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U.S. Afghan Envoy Looks To Accelerate Peace Talks In Trip To Region

U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (file photo)

Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has traveled to Turkey and the region as part of an effort to encourage the Taliban and the Afghan government to work toward a peace agreement as a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops looms.

The U.S. State Department said on March 27 that Khalilzad "will build on recent efforts by regional and international partners to encourage the two Afghan parties to accelerate their negotiations to end the conflict."

The statement said Khalilzad left for Turkey on March 25.

The trip comes as President Joe Biden faces a decision on the deployment of troops in Afghanistan, where the United States has had a sustained military presence for 19 years.

Biden is deciding whether to meet a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of the last 2,500 American troops that comprise about one-quarter of a NATO force that is in Afghanistan to train and advise local security forces. NATO allies have said they are willing to stay if Washington decides to remain.

Biden has said it will be difficult to meet the May 1 deadline, which was set in a February 2020 accord struck between the United States and the Taliban.

The United States has sought to build international pressure on the Taliban and U.S.-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government to reach a peace agreement and a cease-fire before the deadline.

Taliban Threat

The Taliban on March 26 threatened to resume hostilities against foreign troops in Afghanistan if they do not withdraw by May 1.

The Taliban has said failure to meet the deadline would be seen as a violation of the 2020 agreement.

Taliban assaults on foreign troops in Afghanistan have largely ceased since the deal was signed in Doha, Qatar. But attacks have continued against Afghan security forces and government personnel.

Under the accord, all foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the militant group such as severing ties with Al-Qaeda and refusing to harbor any foreign terrorists.

The Taliban also pledged to negotiate a cease-fire and a power-sharing deal with Kabul. But the intra-Afghan peace talks, launched in Qatar in September 2020, have bogged down.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa
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