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Taliban prisoners to be set free, paving way for peace talks in Afghanistan

By J.P. LAWRENCE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 9, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan – Some 400 Taliban prisoners will soon be set free, setting the stage for talks between militants and the Afghan government, according to a statement released Sunday by President Ashraf Ghani’s administration. 

The decision came after a council of 3,400 Afghan delegates, known as a loya jirga, concluded Sunday with a declaration that agreed to the prisoner release.

"Today I am signing an order ...for the release of 400 prisoners," Ghani said in a speech Sunday.  "All the obstacles will be removed in the way of peace."

The declaration released by the loya jirga demanded negotiations start as soon as possible after the release of the 400 prisoners, with other demands including a permanent ceasefire and guarantees that the prisoners do not return to the battlefield.

The prisoner release is a key condition of a deal signed between the U.S. and the Taliban that could pull American troops from the country.

The deal called for Kabul to release up to 5,000 prisoners and for the Taliban to free up to 1,000 government and military prisoners prior to the start of intra-Afghan talks to determine the future of the country. 

The Afghan government, which was not part of the U.S.-Taliban deal, initially stated its resistance to a prisoner release without a ceasefire.
But Kabul eventually released the prisoners after heavy pressure by U.S. diplomats. 

Negotiations between Kabul's political leadership and the Taliban could begin as early as next week in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. has already significantly cut its troop numbers in Afghanistan and plans to go below 5,000 troops in the country by the end of November, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday in an interview with Fox News. 

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

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