Taliban orders its first ceasefire in 17-year battle
Taliban militants have ordered their first ceasefire in Afghanistan’s grinding 17-year-long insurgency, just days after the Afghan president offered his own temporary truce as a peace overture.
The militant movement ordered its local commanders to observe a three-day break in operations against Afghan forces for next week’s Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Operations would continue against the thousands of foreign troops in the country and the militants would defend themselves if attacked, a communique said.
The surprise truce will overlap with the Afghan government’s own and appeared to be the most promising development so far in more than a decade of disappointed peace efforts.
The conflict has grown increasingly bloody and killed tens of thousands of Afghans and more than 450 British troops.
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 pictures, Looking back at British troops in Sangin, Afghanistan
Family visits should also be arranged for remaining prisoners, it said.
“Members of the Taliban should not participate in public gatherings during the Eid festivities because the enemy could target us,” they said in a statement.
Violence in the hours before the announcement underlined the intensity of the conflict and the Afghan government’s struggle to bring security.
Up to 40 Afghan soldiers and policemen were killed in two separate attacks in Kunduz and Herat provinces.
Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, welcomed the ceasefire and Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to neighbouring Pakistan, described the announcement as an “important step towards prospects for peace”.
“Hope the pleasure of shedding no Afghan blood in Eid becomes so overwhelming that rest of year is also declared as Afghan Eid,” he said.
The truce is likely to test the cohesion of the Taliban insurgency and give an indication of whether the movement’s high command, believed to be largely based in Pakistan, has control over its local leaders.
The movement has in the past struggled with internal rifts with hardliners opposed to any talks.
“In three days, maybe the unity of Taliban insurgents will be put to test,” a European diplomat told Reuters. “If different factions don’t accept the ceasefire, then attacks will continue.”
The Taliban statement came only two days after Ashraf Ghani offered Kabul’s first unconditional ceasefire against the Taliban.
Mr Ghani said he wanted the seven-day pause to give the Taliban a chance to reflect on whether their increasingly bloody campaign was alienating the Afghan public.
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