The Afghan government released 65 prisoners Thursday despite harsh criticism from the United States, a move that further heightens tensions between the two nations over the country’s security after the end of U.S. military operations this year.
The men were released from Parwan Detention Facility, the prison formerly known as Bagram. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called it a “Taliban producing factory.”
The U.S. military condemned the release of the 65 men, who it said in a statement, “are directly linked to attacks killing or wounding 32 U.S. or coalition personnel and 23 Afghan security personnel or civilians.” The military also said that the men could end up fighting against U.S. forces. “We believe some of the individuals previously released have already returned to the fight,” the statement said. “Additional released detainees may continue to fill the ranks of the insurgency.”
Afghan officials said that a review of the 65 cases found there was not enough evidence to try the men. There are another 23 prisoners with cases awaiting review by the Afghan government. The 88 men had been captured by U.S. and NATO forces and were being held indefinitely.
The U.S. embassy in Kabul questioned the review process in a statement. “The evidence linking these individuals to serious crimes warrants careful consideration by a prosecutor and, potentially, indictments and prosecutions in Afghan courts under Afghan law,” it read. “We requested a thorough review of each case. Instead, the evidence against them was never seriously considered.”
The release of the prisoners could further threaten the already tenuous relationship between the U.S. and Afghan governments. American officials say that releasing the 65 men violates a 2012 agreement related to control of Parwan prison. President Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement that would keep some U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of military operations this year. Without an agreement in place, the U.S. could leave Afghanistan without support for its security forces and without crucial aid funds.
While Afghanistan now has authority over all the Afghans who had been held at the prison by the U.S., American forces still have custody of a group of third country nationals, mostly Pakistanis, that officials have not released.
The release comes in the wake of a deadly attack on U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan that killed two soldiers. Two gunmen wearing Afghan Security Forces uniforms opened fire on American troops Wednesday and were killed in the ensuing gunfire. This is the second such “insider attack” to take place this year, according to NBC News.