A closer look at the former prisoners, however, indicates that not all were hard-core militants. Three held political positions in the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and were considered relative moderates. A fourth was a mid-level police official, according to experts.

Only one, Mohammed Fazl, appears to have a documented history as a military leader and dangerous extremist.

Alex Strick van Linschoten, who has written extensively on the Taliban, said the release of the five men would be “a boost in terms of morale” for the group, but said he doubted that they would contribute significantly to the conflict in Afghanistan.

“All these guys are pretty old now,” he said.