By Kevin Sieff, for Washington Post.

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — The United States will remain in control of Afghanistan’s highest-profile prison well beyond January 2012, missing a key milestone in the plan to transfer judicial and detention operations to Afghans, U.S. military officials say.

The transfer of the prison and its burgeoning population of detainees had been regarded as a critical marker of the war’s endgame — a sign that Afghan officials are ready to inherit institutions essential to the nation’s future.

But U.S. officials decided that the Afghan legal system is still too weak to permit the handover of the Parwan Detention Center, even after the United States spent millions attempting to improve the country’s judiciary. The United States will now be unable to relinquish authority at Parwan until at least 2014, just as the last foreign troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan.

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