Mitt Romney: The Trump administration worked to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
PolitiFact’s ruling: True
Here’s why: Sen. Mitt Romney blamed both the Trump and Biden administrations for the chaotic events that swept Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country.
A terrorist attack at the Kabul international airport killed more than 100 people, including 13 U.S. service members, as the U.S. military worked to evacuate Americans and Afghans.
Romney, R-Utah, made his comments during an Aug. 29 interview with CNN host Jake Tapper.
“Recognize that we’re in the position we’re in right now because of terrible decisions made by two administrations: One, the Trump administration negotiating directly with the Taliban, getting ready to invite them to Camp David, opening up a prison of 5,000 Taliban and probably ISIS-K individuals and letting them free,” Romney said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Romney said that it was not known whether some of the prisoners released were involved in the airport attack, but that Trump administration decisions “led to what you’re seeing and the danger that exists at the airport.” The Biden administration’s closing of the Bagram Air Base also played a role, he said.
All U.S. military forces left Afghanistan by Aug. 31, effectively ending the U.S. war.
PolitiFact wondered about Romney’s claim regarding the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
Romney’s claim is correct. A February 2020 agreement between the Taliban and the Trump administration called for the release of 5,000 Taliban members who were in Afghan prisons. Afghanistan’s government has said that the 5,000 Taliban prisoners were released. A Congressional Research Service report said the release was completed in September 2020.
Romney’s press office did not respond to our queries.
Trump administration agreement with the Taliban happened in 2020
A Feb. 29, 2020, agreement between the United States and the Taliban said that the U.S. and its allies would withdraw their military forces within 14 months of the agreement’s announcement. The deal said that the Taliban would not allow groups, including al-Qaida, in Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies. It also called for negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, starting March 10, 2020.
The agreement said the U.S. would work with all relevant sides on a plan to release “combat and political prisoners.”
According to the agreement, up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and up to 1,000 prisoners “of the other side” would be released by a specified timeline. “The United States commits to completing this goal,” the deal said, adding that the Taliban also committed to keeping its released prisoners from posing a threat to the security of the United States and its allies.
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s secretary of state, said on Feb. 29, 2020, that the agreement “entails a promise from the Taliban that terrorists can never again operate from Afghan soil.”
By August 2020, news reports said that the Afghan government, which was not a signatory in the Taliban-U.S. deal, had released 4,600 Taliban prisoners after pressure from the Trump administration. Afghan officials considered the release of 400 other prisoners problematic because they had committed major crimes, Voice of America reported.
“We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular,” Pompeo said Aug. 6. “But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.”
Former Afghanistan president signed decree releasing 400 prisoners
Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, ultimately signed a decree to release the remaining 400 prisoners.
On Aug. 14, 2020, Ghani said that the release of the final 400 prisoners, who were “convicted of serious crimes, including the killing of Afghans and citizens of the international community,” was a difficult issue that required consulting with leaders from all provinces of Afghanistan.
“They decided to approve the release of the prisoners, and the next day I signed the order,” Ghani said. “It was the Afghan people’s latest, and boldest, risk for peace.”
In September 2020, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said that the prisoners held by the Afghan government included some who had committed violence against international forces in Afghanistan. “I know that none of us are happy about the release of prisoners that committed violence against our forces, but we want to keep the big picture in mind, unhappy as we are,” Khalilzad said.
Romney said that the Trump administration decided to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners.
This is accurate. Part of a 2020 agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban called for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners who were held by the Afghan government. News reports and statements from Afghanistan’s president indicate that the release happened, under pressure from the Trump administration.
We rate Romney’s claim True.
- State Department, Signed agreement between the U.S. and Taliban, Feb. 29, 2021
- Email interview, State Department press office, Aug. 30-31, 2021
- YouTube — Sen. Mitt Romney, Interview on CNN’s State of the Union, Aug. 29, 2021
- Defense Department, U.S. to Maintain Robust Over-the-Horizon Capability for Afghanistan if Needed, July 6, 2021
- AP, US left Afghan airfield at night, didn’t tell new commander, July 6, 2021
- Congressional Research Service, Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy:
- In Brief, June 11, 2021
- Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, President Ghani: Peace does not come by killing, however by accepting each other, Dec. 17, 2020; President Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks at First Meeting of Leadership Committee of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Dec. 5, 2020; President Ashraf Ghani’s Keynote Address at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, Nov. 24, 2020; Press Release over the recent acts of terror in various parts of Afghanistan, Oct. 24, 2020; President Ghani enunciates strong support of the Afghan people and government for peace negotiating delegation, Sept. 2, 2020; Ashraf Ghani: Afghans and their international partners have paid the costs. Now we’re taking a risk for peace., Aug. 14, 2020; Translation of President Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks at Closing Session Consultative Peace Jirga, Aug. 9, 2020; President Ashraf Ghani’s Keynote Address at the 4th Senior Officials Meeting, July 28, 2020; President Ghani opens Strengthening Consensus for Peace Summit, July 7, 2020; Translation of President Ashraf Ghani’s Inauguration Speech, March 10, 2020
- Secretary of State, Mike Pompe statement — On the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan, Aug. 6, 2020
- State Department, Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan; Joint Statement on the Signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement March 9, 2020; Mike Pompeo — Statement on Presidential Inaugurations in Afghanistan, March 9, 2020
- Voice of America, Stage Set for Afghan Peace Talks as Ghani Orders Release of 400 Taliban Prisoners, Aug. 9, 2020
- Afghanistan Begins Releasing Remaining 400 Taliban Prisoners, Aug. 14, 2020
- France24.com, Afghanistan to release 400 ‘hard-core’ Taliban as precondition to peace talks, Aug. 8, 2020