US Afghanistan envoy warns window for peace is closing

The stark warning comes as Zalmay Khalilzad heads to Qatar for negotiations with the Taliban

FILE PHOTO: U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a debate at Tolo TV channel in Kabul, Afghanistan April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
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President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Afghanistan on Tuesday warned the window for peace in the country is closing and accused regional spoilers of using the Afghan people as “cannon fodder”.

Zalmay Khalilzad is slated to arrive in Qatar for the latest round of talks between the Taliban and Afghan government after international talks in Norway to discuss support for the peace process. But he provided a grim outlook for the prospect of a political settlement with the Taliban on Twitter.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened,” tweeted Mr Khalilzad. “The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever.”

“Afghans are dying at a high rate and regional spoilers are using Afghans as cannon fodder for their illegitimate objectives,” Mr Khalilzad said. “Bloodshed must end.”

Taliban and Kabul-based negotiators agreed on a set of ground rules for the US-brokered talks earlier this month.

But the Taliban has launched hundreds of attacks throughout the country in recent weeks, including an offensive on the southern city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.

The US military said it responded with strikes throughout Helmand.

US President Donald Trump tweeted earlier this month that the remaining US troops in Afghanistan should return home by Christmas – blindsiding officials in the State Department and Pentagon.

The United States signed a deal with the Taliban in Qatar in February that paved the way for the talks aimed at withdrawing US troops and establishing a peace process.

Mr Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, has said that there are less than 5,000 US troops remaining in Afghanistan and that Washington will reduce that number to 2,500 “by early next year.”

Troop levels aside, a State Department statement said that Mr Khalilzad “will press the two negotiating teams to accelerate their efforts to agree to a political road map that ends Afghanistan’s 40-year-long war.”

“The sides must move past procedure and into substantive negotiations,” said the State Department. “American and international assistance remains available to all sides.”

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