Washington: The Obama administration is considering a new gambit to restart peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan that would send several Taliban detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in Afghanistan.
Under the proposal, some Taliban fighters or affiliates captured in the early days of the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan and later sent to Guantanamo under the label of enemy combatants would be transferred out of full US control but not released, US and Afghan officials told a news agency.
It`s a leap of faith on the US side that the men will not become threats to US forces once back on Afghan soil. But it is meant to show more moderate elements of the Taliban insurgency that the US is still interested in cutting a deal for peace.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others have said that while negotiations with the Taliban are distasteful, they are the best way to settle the prolonged war.
The new compromise is intended to boost the credibility of the US-backed Afghan government. President Hamid Karzai and US officials are trying to draw the Taliban back to negotiations toward a peace deal between the national Afghan government and the Pashtun-based insurgency that would end a war US commanders have said cannot be won with military power alone.
The Taliban have always been indifferent at best to negotiations with the Karzai government, saying the US holds effective control in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration has set a 2014 deadline to withdraw forces and is trying to frame talks among the Afghans beforehand.
Under the new proposal, Guantanamo prisoners would go to a detention facility adjacent to Bagram air field, the largest US military base in Afghanistan, officials of both governments said.
The prison is inside the security perimeter established by the US military, and is effectively under US control for now.
It is scheduled for transfer to full Afghan control in September. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta would have to sign off on the transfer and certify that the men did not pose a danger. He would not confirm details of the new proposal at a Pentagon news conference on Friday, but he said discussions continue to try to promote a peace deal.
"There are no specific commitments that have been made with regard to prisoner exchanges at this point," he said.
"One thing I will assure you is that any prisoner exchanges that I have to certify are going to abide by the law and require that those individuals do not return back into the battle."
Any such transfer is unlikely to include the five most senior Taliban figures held at Guantanamo, the subjects of separate negotiations with the Taliban that have stalled, a senior US official said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the transfer is still under discussion and no offer has been made.
Afghan officials and other diplomats said it is not yet clear whether the new proposal could include those five, but said it has not been ruled out.