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Afghans welcome week-long truce between US forces and Taliban

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Afghans welcome week-long truce between US forces and Taliban
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Afghans have cautiously welcomed the announcement on Friday of a week-long truce between the Taliban and US forces.

However, the Afghan government didn't take part in the negotiations, although it will partially observe it.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his forces will remain on the defensive and not attack Taliban fighters during the week but they'll continue to fight so-called Islamic State, al-Qaida and other extremist groups.

The truce calls for an end to attacks around the country, including all roadside bombings, suicide attacks and rocket strikes.

"One week is not enough, we need a permanent peace. Because of the insecurity, our investments and youths are fleeing the country," said one Afghan, Mohammad Nasim, an engineer living in Kabul.

If all goes to plan, which is a very big if, a peace accord is due to be signed at the end of the week in the Gulf state of Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office.

The hope is that would then end the 18-year-old war and see US troops leave Afghan soil.

On Saturday Afghanistan reached a grim milestone. A United Nations released a report stating that more than 100,000 civilians have been killed or hurt in the last 10 years according to its own analysis.

"Almost no civilians in Afghanistan have escaped being personally affected in some way by the ongoing violence,'' said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the US Secretary-General's special representative for Afghanistan. "It is absolutely imperative for all parties to seize the moment to stop the fighting, as peace is long overdue; civilian lives must be protected and efforts for peace are underway.''

Last year there was a slight decrease in the numbers of civilians hurt or killed, which the report says was a result of reduced casualties inflicted by the Islamic State affiliate. The group was drastically degraded by US and Afghan security forces as well as the Taliban, who have also bitterly battled the IS.

According to the UN report, 3,493 civilians were killed last year and 6,989 were injured. While fewer civilians were hurt or killed by IS fighters, more civilians became casualties at the hands of the Taliban and Afghan security forces and their American allies.

The report said there was a 21 per cent increase in civilian casualties by the Taliban and an 18 per cent rise in casualties blamed on Afghan security forces and their US allies who dropped more bombs last year than in any year since 2013.

US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spent the past 18 months negotiating the deal with the Taliban after his appointment in September 2018 by the White House, will sign the deal on the behalf of Washington. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wants American troops brought home from Afghanistan. He says they have become a police enforcement force, which is not what they are there to do.

The peace deal will also include Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used as a staging arena for attacks against the US or its allies.

The most difficult phase is expected to be the intra-Afghan negotiations as Kabul still struggles to come up with a unified position opposite the Taliban. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner of a presidential race held five months earlier, followed by his political rivals refuting the results and calling the polling fraught with fraud.

The negotiations among Afghans, which will also hammer out an eventual permanent cease-fire, are to begin around March 10. Both Germany and Norway have offered to host the negotiations but until now a venue has not been chosen.