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KABUL: Afghanistan’s leading religious body yesterday warned the presence of US troops in the country would soon be treated as an “occupation” unless the United States hands over detainees.
The fate of prisoners held in Bagram jail has been one cause of a sharp deterioration in US-Afghan ties, with President Hamid Karzai repeatedly pushing to be given full control of the facility north of Kabul.
“If the Americans do not act on their promises (to hand over Bagram)... then that means occupation and they might like to see the reaction to that,” the influential National Ulema Council said in a statement.
The government-funded council, which is the highest Islamic authority in Afghanistan, added that a series of recent anti-US remarks by Karzai were “the true voice of the Muslim people of Afghanistan”.
Karzai has ordered US special forces out of the key province of Wardak, banned international troops from university campuses over alleged harassment and stopped the Afghan military calling in US air strikes.
He also triggered outrage by accusing the US of acting in concert with Taliban insurgents to justify the presence of foreign troops.
The handover of the Bagram jail has been repeatedly delayed as Afghan and US officials clash over whether the suspected militants will continue to be held or released.
Late yesterday, Karzai’s office said the transfer of prisoners “must take place” in one week’s time after a further postponement was agreed in a telephone call with US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.
US General Joseph Dunford, the commander of Nato coalition force in Afghanistan, has said that some of the detainees would pose “real threats” if they returned to the battlefield.
He also warned that coalition troops face increased attacks from militants and rogue Afghan forces due to Karzai’s anti-US rhetoric.
Karzai ordered elite US units to pull out after he alleged Afghan militia working with them had tortured and murdered civilians, but the US military say they are still negotiating the province’s security hand-over.
Hundreds of demonstrators, chanting “US special operations forces out”, yesterday marched to the parliament complex in the capital Kabul demanding US special forces withdraw from Wardak province after allegations of abuse.
The rally was overseen by a large number of armed riot police.
The demonstrators are demanding the release of nine local citizens they believe were detained by the US forces. Banners in the Afghan languages of Pashto and Dari as well as English read, “I want my father,” and “We want our prisoners back from the government, dead or alive.”
“Americans and US special operations forces must leave,” said protester Abdul Hadi.
“We put up strict security measures and after the members of the parliament promised they would address these complaints, the protesters dispersed peacefully,” Kabul deputy police chief General Daud Amin said.