- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 24, 2013

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is calling for all U.S. special operations forces to stop all activity in Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan immediately and leave entirely in two weeks after reports that the troops are “harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people,” according to an official statement.

“However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force,” Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said Sunday in a statement, adding that “such actions have caused local public resentment and hatred.”

In a response Sunday, the NATO coalition in Afghanistan said it cannot comment on the matter until it has spoken with senior Afghan government officials, adding: “We take allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them.”

Mr. Karzai’s decision, made during a recent Afghan National Security Council meeting, highlights the tension between the nation’s government and the international forces that are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is considering whether to fund 352,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers after 2014 for four years to help secure the country’s security after NATO combat troops withdraw, defense officials said. The estimated cost would be $6.5 billion a year, the majority of it paid by the U.S.

In addition, the Pentagon is calling for 8,000 to 12,000 NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 to train Afghan National Security Forces, but it has not divulged how many U.S. troops would take part in the training mission or in a remnant special operations force that would conduct counterterrorism missions against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that the counterterrorism mission could number between 2,000 and 4,000 U.S. troops, including special operations teams.

However, President Obama has not yet decided on exact U.S. troop numbers for the training and counterterrorism missions.

“Our goal is obviously to ensure the success of this new mission and the long-term stability of Afghanistan. We’ve made a commitment to a strong enduring presence, and we intend to stand by that commitment,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Friday in Brussels, where he was attending a NATO ministerial meeting.

Mr. Panetta said Friday that the U.S. will maintain a “strong presence” of more than 60,000 U.S. troops during the fighting season through August, when NATO hands over the remaining portion of security responsibilities to Afghan troops.

After August, about 10,000 troops would return home by November and another 16,000 by next February. The remaining 34,000 would be in place through Afghanistan’s presidential election in April 2014, and the final drawdown of combat troops would continue to the end of 2014.

“The [Afghan National Security Forces] are now in the lead for nearly 90 percent of combat operations. And they are on track to step into the lead for all of these operations by this spring,” Mr. Panetta said.

The U.S. had decided in May to fund only 230,000 Afghan security forces after 2014 at a cost of about $4.1 billion a year, of which the U.S. would pay the majority.

The Afghan force of 352,000 troops would be funded through 2018 before moving toward a “more sustainable number,” Mr. Panetta said. “That is seriously being considered by the president.”

“If the president makes the decision to continue the [Afghan force’s] presence at 352,000, that would be an investment that would be worth making, because it would allow us greater flexibility as we take down our troops, and it would allow us greater flexibility, frankly, to save in the funds that we now dedicate to the war-fighting effort. And I think I can make that case to the Congress, that that would be an effective trade-off,” the defense secretary said.

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