Afghan forces free 149 people taken hostage by Taliban

Afghan peace marchers arrive in Kabul on June 18

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

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

"We have taken the buses to a safe area to prevent any clashes and we are now identifying members of the security forces", he said, adding that civilians would be released soon.

The buses, carrying passengers from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces, were on their way to the capital, Kabul, according to Abdul Rahman Aqtash, police chief of the Takhar province.

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The Taliban had taken control of part of Bulcheragh district and more than 50 government forces were missing, he added.

The U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officially ended their combat mission at the end of 2014 but have repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces in recent years to prevent the Taliban from advancing into major cities.

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

Akhundzada, thought to be hiding in neighboring Pakistan, had previously said the militants would not negotiate with the Afghan government, which he labelled a "puppet". The Taliban has not officially responded to Ghani's offer. The Taliban accepted that three-day cease-fire, but later rejected a call by the president to extend it.

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Speaking during a gathering to mark the 99th Independence Day of Afghanistan, President Ghani said the government announces ceasefire with the Taliban, starting from Monday until Eid Milad un Nabi (Birth of Prophet Mohammad), on the condition that the Taliban group also announces a ceasefire. He said security forces would observe a ceasefire if the Taliban reciprocated and also called a truce.

In a message released on the occasion of Eid al-Adha - and without pointing to any cease-fire - the Taliban leader said on Saturday that the insurgents remain committed to "Islamic goals", the sovereignty of Afghanistan and ending the war. The U.S. has long insisted on an "Afghan-led" peace process between the government and the Taliban but recently has indicated it would be open to direct talks with the insurgents.

In the meantime, the families of those captured Monday said they had little information about their fate. "We just ask the government not to wait, and to try hard to release the rest of the passengers".

"The order was issued for operations, today and last night there were operations in at least four or five provinces", said Chakhansuri. "Even during the day, they can only go in with full force and air support".

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