— KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. special operations forces handed over their base in a strategic district of eastern Afghanistan to local Afghan special forces on Saturday, a senior U.S. commander said. The withdrawal satisfies a demand by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that U.S. forces leave the area after allegations that the Americans' Afghan counterparts committed human rights abuses there on U.S. orders.
The transfer of authority ends a particularly rocky episode in the strained relations between the U.S. and Karzai. He had insisted that U.S. forces leave Nirkh district in Wardak province over the alleged torture, kidnapping and summary execution of militant suspects there — charges U.S. officials 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.
"We're coming out of Nirkh," said Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, the top U.S. special operations commander in Afghanistan, in an interview with The Associated Press.
Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Wardak province outside Kabul, confirmed that U.S. special operations forces withdrew and were replaced by a joint Afghan security forces team.
Karzai had originally demanded the U.S. 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 top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford and other U.S. 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 defense of Wardak from now until the foreseeable future."