Karzai claims victory over US 'abuse' claims

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday claimed victory in his latest dispute with the US after accusing its special forces of abusing civilians in the key strategic province of Wardak.

Karzai had demanded that the elite US units leave the province, just outside Kabul. On Wednesday, a deal was stuck in which Afghan forces will take responsibility for security in Nerkh, one of Wardak's eight districts.

The agreement made no mention of special forces, and the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said that it was "business as usual" for its troops in the rest of Wardak.

President Hamid Karzai said he welcomed the announcement that coalition forces were preparing to pull out of the province, which is seen as critical for protecting Kabul from insurgent assaults.

"The decision for withdrawal follows repeated local complaints of harassment and annoyance by the American Special Forces, and a decision by the National Security Council as well as a presidential order," he said in a statement.

Karzai's renewed allegations over the conduct of US troops is likely to further antagonise Washington after a series of outbursts against the international operation fighting the Taliban.

The US has denied all charges of abuse, which Karzai said last month focused on allegations of murder and torture by Afghan militia working alongside US troops in Wardak.

Karzai's office this week branded the NATO war effort in Afghanistan as "aimless and unwise" in a row that erupted when he accused the US of working in concert with the Taliban to justify its presence in the country.

Analysts say Karzai, who will stand down next year, is keen to secure a reputation as a strong nationalist leader 11 years after he was brought to power with US backing when the Taliban regime was ousted.