The prison compound in Bagram. (Reuters)
Kabul, Sept. 10 (AP): American officials handed over formal control of Afghanistan’s only large-scale US-run prison to Kabul today, even as disagreements between the two countries over the thousands of Taliban and terror suspects held there marred the transfer.
The handover ceremony took place at the prison next to a sprawling US airfield in Bagram, just north of Kabul. President Hamid Karzai has called the transfer a victory for Afghan sovereignty.
The prison, formally known as the Parwan Detention Facility, has been the focus of controversy in the past but never had the notoriety of the prisons at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
The prison facility was built about three years ago to replace a holding facility formerly located in an old Soviet hangar inside the base. Earlier this year, the prison gained unwanted attention when hundreds of Qurans and other religious materials were taken from its library and sent to a burn pit at the military base.
The event triggered scores of deadly anti-American protests across Afghanistan; six US soldiers were killed during the violent demonstrations.
“We are telling the Afghan President and the Afghan people that today is a proud day,” said Afghan Army Gen. Ghulam Farouk, who now heads the prison.
The transfer is politically important for Karzai, a member of Afghanistan’s Pashtun community who has been trying to assert his authority and counter accusations by Taliban insurgents that he is an American puppet.
The prison’s successful transfer also is seen as a critical part of the US handover of responsibilities for such institutions to the Afghan government by the end of 2014, when most foreign troops leave the country.
The US has since the signing of the March 9 handover agreement gradually handed over responsibility for most of the 3,000 detainees held at the prison. As some may have been released or others brought in, the prison's current detainee population under US control is not known but is thought to number in the hundreds.
The US recently suspended the transfer of new detainees apparently because of disagreements with Kabul, which has questioned the long-term detention of suspects without charge after their capture.
The US reportedly fears that Afghan authorities may simply let some detainees go, and appears reluctant to turn over all the suspects it holds.
American irritation was apparent at the ceremony, where the US military was represented by 42nd Military Police Brigade Commander Col. Robert Taradash, who runs the facility. No higher ranking American officers went, although the Afghan government sent its defence Minister Enayatullah Nazari and the army chief of staff.
According to Farouk, the US has transferred 3,082 detainees but was still in the process of transferring another 600 captured after the March agreement. The US will also continue to hold about 50 non-Afghan prisoners that are not covered by the agreement on a small part of the facility that they will still administer.
They are thought to include Pakistanis and other foreigners either captured in Afghanistan or transferred to Bagram from other wars.
The disagreement indicates the tense relations between the US-led Nato military coalition and Karzai, but is not expected to impact military operations around Afghanistan. It is also unlikely to affect the gradual handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces.