President Joe Biden’s former Afghanistan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he quit the administration because internal debates weren’t rooted in events on the ground.
“One reason I left the government is that the debate wasn’t really as it should be — based on realities and facts of what happened, what was going on and what our alternatives were,” Khalilzad said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Khalilzad left the administration last week, less than two months after the US withdrew from Afghanistan in a chaotic — and deadly — evacuation process.
He will be replaced by his deputy, Tom West, who led Afghan policy for the Biden presidential transition team and has been working closely with Khalilzad for months.
In the interview, Khalilizad defended his dealings with the Taliban and the US withdrawal agreement he helped negotiate under former President Donald Trump, which was supposed to see the exit of US troops from Afghanistan by May of 2021. Biden criticized that deal as weak.
“I don’t allow people to mislead me. I do my homework,” he said. “This was not Zal Khalilzad alone doing this. I had the military, the intelligence, everyone with me.”
“I was asked by the former president to negotiate our withdrawal from Afghanistan and get commitments from the Taliban (on) the terrorism front,” he said. “That has been achieved. We are out. Our longest war is over.”
Still, he conceded some missteps. He said the US could have “pressed President (Ashraf) Ghani harder,” an acknowledgment the US hadn’t been tough enough on the former Afghan leader who fled his country amid the chaotic withdrawal.
And he admitted the process of ending the war wasn’t pretty.
“I’m not saying it was an orderly withdrawal. This was an ugly and final phase. No doubt about about it. Could have been a lot worse,” Khalilzad said.
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