US special operations forces handed over their base in a strategic region of eastern Afghanistan to local Afghan commandos on Saturday, a senior US commander said.
The withdrawal from Nirkh district meets a demand by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that US forces leave the area after allegations that the Americans’ Afghan counterparts committed human rights abuses there.
“We’re coming out of Nirkh,” said Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, the top US special operations commander in Afghanistan.
Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Wardak province outside Kabul in which Nirkh is located, confirmed that US special operations forces withdrew and were replaced by a joint Afghan security forces team.
The transfer of authority ends a controversial chapter in which Karzai accused US troops and an interpreter working with them of torture, kidnapping and summary execution of militant suspects in Nirkh – charges US officials including top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford firmly denied.
The incident shows the larger struggle of Karzai’s government to assert its authority over security matters, even as its green security forces try to assume control of much of the country from coalition forces on a rushed timeline, ahead of the scheduled withdrawal of most of coalition forces by December 2014.
Karzai had originally demanded the US special operations forces pull out from the entire province, a gateway and staging area for Taliban and other militants for attacks on the capital Kabul.
But he scaled down his demands to just the single district after negotiations with Dunford and other US officials.
“President Karzai was specific, it’s only for Nirkh, that was a provocative point,” Thomas said.
“American special operations forces are integral in the defence of Wardak from now until the foreseeable future.”