HERAT -- A group of 18 Taliban fighters on November 26 renounced violence and joined the peace process in Ghor Province.
The surrendered fighters said they were fed up with the war and with the deception by their leaders, and that they had realised that there was no justification for fighting against security forces and killing civilians.
The group had operated in the Khwaja Ghar and Manji areas of Firoz Koh city, the provincial capital, for three years.
Mullah Sayed Muhammad, the commander of the group, said during a surrender ceremony in Firoz Koh that the Taliban leadership had ordered them to perpetrate bombings and suicide attacks and to show no mercy.
His group members will stand against the Taliban and support the security forces, he added.
"We know that the Taliban will attack our homes and beat up our family members," Muhammad said. "We want the government to support us, and we'll help the government too."
"More and more Muslims were humiliated and killed, and many of our brothers [fellow insurgents] were also killed," said Muhammad. "These killings won't benefit anyone, and this is why we joined the peace process. Today, we want to make peace with our brothers [the security forces]."
Mullah Ramadan, one of the militants who surrendered, called on Afghan security forces to protect the surrendered fighters and their families from other militants.
"When we were with the Taliban, we lived in fear day and night," he said. "We had to plant land mines on routes that civilians and troops used, or attack them, but we hesitated to kill our fellow Muslims, and we were afraid that the security forces could kill us at any moment."
Ramadan said that he is happy that he returned to his people and the government and that he will no longer be part of the killings.
Violence is decreasing and security has improved in Ghor Province after the militants surrendered, say officials.
Saifurrahman Malakzada, deputy governor of Ghor, called on all of the Taliban in Ghor to renounce violence and join the peace process, warning that they will be annihilated if they continue to fight.
"These members of the Taliban ultimately realised that war is not a solution," he said. "Nothing is of more importance than peace, security and calm in modern and Islamic life."
"It is a happy moment that these Taliban members have come to their senses and quit violence, and they decided to return to a normal life," said Malakzada.
"I request that the rest of the Taliban in Ghor Province renounce violence and killing as these brothers of us did and choose peace," he added. "We can live a dignified life in peace, but at war everyone grapples with fear and violence."
"The Taliban group of 18 fighters joining the peace process benefits security in Ghor Province," said Ahmad Shahrani, a civil society activist in Ghor.
"But we want the security forces to identify areas where the Taliban operate and are in control and to prevent their activities," he said.
"The more pressure we put on the Taliban, the more it will force them to join the peace process," he added. "The winter is the right season to encourage more Taliban fighters to renounce violence, and it will help reduce conflict and violence next spring."
Mounting military pressure
Air strikes and special operations to defeat the Taliban have increased in Ghor Province, and the militants have lost the ability to fight, say security officials.
Military operations are in the works to clear districts and insecure areas of the Taliban, said Ghor Police Chief Gen. Aminullah Ahmadzai.
"Major operations will be launched in the east and south of Ghor Province covering 10 districts," he said. "These operations will continue until these districts are cleared of the Taliban. We are planning to build security checkpoints in all the cleared areas so that the Taliban can't return."
"The security forces had many achievements in Ghor Province during the spring offensive as they defeated the Taliban," added Ahmadzai. "During the spring offensive that lasted a few months, more than 150 Taliban fighters, including dozens of commanders, were killed."
Hamidullah Muttahid, a member of the Ghor provincial council, called for an increase in military pressure on the Taliban to rescue civilians from the group's atrocities.
"Everywhere the security forces launch operations, they have to plan long-term programmes and win the support of the local population," said Muttahid. "We are concerned about living conditions in areas that the Taliban control, as those residents have suffered atrocities."
"The Taliban's biggest source of income in Ghor Province includes ushr and zakat that they collect [by force] and narcotics cultivation," said Muttahid.
"The Taliban collect big fines and conduct extortion through their kangaroo courts. Civilians have to be rescued from these atrocities as soon as possible," he said.