News / Asia

    US, Afghanistan Struggle to Agree on Special Forces

    An undated handout photo shows nine civilians allegedly detained at a military outpost in Wardak by U.S. special forces and Afghans identified as translators.
    An undated handout photo shows nine civilians allegedly detained at a military outpost in Wardak by U.S. special forces and Afghans identified as translators.
    More than a week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. special forces to leave a strategically key area near the capital, officials from both sides are still struggling to resolve the issue.

    Karzai ordered the elite American units out of Wardak province after residents complained that they, and Afghans working with them, were torturing and killing civilians - an allegation strongly denied by the United States. At the same time, the Afghan leader also accused the U.S. and NATO of trying to forge an agreement between the Taliban and his political opponents.

    The escalating tensions reached Brussels Monday, when NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the charges that international forces are colluding with the Taliban "an absolutely ridiculous idea."  

    Meanwhile, ISAF spokesman Günter Katz told reporters in Kabul that NATO will eventually hand over security responsibilities for Wardak province, but that the alliance's "Afghan partners" must take the lead on developing a transition plan.

    "There will be a transition to the Afghan National Security Forces. The only issue is the timeline and the methodology, but there is no doubt that [the Afghans] will take over the lead of Wardak," said Katz.

    The decision to expel U.S. forces from the province - with its predominantly Pashtun population, the same ethnic group as the Taliban - has angered American defense officials who worry an abrupt exit could allow insurgents to strengthen their presence in the area and use it as a base to attack Kabul, only 25 kilometers away.

    But Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi countered that Afghan forces are already fully capable of handling security operations nationally.

    "The total number of Afghan troops nationwide is now 352,000, and that is in addition to the Afghan local police. We are ready to assume security responsibility from NATO anywhere in the country," Sediqi said.  

    "There is no reason to suggest that after NATO withdraws, a particular province or district will collapse and be taken over by the Taliban, the Haqqani network or al-Qaida," he said.

    A possible deal

    Reuters, citing a top Kabul official, reported that Afghanistan and the U.S. are working on a compromise deal that would allow American special forces to stay in Wardak in return for full Afghan control of the controversial Bagram prison.

    The U.S. partly handed over the high-security jail and around 3,000 suspected Taliban fighters to Afghan control last year. But full control over the jail has been repeatedly delayed as Afghan and U.S. officials argue over concerns that hundreds more Taliban still under U.S. custody would be released.

    During a phone call Saturday, Karzai and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said they would work intensively over the next week "with a view to concluding an agreement" on Bagram.

    Their discussion came the same day as several hundred Afghan demonstrators chanting "U.S. special forces out!" marched to the parliament building in Kabul demanding the elite commandos withdraw from Wardak.

    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

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    Comment Sorting
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    by: Keel from: SoCal
    March 19, 2013 10:15 AM
    The referred collusion is that the US and Taliban agree to wage their war using Afghanistan as the battle space, and that innocent Afghans are caught in the crossfire. I agree that Karzai should exert his authority but it really is a little late to change this reality since he, Karzai, allowed it to go on for so long.

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