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3rd Prd 12:28

Karzai eases demand that US forces leave province

KABUL — President Hamid Karzai’s government agreed to compromise on his demand that US Special Forces immediately leave Wardak Province, according to statements from US and Afghan officials on Wednesday, breaking an increasingly acrimonious impasse.

Tensions over Karzai’s order grew sharply worse just more than a week ago after the discovery that the US military had ignored his March 10 deadline for withdrawal.

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“I am pleased to announce that following a very constructive series of talks with the president and the leadership of the MOD and MOI, we have come to agreement on a plan for Wardak that continues the transition of this critical province and meets the security needs of the people and the requirements of our mission,’’ General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said in a statement, referring to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior.

The statement offered only a vague sense of timing, saying that full security control in one particular district, Nerkh, would be handed over by US Special Forces and the Afghan Local Police militiamen they train ‘‘soon,’’ and the rest of Wardak transitioning over time. Wardak sits directly to the west of Kabul and important roadways run through it, making it a frequent staging ground for insurgent attacks against the capital.

The dispute came on the heels of complaints related to abuses by US forces and accompanying Afghan men during night raids in the province, allegations the coalition has flatly denied. Some Afghan and Western officials say that groups friendly with Hezb-i-Islami insurgents were responsible for actions leading to the complaints.

The conflict over Wardak has come during a stretch of increasingly strident criticism by Karzai about Western involvement in Afghanistan, with some analysts saying he is evoking Afghan sovereignty in an attempt to shake an image as a US lackey.

Additional flash points
that touch on issues of Afghan sovereignty have bedeviled
relations between Afghans and the coalition in recent months.

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