WASHINGTON: The US special envoy for Afghanistan is stepping down, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Wednesday in a move which comes at a key juncture in troubled US-Afghan ties.
James Dobbins, a veteran diplomat with deep ties to Afghanistan, is retiring after just over a year in office and will be replaced by his deputy Dan Feldman, Kerry said in a statement. The shuffle comes as the two candidates to be Afghanistan’s next president – succeeding Hamid Karzai who has held the reins for 13 years – wrangle over alleged fraud in the elections. The political crisis threatens the country’s first democratic transfer of power, and tarnishes US hopes of a smooth handover as it prepares to withdraw all US forces by late 2016.
Dobbins’s “relationship with President Karzai was invaluable, particularly at difficult moments,” Kerry said, announcing the departure of his special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The veteran diplomat, who came out of retirement to take up the post in May 2013, has steered negotiations to draw up a security pact to safeguard US troops staying in Afghanistan beyond this year. After Karzai refused at the 11th hour to sign the deal, both presidential candidates said they would honor the negotiations and accept the bilateral security agreement (BSA).
US President Barack Obama announced in May that US forces would complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2016, ending more than a decade of occupation which followed the 2001 US invasion to oust the Taliban government. The 32,000-strong US deployment in Afghanistan is to be scaled back to around 9,800 by the start of 2015.
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