House lawmaker sees slippery slope in Afghanistan

The recent decision by Kabul to kick out U.S. special forces units from the volatile Wardak province in central Afghanistan could indicate a trend among Afghan leaders at the national and local level of playing to the growing anti-American sentiment within the country, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told The Hill on Tuesday. 

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Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services emerging threats and intelligence subcommittee said he was "worried" these type of knee-jerk decisions restricting American operations in the run up to the 2014 withdrawal could place U.S. and allied forces at risk. 

Sensing the end is near, local and national leaders are doing all they can to solidify their power bases across Afghanistan, according to the Texas Republican. 

That pressure, he added, could force Afghan leaders -- particularly at the provincial and district level -- to forge alliances with the Taliban rather than the central government, to fill the power vacuum left after 2014. 

That said, Thornberry noted that efforts coming from Kabul to limit U.S. and NATO operations, like those seen in Wardak, would only increase as the drawdown timeline gets closer. 

On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. special forces to leave Wardak, alleging American troops had committed torture and abducted civilians during their time in the province. 

“After a thorough discussion, it became clear that armed individuals named as U.S. special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people,” Karzai said in a statement issued Monday. 

Top U.S. and NATO commanders met with Afghan counterparts on Monday in Kabul to discuss those allegations, Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Anne Edgecomb told The Hill on Monday. 

American and allied officials have also established a joint commission with the Karzai government to delve into the claims of misconduct by U.S. special operations forces in Wardak, she added. 

"We take all of their concerns very seriously and will come to an outcome when the meetings are concluded," Edgecomb said. 

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will lead negotiations on the joint commission on the American side with "consultations underway in Kabul right now," DOD Press Secretary George Little told reporters on Tuesday. 

The joint panel will investigate the most serious allegations of torture and murder by U.S. special operations forces in Wardak, but it remains unclear if the commission will expand its inquiry to other clandestine U.S. missions in the province, Little said. 

"That's something that I think we need to wait and see," he added. 

However, when asked if U.S. special operations units were banned from Wardak, those units would still be able to carry out missions in the province from other bases in the country, Little replied: "There are a lot of possibilities." 

Over half of the 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan are scheduled to begin rotating back to the United States this spring, according to the White House. 

The remaining 32,000 U.S. forces in country will begin their final draw down after next April's presidential elections, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told NATO leaders last week at the alliance's headquarters Brussels.