Taliban Answers Afghanistan's Cease-Fire Offer With Ambush, Abductions

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Taliban militants kidnapped dozens of passengers after stopping three buses in northern Afghanistan on Monday, officials said, a day after the government announced a ceasefire with the militants.

The Taliban have been at war with the USA -backed Afghan government for nearly 17 years, and have stepped up attacks in recent years, seizing rural districts and carrying out major assaults against security forces and government compounds on an almost daily basis. He said none of them were government employees or members of Afghanistan's security forces.

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. So far, he says, the Taliban has neither accepted nor rejected the proposal.

The operation was a boost for Afghan forces, which have struggled to contain a resurgent Taliban on battlefields across the country.

The ambush came a day after President Ashraf Ghani proposed a holiday cease-fire, saying it would be conditional on the Taliban halting attacks. According to Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council in Kunduz, the insurgents stopped three busses on the road near Khan Abad district and forced the passengers to come with them.

The fate of the hostages in Kunduz province - in an area that has recently fallen under Taliban control - was not immediately known and there was no statement from the insurgents.

In his call on Sunday for the truce, Ghani said, "The cease-fire should be observed from both sides, and its continuation and duration also depend on the Taliban's stand".

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Despite the ambush and the bloodshed that followed, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid maintains that the group is still mulling Ghani's offer of a cease-fire.

President Donald Trump's impatience with the 17-year-old war in has promptedU.S. diplomats and commanders to kick-start negotiations with the Taliban, including holding direct talks with the militants.

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

"It is our hope, and that of the worldwide community, that the Afghan people may celebrate Eid al-Adha this year in peace, free from fear".

Taliban sources said earlier that their leaders had provisionally agreed on a four-day truce, although supreme leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada still had to give his final approval.

Ghani has been trying to nudge the resurgent Taliban, which has been fighting to overthrow the US -backed government in Kabul since 2001, into peace talks.

In a message released on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, and without mentioning any cease-fire, Akhunzadah said the insurgents remain committed to "Islamic goals", the sovereignty of Afghanistan and ending the war.

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