US anger over Afghan release of 65 prisoners

Detainees freed by Karzai government have Afghan and American blood on their hands, says Washington

Afghan soldiers  at the Bagram detainee centre, where the 65 prisoners were released yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

Afghan soldiers at the Bagram detainee centre, where the 65 prisoners were released yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail


The Afghan government has released 65 prisoners who the US says are dangerous fighters with American and Afghan blood on their hands.

Kabul argues, however, that they are innocent men illegally locked up for years by foreign soldiers.

The decision is the latest blow to the strained relationship between the Afghan government and its main financial backer, exacerbated by president Hamid Karzai’s fierce anti-American rhetoric.

Yesterday’s release prompted a senior US senator, who has been a long-term supporter of the mission in Afghanistan, to demand an immediate halt to aid. “I will be urging my colleagues to cut off all developmental aid to Afghanistan as a response until after the next election,” Republican senator Lindsey Graham told a Senate hearing.

Military co-operation
Mr Karzai is barred from running again in a presidential poll set for April. Many in Washington are now hoping for better ties with his successor, who they want to sign a long-term military co-operation deal to keep US forces in the country. Karzai stunned the US administration by backing away from the deal late last year.

The prisoners were freed yesterday morning from Bagram jail, about 45km (28 miles) north of Kabul, prison spokesman Major Nimatullah Khaki told the Associated Press. They boarded a bus to leave the facility.

The US military and diplomats condemned the release as a threat to Afghan security forces, an act of disrespect to victims of the conflict, and a violation of an agreement between the two nations governing the handover of the infamous Bagram prison.

‘Lethal effects’
“Insurgents in the group released today have killed coalition and Afghan forces. They have killed Afghan men, women and children,” the US military said, warning that the decision could have “potentially lethal effects . . . on the future security of the Afghan people”.

But Mr Karzai, who has described Bagram prison as a “Taliban-producing factory” where men were brutalised until they turned against their country, applauded the move as long-overdue justice.

“Innocent Afghans who were in illegal detention of the US in Bagram prison for years are released today. We welcome it,” a spokesman said.

He had ordered the release of the detainees, part of a group of 88, weeks ago. He said then that an investigation had found there was evidence to potentially try only 16 of them. It is unclear why seven others have stayed in jail.

Men from the group are “directly linked to attacks killing or wounding 32 US or coalition personnel and 23 Afghan security personnel or civilians”, the US military said. They listed evidence against some of them, ranging from weapons possession and explosives residue on their clothing to fingerprints on homemade bombs. – ( Guardian service)