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Afghan president orders U.S. special forces out of strategic province

February 24, 2013|By Shashank Bengali and Hashmat Baktash
  • Afghanistan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi speaks during a news conference in Kabul, informing reporters about President Hamid Karzai's order to expel U.S. special forces troops from Wardak province.
Afghanistan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi speaks during a news conference… (Ahmad Nazar / Associated…)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday ordered U.S. special forces troops to leave a strategic eastern province, accusing the Americans and Afghans working for them of torturing and abducting civilians.

Karzai's office charged that in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul, a university student who was detained during a U.S. operation was later found with his head and fingers cut off. In another case, U.S. forces allegedly detained nine villagers who are still missing.

Karzai's office gave no additional details and didn't specify the identities of the Afghans working alongside the U.S. forces. The Wardak province chief of police told The Times that he had no evidence to back up the claims.

The accusations blindsided U.S. officials in Kabul, who weren't informed before Karzai's chief spokesman went public with the claims Sunday evening.

"We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them," U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force said in a statement. "This is an important issue that we intend to discuss fully with our Afghan counterparts."

Wardak, a turbulent province considered a key gateway to Kabul, has become a hotbed of insurgent activity in recent years. U.S. special forces, along with Afghan soldiers and allied militias, routinely carry out nighttime raids on suspected insurgent hideouts, often in towns and villages.

Karzai has vehemently opposed the raids, saying they fuel insecurity and lead to civilian casualties.

Following a meeting of his national security council earlier Sunday, during which Wardak's governor raised the allegations, Karzai ordered Afghan security forces to expel the Americans within two weeks, officials said.

"There are some groups of American special forces -- and Afghans considered to be part of the American special forces – who are conducting raids, searching houses, harassing and torturing people, and even murdering our innocent people," Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told a news conference. "We have received many complaints on this issue."

But Sardar Mohammad Zazai, the police chief for Wardak province, said in an interview that although a team of police investigators had been assigned to look into the allegations, "I don't have an evidence in hand in regard to this issue."

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shashank.bengali@latimes.com

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