Sen. Lindsey Graham has accused Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai of “empowering” Taliban terrorists by releasing 65 dangerous Afghan “thugs” from jail.
The South Carolina Republican, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, condemned Karzai for freeing the prisoners who pose an immediate threat to U.S., Afghan, and allied forces in the war-torn country, McClatchy reports.
“Karzai is doing a lot of damage to his country and to the relationship between us and Afghanistan,” said Graham, who once traded jokes with Karzai over dinners at his presidential palace in Kabul.
“He’s undercutting a relationship (with the U.S.) that most Afghans want and empowering the Taliban…
“The Taliban look at something like this (the release of prisoners), and they’ve got to be encouraged. I’ve been to that prison dozens of times, and it makes my blood boil to see these thugs walk out of there.”
Graham said he’s been unable to confirm reports that Karzai has held secret talks with the Taliban, Muslim fanatics who ruled the country and imposed strict Islamic laws there until the U.S. invasion in October 2001.
Although the Taliban have recently launched a new offensive in the region, Graham said, “(Karzai) doesn’t treat the Taliban as an insurgency. He calls them ‘wayward brothers’ rather than thugs that are killing people.”
“I’ve known Karzai for 10 years, but he’s getting completely irrational. He’s totally detached from the reality about what’s going on in his own country.”
Graham, who has made several trips to Afghanistan as a senator and as an Air Force Reserve colonel, even met with Karzai in Kabul last month, along with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and pleaded with him to keep the “thugs” behind bars, McClatchy reported.
But Karzai dismissed them, saying that the national detention center in Parwan that housed the inmates and was built with U.S. funds was “a black hole.” Although the jail is guarded by U.S. troops, the Karzai government has authority over the handling of prisoners and claims the 65 detainees were being held without cause.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of U.S troops in Afghanistan, attacked Karzai’s decision because he believes that some of the freed prisoners will join forces with the Taliban insurgency.
“They have killed Afghan men, women and children,” Dunford said, noting that two dozen inmates were tied to roadside bombs, the number one killer of Afghan citizens. “We believe some of the individuals previously released have already returned to the fight.”
Now a furious Graham is fighting back by demanding that Congress cuts off U.S. reconstruction aid to Afghanistan, and he’s enlisted the support of House Speaker John Boehner.
“After years of fighting alongside our Afghan partners — who have sustained serious casualties themselves from common enemies — this decision is especially egregious,” said Boehner.
The tense relations between Afghanistan and the U.S. have sunk to an all-time low, with U.S. officials claiming that Karzai has gone back on a bilateral agreement to keep a small military contingent in the country after the remaining 34,000 U.S. troops pull out by the end of the year.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House may now wait until Karzai leaves office in April before attempting to sign a new pact with the next government to keep peace-keeping troops on the ground there.
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By Drew MacKenzie