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US to start pullout from Afghanistan's Wardak province within 'days:' Official

Afghan and American officials reach a deal withdrawing US forces from a key eastern province.

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Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take up positions behind a stone wall Dec. 18, 2012 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. The ANA has its job cut out for it in the coming year as US troops withdraw. (Noorullah Shirzada /AFP/Getty Images)

Afghan officials announced Wednesday that US forces have agreed to begin pulling their special forces out of Wardak province within "days," according to the Associated Press, citing Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi.

“The international forces are ready to withdraw the special forces from Nirkh district of Maidan Wardak province and Afghan army units are going to replace them in the coming days,” Gen. Azimi reportedly said, according to the AP.

The move brings the province back in the spotlight after Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week accused US troops of committing human rights abuses there. 

Wardak, a strategic gateway near Kabul, is not an insignificant concession on the part of the US military. The province has also reportedly served as a base for past Taliban-led attacks on the capital.

NATO issued a statement saying the US General in Afghanistan, Joseph Dunford, ultimately agreed to pull US special forces out of the whole province rather than limiting it to the Nerkh district as first discussed, reported Foreign Policy

The decision may signal a speedier handover of power in Afghanistan than was expected, said AP. Foreign troops are set to pullout by the end of next year, but questions have been raised as to whether or not Afghan forces will be able to maintain security in the country. 

Wardak became a lightning rod for that discussion over the weekend, with Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizee saying the government had video evidence that US special operations forces there abusing a suspect on army orders, according to AP

US officials denied the charges in comments to AP on Monday, but the incident reveals tensions between US and Afghan authorities.

In an appearance on the Huffington Post's live web channel on Monday, GlobalPost's Jean Mackenzie — who spent seven years in Afghanistan and reports on US national security and politics — said the withdrawal plans for Wardak don't represent a win for either Karzai or the US.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/afghanistan/130320/us-start-pullout-afghanistans-volatile-wardak-