The move further strains relations between Washington and President Hamid Karzai, whose increasingly anti-American rhetoric and refusal to sign a long-negotiated bilateral security deal has increased uncertainty ahead of the year-end withdrawal of most international combat troops.
Karzai ordered the detainees released several weeks ago, after his government took over the prison from U.S. troops. The decision prompted angry denunciations from Washington. U.S. forces in Afghanistan say some of the men are responsible for killing or wounding dozens of international and Afghan soldiers as well making bombs that have killed civilians.
The prisoners were freed just after 9 a.m. from the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram Air Field, about 45 kilometers (28 miles) north of Kabul, according to prison spokesman Maj. Nimatullah Khaki.
They boarded a bus to leave the facility, laughing and smiling, he said.
The U.S. has argued for the detainees to face trial in Afghan courts — citing strong evidence against them, from DNA linking them to roadside bombs to explosive residue on their clothing — but Kabul has cited insufficient proof to hold them.
Karzai has referred to the Parwan prison as a “Taliban-producing factory” where innocent Afghans are tortured into hating their country.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Thursday called the release “deeply regrettable” and called on Karzai’s government to ensure those released do not commit new acts of violence.
“We requested a thorough review of each case. Instead, the evidence against them was never seriously considered,” the embassy statement said, adding, “The Afghan government bears responsibility for the results of its decision.”
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Zair Azimi would not comment on U.S concerns.