Inside Story Americas

Expelling the American 'frenemy'

Will Afghan claims of misconduct by US special forces strangle the fraught relationship between Kabul and Washington?
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2013 13:56

Anti-US protests have been held in Afghanistan's Maidan Wardak province where US special forces troops have been asked to leave within two weeks over accusations that Afghans working with them have tortured and killed innocent people.

"These are really symptoms of much deeper issues that we have to deal with right now: The transition process,  the 2014 deadline of US troops withdrawing is looming over the horizon ... the US is withdrawing after 11-12 years of involvement in Afghanistan ... all the strategies behind it are exit strategies and there is really not much that is sustainable .... At the same time we have elections coming in Afghanistan in 2014 and these elections are critically important ... and there is a question mark as to whether or not they will be effective or not, if they will be as bad as 2009 ... it might even push the country into a precarious position or a position of a civil war."

- Masood Aziz, a former diplomat

The row is further complicating talks between the Washington and Kabul over the presence of American troops once NATO's mission comes to end in 2014.

US officials have said no international troops were involved in misconduct and John Kerry, the secretary of state, has said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will investigate the matter.

With these allegations mounting Afghan President Hamid Karzai took a firm stand, and his spokesperson issued this statement:

"The Afghan National Security meeting made a decision and has assigned the Ministry of Defence to pull out all US special forces from Wardak province within two weeks."

Karzai has frequently complained that the US military was undermining his country's independence - particularly over the past year.

  • Last November, Hamid Karzai accused the US of violating an agreement to hand over all Afghan detainees.
  • The US says it has concerns that prisoners will be tortured in Afghan hands - and in January suspended the transfer of prisoners to some Afghan jails.
  • Karzai has also accused US forces of detaining prisoners who should have been released under Afghan court orders.
  • He has repeatedly asked the US to stop night raids and airstrikes in civilian areas, but NATO has continued with both.
  • And earlier this month, he barred Afghan forces from seeking NATO airstrikes while conducting operations in residential areas. The order came after 10 civilians were killed by a NATO airstrike in eastern Kunar province.

As President Karzai expels US special forces from the key Afghan province, can the US-Afghan relationship get any worse? And how could the absence of US forces impact stability, security and the upcoming Afghan elections?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Kimberly Halkett, is joined by guests: Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO; Masood Aziz, a former diplomat who served as a senior advisor at the Afghan embassy in Washington; and Gareth Porter, an investigative journalist and historian who writes extensively about the US' national security and foreign policy.

"This is not something that is going to be solved by some reform in the system. The problem is that you have a system of special forces operations in Afghanistan that is in its essence problematic. You have a lack of accountability essentially to anyone outside the special forces structure where there is a system of incentives for the Special Forces to maximise the number of operations and the number of people that they capture or kill in those operations. They get credit for that - they put out numbers and their budget goes up."

Gareth Porter, and investigative journalist


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