A US Special Operations soldier discusses a joint patrol with Afghan forces on August 28 in Arghandab River Valley, Kandahar province.  ISAFMedia photo on Flickr.

Details are beginning to emerge in the death of an Afghan prisoner on Sunday night. According to ISAF, a US soldier is in custody and a criminal investigation is underway. Hamid Karzai issued a short statement calling the death a killing by coalition forces. The New York Times recounts that one version of the story suggests the prisoner may have been trying to escape, but other Afghans who were present at the prison disagree on that point.

Here is the entire text of the statement released by ISAF:

A U.S. soldier is in custody following the death of a Taliban insurgent found dead in his holding cell Sunday in Arghandab District, Kandahar Province.

The detainee, who died of an apparent gunshot wound, was being held temporarily at an Afghan government facility under U.S. guard, awaiting transfer to formal Coalition custody.

“The U.S. takes very seriously any mistreatment of detainees,” said Rear Admiral Greg Smith, U.S. Forces Afghanistan Director of Communication. “Our forces are trained to uphold the rights of persons in custody and any violation of those rights are fully investigated.”

The detainee was captured Saturday by a partnered Afghan-Coalition force during an operation in Arghandab district, and was known to be a senior leader of the Taliban network in Arghandab.

U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division has launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the detainee’s death. U.S. Forces Afghanistan will keep the Afghan government apprised throughout the investigation process.

McClatchy provides a statement from Karzai and places this event in perspective for NATO efforts in Afghanistan:

Earlier, Karzai had issued a blunt statement launching his own probe of the allegations emanating from Arghandab, a district that’s now the focus of intensified military efforts to oust Taliban forces from the fertile valley.

"Based on reports from Arghandab, coalition troops entered the Arghandab district prison at 9:30 p.m. Sunday and killed a detainee named Mullah Mohibullah," Karzai’s office said.

/snip/

The shooting is the second major military controversy to emerge from Kandahar province. Five other American soldiers who served in a neighboring Taliban stronghold have been accused of killing Afghan civilians for sport and keeping fingers as battlefield trophies.

The article also discusses the fact that NATO is trying to make the case that progress is being made in the Kandahar offensive and that a close working relationship between Karzai’s government and the Obama administration is needed for success. The botched rescue of Linda Norgrove is also mentioned in the context of this discussion.

The New York Times has spoken with the local police chief where the killing occurred:

The police chief of Arghandab, Niaz Muhammed, confirmed the killing and offered details.

“He was in the custody of Americans, and when he was trying to escape custody he was shot by the Americans,” he said. “Maybe it was done by mistake.” He said he had seen the soldier who killed the detainee “being handcuffed by other Americans.”

Other Afghans who were there said they were not sure if the detainee was trying to escape at the time that he was killed. Local elders said the detainee was a local Taliban commander named Hajji Mohammed who had given a different name, Mullah Muhibullah, to the Americans.

The photo above becomes quite ironic when viewed in the context of the killing of the prisoner. It was taken on August 28 in the same region where the killing occurred. Here is the entire caption provided by ISAFMedia:

A Special Operations Task Force-South senior weapons sergeant conducts an after-action review with policemen from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Afghan National Civil Order Police Brigade, following a joint patrol Aug. 28 through the Arghandab River Valley, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. A 20-man team from SOTF-S is partnered with 3rd Battalion and conducts joint patrols and training with the unit in order to increase their proficiency.

Note that the prisoner, as noted by ISAF in their release, "was captured Saturday by a partnered Afghan-Coalition force during an operation in Arghandab district", so there is a reasonable chance that this same group of Afghan and US soldiers was involved. However, the tables are now turned, as the "after-action" investigation now centers on the actions of an American who seems to have been "proficient" with his weapon when using it on an unarmed prisoner.