'There could be still hundreds of Americans' in Afghanistan, former U.S. envoy says

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The former chief negotiator of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan says there could still be hundreds of Americans in the country.

'There could be still hundreds of Americans' in Afghanistan, former U.S. envoy says
© Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks during a May 20 House Oversight subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill.

“Truth of the matter is, we don’t know … but my judgment is there could be still hundreds of Americans there,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation, his first since resigning Monday.

The precise number, however, appears to be unclear. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there are “under 200 and likely closer to 100” Americans in Afghanistan in Aug. 30 remarks, but CNN reported just two days ago that close to 200 Americans are still seeking to leave the country.

Khalilzad wrote in his Oct. 18 resignation letter that he decided to step down because “we are entering a new phase in our Afghanistan policy.” He reiterated that reasoning to CBS News.

“I was asked by the former president to negotiate our withdrawal from Afghanistan and get commitments from the Taliban. … That has been achieved. We are out. Our longest war is over,” said Khalilzad, who was tapped in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump to negotiate the withdrawal.

Still, even while defending the deal to withdraw, Khalilzad remained skeptical of the Taliban. Regarding the fate of women in Afghanistan, the former ambassador said the U.S. should keep pressure on the Taliban, including by freezing assets, until assurances are given, like reopening schools for girls.

Khalilzad also said the Taliban told him they don’t know the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda. Asked if he believed that, Khalilzad said, “I didn’t.”

“There is a lack of trust between us and them,” he said.

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