KABUL, AfghanistanThe U.S. military and the Afghan government reached a deal Wednesday on a gradual pullout of American special forces and their Afghan counterparts from a contentious eastern province, officials said.
President Hamid Karzai has blamed the troops for egregious human rights abuses in Wardak province, allegations which U.S. military officials have steadfastly denied.
However, NATO forces said in a statement that commander Gen. Joseph Dunford agreed with Karzai to remove American troops first from Wardak's Nerkh district and then later from other parts of the province.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi confirmed there has been a deal in a news conference in Kabul on Wednesday.
"The international forces are ready to withdraw the special forces from Nirkh district of Maidan Wardak province and Afghan army units are going to replace them in the coming days," Azimi said, adding that there are no other U.S. commando units in the rest of the province.
A U.S. military official explained that a small, mostly U.S. army special operations team would withdraw from Nerkh, as would the Afghan local police force that works alongside the Americans.
The deal marked a political win for Karzai, who has long complained the U.S. special operations troops and their Afghan allies were outside his control. It will also speed the handover of security in the troubled province, faster than U.S. officials and some members of Karzai's own government had recommended or planned.
U.S. and Afghan officials have privately expressed concern that the inexperienced Afghan security forces are not yet ready to take over in such a key area. Wardak and neighboring Logar province are used staging grounds for the Taliban and insurgents from the Haqqani network to launch attacks on the capital, Kabul.
Only last Friday, Afghan intelligence seized a truck loaded with almost eight metric tons (8.8 tons) of homemade explosives just east out of Kabul, which intelligence officials believe could have taken out a square mile of the city.
The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity to recount their disagreement with Karzai and concerns over the deal.
Speaking ahead of the announcement of the deal, Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizee said the Afghan security forces were going to take control of the province eventually, so the gradual transfer "can be a testing period."
Faizee insisted earlier this week that an Afghan American working for the U.S. special operations forces was filmed abusing a suspect, on U.S. orders. The spokesman said the film was obtained during an Afghan defense ministry investigation, which was completed over the weekend.
Dunford, the U.S. commander of all forces in Afghanistan, rejected the abuse charge in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. He said a recently completed U.S. investigation found the interpreter in question was not working with U.S. forces at the time of the incident.