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Afghan Government Bans Some American Forces For Links To Killings And Torture


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Afghanistan's president is demanding that American Special Forces, Green Berets, withdraw from a key province. It's located near the capital, Kabul. Hamid Karzai says the Special Forces are linked to allegations of kidnapping, killing and torture. What actually happened, however, is not clear. And to try to make sense of this, we're joined by NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

And, Tom, obviously, a complicated story, trying to get to the bottom of it. So what exactly is the allegation, and were there atrocities committed?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Audie, this is supposed to have happened in Wardak province, just south and west of Kabul. Now, U.S. Green Berets are there training Afghans and mounting raids against the Taliban and teaming up often with Afghan forces. Now, what the Afghans are saying is that people are disappearing around here. There are charges of torture, and in one case, a person was found under a bridge with his throat cut. And all of this happened over the past few months. So the first question is did these things happen? And if so, who did it?

The original suggestion from the Afghan government was U.S. Special Forces were responsible. They later backed off in that and said U.S. Special Forces were enablers. They allowed this to happen. And the U.S. command, by the way, said today they've looked into this and said Americans were in no way involved. So it's all very still uncertain about exactly what happened here.

CORNISH: So U.S. forces are denying any role, and it sounds like the implication here is that Afghan forces working with the Americans committed these acts?

BOWMAN: You know, that's possible and that's the implication here. The Americans work with a variety of Afghan forces. There's the Afghan special forces, very highly trained like the American Green Berets, then there's the Afghan Commandos, and then there's another group called the Afghan Local Police, which is something like a neighborhood watch. And the Green Berets, the American Green Berets have trained more than 15,000 of these local police members around the country and hope to double that number.

CORNISH: So to parse this out, people are talking about local security forces, not the Afghan national army?

BOWMAN: That's right. And that's an important point. And again, this is like an armed community watch, members are chosen by local elders. And they're supposed to come under police authority, Afghan police authority. But there's always been this tension between President Karzai and the Americans over the creation of these local security forces. The Americans see them as being vital because you create security village by village. You have the backing of the tribal elders. Karzai is worried about them.

He thinks it could return to local militias by having these Afghan local police. But it's important to note at this point we don't know which groups are being blamed and whether these charges have any merit. But the U.S. and the Afghans have agreed to set up a committee to investigate exactly what happened here.

CORNISH: And in the meantime, President Karzai wants U.S. Special Forces out of this province in two weeks. So give us some context. How significant is the province? And what would it mean if U.S. Special Forces are to go?

BOWMAN: Well, this is a strategically important area. It's right near Kabul. And it's become an area where the Taliban prepare for attacks into the capital itself. It's essentially, Audie, a staging area for attacks. Suicide bombers and weapons are placed here. And fighters coming across the border from Pakistan work the way out through Wardak. And the security has gotten worse here over the past couple of years.

KATHRYN RUEMMLER: And as the U.S. draws down there, its conventional forces in Afghanistan, that will mean greater reliance on these American Special Forces for training the Afghans and fighting the Taliban. So if the U.S. leaves Wardak province, if the Special Forces pull out, it could make security even worse there because the sense is the Afghan forces just aren't ready to handle security for themselves.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.