The Taliban have reciprocated a ceasefire offer by Kabul ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid. It's the first time the group has agreed to a truce with the Afghan government, which is aiming to end the 16-year conflict.
The Islamist group announced Saturday a three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday at the end of next week.
"All the mujahideen [Islamic warriors] are directed to stop offensive operations against Afghan forces for the first three days of Eid-al-Fitr," the Afghan Taliban said in a WhatsApp message.
"But if the mujahideen are attacked, we will strongly defend [ourselves]," the group added.
The Taliban insisted that the brief truce would not apply to foreign troops.
"Foreign occupiers are the exception," it said. "Our operations will continue against them, we will attack them wherever we see them."
It was the first time since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan that the Taliban had agreed to an Eid ceasefire.
Officials said that hours before the group's announcement, its fighters stormed a military base in western Herat province and killed at least 17 Afghan soldiers. The militants also carried out attacks in northern Kunduz province, where, according to dpa news agency, they killed 23 policemen.
A thaw in relations?
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday that all operations against Taliban rebels would halt until the Muslim fasting season ended. Fighting against other militant groups, including "Islamic State," will continue, he added.
The unconditional ceasefire would give the Taliban time to reflect on the negative consequences of their "violent campaign," Ghani said on Wednesday.
"With the ceasefire announcement, we epitomize the strength of the Afghan government and the will of the people for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict," he added.
US forces in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday they would honor Kabul's ceasefire with the Taliban.
"We will adhere to the wishes of Afghanistan for the country to enjoy a peaceful end to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and support the search for an end to the conflict," said General John Nicholson, the US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"I think the Afghan government wants to send a message to the world, as well as the Taliban, that it is prepared to do whatever it takes to end the conflict in Afghanistan," Matiullah Kharotai, a Kabul-based analyst, told DW.
In February, President Ghani offered eventual political recognition to the Taliban as the starting point for a process that he said could lead to talks to end more than 16 years of war.
"Recent peace initiatives, including meetings of religious scholars in Indonesia and Kabul, indicate that the Afghan government and its international backers want to end the protracted Afghan conflict at any cost," Wahid Muzhdah, a Kabul-based security expert, told DW.
"But becoming part of any government-backed peace initiative for the Taliban is unlikely at this stage, as this could push their fighters to other militant groups like 'Islamic State,'" Muzhdah added.
"In three days [of the ceasefire], maybe the unity of Taliban insurgents will be put to the test," a European diplomat told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity. "If different factions don't accept the ceasefire, then attacks will continue."
Experts, however, emphasize the symbolic value of the ceasefire announcements.
The militants, who are seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law in the country after being ousted as rulers in 2001 in a US-led invasion, announced their annual offensive in late April, in the course of which attacks on security forces, district centers and provincial capitals have increased.
Conditions for talks
The Taliban accuse the Afghan government of being a mere puppet of the US and believe that Kabul is not in a position to decide peace terms without Washington's approval.
"The Taliban will only engage in peace talks if foreign troops announce the date of their complete withdrawal from Afghanistan," said Muzhdah.
The militants have a presence in much of the country, and Afghan security forces are hard-pressed to contain the insurgency after NATO-led troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.
"It is time that all parties to the Afghan conflict enter peace talks because this war cannot be won in the battlefield," Younus Fakur, an Afghan analyst, told DW.
US officials have also asked for Pakistan's assistance in facilitating the Afghan peace process, according to media reports.