Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper delivers remarks before ringing the closing NASDAQ bell for Veterans Day in New York, New York, November 11, 2019. Picture taken November 11, 2019. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando/Handout via Reuters)

LONDON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday that any future troop drawdowns in Afghanistan were "not necessarily" linked to a deal with Taliban insurgents, suggesting some lowering of force levels may happen irrespective of the ongoing peace push.

The remarks by Esper in an interview with Reuters came on the heels of a Thanksgiving trip last week to Afghanistan by President Donald Trump, who spoke of potential troop reductions and said he believed the Taliban insurgency would agree to a ceasefire in the 18-year-old war.

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U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., October 11, 2019. (REUTERS/Erin Scott)

KABUL (Reuters) - The top U.S. general said on Wednesday that the chances of a successful outcome from peace talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan were higher than before and could happen in the "near term."

Earlier this month the Afghan Taliban released American and Australian university professors held hostage for more than three years, raising hopes for a revival of peace talks.

The chances of successful peace talks are complicated by the Taliban's refusal to engage with what they call an "illegitimate" U.S.-backed government in Kabul.

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AP Photo/APTN

To many, he was the homegrown face of terrorist treachery who left a comfortable Marin County life to train for jihad with Osama bin Laden and fight for America's foes in Afghanistan. To others, he was a wayward teenage spiritual seeker swept up in the Global War on Terror.

This week, a generation after 9/11, the "American Taliban" will be a free man.

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Afghan National Army soldiers practice the prone shooting position during a class given by coalition force members on the fundamentals of marksmanship in Farah province, Feb. 14, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Chadwick de Bree)

Members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces frequently robbed and abused native Afghan personnel hired under three maintenance and operations contracts at ANDSF military bases, according to an alarming new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, confiscating a total of $780,000 in property and equipment and often detaining workers at gunpoint.

More disturbingly, the Resolute Support mission's Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan "has not issued any financial penalties against the ANDSF" for the mistreatment of its O&M because withholding funds, according to the SIGAR report "harms ANDSF forces more than it would tend to change behavior" of corrupt security forces.

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A member of the Taliban holds a flag in Kabul, Afghanistan June 16, 2018. The writing on the flag reads: 'There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah'. (Reuters/Mohammad Ismail)

The Taliban captured 150 Afghan soldiers after they tried fleeing into neighboring Turkmenistan and were forced back, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

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(U.S. Army/ Sgt. Mike MacLeod)

U.S. military aircraft effectively "wiped out" an Afghan military checkpoint in Tarin Kot on Wednesday after soldiers there mistakenly fired on a joint patrol of Afghan and American troops, according to The New York Times.

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