Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

Taliban announce brief ceasefire, offering Afghans hope for lull in war

Taliban announce brief ceasefire, offering Afghans hope for lull in war

Speaking on the sidelines of a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence ministers' meeting in Brussels, Nicholson said U.S. forces would respect the apparently unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday.

The ceasefire, the first offer of its kind, will begin either on Friday or Saturday, as Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, falls on one of these days. The holiday starts in mid-June, but since the time depends on the lunar cycle the timing could change based on crescent moon sightings.

Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan have killed as many as 65 government soldiers and police officers in three attacks.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this could, for example, allow the U.S.to partially shift the focus of aerial surveillance from the Taliban to Daesh fighters as well as al-Qaida extremists, who remain a threat 17 years after the US invaded. "Foreign occupiers are excepted; continue your offensives on them whenever and wherever you see them", leaders told their followers in a statement.

Ghani's cease-fire offer did not cover Afghan operations against the Islamic State or other hard-line groups.

The unexpected move came two days after the Afghan government's own surprise announcement of a week-long halt to operations against the Taliban.

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Many diplomats and officials in Kabul saw the ceasefire as a small gesture of trust-building at best, and warned that it was too early to pin too much hope on it as some of the most basic questions about a concrete peace process remained unresolved.

A Taliban statement released early on Saturday said its commanders had also been told to free captives they were sure would not rejoin Government forces.

In February Ghani unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban, including eventually recognizing them as a political party. Mattis spoke to reporters during a break in a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defense ministers meeting.

But just how that settlement could be negotiated has proved to be a hard task, compounded by several factors, including the Taliban's long but increasingly complicated relationship with the Pakistani military as a source of support, a weak interlocutor in the government in Kabul that's marred by infighting, and the breakdown of consensus among regional players including Iran and Russian Federation, who have stakes in an endgame in Afghanistan. "If different factions don't accept the ceasefire, then attacks will continue".

Provincial governor's spokesman Jilani Farhad confirmed the incident and the death toll of the armed forces, saying another soldier was also wounded during the clashes.

Temori said that seven others were wounded in Qala-e Zal district.

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