Tue, Aug 21, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Afghans free hostages taken by Taliban

HOLIDAY ATTACK:The Taliban ambushed three buses and took more than 100 people hostage, despite a ceasefire declared by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani


Afghan forces yesterday launched a lightning operation in northern Kunduz Province, rescuing 149 people, including women and children, abducted by the Taliban just hours earlier, officials said.

By mid-afternoon, fighting was still under way in the area to free remaining hostages, officials added.

The operation was a boost for Afghan forces, who have struggled to contain a resurgent Taliban on battlefields across the country.

Yesterday morning, the Taliban ambushed a convoy of three buses traveling on a road in the Khan Abad District and forced everyone to come with them, Afghan Ministry of the Interior spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.

Afghan security forces freed 149 and the insurgents were still holding 21 hostages from the buses, Rahimi said.

At least seven Taliban fighters have been killed in the fighting so far, he said.

The ambush came despite Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement of a conditional ceasefire with the Taliban during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha this week.

The Taliban have stepped up their assaults in the past few months, seizing entire districts across Afghanistan and regularly carrying out large-scale bombings and attacks that have killed scores of people.

Esmatullah Muradi, spokesman for the provincial governor in Kunduz, also confirmed the rescue of the hostages.

The Taliban were likely looking for government employees or members of the security forces who usually go home for the holidays, said Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council in Kunduz.

All the passengers on the buses were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces, and were traveling to the capital, Kabul, said Abdul Rahman Aqtash, police chief in neighboring Takhar Province.

Ghani’s call for the truce, made during celebrations on Sunday of the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence, said “the ceasefire should be observed from both sides, and its continuation and duration also depend on the Taliban’s stand.”

On Saturday, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah, said that there will be no peace in the country as long as the “foreign occupation” continues.

He reiterated the group’s stance that the country’s 17-year war can only be brought to an end through direct talks with the US.

In a message released on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, and without mentioning any ceasefire, Akhunzadah said the insurgents remain committed to “Islamic goals,” the sovereignty of Afghanistan and ending the war.

For his part, Ghani said he hoped extensions could also be agreed upon to make the ceasefire last until Nov. 20, which will mark the birth anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad.

The Afghan government had previously announced a ceasefire with the Taliban during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June. The Taliban accepted that three-day truce, but later rejected a call by the president to extend it.

Earlier this month, the Taliban launched a major assault on the eastern city of Ghazni, just 120km from Kabul and the capital of a province with the same name.

Afghan security forces battled the militants inside the city for five days, as the US carried out airstrikes and sent advisers to help the Afghan ground forces.

The battle for Ghazni killed at least 100 members of the Afghan security forces and 35 civilians, Afghan officials said.

The heavy casualties underscore the challenges the government in Kabul faces since the US and NATO officially ended their combat mission at the end of 2014.

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