KABUL, Afghanistan – The United States envoy to Afghanistan arrived in the land of his birth Saturday to offer American support for rebuilding the battered country.
Zalmay Khalilzad, an ethnic Pashtun born in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, was named a special envoy by President Bush on Dec. 31. The 50-year-old has played a key behind-the-scenes role in the war on terrorism.
"I'm back in Afghanistan after 30 years. It's with a lot of emotion that I'm back," Khalilzad said at Kabul's airport.
"This is a moment of opportunity for Afghanistan."
Khalilzad will work with the U.N. secretary general's representative on Afghanistan to help Afghans rebuild. He also plans to meet with top interim government officials, including Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
Khalilzad believes American-led military forces must continue airstrikes in Afghanistan to rid the country of Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants.
"Of course we do not like to bomb," he said at Kabul's international airport. "It is with reluctance and with a great deal of concern for possible civilian implications."
But, he added, "We also understand that the remnants of Al Qaeda are dangerous not only for us, but for the Afghans, so we will have to continue until we have achieved our objectives."
Deposed Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, said to be surrounded in Afghanistan's central mountains and negotiating surrender terms, "will have to be brought to justice ... but the ultimate decision as to where he is tried, and how, is an issue that will have to be discussed."
In his new job, Khalilzad will report to the president through Secretary of State Colin Powell. He will continue to be senior director for Southwest Asia, the Near East and North Africa.