The presence of American special operations troops in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, against the wishes of the Afghan government, brought protesters to the capital on Saturday. Afghan president Hamid Karzai had given the Americans until March 10 to remove all special operations troops from the province after complaints about night raids. Top American commander, general Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said that despite public demands by the Afghan president, the United States does not plan to remove the special operations forces anytime soon, but rather is trying to hand over authority to Afghan officials as quickly as possible.
The powerful Ulema council whose members are appointed by president Karzai and represent the country’s Islamic clerics, issued a threatening statement demanding the withdrawal of American forces from Wardak. The statement said, “If the Americans once again do not honor their commitments and keep on disobeying, then this will be considered as an occupation, and they may expect to see a reaction to their action.” It also refereed to the American’s as “infidels” echoing language used by the Taliban.
The 300 demonstrators from Wardak Province staged a peaceful demonstration calling for the removal of American troops. Some of the protesters were relatives of people who had disappeared in raids by Afghans who work alongside the Americans in Wardak. One young man said, “We want our missing men, dead or alive,” referring to the nine people who had disappeared after one of the night operations. A joint investigation by the Afghan government and the American forces has not been able to determine the fate of the nine people. There is little presence of regular American military units in Wardak Province so the special operations troops along with Afghan special forces units carry out the bulk of the counterterrorism operations in the area.
General Dunford said that “there are plans to develop a long-term security plan in conjunction with Afghan security forces to transition Wardak in a responsible, deliberate way.” He also said that he “will work very closely with [Afghan] security forces to develop a transition plan for Wardak Province.”
Early March 11, an Afghan police officer opened fire on American special operations troops and Afghan forces in Wardak, killing two Americans. Then, citing disputes with the Afghans over Wardak and recent “inflammatory” comments from president Karzai, General Dunford issued an advisory to top commanders warning them to be on alert.
President Karzai has not commented on the Americans not leaving Wardak although he held a meeting with elders with which he spoke of the issues. According to his press office, “The president called relations between Afghanistan and America complicated and said that the recent problems in relations, such as lack of clarity in the fight against terrorism, complete transfer of Bagram prison to Afghan sovereignty, continuation of civilian casualties and lack of respect to national sovereignty of Afghanistan have caused problems between the two countries.”
The Afghan president also praised the role of the United States in Afghanistan calling the United States “a friend and a strategic ally.”