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Afghan, US Tensions Threaten Orderly Withdrawal

  • Meredith Buel

Tensions between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. military officials are threatening an orderly transfer of security responsibility ahead of the NATO and U.S. troop withdrawal next year. Disagreements over the role and location of U.S. troops are fueling controversy and mistrust.

Shouting “death to America,” hundreds of protestors recently traveled from Wardak province to the Afghan capital Kabul demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak after accusations that Afghans working for them tortured residents.

“We have gathered here to protest against the Special Forces in Wardak, because they enter people’s houses and torture innocent people,” said Khalilullah Ibrahimkhail, a Wardak resident

While U.S. military leaders denied the allegations, Special Forces remained in Wardak.
The province is close to Kabul, and its security is considered important in keeping insurgents from infiltrating the capital.

An agreement was announced Wednesday to gradually pull U.S. soldiers out of Wardak.
Earlier, another controversy erupted as President Karzai accused the U.S. of being in collusion with the Taliban.

“There are ongoing daily talks between the Taliban, Americans and foreigners in Europe and in the Gulf states,” Karzai said.

The accusations complicated U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent trip to Afghanistan.

A joint news conference with Karzai was abruptly cancelled as was the planned handover of Bagram Prison.

“I told the [Afghan] president it was not true that the United States was unilaterally working with the Taliban in trying to negotiate anything," Hagel said.

Talks between the U.S. and the Taliban designed to start an Afghan peace process were suspended a year ago.

Analysts who have recently traveled to Afghanistan say there is little faith such negotiations would produce a meaningful reconciliation.

“[There is] Great concern that the peace negotiations might turn out to be hollow and little more than an extension of war by other means,” said Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

There are now more than 350,000 Afghan troops nationwide, but doubt remains about whether they can protect the country.

Elections are scheduled for next year, but security and transparency are concerns.
“It is already clear that this is going to be a time of very deep tension. It is something where everyone we talked to was concerned, sometimes frightened of what might happen,” Cordesman said.

There are currently about 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The total is expected to drop to about half that number by early next year.

No final decisions have been made about the size of a residual force after most of the soldiers have left at the end of 2014.
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