The Afghan government Sunday ordered all U.S. special forces to leave a province after reports from local officials that the elite force is behind several cases of Afghan civilians being tortured or disappeared.
The decision seems to have caught the coalition and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, a separate command, by surprise, the Associated Press reported.
Officials in Maidan Wardak, a province that borders Kabul on the west and where security has deteriorated over the past year, had presented evidence to President Hamid Karzai and other officials alleging that nine people had disappeared after being seized by U.S. special forces in raids on their homes, the Guardian reported.
U.S. special forces were also accused of the death of a university student whose tortured remains were found days after he went missing.
"People have been complaining about U.S. special forces units torturing and killing people in that province, and nine individuals were taken from their homes recently and they have just disappeared and no one knows where they have gone," said Aimal Faizi, spokesman for Karzai.
Officials made the decision at a meeting Sunday morning chaired by Karzai, Faizi said, but the government has known of the allegations for months.
Karzai's office gave no additional details and didn't specify the identities of the Afghans working alongside the U.S. forces. And the Wardak province chief of police told The Los Angeles Times that he had no evidence to back up the claims.
The announcement comes days after NATO defense ministers said they had made progress planning a military assistance mission in Afghanistan after the alliance’s combat role expires at the end of 2014.
A draft proposal discussed last week in Brussels for possible NATO operations in Afghanistan after 2014 envisions a force of up to 9,500 American troops and up to 6,000 more from other coalition nations, according to alliance officials, who stressed that no final decisions had been made, the AP reported. Other NATO officials said the combined American and allied force would be smaller, falling in a range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops.
The Taliban have staged many attacks against coalition forces in Maidan Wardak. In August 2011, insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter, killing 30 American troops, mostly elite Navy SEALs, in Wardak. The crash was the single deadliest loss for U.S. forces in the war.
Afghan forces have taken the lead in many special operations, especially so-called night raids.
"Those Afghans in these armed groups who are working with the U.S. special forces, the defense minister asked for an explanation of who they are," Faizi said. "Those individuals should be handed over to the Afghan side so that we can further investigate."
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul said it was aware of the order, but declined to provide further information. It was also unable to confirm the number of U.S. special forces currently in Maidan Wardak.
"We take allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them, but until we've had a chance to talk to senior government of Afghanistan officials, we're not in a position to comment further," a spokesman said.
"These individuals in the U.S. special forces, who are behind these crimes like murdering and torturing people and harassing people, this is in itself an elemental factor in the deteriorating security situation" in the province, Faizi said.
Afghanistan's own elite commando forces, including the 1st, 2nd and 6th Special Operations Kandak, also operate in Maidan Wardak, often working alongside the Americans. Faizi said that association was making enemies for the government.
Sunday's decision comes as Afghan forces face mounting pressure to show they are fit to fully inherit Afghanistan's security from their foreign backers in 2014. Tensions between Karzai's government and the alliance also hit a new low last week after he condemned a NATO airstrike that killed nine civilians. He then issued a decree banning Afghan security forces from calling in NATO airstrikes.
Faizi said security in Maidan Wardak, and nearby Logar province, which also borders Pakistan, has been of particular concern to the Afghan government because of heightened violence and Taliban activity there.
Maidan Wardak currently hosts mainly U.S. troops. A brigade of 3,000 to 4,000 Afghan soldiers is also deployed in the province, according to ISAF.
Meanwhile, Taliban suicide bombers attacked several Afghan military installations in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan Sunday.