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Taliban silent as Afghan president announces weeklong cease-fire

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Taliban silent as Afghan president announces weeklong cease-fire

Image: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani inspects an honor guard at the preside
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Rahmat Gul
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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced a weeklong cease-fire with the Taliban to coincide with the holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

A statement sent from the president's office says the cease-fire will begin on 27 Ramadan, or June 12 on the Western calendar, and last through the Eid al-Fitr holiday, or around June 19. It says the cease-fire does not include al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban, which has steadily expanded its presence in recent years, capturing a number of districts across the country. The group carries out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting Afghan security forces.

Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, the army chief of staff, told reporters that Afghan forces would be on standby throughout the cease-fire and respond if necessary.

Ghani's statement referred to a gathering of Afghanistan's top clerics on Monday in which they issued a decree against suicide attacks and called for peace talks. A suicide bomber struck just outside the gathering as it was dispersing, killing at least seven people and wounding 20 in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

The Taliban had denounced the gathering, insisting that its jihad, or holy war, against foreign invaders was justified. It instead urged the clerics to side with it against the "occupation."

The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, but the U.S. still has thousands of forces based there in a support and counterterrorism role. The Trump administration has sent additional troops to try to change the course of America's longest war.

In a statement, the U.S. forces said that they too would observe the cease-fire with the Taliban, but that it would not affect their counterterrorism efforts terrorist groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida.

"We will adhere to the wishes of Afghanistan for the country to enjoy a peaceful end to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and support the search for an end to the conflict," said Gen. John Nicholson, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the NATO-led Resolute Support commander.

The U.S. has said it is open to an Afghan-led peace process. Nicholson last month said that some elements of the Taliban are showing interest in peace talks.

In the meantime, the insurgents have continued to carry out attacks. On Wednesday, the Taliban attacked a police post in the eastern Ghazni province, killing three police and wounding five others.

In the eastern Khost province, a drive-by shooting at a mosque on Wednesday killed four people and wounded 15. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the shooting, and it was not clear who the target was.