Afghanistan admits to Taliban prisoner exchange deal

Kabul, March 20:

The Afghan government today admitted to freeing some Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of an Italian hostage, saying it was an “exceptional measure” that would not be repeated.

The Taliban freed Daniele Mastrogiacomo yesterday after capturing him in the southern province of Helmand on March 4, along with an Afghan translator and a driver.

The driver was beheaded and the fate of the translator is unclear.“They had some demands and their demands to some extent were accepted,” presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi told reporters.

Asked if he could confirm some Taliban were exchanged for the reporter, he replied: “Yes.” He did not say how many.

Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah said through an Afghan news agency yesterday that he freed the Italian after receiving five Taliban prisoners. “It was an exceptional measure taken because we value our relations and friendship with Italy,” Rahimi said. “It won’t be repeated.” The spokesman said, without elaborating, that one of the Taliban demanded by commander Dadullah “refused to go.”“The government really appreciates his decision,” Rahimi said.

Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP last week that the movement wanted former spokesman Mohammad Hanif, arrested in Afghanistan this year, to be returned. Hanif

agency, was not among the five returned to the Taliban.