Top commander dismisses torture claims by US special forces

"What we did suffer from is that we were in Wardak almost by ourselves," Army Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, head of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, said Wednesday.

"There was no overarching Afghan security official in charge, and we suffered from that," Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon during a teleconference from Afghanistan.  

"We had done very, very well kinetically, decisively against [the Taliban], but they were able to generate the rumors and the allegations" of abuse and misconduct against U.S. special operations forces in Wardak, the two-star general added. 

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

On Sunday, The New York Times reported that Afghan officials and investigators had evidence of an American of Afghan descent, who Kabul claims played a role in the killings or disappearance of 15 Afghans from Nerkh district in Wardak.

The video purportedly shows the accused, identified as Zakaria Kandahari, torturing one of the 15, who has not been seen since, The Times reported, citing Afghan officials.

Kandahari reportedly led a rogue Afghan unit working with American special forces in Wardak when the atrocities occurred, according to The Times

Thomas did not address The Times report specifically, but noted that a joint commission of American, Afghan and NATO leaders cleared the American special operations teams from any wrongdoing. 

"All of [the accusations] were investigated pretty extensively. None were found to be substantiated," he said Wednesday, adding, "there are no unilateral coalition and [special operations forces] maneuver operations on the ground." 

Thomas admitted his forces were not "as wary and as attuned to the political lines in that particularly contentious district" as they should have been, prior to Karzai's decision to expel U.S. forces from Wardak. 

Underestimating the political blowback in Kabul from the accusations against U.S. special forces in Wardak that led to their ouster was one of several lessons learned by American special operations commanders in the country, he added.