Washington: The United States has been secretly releasing high-level detainees from a military prison in Afghanistan for several years in a bold effort to initiate negotiations with the insurgent groups, but one that American officials acknowledge could prove to be a costly gamble.
As the US has so far unsuccessfully pursued peace deal with Taliban, The Washington Post on Monday reported that the "strategic" release programme has quietly served as a live diplomatic channel allowing American officials to use prisoners as bargaining chips in restive provinces where military power has reached its limits.
But the paper said that releases are an inherent gamble as freed prisoners are often notorious fighters who may return to the gun culture and attack US forces.
"Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention... But the benefits outweigh the risks," US official said.
The releases have come amid broader efforts to end the decade-long war through negotiation, which is a central feature of the Obama administration`s strategy for leaving Afghanistan. Those efforts, however, have yielded little to no progress in recent years.
In part, they have been stymied by the unwillingness of the United States to release five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay - a gesture that insurgent leaders have said they see as a precondition for peace talks.
Unlike at Guantanamo, releasing prisoners from the Parwan detention centre, the only American military prison in Afghanistan, does not require Congressional approval and can be done clandestinely.
And although official negotiations with top insurgent leaders are seen by many as an endgame for the war, which has claimed nearly 2,000 US lives, the strategic release programme has a less ambitious goal: to quell violence in concentrated areas where NATO is unable to ensure security, particularly as troops continue to withdraw.
The releases are intended to produce tactical gains but are not considered part of a grand bargain with the Taliban.
US officials would not say how many detainees have been released under the programme, though they said such cases are relatively rare. The programme has existed for several years, but officials would not confirm exactly when it was established.