Prisoner release in Afghanistan

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The Afghan government released 100 Taliban prisoners as a first step of a peace process with the hard-line Islamists, despite the group’s suspension of talks on a planned prisoner exchange crucial to formal talks to end years of war.

Differences over the prisoner release question complicated US brokered attempts at a lasting peace agreement to end more than 18 years of conflict in Afghanistan.

“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan released 100 Taliban prisoners based on health, age and length of remaining sentence as part of efforts for peace,” said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, which is negotiating with the Taliban.

A February pact between the US and the Taliban, under which US-led international forces will withdraw in phases in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, is the best chance to reduce US military involvement in Afghanistan.

Peace hinges on talks between the US-backed Afghan government and the militants. A prisoner exchange is meant to build confidence for talks.

Despite setbacks over prisoner releases, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said progress was made since he visited Kabul on March 23 and met Taliban officials in Qatar to iron out differences.