The Taliban on Aug. 15 seized control of the Afghanistan government for the first time in nearly 20 years. President Joe Biden said the Taliban’s return to power occurred quicker than his administration expected. The takeover in Kabul has led to a dangerous situation for Americans and U.S. allies trying to evacuate out of Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban’s takeover, people have claimed that the U.S., when Donald Trump was president, agreed to the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Did the Trump administration agree to the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners?
- U.S. Department of State
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
- Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani
- Shuhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesperson in Qatar
- U.S. Congressional Research Service
- Council on Foreign Relations
Yes, as part of a deal made with the Taliban in 2020, the Trump administration agreed to the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of up to 1,000 prisoners “of the other side.”
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WHAT WE FOUND
The Trump administration and the Taliban reached an agreement on February 29, 2020, in Doha, Qatar, to pursue peace in Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the agreement was a “historic opportunity” and the first step toward potential peace in Afghanistan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell welcomed the agreement, although warned the U.S. must be vigilant in dealing with the Taliban. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the agreement was “an important initial step,” but that much more work must be done to achieve peace.
There were several conditions as part of the agreement. They included pledges that the U.S. would withdraw its troops by May 1, 2021, and that the Taliban would not “allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” The Taliban and al-Qaida still maintain a relationship, according to the U.S. and United Nations.
Another condition of the agreement was that the U.S. would work on a plan for the release of combat and political prisoners “as a confidence-building measure with the coordination and approval of all relevant sides.”
“Up to five thousand (5,000) prisoners of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and up to one thousand (1,000) prisoners of the other side will be released by March 10, 2020,” the agreement said.
The Taliban prisoners were held by the Afghan government, which was not consulted about the prisoner exchange, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
The prisoners were not released by the targeted date in the agreement, but their release did eventually happen.
In March 2020, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said he would issue a decree that laid out the details of the process for releasing prisoners. Pompeo released a statement saying the State Department welcomes the decree.
In July 2020, Shuhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson in Qatar, said the Taliban would release the remaining prisoners of the Kabul administration.
By August 2020, the Afghan government had released all but about 400 Taliban prisoners – each of whom had been accused of major crimes, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
That same month, the Afghan government held a special grand assembly – known as Loya Jirga. Before the meeting, Pompeo urged the Afghan government to release the remaining prisoners, which he described as “the last obstacle to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”
On Aug. 9, 2020, after the Loya Jirga, Afghanistan President Ghani said he would sign a decree to release the remaining 400 prisoners. The prisoner exchange was completed in early September 2020, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.
The release of prisoners paved the way for the beginning of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The two sides first met on Sept. 12, 2020, in Doha, Qatar, and met sporadically in the following months, but talks never made substantial progress, according to the Congressional Research Service.
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