Afghan President Hamid Karzai has criticized the U.S. military for violating an agreement and illegally continuing to hold Afghans as prisoners against the orders of the Afghan government and courts.
The deal, signed in March, gave the US six months to transfer the captured Afghans – an agreement the US has not upheld. Karzai released a statement Monday calling the failure to hand over detainees “a serious breach of the Memorandum of Understanding.” The Afghan president also ordered his forces to seize control of the Parwan detention facility, where US forces continue to hold prisoners in a closed-off section, many of which were recently captured.
Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi told reporters that US troops are illegally holding more than 70 detainees whose release has been ordered by Afghan courts. Afghan courts have acquitted 57 of these prisoners, but the US has still refused to let them go, citing them as a danger to US national security.
The two countries had signed a detainee transfer pact in March, giving the US six months to hand over control of detention facilities and detainees to the Afghans in preparation of the 2014 US withdrawal. Although the official handover occurred in September, the US refused to turn over several hundred prisoners that they felt were too dangerous or that they captured after the deal was signed.
Faizi said hundreds of new prisoners are now being held in the Parwan detention facility and that US night raids have taken in about 100 additional Afghans per month.
US military officials argued that Afghanistan was not ready to take control of all prisoners. They have also demanded that Afghans agree to hold some detainees, who are considered too dangerous to be freed, without a trial. But imprisonment without a trial is against Afghan law, Faizi said. The spokesman told reporters that the Obama administration had been given a two-month extension to make an alternative proposal to holding detainees without trial. But this grace period has now ended.
“These acts are completely against the agreement that has been signed between Afghanistan and the US president,” Karzai’s statement read.
“There is nothing by the name of ‘administrative detention’ in our laws, yet the US is insisting that there are a number of people who, while there is not enough evidence against them, are a threat to US national security,” Faizi said.
The US military has not yet made a response to the accusations, but the Karzai’s statement was released at a sensitive time. The two countries started negotiations on a bilateral security agreement last week to come up with cooperation principles that would respect Afghan sovereignty while also reducing the risk for international terrorism. The agreement reached by these negotiations will determine the extent of US military presence in Afghanistan after the majority of troops withdraw in 2014.
The handover of the prison and its detainees is expected to play a significant role in future US-Afghan relations, but has long been a tense subject for both sides.
“It’s an issue of sovereignty for the government of Afghanistan, and to General Allen it’s a matter of security for the coalition troops,” an American official told the New York Times, speaking on condition of anonymity. “You can’t just bring these guys in and let them go.”
And as the two countries continue to discuss Afghan sovereignty this week, Karzai’s frustration is likely to make them awkward.