KABUL, Aug 4: Washington has agreed to transfer most of the several hundred Afghans held at US military bases in Cuba and Afghanistan to the custody of the Afghan government, a joint statement said on Thursday. The statement said both President George W. Bush and Hamid Karzai had “expressed a strong desire to return Afghan detainees to Afghanistan” when the two leaders met in Washington in May.

“Today... Afghanistan and the United States reached an understanding that will allow the gradual transfer of Afghan detainees to the exclusive custody and control of the Afghan government,” it said. Karzai’s spokesman Khaleeq Ahmed said Afghan prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and the US detention facilities in Afghanistan would be handed over to the custody of Afghan authorities.

There are 510 prisoners of 36 nationalities at Guantanamo Bay including more than 100 Afghans.

“The government of Afghanistan will accept responsibility for the returning Afghan citizens and will work to ensure that they do not pose a continuing threat to Afghanistan, the coalition, or the international community as a whole,” the statement said.

The US is prepared to help Afghanistan in capacity-building, including infrastructure, and to provide training as appropriate, it added. Not all Afghans will be handed over with some remaining at Guantanamo indefinitely.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the agreement extends to Afghan detainees being held at a US military detention centre in Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan as well as those detained at Guantanamo.

“There are approximately 110 Afghan detainees under US control in Guantanamo, and somewhere around 350 I believe at the facility in Bagram,” he told reporters in Washington.

Whitman said the transfers would not begin until a new facility was built with US aid in Afghanistan to hold the returning prisoners.

“The disposition of the detainees will be the decision of the Afghan government,” Whitman said.

“As part of the agreement, the government of Afghanistan will take all the necessary steps that are appropriate under Afghan law to prevent these individuals from engaging or facilitating terrorist activities.”

Senior US diplomat Pierre-Richard Prosper said last month that 15 foreign prisoners held by the US of different nationalities had been selected to be tried by special military commissions. Four of them have been charged.

US authorities have already released a number of Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay since their capture in late 2001 after the ousting of the Taliban regime.—AFP

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