Afghan Taliban release villagers held after attack

SAR-E PUL, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The Taliban released 235 villagers held after the insurgents captured a village in the northern Afghan province of Sar-e Pul, but the government faced growing pressure over why it had taken so long for security forces to arrive in the area.

Provincial Governor Zahir Wahdat said the people from Mirza Olang village had arrived in Sar-e Pul, the main town of the northern province and security forces should begin an offensive soon to recapture the village, which was overrun at the weekend.

But he expressed impatience at how long it was taking to begin the operation and said he would offer to resign if the delay continued.

“If there is no clearance operation in the area soon, I will resign,” he told reporters in Sar-e Pul.

President Ashraf Ghani has vowed “revenge” for the attack but there was little visible sign that security forces were ready to begin.

“We have very little ammunition left,” said one soldier in the village of Qaflaton, down the hill from Mirza Olang, who gave his name as Fawad. “We need more forces, equipment and air support,” he said.

Insurgents took the village at the weekend and killed as many as 50 people, Afghan officials say, but many details of the attack remain unclear.

The Taliban said the attack was launched by one of their commanders but officials say the insurgents included both Taliban fighters and others loyal to an affiliate of Islamic State, normally bitter rivals of the Taliban.

Wahdat said as many as 450 families had fled the fighting, which has underscored the lack of government control in many areas of Afghanistan and deepened public anger at the growing insecurity.

Sayed Ismail, a man who said he had been detained and then released by Islamic State fighters, said he had lost three members of his family, including a son and grandson.

“Government officials put their hands on the holy Koran to provide security for us but they have their security guards and armoured cars and do not think of their people,” he said.

“We were with Daesh for four days,” he said, using a term widely employed for Islamic State. “Some of our relatives were buried without shrouds and their dead bodies were spoiled in open weather. We are tired of our government.”

Reporting by Abdul Matin Sahak; Editing by Stephen Coates