into Kabul.

Driving the news: The declaration to Al Jazeera came after the Taliban seized the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday, and following the U.S. evacuation of the American Embassy on Monday. The U.S. was taking over air traffic control at Kabul's airport, where chaotic scenes were reported Monday, as foreigners and Afghan citizens attempted to flee.

Aug 15, 2021 - World

Blinken: "This is manifestly not Saigon" all over again in Afghanistan

As video emerged on Sunday of military helicopters landing near the U.S. embassy in Kabul to rapidly evacuate U.S. personnel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured: "This is manifestly not Saigon."

Driving the news: Blinken made the rounds on the Sunday shows to defend President Biden's resolute withdrawal of the U.S. military as Kabul nears complete surrender to the Taliban.

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.