Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given elite American forces two weeks to leave the strategically important Wardak province, which the Taliban have been using as a staging ground for attacks on the capital, Kabul. Karzai's aides say the move is in response to allegations that Afghans working with U.S. special forces had tortured or killed civilians in the area. U.S. military leaders said they took the allegations seriously, although Americans were suspected of enabling abuses rather than committing them.
The ban signals to a population fed up with war that the government is taking a harder line over alleged abuses by foreign troops ahead of the end of the NATO mission in 2014. But will this move backfire and give Islamist insurgents carte blanche in this key region? "I'm not saying things are going to hell in a handbasket yet," says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air, "but this isn't a good sign." Plus, there's something fishy about the charges that Afghan units trained by the U.S. beheaded a local university student in the area.
That sounds a lot more like the Taliban to me, but I suppose we'll have to let them investigate and see. As we head toward what now seems to be the certain exit of U.S. forces next year — starting this summer, actually — it's not difficult to imagine things beginning to break down. [Hot Air]
Clearly, Karzai is searching for ways to handle the shifting reality as the U.S. and other foreign forces prepare to withdraw. Two weeks ago he barred Afghan forces from calling in air strikes by foreign forces, notes Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, "an apparent response to continued civilian resentment over attacks that had resulted in the deaths of women, children, and other innocents not involved with the fighting." In both cases, Karzai appears interested in "placating public resentment" over civilian victims.
The odd thing about the decision is that Wardak is seen as a gateway to Kabul and it seems odd that Karzai would take an action that, potentially, makes it easier for insurgents to conduct attacks in or near the capital.
In any case, I suspect we will see more of this as we get closer to the withdrawal of all U.S. forces. With the number of U.S. and coalition troops now decreasing, Karzai clearly feels himself free to go a more independent route. [Outside the Beltway]
If this does prove a setback in the fight against the Taliban, however, not everyone appears ready to blame Karzai. "I guess sooner or later," says John Cole at Balloon Juice, "the people we liberate get sick and tired of having their wedding parties blown up." Well, regardless of where blame lies, notes Jim White at Emptywheel, Karzai's decision to link Americans to "heinous crimes" only "adds more difficulty to the negotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement that will govern the presence of any U.S. forces in Afghanistan after 2014, for which it seems NATO wants to dangle an additional $22 billion in front of Afghan officials for potential embezzlement." So maybe the U.S. should call Karzai's bluff, and sprint for the exit, suggests Jonn Lilyea at This Ain't Hell. Karzai seems to be "worried more about his peace talks with the Taliban than prosecuting the war against them," Lilyea says, so maybe it's time to let him face the Taliban on his own.