British forces to hand detainees back to Afghanistan authorities

Decision follows claims last week that up to 90 Afghans were being held 'illegally' at Camp Bastion

Afghan detainees being held by British forces will be handed back to their own country's authorities, the Ministry of Defence has announced.

The transfer of detainees had been suspended in November amid concerns prisoners were being mistreated, but now, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond now says the moves are safe.

The decision follows revelations that last week up to 90 Afghans were being held by British forces at Camp Bastion, after which Mr Hammond suggested that the detainees could be handed over.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the suspects claimed their internment could have been unlawful, bringing High Court action on behalf of two of the men.

British forces in Afghanistan are allowed to detain suspects for a maximum of 96 hours, except in "exceptional circumstances," but some detainees were being held for up to 14 months.

nnouncing the resumption of transfers, the MoD today said the UK would not transfer detainees to any facility where there was a risk of mistreatment but has been working with Afghan authorities to find a safe way to transfer detainees into the country's judicial system.

Many are suspected of involvement in the preparation, facilitation, or laying of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), against UK forces, or were picked up at the scene of shootings of British troops, the MoD said, and have been held pending transfer to Afghan authorities for prosecution.

Mr Hammond has now decided it is safe to transfer detainees to the Afghan National Detention Facility in Parwan, at the US military airfield in Bagram, which is operated and controlled by the Afghan National Army, with support from the US.

Interested parties have been notified of plans to resume transfers after 21 days, the MoD said.

It said British troops can detain suspected extremists captured on the battlefield under the authority of the UN Security mandate, and detainees are held where there is evidence linking them to criminal activity, before being transferred to Afghan authorities for further investigation before prosecution.

Announcing the restart of the transfers, Mr Hammond said: "We have been working to identify a safe transfer route to Afghan custody and I am pleased that this work has come to fruition.

"I very much hope we do not face any further legal impediments in the British courts which could prevent us from transferring these detainees and force us to hold them for even longer in Camp Bastion.

"The facility at Parwan is run by the Afghan National Army, trained and mentored by US forces, and has received positive reports from humanitarian organisations that monitor conditions.

"Our coalition allies also now transfer detainees to the same Afghan facility. I am confident the safeguards in place will ensure detainees will not be at risk of mistreatment.

"Detaining individuals on the battlefield is crucial to stopping those who intend to kill British servicemen and women.

"Our troops must be able to detain enemies on the battlefield and debrief them for intelligence purposes and will continue to do so before transferring them into the Afghan judicial system."

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