The U.S. will maintain control of part of the main jail in Afghanistan and also keep custody of an undisclosed number of prisoners despite the agreement to turn over full operational command of the facility to the Afghans, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
With the permission of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the U.S. "will retain a portion of the Afghan National Detention Facility-Parwan for the secure and humane care, custody and control of third-country nationals, in accordance with international humanitarian law and U.S. law," a U.S. spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul said in an e-mail statement to Military.com.
The status of the third-country nationals, or TCNs as the U.S. military calls them, had been a main sticking point in the lengthy and fractious negotiations that led to the turnover to the Afghans on Monday of the Parwan jail near Bagram Air Base, which is about 25 miles north of Kabul.
Karzai and other Afghan officials had long demanded custody of the thousands of Afghan nationals held at Parwan, but had refused to accept custody of the TCNs, saying they were barred from doing so by the Afghan constitution. The Afghans also balked at U.S. requests to hold the prisoners indefinitely.
The TCNs are Pakistanis, Saudis, Tunisians, Yemenis and other third-county nationals who have been captured since 9/11.
Human rights groups have charged that the population of TCNs held by the U.S. also includes several foreign nationals who were captured outside Afghanistan, held at CIA black sites and then transferred to Parwan.
The ISAF spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Les Carroll, said Defense and State Department officials were reviewing the cases of the TCNs "to determine appropriate dispositions."
The U.S. has routinely declined comment on how many prisoners are being held, and for what reasons.
"As a matter of operational security and for legal reasons, we do not discuss the number of detainees currently being held by U.S. Forces," Carroll said. Human rights groups have estimated that about 50 TCNs are currently at Parwan.
The turnover agreement also appeared to give the U.S. veto power over the release to Afghan custody of another 30 to 40 prisoners who have been designated by the U.S. military as "Enduring Security Threats," or ESTs.
The U.S. fears that Afghan courts would release the ESTs, who would quickly return to the battlefield and pose a threat to the withdrawing coalition forces.
Since the drawn-out transfer process began more than a year ago, the Afghans have released more than 1,300 prisoners who have come into their custody, Afghan officials said.
The final transfer deal was announced Monday during the visit to Kabul by Secretary of State John Kerry, who was making his first trip to Afghanistan as the nation’s chief diplomat.