Karzai orders U.S. units out of province

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan government on Sunday banned elite U.S. forces from operating in a strategic province adjoining Kabul, citing complaints that Afghans working for U.S. special operations forces have killed and tortured villagers in the area.

The ban is scheduled to go into effect in two weeks in the province, Maidan Wardak, which long has been seen as a key link in the defense of the capital against the Taliban. If fully enacted, it would effectively remove the U.S. military's main source of offensive firepower from the area, which lies southwest of Kabul and is used by the Taliban as a staging ground for attacks on the capital.

The order takes on greater potential significance with the scheduled withdrawal of regular U.S. combat forces in the province. U.S. officials have said they expect almost all the conventional troops in eastern Afghanistan to be focused by late spring on advising Afghan forces, leaving special operations units as the only offensive troops in the region.

Mr. 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.

The accusations blindsided U.S. officials in Kabul, who weren't informed before Mr. 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 written statement. "This is an important issue that we intend to discuss fully with our Afghan counterparts."

Sardar Mohammad Zazai, 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 any evidence in hand in regard to this issue."


The Los Angeles Times contributed.


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