Afghanistan frees 100 Taliban, but group hasn't verified

RAHIM FAIEZ and TAMEEM AKHGAR
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Afghanistan

Afghan National Army soldiers stands guard at a checkpoint near the Bagram base in northern Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. An Afghan official says the country has released 100 Taliban prisoners from Bagram, claiming they are part of 5,000 detainees who are to be freed under a deal between insurgents and U.S. But the Taliban says they have yet to verify those released were on the list they had handed over to Washington during negotiations. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan released 100 Taliban prisoners Wednesday, claiming they were among 5,000 detainees to be freed under a deal between insurgents and the U.S. The Taliban said, however, they have yet to verify those released were on the list they handed over to Washington during negotiations.

The prisoner release is a critical first step to intra-Afghan negotiations aimed at bringing an end to decades of war in Afghanistan. The U.S.-Taliban deal signed in February also calls for the Taliban to free 1,000 government personnel they hold hostage.

Jawed Faisal, spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security adviser, said the 100 were released from the base in Bagram, near Kabul, on Wednesday.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen in a message to The Associated Press said the insurgent group doesn't know who the government is releasing without verification. He said the Taliban withdrew a technical team to oversee the releases because of delays by the government. In a tweet, Shaheen admonished the government for refusing to release the first 15 Taliban they requested who were on the list.

“They should be released based on our list,” Shaheen told AP. The list of Taliban and government personnel to be released were part of the negotiations that led to the signing of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal.

Meanwhile, in recent days Washington has expressed its frustration with the political turmoil in Kabul as President Ashraf Ghani and his rival in last year’s presidential polls squabble over power sharing amid allegations of election fraud.

Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs tweeted a harsh statement expressing frustration at the continued political turmoil roiling in Kabul.

The State Department tweeted: “As the world gets slammed by COVID-19, with devastating economic consequences for all, donors are frustrated and fed up by personal agendas being advanced ahead of the welfare of the Afghan people.”

Afghanistan has imposed a lockdown in several cities to curb the spread of the new virus and has so far recorded 444 confirmed cases and 14 deaths.

Meanwhile, at least seven Afghan civilians were killed when the Taliban attacked security forces in northern Balkh province, local officials said Wednesday.

The insurgents abducted the civilians on Tuesday afternoon in the district of Sholgara and later killed them, according to Sayed Arif Iqbali, the local police chief.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Taliban that they were behind the attack in Balkh.

In southern Kandahar province, three children were killed and five were seriously wounded when a mortar shell hit in the district of Daman, according to Bahir Ahmadi, the spokesman for the provincial governor.

The Taliban blamed U.S. forces for the attack, and a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, claimed the children were killed in a drone attack. However, U.S. military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett denied any use of weapons in the area.

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Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report