Afghanistan's president has ordered US special forces out of a strategic province over allegations of torture and murder by Afghans working with them, in another sign of deteriorating ties between Kabul and Washington.
Hamid Karzai demanded the elite forces withdraw within two weeks from Wardak province, a hotbed of Taliban activity southwest of the capital Kabul, saying that the actions of armed groups had incited “hatred” among local people.
The move was the latest decision to sour relations as US-led foreign forces prepare to end their combat mission against the Taliban in 2014.
The Afghan president earlier in February ordered an end to local security forces calling in NATO air strikes - an important weapon in the fight against insurgents - amid concern over civilian casualties.
A US forces spokesman declined to comment on the Wardak order, saying the issue would first have to be discussed with Afghan officials, but that all allegations of misconduct were treated seriously.
Karzai took the decision on the central province, which is close to the capital and criss-crossed by important roads, in a meeting of the national security council, said presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi.
A statement from the presidential office said that armed individuals working with US special forces “engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people”.
“The Ministry of Defence was assigned to make sure all US special forces are out of the province within two weeks,” it said.
The statement cited a recent example in which nine people disappeared in an operation conducted by what it called the “suspicious force”.
In another incident, a student was taken away at night from his home, and his body was found with torture wounds and its throat cut two days later under a bridge, it said.
“However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force,” the statement said, adding the actions had “caused local public resentment and hatred”.
Karzai did not specify which groups were responsible, but US special forces team up with Afghan security forces at the grassroots level, including the Afghan Local Police which has been accused of thuggery and lawlessness.
A spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan said: “We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them.
“Until we have had a chance to speak with senior (Afghan) officials about this issue we are not in a position to comment further. This is an important issue that we intend to fully discuss with our Afghan counterparts.”
Tensions have been escalating between Afghanistan and the United States, which provides most of the foreign troops in the war-torn country, as the bulk of NATO's 100 000 soldiers prepare to leave by the end of 2014.
More than 3 200 NATO troops, mostly Americans, have died in support of Karzai's government in the war since the Taliban were ousted by a US invasion in 2001.
Karzai's jabs at the role of the foreign military have taken place amid sensitive discussions over the issue of NATO's mission in Afghanistan after 2014, including the size and role of a residual force.
US officials said last week that NATO may station up to 12 000 troops in Afghanistan - including any US contribution - to train and assist Kabul's forces after the combat mission ends.
The NATO allies are anxious to ensure that the efforts in blood and money of more than 12 difficult years of conflict are maintained by a strong Afghan army.
However, the war has grown increasingly unpopular and some countries are reluctant to make a large commitment given the risks still posed by the Taliban.
Additionally, there has been uncertainty over the US role as Washington and Kabul negotiate an accord on the legal status of US troops after 2014. - Sapa-AFP