US envoy on Afghanistan Khalilzad quits: Blinken

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar shake hands after signing an agreement in the Qatari capital Doha on February 29, 2020 /AFP/File

Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran US envoy whose months of diplomacy failed to prevent the Taliban from taking power in Afghanistan, resigned on Monday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Khalilzad's departure, saying that the envoy's deputy, Thomas West, would take over.

Born in Afghanistan, the dapper 70-year-old academic turned US diplomat took senior positions under former president George W. Bush, becoming the US ambassador to Kabul and then Baghdad and the United Nations.

When former president Donald Trump pushed to leave Afghanistan, he brought back Khalilzad, who led exhaustive talks with the Taliban -- without including the US-backed government in Kabul.

Those talks led to a February 2020 agreement in which US troops would leave the following year.

But peace negotiations between the Taliban and the leadership in Kabul failed to gain traction, and the government that the United States built over 20 years crumbled within days as US troops left.

Khalilzad, despite his Republican affiliation, was kept in place when Democratic President Joe Biden defeated Trump and decided to go ahead with the withdrawal.

Khalilzad soon became a lightning rod for criticism, with even his superiors in the Biden administration -- while voicing respect for him personally -- faulting the diplomacy behind the 2020 agreement.

In an interview last month with the Financial Times, Khalilzad said that he had reached a deal with the Taliban in which the Islamist insurgents would stay out of Kabul and negotiate a political transition.

But Khalilzad said that the deal collapsed when president Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the Taliban saw a security vacuum.

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