April 27 (UPI) -- U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad expressed his confidence in the Afghan government following the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops in testimony before Congress Tuesday.
Appearing before the Senate foreign relations committee, Khalilzad responded to concern from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about the ability of Afghanistan's government and military to withstand pressure from the Taliban after President Joe Biden announced plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from the nation by Sept. 11, 2021.
"I do not believe the government is going to collapse or the Taliban is going to take over," Khalilzad said.
Nearly 2,500 U.S. forces are still stationed in the country in addition to hundreds of special operations forces, and the United States and its coalition partners began the process of withdrawing troops from local areas in Afghanistan on Monday.
Khalilzad, who led 18 months of talks between the Taliban and the United States in 2018-2019 that produced the withdrawal agreement, said it did not make sense to maintain a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan as the conflict in the nation could not be resolved through continued fighting.
"The choice that the Afghans face is between a negotiated political settlement or a long war," he said.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., while expressing particular concern for Afghan women, said the manner in which the United States withdraws and "what political arrangement is left in our wake matters deeply."
"If the Taliban were to come back to power, the reality for Afghanistan's women and girls, I think, would be devastating," Menendez said.
Khalilzad said future U.S. support of an Afghan government that included the Taliban would be conditional and human rights abuses or other misconduct would place that in jeopardy.
"If they do want U.S. assistance, they want international acceptance ... those things will all be affected by how they treat their own citizens, first and foremost the women of Afghanistan, children and minorities," he said.