US Central Command Chief Supports Afghan Prisoner Transfers

US Army Sgt. Johnny Hoyos pulls security above a prisoner courtyard at the Zabul Provincial Prison, Afghanistan

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Washington, DC – The commander of US Central Command told Congress on March 6 that he supports the decision to release high-value prisoners to the Afghan justice system and described how he envisions ending the threat of IEDs.

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis testified before the House Armed Services Committee here, where he was asked his thoughts on the transfer of high-value prisoners to Afghan custody and using premature detonation to end the threat of improvised explosive devices.

“In this case, I fully support it,” he explained. “Two reasons. First, Ashraf Ghani, who is in charge of that portfolio for the Afghan government, [is] very trusted, very knowledgeable, has identified clearly the legal authority they have to hold people in what you and I would call admin detention.”

Afghans have a different term for it, Mattis said, but the bottom line is they don’t get released. “There is also a process, dual-key, I would call it, where if they decide to release someone and we think it’s an enduring threat, then, obviously, we can go in and stop that,” he said.

“In other words, we work together, and it takes both, eventually, at the highest level, both sides in this effort to hold on to them or to release them,” Mattis said. Mattis said he knows these individuals will not become “force-protection threats” because they will be detained under the Afghan’s legal authority.

“So based on those two premises, I do support this,” he said. “And that’s a change from if I had been up here, even as short as two months ago, where we were not certain we had the legal authority and we had to work out the process to make certain that there was a [procedure], if they were going to release someone that we did not want released.”

The Marine general also discussed steps being undertaken to defeat improvised explosive devices. “It’s a multi-faceted campaign, as you know so well, of training, of technology, of scientists,” Mattis said. “I’ve talked to as many scientists as I could find.”

The electro-magnetic spectrum, he said, “is a big part of the problem, and it’s so enormous, as you know, for ways to trigger one of these,” he said. Mattis said there have been ongoing improvement efforts with Pakistan to countering IEDS over the last two months. “But, ultimately, I’ll tell you … what we are going to have to do is find a way to prematurely detonate these, so the time and place of detonation is no longer determined by the enemy,” he said.

Premature detonation of IEDs “is ultimately going to be our way that we turn this weapon against the enemy,” Mattis said. On March 5, the Senate confirmed that Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, currently the vice chief of staff of the Army, will succeed Mattis as the next commander of US Central Command. Mattis is slated to retire this year.

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