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Afghan president announces ceasefire with Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has announced a ceasefire agreement with the Taliban militant group to mark Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, an important festival on the Islamic calendar.

Ghani made the announcement on Sunday in a ceremony celebrating 99 years of independence from the British rule.

“The conditional ceasefire will start tomorrow and it will continue as long as the Taliban preserves and respects it,” the Afghan president stated.

“We call on the leadership of the Taliban to welcome the wishes of Afghans for a long-lasting and real peace.”

A senior official in Ghani’s office said the “conditional” ceasefire would run for three months. It would only cover the Taliban, the official added, not other groups including the Daesh Takfiri terrorists. Both the Taliban and Daesh are present in Afghanistan.

Reacting to the announcement, Taliban sources said their leaders had also provisionally agreed to a four-day truce during the annual feast of sacrifice. The militant group also said it would free hundreds of prisoners.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, in a Twitter post welcomed President Ghani’s announcement.

It is not the first time Kabul announces a temporary truce with the Taliban. In June, Afghanistan announced a week-long ceasefire with the militant group for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

The announcement comes in the wake of fighting in the central city of Ghazni, a strategically important region the Taliban have been battling to bring under control. At least 150 Afghan soldiers and 95 civilians were killed in a five-day siege that eased last week, when Afghan troops pushed back the heavily armed militants.

The truce announcement also came a day after a series of violent clashes erupted in the northern province of Faryab. An interior ministry official confirmed that the Taliban had taken control of part of Bulcheragh district.

The Taliban said in a recent statement that they had control over half of Afghanistan. A recent survey found that the group was active in two-thirds of the country and was fully controlling four percent of it.

The United Nations said in a statement on Sunday that blasts, attacks and clashes between militants and Afghan forces killed over 1,600 civilians in the first six months of the year, the highest number in the past decade.

The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 following a US-led invasion. The group has, however, been involved in widespread militancy, killing thousands of civilians as well as Afghan and US forces.