Real progress on Afghanistan's detention system

Saturday, March 12, 2011; 6:22 PM

The March 6 news story "Afghan prison an insurgent breeding ground" painted a bleak picture of detentions in Afghanistan. Yet we've seen significant progress this year that I'd like to share.

We are working with our Afghan partners to create a fair corrections system and to prevent prisons from becoming places of radicalization. In doing so, we have been committed to transparency; the International Red Cross said in January that it is "satisfied with the relationship we have with the Department of Defense on access questions, and also on the type of dialogue that we have on recommendations."

Our largest facility, in Parwan, is state of the art. Completed in September 2009, it is run jointly by U.S. and Afghan forces, can hold up to 2,200 inmates, and teaches literacy and vocational classes in an effort to rehabilitate inmates.

We understand that U.S. detention cannot be the solution to this conflict. The transition of detention operations to Afghan control is going well, and our experiences at Parwan give us confidence in Afghan capabilities. More than 700 fully trained Afghan National Army Military Police soldiers are standing guard beside their U.S. counterparts, overseeing the orderly prosecution of captured fighters under Afghan law.

Two years ago, there was a Taliban wing at Afghanistan's Pol-e-Charki prison that was fully inaccessible to the guard force and, consequently, operated as a madrassa. Today, in part because of reforms and guidance from our task force, the prison is under control.

More will be required to stamp out smuggling and inmate insubordination, and reforms take time. But we should not lose sight of how far Afghanistan has come in a short time.

Robert S. Harward, Kabul

The writer, a Navy vice admiral, is commander of Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435, which is responsible for U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan.

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