Tal­iban an­nounce their first cease-fire with Afghan forces since start of the war

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - NATION & WORLD 2 - By The Washington Post

KABUL —The Tal­iban an­nounced their first cease-fire with Afghan forces Satur­day, ac­cept­ing the Kabul government’s of­fer to halt fight­ing at the con­clu­sion of the Mus­lim holy month of Ra­madan.

The mil­i­tant group, in a state­ment to re­porters, said it would im­pose a truce with Afghan troops for three days but would con­tinue at­tacks on for­eign forces. The U.S. has about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan.

“Mu­jahideen are in­structed to halt of­fen­sives against lo­cal op­po­nents, but de­fend if they are at­tacked,” the group said.

The truce will co­in­cide with Eid, the re­li­gious hol­i­day that marks the end of Ra­madan.

The Tal­iban also said it may re­lease pris­on­ers in­clud­ing government troops, pro­vided they agree to re­frain from fight­ing in­sur­gents in the fu­ture, the state­ment said. It is not clear how many Afghan troops the Tal­iban hold cap­tive.

The un­prece­dented step from the in­sur­gent group, which has been fight­ing for­eign troops and their lo­cal al­lies since 2001, comes two days af­ter Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani de­clared a week­long cease-fire begin­ning June 12, and in­vited the Tal­iban to re­spond in kind. Ghani’s sur­prise an­nounce­ment un­der­scored his de­sire to es­tab­lish a peace process that could put an end to a con­flict that even his back­ers say can­not be won mil­i­tar­ily.

Wadir Safi, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional law and pol­i­tics at Kabul Univer­sity, said the Tal­iban’s de­ci­sion was an ac­knowl­edg­ment that, de­spite their abil­ity to pose a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to the state and main­tain con­trol over vast ar­eas of ru­ral Afghanistan, they would be equally un­able to achieve their goals through force.

Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­ul­lah Mu­jahid said the truce was in­tended for the Eid hol­i­day and would not af­fect the group’s larger ob­jec­tives, which in­clude the de­par­ture of for­eign troops from Afghanistan.

“Since our peo­ple are un­der oc­cu­pa­tion, ji­had is in­cum­bent on us,” he said in a mes­sage to The Washington Post.

Vi­o­lence con­tin­ued ahead of the cease-fire. At least two dozen mem­bers of Afghan se­cu­rity forces were killed in Tal­iban at­tacks on Fri­day and Satur­day. A De­fense Min­istry spokesman said Tal­iban also were killed in fight­ing in 10 prov­inces.

There was no im­me­di­ate re­sponse to the Tal­iban’s state­ment from the U.S. mil­i­tary. Ghani’s cease-fire of­fer did not cover Afghan op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State. Last week, the U.S. mil­i­tary said it would ob­serve the government cease-fire with the Tal­iban while con­tin­u­ing its ac­tiv­i­ties against the Is­lamic State.

Lau­rel Miller, who served as a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial for Afghanistan and Pak­istan un­der both Pres­i­dents Barack Obama and Don­ald Trump, said: “I hope these cease-fires stick, but I would be cau­tious about too read­ily reach­ing any firm con­clu­sions about the sig­nif­i­cance if they don’t. Many peace pro­cesses are lit­tered with failed cease-fires, but that doesn’t mean a process can’t ul­ti­mately suc­ceed.”

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