The move further strains relations between Washington and President Hamid Karzai

Afghanistan released 65 accused militants from a former U.S. prison on Thursday despite protests from the American military, which says the men are Taliban fighters who will likely return to the battlefield to kill coalition and Afghan forces.

The move further strains relations between Washington and President Hamid Karzai, whose increasingly anti-American rhetoric and refusal to sign a long-negotiated bilateral security deal has increased uncertainty ahead of the year-end withdrawal of most international combat troops.

Mr Karzai ordered the detainees released several weeks ago, after his government took over the prison from U.S. troops. The decision prompted angry denunciations from Washington. U.S. forces in Afghanistan say some of the men are responsible for killing or wounding dozens of international and Afghan soldiers as well making bombs that have killed civilians.

The prisoners were freed just after 9 a.m. from the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram Air Field, about 45 kilometers north of Kabul, according to prison spokesman Maj. Nimatullah Khaki.

They boarded a bus to leave the facility, laughing and smiling, he said.

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