A big step but trust is still low
Yet the fact that a senior US official in the next breath warned that "peace is not at hand" is a reminder of how many obstacles still lie ahead.
Earlier attempts to get the sides together skidded to a halt and it is not clear what has changed to make this time different.
American reluctance to release these prisoners during a US presidential election campaign led to the Taliban pulling out of tentative peace contacts in early 2012. Trust between the two sides remains low.
There is also suspicion among Afghans about how ready the Taliban are to negotiate.
The biggest obstacles lie not between America and the Taliban, but among the other parties. The Taliban has refused to recognise Hamid Karzai's government. No wonder American officials have urged caution. (© Daily Telegraph, London)