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

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