Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - Page 6 News List

NATO forces agree to pull out of key Afghan province

Reuters, KABUL

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led forces have reached an agreement on the departure of foreign troops from a strategically key province near the capital, coalition forces said, but it was unclear if US special forces would leave.

An Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman told reporters in Kabul that the elite US force would quit Wardak Province within a few days, despite earlier US concerns that their departure would leave a security vacuum.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in a statement said that Afghan security forces would take over security from coalition forces in Wardak, but did specifically mention the withdrawal of US special forces.

The expulsion of US special forces has raised fears that Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami militants might use Wardak, just a 40-minute drive away from Kabul, as a launch pad for attacks on the capital.

Karzai first ordered their expulsion last month after villagers accused them of torturing and killing civilians, which the US denied.

Despite the deadline for their departure expiring more than a week ago, special forces tasked with fighting the Taliban are still operating there, US and Afghan officials say.

Their continued deployment has angered Karzai, who has become increasingly critical of his Western allies operating in the country ahead of the departure of most foreign troops by the end of next year.

ISAF said the arrival of the Afghan security forces would “preclude the need for ALP [Afghan Local Police] and Coalition forces” in Wardak’s Nerkh District, a known hiding place of the Taliban.

“This plan meets the president’s intent and leverages the growing capacity and capability of the Afghan security forces to meet the security needs of this country,” ISAF Commander Joseph Dunford said.

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