The Afghan government has released 65 detainees despite repeated US warnings that the “dangerous individuals” could return to the battlefield.
Afghan officials described the move as justice for its own citizens who faced unfounded accusations from the US military. But Nato, which oversees the 12-year-old foreign military operation bolstering the Kabul government, denounced it as “a major step backward” for rule of law in the country.
Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said the prisoners had been released from a detention facility near the Afghan capital, Kabul, and would be sent back to their home areas throughout Afghanistan.
Aimal Faizi, spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, said the release marked the implementation of a decision made by Afghan judicial authorities last month.
“Innocent Afghans, who were detained illegally by the United States in Bagram prison for years, have been released. We welcome this,” Faizi told Reuters.
Video provided to Reuters by the Afghan Defence Ministry showed the prisoners shaking hands with Afghan military officials as they left the prison.
In an unusually sharp statement, the US military said some of the released detainees had killed both Afghans and foreign soldiers. “The release of these dangerous individuals poses a threat to US, Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces, as well as the Afghan population,” it said.
“US and Afghan forces risked their lives to ensure the safety of the Afghan people. We call upon the (Afghan government) to consider the potentially lethal effects of today’s releases.”
Released without due process, the statement said, detainees “may return to the same criminal behaviour that led to their original capture”.
Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in a statement issued in Brussels, said: “This decision, which appears to have been made based on political calculations and without regard for due process before the Afghan courts, is a major step backwards for the rule of law in Afghanistan, and poses serious security concerns.”