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Taliban orders halt to attacks on day of US deal

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Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani (2nd-R) meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the sidelines of of the peace signing ceremony between the United States and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha on February 29, 2020. – Washington and the Taliban are set to sign a landmark deal in Doha that would see them agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

The Taliban said Saturday they have ordered a complete one-day halt to attacks in Afghanistan ahead of the signing of a historic deal to withdraw American troops.

Their announcement came after a partial week-long truce between the militants, US and Afghan troops elapsed, with only isolated attacks reported during the period leading up to the agreement, which is set to be signed later Saturday in Doha.

The accord would see thousands of American troops quit Afghanistan after more than 18 years in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks with the government in Kabul.

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“Since the deal is being signed today, and our people are happy and celebrating it, we have halted all our military operations across the country,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The order marks only the second such halt in Taliban attacks during the Afghan war, the other being a three-day ceasefire in 2018.

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Mujahid was noncommittal about whether attacks would resume from Sunday, saying only that the insurgents’ next steps would be in accordance with the Doha agreement.

Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib meanwhile said he is cautiously optimistic about the deal following the one-week partial truce, dubbed a “reduction in violence” period.

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“We have reached a stage that gives us hope,” Mohib said. “The Taliban were able to reduce violence. But the test is still on for them to keep the violence down. It also shows that the Taliban want peace.”

Afghan officials will be conspicuously absent from the signing ceremony in Qatar, but a government delegation will be there to make “initial contacts” with the Taliban.

While the insurgents were keen to emphasise that the truce is not a full ceasefire, the number of Taliban attacks fell dramatically over the week, with only limited attacks in rural areas breaking the calm.

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