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 protesters 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. Khalilullah Ibrahimkhail is a Wardak resident.
“We have gathered here to protest against the Special Forces in Wardak, because they enter people’s houses and torture innocent people," he said.
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," he 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.
Secretary Hagel said any peace talks would be led by the Afghans. “I told the [Afghan] president it was not true that the United States was unilaterally working with the Taliban in trying to negotiate anything," he 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.
Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“[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," he said.
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," said Cordesman.
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 troops have left at the end of 2014.