The Taliban’s ruling council agreed on Sunday to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the United States can be signed, officials from the insurgent group said. They didn’t say when it would begin. A cease-fire, which had been demanded by Washington before any peace agreement could be signed, would allow the U.S. to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America’s longest.
There was no immediate response from Washington.
The announcement comes a day after a Taliban attack in northern Afghanistan killed at least 17 local militiamen. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.
Washington had sought to seal a political deal with the Taliban ahead of September’s elections in Afghanistan. An agreement with the Taliban is expected to have two main pillars—a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and a commitment by the militants not to offer sanctuary to jihadists.
The Taliban’s relationship with Al-Qaeda was the main reason for the US invasion nearly 18 years ago. But the thorny issues of power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Ghani’s administration remain unresolved. The Taliban, believing they have the upper hand in the war, kept up attacks even while talking to the United States.
The U.S. wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. The U.S. currently has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Talks were suspended in September when both sides seemed on the verge of signing a peace pact.
However, a surge in violence in the capital Kabul killed a U.S. soldier, prompting President Donald Trump to declare the deal “dead.”
Talks resumed after Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of November announcing the Taliban were ready to talk and agree to a reduction in violence.
Taliban as well as Afghan National Security Forces aided by U.S. air power have carried out daily attacks against each other.
The Taliban frequently target Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials.
But scores of Afghan civilians are also killed in the cross-fire or by roadside bombs planted by militants. The United Nations has called on all sides in the conflict to reduce civilian casualties.