The Taliban said Thursday that it agreed to a brief pause in fighting in Afghanistan for a couple of days as the Afghan government and its allies conduct "periodic talks" with representatives of the militant group.
The overture represents the latest effort to normalize diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Taliban, which cut ties in 2014 after President Obama announced a troop buildup and review of policy. It also is an apparent bid to show that the insurgents, at least in the short term, can calm the volatile situation.
However, a Taliban statement added that the group's goal is to "achieve the unconditional liberation of Afghanistan from American occupation."
The Taliban, fighting to oust the U.S.-backed Afghan government and reestablish a fundamentalist regime in Kabul, says it has cut ties with al-Qaida and the Islamic State. Washington has said its goal is to negotiate with the insurgents, who are battling Afghan security forces and have also engaged in high-profile attacks on Western interests.
The U.S. military command in Kabul said in a statement that President Trump had authorized a temporary cessation of fighting in line with President Ashraf Ghani's request.
"The pause is in support of peace negotiations and aimed at reducing tensions," it said.
The current U.S. ambassador, John Bass, said he welcomed the Taliban's commitment to negotiate. He said the Afghan government's strategy was to negotiate with its adversaries as "an ongoing process," similar to its talks with the Haqqani network, a major militant group.
The Haqqani Network and other Taliban factions would be invited to the peace talks, Bass said.
In recent weeks, the United States has stepped up aerial attacks against the Taliban and other groups in Afghanistan, as it seeks to turn the tide of combat.
In Washington, the State Department described the pause as a temporary measure intended to protect civilians and prevent "unnecessary civilian casualties."
"The U.S. has not changed its longstanding policy and principle of not conducting counterterrorism operations in Afghan cities and population centers, except as necessary to conduct ongoing operations," the department said in a statement.
An independent monitoring group in Kabul called the group's conditions a prerequisite for any talks with the Taliban.
"The U.S. government cannot accept a precondition of 'national reconciliation and full withdrawal of foreign forces' in Afghanistan," said Gregory Johnsen, an American analyst of the region.
The Taliban recognized this position in its statement. "The U.S. must honor its commitment on Afghanistan that it has declared since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and the past 35 years of occupation," it said.
"It is not possible for a government that only four years ago began bombing its own cities, factories and farms to talk with those who kill its children and destroy its schools, hospitals and homes," the statement added.