US downplays Taliban claims they will withdraw half of Afghan troops by April

Senior pro-Afghan government figures are in Moscow for talks with the Taliban

FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
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The United States has downplayed Taliban claims that America will withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by April.

The US Department of State dampened the group's claims, saying it had not agreed to any timeline of a possible withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban's deputy chief negotiator, Salam Hanafi, also said the group will negotiate directly with Kabul once the US announces a full withdrawal.

While the Taliban have been leaking apparent details of negotiations with the US, the State Department and White House have dismissed several claims made by the group regarding the recent talks.

Talks between the Taliban and senior Afghan figures – but not members of the government – are taking place in Moscow this week.

Hamid Karzai, the first president of Afghanistan after the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, attended the Moscow meetings, tweeting to say he would "carry a message of peace, unity, sovereignty and progress for all of us; the men, women and children of our beloved country".

The US held peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar last month that ended with signs of progress towards the withdrawal of thousands of foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to more than 17 years of war.

The Taliban's refusal to meet with the Afghan government is seen as a major stumbling block to lasting peace in the country, which has been at war for four decades – nearly two of which involving US and Afghan forces against the Taliban.

The group see the Afghan government as a puppet of the US. For years the refusal of the US to meet with Taliban officials has prevented any negotiation.

But with presidential elections in Afghanistan in June, President Ashraf Ghani is under pressure to bring the war to an end as civilians are overwhelmingly the biggest victims.

The Taliban has been carrying out bloody attacks against civilians and security forces with hundreds killed since the beginning of the year alone.