WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has endorsed a resolution from Sen. Lindsey Graham that threatens to withhold financial aid to Afghanistan because its government released several prisoners over objections by the U.S. military.
The bill by Graham, R-S.C., would hold up economic assistance until the U.S. certifies the Afghan government is honoring a 2013 agreement on handling detainees previously held in U.S.-run prisons.
The Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai last month freed 65 people the U.S. believes are militants who may return to the battlefield and take up arms against American soldiers.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, Graham asked Hagel if Congress should condemn the Karzai government's actions.
"I do think it would be very helpful," Hagel said. "The Congress' voice in this would be very important because this is a huge threat to our people."
Graham's resolution was introduced Feb. 12 and is cosponsored by Sen. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan who chairs the committee. The next day, 65 prisoners were released from the detention facility in Parwan.
The U.S. believes some of the 65 were directly linked to attacks wounding or killing 32 U.S. or coalition troops and 23 Afghans.
"And I worry about more to come in the last hours of the Karzai administration," Graham said. Afghans will elect a new president in early April.
Graham's resolution would urge the Afghan government to stop releasing prisoners and instead refer them to the National Directorate for Security, Afghanistan's domestic intelligence agency, for further investigation and prosecution.
"We urge the Afghan government to make every effort that those released do not commit new acts of violence and terror and to immediately bring to justice any who do so," White House spokesman Jay Carney said after the prisoner release.