Afghanistan’s president, , has announced a ceasefire with Taliban insurgents from Monday to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday, despite heavy fighting in recent days in the central city of Ghazni.
Taliban sources said their leaders had provisionally agreed to a four-day truce, although their supreme leader, , still had to give his final approval.
The militant movement said it would free hundreds of prisoners, without going into further details. Eid, the annual Islamic feast of sacrifice, begins on Tuesday.
Taliban hails 'helpful' US talks as boost to Afghan peace process
Ghani said in an Afghan independence day ceremony in Kabul: “The conditional ceasefire will start tomorrow and it will continue as long as the Taliban preserves and respects it. We call on the leadership of the to welcome the wishes of Afghans for a long-lasting and real peace.”
A senior official in Ghani’s office said the ceasefire would run for three months, until the prophet Muhammad’s birthday, which celebrates on 21 November. It would cover only the Taliban, and not other groups such as Islamic State, officials said.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo welcomed the Muslim Eid holiday ceasefire, and said the US was willing to support and facilitate direct peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
“The United States welcomes the announcement by the Afghan government of a ceasefire conditioned on Taliban participation,” Pompeo said on Sunday. “This plan responds to the clear and continued call of the Afghan people for peace. There are no obstacles to talks. It is time for peace.”
Since the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban have made slow but steady gains and now control or contest more than 40% of the country.
The Taliban fought an intense battle with Afghan forces for control of the strategically important city of Ghazni . At least 150 soldiers and 95 civilians were killed in a five-day siege, which eased last week when Afghan soldiers backed by US forces pushed back the heavily armed rebels.
Blasts, suicide attacks and clashes between hardline Islamist militants and Afghan forces killed more than 1,600 civilians in the first six months of the year, the highest number in the past decade, the UN said on Sunday.
In June this year Ghani announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban lasting for about two weeks. The Taliban observed a ceasefire over the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival but rejected the government’s request to extend it.
, the secretary general of Nato, welcomed Ghani’s announcement on Sunday. “I encourage the Taliban to demonstrate their concern for Afghans by respecting it,” he tweeted.