New Delhi: It was the abrupt departure of former President Ashraf Ghani's that scuttled the chances of a deal for the Taliban to hold off entering Kabul and negotiate a political transition, The Guardian quoted US negotiator on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad as saying.
In his first interview since the collapse of the 20-year western-backed Afghan government, Khalilzad, who brokered a 2020 deal with the Taliban to withdraw US troops, told the Financial Times that the insurgents had agreed to stay outside the capital for two weeks and shape a future government, says the Guardian report.
"Even at the end we had an agreement with the Talibs for (them) not to enter Kabul," he said in implicit reference to the Taliban's relatively easy capture of the capital and key government centres.
But Ghani fled on August 15 and the Taliban, in a previously arranged meeting that day with US Gen Frank McKenzie, chief of central command, asked if US troops would ensure security for Kabul as government authority crumbled, the report added.
"And then you know what happened, we weren't going to take responsibility," Khalilzad said.
President Joe Biden had insisted that US troops would only work to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies, and not extend Washington's longest war. It was about the same operation that the Taliban would allow the US to complete before fulfilling its withdrawal within the earlier declared deadline of August 31.
Asked about Khalilzad's remarks, state department spokesman Ned Price in apparent concurrence said it was not an option to stay "a moment longer" in Kabul.
"There was never a realistic, there was never a viable, there was never a practical option for the United States to stay. We were left with a very clear and stark impression that if the United States sought to prolong our presence on the ground, our service members ... would again be targets of Taliban violence not to mention terrorist attacks by groups like Isis."
Ghani, who fled the country and left reportedly for Tajikistan for safety but eventually arrived in the United Arab Emirates, has since apologised for his hasty departure. He said he was driven by considerations about the country's security and to avoid bloodshed on the streets.