Lawmakers are storming out of the classified Afghanistan briefing after questions remain unanswered

Republican and Democratic lawmakers became frustrated after State Department, Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and Office of Director of National Security officials failed to answer their basic questions during the briefing for members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sources told CNN.

State Department officials – both private and public – go on to say that about 100 Americans are still in Afghanistan who want to get out. Some lawmakers have told CNN they do not understand the accounts, as the department has said it evacuated more than 75 Americans from Afghanistan through evacuation efforts in the past few weeks. Foreign Ministry officials have said that the dynamic situation on the ground is the reason why they can not give a more accurate figure.

A State Department spokesman told CNN on Wednesday that “as a general matter, we do not comment on communications with Congress, especially not those taking place in secret.”

Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” Wednesday that “everyone walked out” of the meeting, and he questioned whether administration officials knew the number of Americans still in the country.

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“You know, the fact is, I think there are still hundreds of Americans left behind enemy lines. The majority of the interpreters you and I talked about did not come out,” he said, referring to Afghan interpreters who had worked for the U.S. military, adding that he has received “horrific stories” from those in the country.

“I do not think they know all the answers, quite frankly,” he said of the administration.

A Democratic aide told CNN that some of the members left Wednesday’s classified briefing because there were Republican members who did not wear masks in accordance with the Covid-19 protocols. The assistant added that many members are satisfied with the commitment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Evacuation flights continue to leave Afghanistan at a slow pace, including one over the weekend with several 21 U.S. citizens on board. Officials say it requires a huge amount of work, especially because of the coordination required between the United States, Qatar and the Taliban, to conduct background checks on people who do not have all the necessary documents.

The Biden administration’s goal is to make flights out of the country routine, but that can only be achieved when commercial flights go in and out of Kabul airport, and it can take weeks before that happens, Foreign Ministry officials say.

The planned efforts to coordinate between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and private individuals or groups – which came to fruition after initial tensions between the two sides – are now underway. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds weekly talks with the Afghan Eva coalition, and those involved describe the current situation as less chaotic than it was in the beginning.

“I do not think we could get better coordination than what we are building now,” said Shawn VanDiver, founder of the Truman National Security Project San Diego Chapter, which is leading the AfghanEvac effort. “We feel like we’re part of the team and that we have a common goal.”

DIRECTION: An earlier version of this story was flawed Rep. Michael McCaul’s involvement in the briefing.

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Katie Bo Lillis and Shawna Mizelle contributed reporting.


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