Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s office in Qatar, said in a tweet on Tuesday that the move was due to Kabul’s alleged delay in releasing imprisoned militants.
“[Taliban] Prisoners… should have been released long before as per the signed agreement and paved the way for intra-Afghan negotiations. But, the relevant sides are deliberately delaying our prisoners’ release and thus violating the peace Agreement. Therefore, the… [Taliban group] recalls, with immediate effect, its technical team from Kabul,” he said.
Shaheen was referring to a deal the militant group struck with the United States in February under which a prisoner swap was planned between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Taliban had broken off talks with the Afghan government on the prisoner exchange, announcing that the group’s technical team would not participate in what they described as “fruitless meetings.”
Taliban quit talks with Afghan government on prisoner swapThe Taliban militant group in Afghanistan quits talks with the government on a prisoner swap, claiming that Kabul is delaying the exchange.
The agreement with the US also envisages a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. The Afghan government was not a party to the negotiations or the deal, but it had agreed to free the Taliban prisoners.
A spokesman for the Afghan government had said earlier that Kabul would maintain work on the prisoner release plan. But there was no immediate reaction from the government or Washington to the newer announcement by the Taliban.
The Afghan government was required to ultimately release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, in exchange for 1,000 government captives to be released by the Taliban. Afghan officials said last week that they would release 100 Taliban prisoners who were sick or over the age of 50 in an apparent first phase.
Officials also said that the Taliban were demanding the release of top commanders involved in some of the most violent attacks in recent years, an issue that had proved an irritant. But it was not clear what exactly led to the collapse of the talks.
The prisoner swap was supposed to be a prelude to peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The intra-Afghan dialog would have been aimed at restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
Pompeo says ‘progress made’
Despite the Taliban’s pullback, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said also on Tuesday that progress had been made in the talks in Afghanistan.
“We’ve made some progress, but we see them posturing in the media, we see statements that come out,” Pompeo told a State Department news conference.
Last month, Pompeo flew to Kabul and later to Doha — where the Taliban have an office — to urge all sides to move forward with the process, which at that point was deadlocked.
Pompeo also called on all Afghan sides to begin negotiations on a political settlement that ends decades of war.
The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to overthrow a Taliban regime in power at the time, accusing it of harboring the al-Qaeda terrorist group. The invasion did topple the regime, but the Taliban then emerged as formidable militant enemies to the US.
Over 100,000 Afghans have been killed or injured since 2009, when the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began documenting casualties.