Afghanistan: Taliban agrees to ceasefire to allow for possible US peace deal

Afghanistan: Taliban agrees to ceasefire to allow for possible US peace deal
Afghanistan: Taliban agrees to ceasefire to allow for possible US peace deal

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The Taliban's ruling council agreed on Sunday to a temporary ceasefire in Afghanistan, providing hope that a peace agreement with the US could be signed, insurgent officials said.

But the group did not say when any truce would begin.

Washington demanded a ceasefire before any agreement could be signed, which would allow the US to take home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there.

The US wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. The US has an estimated 12,000 troops in the country.

The Taliban chief was expected to provide necessary approval for the ceasefire. Its duration was not specified but it was suggested that it would last for 10 days.

Four members of the Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed to the brief ceasefire.

The team returned on Sunday to Qatar where the Taliban has an office and where US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding talks with the militia since September 2018.

Talks were suspended in September when both sides seemed on the verge of signing a peace pact.

But a surge in violence the capital Kabul killed a US soldier, prompting US President Donald to call the deal dead.

Talks resumed after Mr Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of November and announced the Taliban were ready to talk and agree to a reduction in violence.

Mr Khalilzad returned to Doha at the start of December. He then proposed a temporary halt to hostilities to pave the way for an agreement, Taliban officials said.

A key pillar of the agreement is direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Those talks were expected to be held within two weeks of a peace deal being signed.

The first item on the agenda is expected to address how to implement a ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghanistan's National Security Forces.

But the negotiations were expected to be prickly and would cover issues including women's rights, free speech and changes to the country's constitution.

The talks would also decide the fate of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and the heavily armed militias belonging to Afghanistan's warlords.

The warlords have amassed wealth and power since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001 by the US-led coalition after Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, carried out the 9-11 terrorist attacks in America.

The Taliban harboured bin Laden, although there was no indication they were aware of Al Qaeda's plans to attack the US.

Meanwhile, Taliban insurgents carried out an attack in northern Afghanistan late on Saturday, which killed at least 17 local militiamen.

It was aimed at a local militia commander who escaped unharmed, said Jawad Hajri, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar province, where the attack took place.

Local Afghan militias commonly operate in remote areas, and are under the command of the defence or interior ministries.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

Last week, a US soldier was killed in combat in the northern Kunduz province.

The Taliban claimed they were behind a fatal roadside bombing that targeted US and Afghan forces in Kunduz.

The US military said the soldier was not killed by an improvised explosive device attack but died while seizing a Taliban weapons cache.

It said air strikes throughout the country overnight on Sunday killed 13 Taliban.

The Taliban and the Afghan National Security Forces, which is aided by US air power, have attacked each other daily.

The Taliban frequently target Afghan and US forces, and government officials, but scores of civilians are also killed in the crossfire or by roadside bombs.

The UN has called on all sides in the conflict to reduce civilian casualties.

It said increased US air strikes, ground operations by the Afghan military and relentless Taliban attacks have contributed to an increase in civilian casualties.

Last year, Afghanistan was the world's deadliest conflict.

Updated: December 29, 2019 11:56 PM

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