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US Reaches Deal With Afghanistan to Turn Over Detainees

Afghan detainees, seen through a mesh wire fence, prepare for noon prayers inside the Parwan detention facility near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, March 23, 2011.

U.S. and Afghan officials reached an agreement Friday to accelerate the transfer of U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan to the Kabul government.

The memorandum of understanding signed Friday by Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak and U.S. General John Allen, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, resolves a contentious issue that threatened to derail the development of a long-term partnership between the two countries.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had demanded immediate Afghan control of the detainees. American officials said they needed at least a six-month transition period.

The compromise reached in the memorandum of understanding would give an Afghan immediate official control of detainees as soon as a commander of detention facilities is appointed. But it also calls for a six-month transition period, during which American officials will maintain day-to-day control in the detainment facilities and will provide technical assistance for one year after that.

In addition, under the terms of the memorandum of understanding, the Afghan government is required to consult with the U.S. before releasing any of the transferred detainees, and to "consider favorably" any U.S. request not to release a detainee deemed likely to engage in or facilitate terrorist activity.

In signing the agreement, Afghanistan's government also affirms it has established an administrative detention regime that complies with its international obligations regarding the humane treatment of prisoners.

General Allen says the memorandum of understanding demonstrates the resolve of both countries to work together toward common goals.

"It is yet another example of the progress of transition, and our efforts to ensure that Afghanistan can never again be a safe haven for terrorists," said Allen.

President Karzai had set Friday as the deadline for handover of control of the detention center in Parwan, located next to the American military based at Bagram, outside of Kabul. Most of 3,000 prisoners held there are suspected Taliban insurgents. Last month, U.S. soldiers at the base inadvertently burned Qurans, provoking a week of violent anti-American protests.

The memorandum of understanding signed Friday removes a major obstacle in developing a strategic partnership that will define the U.S. role in Afghanistan after most of the 98,000 U.S. combat troops are withdrawn in 2014.

There is a still a major disagreement over night raids by the American military. President Karzai wants to end them.

Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak says progress is also being made on that issue.

He says finalizing the special operations issue based on conditions sets by Afghanistan will pave the way for the signing of a strategic partnership agreement.

U.S. and Afghan officials have said they want to have a strategic partnership document signed in time for the NATO summit set to be held in Chicago in May.