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Karzai says Afghanistan's prisoner release 'no concern of U.S.'

  |   Feb. 14, 2014 at 2:53 AM
KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his government's release of 65 prisoners, described by the United States as dangerous, is of "no concern" of Washington.

As the United States and NATO reacted strongly against Thursday's release of Bagram prison detainees they say are Taliban militants, the Washington Post reported Karzai, whose relations with Washington already are deeply strained, was quoted by his spokesman as saying from Ankara: "I hope that the United States will stop harassing Afghanistan's procedures and judicial authority. Afghanistan is a sovereign country. If Afghan judiciary authorities decide to release prisoners, it's of no concern to the U.S."

The Afghan leader was in Turkey for a summit meeting.

The prisoner release came despite repeated warnings from the United States that the insurgents would likely rejoin the Taliban operations.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan had warned the freed detainees were "directly linked" to operations in which 32 American or coalition service members were killed or wounded and 23 Afghan security personnel or civilians died or were injured, CNN reported.

In a statement after the prisoner release, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul called the action "deeply regrettable" and warned the Afghan government "bears responsibility for the results of its decision."

Prior to the release, U.S. forces also had warned the prisoners are "dangerous individuals" and that the United States has on several occasions provided extensive information and evidence on each of them to Afghan authorities.

However, Afghan officials have said they had not received any satisfactory evidence to link the prisoners to insurgency.

The 65 prisoners were from a group of 88 the Afghan government had decided to release. Afghan authorities have already released hundreds of prisoners since the Bagram prison near Kabul, once a U.S. prison, was handed over to Afghanistan in March of last year. The facility is now called the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan.

Karzai has angered U.S. policymakers by refusing to sign a bilateral security agreement reached after extensive negotiations and already approved by the Loya Jirga. The pact would allow the United States and its allies to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan to conduct training and counter-terrorism missions after withdrawal of coalition forces at the end of the year. Karzai says the agreement should be signed by the new president after elections in April.

The New York Times said the prisoner release has shown Karzai's near total break with the American military in his country.

The Times said U.S. military leaders see the prisoner release as being similar to that in Iraq, where hundreds of Sunni inmates had escaped from prisons to rejoin the insurgency there.

"Here, they don't even have to escape. They just walk out, thanks to our own allies," one NATO official in Kabul told the Times.

The report said the U.S. military in an email said it believed some of the newly freed insurgents had "already returned to the fight."

The Post said several U.S. lawmakers, already concerned about Karzai's intransigence, are now more upset after the prisoner release. The report said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., had earlier threatened to seek the suspension of all aid to the Afghan government if the prisoners were released.

"President Karzai, in my view, is single-handedly destroying this relationship," Graham told a hearing. "I look forward to developing a bipartisan plan to push back as hard as possible."

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