Afghanistan frees 100 more militants after Taliban leave talks

The Afghan government says it will release another 100 Taliban inmates after the militant group accused Kabul of foot-dragging and recalled its team from week-long meetings on a much-awaited prisoner swap between the two sides.

Javid Faisal, the spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council  (NSC), announced in a Twitter post that the prisoners would be set free on Thursday.

Kabul "will release 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence as part of our efforts for peace and containment of COVID-19," Faisal said.

"We need to push the peace process forward," he added.

Also on Wednesday, the administration of President Ashraf Ghani released 100 low-risk Taliban prisoners who had vowed never to return to the battlefield.

But the Taliban have swiftly rejected Kabul's piecemeal freeing of captives as "unacceptable". Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Thursday that the step was inadequate.

"Our stance has been very clear on prisoners swap," Mujahid said. "Now, hundreds hundreds prisoners are released on a daily basis. This is not part of our process and it is unacceptable to us."

The Taliban had accused the Afghan government of delaying the prisoner swap that was part of a deal signed with the United States in late February last year in the Qatari capital, Doha.
The United States signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban that required the Afghan government -- which was not a signatory to the accord -- to participate in the prisoner exchange.

The Afghan govenments and militants have been negotiating since last week to try to finalize the prisoner swap that was originally supposed to have happened by March 10 and pave the way for "intra-Afghan" peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.

A small Taliban team came to Kabul last week to meet the government to discuss a comprehensive prisoner swap. But they abandoned the "fruitless" meetings on Tuesday and returned to the southern province of Kandahar.

Under the agreement involving the US, the Afghan government was required to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and the militant group to free 1,000 government captives. The deal also aimed at paving the way for complete withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

About 14,000 US troops and approximately 17,000 troops from NATO allies and partner countries are stationed in Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump has long expressed eagerness to bring US soldiers home and to end the country's longest war as he seeks re-election in 2020.

Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than $1 trillion in fighting in Afghanistan.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with unknown tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban militants and Afghan civilians.

Over 100,000 Afghans have been killed or injured since 2009 when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties.

The Taliban now control or hold influence over more Afghan territory than at any point since 2001 and have carried out near-daily attacks against US-led foreign forces and Afghan military outposts throughout the war-ravaged country.

The militants have long demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops, calling them an "occupation" force, and blaming them for the almost two decades of war.


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