House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., led a congressional delegation to Afghanistan over the weekend. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 21 (UPI) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Sunday.
Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that the high-level bipartisan group met with the country's government and civil society leaders, as well as U.S. military and government personnel.
The focus of the trip was security, governance and economic development, she said, as they met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the country's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The group also visited Camp Morehead to meet with coalition troops and spoke with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was there on an announced visit of his own.
"Our delegation emphasized the central importance of combating the corruption which endangers security and undermines the Afghan people's ability to achieve a stable and prosperous future," Pelosi said. "We underscored that the women of Afghanistan must be at the table for reconciliation talks."
She said the group also met with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass and other diplomats to discuss reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, who have committed recent terrorist attacks in the country.
"We will return to Washington strengthened with the facts and the firsthand knowledge we have gathered at this critical time for our nation's Afghanistan policy and inspired by the courage of our service members and diplomats on the front lines," she said.
The nine-member delegation, which consisted of eight Democrats and one Republican, Mac Thornberry of the House Armed Services Committee, made the Afghan trip after concluding a visit to Jordan.
The visit followed U.S. President Donald Trump in September calling off peace negotiations with the Taliban that would have seen a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. Trump has vowed to halt the United States' "never-ending wars," including its 18-year engagement in Afghanistan.
Pelosi's trip to Afghanistan overlapped with that of Esper, who was in the country to get a "really good feel about what's happening on the ground in Afghanistan," he told reporters Saturday en route to the country.
He said the goal is still to ink a peace deal with the Taliban and to withdraw troops from the country.
"We think a political agreement is always the best way forward with regard to next steps in Afghanistan," he told reporters.
Concerning the withdrawal of troops, Esper said the United States could manage a reduction to 8,600 from the roughly 14,000 soldiers stationed in the country without affecting operations, while suggesting the drawdown should be a part of peace negotiations.
"It's best to do these things as part and parcel of a broader political agreement," he said. "So, I think that also gives you greater confidence as you go do to [8,600], you can manage it in a much more efficient matter, a safer manner as you do the drawdown."