HERAT -- Seventy Taliban members surrendered in Ghor Province on January 6 after security forces stepped up operations to clear insurgents from the region.
An operation called "Toophan Harirud" has been under way since December 29 to rid the Herat-Ghor highway and Shahrak District of militants, said Ghor Province Chief Gen. Aminullah Ahmadzai.
"A group of 70 Taliban members who were involved in extortion, killings and terrorist attacks in the Kamanj area of Shahrak District and along the Herat–Ghor highway surrendered to the security forces with their weapons" as a result of the heightened military pressure, he told reporters January 6.
"After operations intensified... more and more Taliban started to surrender to the security forces," he added. "More Taliban fighters will be forced to surrender soon, or else they will be killed."
Eight Taliban members were killed during the security forces' operations in Shahrak District, while some escaped, said Ahmadzai.
"Those who surrendered to the security forces didn't have any other option. If they hadn't renounced violence, they would have been killed," he said.
The Taliban had been extorting money from and killing residents in the Kamanj area of Shahrak District, said Ghor Governor Ghulam Naser Khaze.
"The militants collected a lot of revenue from extorting money from passengers on the Herat-Ghor highway and residents of the area, but the security forces annihilated the Taliban fighters in the district," he said.
"After this group of the Taliban surrendered to the security forces, the Taliban lost their ability to fight along the Herat–Ghor highway and in Shahrak District," Khadei added. "The group also handed over more than 100 weapons ... to the security forces."
"Now they can return to normal lives and start farming and animal husbandry in their villages," he said. "The government will provide support to residents of the area."
Regrets of joining the Taliban
Maulawi Muhammad Muhsen, a unit leader of the surrendered Taliban, told the security forces in Shahrak District that the militant outfit had forced him and his friends to fight against the government.
"We are ready to co-operate with the government and security forces and use all our strength in bringing security to Shahrak District," said Muhsen. "We handed our weapons over to the security forces, and we promise them that we will stand with them and support them."
"We won't allow the Taliban to enter Shahrak District again and commit violence and killing," he added. "We had been involved in violence for years, but we were fed up with war and have returned to our normal lives."
Jalil Ahmad, another of the surrendered militants, said he regrets fighting against the government.
"I had served in the ranks of the armed opposition for eight years, but I surrendered to the security forces and government," he said. "We realised that war is no longer a solution, and we have to end this miserable situation."
"We want the government to support our people and begin development projects that can create jobs for youth," he said. "We support all the government programmes in Shahrak District, and we won't allow anyone to disrupt the security."
"The Taliban destroyed bridges and roads, closed schools and prevented all forms of progress in the past few years, but after all of this we want prosperity and growth," he said.
"The Taliban told us that we had to do 'jihad'. They misused desperate young people," said Abdul Baqi, another surrendering militant.
"Now that the security forces are present in Shahrak District, we renounced fighting and handed our weapons to them," he added.
"We are ready to fight against the Taliban alongside our security forces to defend our villages, and we won't allow them [the Taliban] to push us once again to the dark era," he said.
Roadside bombs, beatings
Before the clearing campaign militants made life miserable for local residents, said Shahrak District resident Fazel Ahmad.
"The Taliban had shut down roads in front of us for years, and as the roads are now open, we are happy," he said. "We didn't have access to the hospital."
"We couldn't go anywhere as the Taliban planted roadside bombs, and they could blow up if we went anywhere," he said, adding that the insurgents would beat local residents and that they made the area insecure.
"We want the government to help us open our roads forever," he said. "We no longer want the Taliban to enter our village and harass residents. We don't have any more money to give to the Taliban."
Life has improved for area inhabitants after security forces cracked down on the militant group, agreed Dost Muhammad, another Shahrak District resident.
"The Taliban oppressed us greatly, and we are now happy that the security forces have come to our district," he said. "The Taliban entered our homes and stole everything we had."
He added that the Taliban extorted money from residents and forced youth to join their ranks and fight against the government.
The Taliban have committed crimes and atrocities in the name of "jihad" including the torture of innocent civilians, said Keramuddin Rezazada, a Ghor representative in the Wolesi Jirga.
"Islam doesn't approve of destroying bridges and killing women and children, which [the Taliban] do," Rezazada added. "Islam doesn't allow to Taliban to scatter land mines on public roads."
"We will no longer allow the criminal Taliban -- who have killed innocent civilians and children -- to enter Shahrak District," Rezazada said.