Afghanistan has released scores of alleged Taliban militants from a former US prison despite protests from the American military. The move has put further strain on already frayed US-Afghan ties.
Sixty-five alleged Taliban militants were freed just after 9.00 am (local time) on Thursday from the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram Air Field, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Kabul, prison spokesperson Major Nimatuallah Khaki said.
They boarded a bus to leave the facility, laughing and smiling, he added.
Thursday's move puts further strain on relations between Washington and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. His anti-US rhetoric and refusal to sign a bilateral security deal has raised doubts about the intended withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops at the end of this year.
US President Barack Obama has been pressing Karzai for several months to sign a so-called Bilateral Security Agreement. The accord would allow 10,000 US troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end-of-year withdrawal date.
'Deeply regretable,' says US
The US embassy based in Kabul described the Parwan prisoner release as “deeply regrettable” and said it contradicted a 2012 detainee agreement it had with Afghanistan.
“The Afghan government bears responsibility for the results of its decision,” the embassy wrote in a statement on their website.
The US military said the detainees should be tried before Afghan courts.
President Karzai ordered the prisoners release several weeks ago, when the government took over control of the detention facility from US troops.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a US military official said the US has provided Afghan officials with “hundreds of pages” of evidence or investigative leads against the prisoners.
Fingerprints, DNA, and other evidence, he added, connected several prisoners to the placement of improvised bombs which killed NATO and Afghan soldiers as well as civilians.
The US official also said that the fate of 23 other prisoners, who the US says should not be freed, is being considered by the Afghan government.
Afghan-Pakistani talks in Ankara
President Karzai, who is due to stand down after the April 5 presidential elections, is meeting with Pakistani leaders in the Turkish capital, Ankara on Thursday to discuss security in Afghanistan after the NATO troop pullout. He has demanded progress on talks before Afghanistan signs the bi-lateral security deal with the US.
Germany's parliament discusses on Thursday a cabinet proposal to extend until December the mandate for its 3,100 Bundeswehr troop deployment in Afghanistan.
jw/ipj (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)