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Karzai relents on demands for U.S. special operations forces to withdraw

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's president on Wednesday relented in his demand for all U.S. special operations forces to withdraw from a strategic province east of the capital, agreeing to a compromise calling for the pullout of one team implicated in abuse allegations that the Americans have rejected.

The dispute underscores the fragile negotiations under way as Hamid Karzai seeks to redefine and expand control of his country and the United States and its allies prepare to end their combat missions by the end of 2014.

Wardak province is viewed as a gateway to Kabul and has been the focus of counterinsurgency efforts in recent years. But Karzai last month ordered all special operations forces out after local villagers accused Afghan troops working with the Americans there of torture, illegal detentions and other abuses.

The U.S.-led coalition denied the allegations. But NATO said Karzai and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the U.S. commander of all allied forces, had agreed Wednesday to remove a team of commandos and turn over security to government forces in Wardak's Nirkh district, the center of the allegations.

British Army Lt. Gen. Nick Carter, deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said it will be “business as usual” for U.S. special operations forces elsewhere in the restive province.

In an interview from Kabul with Pentagon reporters, Carter also described a somewhat vague timeline for the Nirkh transition, saying it will come “once the plan has been put together and there is confidence on all sides that it is possible” for the Afghans to take over security there.

Clarifying an earlier statement from NATO, Carter said the Afghan local police who work with U.S. special operation forces could stay on in some form, possibly paired with elite Afghan troops in place of the Americans — or they might be replaced by conventional Afghan forces, but that would be up to the Afghan security chiefs to determine.

The deal took more than three weeks to craft and was reached more than a week after the expiration of the deadline set by Karzai.

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