Afghan forces free hostages

Taliban ambushed convoy; abducted nearly 150 people

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan forces rescued nearly 150 people Monday, including women and children, hours after the Taliban ambushed a convoy of buses and abducted them. The quick response marked a rare if limited battlefield success for the troops after weeks of unrelenting insurgent attacks.

The militants escaped with 21 captives following the battle in Kunduz province, and officials said tribal elders were trying to negotiate their release. Esmatullah Muradi, a spokesman for the governor in the northern province, said the Taliban have demanded the national identifications of the captives to determine their fate.

The identities of the captives have not been made public, but Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council, said the insurgents likely targeted the three buses to try to abduct civil servants or members of the security forces.

The Taliban have been at war with the U.S.-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.

Earlier this month, the insurgents launched a coordinated assault on Ghazni, a strategic city only 75 miles from the capital, Kabul. They seized several neighborhoods, and it took security forces, aided by U.S. airstrikes and advisers, more than five days to drive them out. The battle for the city killed at least 100 security forces and 35 civilians.