- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 1, 2020

The U.S. will free up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and begin to remove economic sanctions on top Taliban leaders under the terms of a deal signed Saturday between the two sides.

The Trump administration’s long-awaited peace agreement with the Taliban — which could see the U.S. remove all of its 13,000 troops from Afghanistan within the next 14 months — includes a host of major concessions that have drawn fire from critics who say American national security could suffer. Key U.S. officials officially signed the pact on Saturday and the four-page document was released publicly soon after.

“The United States is committed to start immediately to work with all relevant sides on a plan to expeditiously release combat and political prisoners as a confidence building measure with the coordination and approval of all relevant sides,” reads an important portion of the agreement.” 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 first day of intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Throughout the past 18 months of negotiations, the Taliban had insisted the U.S. recognize it as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the official name of the government in the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The two sides appear to have compromised, and throughout the deal the U.S. refers to the Taliban as “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban.”

In exchange for the removal of U.S. troops, the lifting of sanctions and the freeing of prisoners, the Taliban has agreed to permanently sever all ties with terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and to never allow Afghanistan to be used as a home base for extremist organizations.

The Taliban also has agreed to formal talks with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, which until now the Taliban has refused to recognize as legitimate. Those talks will begin March 10 in Norway.

While most lawmakers are supportive of the concept of a deal to eventually bring U.S. forces home from Afghanistan, some argue that the administration has gone too far in offering concessions.

The agreement “with the Taliban includes concessions that could threaten the security of the United States,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican and House GOP conference chair. “Releasing thousands of Taliban fighters, lifting sanctions on international terrorists, and agreeing to withdraw all U.S. forces in exchange for promises from the Taliban, with no disclosed mechanism to verify Taliban compliance, would be reminiscent of the worst aspects of the Obama Iran nuclear deal.”

Indeed, the agreement explicitly guarantees the Taliban will not offer any assistance to terrorist groups or tolerate their presence in Afghanistan, but it’s not entirely clear how the U.S. and the international community will observe and enforce those promises.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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