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US Special Envoy Khalilzad conducting new Afghan peace trip

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad speaks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School in Kabul. (US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/U.S. Department of State)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who just returned to Washington after a series of stops in the Middle East and Europe, is journeying out again to several key countries as part of efforts to push a U.S. peace initiative for the war-torn country.

The State Department on February 10 said Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Kabul, will head an interagency delegation from February 10-28 on visits to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

“This trip is part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that protects U.S. national security interests and brings all Afghan parties together in an intra-Afghan dialogue through which they can determine a path for their country’s future,” the State Department said

The statement did not provide his itinerary nor say whether he had already departed.

Qatar is the site of an office of the Taliban insurgent group, which is battling for control of the Afghan government and has been involved in recent peace talks with Khalilzad. Turkey and Pakistan — which is a neighbor of Afghanistan — are seen as key players in the region.

The United States has been attempting to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with officials in Kabul.

The Afghan government has been absent from the U.S.-Taliban talks, prompting anger and frustration in Kabul. The Taliban considers the Kabul government a Western puppet and has so far refused to directly negotiate with it.

During recent talks in Qatar, U.S. officials and the Taliban both expressed some optimism over prospects for a deal.

Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington on February 8, Khalilzad said he was “hopeful” a deal could be finalized before Afghanistan’s presidential election in July, but he cautioned there is still a “long way to go” before a final agreement.

U.S. officials have said President Donald Trump wants to withdraw about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The president has already announced that the United States will withdraw all 2,000 of its troops from Syria, saying he wants to reduce U.S. involvement in costly wars.

U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since an October 2001 invasion that brought down the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, blamed for launching the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The government in Kabul has struggled to contain the resurgent Taliban after a NATO-led coalition turned over military operations to Afghan troops and took a more advisory and training role in the country.