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NATO: No evidence for Afghan claim of possible torture, murder by U.S. forces

By Thom Patterson, CNN
February 25, 2013 -- Updated 1826 GMT (0226 HKT)
(File photo) US soldiers walk during a patrol in Wardak province on December 2, 2010.
(File photo) US soldiers walk during a patrol in Wardak province on December 2, 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A U.S.-NATO-Afghan joint probe will look at allegations against U.S. "special force"
  • NEW: Local Afghan officials tell CNN the allegations came from upset residents
  • The Afghan president's office didn't indicate the source of the allegations
  • "We found no supporting evidence," NATO says

(CNN) -- Did a "U.S. special force" commit acts of "torture" and "murder" in Afghanistan? That suggestion came out of a meeting of the ruling Afghan council led by President Hamid Karzai.

NATO said Monday it has found no evidence to support the allegations, which appeared in a statement Sunday from Karzai's office.

"It became clear that armed individuals named as U.S. special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people," said the statement. It didn't indicate who identified the attackers as "U.S. special force."

Nine people "disappeared in an operation" recently by a "suspicious force" in Wardak province, west of Kabul, according to the statement from Karzai's office. Wardak is important because it's often used as a main route for insurgents trying to gain access to Kabul.

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The statement also described an incident in which a student was taken from his home at night. His "tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge," the statement said.

"Such actions have caused local public resentment and hatred," said Karzai's office.

The shocking allegations follow months of U.S. Special Operations raids that have deeply offended some Afghans angry about foreigners entering their homes.

U.S. officials have said the raids are vital to NATO's operation against insurgents.

The U.S. military has said it is investigating and officials of NATO's International Security Assistance Force plan to hold talks about the allegations with Afghan officials.

A joint investigation will be conducted by a commission made up of U.S., NATO and Afghan officials, ISAF spokesman Jamie Graybeal told CNN.

"We have spent the day in discussions with the Afghan government and agreed to a joint commission that will look into the concerns of the people of Wardak," he said.

ISAF said Monday via Twitter, "We will not start with the assumption that the allegations are true. We looked into the allegations" and "found no supporting evidence for them."

Local officials told CNN the allegations came from residents in Wardak.

Hazrat Janan, a member of the local provincial council, told CNN that dozens of people complained to him and a visiting delegation from Kabul about alleged attacks on civilians by "U.S. special forces." The delegation then reported it to Karzai, Janan said.

NATO's response came a day after the Afghan government demanded that U.S. Special Operations Forces leave Wardak province. The Afghanistan National Security Council also said the ISAF must stop all special forces operations in the province. "Until we have a chance to speak with Afghan officials, we can't comment further on the statements of yesterday," ISAF said Monday.

Janan told CNN that until recently, there had always been good coordination between the Americans and the Afghans. "But in the last several months this coordination had vanished and caused so many tensions including all these civilian causalities and complaints against them," Janan said.

Wardak provincial spokesman Ataullah Khugyani told CNN there have been "too many complaints against U.S. special forces in different districts of the province."

Another local official told CNN Karzai's order for U.S. Special Operations Forces to leave the province may have helped to avoid more trouble.

"If President Karzai's hadn't made the decision, the people of the province were planning big riots and they wanted to block the Kabul-Bamyan and Kabul-Kandahar highways," said Esmat Hotak,a resident of Wardak's Jalriz district. "Just a month ago U.S. special forces blew up the gates of 12 houses in a single night and beat up 20 young men in Zewalat area of the province."

However, some Afghans fear a Taliban resurgence if there are no U.S. special forces in the region.

"In the last year U.S. special forces destroyed almost 70% of the Taliban and other insurgents in Wardak province without causing any civilian casualties," said an Afghan political analyst in Wardak who asked not to be identified, fearing retribution. "If the U.S. special forces leave the province, I am sure that the province would completely fall into the hands of the insurgents in less than a year and that would definitely have a negative impact on the security in Kabul and other neighboring provinces."

Last April, the United States and Afghanistan signed a deal that effectively gave Afghan authorities veto power over controversial special forces missions.

The agreement prevents ISAF from conducting such operations without the explicit permission of Afghan officials, a senior NATO official said.

Special Operations Forces will operate under Afghan law, said a statement from Karzai's office.

The complex system fully "Afghanized" such operations, putting Afghan commandos in the lead and giving American Special Operations Forces a "training and support role," a senior Afghan official said.

Under the deal, U.S. Special Operations Forces would be on the ground but would not enter Afghan homes unless specifically asked to do so by Afghan commandos leading the operation, or by other Afghan officials, a senior NATO official said.

CNN's Masoud Popalzai reported this story from Afghanistan, CNN's Barbara Starr reported from the Pentagon, CNN's Thom Patterson, Catherine E. Shoichet and Greg Botelho reported from Atlanta and Nick Paton Walsh contributed to this report.

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