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US will free 5,000 Taliban militants under new peace deal; first 1,000 freed by next week

Former Taliban fighters line up to handover their Rifles to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan during a reintegration ceremony at the provincial governor’s compound. (Lt. Joe Painter/Department of Defense)
March 02, 2020

The U.S. has agreed to free up to 5,000 Taliban fighters and ease economic sanctions against Taliban leaders as part of the new US-Taliban peace agreement signed on Saturday.

The first 1,000 imprisoned Taliban members are set to go free by March 10, the peace terms state. The agreement states that those released Taliban members must also comply with the terms of the peace agreement and that the Taliban must not allow the return of foreign terror groups like Al Qaeda.

“Up to five thousand (5,000) prisoners of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and up to one thousand (1,000) prisoners of the other side will be released by March 10, 2020, the first day of intra-Afghan negotiations,” the terms state.

The terms go on to state that those Taliban prisoners that are released “will be committed to the responsibilities mentioned in this agreement so that they will not pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies.”

The terms refer to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which is another title for the Taliban government before U.S.-led coalition forces overthrew it near the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. In previous rounds of negotiation, the Taliban insisted the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan be recognized and that U.S. officials sign a deal that specifically names the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The new terms appear to adopt a compromise and list the Taliban government by name while stating the U.S. does not officially recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

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The U.S.-Taliban deal is meant to preempt further intra-Afghan negotiations and recognizing the Taliban emirate could appear to tip support in the Taliban’s favor.

The peace terms state the U.S. has the goal of removing the Taliban, as an organization, from its sanctions list by May 29, 2020, while assessing and removing sanctions and rewards on specific Taliban individuals by the end of August.

“With the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, the United States will initiate an administrative review of current U.S. sanctions and the rewards list against members of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban with the goal of removing these sanctions by August 27, 2020,” the peace terms continue.

Along with exchanging Taliban prisoners and lifting sanctions, the U.S. plans to reduce its troop presence in Afghanistan from 13,000 down to 8,600 within the first 135 days. The full withdrawal of U.S. troops remains predicated on the Taliban’s ability to meet and adhere to its part of the deal.

U.S. critics of the deal have questioned what enforcement mechanisms will be in place to ensure the Taliban complies with the terms.

Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican and House GOP conference chair warned the agreement gives concessions to the Taliban that could harm U.S. national security, according to the Washington Times.

“Releasing thousands of Taliban fighters, lifting sanctions on international terrorists, and agreeing to withdraw all U.S. forces in exchange for promises from the Taliban with no disclosed mechanism to verify Taliban compliance, would be reminiscent of the worst aspects of the Obama Iran nuclear deal,” Cheney said.