The United States has strongly objected to a plan by the government of Afghanistan to release 72 prisoners that the US considers dangerous criminals linked to "terror-related crimes". 

Relations between the two nations plunged on Thursday when the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said there was insufficient evidence to continue holding the men at Bagram prison, a former US site now controlled by the Afghan government.

"We cannot allow innocent Afghan citizens to be kept in detention for months and years without a trial for no reason at all," Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told the Reuters news agency. "We know that unfortunately this has been happening at Bagram, but it is illegal and a violation of Afghan sovereignty."

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The United States objected to the decision, with State Department Jen Psaki saying: "These 72 detainees are dangerous criminals against whom there is strong evidence linking them to terror-related crimes, including the use of improvised explosive devices, the largest killer of Afghan civilians."

She said "time will tell" if the release of the men would affect the signing of a pact that will ensure a US presence in the country after it pulls its main forces out later this year. 

Joseph Dunford, the US General in command of NATO forces in Afghanistan, made an official objection to the plan.

He said it was against an agreement signed when Bagram was handed over in March last year. It included assurances that inmates who posed a danger to Afghans and international forces would continue to be held under Afghan law.

'No evidence'

Following a meeting on Thursday between Karzai and the head of the Afghan spy agency, it was decided that there was only sufficient evidence to hold 16 of 88 men the US considered to be dangerous criminals.

Analysis of political and diplomatic consequences

The Afghan government said there was no evidence to hold 45 of the men and very little against 27 others, meaning their cases would never make trial.

The identities of the men and the length of time they have been kept in Bagram without trial were not disclosed.

Al Jazeera's Jane Ferguson, reporting from Kabul, said the Afghan decision would further damage relations between the two countries, and that the release was not as clear cut as the Afghan statements suggested. 

"The US says the [Afghan] review board does not have the authority to release people," she said.

"There has not been a release date announced yet. The Afghan Human Rights Association, which deals with detainees, says the situation is much more legally intricate and that the US may have a final say in whether these men are released or not."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies