The U.S. military condemned Afghan President Hamid Karzai's decision to release 65 terrorism suspects at a prison outside Kabul Thursday despite repeated requests from American officials to try them in Afghan courts.
“The release of these dangerous individuals poses a threat to U.S., Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces, as well as the Afghan population,” a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan said in a statement Thursday.
“...U.S. and Afghan forces risked their lives to ensure the safety of the Afghan people,” the statement continued. “We call upon the government of the Islamic Republican of Afghanistan to consider the potentially lethal effects of today's releases and its impact on the future security of the Afghan people.”
In early January, Karzai signaled he would free the inmates that the U.S. considers highly dangerous.
U.S. officials have strenuously opposed the detainees' release, arguing that the prisoners are responsible for killing international and Afghan soldiers — and freeing them would further strain the already deeply frayed U.S.-Afghanistan relations amid preparations to withdrawal NATO-forces by the end of 2014.
The U.S. military turned over control of the prison on Bagram Air Base to the Afghan government earlier this year with the understanding that it would try the detainees in its courts.
But the administration's relationship with Karzai has further deteriorated in recent months as the Afghan leader has repeatedly rebuffed efforts to persuade him to sign an agreement laying out the parameters of a post-war relationship. The release of the prisoners is another blow that only exacerbates the tensions.
The U.S. military said it has strong evidence that all the detainees released are associated with terrorist groups, including the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, and are directly linked to attacks that have killed or wounded 32 NATO-coalition personnel and 23 Afghan forces or civilians.
Rep. Buck McKeon, a California Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, blamed the Obama administration's “schizophrenic” detainee policies as contributing to Karzai's decision to release the prisoners.
“I am, frankly, appalled by the Karzai government’s complete lack of respect for our troops — men and women who are fighting to keep Afghanistan standing,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
“I am no less disappointed by the Obama administration, whose schizophrenic detainee policies have directly contributed to this deeply concerning turn of events. My thoughts and prayers are with coalition forces in Afghanistan, who must now deal with a greater threat that was wholly preventable."
On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he plans to introduce a resolution condemning Karzai's decision to release the prisoners and would also “urge his colleagues” to cut off all developmental aid to Afghanistan until after the April election to replace Karzai.
“Of the 88 individuals in question, over 60 coalition forces died as a result of the action of these 88, and I consider this a major step backward in our relationship,” Graham said at an Armed Services Committee hearing. He was referring to the total number of prisoners believed to be held at the facility in question.
He said their release violates agreements between the U.S. and the Afghanistan that they be tried in court. Graham added that American officials have provided “extensive information and evidence” about the 65 detainees' role in killing international and Afghan forces.
“President Karzai, in my view, is single-handedly destroying this relationship,” Graham said. “And I want the people of Afghanistan to know that I yearn for a supportive relationship -- political, militarily and economically, but actions like this make it very hard for an American politician to do business as usual in Afghanistan.”
According to the U.S. military, among the 65 detainees set be released are:
Mohammad Wali, apprehended in Helmand province in May 2013, is a suspected Taliban explosives expert who is responsible for planting IEDs targeting Afghan and coalition forces. He was biometrically linked to two IED incidents, in addition to a latent fingerprint match to another IED in Helmand province. Wali's personal property tested positive for multiple types of explosives in an explosive residue test after his capture.
Nek Mohammad, captured in Kandahar province in May 2013, is accused of facilitating rocket attacks against Afghan and coalition forces. He was apprehended with several artillery shells, mortar rounds and improvised explosive components, to include at least 25 pounds of homemade explosives.
Mohammadullah was apprehended in Paktiya province in May 2013. He is believed to be a Haqqani network IED specialist who builds and emplaces IEDs. Mohammadullah was biometrically linked to an IED and tested positive for four types of explosives in an explosive residue test. He was captured with his Haqqani commander, Ehsanullah, who is also being released.
Ehsanullah, captured in Paktiya province in May 2013, is a suspected Haqqani network commander who planned IED operations and attacks against ANSF and coalition forces. He was biometrically matched to a radio-controlled IED and tested positive for two types of explosives in an explosive residue test.