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US to Conclude Probe into Treatment of Afghanistan Detainees Soon - 2004-06-01

The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan says he expects an investigation into the treatment of Afghan detainees in U.S. custody to finish in the next two weeks. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Lieutenant General David Barno described the probe into U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan as a "top to bottom review."

The investigation follows allegations that some Afghan detainees were beaten and sexually abused while in U.S. custody, mirroring similar charges against U.S. troops in Iraq.

General Barno says the investigation should finish by mid-June and that he will act on the findings.

"I intend to take rapid action on any areas of concern," he said. "I continue to expect that all of our forces will treat every detainee here with dignity and respect."

The U.S. military currently operates a main detention center at its headquarters at Bagram Air Base, and 19 temporary holding facilities throughout the country, though some of those are sometimes vacant.

The U.S. military is also conducting separate inquiries into the deaths of three detainees over the past 18 months, but has yet to say when those investigations will conclude.

Human rights groups are asking the U.S. military to allow independent observers into Afghan prison facilities, a request the military declines, citing security concerns.

U.S. forces do allow members of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the detainees at Bagram and are considering expanding the visits, but rights advocates note the Red Cross reports are not made public.

The U.S. forces currently hold some 400 Afghans in detention, many in connection with the armed insurgency by remnants of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime.

Attacks on Afghan and U.S. targets by the Taleban and their allies, including members of the al-Qaida network, have increased in recent months.

General Barno says the violence is an effort by the insurgents to disrupt planned elections for Afghanistan's post-Taleban government.

"As the September elections approach, we can expect to see additional attempts by remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida to disrupt and undermine Afghanistan's democratic process," he said.

He says Afghan and U.S. forces are prepared for further Taleban attacks and are determined to provide a safe environment for the elections.