President Hamid Karzai has ordered the Ministry of Defense to eject all “US Special Forces” from the key eastern province of Wardak after accusing the American troops or their local Afghan security partners of committing war crimes. Karzai’s order is an ominous development for future US and NATO plans, which are expected to rely heavily on special operations forces to take on a greater role as the bulk of conventional forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan.
“Today, the National Security Council ordered the Ministry of Defense to remove American Special Forces within two weeks from Wardak province,” Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi told reporters, according to TOLONews.
“A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge,” he added.
US Forces – Afghanistan, an ISAF subcommand under which some US Special Forces operate, said it was aware of the statement attributed to Karzai and that it is investigating the allegations.
US special operations forces often partner with local Afghan security forces, such as the Afghan Local Police (ALP) at the village level. President Karzai has generally opposed the ALP, and some Afghans fear the local units, currently totaling 19,600 officers and often accused of corruption (as are more traditional Afghan government security forces), will foster a return to warlordism.
Karzai’s directive for “US Special Forces” to withdraw from Wardak comes as NATO is working to negotiate and finalize plans for its force structure in Afghanistan after combat forces are withdrawn by the end of 2014. Various draft proposals and statements by US personnel and NATO partners have indicated that a force of 8,000 to 15,500 NATO troops, comprised of up to 9,500 Americans, could remain in Afghanistan. The residual mission is expected to be structured around training Afghan security forces and the continuation of counterterrorism operations targeting high value enemies. Both tasks rely heavily on US Special Forces (a designation precisely indicating the US Army “Green Berets”) as well as the broader category of all US special operations forces.
Wardak is a troubled province
Wardak province, which borders Kabul to the southwest, has been contested by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the al Qaeda-linked Taliban subgroup, despite US efforts to secure the province over the past several years. The Taliban have been in control of the Tangi Valley, which runs through Wardak, since the withdrawal of US forces from Combat Outpost Tangi in the spring of 2011. US troops turned over the base to the Afghan Army, which immediately abandoned it. The Taliban later released a videotape that showed hundreds of fighters and senior Taliban leaders massing at the abandoned base and conducting a tour.
Wardak has been the scene of numerous high-profile attacks by the two groups, particularly in 2011. The Taliban shot down a US Army Chinook helicopter in Sayyidabad on Aug. 6, 2011. Thirty-eight US and Afghan troops, including 17 US Navy SEALS from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, were killed in the crash. And on Sept. 10, 2011, the Taliban detonated a massive suicide bomb outside of Combat Outpost Sayyidabad, killing four Afghans and wounding more than 100 people, including 77 US soldiers. US commanders later blamed the attack on the Haqqani Network, a powerful al Qaeda subgroup.
Al Qaeda is also known to maintain a presence in Wardak province. The presence of terror cells has been detected in the districts of Maidan Shah, Sayyidabad, and Tarnek Wa Jaldak, or three of the province’s eight districts. On Nov. 18, 2011, special operations forces killed Mujib Rahman Mayar, an Afghan member of al Qaeda. Mayar “trained insurgents and worked as a courier” for the terror group, ISAF stated after his death. “He delivered messages and transported money for the al Qaeda network.”