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Angry Afghan villagers want US special forces out

Tuesday - 3/12/2013, 7:56am  ET

Afghan National Civil Order Police check passengers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Maidan Shahr, Wardak province, Afghanistan, Sunday, March 10, 2013. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, infuriated by villager reports of forced detentions and mass arrests, gave U.S. Special Forces two weeks to vacate Wardak province, located barely 30 kilometers (24 miles) from the Afghan capital of Kabul. The deadline for their withdrawal expired midnight Sunday, March 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

The Associated Press

MAIDAN SHAHR, Afghanistan (AP) -- An Afghan policeman gunned down two U.S. special forces on Monday in Wardak province, less than 24 hours after President Hamid Karzai's deadline expired for them to leave the area where residents have grown increasingly hostile toward the Americans.

Despite Karzai's orders, the American special operations forces remain in the province where dozens of villagers accuse them and their Afghan partners of intimidation through unprovoked beatings, mass arrests and forced detentions. The shootout, which also killed two Afghan policemen, only deepens the distrust.

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan says it has found no evidence to support the claims of abuse. But infuriated by the villagers' allegations, Karzai two weeks ago ordered U.S. special operations forces to withdraw by midnight Sunday from Wardak province, 45 kilometers (27 miles) south of the capital, Kabul.

Most international forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Wardak, like the rest of the country, is slated to be eventually handed over to Afghan forces, but U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, indicated on Sunday that the troops were not leaving Wardak province just yet.

"The only issue is the timeline and the methodology, and we're still working on that," Dunford said.

Wardak has a stubborn insurgency on the doorstep of the capital Kabul and its location has led some U.S. military officials to warn that a premature withdrawal of U.S. special operations forces would open a "six-lane highway" into Kabul for the Taliban. But Afghan security forces disagree, saying they don't think insurgents can capture the provincial capital.

On Monday, an Afghan policeman stood up in the back of a pickup truck, grabbed a machine gun and started firing at U.S. special forces and other Afghan policemen at a police compound in Wardak's Jalrez district, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Maidan Shahr, said the province's Deputy Police Chief Abdul Razaq Koraishi.

Two U.S. special operations forces and two Afghan policemen were killed and four others were wounded in the gunfight before the assailant was gunned down, Koraishi said.

A U.S. defense official in Washington and a coalition official in Afghanistan said 10 Americans -- both special operators and regular soldiers who worked in a combined team -- and at least 12 Afghans were wounded in the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the attack with reporters.

It is not known whether the assailant was targeting the Afghan policemen along with the U.S. special operations forces and whether they were killed by the assailant's bullets or during the crossfire. It's also unclear whether the incident was directly related to the simmering tensions between villagers in Wardak who are unhappy with the U.S. special operations forces and their Afghan partners.

Afghan police Sgt. Agha Mirza summed up the hostility toward U.S. special forces that others also expressed to The Associated Press during a series of interviews Sunday in the province.

"They are always disturbing the people," Mirza said, standing with his rifle slung over his shoulder at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Wardak's capital, Maidan Shahr. "If they disturb me, I have a gun."

Grizzled and gray, Mohammed Nabi told the AP that his eldest son was picked up by U.S. special operations forces more than three months ago. No one has told his family where he is or why he was arrested.

"If they don't go, we will go," Nabi said. "We will leave this place. I will set up a tent anywhere."

He said dozens of families have already moved out of his home village of Deh Afghanan because of alleged mistreatment by the special forces and their Afghan partners. He alleged that both "beat people and make our lives miserable."

"This is no life for us or for our children," he said.

Nabi said he and about 80 other Afghan men were detained two weeks ago following Friday prayers at the Kar Ka Mubarak mosque in Deh Afghanan, a few kilometers (miles) southeast of Maidan Shahr.

"For two hours, we stood in the snow," Nabi said. "One old man wanted to go the bathroom and they said: 'Go in your pants.'"

His brother nodded in agreement, and other men started shouting about their own experiences.

A carpenter sanding wood at a nearby workshop said he was stopped on his motorcycle as he was on his way to work in neighboring Dah Do village and detained for five hours.

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