U.S. President Donald Trump says negotiations are going well with the Taliban but that the sides have not yet reached a deal over a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Trump made the brief remarks to reporters at the White House on August 30 as he was leaving for the Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat.
A day earlier, Trump had said that, while U.S. troop levels in war-ravaged Afghanistan were being cut, the United States would continue to maintain a military presence in the country even after a peace deal with the Taliban is reached.
Speaking in an interview on Fox News Radio on August 29, Trump said troop levels would fall to around 8,600 "and then we make a determination from there.”
"We're going to keep a presence there. We're reducing that presence very substantially and we're going to always have a presence. We're going to have high intelligence," he added.
Trump's comments follow a report by Reuters that “misgivings” are growing among some in the U.S. administration and elsewhere that a drastic reduction in troop levels will erode the U.S. ability to prevent terror attacks from Afghanistan.
Some U.S. officials, commanders, and lawmakers do not trust the Taliban and its operations arm, the Haqqani network, to break with Al-Qaeda and could not, in any case, prevent the terror group from plotting attacks from there.
"We cannot just wish these wars away, unfortunately," Representative Michael Waltz (Republican-Florida), a former Green Beret officer who commanded U.S. special forces in Afghanistan, told Reuters.
"They will follow us home,” he warned.
"Even if you believe Taliban assurances [of] denying safe haven to Al-Qaeda, I don't see how they even have the capability to do so," Waltz added.
A State Department spokeswoman said any deal with the Taliban would be closely monitored.
"We're well aware of the history of the Taliban, including the Haqqani network and its complicated history with Al-Qaeda, which is exactly why any deal, if one is reached, will be so stringently monitored and verified," she told Reuters.
"The agreement we’re working on is not based on trust," she added.
U.S. and Taliban negotiators have conducted nine rounds of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, to seal a deal to end the 18-year Afghan conflict.
On August 28, a senior Taliban commander in Pakistan told AFP that leaders of the militant group were reviewing a proposed peace agreement at an undisclosed location along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Negotiations have focused on issues including a U.S. troop withdrawal, a cease-fire, intra-Afghan negotiations to follow, and guarantees by the militant group not to harbor terrorist groups.
The Taliban has refused to negotiate directly with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
The United States formally ended its Afghan combat mission in 2014 but about 14,000 U.S. troops remain in the country, mainly training and advising government forces battling the Taliban, as well as an affiliate of the Islamic State extremist group and other militants. Some U.S. forces carry out counterterrorism operations.
Despite the talks, NATO on August 30 reported a new fatality among its troops, saying a U.S. service member had been killed in Afghanistan, barely a week after two U.S. Army Green Berets were killed in combat.
The NATO Resolute Support mission said the latest death occurred on August 29 but provided no details.
At least 15 members of the U.S. military have been killed in action in Afghanistan this year.
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to topple the Taliban government and drive out Al-Qaeda terrorists, more than 2,400 U.S. service members have died in the country.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa