The Afghan government released 65 prisoners Thursday morning despite staunch opposition from the U.S. military, which contends the prisoners are dangerous militants who will rejoin the Taliban.
Last month, an Afghan review board decided to release dozens of prisoners, who U.S. and Afghan defense officials say were responsible for attacks that killed scores of civilians and soldiers.
The U.S. military issued a statement condemning the release. “Detainees from this group of 65 are directly linked to attacks killing or wounding 32 U.S. or coalition personnel and 23 Afghan security personnel or civilians,” reads the statement. “Violent criminals who harm Afghans and threaten the peace and security of Afghanistan should face justice in the Afghan courts, where a fair and transparent trial would determine their guilt or innocence.”
However, the Afghan government has argued that there is no evidence these prisoners committed the crimes. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi told Reuters Television, “We could not find any evidence to prove that these 65 people are criminals, according to Afghan law. I believe the release of these 65 people will benefit the Afghan nation, and it will benefit the American nation and American government.”
The prisoners walked out of the detention facility near Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, and will be sent back to their homes. The Associated Press’ Amir Shah reported that the prisoners left the facility laughing and smiling.
The release comes amid rising tensions between the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign a security agreement allowing U.S. and NATO troops to remain in the country after 2014. Last week, the New York Times revealed that Karzai had been conducting secret peace talks with the Taliban.
Matthew Rosenberg, who broke the story for the Times, told the PBS NewsHour that while the United States would benefit from an Afghan-Taliban peace agreement, Karzai’s rhetoric and actions have strained the U.S.-Afghan relationship.
Video by PBS NewsHour
“The problem here is that the Americans would be more than happy if [Karzai] could go out and cut his own deal and make peace,” Rosenberg said. “It’s that the behavior engendered by his idea … between going after us with fake evidence of war crimes, trying to release more Taliban from prison, a lot of kind of deeper issues in that relationship really came out in ways that I think everybody has found pretty unhelpful.”