US Marines with Task Force Southwest conduct a combined-arms night range at Camp Shorbak, Helmand province, Afghanistan Feb. 19, 2019. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Victoria Ross, courtesy of DVIDS.
Violence exploded across Afghanistan when a three-day cease-fire for the Muslim holiday of Eid expired Saturday night. No Americans were reported to be involved in the fighting, but clashes between the Taliban and Afghan government forces were reported in at least 15 of the country’s 34 provinces.
According to TOLO News, some of the heaviest fighting was centered around Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.
“The fighting started early [Sunday] morning and is still ongoing,” Attaullah Afghan, head of the Helmand provincial council, told Agence France-Presse. The Eid truce, surrounding a celebration marking the end of Ramadan, expired as Saturday ended.
According to Deutsche Welle, the three-day Eid cease-fire was only the fourth such agreement in nearly 20 years of conflict in the country. Initially proposed by the Taliban, the cease-fire was quickly agreed to by the Afghan government.
In Helmand, Afghan, the council head, told the AFP that Taliban fighters were attacking government-run checkpoints around the outskirts of Lashkar Gah and other districts within the province. At the same time, an Afghan army spokesman, speaking to AFP, confirmed the fighting had resumed.
No new casualty statistics have been released by the Afghan government. However, according to Deutsche Welle, officials from the Helmand regional government are claiming that 21 Taliban fighters were killed.
According to Voice of America, the truce itself largely held across the country, as there were no reports of Taliban attacks on the Afghan government over its duration. However, the Islamic State group did claim responsibility for a Friday attack in Kabul. According to Deutsche Welle, the bombing killed 12 worshippers and a prayer leader during a service celebrating Ramadan. Additionally, Islamic State affiliates in the country claim to have destroyed electrical substations across several Afghan provinces during recent weeks. The Islamic State group was not a party to the ceasefire agreement.
As the truce expires, Gen. Scott Miller, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, cautioned that there is an expectation for increased violence around the country.
“We’re watching closely what the Taliban will do post the Eid ceasefire,” TOLO News reports Miller saying in an interview with the BBC. “Ideally, they would continue with the reduced violence because it is something that the Afghan people want. But the expectation is that they will pick up violence in the nearer term.”
While violence has resumed across Afghanistan, there is a sliver of hope for renewing a stalled Afghan peace process. In a surprise turn of events, Deutsche Welle reported, negotiators from the Taliban and Afghan government met over the weekend in Doha, Qatar, to speed up peace talks between the two parties.
In a tweet, a Taliban spokesman said, “Besides Eid greetings, the two sides discussed the status quo and the speeding up of the intra-Afghan negotiations. They emphasized to continue negotiations after Eid.”
Today, some members of the two teams of the intra-Afghan negotiations had a meeting which was also attended by the Deputy-Amir for Political Affairs,IEA and Head of the Political Office, Mullah Bradar Akhund. Besides Eid greetings, the two sides discussed the status quo
— Suhail Shaheen. محمد سهیل شاهین (@suhailshaheen1) May 14, 2021
This move comes after an announcement last month by the Taliban that they would not participate in any peace negotiations until US troops are removed from Afghanistan. The Taliban decision to break off negotiations, according to Arab News, was a result of Biden’s announcement that US troops would be leaving Afghanistan by September, rather than the May 1 date agreed in the Doha agreement brokered by the Trump administration.
“This is our stance: until all foreign forces completely withdraw from our homeland, the Islamic Emirate will not participate in any conference that shall make a decision on Afghanistan,” Dr. Mohammad Naeem, the group’s Qatar-based spokesman, told Arab News on April 15, using the Taliban term for their government.
The Taliban’s decision to break off peace negotiations resulted in a postponement of a proposed April 24 UN-backed summit in Istanbul.
However, according to TOLO News, that meeting may be back on.
“I think that this will open the way for an Istanbul conference where the Taliban will attend,” Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander, told TOLO News.
James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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