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U.S. Afghan Envoy Asked To Stay And Continue 'Vital' Work, Blinken Says

Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, during intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar, on September 12, 2020.

The U.S. envoy who brokered a deal with the Taliban last year has been asked to stay in his position, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on January 27.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has been asked to “continue the vital work that he's performing,” Blinken said, speaking at his first news conference since being sworn in on January 26.

Khalilzad negotiated the agreement, signed in February 2020, calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in return for security guarantees from the militant group, including severing ties with Al-Qaeda.

Under the agreement all foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan by May 2021.

Blinken also reiterated that U.S. President Joe Biden’s new administration is reviewing the agreement to determine if the militant group is meeting its commitments, including reaching a cease-fire and engaging in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government.

The Afghan government has welcomed the review.

Blinken said the new administration has not seen parts of the accord that were not made public.

"One of the things that we need to understand is exactly what is in the agreements that were reached between the United States and the Taliban, to make sure that we fully understand the commitments that the Taliban has made as well as any commitments that we've made," Blinken said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a welcome ceremony after arriving at the State Department on January 27
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a welcome ceremony after arriving at the State Department on January 27

Khalilzad, a political scientist born in Afghanistan, is a veteran diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan under former President George W. Bush.

Former President Donald Trump, eager to end America's longest war, tasked Khalilzad with negotiating with the Taliban. That effort culminated with the signing of the U.S.-Taliban deal in Qatar on February 29.

The Taliban and the Kabul government began negotiations in Doha, Qatar, in September, but violence has continued in the country.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission's (AIHRC) said on January 27 that killings of civilians rose to nearly 3,000 last year, threatening the talks, which are aimed at ending decades of conflict.

The AIHRC said in its annual report that 2,958 civilians were killed in 2020. That was an increase from 2,817 civilians killed the previous year.

A string of killings targeting officials, government employees, and journalists has swept the country in recent months, with Afghan and U.S. officials blaming the Taliban.

Afghan government negotiators this week complained that Taliban negotiators are stalling.

Afghan government negotiator Nader Nadery on January 26 claimed the Taliban have not joined formal meetings in Doha for nine days and are “not willing to engage in talks to end the conflict and save lives.”

The Taliban called the suggestion “false” and said the two sides are in touch with each other.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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