Afghanistan-U.S. Agreement Reached on Prisoner Transfer

Afghanistan and the U.S. have agreed that prisoners at the Parwan detention facility outside Kabul will be turned over to the Afghans tomorrow, according to the Pentagon.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday morning and welcomed the Afghan leader’s “commitment that the transfer will be carried out in a way that ensures the safety” of Afghans and coalition forces “by keeping dangerous individuals detained in a secure and humane manner in accordance with Afghan law,” the Defense Department said in an e-mailed statement.

The agreement will remove one element of discord in U.S.- Afghan relations, assuming it holds and Karzai doesn’t free certain prisoners the U.S. considers likely to engage in terrorist acts. U.S. and Afghan officials are seeking to redefine the terms of their relationship in advance of plans to remove most American troops from the country by the end of 2014.

A planned ceremony to transfer the prison at the Bagram air base was called off during a visit by Hagel to Afghanistan this month because the two sides couldn’t agree on terms of the handoff. Karzai had said he would release some of those held after the transfer.

The agreement was reached after discussions between Hagel and Karzai, as well as U.S. military officials in Afghanistan and Pentagon based officials, said a defense official who spoke on the condition he not be identified.

National Sovereignty

The Afghans view the prison as a symbol of their nation’s sovereignty and the U.S. now believes it has the necessary assurances that dangerous detainees won’t be released to attack U.S. and NATO personnel, the official said.

U.S. officials believe only a few dozen detainees at Parwan among the hundreds in custody are considered extremely dangerous and shouldn’t be released, the official said.

The Afghan government has also agreed to set up a review process based on its nation’s laws to assess each detainee seeking release. The proceedings will allow U.S. military legal experts the opportunity to contest releases, the official said.

The details of the review and U.S. appeals process have yet to be worked out, the official said.

The U.S. military will also continue to provide a “train and assist role” that includes advising Afghans on physical security and legal procedures, the official said.

The official said he would be surprised this week if some of the most dangerous detainees were among the initial personnel released.

Afghan Politics

Hagel’s trip, his first visit to Afghanistan as defense secretary, was further marred by Karzai’s assertion in a speech that the U.S. was holding peace talks with the Taliban and that suicide attacks by radical Islamists were in the “service of America.”

Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s International Security Assistance Force, said the Afghan president’s comments were “categorically false” and may have reflected political pressure to send a message to his constituents.

President Barack Obama has yet to say how many troops he plans to keep in Afghanistan after 2014, and the U.S. and Afghanistan are in negotiations over a “status of forces agreement” that would set the rules for forces who stay.

As part of the agreement, the U.S. is demanding immunity for U.S. personnel from prosecution in the Afghan legal system. Obama removed remaining forces from Iraq when its government failed to accept such an accord.

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