When Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was asked not to come into Afghanistan over the weekend, it touched off a diplomatic brouhaha that could be the latest in a string of blows to U.S.-Afghan relations.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asked the California Republican, a vocal opponent of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Barack Obama’s strategy in the country, not to accompany other Members on the trip. The Congressional delegation led by Rep. Louie Gohmert went on without him.
While in the country, the Texas Republican said he held an impromptu meeting with leaders of the Afghanistan National Front, the opposition party that has advocated for regime change. GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Michael Burgess (Texas) also attended the meeting.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has already distanced itself from the meeting. Gohmert, who is back in the United States, said in an interview that the confab was justified and necessary.
“I understand the embassy distancing itself from our meeting,” he told Roll Call. “But I felt like we had a great meeting, and they understand that they do have some friends in the United States even if they aren’t at the White House.”
Gohmert, Bachmann and Burgess met at the home of Ahmad Zia Massoud in Kabul on Sunday. Massoud was present, along with Abdul Rashid Dostum and other top leaders in the National Front, a group that traces its lineage to the Northern Alliance, which worked with the United States to fight the Taliban and fought against Soviet Communists in the 1980s.
But the meeting may have been taken as an insult by Karzai, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement distancing itself from the Members’ trip.
“We understand that Members of the U.S. Congress had a private meeting with former Northern Alliance political figures on April 22 in Kabul,” the statement said, according to NBC News. “U.S. Embassy Kabul neither arranged nor participated in these meetings. The Members of Congress do not represent the State Department or any other part of the executive branch. Their presence and views at this privately arranged event do not reflect the view of the president or the administration.”
Gohmert said he can understand why Karzai could perceive such a meeting to be a threat to his power, but with the drawdown of troops coming in 2014, he wanted to meet with the group that he thinks could help protect the country after American forces leave. He has advocated for arming the group.
“These are not fanatics, these are people who are our allies,” Gohmert said. “Actually, I’m insulted that Karzai would be bothered that Americans would feel some affinity for people that buried family members because they fought with Americans.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.