KABUL — The US military prison known as Bagram, a hated symbol of US interference in Afghan affairs, was officially transferred to Afghan control Monday.
The long-demanded handoff of Parwan detention center, the facility’s official name, occurred amid tensions between Washington and Kabul over the army’s ability to guarantee security at the prison and the court system’s preparedness to adjudicate detainee cases competently.
Pledges of mutual cooperation masked a behind-the-scenes dispute over about three dozen captives whom the United States has refused to release. The US-led military coalition also held back the transfer of more than 600 more recently captured prisoners, but officials said that process would begin next week.
Even some Afghan officials fear that courts will end up releasing dangerous captives from the prison, because judges here often do not accept evidence gathered from intelligence sources. The United States has held some suspected militants for years on the basis of classified, undisclosed evidence, drawing international criticism. Allegations of abuse of detainees at the prison have stoked anti-American feeling.
Not long after Monday’s ceremony, a suicide bomber targeted police in the northern city of Kunduz, killing 15 people and wounding about 25, local officials said. The attack demonstrated the continued danger posed by militants. Many observers say the Taliban insurgency has regained its strength, despite upbeat assessments by US commanders who say the movement has been curtailed.
At the midmorning ceremony, the Afghan army formally took custody of hundreds of inmates accused of fighting for or supporting the Taliban and other Islamic militants battling Afghan, US, and NATO forces during the 11-year war.
The handover marked a victory for President Hamid Karzai, fulfilling an agreement he struck six months ago with the United States. Karzai did not attend the ceremony at the Bagram air base, 30 miles from Kabul, but he dispatched top generals and ministers to talk glowingly of the transition.
‘‘It is a matter of great happiness and pride that a major step is being taken for the restoration of Afghanistan’s national sovereignty, the rule of law and justice,’’ said Justice Minister Habibullah Ghalib.
General Sher Mohammad Karimi, the country’s top military commander, also sat in the reviewing stand, overlooking hundreds of assembled troops at rigid attention. Afterward, he expressed confidence that his army has the capacity to operate and secure Parwan. ‘‘We may have some challenges, but gradually we will overcome the challenges,’’ Karimi said.
The prison handover is part of the larger transitioning of security responsibilities to the Afghan forces — the linchpin of the US plan to pull out its combat troops at the end of 2014.
The ceremony included the hoisting of the Afghan flag and exclamations of ‘‘God is great’’ by the troops. The Afghan government provided helicopter transport to more than 50 local and foreign journalists to chronicle the event.
Army Colonel Robert Taradash, who has overseen the prison, represented coalition forces. He said the United States had fulfilled its side of the March 9 agreement with Karzai.
At one point, Parwan held more than 3,000 inmates, but hundreds have been transferred to other facilities or released, Afghan officials said. One Afghan official familiar with the process, speaking on condition of anonymity because his account contradicted those by the government, said there were some prisoners released ‘‘who promptly joined the Taliban.’’
The United States also will retain custody of nearly 50 foreign nationals at Parwan — many of them Pakistanis accused of fighting for the Taliban. ‘‘We are not interested in them,’’ said Zahir Azimi, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman. The US-led military coalition, in a statement Sunday night, alluded to concerns about transferring some of the high-value detainees to Afghan custody but did not give specifics.