Taliban Council Agrees to Cease-Fire in Afghanistan

A key pillar of the agreement is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.

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World
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The Taliban's ruling council has agreed on Sunday, 30 December, 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.

A key pillar of the agreement, which the US and Taliban have been negotiating for more than a year, is direct negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the conflict.

A cease-fire, which had been demanded by Washington before any peace agreement could be signed, would allow the US to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America's longest.

The duration of the cease-fire was not specified but it was suggested it would last for 10 days. It was also not specified when the cease-fire would begin.

The Taliban Chief must approve the cease-fire decision but that was expected. Four members of the Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed on the brief cease-fire.

The negotiating team returned Sunday to Qatar where the Taliban maintain their political office and where U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding peace talks with the religious militia since September, 2018.

Talks were suspended in September 2019 when both sides seemed on the verge of signing a peace pact.

However, a surge in violence in the capital Kabul killed a US soldier, prompting President Donald Trump to declare the deal "dead." Talks resumed after President 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.

Khalilzad returned to Doha at the beginning of December and proposed a temporary halt to hostilities to pave the way to an agreement being signed, according to Taliban officials.

Those intra-Afghan talks were expected to be held within two weeks of the signing of a US-Taliban peace deal. They will decide what a post-war Afghanistan will look like.

The negotiations will cover a variety of thorny issues, including rights of women, free speech, and changes to the country's constitution.

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 currently has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.

The intra-Afghan talks would also lay out the fate of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and the heavily armed militias belonging to Afghanistan's warlords. Those warlords have amassed wealth and power since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by the US-led coalition.

Even as the Taliban were talking about ceasing hostilities, insurgents carried out an attack in northern Afghanistan on Sunday that killed at least 17 local militiamen. 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 American and Afghan forces in Kunduz. The U.S. military said the soldier was not killed in an IED attack but died seizing a Taliban weapon's cache.

The U.S. military in its daily report of military activity said airstrikes overnight Sunday killed 13 Taliban in attacks throughout the country.

Taliban as well as Afghan National Security Forces aided by US air power have carried out daily attacks against each other.

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