Afghanistan government accuses US military of torturing and murdering civilians
The Afghan government has ordered US special forces to leave one of Afghanistan's most restive provinces, Maidan Wardak, after receiving reports from local officials claiming that the elite units had been involved in the torture and disappearance of Afghan civilians.
US military officials have rejected the allegations but President Hamid Karzai, who convened a meeting of the Afghan national security council on Sunday, appears to believe the evidence was strong enough to demand US special forces leave Maidan Wardak within two weeks.
Security in the province bordering Kabul has deteriorated over the past year, and it has become a focus of US-led efforts to stop insurgents reaching the capital.
The decision could have implications for relations with Washington and for US plans to maintain a counter-terrorist force in Afghanistan after Nato combat troops leave in 2014.
The provincial governor and other officials from Maidan Wardak presented evidence against US forces at the national security council meeting. The presidential palace later issued a statement saying: "After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as US special forces stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people.
"A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge," the statement added. "However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force."
The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Kabul said it was aware of the order, but declined to provide further information. It was also unable to confirm the number of US special forces in Maidan Wardak.
"We take allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them, but until we've had a chance to talk to senior government of Afghanistan officials, we're not in a position to comment further," an Isaf spokesman said.
Aimal Faizi, spokesman for Karzai, said the decision came after of months of reports of abuse.
"People have been complaining about US special forces units torturing people, killing people in that province, and nine individuals were taken from their homes recently and they have just disappeared and no one knows where they have gone," Faizi said.
"These individuals in the US special forces, who are behind these crimes like murdering and torturing people and harassing people, this is in itself an elemental factor in the deteriorating security situation."
Afghanistan's elite commando forces, including the 1st, 2nd and 6th special operations kandak, also operate in Maidan Wardak, often working alongside US special forces. Faizi said that this association had also fuelled negative feeling towards the Afghan government in the area, something officials wanted to stem.
Lotfullah Najafizada, the head of current affairs at TOLOnews television channel, said: "President Karzai apparently believes that the US special forces are more part of the problem than the solution."
The banning of US special forces from Maidan Wardak following steadily mounting unease expressed by the Karzai government over Nato operations. After last week's National Security Council meeting, an order [http://president.gov.af/en/news/17522] was issued for Afghan forces "to impede operations" by parallel militias set up by foreign coalition forces outside the Afghan military chain of command, which have long been a source of irritation to Karzai. Afghan forces were also banned from calling in Nato airstrikes after nine civilians were killed in a single incident.
The palace announcement served as a reminder that the size and nature of western forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 are far from agreed. Karzai was reportedly irked but reports from a Nato meeting in Brussels on Friday, at which a follow-out force of 12,000 was discussed. Leon Panetta, the outgoing US defence secretary was quoted as saying that the mainly American force would be deployed in all areas of the country.
Observers in Kabul suggested that Karzai's announcement was intended as a message to Washington not to take Afghan acquiescence in US decisions on bases and unilateral counter-terrorist operations for granted. There have also been tough negotiations between the Washington and Kabul over American demands that serving US soldiers should have immunity under Afghan law.
"This decision is going to complicate the negotiations over bilateral security agreements with the United States," Najafizada said. The Americans want to be able to carry out unilateral counter-terrorist operations after 2014 which can justify their presence domestically in the US, but now it seems to be the hard piece to negotiate, along with immunity."
This article originally appeared at The Guardian