Taliban Claims, Then Denies, ‘Peace Deal’ with Afghanistan to Free 5,000 Jihadis

An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands guard outside the Bagram prison gate, some 50 kms north of Kabul on Fabruary 13, 2014. Afghanistan released 65 alleged Taliban fighters from jail despite condemnation from the United States, which says the men could return to the battlefield to launch strikes against …
SHAH MARAI/AFP via Getty Images

An anonymous Taliban official told the Associated Press on Monday that the terrorist group had agreed to a “peace deal” that would result in the release of 5,000 jihadists. The next day, an official Taliban spokesman denied that they were close to signing any deal with the government of Afghanistan.

The Taliban considers itself the only government of Afghanistan, and has for years refused to engage in negotiations with the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Its leadership has also repeatedly insisted that it will not stop executing terrorist attacks so long as American and other outside forces remain present in the country.

Afghan outlet Khaama News reported on Monday that the AP had received confirmation from “a Taliban official familiar” with talks between the government of President Ashraf Ghani and the terrorist group that a peace deal was on the way, one that would free 5,000 Taliban jihadis currently in Afghan prison. Khaama based its report on AP claiming that the deal would create a “temporary cease-fire” meant to give time for an agreement with the United States.

“A cease-fire had been demanded by Washington before any peace agreement could be signed. A peace deal would allow the U.S. to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end its 18-year military engagement there, America’s longest,” AP reported. It offered no confirmed details on when a ceasefire would begin, how long it would last, or how it would affect other engagements against jihadist groups active in Afghanistan, such as the Islamic State. The Islamic State has forced the Taliban to redirect some resources away from killing Americans to attack ISIS terrorists seeking to take over its opium fields.

The Associated Press added that the deal would not be viable until the head of the terrorist organization signed it, “but that was expected.”

Accompanying the report was a bizarre Associated Press profile of the Taliban jihadists in prison, which it claimed were suddenly more socially liberal and peace-loving.

“Several of them were nostalgic for the Taliban’s Afghanistan, ruled by the mighty hand of their previous leader, the reclusive Mullah Mohammed Omar, who died several years ago,” the AP said of the prisoners. “But they also insisted that they accept it would not be the same now and that, though they still wanted what they call Islamic rule, they no longer call for some of their strict edicts, like the ban on education and on girls and women working.”

The AP claimed that many of those imprisoned on grounds of being Taliban members were not actually, and that real Taliban jihadists were surprised to find many of them in prison, accused by neighbors and rivals seeking to fulfill a grudge. But even among these, some had “found comfort with the Taliban” in prison and became loyal to the group after sharing a prison with its members.

In an official press statement released later Monday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied any agreement or prisoner swap.

“For the past few days, a number of media outlets have been publishing false and baseless reports about a ceasefire by the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban],” Mujahid wrote. “The reality of the situation is that the Islamic Emirate has no intention of declaring a ceasefire. The United States has asked for a reduction in the scale and intensity of violence and discussions being held by the Islamic Emirate are revolving solely around this specific issue.”

Mujahid specifically denied that his rejection of reports published in American media and based on remarks by Taliban members suggested “differences” in the Taliban ranks.

“It is hoped that our compatriots pay no heed to the malicious reports being propagated by the enemy media,” Mujahid advised. “The Islamic Emirate will take every necessary and appropriate step that ensures the higher interests and Jihadi aspirations of our homeland in the light of Islamic Shariah in both the military and political fronts, Allah willing.”

Independently, a Taliban commander speaking to Sky News insisted not only that news of an impending ceasefire this week was false, but that no ceasefire was possible so long as American troops remained in Afghanistan.

“A ceasefire is not possible at all because, while Americans are in our country, it is occupied. They must leave fully otherwise there is no chance of a ceasefire,” he reportedly asserted. “When the American leave then there will be talks between the Afghan factions. While Americans are present here no one will talk to their slaves.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly asserted a desire to withdraw American troops from the country, where they were deployed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Peace talks have repeatedly collapsed, however, because the Taliban do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

The past year saw the Taliban become the deadliest terrorist group in the world, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) annual Global Terrorism Index. The Taliban marked 70 percent more murders – over 6,000 total – overtaking the Islamic State, whose most active cells are now operating against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

A Taliban-claimed roadside bombing killed an American soldier, Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Michael James Goble, in Kunduz province last week.

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