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In first, Afghan Taliban announce cease-fire for Eid holiday

In first, Afghan Taliban announce cease-fire for Eid holiday

The Taliban on Saturday announced a surprise three-day ceasefire with the Afghan government for the duration of Eid al-Fitr, the religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

The militant group agreed to the truce two days after it was announced by President Ashraf Ghani.

"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.

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

President Ghani had ordered security forces to cease operations against the Taliban last week but stressed that the fight against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other groups in the country would continue. Hours before accepting the truce, the militants stormed military bases in western and northern Afghanistan, killing almost 40 soldiers.

Pakistan today expressed support for peace efforts in Afghanistan, hours after the Taliban announced its first ceasefire in the war-torn country in almost 17 years.

The palace statement referred to a gathering of Afghanistan's top clerics last week in which they issued a decree against suicide attacks and called for peace talks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during during a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul Afghanistan

It is unclear when the ceasefire will begin, as Eid begins when the moon is first sighted.

But analysts were cautious, warning that the Taliban and its brutal arm the Haqqani Network could launch attacks on behalf of the Daesh group, which they are believed to have done previously.

"In three days, maybe the unity of Taliban insurgents will be put to test", a European diplomat told Reuters.

"We're ready to restart talks about peace with Pakistan again and forget bitter experiences of the past and start a new chapter", he said. "We particularly support all Afghan-owned and Afghan-led efforts aimed at bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan", it said.

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.

"You can't end 40 years of war in a few days, but this is definitely the best chance for a peace process since at least since the USA surge" of troops under President Barack Obama in 2010-2011, said Vikram Singh, a former Pentagon and State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington. He added that eight Taliban attackers were killed and more than a dozen others were wounded during the gun battle.

Taliban overran capital Kunduz city on late 2015 for nearly 10 days, before they were driven out by Afghan special forces backed by United States aircraft.

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