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Afghanistan To Free Most Prisoners Seen As Threat By U.S.

Prisoners stand in line for release during a ceremony handing over the Bagram prison to Afghan authorities at the U.S. air base north of Kabul in March 2013.
Prisoners stand in line for release during a ceremony handing over the Bagram prison to Afghan authorities at the U.S. air base north of Kabul in March 2013.
KABUL -- Afghanistan says it will release scores of prisoners despite objections from the United States, which considers them a security threat.

The decision was announced after a meeting on January 9 chaired by President Hamid Karzai. Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told RFE/RL that 72 out of 88 prisoners deemed a threat by the United States will be released.

"The committee that has been assigned to review the cases of the Bagram detainees was tasked to release immediately those innocent inmates who spent months and years in prison with no evidence against them," Faizi said.

"The responsible committee will decide when exactly they will be released."

The United States is strongly opposed to the prisoners' release, saying there is proof of their involvement in deadly attacks on foreign troops.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on January 9 the United States considers 72 of those detainees dangerous.

"These 72 detainees are dangerous criminals against whom there is strong evidence linking them to terror-related crimes, including the use of improvised explosive devices, the largest killer of Afghan civilians," Psaki said at a news briefing.

The prisoners' release would further raise tensions in relations between the two countries, already strained over Karzai's refusal to sign a security pact with Washington allowing some foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the NATO-led military coalition this year.

Psaki said "time will tell" whether the release of the detainees will affect the signing of the agreement. Psaki said it was in the interest of the Afghan people and its government to sign it.

But the Afghan government, in a statement on January 9, said there was no evidence against 45 of the 88 prisoners, while the evidence against a further 27 detainees was not enough to put them on trial.

The remaining 16 would remain in jail and are expected to be put on trial.

U.S. officials say the 88 men are responsible for the deaths of over 60 NATO-led coalition soldiers and 57 Afghans.

The 88 prisoners are held at a detention facility near U.S. air base at Bagram, north of Kabul, which U.S. forces turned over to Afghan control in March 2013.

The prison handover came after intense negotiations because Washington feared dangerous inmates would be freed.

U.S. senators visiting Afghanistan last week warned that releasing the prisoners would seriously damage ties with Washington.

U.S.-Afghan ties hit another low in recent months when Karzai made a surprise decision not to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement promptly, despite promising to do so.

Karzai has said any security deal can wait until after the presidential election in April.

The United States says it needs time to prepare for a post-2014 mission. Without a deal, Washington could pull out most of its troops after 2014.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP