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February 24, 2013

Karzai Orders US Special Forces Out of Eastern Afghan Province

by Michael Lipin

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered the removal of all U.S. special forces from an eastern province in response to allegations that those forces or their Afghan allies may have committed rights abuses against civilians.

Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told reporters Sunday that a government investigation of security incidents in Wardak province found that armed men suspected of ties to U.S. Special Forces were engaged in "harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people."  He said the Afghan defense ministry has been ordered to ensure that all U.S. Special Forces are out of the province within two weeks.
 
"All the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan are obliged to immediately prevent the operations by all the groups under the name of Special Forces, who are going into houses of people, which results in disturbance and killing of our innocent people and bring to justice, in order to safeguard the properties and lives of people in Maidan Wardak province," Faizi said.

It is the first time the Afghan president has issued such an order against the forces of the United States, a key ally which has been helping Kabul to combat a more than decade-long Islamist insurgency by Taliban militants.

A U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman said he is aware of reports about Mr. Karzai's order.  Speaking to VOA by phone from Kabul, Lt. Col. Les Carroll said the U.S. military "takes all allegations of misconduct seriously" and goes to "great lengths to the determine the facts."  He said U.S. officers "intend to fully discuss" the issue of alleged rights abuses with their Afghan counterparts.

The Afghan presidential statement cited two recent examples of alleged misconduct by U.S. Special Forces or their allied Afghan militias in Wardak.  In one incident, it said nine people disappeared during an operation by what it called a "suspicious force," while in the other, the tortured body of a student was found two days after he was "taken away at night from his home."

Karzai's office said the U.S. military denied any involvement in such cases.  It said Afghan security forces will bring to justice those responsible for the abuses and urged local residents to help identify the culprits.

In an additional move, Karzai ordered the U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan to stop all special force operations in Wardak immediately.

It is not clear how a pullout of U.S. special forces from the province would affect the fight against the Taliban.

NATO troops have facilities in Wardak.  But Afghan government forces already have taken a security lead in some parts of the province as part of a NATO plan to withdraw most of its troops from the country by the end of 2014.

Taliban attacks in Wardak also have declined in recent months.

Wardak's population is predominantly Pashtun, the same ethnic group as the Taliban.  A VOA reporter in Islamabad says Pashtun tribal elders may be using the improved security situation to pressure Mr. Karzai into removing foreign forces from their province.

But, insurgent attacks have continued in other parts of eastern Afghanistan, where three security personnel were killed in suicide bombings on Sunday.

In one of the day's attacks, a suicide car bomber rammed a vehicle into the gate of an intelligence compound in the eastern city of Jalalabad.  Officials said the blast killed two agents of the National Directorate of Security and wounded three others.  In another attack, a suicide car bomber struck a police checkpoint in the nearby town of Puli Alam, killing one officer.  Taliban militants claimed responsibility for both bombings.

Authorities said security forces thwarted an additional suicide car bombing in Kabul by shooting and killing the would-be assailant.  They said the incident happened near a construction site in a part of the capital housing government and foreign diplomatic offices.  Insurgents had staged a large-scale attack in the area last April.