The US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad attends a meeting. File photo
The US special envoy for Afghanistan is stepping down following the chaotic American withdrawal from the country, the State Department said on Monday.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran US envoy whose months of patient hotel-ballroom diplomacy helped end the US war in Afghanistan but failed to prevent a Taliban takeover, resigned on Monday.
Khalilzad will leave the post this week after more than three years on the job under both the Trump and Biden administrations. He had been criticized for not pressing the Taliban hard enough in peace talks begun while Trump was president but Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked him for his work.
In a letter to Blinken, Khalilzad defended his record but acknowledged that he came up short and said he wanted to step aside during the "new phase of our Afghanistan policy."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media. File photo
"The political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban did not go forward as envisaged," he wrote.
"The reasons for this are too complex and I will share my thoughts in the coming day and weeks."
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 9/11 attacks in September. However, he was asked to stay on and did so.
Born in Afghanistan, the dapper 70-year-old academic turned US diplomat took senior positions as part of the inner circle of former president George W. Bush, becoming the US ambassador to Kabul and then Baghdad and the United Nations.
As former president Donald Trump itched to end America's longest war in Afghanistan, he brought back Khalilzad, who led exhaustive talks with the Taliban -- without including the US-backed government in Kabul.
This photo shows the US Marines at Task Force Southwest military field in Shorab military camp in Afghanistan. File/AP
Khalilzad had served as the special envoy for Afghan reconciliation under both the Trump and Biden administrations since September 2018, when the-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought him on board to lead negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government.
An Afghan native, Khalilzad was unsuccessful in getting the two sides together to forge a power-sharing deal but he did negotiate a US agreement with the Taliban in February 2020 that ultimately led to the end of America’s longest-running war.
The agreement with the Taliban served as the template for the Biden administration's withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan, which many believe was conducted too hastily and without enough planning. Thousands of Afghan citizens who worked for US forces there over the past two decades were left behind in the rush to leave as were hundred of American citizens and legal residents.
The US envoy who negotiated with the Taliban will testify behind closed doors to Congress on Thursday, 12 days after President Donald Trump abruptly ended talks with the Afghan militants.
His remarks come against the backdrop of the difficulties US negotiators face in shepherding the Afghan government and Taliban towards intra-Afghan negotiations, according to Western diplomats.
The US-Taliban deal signed on Feb. 29 was touted as Washington's effort to end 18 years of war in Afghanistan. The next crucial step was to be intra-Afghan talks in which all factions including the Taliban would negotiate a road map for their country's future.
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