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US, Taliban Close In on Deal That Would Cut US Force

Troop levels would fall below 9,000
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 1, 2019 7:23 PM CDT
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, left, meets US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Thursday.   (Press Information Department, via AP)
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(Newser) – The US is nearing an agreement under which it would remove thousands of troops from Afghanistan, and the Taliban would denounce al-Qaeda and agree to a cease-fire. That would take US troop levels from about 14,000 to fewer than 9,000, roughly the number there when President Trump took office. The preliminary deal has come after months of talks involving the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Kabul who was born in Afghanistan. Trump picked him last year to work on an agreement. "I would say that they are 80 or 90 percent of the way there," one official told the Washington Post. "But there is still a long way to go on that last 10 or 20 percent." A Taliban spokesman said Thursday that it looks promising but added, "We hope there won’t be any obstacle, but it also depends on the seriousness of the Americans."

The Afghan government has already selected a team to negotiate directly with the Taliban, and officials said they welcome that provision. But some worry what the Taliban will do when US troops leave. "The Americans call this a peace negotiation, but the Taliban definitely perceive it as a withdrawal negotiation," one official told the Post. A State Department official took issue with that, saying the US goal is peace. More than 2,400 American troops have been killed in the war, per Fox News, which has also cost the US more than $900 billion. (Read more Afghanistan war stories.)

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