Washington: The Pentagon said on Saturday that four Afghans from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre have been returned to their home country in what US officials are citing as a sign of their confidence in new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Obama administration officials said they worked quickly to fulfil the request from Ghani, in office just three months, to return the four, who had been cleared for transfer as a kind of reconciliation and mark of improved US-Afghan relations.
There is no requirement that the Afghan government further detain the men, identified as Mohammed Zahir, Shawali Khan, Abdul Ghani and Khi Ali Gul.
Eight Afghans are among the 132 detainees remaining at Guantanamo.
The move is the latest in a series of transfers during the past two months. President Barack Obama has been pushing to reduce the number of detainees as he tries to make progress toward his goal of closing the globally condemned detention center for suspected terrorists.
Administration officials, speaking on a condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to discuss the matter publicly, say more transfers are expected in the coming weeks.
Guantanamo now holds the lowest number of detainees since shortly after it opened nearly 13 years ago in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Those remaining include 64 approved for transfer.
Although the four Afghans have long been approved for transfer, the move sparked debate in Washington. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel did not immediately sign off after Gen. John F. Campbell, the top American commander in Afghanistan, raised concerns they could pose a danger to troops in the country. Administration officials say Campbell and all military leaders on the ground have now screened the move.
"The United States is grateful to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for its willingness to support ongoing US efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility," the Pentagon statement said "The United States coordinated with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures."
Before he can close Guantanamo, Obama faces the challenge of working out what to do with any detainees who aren't cleared for transfer either because the United States wants to prosecute them or continue holding them because they are considered too dangerous to release.