Taliban announces first-ever cease-fire at end of holy month of Ramadan

KABUL — The Taliban announced its first-ever cease-fire with Afghan forces on Saturday, accepting the Kabul government’s offer to halt fighting at the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The militant group, in a statement to reporters, said it would impose a truce with Afghan troops for three days but would continue attacks on foreign forces. The United States has about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan.

“Mujahideen are instructed to halt offensives against local opponents, but defend if they are attacked,” the group said. The truce will coincide with Eid, the religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

The Taliban also said it may release prisoners including government troops, provided they agree to refrain from fighting insurgents in the future, the statement said. It is not clear how many Afghan troops the Taliban holds captive.

The unprecedented step from the militant group, which has been fighting foreign troops and their local allies since 2001, comes two days after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared a week-long cease-fire beginning June 12, and invited the Taliban to respond in kind. Ghani’s surprise announcement underscored his desire to establish a peace process that could put an end to a conflict that even his backers say cannot be won militarily.

Several hours later, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the truce was intended for the Eid holiday and would not affect the group’s larger goals, which include the removal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. “Since our people are under occupation, jihad is incumbent on us,” he said in a message to The Washington Post.

There was no immediate response from the U.S. military, which has a dual mission to support Afghan troops against the Taliban and, separately, conduct counterterrorism operations against extremists associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Ghani’s cease-fire offer did not cover Afghan operations against the Islamic State or other hard-line groups.

The Trump administration has increased the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in an effort to give local forces, which continue to struggle despite more than a decade and a half of outside support, a battlefield advantage. It has also called for a peace process, but it remains uncertain whether American officials will resume and expand discussions it has had intermittently with Taliban representatives since 2010.

While the Taliban announced it would halt attacks in response to Ghani’s truce offer, it considers his government to be illegitimate and has said it would only hold peace talks with the United States rather than local authorities.

Sharif Hassan contributed to this report.

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