Zalmay Khalilzad steps down as US envoy to Afghanistan

Zalmay Khalilzad steps down as US envoy to Afghanistan

Zalmay Khalilzad steps down as US envoy to Afghanistan

Zalmay Khalilzad is stepping down as US envoy to Afghanistan after playing a central role in America’s chaotic military withdrawal from the country and leading Washington’s talks with the Taliban as they regained power and influence.

His departure follows a multi-decade career in top diplomatic roles, including US ambassador to the UN, Iraq and Afghanistan under former president George W Bush.

Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, was chief negotiator for the US when former president Donald Trump struck a deal with the Taliban to pave the way for America’s pullout from the country — and stayed on afterwards to help president Joe Biden manage the withdrawal.

As the forces of the Afghan government rapidly collapsed in the weeks prior to the exit, catching many US officials by surprise, Khalilzad also held talks with the Taliban over security arrangements in Kabul.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Khalilzad said the US had a deal for the Taliban to stay out of the Afghan capital, but it was scuppered by former president Ashraf Ghani’s hasty flight from the country.

“Even at the end, we had an agreement with the Talibs for [them] not to enter Kabul,” he said.

Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said on Monday that Khalilzad would be replaced by Thomas West, who has served as deputy special representative for Afghanistan.

“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.

In his resignation letter to Blinken, which was first published by The New York Times, Khalilzad acknowledged that “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, after leaving government service,” he wrote.

Khalilzad also said he had been brought in by Trump “after the decision had been made to substantially reduce or end the military and economic burden of the Afghan engagement on the US and to free those resources for vital priorities, including domestic needs and the challenge of dealing with issues related to China”.