The announcement appeared to come as a surprise to American military officials, and it remained unclear whether Karzai would follow through on the order or would perhaps, as with past edicts aimed at restricting U.S.-led operations, reach a negotiated agreement with NATO forces.
Still, the order came at a sensitive time, with the withdrawal of conventional forces from Wardak and elsewhere in Afghanistan making the role played by Special Operations forces more critical. It also threatened to cast a pall over deliberations between the United States and its allies over the scope and price tag of the West’s commitment to Afghanistan after NATO’s mandate for operations in the country expires at the end of 2014.
Last week, Karzai banned his forces from calling in NATO airstrikes in populated areas, citing civilian casualties. But Sunday’s statement was Karzai’s most acerbic in recent months against the international community, following a period during which the Afghan president has been largely conciliatory with the foreign nations that pay the biggest portion of his government’s bills.
“After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as U.S. special force[s] stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people,” the statement said.
“A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force,” the statement said. In a separate incident, “a student was taken away at night from his home,” it said, and his “tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge.”
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said in a statement that it takes abuse allegations seriously, adding: “This is an important issue that we must discuss with our Afghan counterparts.”
The controversy over the role of U.S. Special Operations forces in Wardak and other provinces has been brewing for some time. After President Obama announced this year that U.S. forces would pull back from Afghan villages, senior Afghan officials said they were under the impression that the troops pulling out would include the U.S. Special Operations forces units that have built and trained the small village militias that form the Afghan Local Police.
U.S. officials pushed back on that interpretation, arguing that it would be unwise to abort the training mission.
Karzai has long viewed the Afghan Local Police with suspicion because of fears that they operate largely outside the country’s formal defense command structure. Afghan villagers and human rights activists, meanwhile, have long accused the force of rape and other abuses.