Afghan Taleban announce surprise three-day Eid ceasefire

Afghan security officials stand guard at a check point in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on June 7, 2018.
Afghan security officials stand guard at a check point in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on June 7, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KABUL (REUTERS) - The Afghan Taleban on Saturday (June 9) announced a three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday at the end of this week, their first offer of its kind, following a ceasefire announced by the government on Thursday.

The militants said foreign forces would be excluded from the ceasefire and that operations against them would continue. They also said they would defend themselves against any attack.

"In three days, maybe the unity of Taleban insurgents will be put to test," a European diplomat told Reuters. "If different factions don't accept the ceasefire, then attacks will continue."

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taleban on Thursday, until June 20, coinciding with the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, but excluding other militant groups, such as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Ghani's decision came after a meeting of Islamic clerics declared a fatwa, or ruling, against suicide bombings, one of which, claimed by ISIS, killed 14 people at the entrance to the clerics' peace tent in Kabul.

The clerics also recommended a ceasefire with the Taleban, who are seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their ouster in 2001, and Ghani endorsed the recommendation, saying it would last until June 20.

It was not immediately clear when the Taleban ceasefire would begin, as Eid starts when the moon is first sighted on either the 29th or 30th day of Ramadan, and the moon appears at different times across the country.

Ghani has urged ceasefires with the Taleban before, but this was the first unconditional offer since he was elected in 2014.

In August, US President Donald Trump unveiled a more hawkish military approach to Afghanistan, including a surge in air strikes, aimed at forcing the Taleban to the negotiating table.

Afghan security forces say the impact has been significant, but the Taleban roam huge swaths of the country and, with foreign troop levels of about 15,600, down from 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright victory.