A one-week ceasefire with the Taliban announced by the Afghan government will allow the fight against the Islamic State group to be stepped up, the top US general in the country said today. Afghan commandos backed by US special forces and air support are tackling IS and Al-Qaeda fighters who hold pockets of territory in the northern and eastern provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar and Jowzjan.
"We are in the middle of a new offensive against ISIS in Nangahar. This will continue and in fact will be intensified during the period of ceasefire," General John Nicholson, who commands US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters.
Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO defence ministers' meeting in Brussels, Nicholson said US forces would respect the apparently unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban announced by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani yesterday. But Nicholson said his troops would not hesitate to respond if the Taliban broke the ceasefire. "We will act in self defence of coalition and Afghan forces," Nicholson said.
"This means that we will be watching and prepared to respond to any threat that occurs or appears imminent to affect our forces." The Taliban, ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001, have not yet confirmed if they will respect the ceasefire, which was called to coincide with Eid-al-Fitr, the holiday that caps the holy month of Ramadan.
Ghani's surprise declaration came on the heels of a fatwa issued by Afghanistan's top clerics branding suicide attacks "haram", or forbidden, and a Pentagon announcement that senior Taliban officials had been negotiating with Afghan authorities on a possible ceasefire.