U.S. condemns Afghan decision to go ahead with detainee release

KABUL Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:22pm IST

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KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday condemned a decision by the Afghan government to proceed with plans to release additional detainees that the United States believes pose a continuing militant threat.

The detainees have become one more issue fueling tension in U.S.-Afghan ties, as foreign troops present in Afghanistan since 2001 steadily withdraw. The U.S. director of national intelligence said on Tuesday he did not expect President Hamid Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement with Washington.

"United States Forces-Afghanistan has learned that 65 dangerous individuals from a group of 88 detainees under dispute have been ordered released from the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan," the U.S. military force said in a statement.

"The release of these detainees is a major step backward for the rule of law in Afghanistan," it said. "Some previously-released individuals have already returned to the fight, and this subsequent release will allow dangerous insurgents back into Afghan cities and villages."

President Barack Obama's administration has been pressing President Karzai to sign a bilateral security pact that would allow some U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan beyond a deadline at the end of this year. But there has been little sign of him complying.

The detainees in question are among 650 held at Bagram prison north of Kabul, whom Afghan authorities have marked for release on grounds of insufficient proof to prosecute them. Washington objects to freeing a total of 88 prisoners it regards as a threat to security.

Last month, U.S. officials objected to Afghanistan after the government directed the Afghan Review Board, a government body, to release 37 of the 88 detainees.

Today's development appears to put those prisoners, and 28 others, closer to release.

An Afghan government official said the prisoners could be released in a few days. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the prisoners could be set free very soon.

"The attorney general ordered Bagram prison authorities (to) release 65 prisoners because they was no incriminating evidence against them," said Basir Azizi, a spokesman for Afghanistan's attorney general.

The fate of the remaining prisoners is being reviewed, Azizi said.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Missy Ryan; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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