US special envoy for Afghanistan resigns after chaotic withdrawal

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The US special envoy for Afghanistan will resign after the chaotic US withdrawal from the country, the State Department said on Monday.

Zalmay Khalilzad will step down this week after more than three years on the job under the Trump and Biden administrations. He had been criticized for not putting enough pressure on the Taliban in the peace talks that began while Trump was president, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked him for his work.

“I extend my gratitude for his decades of service to the American people,” Blinken said of Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to the United Nations and Afghanistan.

Khalilzad had initially planned to leave the job in May after Biden’s announcement that the US withdrawal would be completed before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in September. However, he was asked to stay and he did.

Khalilzad had served as a special envoy for Afghan reconciliation under the Trump and Biden administrations since September 2018, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought him in to lead negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Khalilzad, a native of Afghanistan, failed to bring the two sides together to forge a power-sharing agreement, but negotiated a US deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that ultimately led to the end of America’s longest war.

The agreement with the Taliban served as a model for the Biden administration’s withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan, which many believe was carried out too hastily and without sufficient planning. Thousands of Afghan nationals who worked for US forces there over the past two decades were left behind in the rush to leave, as did hundreds of US citizens and legal residents.

President Joe Biden and his aides frequently said that the agreement Khalilzad negotiated tied their hands when it came to withdrawal and led to the sudden takeover of the country by the Taliban, although critics of the administration pointed out that Biden had Dropped “condition-based” requirements. for a total US withdrawal.

In interviews and in his letter of resignation described to the AP, Khalilzad noted that the agreement he negotiated had made the final withdrawal of US forces conditional on the Taliban entering into serious peace talks with the Afghan government. He also regretted that those negotiations and consequently the withdrawal did not go as planned.

Despite criticism, Khalilzad remained in the post, although he skipped the first high-level meeting between the United States and the Taliban after the withdrawal in Doha, Qatar, earlier this month, prompting speculation about his departure. Khalilzad will be replaced by his deputy Thomas West, who led the US delegation to the latest round of talks in Doha.

However, the United States will not send a representative to a Russian-organized conference on Afghanistan this week, the State Department said. Speaking before Blinken’s announcement of Khalilzad’s departure, department spokesman Ned Price cited “logistics” as the reason the United States would not participate in the Moscow talks.

Khalilzad said in his resignation letter that after leaving government service he would continue to work on behalf of the Afghan people and offer his thoughts and advice on what went wrong in Afghanistan and the way forward.

(AP)