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Trump visits Bagram Air Base. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty

Multiple signs are currently pointing toward a U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan.

What they're saying: Defense Secretary Mark Esper said today that he's comfortable with a smaller U.S. troop presence, national security adviser Robert O'Brien said he's "cautiously optimistic" an announcement is forthcoming, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Afghan president to fill him in on a possible deal.

  • As O'Brien reiterated last night, President Trump believes "it's time for America to come home" after 18 years, though he cautioned that a full withdrawal is not imminent. He also noted that withdrawal deals have collapsed in the past.
  • Two American soldiers, Sgt. Javier Jaguar Gutierrez and Sgt. Antonio Rey Rodriguez, were killed on Saturday by a soldier in an Afghan army uniform, per AP. Trump traveled to Dover Air Base Monday to pay his respects.

The U.S. has engaged in stop-start negotiations with the Taliban over the past year to set conditions for an American withdrawal.

  • Despite promising during his 2016 campaign to end the war, Trump was convinced early in his presidency to keep a large U.S. presence in the country. Now, he reportedly wants all American troops out of the country by November's election.
  • A deal seemed within striking distance last September but fell apart after a deadly Taliban attack and the scuttling of a summit Trump hoped to host at Camp David.
  • Despite U.S. demands for a ceasefire, the Taliban only grew more aggressive in recent months, possibly to strengthen its leverage in negotiations. American airstrikes also increased to the highest levels in years.

The state of play: Recent negotiations in Qatar seem to have proved fruitful. One senior diplomat told the NY Times that a deal is 95% complete, at least in principle.

  • The complete outline of the deal isn't known, but it includes assurances from the Taliban that Afghanistan will not be used in the future as a base for terror groups like al-Qaeda.
  • The U.S. is also demanding a reduction in violence before and after the deal is complete and negotiations on power-sharing between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted yesterday that Pompeo had notified him of "notable progress."
  • Esper said he'd be comfortable with a troop reduction in the shorter-term to about 8,600, from 12,000.

Between the lines: Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell told Axios last year that the negotiations are a “charade” designed to provide the U.S. a “face-saving way out of Afghanistan."

The bottom line: But leaders from both parties, including the Democratic presidential candidates, are weary of the war and looking for a way out. Polls suggest Americans tend to consider the war a failure.

Go deeper

Venezuela suspends talks with opposition after Maduro ally extradited to U.S.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, in June. Photo: Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key ally of Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. Saturday to face money laundering charges in Florida, Bloomberg first reported.

Why it matters: Venezuela's government called off negotiations with opposition officials that were scheduled for Sunday in Mexico in response to the extradition of Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and financial fixer for Maduro.

4 hours ago - Health

5 times as many police officers have died from COVID as from guns since pandemic began

Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

COVID-19 is the leading cause of death for police officers even though members of law enforcement were among the first to be eligible to receive the vaccine, CNN reports, citing data from the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Why it matters: Nearly 476 police officers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, compared to the 93 deaths as a result of gunfire in the same time period, according to ODMP and CNN.

Virginia energy giant quietly boosts McAuliffe

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during a campaign rally on Oct. 15 in Henrico, Virginia. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe has sworn off money from the Richmond company Dominion Energy. But the utility has found more subtle ways to back McAuliffe's gubernatorial bid, records show.

Driving the news: Dominion's political action committee has donated $200,000 to a murky political group called Accountability Virginia PAC, a group with ties to prominent Democrats that's been running ads attacking Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin from the right.