Taliban orders its first ceasefire in 17-year battle

The cease-fire coincides with the unilateral weeklong halting of anti-Taliban operations by the Afghan government starting Tuesday.

Taliban also ordered their shadow governors to identify prisoners in their custody, who could provide guarantees that they would not be a future threat to the group, to be released.

This will be the first time since 2002 that the Islamist insurgency will cease hostilities in Afghanistan where it now controls or contests almost half of 407 Afghan districts.

In a bid to pave the way for the revival of the talks, President Ghani on Thursday declared a ceasefire with the Taliban and said no offensive operations would be carried out during the ceasefire period ending on 5th day of Eid. The Taliban controlled Afghanistan until 2001, when it was overthrown by a US-led coalition that invaded the country following the 9/11 attacks.

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The Taliban's cease-fire only applies to attacks on "internal enemies" - not "foreign invaders" - as they would continue attacks "wherever and whenever they are seen", according to their statement Saturday.

Even such a brief cessation of hostilities would bring welcome relief to civilians in the war-torn country, almost 17 years after the Taliban regime was toppled. "The Taliban have won our hearts, if they strike a peace deal with the Afghan government, the Afghans will take them on their shoulders with love", Shah Jahan Siyal, a resident of Nangarhar provincial capital Jalalabad, wrote on Facebook.

"We don't know what will happen in the next few days or afterwards", he added.

It would last "from the 27th of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eid-al-Fitr", Ghani tweeted from an official account, indicating it could run from June 12-19.

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The clerics also recommended a ceasefire with the Taliban and Ghani endorsed the recommendation. A suicide bomber struck just outside the gathering as it was dispersing, killing at least seven people and wounding 20 in an attack claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The conflict has been at a stalemate for several years, and NATO's best chances of leaving lie in the Taliban agreeing to peace talks and eventually joining the government. The insurgents did not officially respond, but announced the launch of their annual spring offensive in an apparent rejection of the plan, one of the most comprehensive ever offered by the Afghan government.

Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners among a range of options including new elections involving the armed group, and a constitutional review in a pact with the Taliban to end a conflict that past year alone killed or wounded more than 10,000 Afghan civilians.

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