DOHA, Qatar — After years in which efforts at resolving America’s longest war ambled slowly forward, if at all, they now appear to be galloping toward the finish line.

American and Taliban negotiators are thought to be close to a deal that would see the 14,000 American troops remaining in Afghanistan return home, after they lost more than 2,400 of their ranks and had thousands more maimed.

But the Trump administration’s rush to withdraw will leave Afghanistan at the mercy of an extremely ascetic Islamist movement that has done little to change its ways since the U.S. invaded nearly 18 years ago.

“I think that at the beginning they were arrogant,” said Sohail Shaheen, a senior Taliban spokesman, referring to the American-led armies that toppled the Taliban after the militants sheltered the author of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Osama bin Laden.

“I think now they understand, you know, the ground realities … that it is a meaningless war.”

Shaheen spoke to NBC News in Doha, the capital of the glittering Gulf Arab kingdom of Qatar, where U.S. and Taliban negotiators are deep into the seventh round of talks.

U.S. and Afghan soldiers take a knee near a U.S. Army Chinook near the town of Walli Was in Paktika province Nov. 1, 2012.Goran Tomasevic / Reuters file

On two crucial issues — respect for women’s rights and recognition of Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government in Kabul — Shaheen either hewed to Taliban policies dating back decades before the U.S. invasion or deferred to further negotiations or future decisions by Islamic courts.

In an hourlong interview in one of the city’s finest hotels, Shaheen projected the calm confidence not only of a diplomat but of an experienced commander who would rather not have to blacken your eye but will do so if you need to be taught a lesson.

“That’s why we told the Americans at the beginning of the war, it’s not a picnic,” he said. “There will be a time that you will come to seek peace but that will be after a lot of loss on both sides, and that happened.”

The war has taken a devastating toll.

Nearly 18 years after a U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban government in Kabul, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and most insurgent-ridden countries in the world — just like America and its allies found the country when they invaded in 2001. According to the Pentagon, the war is costing U.S. taxpayers around $45 billion a year.



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