U.S. welcomes Afghanistan's latest ceasefire offer to Taliban

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Afghan officials say government security forces on August 20 freed 149 people who had been taken hostage by the Taliban several hours earlier in the northern province of Kunduz.

According to Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council in Kunduz, the insurgents stopped three buses on the road near Khan Abad district and forced the passengers to come with them.

Mujahid said top leaders had not declared a ceasefire, but they would release at least 500 prisoners, including members of the Afghan security forces on Monday, a day before Eid celebrations begin.

President Ashraf Ghani declared a provisional three-month ceasefire with the Taliban on Sunday to mark the Eid al Adha holiday, even though fighting against the Western-backed government in Kabul and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation coalition forces has increased.

The government had previously announced a cease-fire with the Taliban during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in June.

Abdul Rahman Aqtash, a police chief in neighbouring Takhar province, said the passengers had been on their way to Kabul.

The Taliban's resurgence in recent years has seen entire districts of Afghanistan fall under its control.

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He said fighting in the area had halted while Afghan authorities used local elders as intermediaries in negotiations with the Taliban for the release of the remaining hostages. The Taliban accepted that three-day ceasefire, but later rejected a call by the president to extend it.

In a statement issued by US Secretary of State Michael Pompei he said: "This plan responds to the clear and continued call of the Afghan people for peace".

The announcement followed a bloody week of fighting across Afghanistan which saw the Taliban launch a massive assault against the provincial capital Ghazni.

A senior official in Ghani's office said the conditional ceasefire would run for three months, until the Prophet Mohammed's birthday which Afghanistan celebrate on Nov.21.

Afghan security forces battled the militants inside the city for five days, as the USA carried out airstrikes and send advisers to help ground forces.

It spurred hopes that a new path was opening for possible peace talks in the country to the end the almost 17-year-old war, but violence has surged in the weeks since. Since then, American forces, now in a training and advising role, have repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces.

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