Afghanistan forces free 149 of captives seized by Taliban

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Afghanistan’s government has freed 149 people, including women and children, who were abducted by the Taliban just hours earlier in the province of Kunduz.

Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, says the insurgents still hold 21 others hostage following their ambush of a convoy of buses travelling in the Khan Abad district on Monday.

The spokesman says the rescue operation conducted by the security forces has so far killed at least seven Taliban fighters.

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

Afghanistan Ceasefire
File photo of Taliban fighters gathering with residents to celebrate a three-day ceasefire in June (Ramat Gul/AP)

Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council in Kunduz province, said the insurgents stopped three buses on the road near Khan Abad district on Monday and abducted the passengers.

Mr Ayubi believes the Taliban were looking for government employees or members of the security forces.

Abdul Rahman Aqtash, a police chief in neighbouring Takhar province, said the passengers were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces and were travelling to the capital, Kabul.

There was no comment from the Taliban but the area of the incident is under Taliban control.

Mr Ghani made the ceasefire announcement on Sunday during celebrations of the 99th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence.

“The ceasefire should be observed from both sides, and its continuation and duration also depend on the Taliban’s stand,” he stressed.

He added that should the Taliban agree, it would be observed over Monday and Tuesday, the Eid holidays.

He said he hoped extensions could also be agreed upon to make it last until November 20, which will mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed.

The government had previously announced a ceasefire with the Taliban during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June.

The Taliban accepted that three-day ceasefire, but later rejected a call by the president to extend it.

Mr Ghani’s call came just a day after the leader of the Afghan Taliban said there would be no peace in Afghanistan as long as the “foreign occupation” continues, reiterating the group’s position that the country’s 17-year war can only be brought to an end through direct talks with the United States.

In a message released on the occasion of the Eid al-Adha holiday, Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah said on Saturday that the group remained committed to “Islamic goals”, the sovereignty of Afghanistan and ending the war.

The Taliban have grown stronger in recent years, seizing districts across the country and regularly carrying out large-scale attacks.

Earlier this month, they launched a major assault on the city of Ghazni, just 75 miles from Kabul.

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

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

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