High-ranking Taliban leaders will be released from Guantanamo Bay as a good-faith showing in advance of planned Afghanistan peace negotiations with US officials, sources are telling the Guardian. Rumors that such a move was underfoot began circulating early last month, but preparations are now being formalized after the Afghan insurgents agreed to open a political office for negotiations in Qatar. Those to be released include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, and Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan, and, more controversially, former army commander Mullah Fasi Akhund, sources say.
The Taliban are holding a single US soldier—Bowe Bergdahl, 25, captured in 2009—but it is not clear whether he'll be released as part of the deal. Establishing the Qatar office is "akin to the Taliban forming a Sinn Féin, a political wing to conduct negotiations," said one expert, who added: "The next phase will need concessions on both sides." Former EU envoy in Afghanistan Michael Semple said the "prospect of ending a costly war in Afghanistan is sufficiently attractive for the Obama administration to move forward" with a prisoner release. Negotiations over the establishment of a political office and prisoner release have been underway for at least a year, sources tell the Guardian.