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A U.S. soldier looks out over Afghanistan from a helicopter in 2014. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. reached an initial deal with the Taliban on Friday that could begin a drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan, AP reports, citing a senior U.S. official.

The big picture: Top administration officials, including President Trump, had signaled that an agreement could be reached soon, allowing America's 18-year war in Afghanistan to end after thousands of lives lost and billions of dollars spent. But previous attempts to leave Afghanistan have not panned out.

What we know: The "very specific" deal calls for a seven-day "reduction of violence" covering the entire country, to act as the precursor to all-Afghan peace talks within 10 days, a U.S. official said on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday that the U.S. and Taliban had "negotiated a proposal for a seven-day reduction in violence."
  • The full conditions remain unclear. If the administration deems they’ve been met, it would then withdraw some troops and the Taliban would enter negotiations with the Afghan government about the country's political future.
  • A U.S. exit likely wouldn't mean an end to the fighting. The Taliban have been unwilling to lay down their arms, rebuffing calls for a ceasefire during negotiations.

Between the lines: Trump is not the first American president to want to end the conflict.

  • "President Bush wanted out, President Obama wanted out, President Trump wants out," says Michael Morell, who held top roles at the CIA under both Bush and Obama. "Nobody can see a path to this ending, and the American people are getting tired of it."
  • "What's held them back is a belief that once we leave, the Taliban's going to take over ... and offer al-Qaeda safe haven again."
  • "That is a risk that President Bush wasn't willing to take, President Obama wasn't willing to take, and President Trump earlier in his term wasn't willing to take," says Morell, who hosts the "Intelligence Matters" podcast.

What to watch: For now, Trump may be satisfied with a partial deal and a partial troop reduction. Ultimately, he clearly wants out. So do all of the leading 2020 Democrats, and many Americans.

Go deeper: The Afghanistan conundrum

Go deeper

Trump grants flurry of last-minute pardons

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

President Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals early Wednesday, 11 hours from leaving office.

Why it matters: It's a last-minute gift to some of the president's loyalists and an evident use of executive power with only hours left of his presidency. Axios reported in December that Trump planned to grant pardons to "every person who ever talked to me."

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty

Shortly after pardoning members of Congress and lobbyists convicted on corruption charges, President Trump revoked an executive order barring former officials from lobbying for five years after leaving his administration.

Why it matters: The order, which was signed eight days after he took office, was an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to "drain the swamp."

  • But with less than 12 hours left in office, Trump has now removed those limitations on his own aides.

Trump pardons former GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy

President Trump has pardoned Elliott Broidy, a former top Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty late last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws as part of a campaign to sway the administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.

Why it matters: Broidy was a deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee early in Trump’s presidency, and attempted to leverage his influence in the Trump administration on behalf of his clients. The president's decision to pardon Broidy represents one last favor for a prominent political ally.

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