By Zachary Stieber
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) was in a plane circling the U.S.-held airport in Kabul with Special Forces last week on a mission to rescue Americans stranded in Afghanistan.
Mullin had learned American citizens were stuck in the Taliban-controlled country and wanted to help get them out before U.S. troops withdrew before President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline.
But the attempt failed, the congressman said on Friday.
“They would never let us in Afghanistan,” he said on Fox News, blaming Biden administration officials.
The 20 Americans the flight was aimed at rescuing haven’t been in contact since, Mullin said.
The secretive trip led to reports that Mullin’s whereabouts were unknown and claims he threatened staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Tajikstan as he tried to enter Afghanistan for a rescue mission.
Mullin and a spokesperson issued brief statements earlier this week saying he was safe, but the television appearance was the first-term representative’s first time getting into detail on what unfolded.
The chaos in Kabul, where tens of thousands of Afghans and thousands of Americans tried to brave Taliban checkpoints before convincing U.S. troops and other personnel to let them into the airport, unfolded over 17 days after the terrorist group barreled through U.S.-backed Afghan forces and assumed control of the country.
Some Americans reported being unable to reach the airport, with reports of scattered beatings being confirmed by the Pentagon. That led to appeals to outside parties, including Mullin, to carry out rescues.
Mullin said people started calling him to ask for help evacuating Americans and Afghans. One phone call concerned 20 U.S. citizens who needed a State Department or another government entity, such as a member of Congress, to sponsor a flight. That’s how he ended up on board a plane that was set to touch down in Kabul before taking off with more passengers on board.
Mullin and those with him were aware of the danger. “We felt like we probably had a 50–50 chance of coming back,” he said.
But he feels no regrets about the attempt, which did not culminate with a rescue.
“How do you say no when you have the option to do something?” he wondered. “I’d do it again tomorrow.”
Mullin targeted Biden and other top officials, saying that they lied when they said all Americans who wanted out would be evacuated before U.S. troops left.
The withdrawal ended on Aug. 30, leaving behind between 100 and 200 Americans, according to administration officials. A chunk of those were schoolchildren from California.
Mullin, who said his flight received a humanitarian plan from the Federal Aviation Authority, accused the State Department of interfering with the mission.
The authority told The Epoch Times via email that any operators flying into the airport were told Aug. 18 that they must obtain permission from the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Department of Defense and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment.
The congressman also denied the anonymously-sourced report that claimed he threatened American staffers in Tajikstan. He said he did have a large sum of cash, because of the prediction money might be needed to get through Taliban checkpoints. He said the U.S. ambassador in Tajikstan refused to help.
Two other members of Congress did make it into Afghanistan, but they went to oversee the evacuation, not carry out a rescue mission.
Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) reached Kabul on Aug. 24 and spent several hours at the airport before leaving, Pentagon officials have confirmed.
House of Representatives leaders from both parties said the trip shouldn’t have happened, though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he understood why it did.
“They’re both veterans, they’re both frustrated, they have an administration that won’t tell them the answers to how many Americans are left,” he told reporters in Washington.