KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that the U.S. detention center at Bagram Air Base be handed over to Afghan control within a month, along with all Afghan citizens held by the coalition troops across the nation.
Meanwhile, three NATO service members were killed in an explosion in the south of the country, the coalition said. It did not provide any other details about the incident.
A presidential statement said that keeping Afghan citizens imprisoned without trial violates the country’s constitution, as well as international human rights conventions.
The prison, inside the sprawling U.S. base at Bagram north of Kabul, abuts a well-known public detention center known as Parwan, which is run jointly by Afghan authorities and the U.S. military.
It’s unclear how many high-value detainees are being held at the U.S. facility. Human rights groups have claimed that detainees were menaced, forced to strip naked and kept in solitary confinement in windowless cells.
A statement from Karzai’s office said he issued instructions to a commission consisting of the ministers of defense, interior and justice, as well as other top government and judicial officials, “to complete their job regarding the handing over of the [Bagram] prison and other prisoners who are held by foreign forces.”
“The work should be completed within a month,” it said.
The U.S.-led NATO coalition is gradually handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan police and army. The process is due to be completed in 2014, when most foreign troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Karzai’s demands are the most recent in a series of exercises in political brinksmanship by the president, as he tries to bolster his negotiating position ahead of renewed talks for a Strategic Partnership Document with America that will determine the U.S. role in Afghanistan after 2014.
Among the conditions that Karzai has set is an end to night raids by international troops and complete Afghan control over detainees.
Karzai is walking a tightrope. Although he routinely plays to anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan by denouncing the U.S., he needs America’s military and financial strength to back his weak government as it battles the Taliban insurgency.
The CIA’s infamous secret network of “black site” interrogation centers is now gone, but suspected terrorists in Afghanistan are being held and interrogated for weeks at temporary sites, including one run by elite special operations forces at Bagram Air Base. The detainees include those suspected of top roles in the Taliban, al-Qaida or other militant groups.
Also Thursday, Afghan police said they arrested two British private security contractors and two Afghan colleagues after finding a cache of weapons in their vehicle. They are being held for investigation into illegal arms transport.
Karzai has ordered all the protection companies shut down by March and replaced by a unified government-run protection force, though recruitment is proceeding at a slow place.
Authorities ordered the immediate shutdown of Afghanistan operations of their company, the international security consulting firm GardaWorld, and are questioning other company employees.
In the latest violence, attackers gunned down a local government official on his way to a mosque in southern Afghanistan in another hit on a government figure. Hundreds of Afghan government officials have been killed in recent years as the Taliban pursue a sweeping assassination campaign seeking to weaken confidence Karzai’s administration and discourage people from joining the government.
Haji Fazel Mohammad was shot on his way to evening prayers Wednesday in the volatile district of Sangin in Helmand province, the governor’s office said. The attackers escaped.
The Taliban’s assassination campaign has also hit senior figures.
In September, a suicide attacker with a bomb in his turban killed former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led a government council seeking a political settlement with the insurgents. The assassin was posing as a Taliban peace emissary.
Associated Press reporters Kay Johnson, Patrick Quinn and Ahmen Massieh Neshad contributed to this report.