Afghan president to expel U.S. special forces from key province

KABUL Sun Feb 24, 2013 9:39pm GMT

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a news conference in Kabul January 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given U.S. special forces two weeks to leave a key battleground province after some U.S. soldiers there were found to have tortured or even killed innocent people, the president's spokesman said on Sunday.

The decision by Karzai could further complicate negotiations between the United States and Afghanistan over the presence of Americans troops in the country once most NATO forces leave by the end of 2014.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said villagers in Wardak province had lodged a series of complaints about operations conducted by U.S. special forces and a group of Afghans working with them.

The decision was reached at a Sunday meeting of the Afghan National Security Council, chaired by Karzai, Faizi said.

"The Ministry of Defense was assigned to make sure all U.S. special forces are out of the province within two weeks," he said.

"After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as U.S. special forces stationed in Wardak province were engaging in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people," Faizi added.

A statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan said: "US Forces Afghanistan is aware of the reporting of Presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi's comments today. We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them.

"But until we have had a chance to speak with senior Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials about this issue, we are not in a position to comment further."

Sunday's announcement came days after Karzai issued a decree banning all Afghan security forces from using NATO air strikes in residential areas, in a bid to curb civilian casualties.

That was in response to an operation in Kunar targeting four Taliban members which resulted in the deaths of ten civilians, including five children, during an air strike.

Karzai has long warned his Western backers that the killing of civilians could sap support for the foreign troops in the country and fuel the insurgency.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Washington bureau; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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