Afghan Taliban calls for ceasefire during Eid

U.S. Secretary for Defense Jim Mattis speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels Friday

U.S. Secretary for Defense Jim Mattis speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels Friday

Speaking on the sidelines of a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence ministers' meeting in Brussels, Nicholson said U.S. forces would respect the apparently unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday.

The militant movement ordered its local commanders to observe a three-day break in operations against Afghan forces to mark the upcoming religious holiday of Eid.

The militant group agreed to the truce two days after it was announced by President Ashraf Ghani.

"We welcome the three days ceasefire announced by the Taliban starting on the first day of Eid". "Let us hope peace prevails", he said.

Ghani's surprise declaration came on the heels of a fatwa issued by Afghanistan's top clerics forbidding suicide attacks and a Pentagon announcement that senior Taliban officials had been negotiating with Afghan authorities on a possible ceasefire. The only time the Afghan government came close to initiating substantive direct talks with the Taliban, in the summer of 2015, the process was derailed by news that the insurgent envoys they were meeting had, in fact, come in the name of a Taliban supreme leader who had died years before, the news of which had been kept secret.

"The reason for announcing it this time is that, after the Kabul administration announced theirs, the people were concerned that our Mujahedeen might continue operations and it might disturb their Eid celebrations", Mujahid said.

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The militants also say they will defend themselves, if attacked. It is not clear how many Afghan troops the Taliban holds captive.

Foreign combat forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014.

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. Mattis spoke to reporters during a break in a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defense ministers meeting.

At least 50 Afghan soldiers and police were killed in clashes across the country - 17 soldiers died in the Zawal district of western Herat province, nine border police were killed in the Bala Murghab district of north-western Badghis province, and at least 20 Afghan police were killed in the Qala e Zal district of northern Kunduz province on Friday. "If different factions don't accept the ceasefire, then attacks will continue".

The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster at the hands of USA -led troops, have launched attacks during Eid in the past.

"Forty five insurgents were killed and 27 others wounded in government air strikes and clearing operations in Andar district in Ghazni province", defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said. He added that eight insurgents were killed and more than a dozen others were wounded in the gun battle in Zewal district.

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