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US Envoy in Kabul as Questions Over Troop Withdrawal Swirl

The US special envoy to Afghanistan touched down in Kabul on Monday for meetings with Afghan leaders, in a bid to revive a flagging peace process as violence soars in the war-weary country and a deadline for US troop withdrawal draws closer.

Zalmay Khalilzad‘s arrival marks the first time he has returned to Afghanistan since US President Joe Biden took office in January and asked him to stay in his post.

Speculation is rife over America’s future in Afghanistan after the White House announced plans to review a withdrawal deal brokered by Khalilzad and the Taliban in Doha last year.

Under that agreement, the US is set to withdraw from Afghanistan in May, but a surge in fighting has sparked concerns that a speedy exit from the country may unleash greater chaos as peace talks between the Kabul government and Taliban continue to stall.

In Kabul, Khalilzad met with both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, which is overseeing Kabul’s peace talks with the insurgents in Qatar.

“Both sides discussed future steps in the Afghan peace process and underscored additional efforts to expedite the peace process,” a presidential spokeswoman said in a statement.

The envoy is also set to travel to Qatar, where he will meet with Taliban leaders along with trips to unspecified regional capitals, according to the State Department.

Khalilzad, an Afghan-born political scientist, is a veteran of Republican administrations who has served as US ambassador to the United Nations, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Donald Trump‘s administration, eager to end America’s longest war, tasked Khalilzad with negotiating with the Taliban, culminating in a deal signed in Qatar on February 29 last year.

The accord states that the US will withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by May, with the Taliban promising not to allow territory to be used by terrorists — the original goal of the US invasion following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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