Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad will “transition” out of his role and be replaced by his deputy, Tom West, less than two months after the US withdrew from Afghanistan in a chaotic — and deadly — evacuation process, according to one of the sources. West led Afghan policy for the Biden presidential transition team and has been working closely with Khalilzad for months.
CNN has reached out to Khalilzad for comment. The State Department declined to comment.
Khalilzad served under both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation. He led the talks with the Taliban in Qatar that resulted in the Doha agreement with the Trump administration to fully withdraw US troops by May 2021. During those talks, Khalilizad’s counterpart was Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was recently named Afghanistan’s acting deputy prime minister.
Khalilzad, an Afghan American, was asked by the Biden administration to stay on after Biden won the election. With the May deadline looming, Biden announced all troops would be out by the 20th anniversary of September 11th.
Khalilzad was expected to leave in May, the source who was briefed said, but then agreed to stay longer than originally planned. His deputy, West, has been active, traveling last weekend to Doha for the first face-to-face meetings with the Taliban since the American departure. West accompanied the CIA’s deputy director, David Cohen, on that trip and had also been on a previous trip in late August to Kabul with CIA Director Bill Burns to meet the top Taliban leader in Kabul, according to one of the sources.
Since the Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan, the State Department has declined to detail what the plans are for Khalilzad. Last month, spokesman Ned Price acknowledged Khalilzad had returned to the US from Doha and noted that there was now a US diplomatic mission for Afghanistan in Qatar led by another senior diplomat.
This story is breaking and will be updated.