Afghanistan released 65 men accused of killing civilians and soldiers, ignoring American pleas to keep them locked up in the latest sign of worsening ties between the nations after 13 years of war.
Evidence against the men released was never seriously considered by Afghan authorities, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement. The U.S. military said some of the men released from the former American-run prison north of the capital were Taliban members who pose a threat to civilians.
“The Afghan government bears responsibility for the results of its decision,” the embassy said in a statement today. “We urge it to make every effort to ensure that those released do not commit new acts of violence and terror.”
The move adds to tension between the Obama administration and President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign a bilateral security accord and denounced the U.S.’s role in his country as an election to pick his successor approaches. At stake are billions of dollars in funds needed to pay government salaries and fight militants seeking to upend the country’s democracy.
In response to the planned release, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who backs a continued U.S. role in Afghanistan, called this week for halting development aid until after the elections as a way to express displeasure with Karzai for refusing to heed American protests over freeing the inmates.
The men were released because the evidence didn’t show they had committed criminal acts, Abdul Shokur Dadras, a member of a Karzai-appointed committee investigating the cases, said by phone. Many of the men were captured by coalition intelligence officers without any evidence and are now free to return to their families, he said.
“We acted based on our law,” Dadras said. “The Attorney General called them innocent after they and we found nothing to prove their insurgent activities.”
One of the men released, Mohammad Wali, is a Taliban explosives expert who was biometrically linked to two bombs that targeted Afghan and U.S.-led coalition soldiers, according to a U.S. military statement this week that called prisoners “dangerous.” Nek Mohammad is accused of facilitating rocket attacks against Afghan and coalition soldiers, it said.
The cases against all of the men released warrant careful consideration and potential indictments in an Afghan court, the U.S. embassy said.
President Barack Obama pledged to remove all U.S. combat forces -- at 34,000 as of Feb. 1 -- from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. He left open the possibility of keeping a smaller force to train the Afghan military and mount counterterrorism operations.
The security pact with the U.S. that Karzai has refused so far to sign would give any remaining U.S. troops immunity from prosecution under local laws. It was unanimously approved last year by a council of tribal elders Karzai convened. Obama pulled U.S. troops from Iraq when it failed to approve a similar pact.
© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.