WASHINGTON - The United States has for years been freeing "high-level" detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan under a deal with insurgent groups aimed at heading off violence, The Washington Post reported.
The newspaper, citing US officials on condition of anonymity, said the program was inherently risky but prisoners released under it must promise to give up violence and if they don't, they would be detained again.
"Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks," one US official was quoted as saying of the program being used at the Parwan detention center, an American military prison next to Bagram airfield.
The releases, for which no numbers were given, are designed to produce tactical gains for coalition forces but they are not considered part of a bigger deal with the Taliban, the report said.
Candidates for release under the secret program must have their applications approved by the top US commander and top military lawyer in Afghanistan, the newspaper said, citing US officials.
A proposed detainee release begins with conversations between US military officials and insurgent commanders or local Afghan elders - who promise to reduce violence in their district if certain insurgents are freed.
"We look at detainees who have influence over other insurgents - individuals whose release could have a calming effect in an entire area," a US official told the Post.
"In those cases, the benefits of release could outweigh the reasons for keeping him detained," the official added.
US President Barack Obama last week in Kabul signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai covering relations after American combat troops pull out in 2014, though the details are still to be worked out.
Obama's visit, six months out from an American election, was widely seen as a deliberate effort by the US commander-in-chief to try and move focus away from a decade of conflict abroad toward domestic priorities.
There are around 130,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, mostly from the United States, fighting an insurgency led by the Taliban, an Islamic militia ousted in a US-led invasion in 2001 for harboring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.