President Hamid Karzai on Sunday ordered a review of all cases of Taliban suspects being held in Afghan jails and said those being detained on doubtful evidence must be released.
The step was Karzai's first official response to a national conference last week on ways to end his country's nearly 9-year-old insurgency, which included recommendations to move toward negotiations with militant factions.
The conference, or jirga, also recommended that Taliban prisoners being held in Afghan custody and by the US military should be released if they were being held on "inaccurate statements or unsubstantiated allegations."
Hundreds of Taliban and other militant suspects are being held in Afghan jails across the country. Hundreds more, including al-Qaida operatives, are being held in US military jails in Afghanistan and Cuba.
Karzai's office said in a statement he had ordered the formation of a delegation including officials from the Supreme Court, a government-backed reconciliation commission, Justice Ministry and other judicial officers. The delegation would "identify those prisoners who are in jails with not enough evidence for them to be in jail (and for) the delegation release them."
Last week's jirga - made up of some 1,500 tribal, religious, provincial and other leaders - said insurgent prisoners should be released as a goodwill gesture that would precede peace talks with the Taliban. But it also stressed that insurgents who want to take part in the peace process must cut their ties with foreign terrorist groups such as al-Qaida.
Washington supports Karzai's plans to offer incentives for rank-and-file militants to lay down arms but remains skeptical about Kabul seeking negotiations with insurgent leaders - although such a strategy could be key to the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.
US officials contend the Taliban leadership - which is demanding the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan - feels it has little reason to negotiate because it believes it is winning the war. NATO forces are preparing a major operation in the Taliban heartland of southern Kandahar province which the Obama administration hopes can help turn the war around. On Sunday, NATO reported that its forces had killed a Taliban commander and several other insurgents in the western province of Farah.
The international alliance launched airstrikes Saturday in Gulistan district after observing "armed individuals moving through a known insurgent safe haven," a statement said. A ground search team later approached the strike area and shot and killed several heavily armed insurgents, it said.
NATO identified the insurgent commander as Mullah Akhtar and said he had close ties with Taliban and al-Qaida senior leaders. It said he was responsible for arranging training for foreign fighters from Iran and helped resolve disputes between militant networks. Last week, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, said there was "clear evidence" that some Taliban fighters have trained in Iran - although US officials have previously said not in great numbers.
Also Sunday, a roadside bomb attack hit a police truck on a main road in Kandahar province's Panjwai district, killing a police officer and two civilians in a nearby vehicle, said Shah Baran Noorzai, the district government chief.
One police officer and 11 civilians were wounded including six children, he said.
Panjwai lies on the edge of Kandahar city. NATO has widely publicized the coming offensive there as a combination of military strikes and government-boosting programs it hopes will win over the population.
The Taliban, meanwhile, have launched a series of high-profile attacks as part of their own summer offensive against the Afghan government and international forces. The area in and around Kandahar city has become particularly violent in recent months, with regular bomb attacks and assassinations of people seen as allied with the government.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack, which came a day after a bomb exploded outside the provincial governor's office in Kandahar city. That bomb killed one police officer and wounded at least 14 civilians.
In neighboring Uruzgan province, police said they killed more than 20 insurgents in two operations in the past 36 hours. In one of those operations, in Charchino district, 14 militants were killed including an area commander, said Gen. Juma Gul Himmat, the provincial police chief.
As with many reports of violence in far-flung areas of Afghanistan, it was not possible to confirm the casualty toll independently.