KABUL, Afghanistan — Protesters in the northern Afghan province of Parwan blocked the main highway there on Monday after American forces raided the village of a local strongman and blew up a weapons depot belonging to him, officials and residents said.
The raid on Monday morning demonstrated that American troops in Afghanistan, months after President Obama declared their regular combat mission over, are engaged beyond their publicly stated role of advising the Afghan forces and carrying out targeted counterterrorism operations.
It also highlighted how, despite a lengthy campaign to disarm illegal militias, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, armed groups that have no apparent ties to Al Qaeda or even the Taliban are still considered by American forces to be a significant threat.
The target of Monday’s raid was Jan Ahmad, a local commander who fought the Soviets and then the Taliban. Hours after the raid, shops in Charikar, the capital of Parwan Province, just north of Kabul, remained closed as Mr. Ahmad’s supporters shouted “Death to America” and “Death to the enemies of Islam.” They expressed outrage at the manner of the raid, saying it was a matter that should have been dealt with by the Afghan authorities, not by foreign forces.
While the American military described the raid as force protection, former commanders and local elders in the north leveled accusations that the raid had been politically motivated and possibly a settling of scores from last year’s election crisis.
Mr. Ahmad has supported Abdullah Abdullah, who was President Ashraf Ghani’s rival in the bitterly contested presidential runoff. At the height of the crisis, Mr. Ahmad was among a group of commanders who threatened to use force to support a breakaway government led by Mr. Abdullah.
Echoing his calls for restraint during the election crisis, Mr. Abdullah, who is now the chief executive in power-sharing government with Mr. Ghani, on Monday called on the protesters to remain calm as he appointed a fact-finding mission and asked Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of United States forces in Afghanistan, to provide further information on the raid.
But in a show of support for Mr. Ahmad, Mr. Abdullah said the Afghan government would “not allow anyone to plot against the mujahedeen,” a reference to the commanders who fought the Soviets and the Taliban.
Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for General Campbell, said the raid had been conducted “to destroy a cache of munitions that could be used to conduct attacks against Afghans and coalition forces.”
The raid on Mr. Ahmad’s home, roughly three miles from Parwan’s provincial center, was carried out around 4:30 a.m. on Monday and involved United States forces descending from helicopters, an aide to Mr. Ahmad said on the condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the news media. After carrying out a search of the home, the soldiers blew up the depot.
“It was a lot of weapons — it must have been a lot to make the foreigners fearful and force them to take action,” said Hajji Khalil Fazly, a member of the Parwan provincial council who was involved in the negotiations between the government authorities and Mr. Ahmad to calm the protests. Protesters were cleared, and the highway reopened by noon, he said.
Elders in Parwan say the Afghan government has also increased scrutiny of strongmen in recent months on charges of hiding caches of weapons. - Read More at NYT