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ISAF begins pulling out of an Afghan province with a legacy

By Ben Brumfield and Thom Patterson, CNN
March 20, 2013 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
Afghan border policemen stand guard near their US-made vehicle in Maidan Shar, capital of Wardak province, March 18, 2013.
Afghan border policemen stand guard near their US-made vehicle in Maidan Shar, capital of Wardak province, March 18, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Karzai accused a "U.S. special force" of torture and murder in Wardak province
  • Coalition forces will leave one of Wardak's districts "soon"
  • Residents have relayed allegations of violence by U.S. troops to local officials
  • Wardak is strategically important as a gateway to Kabul

(CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai in February accused U.S. forces of "torture" and "murder" in the restive Wardak province. Now Western powers will pull out of one of its districts after reaching an agreement with Karzai on the area's future.

Coalition troops and Afghan police will withdraw from the Nerkh District near Kabul, said spokesman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford of the International Security Assistance Force on Wednesday. Afghan National Security Forces will replace them there "soon."

READ: Opinion: U.S. withdrawal is 'tough love' for disbelieving Afghans

NATO has insisted it cannot substantiate the accusations by the government in Kabul.

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Wardak is known as the province where the United States suffered its largest loss of life in a single day in the war in Afghanistan. In August 2011, the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter killing 38 on board, including 22 Navy SEALs and other members of U.S. special operations forces.

READ: U.S. official: Killed forces were reinforcing troops in Afghanistan

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Karzai has accused a "U.S. special force" operating in Wardak of "harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people," according to a statement at the time.

But the complaints did not originate with the Afghan leader, a local official has said.

Dozens of residents of Wardak approached Hazrat Janan, a member of the local provincial council, complaining about attacks. A delegation then reported them to Karzai, Janan said.

Other residents and officials in the region have also reported incidents of violence by U.S. troops.

Nine people "disappeared in an operation" by a "suspicious force," according to the statement from Karzai's office. It also described an incident in which a student was taken from his home at night. His "tortured body with (its) throat cut was found two days later under a bridge," it said.

The alleged incidents have ignited resentment and anger.

Wardak a key location

Wardak is strategically important because it's often used as a main route by insurgents trying to gain access to Kabul, the Afghan capital. U.S. forces have carried out months of special operations to vanquish Taliban fighters in the province.

But raids 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 once good relationship between the American and Afghan troops cooperating in the operations seems to have gone sour, Janan said. And tensions between them have risen.

Earlier this month, a man wearing an ANSF uniform fired at U.S. troops with a truck-mounted machine gun, killing two of them, including one Green Beret. The gunman wounded 10 more Americans. Coalition forces returned fire, killing him.

A deal struck between United States and Afghanistan in April 2012 gives Kabul the right to veto U.S. operations in the country. Karzai made use of it in Wardak this year and ordered some U.S. special operations forces to leave the province to avoid more trouble.

Some Afghans fear a Taliban resurgence if they all disappear from 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.

He said he is sure that without the Americans, insurgents will have a grip on Wardak in "less than a year," which will give them easy access to Kabul.

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