WASHINGTON - The latest talks between the Taliban and the United States ended Monday without any sign of a peace deal for Afghanistan. Both sides said they would talk to their leaders about the next move, reported Voice of America (VOA) on Tuesday.

Neither side provided details of the outcome of the discussions in Doha, but US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad called them “productive” and Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid described them as “long and useful”.

This was the eighth round of discussions between the two sides.

A Taliban spokesman said last week that the talks would finish with a deal to end the nearly 18-year-long Afghan war. The negotiators have been discussing an agreement that would require the US military to withdraw from Afghanistan. Under the agreement, the Taliban would promise not to use the country to launch terrorist attacks.

The latest talks began on August 3 in the Gulf nation of Qatar. US official Zalmay Khalilzad described the negotiations as “productive.” He said he was returning to Washington for meetings with US officials. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called the discussions “long and useful.”

Afghanistan frees 35 Taliban prisoners

The Taliban have launched near-daily attacks across Afghanistan while negotiations with US officials continue. The attacks mainly target Afghan forces and government officials, but they also kill many civilians.

The US government has pushed for a ceasefire and plans for inter-Afghan talks. But the Taliban have refused to recognise the Afghan government, calling it a US puppet.

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected foreign interference in his country. The president is angry that he is not a full negotiating partner in the talks. Ghani said the elections planned for September 28 will give the next government power to decide the country’s future. But Khalilzad wants a peace deal by September 1, weeks before the vote.

The Taliban said the elections are a sham. The group has told Afghan citizens to avoid campaign events and has warned them not to vote. Taliban forces control about 50 percent of the country. The Taliban are the strongest since the US-led invasion ended its five-year government in 2001. Former US President George W Bush ordered the invasion.

More than 2,400 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since then. The United States and NATO forces officially ended combat operations in 2014. However, around 20,000 US and allied troops remain in the country.

Khalilzad wrote on Sunday that he hoped this year would be the last Eidul Azha in which Afghanistan is at war. The Muslim holiday began over the weekend. The Taliban released a message that said it hoped future Eids would be without “occupation” in “peace and unity.”

An agreement would allow US President Donald Trump to achieve his aim of ending a war launched in the days after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. The war has become a stalemate, with neither side able to defeat the other and casualties rising among civilians, as well as combatants amid surging violence.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced the release of nearly three dozen Taliban prisoners in a bid to convince the reluctant militant group to engage in peace negotiations with Kabul.

In a statement issued August 12, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s primary intelligence agency, revealed that Kabul set free 35 Taliban prisoners “as a gesture of goodwill.”