US, Afghanistan Strike Deal on Prison Handover

Posted March 9th, 2012 at 12:10 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States has agreed to hand over control of the main U.S. military detention center in Afghanistan to Afghan authorities, paving the way for a strategic deal to be signed between both countries.

Afghan Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak and top American military commander General John Allen signed a memorandum of understanding Friday, under which the prison next to Bagram Air Base in Parwan province, and its 3,000 inmates, will be transferred to Afghan control within six months.

General Allen said the memorandum is an “important step forward in our Strategic Partnership negotiations.”

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said the prison transfer is an “extraordinarily important step in recognizing the sovereignty of Islamic republic of Afghanistan.''

Earlier this week, Afghan Foreign Ministry officials said discussions on a deal outlining the long-term U.S. role in Afghanistan were stalled due to disputes over the prison transfer and night raids conducted by international forces.

All foreign combat troops are set to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Under the deal struck Friday, Afghan authorities will need to advise the United States of plans to release any prisoners and “consider favorably” any objections if the Americans consider such inmates could engage in “terrorist activity.”

In return, Afghan authorities will implement a legal framework to ensure the humane and secure holding of detainees, in accordance with international humanitarian law.

The U.S. will maintain a presence at the prison to provide support for a year.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker called the memorandum of understand an important step forward as the U.S. completes its transition of control of Afghanistan's security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Crocker noted Friday “we had our challenges and there will be challenges ahead” as negotiations on the framework for a U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership continue.

On Friday, Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said progress has been made on the issue of coalition night raids, seen as the other main obstacle to the strategic agreement. President Karzai is opposed to the military operations, which he says cause civilian casualties and are an invasion of privacy.

The prison transfer agreement comes as relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan have been tense following the burning of Korans last month at the Bagram military base that sparked deadly riots and attacks.