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 local officials, 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 the US' 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 Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation that is overseeing Kabul's peace talks with the insurgents in Qatar.
The two sides "discussed the talks in Doha and the review of US-Taliban deal by the US administration, ending the war in Afghanistan and ways to find political settlement through talks in Afghanistan," a spokesman for Abdullah's office said.
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 United States 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.