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The Taliban says a decree issued by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners runs counter to a deal with the United States allowing for talks on securing a peace deal with the military group.

The decree, signed by Ghani late on March 10, sees 1,500 prisoners being released within 15 days during parallel talks between the government and the Taliban.

The prisoner release is intended to build trust between the Western-backed government in Kabul and kick off direct talks to end the 18-year war in the country.

If negotiations progress, the government would free 500 more prisoners every two weeks until a total of 5,000 have been released.

But Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban in Doha, said the peace accord signed with Washington last month stipulates that “first 5,000 prisoners would be freed and then the Afghan dialogue would be initiated.”

“We never agreed to any conditional release of the prisoners,” Suhail Shaheen was quoted by Reuters as saying on March 11.

Shaheen said in a tweet that the Taliban would only accept an agreement for all prisoners named on a list it gave to the Afghan government.

“Our very condition is that the detainees are acceptable if verified by our team,” he tweeted.

“Also, they must be those detainees whose names are included in the list,” he wrote in a separate tweet.

Under its deal with the United States, endorsed by the UN Security Council on March 10, the Taliban must continue its reduction in violence and bar extremist groups from operating in areas under their control.

The United States also agreed to reduce its troops from about 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days.

The long-term plan is for the United States and its NATO allies to withdraw all troops within 14 months.

The United States early this week began pulling out troops, but the U.S. State Department on March 10 said the current level of violence by the Taliban is “unacceptable” to advancing the peace process.

“We acknowledge the Taliban have taken steps to stop attacks against the coalition and in cities. But they are killing too many Afghans in the countryside. This must change,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

Fresh political instability has also threatened the prospect of talks between all sides.

Two separate swearing-in ceremonies took place in Kabul on March 9 for Ghani and his main rival, former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, after a disputed presidential election in September.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission says Ghani narrowly won the vote, but Abdullah alleges the result is fraudulent.

In an apparent show of support for Ghani’s presidency, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on March 9 said that Washington opposes “any action to establish a parallel government.”

With reporting by Reuters, the BBC, and RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan


[1] Suhail Shaheen. محمد سهیل شاهین on Twitter: "(1/2) We handed over to the US team a detailed list of 5000 prisoners that none can tamper with. Our very condition is that the detainees are acceptable if verified by our team, whether they are handed over to us in an open rural area or in the premises of prisons." ➤[2] U.S. Official Says U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan Has Begun ➤[3]