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Taliban to release hostages in potential swap with Afghan government

The Taliban will release an American and an Australian hostage, held for over three years, in a prisoner swap with the Afghan government, according to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Their possible release comes after two U.S. special operations raids attempted to free both men, and it could herald a restart to negotiations meant to end the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and bring the Afghan government and Taliban together for peace talks, according to Ghani.

In exchange, Ghani said in a televised address, three high-level Taliban officials will be “conditionally released,” a decision he said was difficult but in the best interests of the Afghan people.

But the Taliban have refused to negotiate directly with the Afghan government, which it derides as a U.S. puppet state, and Ghani’s government said it would not take part in negotiations until the Taliban agree to a month-long ceasefire, which the militant group has so far refused to do.

It’s unclear what conditions the U.S. has for restarting its direct talks with the Taliban. Trump has quietly removed some 2,000 troops from Afghanistan over the past year, from 15,000 to 13,000, even without a peace deal with the Taliban.

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