Afghan ceasefire a 'stepping stone' to peace talks

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during the integration ceremony of TAPI pipeline Feb. 23 in Herat city west of Kabul Afghanistan

At least 19 Afghan soldiers were killed when Taliban fighters stormed a military base in western Afghanistan, hours before the group announced a ceasefire, officials said on Saturday.

Following last week's unilateral ceasefire announcement by the Afghan government, meant to stay in place for the duration of Ramadan, the Taliban has announced its own ceasefire overing the last three days of the month-long holiday.

Three attackers were shot dead by security forces as they tried to enter the building, Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar province said on Monday.

The separate Taliban statement ordering a halt on attacks of "internal enemies" over the Eid al-Fitr holiday said operations against "foreign invaders" should continue, with attacks against them "wherever and whenever they are seen".

An hour after the fatwa was issued, a suicide bomber was detonated outside the gathering, killing seven people, the attack was later claimed by ISIS.

The statement said Pakistan wishes to reiterate its support of recent peace initiatives in Afghanistan.

But by the intractably violent standards of Afghanistan, the Taliban's first cease-fire pledge was cause for hope, and the timing seemed to present an opening for talks to prolong the break in hostilities.

US Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo called Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and discussed the Afghan issue. "We hope trust is built on both sides for the extension of the cease-fire for peace talks and negotiations".

The attacks come days after a ceasefire deal was announced by President Ashraf Ghani.

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The Taliban also said it may release prisoners including government troops, provided they agree to refrain from fighting insurgents in the future, the statement said.

More than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in 2017, down nine percent from the previous year, United Nations figures show.

Kabul has been pushing for a ceasefire with the Taliban as a starting point for the resumption of crucial Afghan reconciliation process.

"I am positive that Afghan-led peace process will lead to a very successful and peaceful future of the Afghan people, which we have been waiting for for decades".

A Taliban spokesman claimed its fighters killed 35 soldiers and captured six others besides seizing military vehicles and weapons.

The nascent talks were dealt a fatal blow when his successor Mullah Mansur was killed in a USA drone strike in Balochistan a few months later.

Last week, the US military said it would observe the government cease-fire with the Taliban while continuing its activities against the Islamic State.

There was no report of other casualties.

An Afghan Muslim man reads versus of the Quran in a mosque during Itikaf, the last ten days of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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