Afghani officials freed 37 insurgents and Taliban fighters with “blood on their hands” in what the Pentagon called a “major step backward” for the rule of law in the war torn nation.
The hardened fighters were among 88 prisoners who were being held by the U.S. and being transferred to the emerging Afghan criminal justice system. U.S. authorities said many had directly participated in attacks that wounded or killed scores of U.S. military personnel and Afghan citizens, yet were freed by the Afghan Review Board.
“The ARB is releasing back to society dangerous insurgents who have Afghan blood on their hands,” the United States Forces-Afghanistan said in a statement. “This extra-judicial release of detainees is a major step backward in further developing the rule of law in Afghanistan.”
Many of those freed were Taliban fighters who were connected by forensic evidence to specific IED attacks. Several were captured in possession of bomb materials and some even admitted taking part in attacks on coalition forces. At least two had been captured, freed and recaptured.
“These guys have all been caught, clearly engaged in activities designed to kill people,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col Tony Shaffer, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “There is zero justification for releasing them.”
Among the detainees freed over U.S. objections were:
- Haji Abdullah, described as a “high-level foreign fighter facilitator” who helped mount the Aug. 16, 2012 attack that brought down a U.S. helicopter.Abdullah escorted Pakistani and Arab suicide bombers into the area to facilitate their attacks, and directed a cell of 10 fighters which carried out attacks ordered by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
- Mohammad Khan, a Taliban commander who coordinated suicide bomber missions, one of which killed a U.S. soldier and wounded four more.
- Habibulla Abdul Hady, a Taliban fighter linked to multiple IED attacks in Kandahar.
- Nek Mohammad, a bomb expert who transferred money to Al Qaeda before he was captured last May in possession of bomb making materials.
- Akthar Mohammad, a suspected Taliban commander who planned and conducted numerous attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces.
- “Khalil,” a Haqqani network operative and suspected member of a Taliban cell captured last July in Kandahar. In addition to testing positive for trace amounts of explosives, he failed a polygraph test that asked if he had been involved in attacks on coalition forces.
- Nurullah, a suspected Taliban commander who carried out bomb and rocket attacks against coalition forces that killed at least one U.S. service member and injured four more.
Shaffer said the freed fighters will almost certainly return to the battlefield, continuing to undermine the emerging civilian government.
“We have sacrificed 12 years of blood and treasure to help secure a stable future for the Afghan people,” Shaffer said. “By doing this, they are not only undermining the security investment of NATO and the Afghani forces, they are increasing the likelihood that these guys will come back and attack their governance when we leave."
He speculated that the decision had likely come down from President Hamid Karzai, who has increasingly tried to show his independence from the coalition.
“He’s trying to play both sides against the middle,” Shaffer said. “He’s trying to look like he’s not close to us. It will blow up in his face.”