America could withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan in the coming months as part of an initial peace agreement with the Taliban. American and militant envoys meeting in Qatar's capital said they were optimistic of soon clinching a deal to end America's 18-year-old conflict. An initial deal would see US troop numbers fall to as low as 8,000 from their current level of 14,000, the Washington Post reported. In return the Taliban would have to give guarantees Afghan soil would not become a launchpad for transnational terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. They would also begin negotiating with the Afghan government to find a wider political settlement to the world's deadliest conflict. "I would say that they are 80 or 90 percent of the way there," one official told the paper. "But there is still a long way to go on that last 10 or 20 percent." Sources familiar with the talks said argument among the Taliban may still scupper a deal. The militants have until now demanded a full US withdrawal before they talk to Ashraf Ghani's government and it is unclear if hardliners will accept a partial withdrawal to start. Details of how and agreement might be monitored or verified were also still being hammered out. The conflict is now the deadliest in the world Credit: Reuters “Dissension in the Taliban ranks may yet throw spanners in the works. But overall it's positive,” said one official. It was not immediately clear if there was progress on the other element of talks, the Taliban's agreement to a ceasefire. Zalmay Khalilzad, Donald Trump's peace envoy, has said until now that a deal cannot be finalised until all the elements, including a truce, are agreed. Casualties have continued to mount steeply as sides in the conflict have continued to fight while negotiating. Mr Khalilzad is under intense pressure to find Mr Trump a way out of the war, which the US president has dismissed as a costly failure. The talks are also overshadowing campaigning for September's the Afghan presidential elections, with candidates unsure whether an election will even be held in the event of a deal.
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