WASHINGTON — After months of delays and recriminations by U.S. and Afghan officials, the Pentagon announced Saturday that a deal had been reached to transfer control of Bagram Prison to the Afghan government.
The agreement would bring to a close a particularly acrimonious chapter of America’s relationship with the government of President Hamid Karzai, who at the last minute backed out of a plan to sign a transfer deal during a visit to Kabul by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this month. On Saturday, a Pentagon spokesman said that the transfer would take place Monday.
U.S. officials gave few details Saturday about the specific terms of the deal, but one senior defense official said the Afghans had offered ‘‘private assurances’’ that detainees whom the United States considers to be most dangerous would not be released. The official said the United States would be able to advise Afghan officials on a process to determine whether prisoners should be released, but that ‘‘final decisions will be Afghan.’’
The biggest issue holding up the prison transfer was a U.S. demand for veto power over whom the Afghans would release from Bagram, which the U.S. military calls the Detention Facility in Parwan.
Concerned about insurgents returning to the battlefield after being freed, U.S. military commanders also wanted promises that the Karzai government would not release certain prisoners deemed ‘‘enduring security threats,’’ even if they could not be prosecuted in court for offenses they are accused of.
In addition, U.S. officials wanted regular access to Afghan-run cellblocks to ensure that detainees were not being abused.
Bagram, the only remaining U.S. prison for the long-term detention of those suspected of being insurgents in Afghanistan, holds nearly 4,000 prisoners. Transfer of the prison’s oversight is considered a crucial step in the gradual winding down of America’s war in Afghanistan.
George Little, the Pentagon spokesman, said the agreement was reached in Kabul and that Hagel and Karzai spoke Saturday after an ‘‘intensified round of discussions this week between U.S. and Afghan officials.’’
Little said ‘‘the transfer will be carried out in a way that ensures the safety of the Afghan people and coalition forces by keeping dangerous individuals detained in a secure and humane manner in accordance with Afghan law.’’
Bagram Prison has long been a controversial symbol of U.S. power in Afghanistan. It was notorious during the early years of the Afghan war as a site of detainee abuses, and Afghan officials have repeatedly cited the need to take control of the prison as a matter of national pride.
More than a year ago, U.S. and Afghan officials negotiated a deal to give control of the prison to Karzai’s government within six months, and several thousand prisoners at Bagram were transferred into Afghan control at the prison. But last fall, both countries disagreed about how to handle hundreds of new prisoners who had been captured on the battlefield, and the transfer negotiations languished.
Then, just weeks ago, a ceremony to officially transfer control of the prison during Hagel’s visit to Kabul was canceled at the last minute when Karzai objected to several provisions in the proposed agreement.Thom Shanker contributed reporting.