Kabul declares temporary halt to Taliban prisoner exchange as blasts rock capital

Salaam Times and AFP


Afghan policemen check cars at a checkpoint in Kabul on April 14. Authorities in Kabul banned motorcycles and scooters in the Afghan capital in April in a bid to control rampant crime and stop assailants on two-wheelers conducting targeted killings. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- The Afghan government Monday (May 11) announced a temporary halt to the release of Taliban prisoners, TOLOnews reported.

Up to 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been freed as part of a prisoner-exchange programme included in a US-Taliban deal signed in February.

The Taliban has released 171 prisoners, among whom are 105 security and defence force members, said Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council (NSC).

"The government is committed to resuming the [Taliban] prisoner release when 200 security force members are released [by the Taliban]," he said.

The government is ready to release five Taliban prisoners in exchange for each one prisoner whom the militants release, Faisal said.

"The Afghan government is not obliged to continue the release of prisoners if the Taliban stops the process," he added.

The Taliban May 11 said after the government announcement that the group had released 53 more Afghan prisoners in Faryab and Badghis provinces.

"It is now up to the Taliban to speed up the release of ANDSF [Afghan National Defence and Security Forces], reduce violence, and prepare for direct talks with the Gov't," the NSC said in a tweet Saturday (May 9).

"Delays are no longer justifiable," it said.

Kabul bombings

The announcement May 11 came as four roadside bombs detonated in less than 90 minutes in Kabul, wounding four civilians including a child, police said.

Militants have carried out several roadside bombings and rocket attacks in Kabul and other parts of the country in recent weeks, but the blasts the morning of May 11 appeared to be the first co-ordinated effort for some months.

No group has so far claimed responsibility.

The bombs went off in the Tahia-e Maskan area of the city, Kabul police spokesman Ferdows Faramarz told Khaama Press, adding that a clearance team was at the site of the blasts.

Authorities have transported the victims to a hospital where they are receiving medical care, he said.

The bombings took place in the capital's 17th District, an area where Afghanistan's intelligence agency recently busted a joint "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS)-Haqqani Network cell accused of carrying out several attacks.

The Taliban have not carried out large attacks in Afghan cities since February, after they signed the deal with US negotiators meant to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks.

Under the agreement, the Taliban promised not to target forces from the US-led coalition but made no such pledge toward Afghan troops.

The militants have stepped up attacks in the provinces as they seek to press their advantage amid stalled talks with the Afghan government.

Taliban attacks during the second week of Ramadan killed at least 25 civilians and wounded 74 others in 18 provinces, the NSC said May 9.

This is a 33% increase in militant attacks compared with the first week of Ramadan, the council said in a tweet.

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