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Hagel confident to reach pact on Wardak deadline

Chuck Hagel, the Defense Secretary nominee

JALALABAD – Ahead of his talks with President Hamid Karzai, the visiting US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said he was confident to reach an agreement with Afghan leaders who ordered US Special Forces to leave central Maidan Wardak province by Monday. Hagel, who arrived in Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province,  late on Saturday told reporters at the Jalalabad airfield that he felt confident that US officials would be able to work the things out.

On his first trip abroad as defense secretary, Hagel arrived in Kabul on Friday and is due to hold talks with President Karzai and defence minister Bismillah Khan. His visit coincides with the passing of a deadline imposed by Karzai for US special forces to leave Maidan Wardak after the troops were accused of overseeing torture and killings in the area.

However, US forces have denied involvement in any abuses and it was not clear if they were leaving Wardak by the deadline. Hagel’s visit also marred by two suicide bombings, one outside the Defense Ministry and the other near a police checkpoint in eastern Khost province. At least 19 people, including a US contractor, were killed. The dead included eight children in the blast in Khost.

The Taliban said the blast outside the defense ministry was a message to the visiting Pentagon chief. Hagel said he could hear the explosion during a meeting held at a safe location a distance away from the site. Hagel is expected to meet today with Karzai, who ordered the US forces to leave the province after allegations that Afghans working with them were involved in abusive behavior and torture.

Hagel met and spoke to US commanders and troops on the Jalalabad airfield, the ISAF media office in Jalalabad said, but gave no details. The spokesman for the Maidan Wardak governor Attaullah Khogyani told Pajhwok Afghan News that the allegations of torture and abuse were being investigated by a visiting delegation from Kabul.

He said the delegation involving military and civil officials was busy collecting evidences regarding the alleged abuses. US officials insist they have seen no evidence that American forces were involved in the abuse of Afghan civilians. On Saturday Hagel flew to Bagram Air Field, where he met with Maj. Gen. William Mayville, the US  commander of forces in the east. He also met with the commander of special operations forces in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Raymond Thomas. There are about 10,000 U.S. and coalition special operations forces in the country training Afghan local police and commando units as well as battling insurgents. (PAN)

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