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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during meetings at the organization's headquarters in Brussels on Friday June 8, 2018.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg during meetings at the organization's headquarters in Brussels on Friday June 8, 2018. (Courtesy of NATO)

A cease-fire in Afghanistan between government forces and the Taliban could free up U.S. military assets to intensify operations against other militant groups in the country, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday.

On Thursday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a weeklong unconditional cease-fire with the Taliban that begins next week and lasts through the end of Ramadan.

The announcement means U.S. and Afghan security forces on Tuesday will unilaterally cease operations against the Taliban. But operations against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and others will continue.

Mattis, speaking at the end of a NATO defense ministers’ conference in Brussels, said counterterrorism forces and assets such as surveillance aircraft could be shifted and be in a “stronger position” to target groups such as ISIS, he said.

“We will have to see how this turns out,” Mattis said.

NATO officials welcomed the cease-fire announcement.

“Our aim is to strengthen the Afghan security forces so they can create the conditions for a peaceful solution,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday.

“An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is essential to a long-term, inclusive political settlement,” he said.

Next month, allies are expected to agree to continue funding Afghan security forces through 2024, Stoltenberg said.

During talks this week, alliance members agreed to bolster the combat readiness of NATO forces to counter potential threats in Europe.

A new “four thirties” initiative calls for having 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat ships that can deploy within 30 days. New alliance headquarters — one in Norfolk, Va., and the other in Ulm, Germany — will be set up to ensure the quicker movement of forces across the Atlantic and around Europe. Such measures, Mattis said Friday, help ensure “this alliance is fit to fight.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com Twitter: @john_vandiver

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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