Kabul, U.S. ‘reach deal’ on forces pullout

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The United States and Kabul appeared Wednesday to reach an agreement on the pullout of coalition forces from a strategic province, nearly a month after an ultimatum from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai on February 24 gave American Special Forces two weeks to leave Wardak, a hotbed of Taliban activity on the doorstep of Kabul, accusing Afghans they work with of torture and murder that has incited local hatred.

The issue has been a source of rising tensions between Kabul and the United States with a series of astonishing outbursts against the international coalition from Karzai’s palace in recent weeks.

Just hours before the agreement was announced by the U.S. led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the presidency branded the NATO-led military operation in the country “aimless and unwise.”

“I am pleased to announce that following a very constructive series of talks... we have come to agreement on a plan for Wardak,” said General Joseph Dunford, the U.S. commander of ISAF, following talks with Karzai.

ISAF said that Afghan forces would “soon” move into the district of Nerkh, which “will preclude” the need for Afghan Local Police and coalition forces to remain in the area.

Nerkh is one of eight districts in Wardak. The statement said the “remainder of the province will transition over time” but no dates were announced.

Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the defense ministry, told AFP that US Special Forces would leave Nerkh “within a few days” but declined to provide any details.

The agreement will be seen as a compromise for Karzai. The U.S. military said it found no evidence to back the allegations that Afghan militia working with US forces had tortured and murdered civilians.

Neither did the statement make any specific mention of U.S. Special Forces.

Relations between Karzai and Washington have become increasingly troubled with the bulk of NATO’s 100,000 combat soldiers due to leave by the end of next year.

But a deputy spokesman for Karzai welcomed the agreement.

“This has been the true demand of Afghan people and president. We welcome the agreement and we expect that it will be finalized as agreed,” Adela Raz told AFP.

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