Taliban says gap closing in talks with US for troop withdrawal

Peace talks between the Taliban and a U.S. peace envoy over a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan are narrowing a gap between the two sides, a spokesman for the insurgent group said Saturday.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said both sides have offered proposals for drawing down the presence of U.S. and NATO forces, a major step toward ending a nearly two-decades-long conflict. The two sides continue to meet in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban has a political office.

“There are proposals to lower the gap between the two sides, but (it) still needs negotiation to reach a final agreement,” Shaheen said in an English-language statement.

The U.S. was seeking 18 months to withdraw its 14,000 troops while the Taliban wanted it done in six months. Talks between the two sides began last year with the appointment of Washington’s peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.

American officials want a guarantee that the Taliban won’t harbor terrorists and that it will help in the fight against an Islamic State affiliate that has taken root in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban has waged battles with the group in the past.

Khalilzad has laid out four “inter-connected issues: troop withdrawal, counter-terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations and reduction in violence leading to a comprehensive cease-fire.”

Some Taliban officials said the group has concerns about a cease-fire, namely that some commanders are unlikely to accept a truce while foreign troops remain in the country.

Khalilzad has urged both sides to find a middle ground.