The Rate of Detention in the Field in Afghanistan, the Rate of Transfer to Long-Term Detention, and the Rate of Release

By Robert Chesney
Thursday, December 2, 2010, 6:05 PM

The other day I posted some data on the recidivism rate among detainees in Afghanistan, culled from a report DOD recently submitted to Congress.  That same day, it turns out, Vice Adm. Robert Harward, commander of CJIATF-435, participated in a very interesting press briefing to discuss detention operations in more detail.  The whole thing is interesting, but I want to highlight what he had to say about the magnitude of our detention operations in Afghanistan and the ongoing process of transferring responsibility for long-term detention to Afghan authorities (something which might further decrease the likelihood that future litigation in al Maqaleh v. Gates or some other Afghan detention case might result in an extension of habeas to Afghanistan after all). 

The Logistics of Detention in Afghanistan, and the Process of Transferring the Long-Term Components of the System to Afghan Control

In prior posts, Brig. Gen. Mark Martins explained the logistics of the emerging Afghan criminal prosecution capacity (see also here).  But what about the logistics of the facilities still involved in non-criminal, military detention in U.S. or Afghan custody?  Vice Admiral Harward's briefing provides a handy overview, one that is consistent with my observations about the cycle of detention operations in Iraq (i.e., that for a host of policy and legal reasons we inevitably seek to reduce our long-term detention footprint by transferring control to the host government).

First, the Afghans already operate and control the Afghan National Detention Facility (ANDF) at Pul-e Charki, with a capacity of about 550 detainees.  Second, the United States in 2009 opened the Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP), which at the moment can hold 1,650 individuals (and by March 2011 will be able to hold twice that number).  Notably, the DFIP already is at least partly a joint US-Afghan operation (see this discussion of the relevant memorandum of understanding), and as Vice Admiral Harward explained the plan is to further transfer control of the DFIP as conditions permit.  One key toward that end is to train more Afghan soldiers for this purpose; at the moment there are about 600 Afghan soldiers trained to work at the ANDF or the DFIP, with plans to bring that total to 2,600 by the end of 2011.  If that goal is met, then we may well see completion of the transfer process in the relatively near term.

At What Rates Do We Detain in the Field, Transfer to Long-Term Detention, and Release from Long-Term Detention?

Vice Admiral Harward also provided rare insight into the rate of detention in the field in Afghanistan, as well as the rate at which field detention results in transfer to the DFIP for long-term detention.  Specifically, he noted that over the past year "in the battlespace, approximately 5,500 individuals have been detained" (emphasis added).  It is not clear if this figure represents all detentions or just those effectuated by U.S. forces, though presumably the latter category is the bulk of the total in any event.   "Of those," he added, "around 1,100 have come to the [DFIP], and we've released about 550 this year . . . ."   He did not indicate what percentage of the remaining 4,400 were either released in the field, transferred to the ANDF, or routed into the Afghan criminal prosecution system.

Vice Admiral Harward also explained that some insurgents currently are held in various Afghan facilities that should be focused on non-insurgent convicts:

And they have determined in their current population of prisons, in the 34 provincial prisons, with the population they have of about 18,000, they have 2,000 insurgents in those prisons.  So we're working closely with the government of Afghanistan to separate those insurgents from the criminals so that, one, they can’t influence the criminals or those others being held; two, they don't become a threat for the insurgents.  As we've seen in numerous prisons here in Afghanistan this year, the Taliban have attacked those prisons to release the Taliban that the Afghan correction systems hold.  So we're moving to remove those insurgents out of the prisons into the Detention Facility in Parwan, thereby separating the insurgents from the criminal activity; and therefore, defeating the Taliban's efforts to affect the insurgency within the wire of the correction facilities in Afghanistan.

So that's an ongoing process they're doing right now.  We've done it to some extent in very small numbers into the Afghan national detention facility at Pul-e Charkhi.  We're looking to expand that into the Detention Facility in Parwan as we transition it to the government of Afghanistan.  And, as I said, we will begin that in January of this year, 2011, the upcoming year.

It is not clear from the context whether this is meant to refer to 2000 insurgents who have been convicted of a crime, or if instead these are security detainees.  In any event, it sounds as if there is a total of about 4100 insurgent detainees at the moment (if one combines the ANDF (500), the current-size of the DFIP (1600), and the insurgents in the provincial prisons (2000)).

As to recidivism?

As I said before, I can give you the statistics for this year.  We've released 550 individuals.  And we refer to it as recapture, not recidivism.  Of this year, 550 have been released.  There have been four individuals recaptured on the battlefield, so less than half of -- about half of one percent, or less than one percent, of a recapture rate. [emphasis added]

Now, I can't give you the recidivism, because maybe someone went back to the fight and was killed and we can't capture that.  So he wasn't recaptured.  But it's hard because the battlespace owners can't always clearly identify some of those combatants killed in the battlespace, in an airstrike or that -- so there's -- there may be more out there that I can't specifically prove.  But I can give you the facts on those who are recaptured and returned to the Detention Facility in Parwan.  And for this year, that's been less than 1 percent.