Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy who helped end America’s war in Afghanistan through months of diplomacy but failed to prevent a Taliban takeover, announced Monday that he is stepping down.
In a letter addressed to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Khalilzad defended his performance but acknowledged that political arrangements between the Afghan government and the Taliban were not proceeding as planned.
“The reasons are too complex and I will share (about) my thoughts in the coming days and weeks,” he said.
Born in Afghanistan, the 70-year-old academic switched careers as an American diplomat. He was appointed US ambassador to Kabul, and later to Baghdad, as well as to the UN, during the administration of former president George W. Bush.
When former president Trump called for an end to America’s longest-running war in Afghanistan, Khalilzad was recalled. He then led lengthy talks with the Taliban, without involving the US-backed government in Kabul.
Those talks resulted in an agreement in February 2020 under which American troops would leave the country the following year.
But peace talks between the Taliban and the leadership in Kabul broke down, and the 20-year-old government that America had built collapsed days before American troops left the country.
Khalilzad, who despite admitting his Republican affiliation, was retained by President Joe Biden, who was a Democrat when the president went ahead with plans to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.
The turmoil in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has made Khalilzad the target of criticism, including from his superiors in the Biden administration, who blamed the diplomacy he carried out in the 2020 agreement. (jm / em)