Doha (AFP)

The United States and the Taliban are "on the verge of an agreement" after 18 years of conflict in Afghanistan, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Sunday after talks in Doha.

"We are about to conclude an agreement that will reduce violence and pave the way for Afghans to sit down together to negotiate an honorable and lasting peace," Khalilzad said.

He was speaking at the end of the eighth and final day of the ninth round of negotiations in Qatar between representatives of the United States and Taliban. He said he would travel to Kabul later on Sunday "for consultations".

The US negotiator did not say if he was in possession of a finalized text to submit to the Afghan authorities. Several officials had hinted in recent days that a move to Kabul could signal a positive outcome, but that the eventual announcement of an agreement would only come after the Afghan government and the main partners would have been informed and after the green light from US President Donald Trump.

"Despite speculation, we do not have an announcement yet," a spokesman for the US State Department in Washington told AFP after Zalmay Khalilzad's tweets, saying the latter would talk in Kabul with a large number of Afghans, starting with government leaders.

Taliban spokesman in Doha, Suhail Shaheen, said on his side Saturday that the agreement was "almost finalized."

Such an agreement "will have to allow the withdrawal of US forces and ensure the security of US territory", "not on the basis of blind trust", but "clear commitments that will be subject to verification". insisted the spokesman of the State Department.

- "Cease fire permanently" -

"If and when we will be able to announce an agreement, the process will leave room for inter-Afghan negotiations, where the Taliban will sit down with other Afghans to make a united commitment to a permanent ceasefire. global, "he added.

Some 13,000 US troops are still deployed in Afghanistan, where the United States intervened in 2001 to track down the al-Qaida jihadist network responsible for the 9/11 attacks and to dislodge the Taliban then in power in Kabul. The American workforce reached up to 98,000 men in 2011.

Anxious to end the "endless wars" and "bring the guys home," Donald Trump had authorized a year ago these unprecedented direct talks with the Taliban.

The president of the United States announced Thursday that in case of agreement, 8,600 US troops would initially remain in Afghanistan. But it could only be a first step and the agreement could provide a timetable for a much larger withdrawal, even though Donald Trump has promised to maintain a non-detailed "presence".

This withdrawal, the main demand of the Taliban who want it total, would be in exchange for the commitment of the insurgents that the territories they control are no longer used by al-Qaeda or other "terrorist" groups.

Such an agreement would help create "a sovereign, unified Afghanistan that will not threaten the United States, its allies or any other country," Khalilzad said in his tweet on Sunday.

The 9th round of talks in Doha came to an end as the Taliban on Saturday launched an offensive on the strategic city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.

This offensive shows that the Taliban "do not believe in the peace opportunity carried by the United States and the Afghan government," Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, whose government was told away by Washington in its direct negotiations with the insurgents.

© 2019 AFP