KABUL -- An initial prisoner exchange between the insurgents and the Afghan government was an "important step" toward peace, said the US envoy who negotiated a deal with the Taliban said Monday (April 13).
The Taliban on April 12 released 20 Afghan security force prisoners, said the International Committee of the Red Cross. The move came after the government last week released hundreds of insurgent captives.
Kandahar Province Police Chief Tadeen Khan Achakzai, though, swiftly accused the Taliban of misrepresenting the nature of the 20 freed captives.
They were all civilians, he said.
"The individuals released by the Taliban in Kandahar under the process were not military personnel but all civilians," Achakzai tweeted April 13.
"The Taliban are not honest in the peace process, and they have held civilians whom they falsely identified as Afghan forces before," he said, adding that only one of the 20 had ever been in the security forces.
That prisoner was a police officer in 2009 briefly, said Achakzai.
"The release of prisoners is an important step in the peace process and the reduction of violence," US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter.
"Both sides should accelerate efforts to meet targets specified in the US-Taliban agreement as soon as possible," he added, noting the exchange was more important than ever with prison populations threatened by coronavirus outbreaks.
Khalilzad and the Taliban signed a deal February 29 that paves the way for US and other foreign forces to leave Afghanistan in return for various commitments from the insurgents.
A deal beset by problems
The deal said the Afghan government would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, while the insurgents would free 1,000 Afghan security force personnel.
While the exchange was supposed to have happened by March 10 to allow peace talks to begin between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the process has been beset with problems.
A small Taliban team met with the government to discuss a comprehensive prisoner swap last week but walked out of talks after officials began releasing prisoners only gradually.
On April 12, the Taliban told AFP that their decision to release a group of prisoners was "a goodwill step ... to accelerate the prisoner exchange process".
Kabul says it has now released 300 low-risk Taliban prisoners, who have pledged not to return to the fight and are being let go based on various factors including their health, age and length of remaining sentence.
Among those freed was Shams-ul-Rahman, 26, from Bagram District in Parwan Province.
Rahman said he was released from Bagram prison on April 8 after having served more than five years, during which time he was locked up alongside "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) fighters and drug dealers.
"The prison officials gave us new clothes, and we were released with 99 other inmates and given 5,000 AFN ($65) in cash," Rahman told AFP.
"The last 19 years of war have shown that nobody will be victorious through war," he said.
"All Afghans must live in unity and peace, and the bloodshed must end. We have given a lot of sacrifices," he added.
Reduction in violence
Meanwhile, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan met with Taliban leaders to discuss a reduction in violence, officials said April 11.
US Gen. Scott Miller held discussions with the group in Doha the night of April 10, US forces spokesman Sonny Leggett said.
"Gen. Miller met with Taliban leadership last night as part of the military channel established in the agreement. The meeting was about the need to reduce the violence," he said.
The meeting was about the "implementation of the agreement as well as its violations, particularly attacks and night raids in non-combat areas", said Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen.
At least 30 civilians were killed in one week in Taliban attacks across nine provinces, Faisal, the National Security Council spokesman, tweeted Sunday.
"Majority of these civilians were killed by roadside IEDs. Taliban need to ceasefire for civilians to be unharmed and for peace to be advanced," he said.