KABUL, Afghanistan: At least 54 people, including security personnel and civilians, were released from a Taliban prison in southern Helmand province, a provincial official said Tuesday.
Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the prisoners were freed after a commando unit raided the prison late Monday night in Musa Qala district.
Zwak said there were 32 civilians, 16 police, four soldiers and two military doctors who had been locked up by the insurgents. He said security forces were still securing the area.
The Taliban did not immediately comment on the raid, but the insurgents are in control of the majority of the districts in Helmand, where they have increased their attacks against provincial officials and security forces.
The Taliban have long refused direct talks with the Afghan government, demanding instead to negotiate with the U.S. The militants maintained that position despite Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s unilateral extension of a holiday cease-fire last month in hopes of encouraging the militants to come to the bargaining table. When the Taliban continued to mount deadly attacks,
Ghani ordered government forces to resume military operations this month.
Trump administration officials said Monday for the first time that the U.S. would be open to holding direct talks with the Taliban to encourage negotiations between the militant group and the Afghan government to end 17 years of war. They said that Afghan-to-Afghan negotiations remain the goal of any engagement with the militants, however.
That marks a tactical shift by the administration, which previously only appeared willing to participate in discussions with the Taliban if those talks also involved the Afghan government.
The officials were not authorized to speak to media and requested anonymity.
The unprecedented, three-day cease-fire by both sides had offered a rare glimpse of peace for Afghans during which militants fraternized with security force members.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and ousted the Taliban government that had hosted al-Qaida. It still has about 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, mostly for training government forces.—AFP