Oklahoma congressman says he has no regrets about attempts to enter Afghanistan
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., appeared on Fox News on Friday evening to defend his widely criticized attempts to enter Afghanistan last month, saying he had no regrets and would make the attempts again “without even hesitation.”
Mullin said he was trying to help Americans and Afghan allies leave Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of people were attempting to flee in the chaotic days after the country fell to the Taliban.
“I wasn’t trying to go over there and be a cowboy or anything like that,” Mullin told Fox News correspondent Bret Baier. “It was just, what else do you do when you see a problem? How do you say no if you can be an asset?”
By his own account, Mullin said he began receiving requests in August to help American citizens and Afghan allies leave Afghanistan via a congressionally sponsored flight — and claimed that, as plans escalated, he was asked to accompany “Delta guys” and “Special Forces” into Afghanistan itself.
“I’m not Rambo. Never pretended to be Rambo. We were surrounded by great people. Out of all the guys I was working with, I’m the low man on the totem pole. And I understood that,” Mullin told Baier.
“But they felt like I could be of assistance to them. How? Logistically, maybe? Open the doors for them, making phone calls and being able to take in the SIVs or the [American citizens] as they came onto the plane,” Mullen continued, referring to special immigrant visa holders. “And that was the plan. That plan changed. And it changed when we wasn’t allowed to get into Afghanistan.”
Mullin also told Baier he had received a “humanitarian flight plan” from the Federal Aviation Administration but that the group’s clearance to land in Kabul was canceled multiple times upon approach. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor on Friday pointed to previous statements from the agency that indicated any U.S. or foreign operator flying into Hamid Karzai International Airport must have obtained prior permission from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Mullin’s interview followed a Washington Post report that said the congressman called the U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan on Monday, saying he planned to fly from Tbilisi, Georgia, into Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, in the next few hours and needed the diplomat’s help, according to the two U.S. officials familiar with the incident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations about a sensitive matter.
According to the officials, Mullin told the embassy that he intended to travel to neighboring Afghanistan with a large amount of cash to rescue American citizens — a woman and her four children — and needed U.S. Ambassador John Mark Pommersheim’s help in skirting Tajikistan’s laws on cash limits.
When embassy officials told Mullin no, the congressman was outraged by the response — threatening Pommersheim and embassy staff and demanding to know the name of staff members he was speaking with, the officials said.
On Friday, Mullin confirmed on Fox News that he had told Pommersheim he wanted to come through Tajikistan with “a large sum of cash” to pay so-called taxes at Taliban-controlled checkpoints once he was in Afghanistan. Mullin recounted that Pommersheim told him, “I can’t assist you. I can’t help you.”
“Unfortunately, the ambassador Pommersheim was not helpful at all,” Mullin said.
Mullin also acknowledged the dangers of his gambit, telling Baier his wife and kids were “not happy” about his attempts to go to Afghanistan and that, on the way there, he and others estimated they had “a 50-50 chance of coming back.”
The State Department reissued a Level 4 travel advisory Monday for Afghanistan, urging Americans not to travel there “due to civil unrest, armed conflict, crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and COVID-19.”
Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last week warned lawmakers against trying to travel to Afghanistan, after Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Peter Meijer, R-Mich., made an unauthorized trip to the country that was similarly criticized.
“I don’t think it’s smart for others to go,” McCarthy said then. “You’re putting yourself - not just yourself, but you’re putting Americans - in harm’s way, if the military has to protect you, which they will do.”
In addition, in an appearance at the Nixon Library on Wednesday, McCarthy emphasized that the United States should not give any money to the Taliban in exchange for safe passage of any American citizens or Afghan allies left in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive situation, said of Mullin’s behavior: “To say this is extremely dangerous is a massive understatement.”
For two days, Mullin’s whereabouts were not confirmed. On Wednesday morning, Mullin posted an update to Instagram saying he was “heading home,” without specifying where he was.
“Have we been helping get Americans out of Afghanistan, yes,” Mullin wrote. “Is the mission continuing, yes. Am I missing, no. Did I go dark for a little, yes because it wasn’t safe to be communicating. Am I extremely disappointed in how we (United States) left Americans behind . . . that would be an understatement.”
The remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan left Monday, bringing an end to America’s longest war. The U.S. military helped evacuate more than 120,000 people, including American citizens, allies and at-risk Afghans. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that fewer than 200 American citizens remain in Afghanistan.
Pressed Friday by Baier on whether it would have been reasonable if all 535 members of Congress had decided to similarly attempt to travel to Afghanistan, Mullin said that “everybody has a different way of helping.”
Mullin ultimately was not able to enter Afghanistan but said he had no regrets about his attempts.
“Absolutely not. I’d do it again tomorrow,” Mullin said.
The Washington Post’s Paul Kane contributed to this report.