A US soldier climbs a hill with a heavy rucksack in Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. Photo: Facebook

The United States may pull thousands of its troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire and cuts its links to terror group al-Qaeda, according to a Washington Post report.

The concessions are reportedly part of a proposed initial deal to end the long-running war, now entering its 18th year.

US President Donald Trump cited “progress” in peace talks with the Taliban on Friday (August 2), but again warned that he has the ability to wipe out much of Afghanistan and kill millions of its citizens.

“We’ve made a lot of progress. We’re talking,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Trump said that US forces, bogged down in the mountainous nation for nearly two decades, “could win Afghanistan in two days or three days or four days, but I’m not looking to kill 10 million people.”

He made a similar comment about 10 million casualties in July, but this time specified that this would not involve nuclear weapons. “I’m talking conventional.”

The contours of a deal come after months of negotiations between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat who was appointed by the Trump administration last year to reinvigorate previously stalled talks.

Officials quoted in the Washington Post report said an agreement could be finalized before this September’s Afghan presidential election, though they cautioned Taliban leaders could delay until after the result and that other big hurdles to a deal remain.

A US official quoted in the report said the two sides were 80-90% near a deal, but that there was still a long way to go in accomplishing the last 10-20%.

Trump was vague in replying to a question about the Washington Post report’s claim that the US was weighing whether to cut troop levels in Afghanistan to as low as 8,000, down from their current level of 14,000.

That figure would be nearly the same as when Trump took office, the Post reported. Citing anonymous US officials, the agreement would reputedly require the Taliban to begin negotiating a larger peace deal directly with the Afghan government.

In return, the Taliban insurgency would stop fighting, enter peace talks with the US-backed Afghan government, and pledge to keep out al-Qaeda, whose 9/11 attacks on the US spurred the invasion that ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001, the report said.

A Taliban spokesman declined to comment about the likelihood of an initial agreement, saying only that recent developments had been “hopeful” and “promising”, the Washington Post reported.

Until now, the Taliban has refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which it views as a puppet regime, until it reaches a deal with the US on its troops in the country.

– This dispatch draws on Agence France-Presse reporting

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