US cedes full control of Bagram to Afghan forces

US cedes full control of Bagram to Afghan forces

KABUL - Agence France-Presse
US cedes full control of Bagram to Afghan forces

Afghan detainees are seen through a wire mesh fence inside the Parwan detention facility near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. AP photo

Afghanistan took full control of Bagram military prison from the United States, healing one running problem in their testy relationship as U.S.-led forces wind down more than a decade of war.

President Hamid Karzai had made the fate of the detention center north of Kabul part of his ill-tempered push to regain sovereignty over key matters from the Americans, ahead of next year’s pullout of foreign combat troops.

Total handover will aid al-Qaeda

The United States was long concerned that a total handover to Afghanistan’s weak and corruption-prone security forces would allow suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda militants housed at Bagram to return to the battlefield.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel clinched an agreement with Karzai in a telephone call on March 23, the Pentagon said, and the handover ceremony took place. Bagram was due to be turned over to Afghan forces on March 9, but the transfer was postponed at the last minute after Karzai indicated that “innocent” prisoners held there would be released.

In September the U.S. gave Afghan authorities control over more than 3,000 detainees at Bagram, once dubbed the Guantanamo Bay of Afghanistan because some inmates are detained without trial or knowledge of any charges.

But the Americans continued to guard 50 foreigners not covered by the agreement, as well as hundreds of Afghans arrested since a transfer deal was first signed in March 2012.

Their extended control sparked angry outbursts from Karzai that the U.S. military was coming to be seen as an “occupation” force as it battles a long-running Taliban insurgency.