Afghanistan is holding a loya jirga, an assembly of elders, Friday to determine what to do about the final stumbling block before peace negotiations can begin – the release of 400 Taliban prisoners.
The U.S. and Taliban negotiators agreed earlier this year that peace talks could move forward on the conditions that Kabul released 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the Taliban release 1,000 government personnel that the militants were holding captive.
The government has released 4,600 prisoners, while the Taliban has released all its prisoners.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says the remaining Taliban prisoners' crimes were too serious and needed a ruling from the traditional council which consists of elders from various tribes, ethnic groups and factions.
“We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular,” U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a statement Thursday. “But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.”
The council is meeting in Kabul, despite a recent surge in COVID-19 cases that has seen about half the city’s residents infected.