Maiden Shar, AFGHANISTAN More than five hundred men marched through the capital of Afghanistan's restive Wardak province on Tuesday in an outburst of anger against U.S. special forces accused of overseeing torture and killings in the area.
Shouting "Death to America", "Death to Obama" and "Death to special forces", the protesters called for the immediate withdrawal of the American soldiers and threatened to join the Taliban if their demand was not met.
A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced on Sunday that all U.S. special forces must leave Wardak province within two weeks following the accusations that Afghans working for them had tortured and killed innocent people.
Karzai's demand could further complicate talks between the United States and Afghanistan over the presence of American troops once most NATO forces leave the country by the end of 2014.
Reuters interviewed dozens of residents of Wardak and Afghan government officials who alleged that Afghan men working with a small unit of U.S. special forces had illegally detained, tortured and killed suspected insurgents.
A U.S. defense official in Washington said a review in recent months in cooperation with Afghanistan's Defense Ministry and National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency found no involvement of Western forces in any abuse.
The peaceful two-hour protest began on Tuesday at the offices of the Wardak provincial council shortly after it held a meeting.
"If the situation remains like this, this province will collapse very soon," said protester Haji Abdul Qadim. "People will join the insurgency very soon because of the abuses of these forces."
In another incident that could feed local hostility to the American forces in Wardak, a Swedish organization which runs health clinics across Afghanistan accused the U.S. military on Tuesday of occupying and damaging one of its facilities.
The incident occurred before dawn on February 11, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) said in a statement.
"Foreign soldiers entered the ... health facility by force, tied up and blindfolded the guard on duty, and occupied the facility," the statement said.
Doors and windows were broken and medical equipment was destroyed, SCA director Andreas Stefansson said.
It was the second time one of SCA's clinics had been occupied by foreign forces since October, when soldiers spent three days in another Wardak clinic.
After the October incident, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had told them it would ensure it did not happen again, Stefansson said.
"What we are seeking is that they actually live up to what they say," Stefansson said.
A spokesman for ISAF said the latest operation was carried out in conjunction with Afghan forces and aimed at detaining an insurgent leader who had taken refuge inside the clinic.
ISAF said the building was not marked as a medical facility and they had compensated residents for the damage.
Stefansson also said a group of Afghan special forces had bullied and threatened the lives of health workers at the Maidan Shar hospital several days earlier.
(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)