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