Afghan President Proposes Ceasefire, Then Taliban Captures 20 Soldiers

The Taliban kidnapped nearly 200 people on Monday as they were traveling by bus from northern Afghanistan to Kabul, less than 24 hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani proposed a three-month ceasefire with the insurgents.

By Tuesday, the Taliban had released more than 160 civilian passengers but were keeping at least 20 soldiers and policemen as captives, Reuters reported, citing provincial council officials in Kunduz province.

A Taliban spokesman said the insurgent group intercepted the buses after it received information that Afghan security forces were mixed in with the civilian travelers.

The soldiers and policemen are reportedly being taken to an unidentified Taliban jail, where they will be held for a future prisoner exchange with the Afghan government.

“Most probably we would exchange them for our prisoners later,” a Taliban commander told Reuters.

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The kidnapping appeared to be an emphatic rejection of Ghani’s offer to suspend fighting.

The Afghan president said in a televised address on Sunday the conditional truce would extend “until the prophet’s birthday provided that the Taliban reciprocate,” referring to Nov. 21, the date that Mohammed’s birthday is celebrated in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has not officially responded to Ghani’s proposal, but the group’s leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada reportedly intends to reject it.

Agreeing to a ceasefire now would allow government forces and their U.S. allies to regain their footing after a series of battlefield losses, according to two Taliban commanders who spoke to Reuters.

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“Our leadership feels that they’ll prolong their stay in Afghanistan if we announced a ceasefire now,” one of the commanders said, according to Reuters.

The Taliban has inflicted heavy losses on Afghan security forces in recent weeks.

Beginning Aug. 10, it launched a five-day assault on the key provincial capital of Ghazni and overran at least two Afghan army units elsewhere, killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians.

While the Taliban does not control any provincial capitals, its string of victories has raised concerns about the U.S.-backed government’s ability to degrade the insurgency and force its leaders to the negotiating table.

At least 14 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are fully controlled by the Taliban, while another 30 percent are contested, according to the U.S. government’s Afghanistan reconstruction watchdog.

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