KABUL: The Afghan government on Wednesday freed 100 Taliban prisoners as a first step in a peace process, despite the group’s suspension of talks on a planned prisoner exchange crucial to moving to formal talks to end years of war. Differences over the prisoner release question have been complicating US brokered attempts to create a lasting peace agreement to end more than 18 years of conflict in Afghanistan. “The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan released 100 Taliban prisoners today based on their health condition, age and length of remaining sentence, as part of our efforts for peace,” said Javid Faisal, a spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Council, which has been negotiating with the Taliban. The US signed the deal with the Taliban on February 29 that required the Afghan government – which was not a signatory to the agreement – to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and for the armed group to release 1,000 pro-government captives in return. As per the terms of the deal, Washington promised to withdraw US and foreign troops from Afghanistan by July next year, in return for security guarantees from the Taliban. Despite this week’s setbacks over the prisoner releases, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said progress had been made since he visited Kabul on March 23 and also met Taliban officials in Qatar to iron out the differences.