KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday ordered the release of 72 prisoners accused of attacking foreign and government forces despite U.S. fears that the inmates could return to the insurgency.
The issue has been a sticking point in Afghan-U.S. relations as the two sides struggle to agree on a framework for the withdrawal of American and allied forces by the end of next year and the aftermath. Last week, a group of U.S. senators met Karzai in Kabul to warn him that release of the 88 detainees from the Parwan Detention Facility “would be a major step backwards” for U.S.-Afghan relations.
A review of the prisoners’ cases by Afghan intelligence and judicial officials turned up no evidence of wrongdoing for 45 of the detainees, and there was insufficient evidence on another 27, so they must be released, Karzai said in a statement. He gave no details on when the release will take place.
The remaining 16 detainees will remain in custody until their cases can be reviewed further, the statement said.
The U.S. wants all 88 to face trial in Afghanistan, saying it has evidence implicating them in the death or wounding of 60 coalition forces and 57 Afghan forces.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki insisted the 72 detainees were “dangerous criminals” and there was “strong evidence linking them to terror-related crimes,” including roadside bombs.
“We have expressed our concerns over the possible release of these detainees without their cases being referred to the Afghan criminal justice system,” she said. “These insurgents could pose threats to the safety and security of the Afghan people and the state.”
An Afghan panel last week ordered the release of 650 detainees from Parwan.
The U.S. turned over control of the Parwan facility, located near the U.S.-run Bagram military base north of Kabul, to Afghan authorities last March.