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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Congress summons Zalmay Khalilzad to testify on Taliban negotiations

Little has been revealed about the now cancelled deal the US envoy reached with the Afghan militants
The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has been summoned by the Democratic-led House of Representatives to testify on September 19, 2019. AFP

The US envoy charged with negotiating with the Taliban has been ordered to testify by the Democratic-led House of Representatives, which complained it had been kept in the dark on the now cancelled peace process.

Representative Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a subpoena to force Zalmay Khalilzad to appear on September 19.

The legally binding order on Thursday came days after President Donald Trump said diplomacy with the Taliban was "dead" and revealed that he had arranged talks with the Afghan militants at the Camp David presidential retreat but had called them off.

In the committee's first subpoena since the Democrats won back Congress last year, Mr Engel said the Trump administration had stalled for months on legislators' requests to know more about the Taliban talks.

"More than 2,000 American troops have died in Afghanistan, and I'm fed up with this administration keeping Congress and the American people in the dark on the peace process and how we're going to bring this long war to a close," Mr Engel said in a statement.

"We need to hear directly from the administration's point person on Afghanistan to understand how this process went off the rails."

A subpoena from Congress compels an official to appear, although the Trump administration has taken the unusual stance of defying subpoenas, setting up legal battles.

The State Department did not immediately comment on whether Mr Khalilzad intended to comply as ordered.

Mr Khalilzad held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban in Doha, saying little as negotiations went on behind closed doors.

He later said he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban in which the United States would pull out troops and the militants would promise to break with Al Qaeda.

Mr Trump has been eager to end America's longest war, launched 18 years ago after the September 11 attacks.

But he accused the Taliban of bad faith for launching an attack in Kabul that killed a US soldier on September 5, just three days before the planned meeting at Camp David.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Wednesday that Mr Khalilzad remained on the job and had returned to Washington but that Taliban talks were off in accordance with Mr Trump's declarations.

Updated: September 13, 2019 04:57 PM