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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

US envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad steps down months after Taliban takeover

Zalmay Khalilzad's departure follows his exclusion from the Biden administration's first formal talks with the Taliban after the US pullout, held in Doha earlier in October.

By: Reuters | Washington |
Updated: October 19, 2021 10:58:42 am
Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. (AP/File)

Top US envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is stepping down, the State Department said on Monday, less than two months after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of the country.

Khalilzad will be replaced by his deputy, Tom West, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, noting that West will work closely with the US embassy, which is now based in Doha, on US interests in Afghanistan.

West, who earlier served on the Vice President’s national security team and the National Security Council staff, will lead diplomatic efforts and advise the Secretary and Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.

“As Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad steps down from his role. I extend my gratitude for his decades of service to the American people,” Blinken said.

A person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that Khalilzad submitted his resignation on Friday.

His departure follows his exclusion from the Biden administration’s first formal talks with the Taliban after the US pullout, held in Doha earlier in October.

In his resignation letter, according to Politico, Khalilzad said, “The political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban did not go forward as envisaged. The reasons for this are too complex and I will share my thoughts in the coming days and weeks.”

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“Going forward, I plan to contribute to the discussion and debate about not only what happened but what should be done next,” he said according to Politico.

Khalilzad, born in Afghanistan, held the post since 2018 and spearheaded the negotiations with the Taliban that led to the February 2020 agreement for the withdrawal of US forces this year. He then pressed the hardline Islamist movement and the Western-backed government of former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to negotiate a political settlement to decades of strife.

In mid-August, the government collapsed as the Taliban swept through the country and marched into the capital, Kabul, unopposed. Khalilzad was left seeking the militants’ assistance in the US evacuation of US citizens and at-risk Afghans who worked for the US government.

Current and former US officials told Reuters earlier that in the three years Khalilzad had been in the role, he became the face of one of the largest US diplomatic failures in recent memory.

US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the veteran American diplomat relinquished leverage to the militant group, continuously undermined the Afghan government, and had little interest in hearing different viewpoints within the US government. CNN first reported Khalilzad’s plan to resign.

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