US, Afghan forces accuse each other in abuses
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Feb. 25 ordered all US Special Forces out of two key provinces within two weeks, accusing Afghan units under their command of being responsible for the torture, abuse and disappearance of civilians. Wardak and Logar provinces, lying just outside Kabul, are considered strategic gateways to the capital. Karzai's charges reference two apparently recent incidents: The disappearance of nine civilians following a special forces operation, and the death of a student who was taken away during a night raid and whose body was found two days later under a bridge with his throat cut and signs of torture. The US has denied its forces were involved.
The move comes a week after Karzai harshly criticized coalition forces for reckless air-strikes, ordering a ban on all aerial attacks in residential areas. The ban came after several civilians were apparently killed in an airstrike reportedly requested by Afghan forces. (LAT, Feb. 25; ABC News, Feb. 24)
Claims have mounted for years not only of indiscriminate civilian casualties in US/NATO operations in Afghanistan, but of intentional atrocities by US forces.
Meanwhile, an investigation by BBC's Panorama in Sangin, Helmand province, finds that Afghan national police being trained by US Marines there engage in routine abuses, including kidnapping civilians for ransom (under the thin guise of detaining suspected insurgent collaborators) and sexual exploitation of children. In the past five weeks, the report found, four boys suspected of having been used as "sex slaves" have been shot—one in the face—while attempting to escape from police commanders believed to have abducted them from their families. Three have died. The report also found widespread use of cannabis, opium and heroin by police troops. Most of the complaints came from the Marines who are assigned to train the police troops. (BBC News, Daily Mail, Feb. 25)
Despite an aggressive eradication program, farmers in provinces previously deemed opium-free have repeatedly returned to growing poppies. The total area under poppy cultivation increased by 18% in 2012, reaching 154,000 hectares (380,000 acres), compared with 131,000 hectares in 2011, according to a recent report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The report did find that the overall production of opium decreased by 36%—from nearly 6,000 ton in 2011 to around 3,700 in 2012. But researchers maintain this was due to a lower yield caused by plant disease and adverse weather conditions in several parts of the country. (BBC News, Feb. 25)