KABUL — The International Security Assistance Force is countering new allegations that an American was involved in torture in Wardak province — where tensions between the U.S. and the Afghan government over allegations of misconduct by American special forces already were high.
The New York Times reported the latest allegations on its website Sunday, citing unnamed Afghan officials and investigators, who claim to have documents and witness testimony, as well as a video implicating a man they say is an American of Afghan descent and his unit 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.
Allegations that Americans and Afghans working for them were involved in abducting and torturing local Afghans surfaced in February, prompting President Hamid Karzai to order U.S. Special Forces to leave the area immediately. Villagers alleged at the time that Afghans working with Special Forces were responsible for torturing and murdering civilians.
The New York Times report quoted Afghan investigators as saying at least seven of the missing Afghans are dead.
The Times report said a special forces A Team was the focus of the Afghans’ allegations.
Afghan and American sources in the story gave conflicitng accounts of Kandahari’s role with the unit. An American official, who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity, denied Kandahari was American, and said he was an interpreter for the unit. Afghan officials told the paper, he appeared to have a leadership position.
The American official confirmed the existence of the video, The Times reported.
In a statement released Monday, the ISAF denied the allegations.
“The allegations against U.S. and/or ISAF forces in Nerkh District are untrue,” ISAF said. “After thorough investigation, there was no credible evidence to substantiate misconduct by U.S. or ISAF forces relating to the detainees or deaths in Nerkh.”
ISAF spokesman John Manley said the coalition has been aware of the allegations since December 2012, and examined a video of a detainee being “assaulted” by an Afghan man, who worked as an interpreter for U.S. forces in the area. However, that detainee was in sole custody of the Afghan National Security Forces at the time of the incident, Manley said, and no coalition troops were involved.
“Once the interpreter’s identity was determined, but before he could be arrested by Afghan authorities, the interpreter fled and his whereabouts are unknown,” Manley said.
Attaaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the governor of Wardak, said ISAF Special Operations Forces are no longer in Nerkh or Chak districts, and are no longer conducting night raids, which have long been a controversial tactic.
Khogyani added that the governor has heard allegations of an alleged torture video for the past eight months, but an extensive search turned up no such recording.
“We tried a lot,” he said, “but we were not able to find that video and get that video and see it. It’s not a new thing for us.”
In February, Karzai had ordered all U.S. special operations forces out of Wardak by March 10, but on March 20, the Afghan ministries of defense and interior reached a deal with ISAF that speical operations forces would leave Nerkh immediately, and withdraw from the rest of the province on a timetable to be set by the Afghan government.
Prior to the revelation of the new allegations, the Afghan government appeared to soften its demands regarding Wardak.
According to ISAF spokesperson Lt. Tamarac Dyer, Afghan officials are still responsible for setting the timeline for special forces to leave. But Gen. Mohammed Zaher Azimi, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said Special Forces will leave whenever the province is scheduled to transition to Afghan controlas part of the overall drawdown of coalition forces.
While Dyer, said she couldn’t speak specifically to what kinds of tactics ISAF forces in Wardak are using, she added, “What we can tell you is that we are operating in full compliance of the decrees issued” by the Afghan government.
Zubair Babakarkhai contributed to this report.