Afghanistan planning holiday ceasefire with Taliban

Afghanistan planning holiday ceasefire with Taliban
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Afghanistan's president said Sunday its forces would honor a ceasefire with Taliban insurgents to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

“The conditional ceasefire will start tomorrow and it will continue as long as the Taliban preserves and respects it,” Ashraf Ghani said, Reuters reports.

“We call on the leadership of the Taliban to welcome the wishes of Afghans for a long-lasting and real peace,” he added.

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Taliban sources told Reuters that leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada still needs to sign off on the ceasefire, but that insurgent leaders provisionally agreed to a four-day truce during the holiday.

The insurgents also told the news service that they would free hundreds of prisoners. They declined, however, to go into any further detail.

The announcement came one day after Taliban militants clashed with government and NATO coalition forces in the northern province of Faryab, an Afghan interior ministry official told Reuters.

The official also said that the fighting in Faryab ended with part of Bulcheragh district in Taliban control and more than 50 government forces missing.

Four days before the announcement, a contentious five-day battle for the control of Ghazni reportedly ended when U.S. forces and Afghan soldiers managed to throw the Taliban back. The battle left at least 150 soldiers and 95 civilians dead.

The Taliban has been slowly gaining back control of the ground they lost since most foreign combat troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014. Reuters reports that the insurgents now control or contest control of more than 40 percent of the country.

Ghani announced an unconditional, two-week ceasefire with the Taliban in June this year. The Taliban observed it for three days during the Eid al-Fitr festival, according to reports, but then rejected any extension.  

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg lauded Ghani’s latest announcement, tweeting, “I encourage the Taliban to demonstrate their concern for Afghans by respecting it.”