U.S. Envoy to Afghanistan Steps Down

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad listens to a video question from Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) as he testifies about the potential withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 18, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilizad resigned on Monday, weeks after the Biden administration completed its chaotic withdrawal from the country.

“I extend my gratitude for [Khalilizad’s] decades of service to the American people,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. Khalilizad will be replaced by Deputy Special Representative Thomas West, who oversaw Afghanistan policy on President Biden’s transition team.

The former envoy was initially planning to step down in May of this year but stayed on for a longer period, a source told CNN.

Khalilizad was appointed as Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation by the Trump administration in 2018, and helped broker a deal with the Taliban in which the U.S. agreed to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by May 2021. The Biden administration asked Khalilizad to remain in his post once Trump left office.

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Meanwhile, the State Department inspector general has begun investigations into the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal, including into the Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghan allies of American forces, refugee resettlement, and the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Politico reported on Monday.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan precipitated a swift takeover of the country by the Taliban, with American forces reduced to controlling the Kabul airport with Taliban forces providing security. An ISIS suicide bomber killed 13 American service members and close to 200 Afghans in an attack at the airport on August 26, and after the withdrawal’s completion Blinken admitted that hundreds of Americans were left behind in the country.

Blinken later testified that “several thousand” legal U.S. permanent residents were left in the country, and thousands of Afghan allies were unable to exit before the withdrawal.

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