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40 insurgents surrender in north Afghanistan: police

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan police said some 40 Taliban insurgents had surrendered Tuesday after a military operation in the increasingly violent north, but the hardline Islamist group said the fighters were imposters.

Kunduz province police chief Sayed Rahman Sayedkheli said the insurgents’ surrender, in the district of Imam Saheb, near the border with Tajikistan, was a small victory in a region where the Taliban have been making inroads.

“The operations have been broadly successful and their decision to stop fighting will certainly help improve security,” he told Reuters.

Violence across Afghanistan at its worst since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government, and the north faces increasing instability as the insurgency spreads rapidly in previously peaceful areas.

The leader of the group, that decided to seek amnesty from the government, Mullah Mohammad Gul, said his men were “betrayed by al Qaeda and other foreign fighters.”

“They fled Afghanistan and left us without any help,” he told Reuters at a compound where they surrendered their weapons.

A Taliban spokesman dismissed the claim.

“They are not genuine members of the Taliban as real Taliban fighters would never surrender to the government. If anyone is seen to do so, they will be punished by death,” Zabiullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Luring away fighters is part of the West’s strategy to turn the tide against the insurgency, using inducements like job training, literacy programs and development projects to try and persuade them to stop fighting.

The program is in its infancy and observers say it is often difficult to distinguish between outlaws and true insurgents.

A recent string of attacks around the country has helped to dispel expectations of a winter lull in fighting. Analysts are questioning whether the focus of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on the violent southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar has come at the expense of the north.

Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in KABUL; Writing by Matt Robinson, editing by Miral Fahmy

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