KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier has been placed in custody after an Afghan detainee was killed in his prison cell in southern Kandahar district, apparently by a gunshot, military officials said.
The U.S. army crimes unit is investigating the case, which could become the latest incident to fuel tensions between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Washington as the U.S. and NATO-led war drags into its tenth year.
Relations with Karzai are key for the White House and its allies, who are seeking to pull troops out of Afghanistan starting in July.
Following are some recent issues that have triggered tensions:
The Kandahar prison death is not only case involving American troops. A dozen U.S. soldiers face charges ranging from murder to conspiracy related to the killing of Afghan civilians during their Kandahar deployment. Some of the victims were killed with grenades; others were shot. Four of the accused are charged with keeping body parts, including finger bones, a skull and a human tooth.
Civilian deaths from U.S. air strikes and operations have been a key source of friction between Kabul and Washington. In 2008 Karzai called for an end to air strikes after a string of attacks killed hundreds of civilians. In an attempt to curb civilian casualties from air strikes, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces last year issued new guidelines, but in September ten election workers were killed in a NATO-led strike just as U.S. defense secretary Bill gates arrived on a visit.
Ties with Washington were strained when a U.N.-backed election watchdog tossed out a third of Karzai’s votes in a presidential ballot last year. Karzai was re-elected despite the fraud charges, but the election sparked an exchange between the U.S. and Afghan governments.
Karzai said fraud was exaggerated by the media, and accused Western governments of ballot-rigging in an effort to install a weak government.
Washington called the remarks troubling, and a Pentagon assessment questioned how much support Karzai had among Afghans while laying out U.S. concerns over corruption under his government. A month later U.S. President Barack Obama met with Karzai to ease tensions.
Fraud returned to haunt a parliamentary election last month. Poll officials said on Wednesday that almost a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast were invalid. The credibility of the vote will weigh heavily when Obama reviews his Afghan war strategy in December.
Washington often pushes Karzai to clean up rampant graft as part of its drive for better governance. The Obama administration says corruption undermines NATO efforts to win over the local population as its troops fight the insurgency. One question mark over Karzai’s anti-corruption statements concerns accusations against his brother, the chief of a provincial council.
Private security firms involved in the logistical side of ISAF operations as well as on government and NGO operations have complicated ties. Karzai has long called for their banning as part of his push for Afghan forces to take over security in 2014. Washington called his deadline for disbanding the firms “very challenging.”
Many Afghans see the companies as operating outside Afghan law and the contractors have been involved in scandals in the past.
Earlier this month the government began disbanding private security firms, but those involved in training Afghan forces and protecting international organizations could stay working.
Reporting by Patrick Markey; Editing by David Fox