0821 GMT December 07, 2021
Zalmay 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, AP reported.
“I extend my gratitude for his decades of service to the American people,” Blinken said of Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Afghanistan.
Khalilzad had initially planned to leave the job in May after Biden’s announcement that the U.S. 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.
Khalilzad had served as the special envoy for Afghan reconciliation under both the Trump and Biden administrations since September 2018, when then-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 U.S. 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 U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which many believe was conducted too hastily and without enough planning. Thousands of Afghan citizens who worked for U.S. forces there over the past two decades were left behind in the rush to leave as were hundreds of American citizens and legal residents.
President Joe Biden and his aides frequently said the agreement that Khalilzad negotiated tied their hands when it came to the pullout and led to the sudden takeover of the country by the Taliban, although administration critics noted that Biden had abandoned the “conditions-based” requirements for a complete U.S. withdrawal.