Karzai orders U.S. forces out of key Afghan province

Richard Leiby and Sayed Salahuddin / The Washington Post /

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday ordered all U.S. Special Operations Forces to leave a strategically important province in two weeks, alleging that they have been involved in the torture and murder of “innocent people.”

A presidential office statement that followed a meeting of Afghanistan’s National Security Council also demanded an immediate halt to special forces activity in Wardak province west of Kabul, a hub counterinsurgency operations.

The action comes after Karzai last week banned his forces from calling in NATO airstrikes in populated areas, citing civilian casualties. The announcement also is playing out as the White House and NATO leaders ponder their troop commitments to Afghanistan after the coalition finishes its combat mission here at the end of 2014.

In some of the latest fighting, Taliban suicide bombers targeted Afghan security forces in three separate attacks Sunday, while the country’s intelligence agency said it prevented a similar strike in the capital’s diplomatic enclave.

Four members of the Afghan security forces and one civilian were reported killed in the attacks.

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said in a statement that it takes abuse allegations seriously, adding, “This is an important issue that we must discuss with our Afghan counterparts.”

Karzai’s blunt statement did not provide specific evidence or mention any judicial determinations.

“After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as U.S. special forces stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people,” the statement said.

“A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force,” it said. In a separate incident, “a student was taken away at night from his home,” it said, and his “tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge.”

The statement noted, however, that “Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force.”

At a news conference, Karzai spokesman Amal Faizi sought to clarify the statement, saying the abuse allegations were connected to Afghans working “within these Special Forces groups.”

“Those Afghans in these armed groups who are working with the U.S. Special Forces, the defense minister asked for an explanation of who they are,” Faizi said. “Those individuals should be handed over to the Afghan side so that we can further investigate.”

U.S. Special Operations Forces are partnered in some parts of the country with the Afghan Local Police, but it was not immediately clear which Afghan units were involved in the alleged incidents.

Although such bombings have long been a tactic of militants, the gradual withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops and mild winter weather have allowed insurgents to be more active in various parts of Afghanistan than in past years.

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