Around 900 members of the Taliban were released from a prison near Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, May 26, as part of a prisoner swap agreement made with the United States in Qatar in late February.
Under the deal, which is intended to set the stage for peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners will be released in exchange for 1,000 prisoners held by the group within three months.
One-hundred other former Taliban prisoners were released from a prison in Parwan on Monday, Afghanistan’s Office of the National Security Council said.
The Taliban had also agreed to observe a three-day ceasefire from May 24 to 26, coinciding with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr – a move welcomed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement issued Sunday.
“With the political crisis in Afghanistan resolved, I expect newly named Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah and President Ghani to seize the opportunity to remove the remaining obstacles that have delayed the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, starting with releasing prisoners,” Pompeo said. “I expect the Taliban to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”
The ceasefire was also welcomed by the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and the Chargé d’Affaires in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, as well as President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani and his National Security Adviser, Hamdullah Mohib.
In a brief statement on Twitter, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen said the release of the 900 prisoners showed “good progress,” and added the Taliban would release “a remarkable number of prisoners soon” in return.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission and some analysts expressed concern that the releases could lead to increased violence. Those doubts appeared to be shared by Mohib, who on May 12 tweeted: “The attacks of the last two months show us and the world that Taliban & their sponsors do not and did not intend to pursue peace. Their attacks this spring against Afghans are comparable to the level of fighting in past fighting seasons.”
Tweeting on May 27, US President Donald Trump said that the US had been “acting as a police force” in Afghanistan, and called for the return of US soldiers. He also said the US would “closely watch what is going on” and threatened that they would “strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!” Credit: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty via Storyful