Hagel, Karzai search for common ground on postwar detainee deal

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Afghan President Hamid Karzai attempted to find some common ground over the ongoing dispute regarding the handover of terror suspects under U.S. custody in Afghanistan.

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The Pentagon chief spoke with Karzai on Saturday "to discuss issues of shared concern, including detentions," according to a Pentagon statement.

Both agreed to begin laying the groundwork on a detainee transfer deal that "that fully recognizes Afghan sovereignty and our mutual interests in security of the Afghan people and our respective forces," according to the statement.

On Monday, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the head of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said U.S. and Afghan negotiators are working "as expeditiously as possible" to come up with a handover plan that guarantees the safety of U.S. personnel in country while respecting Afghan sovereignty.

The issue between U.S. and Afghan leaders is how to hand over the hundreds of terror suspects in American custody at Parwan prison at Bagram Air Force Base to Kabul.

The handover is part of the Pentagon and White House's plan to fully transition all security operations in the country to the Karzai government by 2014, which is when all U.S. combat troops are scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan.

Control over the prison was handed to Kabul in September, but U.S. commanders opted to retain custody on a number of detainees as part of the deal. The decision drew sharp criticism from Kabul, who claimed the move infringed on Afghan sovereignty.

The White House on Monday said it remains "fully committed" to the complete transfer of Parwan to the Karzai government and the Afghan National Security Forces.

"We respect Afghan sovereignty and intend to proceed with the transfer once we have reached full agreement," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Monday.

But Karzai's demands on detainee policy, among other issues tied to the pending U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, have drawn the ire of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The Afghan's president's allegations of American commanders collaborating with the Taliban, as a way to usurp the Karzai government, drew particular scorn from Senate Republicans.

Karzai's comments and behavior "is not helpful in any way" as U.S. and NATO forces prepare to withdraw from the country over the next year, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told The Hill on Tuesday.

The kind of rhetoric coming out of Kabul in recent weeks reinforces the need for the White House to set up a long-term, postwar agreement with Afghanistan before the 2014 withdrawal, according to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

"It means we need to either have a permanent [security] agreement post-2014 or make plans to leave" on schedule, McCain said Tuesday.

"Right now, [Karzai] does not know, I do not know, nobody knows what the post-2014 [U.S] troop presence will be -- and that is what the Afghan people are most interested in," he added.

Dunford, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, on Thursday voiced their support to deploy 13,600 American forces in postwar Afghanistan.

The postwar plan backed by Dunford coincides with recommendations made by former Central Command chief Gen. James Mattis, who outlined that 13,600 U.S. force to the White House and Pentagon earlier this year.

The White House has reportedly championed a postwar U.S. force of between 8,000 to 10,000 troops. Administration officials have also floated the notion of leaving no American soldiers behind after the withdrawal deadline.

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