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U.S. Leaders Rip Karzai on Security Deal Snub

Image: Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses media representatives during a press interaction

Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses media representatives during a press conference in New Delhi, India, on Dec. 14, 2013. FINDLAY KEMBER / EPA

Disgruntled senators are piling on the attacks against Afghan President Hamid Karzai after concerns that he won’t endorse a security pact with the United States allowing American troops to remain in the country long-term.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Tuesday that he doesn’t think Karzai will sign the proposed Bilateral Security Agreement before he leaves office this year.

Clapper, speaking at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats, is the highest ranking U.S. official to publicly express doubts that a deal will be reached.

The U.S.-Afghanistan relationship is already threatened by Afghanistan’s release of 65 Taliban prisoners, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the release of the prisoners would “violate the agreement” with the U.S. to hold them as captives and constitutes a “major step backward” in Afghanistan’s “rule of law.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Armed Services Committee, echoed the U.S. military’s outrage, and announced Tuesday that he will try to cut aid to Afghanistan as long as Karzai is president.

Graham blasts Karzai over release of Taliban fighters 1:41

Graham said he spoke earlier with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who commands all international forces in Afghanistan, and determined that U.S. forces “evaluated (the prisoners) as very dangerous to the Afghan people and the coalition forces.”

Graham said that he will introduce a resolution condemning Karzai’s actions, and that he will be “urging my colleagues to cut all developmental aid off to Afghanistan as a response until after the next election.”

The election is slated for April 5. Karzai, Afghanistan’s president since 2001, is ineligible to run again because of term limits.

While 65 Taliban fighters were released, a total of 88 have orders to be freed. Graham said that more than 60 coalition forces were killed as a result of their actions, and Karzai “single-handedly destroyed” the relationship between Afghanistan and the U.S.

“It will not go unnoticed by the Congress,” Graham warned.

Col. Warren stressed that the U.S. has provided the Afghan government with “extensive evidence” that those being released present a clear threat to the Afghan people, security services and American forces in Afghanistan.

Defense officials say U.S. military forces would be free to “kill or capture” any of the 65 who return to the battlefield. In accordance with the U.S. agreement with Afghanistan, any captured soldier would be returned to the custody of Afghan security forces.

NBC’s Erik Ortiz contributed to this report.