The White House says President Donald Trump's talks with his national security advisers to discuss Afghan peace talks went "very well" and that negotiations with the Taliban "are proceeding."
Officials on August 16 said Trump was meeting with his top advisers to review negotiations with the extremist group about a possible U.S. troop pullout from war-ravaged Afghanistan and the potential for a political settlement in the nearly 18-year conflict.
In a tweet following the briefing, Trump wrote: 'Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan. Many on the opposite side of this 19 year war, and us, are looking to make a deal -- if possible!'
The White House statement said Trump met with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, national-security adviser John Bolton, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, and CIA Gina Director Haspel.
"In continued close cooperation with the government of Afghanistan, we remain committed to achieving a comprehensive peace agreement, including a reduction in violence and a cease-fire, ensuring that Afghan soil is never again used to threaten the United States or her allies, and bringing Afghans together to work towards peace," the statement said.
Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy, has conducted eight rounds of peace talks with Taliban negotiators in Qatar in an effort to end the long, bloody war in Afghanistan.
Washington has said it wants a peace deal finalized by September 1, and some U.S. officials have hinted at the possibility that the Afghan presidential election set for September 28 could be canceled in the event of a peace settlement and the formation of an interim government that the Taliban would join.
Despite the talks with U.S. representatives, Taliban negotiators have so far refused to talk directly to the Afghan government in Kabul, calling it a puppet of foreigners.
As U.S. and Taliban negotiators appeared to be closing in on an accord, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on August 11 said Afghanistan's future "cannot be decided outside."
Ghani insisted that peace was only possible 'between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement.'
Senior administration officials say that no decisions have been made, but they added that Trump 'has been pretty clear that he wants to bring the troops home.' About 14,000 troops are in Afghanistan, mainly training and advising government forces.
The possibility of a U.S. troop pullout has raised deep concerns within the U.S. military and among some lawmakers that the situation in Afghanistan could quickly deteriorate and plunge the country into a new civil war, helping to turn it into a sanctuary for Al-Qaeda and other extremists.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina), a vocal Trump ally, said any final deal should allow the United States to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan to pursue resurgent terror groups.
'Any peace agreement which denies the U.S. a robust counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan is not a peace deal,' Graham said.
'Instead, it is paving the way for another attack on the American homeland and attacks against American interests around the world.'
There has been no letup in violence in the war in Afghanistan even as talks continue.
More than 3,800 civilians were killed or injured in the conflict during the first six months of this year, according to UNAMA.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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