The United States and the Taliban agreed to sign a peace deal next week that could end 18 years of war in Afghanistan.

As a peace deal looms between the Taliban and the U.S. warring parties in the 18-year long conflict are calling on their forces to be prepared to use self-defense, signaling a potential partial cessation of offensive operations across Afghanistan.

In a statement to its fighters, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, told Taliban forces to be prepared to use self-defense. He also said Taliban fighters were prohibited from going to enemy areas.

The statement from the Taliban appears to indicate the militant group is pausing offensive operations.

“All Mujahideen must adhere to their given duties for the upcoming seven days, must remain defensively alert in case of violation by the opposition and must strictly refrain from entering enemy territory,” Mujahid said in a statement posted to the Taliban’s website.

“As you are already aware the Islamic Emirate has agreed to create suitable conditions for the signing of an agreement with the American side and the Mujahideen must begin implementing the program given to them for the upcoming seven days,” Mujahid said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in an address aired on Tolo News Friday, said the Afghan military would take on a defensive posture to defend the force and the Afghan public after the seven day reduction in violence agreement goes into effect at midnight.

Ghani also detailed that counterterror operations against other groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida would continue.

"Afghan forces will continue their operations against Daesh, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the country during the reduction in violence period, but Afghan forces will be ready to defend the people and their own lives if needed,” Ghani said, according to Tolo News.

Resolute Support and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to questions about U.S. operations during the seven-day reduction-in-violence period.

At least two U.S. sources on the ground in Afghanistan told Military Times that counterterror operations against ISIS and al-Qaida were still ongoing.

Statements by the Taliban and Afghan government appear to indicate a defacto cease-fire despite the agreement negotiated with the U.S. calling for a reduction in violence.

The Taliban are calling for their forces to stay away from enemy areas while the Afghan government said its forces would assume a self-defense posture — meaning Afghan forces would cease offensive operations against the Taliban during the reduction in violence trial run.

The language from the two combative sides appears to indicate a pause in offensive operations while counterterror operations against other militants across the country press forward.

The U.S. and the Taliban have agreed to reduce violence across Afghanistan — paving the way for both parties to shake hands on a peace agreement later this month.

“The United States and the Taliban have been engaged in extensive talks to facilitate a political settlement to end the war in Afghanistan, reduce United States and Allied Forces presence, and ensure that no terrorist group ever uses Afghan soil to threaten the United States or our allies,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Friday morning.

“Upon a successful implementation of this understanding, signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement is expected to move forward,” Pompeo said.

The agreement is expected to be inked on Feb. 29, according to Pompeo. Then, intra-Afghan discussions can start to “deliver a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan,” he said.

The Taliban continues to push for the removal of American and foreign forces from Afghanistan. The Pentagon and national security experts have warned that a U.S. power vacuum in Afghanistan could breathe new life into the plethora of terror groups that operate between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pentagon has oft voice support for keeping a small counterterror footprint in Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said the U.S. may reduce the American footprint in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600.

There have been no official announcements from the Pentagon or White House regarding any imminent troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised the announcement of the reduction in violence across Afghanistan.

“I welcome today’s announcement that an understanding has been reached on a significant reduction in violence across Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said, according to a news release.

“This is a critical test of the Taliban’s willingness and ability to reduce violence, and contribute to peace in good faith,” Stoltenberg said.

The U.S. has spent the last two years trying to bomb the Taliban into a diplomatic solution to the Afghan war. U.S. warplanes dropped more than 14,000 munitions over the last two years. In 2019, U.S. aircraft set a record for ordnance released since U.S. Air Forces Central Command began tracking airstrikes across the country.

2020 kicked off with near record munition drops for the month of January as the Taliban and American diplomats slogged through negotiations.

“Following the end of this seven-day period and signing of the agreement on the eighth day, all Mujahideen will be given new information and instructions in accordance with the agreement and implementation of those should be commenced," Mujahid said in a statement to Taliban fighters Friday.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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