Kabul Says Afghan Forces Free 149 Hostages Seized By Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared a provisional three-month ceasefire with the Taliban in a televised broadcast Sunday, a move welcomed by Washington but yet to receive a reply from the militants themselves.

The identities of the captives have not been made public, but Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council, said the insurgents likely targeted the three buses to try to abduct civil servants or members of the security forces.

Rahimi said the remaining 21 hostages were taken by the Taliban to an undisclosed location.

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The buses were stopped in the province's Khan Abad district, an area under Taliban control - prompting a battle against government forces deployed in a rescue operation.

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.

President Ashraf Ghani declared a provisional three-month ceasefire with the Taliban on Sunday to mark the Eid al Adha holiday, even though fighting against the Western-backed government in Kabul and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation coalition forces has increased. Taliban sources confirmed that their leaders had provisionally agreed a four-day truce but said that their leader, Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada, still had to give his final approval. Some analysts said it might be perceived as an act of desperation by the government following mounting battlefield pressure from insurgents. The battle for the city killed at least 100 security forces and 35 civilians, according to Afghan officials.

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But one of the Taliban commanders said the June ceasefire had only helped USA forces, who the Taliban are trying to drive out of the country, and Taliban leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada rejected the new offer on the grounds it would only help the US -led mission.

The Taliban did not immediately respond to the offer but in a message from its leader published over the weekend to mark the upcoming Islamic holiday of Eidul Azha the group continued to push for direct talks with the US.

The Taliban have launched a wave of attacks in different parts of the country in recent weeks, including on the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul.

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In June, the government announced another truce with the Taliban during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June, which the Taliban accepted.

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