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Taliban announces three-day ceasefire for Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha – but vows to retaliate if attacked

Taliban announces three-day ceasefire for Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha – but vows to retaliate if attacked
In a rare peace gesture, Taliban militants have said they will not conduct any "operations" for three days starting on Friday, to let their fighters mark one of the holiest Muslim holidays following a recent upsurge of violence.

The Afghan militants were "instructed" not to launch any attacks between July 31 and August 2, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter. He added that the group wants its fighters to spend these days of Eid al-Adha "in confidence and happiness." However, he also said that should any militant forces come under attack, they would retaliate.

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This is only the third such cessation of hostilities between the militants and the Afghan national security forces over the 19 years of conflict. The previous one, which also lasted three days, was put in effect in late May to mark another major Muslim holiday, Eid al-Fitr.

The last ceasefire was followed by another outbreak of violence, including suicide attacks and US airstrikes against Taliban positions.

The US signed a deal with the Taliban in February, in which it pledged to withdraw all US troops in return for security guarantees. The agreement included the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners, in exchange for some 1,000 Afghan military service members held by the militants. The prisoner swap process, though, has been uneasy and has repeatedly stalled.

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The militant group's temporary ceasefire announcement came after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly said that Kabul would soon release the remaining Taliban prisoners, adding that the long-delayed intra-Afghan peace talks could start as early as "in a week."

AFP reported in late May that the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was "ahead of schedule." America is supposed to bring troop levels down from about 12,000 to 8,600 by mid-July, before withdrawing all forces by May 2021. Some military officials told the news agency that troops numbered just 7,500 at that time.

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