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Taliban, US Welcome Release of Insurgent Prisoners by Kabul

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks on the last day of the Afghan Loya Jirga meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, May 3, 2019. Ghani offers cease fire, says he will free 175 Taliban prisoners ahead of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The government in Afghanistan has unilaterally initiated a process of releasing hundreds of Taliban prisoners, a move being hailed both by the insurgent group and the United States amid a renewed push for finding a political settlement to the deadly Afghan war.

Last week, President Ashraf Ghani had ordered nearly 900 prisoners to be freed within the next two months in a goodwill gesture. Officials asserted that most of the detainees are Taliban fighters and dozens of them have since been set free.

No official figures were immediately available, but Afghan media reported authorities would have released around 300 prisoners by the end of Tuesday.

A Taliban statement confirmed its prisoners are being set free from different Afghan jails, calling it a “positive step” and urging the government to continue the process.

The insurgent group, however, asserted only 261 Taliban members were on the list of detainees President Ghani has promised to release. The rest, it said, are non-combatants and were rounded up by local forces and their American partners allegedly during night raids against civilian homes.

U.S ambassador to Afghanistan Johan Bass welcomed the releasing of insurgent prisoners by Kabul, saying it would improve “the climate for a political settlement” to the conflict. “Lasting peace will be rooted in reconciliation and forgiveness by all,” Bass tweeted Tuesday.

The ambassador, however, criticized the Taliban for not releasing government prisoners. He praised Afghan security forces for freeing hundreds of detainees in recent raids against insurgent-run jails.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators are scheduled to hold another round of peace talks in Qatar later this month, but the dialogue process has failed to persuade the insurgents to cease hostilities and engage in intra-Afghan talks to find a lasting solution to the conflict.