ISLAMABAD - The Afghan Taliban on Monday urged the United States to fulfill its obligations under a newly-signed agreement and secure the release of 5,000 insurgent prisoners from the custody of the Afghan government.
The insurgent comment came after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement on Sunday that his government had made no commitment to free Taliban detainees and would not bow to pressure to do so.
Ghani’s assertions dealt an early blow to the landmark deal U.S. and Taliban officials signed in Qatar on Saturday with a goal to end the more than 18-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest.
Chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted Monday that Washington has committed itself to completing the prisoner release process by March 10, when intra-Afghan peace negotiations are to open.
Mujahid also tweeted the relevant portion from the Pashto language version of the deal that reads that up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 Afghan security personnel will be released before the talks begin.
Ghani, whose government had been kept out of the U.S.-Taliban peace process, said the prisoner swap could become part of the coming negotiations.
The Taliban and U.S.-backed Afghan security forces observed a mutually agreed weeklong reduction in violence truce last week, culminating in Saturday’s signing of the agreement between the two adversaries. The warring sides were supposed to commit to little or no violence by the time the intra-Afghan talks begin.
But, reports of renewed violence in Afghanistan on Monday, including a bomb explosion in a southeastern province, raised questions about those commitments, although the Taliban denied involvement.
The reported trouble apparently prompted the U.S. military in Afghanistan to remind the Taliban of their commitments to ensure a low level of violence.
“The reduction in violence was a confidence builder. We're very serious about our obligations and we expect the Taliban will be serious about their obligations,” said General Scott Miller, who commands U.S. and foreign troops in the country.
“The United States has been very clear about our expectations — the violence must remain low,” Miller said. A U.S. military spokesman tweeted the top general’s comments.
Under the deal with the Taliban, Washington will reduce the number of its forces to 8,600 from roughly 13,000 stationed in Afghanistan, within five months. The complete U.S. troop withdrawal is to take place within 14 months, or by April 2021, provided the Taliban deliver on all its pledges and show progress in intra-Afghan peace talks on a nationwide permanent cease-fire and future-power sharing.