The U.S. has agreed to transfer its main prison in Afghanistan to the government of PresidentHamid Karzai within six months, a step that may advance an accord for some American forces to stay in the country beyond 2014.
U.S. Marine General John Allen signed the agreement with the Afghan defense minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, according to an e-mailed statement today from the International Security Assistance Force, which Allen commands. The military prison is next to the U.S.-run Bagram air base, where the burning last month of Korans culled from the prison library led to nationwide riots and the killing of six U.S. soldiers.
Karzai has called control of the prison an obstacle to talks with the U.S. on an agreement in which some U.S. forces may stay in Afghanistan beyond the planned pullout of international combat units in 2014. Last month, Karzai set today as a deadline for the U.S. to transfer the prison.
“The signing of this memorandum is an important step forward in our Strategic Partnership negotiations” with Karzai’s government, Allen said, according to the statement.
Today’s agreement didn’t resolve the other stumbling block to a strategic partnership that Karzai has cited, a demand for an end to U.S. nighttime raids on suspected Taliban forces.
Afghanistan’s defense minister will name a three-star Army general as the prison’s next commander in a few days to work on the transfer of authority, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.
U.S. officials will retain a veto over the release of any of the roughly 3,000 prisoners, most of them suspected Taliban guerrillas, according to unnamed U.S. officials cited by the New York Times.
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