HERAT -- Hundreds of Taliban members have laid down their weapons and surrendered to the government to save themselves from Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF)'s winter operations in eastern districts of Herat Province and along the Herat-Ghor highway.
One group of 19 Taliban led by Mullah Ahmad, one of the Taliban's local commanders in Chesht District of Herat Province, surrendered to government forces, the Ministry of Defence announced January 28.
The group surrendered to security forces with their weapons on January 27 after several weeks of battles against the ANDSF, according to the ministry.
"The Taliban who have surrendered promised that they would no longer fight against the government and people and begin living peacefully alongside their countrymen," the ministry said in a statement.
"The surrender of the Taliban in the western region continues," it said.
In less than one month, 263 Taliban fighters have surrendered to ANDSF in areas of Shahrak District, Ghor Province, the statement added.
Although the Afghan government supports the peace process, it simultaneously continues its military pressure against the Taliban and other terrorist groups, said Jilani Farhad, a spokesperson for the Herat governor.
"The security forces have prevented every kind of Taliban unrest for the past two months by launching air and ground operations, which have helped improve the security situation," he said.
The surrendered Taliban members have chosen the right path as they join the security forces, he said, adding that if they continue fighting, they will be annihilated like hundreds of other militants.
Decreasing threats to Salma Dam
The surrender of the Taliban fighters will help improve the security situation and decrease violence, especially in Chesht District, which is rich in natural resources and home to Salma Dam, said Jawad Ameed, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"The Taliban pose a serious threat to Salma Dam as they have always tried to inflict damage on this large national project of the Afghan people," he said. "But when the Taliban renounce violence near this national project and lay down their weapons, the security situation improves in the area and threats to Salma Dam drop."
The Taliban's surrender to the security forces shows that their members are fed up with war and that they no longer want to kill innocent civilians -- or get killed themselves, Ameed said.
"Interference by the foe drops with every group of the Taliban surrendering to the government," he said. "Most of the Taliban groups in Chesht District, especially in areas surrounding Salma Dam, receive support from the neighbouring countries and their intelligence agencies to destroy Salma Dam."
Local authorities and residents have accused the Iranian regime of providing money and logistical support to the Taliban to prevent economic development in Afghanistan.
"When the Taliban put their weapons on the ground, the destructive plans of the neighbouring countries' intelligence agencies are thwarted as they won't have anyone to destroy Afghanistan's large projects like Salma Dam, and this is in favour of the Afghan people," Ameed said.
"The Taliban have always tried to destroy our national projects," said Baz Muhammad Alkozay, a resident of Herat city.
"The Taliban's goal is to destroy Afghanistan's hydro-power dams and large economic projects," he said last September. "Iran gives money to [the Taliban] to prevent the construction of Bakhshabad Dam and to destroy Salma Dam."
"There are important national projects located in Chesht District," said Farhad, the governor's spokesperson. "Salma Dam and marble quarries in the district are among the resources and national projects of the Afghan people that the security forces are determined to secure."
The Taliban have attempted to attack Salma Dam several times in recent years, but failed, he said.
"In about the past two months, more than 20 prominent Taliban commanders lost their lives in air strikes and commando attacks by security forces in Herat Province," Farhad said. "These activities of the security forces send a clear message to the Taliban that if they continue [to spread] violence, they will be destroyed."
Life or death
The ANDSF winter operations have put pressure on the Taliban, leaving them with one choice to make, according to security authorities in the western region.
The Taliban must decide whether they want to continue fighting and be killed or to save their lives by surrendering to authorities and returning to a peaceful life, they say.
The choice is clear, said Abdul Rauf Ahmadi, acting spokesperson for the Herat Police Department. The Taliban have no option but to surrender.
The Taliban suffered heavy casualties in the ANDSF's winter operations in various districts of Herat Province, he said.
"As the Taliban have created serious problems for society and the government, the security forces were compelled to annihilate them," Ahmadi said.
The Taliban's activities have decreased thanks to the security forces' winter operations in Ghor Province, especially in Shahrak District, said Abdulhai Khatibi, a spokesperson for the Ghor governor.
Most of the Taliban fighters in the district have surrendered to security forces, he said.
"In less than one month, more than 260 Taliban fighters have surrendered to the security forces in Shahrak District, and many other fighters have promised that they will surrender and no longer get involved in violence," he said.
"After most of the Taliban who continued fighting were killed by the security forces, hundreds of Taliban militants surrendered to the security forces to save their lives and resume a normal life, and many more will surrender in the coming days," Khatibi said.