Afghan council frees Taliban prisoners to set up peace talks

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani holds up the resolution on the last day of an Afghan Loya Jirga or traditional council, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2020. The council concluded Sunday with hundreds of delegates agreeing to free 400 Taliban members, paving the way for an early start to negotiations between Afghanistan's warring sides. (AP Photo)

KABUL – A traditional Afghan council concluded Sunday with hundreds of delegates agreeing to free 400 Taliban members, paving the way for an early start to negotiations between Afghanistan's warring sides.

The declaration calls for an immediate start to negotiations and a cease-fire. The move looks to bring the United States a little closer to bringing home its troops and ending its longest military engagement.

No date has been set for the release, but negotiations between Kabul’s political leadership and the Taliban are expected to begin as early as next week, and will most likely be held in the Mideast state of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

These Afghan negotiations were laid out in a peace deal signed by the U.S. and the Taliban in February. At the time of its signing it was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance at ending decades of war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani praised delegates for their decision, urged the Taliban to stop fighting.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the decision “was a good step, a positive step.” He said negotiations could start within one week of their prisoners being freed.

As for a cease-fire, Shaheen said the Taliban were committed to the deal it struck with the U.S., and according to that deal “the cease-fire will be one of the items to be discussed during the intra-Afghan negotiations."

Later Sunday afternoon, an explosive devise hidden in a cart killed two people in Kabul. The spokesman for the capital's police, Firdus Faramarz, said policemen were trying to remove the device when it exploded. Five police were injured.