By Jeremy Herb - 12/31/13 10:10 AM EST
The Obama administration on Tuesday transferred the last three ethnic Chinese Uighur detainees from Guantánamo Bay.
The three detainees — Yusef Abbas, Saidullah Khalik and Hajiakbar Abdul Ghuper — were sent to Slovakia, increasing the number of detainees to leave Guantánamo this year to 11.
The Pentagon called the transfer a “significant milestone” in the administration’s efforts to close the detention facility.
“The United States is grateful to the government of Slovakia for this humanitarian gesture and its willingness to support U.S. efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
“The United States coordinated with the government of Slovakia to ensure the transfer took place in accordance with appropriate security and humane treatment measures,” Kirby said.
The uptick in transfers comes as President Obama made a new push this year to close the detention facility. He appointed two envoys at the State Department and Pentagon to oversee the transfers.
Many hurdles remain for the White House, however, before it could close Guantánamo, one of Obama's first pledges when he took office in 2009.
Obama won a victory on detainee transfers in this year’s Defense authorization bill. While the legislation he signed into law last week barred transfers to the United States, it loosened the restrictions on the administration to move detainees to foreign countries.
There were 22 Uighur detainees at Guantánamo Bay from a region in western China. In 2008, a judge ordered the remaining 17 to be released, after the government said it could not prove they were enemy combatants.
The United States did not want to send the detainees to China, due to concerns they would be persecuted there.