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Homeland Security

Guantanamo Bay Prisoners Return to Afghanistan

By Benjamin Sand
19 April 2005

The United States has returned 17 men from the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba to Afghanistan. The group has been turned over to local security officials, who will decide whether to free them or hold them in jail.

Afghan government officials say the 17 men, who arrived in Kabul Tuesday, are already in custody and awaiting a decision on their future.

Interior Ministry spokesman Latufullah Mashal says all correct procedures have been followed.

"These people are handed over to the National Security Council since that department is responsible for all anti-terrorism campaign[s]," said Mr. Mashal.

During the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in 2001, thousands of alleged Taleban and al-Qaida combatants were taken captive.

The U.S. military transferred hundreds of men accused of being enemy combatants to a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay for questioning.

Around 400 Afghans are still reportedly at the base, part of a larger group of suspects being investigated for ties to international terrorist groups.

The return of the 17 prisoners comes less than a month after the United States said it would release 38 foreign nationals held in Cuba.

Afghanistan's chief justice, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, told reporters Tuesday his government had been pressing Washington for the men's release.

"We have been talking for quite some time with the United States… So these prisoners are released by U.S. government and also with negotiations of the government of Afghanistan," he said.

In January U.S. officials also freed 80 Afghan detainees held in military prisons in Afghanistan.

The move followed widespread accusations of abuse in those camps and was seen as an attempt to win over former Taleban supporters in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, the fight against Taleban hard-liners has only intensified.

Fighting between coalition forces and suspected Taleban militants has picked up as warmer spring weather improves the rebels' mobility.

On Monday, 17 Taleban militants were reportedly killed during a joint U.S. and Afghan military operation in southern Zabul province.

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