U.S., Afghan Officials Sign Prison Agreement

U.S. and Afghan negotiators appear to have cleared one major obstacle to a Status of Forces agreement that would govern the U.S. military presence in the country after NATO's drawdown in 2014. Friday's agreement resolves a dispute over control of Parwan prison where many Taliban suspects are detained.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Afghanistan today, a small breakthrough that may help avert a major crisis. U.S. and Afghan officials signed an agreement regarding the largest American-run prison in the country. This is the same prison where last month U.S. soldiers burned several copies of the Quran, setting off riots and reprisal attacks on Americans. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: For months, Afghanistan's future relationship with the United States, and many would say Afghanistan's future stability, have been on hold, waiting for a strategic partnership agreement that will finally determine how much aid and how many troops will be committed to Afghanistan after 2014. Two issues blocked the way. President Karzai had insisted that the U.S. commit to ending American-led night raids and turn over all authority at detention facilities to the Afghan government. Today, one of those hurdles appears to have fallen.

GENERAL JOHN ALLEN: This is an important day, and I would like to start by associating...

LAWRENCE: Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, signed a memorandum of understanding about the transfer, in six months, of the Parwan prison, north of Kabul.

ALLEN: Today sets in motion the orderly transfer of the detention facility at Parwan, the process that we have been pursuing for some time. This is an important step. It's a step forward in our strategic partnership negotiations.

LAWRENCE: The deal puts an Afghan general nominally in charge of the facility from today, though an American military commander will remain in effective control. Over the next six months, the 3,000-plus prisoners will be transferred from American to Afghan custody, and then American officials will step back into an advisory role. The agreement was nearly derailed this week because of what was seen as an unreasonable demand by President Karzai that the detention facility be transferred immediately.

Human rights advocates worried about Afghanistan's record of prisoner abuse. American officials feared Taliban prisoners might bribe their way to freedom. U.S. diplomats began to use language implying that the entire future commitment to Afghanistan was at risk. That pressure, along with a call from President Barack Obama, appeared to tip the scales, and Karzai agreed to a deal. U.S. and Afghan officials hope a full strategic partnership document can be signed before the NATO conference in Chicago this may. Quil Lawrence, NPR news, Kabul.

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