Karzai Orders U.S. Special Forces Out of Key Afghan Province

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. special forces to leave a province neighboring the capital within two weeks after investigators said Afghans aiding the troops were torturing and murdering fellow citizens.

A probe ordered by Karzai found Afghans working for U.S. special forces in the strategically important Wardak region were “harassing, annoying, torturing, and even murdering innocent people,” according to an e-mailed statement from the president’s office yesterday. Investigators had been asked to identify causes of insecurity in Wardak and Logar provinces, located west and south of Kabul.

A national security committee meeting led by Karzai also decided that NATO’s International Security Assistance Forces, or ISAF, should stop all special forces operations in Wardak from yesterday, according to the statement.

The announcements came as Karzai seeks to ease opposition to his administration generated by civilian casualties in the 11-year war with the Taliban, and amid an international effort to resurrect peace talks with the insurgents. Afghan forces are taking over the lead security role nationwide as the Obama administration cuts its troop strength in the country.

“We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them,” ISAF said yesterday in a statement. It said it wouldn’t comment further until officials speak with Afghan government leaders.

Airstrike Ban

The team sent to Wardak investigated the disappearance of nine people and the death of a student, whose body was found with signs of torture two days after he was taken from his home at night. The U.S. denied the involvement of its forces in either incident, according to the statement.

Karzai also decided that any country seeking to keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014 would only be allowed to do so after the “Afghan government’s formal agreement, to be achieved bilaterally,” the statement cited him as saying.

Earlier this month, Karzai barred Afghan forces from calling in NATO airstrikes while conducting operations in residential areas. The order followed reports that 10 civilians, including women and children, were killed by coalition aircraft in a bombardment in eastern Kunar province.

Afghan soldiers are taking a more prominent combat role as the U.S. is set to withdraw 34,000 troops within 12 months, cutting its military presence in the country by half.

In its annual survey, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said Feb. 19 at least 2,754 civilians were killed amid clashes between Afghan and U.S.-led troops and the Taliban in 2012, a 12 percent drop from a year earlier and the first fall in six years. The number who died in aerial bombing by international forces dropped 42 percent to 126.

Jail Torture

A separate investigation ordered by Karzai this month found evidence of torture and mistreatment in the country’s prisons, supporting the conclusions of a UN report.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron held talks with Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari at the beginning of this month, the latest step aimed at brokering peace talks to end the conflict in Afghanistan. Pakistan, which the U.S. and Karzai have accused of aiding the Taliban, has released some of the movement’s members from its jails, a move intended to convey its seriousness in achieving a negotiated end to the war.

The Taliban has repeatedly expressed its unwillingness to talk to Karzai’s government, branding it a puppet administration propped up by the U.S.

A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden minivan near a security post on the highway between Logar and Kabul provinces, killing one Afghan policeman and wounding three others, including a civilian, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

Another insurgent blew himself up yesterday near a police building in Logar, wounding an officer.

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