Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

U.S. mulls Taliban transfer from Gitmo

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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is considering a new gambit to restart peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan that would send several Taliban detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan officials told The Associated Press.

Under the proposal, some Taliban fighters or affiliates captured in the early days of the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan then sent to Guantanamo under the label of enemy combatants would be transferred out of full U.S. control but not released. Guantanamo prisoners would go to a detention facility adjacent to Bagram air field, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, officials of both governments said.

The new compromise is intended to boost the credibility of the U.S.-backed Afghan government. President Hamid Karzai and U.S. officials are trying to draw the Taliban back to negotiations toward a peace deal between the national Afghan government and the Pashtun-based insurgency that would end a war U.S. commanders have said cannot be won with military power alone.

The Obama administration has set a 2014 deadline to withdraw forces and is trying to frame talks among the Afghans beforehand.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta would have to sign off on the transfer and certify the men did not pose a danger. He would not confirm details of the proposal at a Pentagon news conference Friday, but said discussions continue to try to promote a peace deal.

"There are no specific commitments that have been made with regard to prisoner exchanges at this point," he said. "One thing I will assure you is that any prisoner exchanges that I have to certify are going to abide by the law and require that those individuals do not return back into the battle."

The latest proposal was a topic of recent discussions in Washington with members of Karzai's peace committee, a group of elders charged with reaching out to the Taliban on the government's behalf.

"The possibility is strong," for a transfer to Afghanistan that includes the five top figures, said Ismail Qasemyar, international relations adviser for the Afghan High Peace Council.

Afghans involved in the discussions were still angling to get all 17 prisoners released or transferred. The Taliban has demanded release of all the Guantanamo detainees as a condition for talks. Karzai has long sought the return of all 17 Afghans imprisoned at Guantanamo, men he sometimes calls brothers, as a point of national pride.

The U.S. has said that the five senior Taliban would be transferred to another country's control, not released. The Taliban would have been asked to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 A22

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