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Afghan president orders US forces out of key province

NBC's Jim Miklaszewski joins Lester Holt to discuss the latest on Afghan President Hamid Karzai order that U.S. forces be removed from Wardak province over allegations of torture and disappearances.

Ahmad Jamshid / AP, file

Afghan President Hamid Karzai addesses military officers in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has ordered that all U.S. special forces must leave Wardak province, just west of Kabul, within two weeks — citing allegations of disappearances and torture.

In a statement Sunday, a spokesman for Karzai said, "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's office cited a "recent example" in which nine people allegedly "disappeared" and a separate incident where a student was taken from his home in the middle of the night and whose tortured body was found two days later under a bridge with his throat cut.

U.S. defense officials strongly deny that military personnel condoned, or were involved in, any kidnappings, torture or murders of Afghan civilians or suspects.

In addition to demanding the U.S. pull out in two weeks, Karzai also demanded the immediate cessation of all international special forces operations in Wardak.

Military officials told NBC News that Karzai's order came as a total surprise. The province is one of the hottest combat zones in Afghanistan and is a strategically important area because it is seen as the gateway the Taliban uses to carry out attacks in Kabul, the war-torn nation's capital.

In response, International Security Assistance Force, which coordinates the multinational coalition in Afghanistan, said "the U.S. Forces Afghanistan is aware of the reporting of presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi's comments today. We take all allegations of misconduct seriously and go to great lengths to determine the facts surrounding them."

The ISAF declined to comment further until they've "had a chance to speak with" senior officials in the Afghan government.

In their statement, the Afghan government noted that "Americans reject having conducted any such operation," but also noted "that such actions have caused local public resentment and hatred."

President Barack Obama announced during his State of the Union address earlier this month that 34,000 American troops --  about half of the total U.S. force in Afghanistan -- will leave the country by the end of this year.

NBC's Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube contributed to this report