At sundown on Monday, Muslims begin to celebrate the festival of Eid al Adha, which commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son (Isaac if you’re Jewish or Christian, Ishmael if you’re Muslim). To mark the occasion, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has offered a ceasefire to the Taliban, which if the Taliban reciprocates, he proposes to last until the observance of the prophet Mohammed’s birthday on November 21.
Taliban considers offer of ceasefire
In a statement released Saturday, the Taliban’s self-proclaimed “sheikh,” Hibatullah Akhundzada, hinted as much, with conditions, of course. “Bringing peace and security is from among the highest priorities of the Islamic Emirate,” he said, “but peace will remain elusive during an occupation and neither is salvation possible without the establishment of an Islamic authority.” Akhundzada has headed the organization since May 2016, after Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a drone strike.
Another Taliban official, talking to NBC News on the condition of anonymity, was more direct. While the Taliban would not formally announce a ceasefire, “We will convey it to our military commanders through our personal communication tools and would stop them to cease all their operations for four days. The ceasefire will be effective from Monday and conclude on Thursday,” he said.
If the ceasefire happens, it will be the second time this year, but only the second time since the start of the war in 2001, that the Taliban has called a formal pause in the fighting. During the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan in June, the Taliban called a three-day ceasefire – its first of the war.
In a Sunday statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the June truce “revealed the deep desire of the Afghan people to end the conflict,” adding “we hope another ceasefire will move the country closer to sustainable security.”
The Ceasefire is Good timing on the part of Ashraf Ghani
This is a fairly shrewd move on Ghani’s part, assuming it works. If the ceasefire were to hold, it would last almost until the traditional end of the fighting season. The observance of Mohammed’s birthday this year will be on November 21. Traditionally, fighting in Afghanistan has lessened and even stopped during the winter months. The Taliban have never been equipped to fight in the rugged Afghan mountains during the harsh Afghan winter.
The conditions can be harsh for everyone, and American forces haven’t always been equipped or prepared to fight in those conditions, either. In the winter of 2005, I was snowed-in for several weeks in our Provincial Reconstruction Team’s basecamp outside the town of Sharan, on a plateau roughly 7,200 feet above sea level.
but even the harsh afghan winter can’t always stop bloodshed
The last two years have proven to be the exceptions. The Taliban carried out several deadly operations in 2016. Last winter, Afghan government forces took the offensive in December, backed by U.S. air power. But based on events in Ghazni last week, when the Taliban overran the city, it certainly doesn’t look like the Afghan National Army is fit to fight through the winter this year. U.S. Air Force aircraft, and ground troops from the 101st Airborne Division, had to move on Ghazni to bail the Afghans out.
It certainly seems like Ghani’s forces could use a good time-out to rest and refit. A ceasefire lasting through mid-November, followed by a winter off, may be just be what the doctor ordered. Perhaps even in that time, negotiators from all three sides could make progress on the diplomatic front.
“The United States supports President Ghani’s offer for comprehensive negotiations on a mutually agreed agenda,” Pompeo said in his statement. “We remain ready to support, facilitate, and participate in direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. There are no obstacles to talks. It is time for peace.”