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Afghanistan begins releasing last Taliban prisoners

Afghan security officials show a group of suspected militants accused of planning attacks on government and security forces, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on March 10. File Photo by Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA-EFE
Afghan security officials show a group of suspected militants accused of planning attacks on government and security forces, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on March 10. File Photo by Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA-EFE

Aug. 14 (UPI) -- The government of Afghanistan has begun releasing the final 400 Taliban prisoners it has in custody, as part of a U.S. agreement brokered earlier this year.

Kabul said Thursday it has released dozens of high-value Taliban prisoners from the group and will release more.

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Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, the grand assembly of Afghan elders, approved the releases last week in a key step toward intra-Afghan negotiations.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani warned the freed prisoners could pose a threat.

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In remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations Thursday, Ghani said Kabul is committed to fulfilling the required release, despite his misgivings.

"The list is likely to pose a danger both to us and to [the United States] and to the world because it is the drug dealers and hardened criminals," he said. "That has been shared with all our allies and friends but again this is a step that we have considered necessary."

Ghani said because his government was not part of the deal between the U.S. administration and the Taliban, he feels it is taking the bulk of the risk.

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"We were not a party to an agreement to release 5,000 Taliban but out of the imperative of wanting peace in the conviction, we did it," he said.

Ghani's government and the Taliban are expected to start peace talks in Qatar once all prisoners are released.

In an interview with Axios earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump said American troop levels in Afghanistan could fall below 5,000 by November. His administration agreed to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan as part of the peace deal with the Taliban.

"We're going down to 4,000, we're negotiating right now," Trump said. "I don't want to tell you [when]. But I've always said we will get largely out."

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