He also said the level of violence in Afghanistan was unacceptably high and that setbacks during talks are expected.
“By any measure, current levels of violence are too high,” he told the hearing but said, “we know that reductions are possible.”
Talks between the Afghan negotiating team and the Taliban started in Doha on September 12 but few details have been given since the opening ceremony, except that both sides appear to be disagreeing on a number of basic issues.
One of the key concerns among Afghans however is that women’s rights might not be preserved under a possible peace deal.
Asked about this by the Democrats during the hearing, Khalilzad said: “I want to assure the Afghan women that we will be with them.”
He said: “While we have reasons to be hopeful, we are under no illusions about the challenges ahead. … We expect that there will be setbacks and obstacles.”
He also said Washington and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other.
“We’re hoping that by the time that these other negotiations are over, we could also achieve success in that regard,” Khalilzad said.
Afghanistan has for years accused Pakistan of supporting Taliban militants but Pakistan denies doing so and in turn, accuses Afghanistan of supporting militants fighting Islamabad.
The US signed a pact with the Taliban in February, that was conditions-based, in order to bring the Afghan government and Taliban to the talks tables.
One of the agreements on the part of the US was a gradual drawdown of troops, until a full troop withdrawal in April next year.
Since the February agreement, US troop levels are down to 8,600 from 13,000 and are to be reduced further to about 4,500 by November.
David Helvey, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, told the subcommittee hearing the Pentagon was carrying out “prudent planning” to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by May 2021 if conditions were met.
He added that for now, Defense Secretary Mark Esper had not issued any orders to go below 4,000 troops.