By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The Taliban and Afghan government have announced a three-day cease-fire for the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday starting on July 31, as the United States presses for the start of delayed intra-Afghan peace talks.
“All mujahideen (Taliban fighters) are instructed not to carry out any operation against the enemy during the three days and nights of Eid,” the Taliban said in a July 28 statement, adding that if the Taliban were attacked, they should “respond strongly.”
The Afghan government said it had ordered its security forces to observe the cease-fire.
Ross Wilson, charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, welcomed the announcements, saying Afghans “deserve to celebrate the holiday in peace.”
“I look forward to both sides fulfilling their commitments and moving quickly to intra-Afghan negotiations,” he wrote on Twitter.
The announcements come as U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is trying to revive peace talks with visits to Pakistan and the Afghan capital, as well as Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.
The United States and the Taliban struck an agreement in February intended to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks between the militants and the U.S.-backed government in Kabul to end nearly 18 years of war.
Although the Taliban have refrained from attacking U.S. and NATO forces, militants continue to stage near daily attacks on Afghan security forces.
A major hurdle in launching intra-Afghan talks is the completion of prisoner exchanges.
Both the Afghan government and Taliban have suggested that direct talks may finally occur after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, provided the prisoner swap has been completed.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on July 28 that peace talks with the Taliban could begin “in a week’s time,” following a prisoner exchange.
“To demonstrate the government’s commitment to peace, the Islamic Republic will soon complete the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners,” Ghani said at the presidential palace.
Under the U.S.-Taliban deal, Kabul was to release around 5,000 Taliban in exchange for the militants freeing 1,000 government and military personnel.
To date, Kabul has freed about 4,000 militants and the Taliban nearly 800 government forces. The Taliban have accused Afghan security forces of re-arresting insurgents who had been released.
Ghani urged the Taliban to agree to a “permanent and comprehensive cease-fire” during any peace talks. He said Taliban attacks have killed 3,560 government forces and wounded 6,781 others since the U.S.-Taliban deal was signed in February.