House Speaker Nancy Pelosi make a surprise stop in Afghanistan on Sunday, visiting with U.S. military personnel and Afghan government officials as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation monitoring progress there.
The move comes amid uncertainty surrounding U.S. troop combat deployments — particularly in the Middle East, where special forces service members were pulled back from positions in Syria — and conflicting plans from White House and congressional leaders on how to draw down military presence overseas.
In a statement, Pelosi, D-Calif., said the visit to the war zone was “essential for Congress to conduct effective oversight of our mission in Afghanistan.”
Army Gen. Austin Miller said Monday approximately 2,000 U.S. troops had left Afghanistan in the past year, the New York Times reports. That means there are approximately 12,000 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan -- a decrease from the roughly 14,000 that were previously stationed there.
The visit included meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah as well as conversations with U.S. military leaders, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Commander Gen. Austin Miller.
Lawmakers also met with U.S. and Afghan troops at Camp Morehead, located near Kabul.
“In addition, our delegation had the opportunity to meet with civil society leaders in Afghanistan, including Afghan women,” Pelosi’s statement said. “While Afghan women have made some progress in some areas, more work is needed to ensure their security and durable economic and educational opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan.”
The Afghanistan stop was added on to a planned high-level congressional visit with officials in Jordan this weekend, where lawmakers discussed instability in Syria and neighboring countries.
That situation has drawn the majority of U.S. foreign policy focus in recent days, with critics attacking President Donald Trump’s moves ahead of a Turkish military assault on Syrian border towns and Kurish allies of American forces.
On Oct. 19, 2001, a team of 12 Green Berets with the 5th Special Forces Group's Operational Detachment Alpha 595 were inserted into Afghanistan to liberate the region from the Taliban without tanks or trucks. Just horses.
Trump has also repeatedly promised to decrease the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, although the American troop totals have increased during his presidential term. Over the weekend, Miller told the New York Times that the number of U.S. servicemembers in the country has dropped by about 2,000 in recent months, as various missions and tours have wrapped up.
Pelosi’s Afghanistan delegation included one Republican — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas — and several other high-ranking House Democrats, including House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
The lawmakers also praised the visit as an opportunity to “bring the thanks of the United States Congress to our heroic men and women serving on the front line in Afghanistan.”