Tensions between U.S. officials and Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan have been stretched thin while the two countries negotiate an extended U.S. troop-presence beyond 2014 when the war officially “ends.”
First, the Afghan government rejected a U.S. intelligence estimate that suggested that the Karzai government could not maintain control without a U.S. troop presence. Next, the U.S. cancelled an order meant to supply the Afghan military with Russian-made helicopters after it was discovered that same manufacturer was linked to Syria’s embattled leader, President Bashar al-Assad. Now, according to The New York Times, another layer of tension has been added since President Karzai’s announcement to release of 72 prisoners accused of killing Americans and Afghans alike.
American officials called the prisoners dangerous militants and suggest that Karzai’s release plans actually violate last year’s agreement that turned over Bagram prison to Afghani control. The Karzai administration, however, says that there is insufficient evidence to continue to hold them. 45 of these prisoners, according to the Guardian, were “deemed completely innocent with no evidence emerging against them.” While names of the remaining 27 did appear in evidentiary documents, Afghan officials found that the evidence was circumstantial at best.
Despite the prisoner release, officials remain positive about an extended agreement leaving troops in Afghanistan past 2014. However, one could speculate that Karzai—long seen as an American puppet—continues to stoke U.S. animus as a way to distance himself from that image leading up to Afghanistan’s next election. While allegedly not seeking a third term as President, it seems as if Afghanistan’s only post-Taliban leader will disappear from public life.
The Obama administration and the U.S. State Department are adamant that while they disapprove, it is a separate issue from the continuing security agreement. However, the President’s partisan rivals—such as Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain—have said that the issues are very much related. Sen. McCain, who recently visited Afghanistan and met with President Karzai warned him that the release could lead Congress to slash Afghan aid.
No date has been set for the release, but earlier comments indicate it will happen soon.