Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 10, 2013. (Defense Department photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)
Two weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded the withdrawal of all U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) from Wardak province by now, the issue remains suspended in negotiations between U.S. and Afghan governments. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel planned to discuss the matter with Karzai on Sunday, but the meeting was postponed after a security incident in Kabul.
Negotiations between the U.S. military command in Kabul and the Afghan government over Karzai's demand were going on last week as an investigation by a joint team of Afghan and U.S. Special Forces officers into human rights abuses by forces said to be linked to the SOF unit in the province continues.
Attaullah Khogiani, spokesman for the governor of Wardak province, told IPS on Saturday that the U.S. SOF unit is still in its base in Maidan Shar district, and that a joint U.S. SOF-Afghan government investigating team looking into complaints by Wardak's population about Afghan armed men linked to the SOF unit has demanded more time.
The Karzai government has given the team three days to complete its investigation, but the team is saying it needs more time than that, according to Khogiani. The joint team is meeting with the families of victims of the crimes by the mysterious armed force in the province that has been blamed on the SOF, he told IPS in an interview.
The identity of the Afghan forces that have imposed a reign of terror in Wardak that prompted President Karzai to demand the withdrawal of the SOF from the province remains a mystery to Afghan officials and residents there.
Khogiani and other officials and residents of Wardawk interviewed by IPS in recent days say the Afghans are certain that the armed Afghans who have carried out murder, torture and extrajudicial detention of civilians in Wardak have been working for the SOF unit stationed there. But they still don't know who they are or where they came from.
U.S. SOF units have been responsible for recruiting, training, arming and monitoring Afghan Local Police (ALP), which have committed abuses in the past. But many people in Wardak believe the armed Afghans terrorizing the villages could not be ALP, because they are not from the villages themselves and in fact appear not to be from Wardak province at all.
Abdul Rahman, who commands a police checkpoint and is a village elder and district development council member in Maidan Shar district, told IPS that the armed men behind the abuses in that district are believed to be from an Afghan task force organized and supported by SOF in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
Mohammad Jan Sarwary, a tall young man working for a mobile phone company who lives in Narkh district, told IPS the armed force that entered his village in mid-February are not local police recruited by the SOF but Afghan task forces who are staying with SOF in the base.
"The people say they are Afghans who had been trained by the Special Operations Forces," said Sarwary. "From their dialect we believe they are from Kandahar or Helmand provinces."
Sarwary said a relative in his village told him that the militiamen had forced one of the residents to sit on an improvised explosive device with a gun pointed at his head. They threatened that if any of the members of the force were attacked by anyone in the village, they would blow up that individual.
Another possibility, which has not been raised by Afghans, is that the "counterterrorism pursuit teams" trained by the CIA and acting outside any Afghan chain of command have been carrying out operations in Wardak.
Afghan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi announced Feb. 24 that Karzai had ordered his ministry of defense to "kick out US special forces from Wardak ... within two weeks."
The spokesman said it had become "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."
Faizi mentioned the disappearance of nine people in "an operation by this suspicious force" and a separate incident in which "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 spokesman later clarified that he was referring to "[t]hose Afghans in these armed groups who are working with the U.S. special forces"."