Taliban in ‘defence status’ during Id holiday

The Taliban said on Wednesday they would fight only to defend themselves over the holiday of Id-ul-Azha, but stopped short of declaring a formal ceasefire.

The militants are waging sweeping offensives across Afghanistan, snapping up territory, seizing border crossings and encircling cities, with the withdrawal of foreign troops all but complete. “I can confirm we are in defence status during Id,” a spokesman for the Taliban said, without offering further details.

Pause in fighting

Id-ul-Azha is one of the biggest festivals on the Muslim calendar. In Afghanistan, celebrations started this Monday and will run to the end of Friday. For past Islamic holidays, the militants have declared a pause in fighting with government forces, offering a brief respite to Afghans who can visit family in relative safety. But the group has been criticised for using ceasefires to reinforce their positions and resupply fighters, allowing them to attack Afghan security forces once the truce expires.

The Taliban comment comes a day after President Ashraf Ghani said in a speech that the Taliban had proved “they have no will and intention for peace”, with negotiations between the two warring sides achieving little.

Minutes before his address, at least three rockets landed near the presidential palace where Mr. Ghani held outdoor prayers with top officials to mark the start of Id. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group. While ideologically different, the much smaller IS has been accused in the past of acting as a proxy for the Taliban.

More than a dozen diplomatic missions in Kabul this week called for “an urgent end” to the Taliban’s current offensive, saying it was at odds with claims they want to secure a political deal to end the conflict. That statement followed another round of inconclusive talks in Doha over the weekend between the two sides, that many had hoped would kickstart the ailing peace process.

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