Taliban fighters
© Reuters/Parwiz
Taliban fighters in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 2018.
A "marathon" round of talks with the Taliban in Qatar has produced an "agreement in draft" on counter-terrorism assurances and American troop withdrawal, said US envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.

"The conditions for peace have improved," Khalilzad tweeted after the talks. "Despite ups and downs, we kept things on track and made real strides."

"It's clear all sides want to end the war."

Troop withdrawal and counter-terrorism assurances are the first two issues that Khalilzad and the Taliban reached an "agreement on principle" during the talks in January.

When the final deal is reached on those two issues, the Taliban will start negotiations on "a political settlement and comprehensive ceasefire," with the government in Kabul and other factions in Afghanistan, Khalilzad said.

The US envoy is now returning to Washington to consult "with other partners," but said he will be meeting with the Taliban again "soon." Khalilzad tempered his optimism with a cautious note that "there is no final agreement until everything is agreed," however.

Peace talks with the Taliban began last year, as US President Donald Trump announced a reduction in the number of US troops in Afghanistan and a pullout from Syria. Trump has spoken on multiple occasions of wanting to end the war that started in 2001 and turned into one of the longest conflicts in US history.

Parallel to the talks with Khalilzad, the Taliban also reached out to other Afghan factions - with the exception of the current US-backed government - and held a "historic"and productive meeting in Moscow last month.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the US blamed the Taliban for harboring their alleged mastermind, Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. US troops invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to overthrow the Taliban and hunt down Bin Laden. The Al-Qaeda leader was eventually located in neighboring Pakistan and killed in a May 2011 raid. However, the war against the Taliban continued, even as the Washington-backed government in Kabul continued to lose territory and troops.