KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. military detained an American soldier and launched a criminal investigation Tuesday after Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly accused U.S. forces of shooting and killing a Taliban leader in his southern Afghanistan jail cell.
American officials said a U.S. soldier was in custody after a "senior leader of the (local) Taliban" had been found shot to death in his cell in Kandahar province's rural Arghandab district.
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.
The incident comes as American officials are trying to make a case that coalition forces and the pro-Western government in Kabul are gaining the upper hand in the fight against Taliban-led insurgents.
Even if the soldier is cleared, the allegations could create more friction between Karzai and the Obama administration as the two allies try to regain the initiative in the fight against the Taliban.
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 U.S. takes very seriously any mistreatment of detainees," said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, the chief spokesman for the U.S.-led military in Afghanistan. "Our forces are trained to uphold the rights of persons in custody," and any violations of those rights are investigated, he said.
Even before the latest allegations emerged, the U.S. military has been buffeted by criticism of the unsuccessful rescue attempt earlier this month of kidnapped British aid worker Linda Norgrove.
After initially saying that Norgrove had been killed when one of her captors detonated a suicide vest next to her, the U.S. military retracted the claim when it discovered that one of her would-be rescuers might have killed her.
On Tuesday, several British newspapers reported that a U.S. Navy SEAL was facing disciplinary action for apparently throwing a fragmentation grenade into the room where the 36-year-old Norgrove was being held.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow Afghanistan news at McClatchy's Checkpoint Kabul