KABUL, Afghanistan — Disregarding heated American protests, Afghanistan released 65 accused militants from a former U.S. prison on Thursday, despite warnings that the men are dangerous Taliban fighters and bomb-makers likely to return to killing foreign forces and Afghans.
The freeing of the men from the Parwan Detention Center further strains relations between Washington and President Hamid Karzai. The Afghan leader’s increasingly anti-American rhetoric and refusal to sign a long-negotiated bilateral security deal has heightened uncertainty ahead of the year-end withdrawal of most international forces.
Outrage over Karzai’s decision also mirrors the mistrust and resentment that has developed between the ostensible allies in recent years. The souring of sentiment has often played out in a tug-of-war over control of the detention facility near the American military’s Bagram Air Field, about 45 kilometres (28 miles) north of Kabul.
Karzai reacted sharply to the strong U.S. and NATO criticism over the releases, saying it was not up to foreign powers to determine Afghan justice.
“Afghanistan is a sovereign country. If Afghanistan judiciary authorities decide to release prisoners, it is of no concern to the United States,” Karzai said at the end of a summit with Pakistani and Turkish leaders in the Turkish capital, Ankara.
Thursday’s move could be a gesture by Karzai to try to woo the Taliban insurgents into joining peace talks with his government before he leaves office later this year, since he is unable to serve a third term.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen strongly condemned the release.