The U.S. transfered control of its largest prison in Afghanistan for Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects to local officials, ceding authority over a facility where the burning of copies of the Koran sparked deadly protests.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai hailed the move in a statement “as an important step towards the recognition of Afghan national sovereignty.” The jail near the U.S.-run Bagram airfield near the capital, Kabul, houses more than 3,000 guerrilla fighters, General Zaher Azimi, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said by phone. Afghanistan has been supervising most of those held since a March handover agreement with the U.S., part of a larger pact governing security co- operation once American combat troops leave by 2014, he said.
The U.S. has suspended the transfer of some prisoners, among them foreign citizens, fearing they may be released by Afghan authorities that have criticized the long-term detention of suspects without charge, the Associated Press reported.
Karzai’s government has said U.S. control of the Bagram jail, at the center of abuse allegations by former inmates and the Afghan government, violated Afghanistan’s sovereignty and helped militants attract recruits. The jail is now officially known as the Parwan Detention Center, and is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Kabul.
Protests over the burning of Korans taken from the prison library led to attacks on U.S. personnel in Afghanistan in February. Two American advisers were shot dead in the Interior Ministry Feb. 25, while nine Afghans were killed and two American soldiers wounded in a suicide car-bombing in eastern Afghanistan two days later.
The U.S. is seeking to engage the Taliban in negotiations to renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution to better the chances of peace following the planned withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014.
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