The Trump administration is reportedly planning to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan in a new deal negotiated with the Taliban Thursday, US news agencies reported.
The Washington Post reported that the number of US troops in Afghanistan would be reduced to between 8,000 and 9,000 from the current 14,000, citing US officials.
In exchange, the Taliban would reportedly have to begin negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan government; the deal would also involve a cease-fire and a Taliban renunciation of al Qaeda.
The proposal is the result of months of talks between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat, according to the Post.
Officials reportedly said an agreement could be final before Afghanistan's September elections but also said there are still challenges.
“I would say that they are 80 or 90 percent of the way there,” one official told the newspaper. “But there is still a long way to go on that last 10 or 20 percent.”
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid declined the Post's request for comment about a possible deal and said he didn't know when negotiations would continue.
“We are hopeful,” he said. “Things look promising that there will be a breakthrough. We hope there won’t be any obstacle, but it also depends on the seriousness of the Americans.”
Khalilzad in a tweet Wednesday called his recent visit to Afghanistan his “most productive”. He added that “if the Taliban do their part, we will do ours, and conclude the agreement we have been working on”.
The Hill reported that the US Defense Department spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement that the department had not been directed to withdraw forces.
“Our strategy in Afghanistan is conditions-based,” Rebarich said as quoted by The Hill. “Our troops will remain in Afghanistan at appropriate levels so long as their presence is required to safeguard US interests.”