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Zalmay Khalilzad resigns as U.S. envoy for Afghanistan

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Zalmay Khalilzad resigns as U.S. envoy for Afghanistan
Zalmay Khalilzad, special envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, resigned on Monday. Pool file photo by Susan Walsh/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has resigned from his post as the United States lead diplomat to Afghanistan following the late summer exodus of the U.S. military from the war-torn country.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed in a statement on Monday that Khalilzad has stepped down as U.S. special representative for Afghan Reconciliation, a position he was appointed to in September 2018 by former President Donald Trump to lead peace negotiations with the Taliban.

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Khalilzad will be replaced as special representative for Afghanistan by Thomas West, who served as his deputy.

West "will lead diplomatic efforts, advise the secretary and assistant secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs and coordinate closely with the U.S. Embassy Kabul presence in Doha on American's interests Afghanistan," Blinken said.

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"I thank Ambassador Khalilzad for his service and welcome Special Representative West to the role," he said.

Khalilzad, a career diplomat, has served under several administrations and was the ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, the ambassador to Iraq between 2005 and 2007 and the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations from 2007 to 2009.

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Under the Trump administration, Khalilzad was tasked with negotiating the end of the United States' longest war with the Taliban in the Qatari capital of Doha, a process that produced the historic peace deal that both sides signed in February of last year that preceded the United States' military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was completed in late August.

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Khalilzad, 70, had announced his intentions to resign in a letter to Blinken dated Monday, according to a copy obtained by CNN, stating he thought it best to step down "at a juncture when we are entering a new phase in our Afghanistan policy."

"The political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban did not go forward as envisaged," he said. "The reasons for these are too complex and I will share my thoughts in the coming days and weeks, after leaving government service."

During the summer, the Taliban conducted a military push toward the Afghan capital of Kabul in its effort to re-seize control of the country.

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In remarks to the Aspen Security Forum on Aug. 3, Khalilzad said the situation was "very concerning" as the United States' expectations were for the militant organization and the Afghan government to find a political settlement.

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The Taliban re-seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August as the United States conducted a chaotic evacuation of more than 120,000 people, including Afghans and Americans, from the country during which Khalilzad participated.

In an interview last month with Foreign Policy, Khalilzad said the military mission in Afghanistan that began following the 9/11 terrorist attacks was relatively successful in that al-Qaida is not in the country anymore. The lives of Afghans have also improved since the U.S. invasion.

"On the building of a vision -- that of a democratic, self-sufficient, secure Afghanistan -- I think we fell short together," he said. "And you have to learn from what happened.

Earlier this month, the Taliban and the United States held their first diplomatic talks since the exodus, which the United States described as "candid and professional."

Scenes from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley deliver remarks about the end of the 20-year military mission in Afghanistan at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., on September 1. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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