Taliban rejects Afghan ceasefire and vows to continue attacks

Kabul government forces report rescue of 150 bus passengers abducted by insurgents

File photograph taken in June shows Afghan Taliban militants walking to celebrate an earlier ceasefire on the second day of Eid in the outskirts of Jalalabad. Photograph: Getty Images

File photograph taken in June shows Afghan Taliban militants walking to celebrate an earlier ceasefire on the second day of Eid in the outskirts of Jalalabad. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Taliban on Monday rejected an Afghan government offer of a ceasefire and said it would persist with its attacks, after insurgents ambushed three buses and some 170 passengers travelling for a holiday.

Afghan forces later said they had rescued 149 people, including women and children, abducted during the ambush in Kunduz province, but that the militants had escaped with 21 captives. Tribal elders are trying to negotiate the remaining hostages’ release, they said.

Two Taliban commanders said their supreme leader rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s Sunday offer of a three-month ceasefire, beginning with this week’s Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday.

In June, the Taliban observed a government ceasefire over the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival, leading to unprecedented scenes of government soldiers and militants embracing on front lines, and raising hopes for talks.

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

“Our leadership feels that they’ll prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a ceasefire now,” a senior Taliban commander, who declined to be identified, said by telephone.

An official in Mr Ghani’s office said the three-month-long ceasefire declared by the government was conditional, and if the Taliban did not respect it, the government would maintain military operations.

The Taliban has launched a wave of attacks in recent weeks, including on the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul. Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting.

In the latest attack, the Taliban stopped three buses in the Khan Abad district of Kunduz and ordered the passengers to come with them, according to Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the interior ministry.

Afghan forces responded quickly and were able to free 149 people and kill at least seven Taliban fighters, he said.

Eid celebrations

The identities of the 21 people still held had not been made public, but Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, said the insurgents likely targeted the three buses to try to abduct civil servants or members of the security forces.

The passengers were all from Takhar and Badakhshan provinces in the north and were on their way to Kabul for this week’s Eid al-Adha holiday, according to Abdul Rahman Aqtash, police chief in Takhar province.

Separately, the Taliban said it would release at least 500 prisoners, including members of the security forces, on Monday, a day before Eid celebrations begin.

Sporadic clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan forces erupted on the outskirts of Ghazni on Monday as aid workers tried to get help into the city, aid agency officials said.

The government has said its forces had secured the city after the Taliban laid siege to it for five days this month.

At least 150 soldiers and 95 civilians were killed and hundreds were injured. Aid agencies officials said their teams had entered the city but clashes in the outskirts prevented them from launching large-scale operations. – Reuters/AP