Afghan authorities released 65 detainees from a detention facility Thursday in direct defiance of protests from the United States, which said the men were connected to the killing of Afghan civilians and coalition forces.
The U.S. command says more than two dozen of the men who were freed have been linked to the deaths of 32 U.S. and allied troops, have ties to the most violent terror groups in Afghanistan and were caught with weapons and materials for making improvised explosive devices (IEDs), according to documents obtained by USA TODAY. They were being held at the Afghan National Detention Facility-Parwan.
"The release of these dangerous individuals poses a threat to U.S. coalition and Afghan national security forces as well as the Afghan population," the U.S. command in Kabul said in a statement.
The move has added a further strain to the relationship between the United States and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
It comes in the wake of a refusal by Karzai to sign a security agreement that would allow a residual U.S. force to remain in Afghanistan after this year when the current combat mission ends.
U.S. officials have repeatedly objected to the prisoners' release, sharing forensic and other evidence that implicates the men in attacks on American and Afghan troops and civilians. Afghanistan's attorney general gave only, "at best, a cursory review" of the files 65 prisoners, according a military document. The U.S. military wants the men tried in Afghan courts.
"These are bad men," said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. "They've got a lot of blood on their hands. A lot of blood."
The Parwan facility was turned over to Afghan government control last year after extensive negotiations between the United States and Afghan authorities.
Under the agreement with the Afghan government, the United States can dispute decisions to release detainees through a review board that was established at the time.
With the latest release, the Afghan government has released 625 detainees and another 112 were handed over to Afghan courts for prosecution.
"This is a step backward for the Afghan justice system," Warren said.
A review of more than three dozen files, obtained by USA TODAY, shows many of the prisoners were captured with weapons and materials to build IEDs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Among those slated for release:
• Mohammad Khan, who was alleged to have coordinated suicide attacks. One of the suicide bombers attacked a U.S. outpost, killing one American soldier, four Afghan police officers and wounding several more Americans and Afghans.
• Rahman Gul is a Taliban commander who raised funds for the Haqqani network, the terrorist organization in eastern Afghanistan linked to continuing attacks on U.S. troops. In January 2013, Gul coordinated suicide attacks using 14-year-old children. He was captured a month later with several weapons.
• Nek Mohammad coordinated rocket attacks against U.S. and Afghan forces and helped transfer money to al-Qaeda. He was captured in May 2013 with artillery shells, mortar rounds and bags of fertilizer used to make homemade explosives.
• Abdul Ghaffar is a Taliban IED specialist who built and buried bombs in Helmand province. He was caught in July 2013 with plates used to make IEDs that detonate when a victim walking over them.
Releasing the prisoners, Warren said, is a "disservice to Afghan citizens and a disservice to American troops who have fought and sacrificed on their behalf."
There are no plans to detain the prisoners after their release. But if they attack American and Afghans again, "we'll deal with them then," Warren said.