The drawdown of NATO forces in Afghanistan will make it increasingly more difficult to find out if prisoners transferred to Afghan authorities are being tortured, officials with the international military coalition said Wednesday.
NATO forces regularly hand Afghans that they have captured over to Afghan authorities after they have decided that the detainees are no longer an immediate threat. But the coalition stopped such transfers to 16 Afghan detention facilities in September after U.N. investigators found evidence of torture at those prisons.
Since then, NATO has started an intensive program of inspections and trainings at the flagged prisons, and has recommenced prisoner transfers to 12 of the facilities that it says have instituted reforms. Afghan authorities at first rejected any accusations of abuse but have since worked with NATO on the reform programs, said German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a NATO spokesman.
However, Jacobson noted that while NATO is required to stop transfers if there is any reasonable suspicion of mistreatment of prisoners, there is no systematic program of monitoring of prisoners by the international military. Instead, NATO relies on reports from soldiers in the field and independent groups such as the United Nations.
"We are not responsible to inspect all the prisons. We are responsible for the detainees. When we have reasonable doubt with an installation where detainees are transferred to, then we have to stop the transfer to that installation," Jacobson said. There are about 100 Afghan detention facilities across the country, he said.
"What we will lose is the soldiers who are in the area permanently and give us the reasonable doubt, so the reliance on the United Nations becomes bigger in those areas," Jacobson said.
Maj. Carl Dick, who is working on the re-certification of the 16 prisons where abuse was found, said there will simply be less military reporting as areas transition from NATO to Afghan government control. NATO forces have already started drawing down in Afghanistan, and the aim is to have the Afghan government in control of security countrywide by the end of 2014.
"We do not have troops standing around waiting to drive around to every prison facility," Dick said. "We are here in a hard insurgency fight, and we are losing 30,000 troops by the end of November."
The question of how to handle Afghan detainees has continued to be problematic for international forces trying to reduce their presence here. The U.S. has repeatedly delayed the handover of its largest detention facility to the Afghan government, saying that the Afghans are not ready to take full control of a facility that includes many high-value insurgents.
President Hamid Karzai has taken up the cause as a matter of national sovereignty and has now set a deadline of March 9 for the Afghan government to take control of the Parwan Detention Facility _ which holds 3,000 detainees including Afghans and foreign nationals.