Kabul (dpa) - The controversial release of highly dangerous Taliban fighters has begun in Afghanistan. The National Security Council announced that 80 Taliban were released on Thursday from the country's largest detention center, Pol-e Tscharchi, in the east of the capital Kabul.

The release of 400 Taliban, classified as particularly dangerous, was the most important demand of the militant group before the start of the peace negotiations.

The exchange of prisoners between the Taliban and the government was seen as a prerequisite for peace talks. It was part of an agreement between the US and the Taliban in late February. Up to 5,000 imprisoned Taliban were to be released in exchange for 1,000 government prisoners held by the rebels. After the prisoners were released, their negotiating team would be ready to start the peace talks within a week, the Taliban's political office spokesman Suhail Shahin said on Monday.

It was initially unclear when the remaining 320 of the 5,000 prisoners would be released. Of the 400 detainees, 156 Taliban were sentenced to death, according to a list from the National Security Council. Suspected masterminds of attacks like the one on the German embassy in 2017 are also said to be among the serious criminals. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed the controversial release order on Monday. Ghani followed a recommendation of the large council meeting on Sunday.

Earlier this week, the US informed its NATO allies of plans to withdraw more soldiers from Afghanistan. By the end of November 2020, the number of troops in Afghanistan is to be reduced to just under 5,000 soldiers. Most recently there were about 8,600 in the country. The withdrawal plans are being driven primarily by US President Donald Trump, who wants to be re-elected in the upcoming presidential election on November 3. He has promised his supporters to end America's "endless" wars and bring US troops home.

The USA signed an agreement with the Taliban on February 29 in Doha (Qatar) that provides for the withdrawal of international troops. In return, the Taliban assured that Afghanistan no longer posed a terrorist threat. At the same time, the deal is intended to pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks; an exchange of prisoners had been agreed to build trust.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 200814-99-166284 / 2

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