WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chief U.S. negotiator of a deal with the Taliban for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was to hold talks on Monday with insurgent officials in Doha on “current challenges” to the U.S.-led peace process, the State Department announced.
The talks between U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad and his Taliban counterparts follow the Kabul government’s freeing of some 300 insurgent prisoners and the first release by the insurgents of government detainees.
A dispute over prisoner releases, an increase in Taliban violence and other issues have stalled the U.S.-led effort to end America’s longest war and decades of strife in Afghanistan.
A State Department statement issued on Monday said that Khalilzad departed for Doha on Sunday. He was to meet on Monday with Taliban representatives “to discuss current challenges in implementing the U.S.-Taliban Agreement,” it said.
The Feb. 29 deal for a phased U.S. troop withdrawal called for the freeing of up to 5,000 Taliban detainees and up to 1,000 government prisoners as a prelude to a March 10 opening of peace negotiations between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation that included Kabul officials.
The Taliban, however, demanded that Kabul release all 5,000 detainees at once before they would attend the talks, a demand rejected by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government was not a party to the deal.
Ghani ordered a phased release of 1,500 Taliban prisoners, of whom some 300 have been freed since Wednesday.
On Sunday, the insurgents announced that they turned 20 government prisoners over to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kandahar. The head of the ICRC’s Afghanistan office confirmed the releases, the first by the insurgents since the signing of the U.S.-Taliban deal, on Twitter.
Reporting by Jonathan Landay; editing by Jonathan Oatis