U.S. commandos begin pullout from restive Afghan province as demanded by Karzai

KABUL — U.S. Special Forces withdrew from their base in a volatile region near the Afghan capital on Saturday, U.S. officials said, in line with a demand by President Hamid Karzai and after a warning by senior religious scholars.

The handover of the base in Wardak province’s Nerkh district to Afghan commandos and army troops removes another source of recent heightened tension between Washington and Kabul.

epa04176175 Shane Red Hawk of the Sicangu Lakota band of the Rosebud Sioux (L) and his daughter Tshina Red Hawk (R) wait for tribal leaders with the 'Cowboy and Indian Alliance' to begin a horseback ride in protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline across from the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, USA, 22 April 2014. The alliance of farmers, ranchers, and tribes has dubbed their week-long series of protests 'Reject and Protect.' EPA/JIM LO SCALZO

Shane Red Hawk waits for the start of a Keystone XL pipeline protest ride Tuesday.

Photos of the day

Keystone pipeline protest, New York World’s Fair anniversary, ATLAS humanoid robot and more.

More world coverage

Obama says U.S. will stand by treaty obligations to Japan

Obama says U.S. will stand by treaty obligations to Japan

President says China-Japan dispute over islands in East China Sea should be settled through diplomacy.

Iran to increase gasoline prices

Home to some of the world's cheapest gas, Iran plans a price increase.

3 Americans killed in attack on Kabul hospital

3 Americans killed in attack on Kabul hospital

The attack on the hospital was the latest in a wave of violence targeting foreigners in Afghanistan.

It came a week after the United States officially — and belatedly — ceded control of its main military prison to Afghanistan following Karzai’s repeated demands. U.S. and Afghan officials had originally agreed to the prison handover last September.

Wardak residents and officials had accused U.S. commandos and their Afghan allies of operating outside the national government’s authority and of torturing, kidnapping and summarily executing Nerkh locals suspected of militancy.

U.S. officials, including the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., have rejected those allegations and had ignored an original deadline set by Karzai for pulling the elite forces from the province. But in the face of mounting public anger and Karzai’s sharp comments, they later agreed to a gradual handover of security responsibility for Wardak to Afghans.

The strategically important and insurgent-plagued province lies some 18 miles to the west of Kabul.

“As we pledged, our forces have transitioned Nerkh District to Afghan National Security Forces and they have now assumed full responsibility for security in this key district,” Dunford said in a statement.

“The rest of Wardak will continue to transition over time as Afghan forces continue to grow in capability and capacity,” the statement said.

Two weeks ago, the government-funded Ulema Council, Afghanistan’s top religious body, warned that the American “infidels” would be treated as invaders if they failed to heed Karzai’s demands.

The pullout of the U.S. commandos coincides with the start of spring, traditionally the beginning of the fighting season in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said that despite the U.S. elite forces’ departure from Nerkh, the national forces stationed there will rely on U.S. air support when needed.

“We will make the request for air power from them for bombing non-residential areas where the insurgents show up,” the ministry’s chief spokesman, Zaher Azimi, said.

 
Read what others are saying