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Pelosi and congressional delegation make unannounced trip to Afghanistan in outreach to allies after Trump’s decision on Syria

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Jordan this weekend.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Jordan this weekend. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led an unannounced congressional visit to Afghanistan and Jordan over the weekend, highlighting her sharp disagreement with President Trump over his abrupt removal of U.S. troops from northern Syria and Turkey’s subsequent attacks on Kurdish enclaves.

In Afghanistan, the delegation met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, top U.S. military commanders and diplomats, senior Afghan government officials and civil society leaders. The delegation also traveled to Camp Morehead to meet with Resolute Support Mission troops.  

“Our delegation received briefings from Ambassador John Bass and other top diplomats on reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, which has been responsible for violent attacks in Afghanistan. We also heard more about the still-pending status of results from the Afghanistan presidential election in September, which we all hope will be available soon,” Pelosi said in a statement Sunday night. 

Here's where chaos unfolded in northern Syria as Turkey launched an invasion following President Trump's Oct. 6 decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the area. (Video: The Washington Post)

She added: “Meeting with and hearing directly from our troops and diplomats on the ground is essential for Congress to conduct effective oversight of our mission in Afghanistan. We will return to Washington strengthened with the facts and the first-hand knowledge we have gathered at this critical time for our nation’s Afghanistan policy and inspired by the courage of our servicemembers and diplomats on the front lines.”

After meeting with King Abdullah II and senior Jordanian officials Saturday night, Pelosi said: “With the deepening crisis in Syria after Turkey’s incursion, our delegation has engaged in vital discussions about the impact to regional stability, increased flow of refugees, and the dangerous opening that has been provided to ISIS, Iran and Russia.”

Neither country released details of the talks before the delegation departed for the United States on Sunday morning. The trip came as a hastily brokered five-day cease-fire in Syria was struggling to take hold entering its third day.

Trump’s withdrawal from Syria prompts rare public criticism from current, former military officials

Pelosi had earlier called the cease-fire deal “a sham” that gave a pass to Turkey’s offensive at the expense of the Kurds, a key ally in the recent fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Coverage of Pelosi’s “middle of the night” meetings in the Jordanian press focused largely on concerns that Turkey’s assault will result in the release of thousands of Islamic State fighters, many of them from Jordan, from Syrian prisons.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Kabul Oct. 20 in a bid to get talks with the Taliban back on track after President Trump abruptly broke them off. (Video: Reuters)

“This visit comes at a crucial time of threats to stability in the region and the control of Isis,” said the daily paper Al Ghad.

Pelosi has been harshly critical of Trump’s move in Syria, which was greeted with dismay by governments throughout the region. Israeli security experts called it a “betrayal” of the Kurds, and many saw Pelosi’s sudden appearance in Amman as a globe-hopping slap at the president.

“I don’t think it matters what they talked about, what matters is that she came here to draw a line under his abandonment of the Kurds and the outrage it has caused,” said a former Israeli general, who asked not to be named because of his ties to the military.

Congressional visits, especially to conflict zones, are often kept secret for security reasons. The trips by congressional delegations, known in Washington as codels, have been known to create political waves.

Pelosi has made other international stops that underscored her differences with Trump, including a visit to the Irish border to decry possible damage to the country from Brexit, which the president has supported enthusiastically. In January, during the government shutdown, Trump revoked the speaker’s access to a military plane just as her delegation was preparing to depart for Afghanistan.

In Jordan, the state-run Petra news said Abdullah thanked the speaker for making the trip and for Congress’s long-standing support of his country. He “urged a political solution that safeguards Syria’s territorial integrity and the unity of its people, while guaranteeing the safe and voluntary return of refugees.”

Trump has faced a rare bipartisan backlash for his Syria move, and one Republican lawmaker, Mac Thornberry, traveled with Pelosi to Jordan. Thornberry (Tex.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, announced in September that he would retire at the end of his term.

The other members of the nine-person delegation included Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services Committee; Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.); and Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the head of the Intelligence Committee who is leading the impeachment inquiry against the president.

Congress is expected to vote on proposed sanctions against Turkey in coming days.

Pelosi's trip to Afghanistan was her first since she was elected speaker earlier this year. She had planned to lead a congressional delegation there in January, but was forced to cancel the trip after Trump denied her the use of a military aircraft during the government shutdown.

Pelosi’s backup plan to fly commercially was deemed too dangerous, forcing her to abandon the trip. She said the State Department had determined that the trip could no longer be made without endangering the safety of lawmakers, as well as of troops and support personnel. 

 The White House denied Pelosi’s claims. The fight with the White House came after she had written to the president suggesting that he reschedule his State of the Union address until after the shutdown.

While Pelosi was on the trip, her brother Thomas J. D’Alesandro III died Oct. 20 at his home in Baltimore. He was 90. The cause was complications from a stroke, according to a spokesman in Pelosi’s office. In a statement, the speaker called her brother “the finest public servant I have ever known.”

This article has been corrected to convey that Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.) is a member, not the chairwoman, of the House Armed Services Committee.