WASHINGTON    -   President Donald Trump said Thursday he will reduce the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 8,600 but the US will maintain a presence after a deal with the Taliban is reached in the 18-year war.

“We’re going down to 8,600, and then we’ll make a determination from there as to what happens,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News radio.

Trump stressed the need for a residual presence to prevent an attack on the United States, adding that if such an attack were to happen “we would come back with a force like they’ve seen never before.”

“Oh yeah, you have to keep a presence,” Trump said. “We’re going to keep a presence there. We’re reducing that presence very substantially, and we’re going to always have a presence. We’re going to have high intelligence.”

Trump’s envoy for Afghan peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, is in Qatar seeking to put the finishing touches on a deal with the Taliban in the ninth round of talks. The Taliban said Wednesday that a deal was close.

The broad outlines of the deal would see US troops withdraw in exchange for Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will not be used as a launch point for terrorist attacks against the United States.

Right now, the official count of US troops in Afghanistan is 14,000. US troops have two missions in Afghanistan: to train, advise and assist Afghan troops in their fight against the Taliban and to conduct counterterrorism operations against groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda.

Over the weekend, Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally and prominent voice on defence issues, warned Trump not to drop below 8,600 troops in Afghanistan in order to have an effective counterterrorism force. “To go below that I think would be really risky,” Graham said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

On Wednesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford would not discuss specifics about the fate of the counterterrorism presence in a deal with the Taliban, saying it was “premature” to do so.

Still, Dunford said he supported an approach to Afghanistan that results in a ‘disruption to the status quo’. “I think an agreement that can initiate inter-Afghan dialogue and potentially leading to a reduction of violence associated with the insurgency is something that’s worth trying,” he said.

Meanwhile, a peace accord to end the American war in Afghanistan is close to completion, the Taliban have said, and a rough draft is being proof read and translated before being signed off.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Donald Trump’s chief negotiator, will leave officials to complete the final details in Doha, Qatar, and fly to Kabul to brief the Afghan government. He was then expected to head to Brussels to brief NATO allies before any deal was signed and announced.

“We hope to have good news soon for our Muslim, independence-seeking nation,” said Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha.

Details of the accord will not be announced until it is complete, but sources briefed on the talks said it was expected to see America withdraw troops gradually over 15 months if security conditions on the ground were met.

The Taliban will give guarantees Afghan soil will not become a launch pad for attacks by transnational terrorist groups, and they will also begin talks with Afghan leaders to discuss a wider political settlement.

The talks have failed to agree on a broad ceasefire, however, or whether America will keep a permanent counter-terrorism force in the country to continue targeting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al-Qaeda.

The United States invaded Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks in late 2001, supported by close US allies.

Canada withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan in March 2014 after 12 years in the country.