Taliban announce brief ceasefire, offering Afghans hope for lull in war

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban until June 20 coinciding with the end of Ramadan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban on Thursday until June 20, but excluding other militant groups, such as Islamic State.

For the festival, Taliban fighters "are instructed to stop their offensive operations against domestic opposition", the militant group's statement said, referring to Afghan forces. In the Zawol district of western Herat province, the governor's spokesman said 18 members of the Afghan army and police were killed in an overnight ambush Friday.

That unexpected move came two days after the Afghan government's own surprise announcement of an apparently unilateral week-long halt to operations against the Taliban.

The clerics were themselves targeted in a suicide attack claimed by IS, which killed 14 people at the entrance to their peace tent in Kabul. "If the Taliban accepts the ceasefire deal, Afghans will be able to celebrate their first Id in many years without fear of explosions or killings", Idrees Stanikzai, a political activist and a candidate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, told this writer.

A Taliban spokesman claimed its fighters killed 35 soldiers and captured six others besides seizing military vehicles and weapons.

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"The government of Afghanistan is hopeful that this process will become a long term process and will result in a sustainable peace", Chakhansuri added.

In its statement, the Afghan Taliban said it would allow prisoners to visit with families and asked for the group's regional leaders to commute some prisoners' sentences.

Over the past few years, as the US has drawn down from the peak of about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, it has increasingly embraced a political settlement as the only end to the long Afghan war.

The US state department said its forces and coalition partners in Afghanistan would "honour the ceasefire".

In February Ghani unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban, including eventually recognizing them as a political party.

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Farhad said one soldier was wounded.

However, the district administrative chief Amanuddin Qureshi confirmed the incident said doznes of Taliban insurgents launched a coordinated attack on security posts in Baghcha and Kalokh areas, leaving at least 25 people dead.

Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners among a range of options including new elections involving the armed group, and a constitutional review in a pact with the Taliban to end a conflict that past year alone killed or wounded more than 10,000 Afghan civilians.

Qureshi further added that at least nine Taliban insurgents were also wounded during the clashes with the security personnel.

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