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Afghan president says Taliban prisoner release to be completed soon

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a joint news conference with then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 12, 2016. (Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee/Department of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Afghan government plans to complete a Taliban prisoner release to pave the way for peace talks with the militant group, President Ashraf Ghani said on June 11.

“My colleagues and I have made the decision to release an additional 2,000 prisoners within a very short period. We will announce the date soon,” Ghani told the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and the U.S. Institute for Peace via video link.

In February, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan — the longest military conflict in U.S. history.

The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country in return for security commitments from the Taliban.

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Under the deal, Kabul is to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the militants are to free 1,000 captives, before intra-Afghan negotiations can begin.

The government says it has so far released 3,000 prisoners, while the Taliban has freed 500.

Ghani on June 11 accused the Taliban of not being transparent about how many Afghan soldiers they are still holding.

“The number keeps shifting. We need clarity regarding the fate of those [who] are with them and assurance that the last person remaining with them is released,” the president said.

Ghani said he would elaborate on the peace process next week.

In a tweet, Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the prisoner release by the Afghan government so far was “a positive step” and marked “good progress.”

Shaheen said the Taliban had freed 46 Afghan government soldiers and police officers in Ghazni and Wardak Provinces on June 11.