Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Orders Release Of Taliban Prisoners

KABUL – Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani signed a decree to facilitate the release of some Taliban prisoners in Afghan jails, a spokesman for his office said on Wednesday.

“President Ghani has signed the decree that would facilitate the release of the Taliban prisoners in accordance with an accepted framework for the start of negotiation between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” Sediq Sediqqi, Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman said in a tweet. He also hinted that Kabul could consider releasing 5,000 prisoners if the Taliban refrained from attacks on Afghan forces.

At least 1,000 Taliban prisoners are expected to be released this week, five official sources said earlier, paving the way for opening direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Meanwhile, American forces have started pulling out of two bases in Afghanistan a US official said, on Tuesday, the day peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban were due to start.

The United States is keen to end its longest-ever conflict, and under the terms of a deal signed in Doha last month has said all foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months — provided the Taliban stick to their security commitments.

US troops start pulling out of two bases in Afghanistan

Under the accord, the US is initially supposed to cut its troop presence from about 12,000 currently to 8,600 by mid-July, and close five of its roughly 20 bases across the country.

Troops have started leaving one base in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in the south, and another base in Herat in the west, a US official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.

Even with the drawdown, US forces retain “all the military means and authorities to accomplish our objectives”, Colonel Sonny Leggett, spokesman for US Forces-Afghanistan, said on Monday, referring to American counterterrorism operations and support for Afghan forces.

Helmand, which along with Kandahar province is considered a Taliban stronghold, is where US and British forces fought some of the bloodiest campaigns of the 18-year war.

Omar Zwak, spokesman for Helmand’s governor, told AFP that “20 to 30” foreigners had left Lashkar Gah since the weekend.

Kabul chaos

Under the terms of the withdrawal deal, the Taliban are supposed to tackle jihadists such as the Islamic State group and Al Qaeda, as well as hold talks with the Afghan government that were due to start on Tuesday.

But Kabul is in disarray and appears unable to present a unified front to negotiate with the Taliban.

On Monday, President Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated for a second term following an election that was marred by fraud allegations while his rival, former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, also declared himself winner and swore himself in as premier in a parallel ceremony.

Washington has denounced Abdullah’s self-inauguration, urging unity in Kabul ahead of negotiations with the Taliban.

UN Council endorses deal

The UN Security Council unanimously approved a United States resolution on Tuesday over the recent deal between Washington and the Afghan Taliban, a rare endorsement of an agreement with a militant group.

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