The Taliban said Sunday they have agreed to a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan, providing a window during which a peace agreement with the United States could be signed.
A peace deal would allow Washington to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end America’s longest military engagement of 18 years. The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not used as a base by terrorist groups. The U.S. currently has an estimated 12,000 troops stationed in the country.
The Taliban chief must approve the agreement, but that is expected. The duration of the ceasefire was not specified but it is being suggested it would last for 10 days.
Four members of the Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed on the brief ceasefire.
The negotiating team returned Sunday to Qatar where the Taliban maintain their political office and where U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding peace talks with the religious militia since September 2018.
A key pillar of the agreement, which the U.S. and Taliban have been hammering out for more than a year, is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.
Those negotiations are expected to be held within two weeks of the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal. They will likely decide what a post-war Afghanistan will look like, and what role the Taliban will play.
The negotiations would cover a wide range of subjects, such as the rights of women, free speech and the fate of the tens of thousands of Taliban fighters, as well as the heavily armed militias belonging to Afghanistan’s warlords who have amassed wealth and power since the Taliban’s ouster.
The temporary ceasefire had been proposed by U.S. envoy Khalilzad during the last round of talks.
The Taliban have previously refused all offers of a ceasefire by the Afghan government, except for a three-day truce in June 2018 over the Eid al-Fitr holiday, a religious celebration that marks the end of fasting for Ramadan.
Taliban attack kills 17
Only hours before Sunday’s agreement, a Taliban attack in northern Afghanistan killed at least 17 local militiamen, an Afghan official said Sunday.
The attack apparently targeted a local militia commander who escaped unharmed, said Jawad Hajri, a spokesperson for the governor of Takhar province, where the attack took place late Saturday.
Local Afghan militias commonly operate in remote areas, and are under the command of either the defence or interior ministries.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.
Last Monday, an American soldier was also killed in combat in the northern Kunduz province. The Taliban claimed they were behind a fatal roadside bombing that targeted American and Afghan forces in Kunduz.
The following day, a Taliban attack on a checkpoint killed at least seven Afghan army soldiers in the northern Balkh province.
Another six Afghan troops were killed in the same province Thursday in an attack on an army base. At least 10 Afghan soldiers were killed Friday in a complex attack on a checkpoint in the southern Helmand province.
The Taliban frequently target Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials. But scores of Afghan civilians are also killed in the crossfire or by roadside bombs planted by militants.