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U.S. Hands Over Bagram Prison To Afghans

Watchtowers along the perimeter of the Bagram prison (file photo)
The United States has formally handed over control of Bagram prison to Afghan authorities.

The transfer ceremony at the prison was presided over by Afghan officials and attended by very few figures from the U.S. military or the NATO-led international coalition.

The move has been seen as a major step toward Afghan sovereignty as the international coalition prepares to leave the country by the end of 2014.

Afghanistan and the United States signed an agreement on March 9 to begin a six-month process to transfer control of the jail, north of Kabul, to Afghan authorities.

Afghan Forces 'Well-Trained'

Acting Afghan Defense Minister Enayatullah Nazari said his forces were ready to take over duties at the prison.

"Our Afghan security forces are well-trained and we are happy that today they are exercising their capability by taking the responsibility for guarding the prisoners independently," Nazari said. "We are taking the responsibility from foreign forces."

The outgoing foreign commander of the detention facility, U.S. Colonel Robert Taradash, formally ceded responsibility for the prison to Afghan authorities.

"We transferred more than 3,000 Afghan detainees into your custody at an expedient rate and ensured that those who would threaten the partnership of Afghanistan and coalition forces would not return to the battlefield," Taradash said.

Questions remain, however, over who has authority over some 50 foreign prisoners and several hundred Afghans who were detained after the March agreement was signed.

The commander of Afghanistan's military police, Safiullah Safi, confirmed that "3,182 prisoners were handed over" to his department during the September 10 transfer.

Talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. officials on September 8 failed to resolve the issue.

U.S. Keeps Some Authority

NATO spokesman Jamie Graybeal said "99 percent" of detainees held before the March agreement have been handed over to the Afghans. He added that the United States retains the authority to detain suspects.

U.S. advisers will remain at the prison and the U.S. military will retain control over the foreign detainees until March 9, 2013, Graybeal said.

The United States has faced allegations that inmates have been tortured and killed there. In January, an Afghan government report alleged torture at the prison but provided few details.

In February, U.S. troops at Bagram inadvertently burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, sparking days of protests and killings across the country.

However, some former detainees have expressed concerns that conditions for prisoners could worsen now that Bagram is under Afghan control.

Based on reporting by AFP and BBC