The United States is ready to significantly scale down the number of troops in Afghanistan that would entail the Taliban starting direct negotiations with the Western-backed Kabul government, U.S. media reported on August 1.
The Washington Post, CNN, and the dpa news agency reported that the number of soldiers would go down from 14,000 to 8,000-9,000 as part of a peace deal to end the nearly two-decades-long war in Afghanistan.
To date, the Taliban militant group has refused to negotiate with the Kabul government, calling it a "puppet regime."
Other measures include a personnel reduction at the U.S. Embassy and cuts in security personnel, CNN reported.
Speaking to RFE/RL on July 31, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said there were four key issues for a comprehensive peace agreement: the withdrawal of foreign troops, a Taliban guarantee to prevent terrorist attacks, intra-Afghan dialogue leading to a political settlement, and a permanent cease-fire.
In acknowledging the delicate situation, he has stressed that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."
In anticipation of Washington being close to agreeing an agreement with the Taliban, Afghanistan's Ministry of Peace Affairs announced on July 31 that it had appointed a 15-member delegation to negotiate with the militant group.
Khalilzad is set to begin a fresh round of talks with the Taliban in the Qatari capital of Doha in the next few days.
He has held eight rounds of peace talks so far, with both sides saying they have made significant progress on several components of a peace deal.
The United States has set a tentative September 1 deadline for the peace deal, ahead of Afghanistan's scheduled presidential elections later that month.
However, some U.S. officials have privately floated the possibility that the vote could be canceled in the event of a peace settlement and the formation of an interim government that the Taliban would join.
There is support for this among the Taliban and Afghan opposition figures, but President Ashraf Ghani has strongly rejected it.