US envoy to visit Kabul, Doha as Taliban calls for troops pullout

Zalmay Khalilzad’s mission comes a year after the US and Taliban signed an accord aimed at ending Washington’s longest war.

Zalmay Khalilzad
The US Department of State did not provide a date for Zalmay Khalilzad's visit to Afghanistan and Qatar [File: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The United States has said its envoy to the Afghan peace process will travel to the capitals of Afghanistan and Qatar to resume talks with Afghan leaders, government officials and representatives of the Taliban.

In a statement on Sunday, the US Department of State said Zalmay Khalilzad will meet Afghan leaders and Taliban delegates in Kabul and Doha and hold “discussions on the way ahead”.

He will also visit other regional capitals “whose interests are best served by the achievement of a just and durable political settlement”, as well as a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, in Afghanistan, it said.

The Department of State did not provide dates or other details.

Its statement came a year after the administration of former President Donald Trump and the Taliban signed a historic accord in the Qatari capital, Doha, in which Washington agreed to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for promises from the armed group to stop hosting al-Qaeda fighters and the launching of peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

Those talks began in September last year, but progress has since slowed and violence has risen with uncertainty about whether international forces will pull out their forces by May as originally planned.

Some 2,500 US troops remain in Afghanistan, alongside 10,000 NATO personnel.

The Taliban also issued a statement marking the anniversary of the Doha accord, saying it has fulfilled its commitments under the agreement, ceasing attacks on the provincial capitals and the targeting of major military and intelligence centres.

It also reiterated its demands for the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan, the removal of the Taliban’s leaders from a United Nations blacklist, as well as the release of more of its prisoners.

The new administration of US President Joe Biden is now reviewing the February 2020 agreement, but his defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said last week that the US troop pullout hinges on progress in intra-Afghan peace talks and a reduction in Taliban attacks.

The US “will not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan” that puts NATO forces at risk, Austin told reporters during his first news conference as Pentagon chief, adding that “no decisions about our future force posture have been made”.

The conflict in Afghanistan is Washington’s longest-running war.

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, accusing the Taliban government of providing sanctuary to the al-Qaeda armed group, which it accused of carrying out the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, DC from its base in the South Asian country.

In a report to the US Congress in early February, a bipartisan group of experts said the Taliban was yet to demonstrate “that it is able or even willing” to fulfil its commitment to part ways with al-Qaeda and continues to “accept assistance” from the group.

A complete US troop withdrawal without a durable peace agreement would allow armed groups to gradually rebuild their capabilities “such that they might be able to attack the US homeland” within 18 months to three years, the Afghan Study Group said.

The US “should not … simply hand a victory to the Taliban,” it said, adding, “A return to conflict in the wreckage of the political process would leave the United States in a difficult position: wanting to withdraw; yoked to a disunited government; and facing, with far fewer resources on the ground than before, an emboldened insurgency,” it added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies