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Karzai Says Guantanamo Closure Will Help Fight Terrorism

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has welcomed the new U.S. administration's decision to close the Guantanamo prison, saying it would help build international support for the fight against terrorism.

Many Afghans detained since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government after the September 11 attacks are still held in Guantanamo, hurting the standing of the United States in Afghanistan where some 30,000 U.S. troops are fighting a virulent Taliban insurgency.

"This good decision of the United States government will help find support among the international community for the fight against terrorism and include all nations in this fight," Karzai said in a statement.

"Closing this will have a good impact, a significant impact on the minds of Afghans here in Afghanistan," said Karzai's spokesman Humayun Hamidzada. "We see it as extremely important and timely and we appreciate the decision taken by the new administration."

The prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba -- where prisoners have been detained for years without charge, some subjected to interrogation that human rights groups say amounted to torture -- had damaged America's moral standing in the world.

President Barack Obama has ordered a full review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, where he is expected to approve plans to as much as double troop levels.

More than seven years after the war began in Afghanistan, violence has reached its worst levels yet with the Taliban insurgency entrenched in the south and east of the country and gaining influence in areas closer to the capital, Kabul.

Afghan rights campaigners called for the United States to also close its detention facility at its base at Bagram, north of Kabul, where they say some 600 prisoners are being held.

Karzai's spokesman said this should be carried out gradually.

"As we rebuild our justice system, as we rebuild our law enforcement capabilities and can ensure there will be due process provided, we do expect the detainees to be gradually and slowly transferred to Afghan custody by mutual agreement," he said.