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Taliban Take At Least 100 People Hostage In Kunduz, Say Afghan Officials

According to reports, Afghan security forces have arrived in the area and heavy fighting was under way. (file photo)
According to reports, Afghan security forces have arrived in the area and heavy fighting was under way. (file photo)

Officials in Afghanistan's northern province of Kunduz say the Taliban have taken more than 100 people, including women and children, hostage after seizing the buses they were traveling in.

The incident comes despite President Ashraf Ghani's call for a cease-fire with the Taliban during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, says the insurgents stopped the three buses on the road on August 20 near the Khan Abad district and abducted the passengers.

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

Safiullah Mahzon, Kunduz security director, said the hostages were taken to a village called Nikpe.

Abdul Rahman Aqtash, the police chief in neighboring Takhar province, says the passengers were from Badakhshan and Takhar provinces and were traveling to the capital, Kabul.

TOLO News reported that security forces have arrived in the area and heavy fighting was under way.

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

On August 19, Ghani called a "conditional" cease-fire with the Taliban to mark the Eid al-Adha holiday, just hours after insurgents said they had seized a district center in the northern province of Faryab.

The cease-fire was due to commence on August 20 and run for three months, Ghani said during an Afghan Independence Day ceremony on August 19.

U.S. Support

The United States said it welcomed the move, which is conditioned upon Taliban participation.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that an earlier three-day cease-fire in June coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday revealed the "deep desire" of the Afghan people to end the conflict, "and we hope another cease-fire will move the country closer to sustainable security."

"The United States and our international partners support this initiative by the Afghan people and the Afghan government, and we call on the Taliban to participate. It is our hope, and that of the international community, that the Afghan people may celebrate Eid al-Adha this year in peace, free from fear," the statement added.

The announcement came days after Taliban militants captured a military base in the same region.

Provincial Governor Naqibullah Fayeq said on August 19 that the Balcharagh district fell into the hands of Taliban fighters late on August 18 following several days of heavy clashes because the Afghan soldiers did not receive reinforcements.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Earlier this month, Taliban fighters overran an Afghan National Army base elsewhere in Faryab Province.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has been struggling to fend off the Taliban and other militant groups since the withdrawal of most NATO troops in 2014.

In a statement on August 18, Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada repeated his call for direct talks with the United States to end what he said was the foreign "occupation" of Afghanistan.

Akhundzada said the militant group wanted "sincere, transparent, and result-oriented negotiations" with Washington, adding that any peace settlement negotiated between the two sides must "preserve our Islamic goals, sovereignty of our homeland, and ensure an end to the war."

Akhundzada, believed to be living in hiding in neighboring Pakistan, had previously said the militants would not negotiate with the Afghan government, which he labelled a "puppet."

With reporting by dpa, Tolo News, Reuters, and Khaama Press