US agrees in principle to releasing top officials from Afghanistan insurgent group in exchange for starting process of negotiation
- guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 3 January 2012 19.32 GMT
The US detention centre in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, holds leading Taliban figures such as the former army commander Fazl Akhund. Photograph: John Moore/Getty
The US has agreed in principle to release high-ranking Taliban officials from Guantánamo Bay in return for the Afghan insurgents’ agreement to open a political office for peace negotiations in Qatar, the Guardian has learned.
According to sources familiar with the talks in the US and in Afghanistan, the handful of Taliban figures will include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, and Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan.
More controversially, the Taliban are demanding the release of the former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund. Washington is reported to be considering formally handing him over to the custody of another country, possibly Qatar.
The releases would be to reciprocate for Tuesday’s announcement from the Taliban that they are prepared to open a political office in Qatar to conduct peace negotiations “with the international community” – the most significant political breakthrough in ten years of the Afghan conflict.
The Taliban are holding just one American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old sergeant captured in June 2009, but it is not clear whether he would be freed as part of the deal.
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