WASHINGTON -- Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, is on his way to Kabul at the start of his latest peace mission as the war in the country has heated up in recent weeks.
Running through August 1, the trip includes a visit to Qatar and is “part of an overall effort to facilitate a peace process that ends the conflict in Afghanistan,” the U.S. State Department announced.
In Kabul, Khalilzad will consult with the Afghan government to discuss the "next steps in the peace process," which will include “identifying a national negotiating team that can participate in intra-Afghan negotiations.
Khalilzad will arrive amid calls from Afghan officials for U.S. President Donald Trump to clarify comments a day earlier in which he said he could win the war in just 10 days, though it would mean the end of the existence of Afghanistan.
"The Afghan nation has not and will never allow any foreign power to determine its fate," the Afghan president’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said in a statement on July 23.
"Afghanistan will remain on the scene of world politics with determination. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has called for clarity and explanations from Washington on the statements by President Trump," he added.
In comments following a meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on July 22, Trump told reporters that “If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people.”
"I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone," Trump said.
"It would be over in -- literally, in 10 days. And I don’t want to do -- I don't want to go that route."
In Doha, the capital of Qatar, the diplomat will hold a new round of talks with the Taliban.
Khalilzad’s 11-day trip comes after Afghan officials said they carried a joint air strike with the United States that killed at least seven civilians.
The incident occurred during a military operation in the Baraki Barak district of the eastern province of Logar on July 21.
Hasib Stanekzai, a member of the provincial council, said the air strike targeted Taliban militants but struck two residential houses.
Stanekzai said the dead included women and children and that six others were wounded.
Didar Lawang, a spokesman for the provincial governor, confirmed that the air strike had resulted in civilian casualties, but did not provide further details.
Lawang said authorities had launched an investigation into the deadly incident.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan declined to comment.
The almost 18-year war in Afghanistan has intensified in recent weeks as both Afghan forces and Taliban militants attempt to increase their leverage in ongoing peace talks.
U.S. and Taliban representatives have held eight rounds of peace talks since last year.
While no agreement has been reached, both sides have reported progress in the talks.
The Taliban, however, has refused to meet with Kabul government officials whom they regard as U.S. puppets.