KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. military leaders on Saturday formally handed over security responsibilities to Afghan troops in an area of Wardak province that was the focus of claims by President Hamid Karzai that U.S. troops were responsible for kidnappings and human rights abuses.
The transfer of a base in the Nerkh district of Wardak province from U.S. special operations forces to Afghan troops comes 10 days after Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, reached an agreement with Karzai to carry out the handover.
Karzai initially wanted all American special forces personnel out of Wardak, but later agreed to limit the immediate handover to Nerkh.
“As we pledged, our forces have transitioned Nerkh district to Afghan national security forces, and they have now assumed full responsibility for security in this key district,” Dunford said in a prepared statement. “The rest of Wardak will continue to transition over time, as Afghan forces continue to grow in capability and capacity.”
Karzai further strained relations between Kabul and Washington by claiming that American special forces and U.S.-trained Afghan police in Wardak had recently kidnapped nine villagers from Nerkh and had mutilated the body of another villager from a different district after killing him.
U.S. military leaders adamantly denied the allegations. Local law enforcement and provincial officials in Wardak also have said there was no basis for Karzai’s accusations.
Afghan police who investigated the man’s slaying said he was a Taliban facilitator killed amid a power struggle between rival Islamist groups. U.S. officials have said they arrested four of the nine men Karzai claimed were abducted and are holding them on suspicion of involvement in insurgent attacks, and had no contact with the other five men.
No timetable has been set for the handover of the rest of Wardak province to Afghan troops.
Wardak is regarded as a key province because it serves as a western gateway to Kabul, the Afghan capital. Wardak law enforcement officials have said they are worried that the removal of U.S. special forces personnel from the province could erode security there and give Taliban militants space from which to launch attacks on Kabul, about half an hour’s drive away.