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Deal struck to hand over prison

Five top Taliban leaders held by the US in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, told a visiting Afghan delegation they agree to a proposed transfer to the tiny Gulf state of Qatar, Afghan officials have said.

The US has not yet agreed to the transfer but is considering it as an incentive for the Taliban to participate in peace talks to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan and allow American troops to go home without the country descending into further chaos.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai initially opposed sending the prisoners to Qatar instead of home to Afghanistan. But their consent could pave the way for a deal if the Obama administration follows through with their release over the opposition of some in Congress.

Karzai sent the delegation this week to visit the Taliban fighters, who agreed to the transfer as long as they would be reunited with their families in Qatar, said two senior Afghan officials.

A former US official familiar with the negotiations over the prisoners confirmed the Afghan delegation's visit.

The delegation could not have visited the prison without US approval but a spokeswoman for the White House national security council declined to comment.

The prisoners proposed for transfer include some of the detainees taken to Guantanamo during the initial days and weeks of the US invasion that toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001. At least one has been accused in the massacre of thousands of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan, according to US and other assessments, but none are accused of directly killing Americans.

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