By Rahim Faiez, AP
BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The U.S. military gave control of its last detention facility in Afghanistan to Kabul on Monday, a year after the two sides initially agreed on the transfer.
The handover of Parwan Detention Facility ends a bitter chapter in American relations with Afghanistan’s mercurial president, Hamid Karzai, who demanded control of the prison as a matter of national sovereignty.
The dispute threw a pall over the ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford handed over Parwan, located near the U.S.-run Bagram military base north of Kabul, at a ceremony there after signing an agreement with Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi.
“The transfer of the detention facility is an important part of the overall transition of security lead to Afghan National Security Forces. This ceremony highlights an increasingly confident, capable, and sovereign Afghanistan,” Dunford said.
An initial agreement to hand over Parwan was signed a year ago, but efforts to follow through on it constantly stumbled over American concerns that the Afghan government would release prisoners that it considered dangerous.
A key point was Afghanistan’s contention that administrative detention, the practice of holding someone without formal charges, violated the country’s laws. The U.S. argued that international law allowed administrative detentions and also argued that it could not risk the passage of some high-value detainees to the notoriously corrupt Afghan court system.
An initial deadline for the full handover passed last September and another earlier this month.
As part of the deal, the Afghan government can invoke a procedure that ensures prisoners considered dangerous will not be released from the detention center. According to a senior U.S. official in Washington, the agreement also includes a provision that allows the U.S. and Kabul to work together to resolve any differences. The official lacked authorization to discuss the details of the agreement publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The detention center houses about 3,000 prisoners and the majority are already under Afghan control. The United States had not handed over a few hundred, and some of those under American authority do not have the right to a trial because the U.S. considers them part of an ongoing conflict.
A new agreement, or memorandum of understanding, was signed at the ceremony by Dunford and Khan, but a copy was not immediately made public. The agreement supplants one signed last March that agreed to the handover.
The handover should also open the way for a resumption of talks for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014.
It is part of an ongoing effort to gradually shift control of the country’s security to the Afghans as the U.S. and allies move toward the full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014.
There are about 100,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan, including about 66,000 from the United States. American officials have made no final decision on how many troops might remain in Afghanistan after 2014, although they have said as many as many as 12,000 U.S. and coalition forces could remain.