By Dylan Welch and Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. Army has launched an investigation into claims that its special forces abducted and killed Afghan civilians, allegations Washington has denied, a NATO spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The spokeswoman, U.S. Colonel Jane Crichton, said the commander of ISAF, the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, had ordered the investigation after an Afghan translator accused the U.S. soldiers had worked with.
Accusations of U.S. troops committing crimes against civilians have damaged relations between the Afghan government and ISAF, particularly since a U.S. soldier was accused of murdering 16 civilians in Kandahar province in March last year.
The tensions have complicated negotiations on keeping a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan beyond NATO's planned exit next year.
The United States has repeatedly denied accusations that its special forces working in Wardak, a strategically important province close to Kabul, were involved in the disappearance and deaths of at least 17 civilians.
However, a translator who was recently arrested by Afghan authorities has blamed the U.S. special forces he was working with for the deaths, according to a record of his interview seen by Reuters.
The translator, Zakeria Kandahari, told Afghan investigators he helped capture the civilians and handed them over to his military handlers while they were still alive.
In at least one case, he saw the dead body of a man he had previously handed over to the special forces, the interview document stated.
Afghan investigators have requested access to three U.S. special forces whom Kandhari had identified only as Dave, Hagel and Chris, the interview document said.
NATO's Crichton said previous investigations had shown "there was no credible evidence to substantiate misconduct by ISAF or U.S. forces". The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command would conduct the fresh investigation, she said.
A spokeswoman for President Hamid Karzai declined to comment on the new investigation.
The allegations prompted Karzai in March to bar U.S. troops from Wardak, a potentially risky move as it could give Taliban insurgents more room to operate in an area near the capital.
Karzai later agreed to a compromise that allowed a more limited and gradual pullout than he had initially demanded.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)