A holiday ceasefire has been touted for the weekend, with hopes high that the much-mentioned intra-Afghan talks could soon begin.
A vehicle bomb that killed at least 17 people in the country's east just hours before the ceasefire started underlined the scale of the challenge that lies ahead, although the Taliban denied any involvement.
The context within which the planned-for temporary halting of hostilities and possible talks will take place is important to understand. CSTC-A said this has been "perhaps the most complex and challenging period in the last two decades" for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).
The deal also stated the Taliban and the Afghan government should start direct peace talks on March 10, following the completion of the prisoner swap.
Eventually, however, the Afghan government began the prisoner release process - not without further delays and contention - and talks do appear to be the next step.
The first round may be held in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where a Taliban political team has been living for years and where it negotiated for nearly a year-and-a-half with Khalilzad and his team. Just $5 a month.
"The Helmand governor said that it was worrying that the Taliban would not cut ties with al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters", Tolo reported on Friday, citing several officials who claimed that "there is a presence of Al Qaeda and other foreign fighters ranging from Disho district of Helmand towards some districts in Herat", an area spanning many miles.
Since signing the February deal, the Taliban have largely refrained from attacking cities and have not hit United States troops. After two previous ceasefires - in 2018 and May this year - the Taliban immediately returned to the battlefield.
The contentious prisoner swap is a key precondition for the Taliban to enter into peace talks with the government for the first time in their 19-year insurgency and the halt in fighting is only the third official truce in almost the two decades.
The Afghan government has released more than 4,400 Taliban prisoners, while a spokesman for the insurgents said on Thursday that a total of 1,005 government inmates had now been set free. It's not clear how the potential decision to withdraw additional troops has fared under the present situation. "Five-thousand prisoners of the Taliban will be released, and 1,000 prisoners of Afghans security forces will be released", he told VOA Thursday. While the government of Ashraf Ghani wants a permanent ceasefire, the Taliban has replied that that's a topic to cover in talks.
The State Department referred Reuters to a statement it released after Khalilzad's visit, which said he had pressed for "ongoing efforts to resolve the remaining issues ahead of intra-Afghan negotiations", including the prisoner release, but did not detail any proposals.
He went on to say, "It is now up to the other parties to determine how they utilize this opportunity".