U.S. plans new prison in Afghanistan

Afghan soldiers patrol outside the Pul-i-Charkhi prison on the eastern outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, in this February 26, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States intends to build a big new prison at its main military base in Afghanistan, a shift from earlier aims to transfer most detainees to Afghan custody, The New York Times reported.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the report in the Times’ Saturday edition of the planned 40-acre complex at the Bagram military base. “There are plans under way to do that,” Lt. Col. Mark Wright said.

Wright said the new facility would offer more room and more opportunity for vocational, educational and religious training. The current, makeshift prison at Bagram holds about 630 prisoners, kept in wire-mesh pens surrounded by coils of razor wire, the Times said.

U.S. officials concede a new Afghan-run prison cannot absorb all the Afghans detained by the United States and waves of new prisoners who are expected from an escalating fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, the report said. It said the plans represent an acknowledgment that the United States was likely to hold prisoners overseas for many years to come.

The new U.S. prison would hold about 1,100 detainees and cost about $60 million, the Times said.

“Our existing theater internment facility is deteriorating,” Sandra L. Hodgkinson, the senior Pentagon official for detention policy, told the Times. “It was renovated to do a temporary mission. There is a sense that this is the right time to build a new facility.”