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By Shashank Bengali and Hashmat Baktash, Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan — Over strident U.S. objections, Afghanistan on Thursday released 65 prisoners whom it said it could not prosecute despite American warnings that they could return to attacking coalition forces and civilians.

The U.S. military had expected the move and denounced it in a series of press releases in recent weeks. But the Afghan government maintained that there was insufficient evidence to try the prisoners or continue to hold them at the formerly U.S.-run detention facility at Bagram, north of Kabul.

The detainee dispute has further inflamed tensions between the United States and Afghanistan in the final year of the U.S.-led military intervention. Afghan President Hamid Karzai — who has angered U.S. officials by refusing to sign a security agreement that would allow a few thousand American troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014 — has sharply criticized the prison at Bagram, likening it to a “factory” for creating Taliban insurgents.

The 65 prisoners released to their homes Thursday are directly linked to attacks that have killed or maimed dozens of coalition soldiers and Afghan civilians, the U.S. military alleges. They are among 88 prisoners at Bagram whom the U.S. military had argued shouldn’t be released.

The dispute has simmered since early last year, when the United States turned over the prison to Afghan control as part of its plan to withdraw forces from Afghanistan. U.S. officials say that Afghanistan is violating agreements by letting these prisoners go free.

“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. military said in a statement Thursday. “Insurgents in the group released today have killed coalition and Afghan forces.”

The U.S. military even took the rare step of publicly releasing information about some of the prisoners, citing biometric data and explosives residue tests as indications that they were linked to the insurgency.

One man who was released Thursday, Mohammad Wali, captured by coalition forces in southern Helmand province in May, was described by U.S. military officials as “a suspected Taliban explosives expert” who placed roadside bombs targeting Afghan and coalition forces. Another, Nek Mohammad, allegedly participated in rocket attacks against pro-government forces and was found to be possessing artillery shells, mortar rounds and at least 25 pounds of homemade explosives.

Afghan officials said they carefully reviewed the evidence and leads supplied by the United States but judged them to be insufficient to prosecute the men.

AFP Photo/Massoud Hossaini

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