The Afghan government is poised to release 37 prisoners who "have blood on their hands," a Pentagon spokesman said Monday, adding the U.S. military has strong evidence at least some of the prisoners carried out direct attacks that killed American troops.
The U.S. military has protested for months the decision by a special government panel known as the Afghan review board to release a total of 88 prisoners from the Parwan Detention Facility outside Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called earlier in January for the release of another 16 of the 88 detainees, all of whom the U.S. insists should stand trial.
At least four of the 37 set to be released have conducted or have knowledge of improvised explosive device attacks that killed or wounded 42 U.S. and allied troops, according to U.S. military information and evidence.
"These are bad guys," said Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the Pentagon. "These are individuals with blood on their hands, both U.S., coalition and Afghan blood on their hands."
Of the 37 prisoners, 17 are linked to the production or use of IEDs against coalition or Afghan troops, Warren said. Another three are believed to be connected to IED strikes that killed 11 Afghan soldiers.
Warren declined to comment on any U.S. or coalition plans to recapture the detainees.
Top coalition officials have appealed the prisoners' release, he said. It is unclear if Karzai has the authority to overturn the latest decision.
"We've gone through this formal dispute process, and that has to work its way through the Afghan system," Warren said.
The news comes at a time of friction between the U.S. and the Afghan government, following Karzai's refusal to sign an agreement that would keep American troops in Afghanistan beyond a planned pullout date at the end of 2014. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, is scheduled to visit the White House Monday to brief President Barack Obama on the situation in Afghanistan before the State of the Union on Tuesday.
Karzai met previously with Dunford and U.S. Ambassador Jim Cunningham, and held a subsequent press conference over the weekend in which he addressed the much-discussed bilateral security agreement.
"We want a close relationship with the U.S., but not at the cost of Afghan life," he said, according to a transcript obtained by Foreign Policy. "In exchange we want security for Afghans. Otherwise, they should go. Our country has a 5,000-year history. A lot of foreigners have come and gone. Our country has its own history and honor."
The legality of the Parwan Detention Facility has been in dispute for years, following debates over what rights prisoners there deserve. The U.S. handed control of the prison over to the Afghan government in March 2013, following continued criticism from Karzai over the U.S. system of capturing and detaining Afghans at the facility.