DOD stonewalls Afghan inquiry into US Special Forces torture claims

Kabul has abandoned its investigation into allegations of civilian killings by U.S. Special Forces after the Pentagon refused to cooperate with Afghan intelligence on the matter. 

In February, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. special forces to leave Wardak province in central Afghanistan, alleging American troops had tortured and killed 17 civilians during their time there. 

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But a recently released report by Afghanistan's intelligence shop, known as the National Directorate of Security (NDS), investigators claim they were repeatedly denied access to members of the Army Special Forces team in Wardak at the time of the killings. 

"Despite many requests by NDS they have not cooperated. Without their cooperation this process cannot be completed," the agency report said, according to Reuters. 

The requests were made shortly after Afghan officials arrested Zakaria Kandahari, an Afghan interpreter who reportedly led a rogue Afghan unit working with the Special Forces team in Wardak when the atrocities occurred. 

However, at the time, Kandahari allegedly told Afghan investigators that he only assisted U.S. special forces teams in capturing civilians, adding that each civilian captured by Kandahari and his team were handed over to American forces alive.

That said, NDS agents requested access to three members of the Army Special Forces Operational Detachment - Alpha, or "A-Team," and four Afghan interpreters working with the team at the time of the killings. 

Each time, the Pentagon rebuffed those requests, according to the NDS report initially issued in late September. 

As a result, Afghan intelligence officials closed their investigations into the Wardak slayings. 

The Pentagon has yet to issue an official comment or response to the NDS findings. 

But a U.S.-led inquiry ordered by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top commander for American forces in Afghanistan, cleared the Special Forces team of any wrongdoing. 

"All of [the accusations] were investigated pretty extensively," Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, head of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, said in May.

"None were found to be substantiated," he said at the time, adding, "there are no unilateral coalition and [special operations forces] maneuver operations on the ground."

But the revelations in the NDS report come at a particularly sensitive time for U.S-Afghan relations. 

American diplomats, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, are attempting to lock in a postwar deal with the Karzai government ahead of the White House's 2014 withdrawal deadline. 

The Afghan Parliament is preparing to review a preliminary postwar plan reached between Kerry and Karzai in October. 

But that deal does not include immunity for U.S. forces in country after the Obama administration's 2014 deadline. 

Lack of immunity for U.S. troops was a crucial factor in the failed attempt to set up a postwar security deal in Iraq, and it set the stage for the recent wave of sectarian violence against Iraqi forces and civilians in the country. 

During a visit with Karzai in October, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich) pressed the Afghan leader to finalize a postwar pact with Washington or risk sacrificing the gains made by U.S. forces over the past decade. 

"I believe that the continued assistance and engagement of the United States and other countries is warranted and will help preserve these achievements," Levin said in a statement issued after the visit. 

That said, "we will not able to provide such assistance unless an acceptable [postwar deal] is reached in the near future," Levin told Karzai, according to the statement. 

But Kerry predicted Afghanistan's leaders would ultimately accept a U.S. postwar deal that includes immunity from prosecution for American troops. 

"I believe they understand that this agreement is in the interests of Afghanistan because it's an agreement that provides for international support, not just the United States," he said after returning from postwar talks.