US agrees to let Afghan forces take lead in night raids
KABUL AFGHANISTAN and the United States have struck a deal on special forces operations in the insurgencywracked country that will give Afghans control of controversial night raids, Kabul said on Sunday.
Night operations by international special forces against insurgent hideouts have triggered popular anger and been one factor straining Washington and Kabul’s relationship, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai denouncing them as reckless.
But Western military commanders stress they are extremely useful in the bloody war against Taliban insurgents, who have been fighting Karzai and his Western allies for more than a decade.
The deal is expected to pave the way for a strategic partnership pact between Washington and Kabul governing the future of US forces beyond 2014, when the bulk of the 130,000 NATO-led troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Kabul’s foreign ministry invited journalists to a signing ceremony for the special operations agreement later on Sunday, and Karzai’s spokes-man Aimal Faizi said, “After the signing of this document all night raids become Afghan-led. The foreign forces, the US forces, will have a supporting role in the night raids, for instance intelligence sharing.” The agreement would come into force immediately, he said, and decisions to carry out night raids would be taken by Afghan authorities.
“There will be a joint body comprising Afghan and US/NATO forces. When there’s a need for a night raid this body will decide and the final decision will be made by Afghans,” said Faizi.
“When Afghans approve the operation, the operation will be executed and Afghans will determine whether there is a need for the foreigners to take part. If there’s a need, the foreigners will provide a supporting role like air support or other modern technology.” A warrant would also have to be issued by Afghan legal authorities, he said.
Faizi’s comments are very similar to the details provided by US officials last week, who said a deal was taking shape to put Afghans in the lead for the raids.
The US officials said the final sticking points were over how long US forces would be allowed to detain suspects picked up in the raids, but Faizi said Afghan authorities would have control over captured prisoners.
Speaking before any written text of the agreement was released, Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network said it “looks like the Americans are making compromises” but warned the phrase “Afghan-led” was a “really vague term”.
The details of the agreement would be key, she said, saying it was likely detainees could be held without trial.
Karzai’s anger over the raids was genuine, she added.
“The palace gets delegations of very upset people” complaining about the operations, she said. “The issue of Afghan sovereignty is very important for him.” The two sides have already signed a deal on transferring Afghan detainees to Kabul’s custody and the special operations agreement should remove the last obstacle to final negotiations on a longterm strategic partnership pact. US officials hope that agreement will be signed in time for a NATO summit, in May, in Chicago.
US military officers envisage a follow-on force of around 15,000 personnel in Afghan-istan after 2014, focusing on air power, logistics, training, intelligence and counter-terrorism.
Kabul’s foreign ministry said the night raids agreement — covering all special operations on Afghan soil — would be signed on Sunday by Afghanistan’s defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and General John Allen, the US commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Allen told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that 2,200 night raids were carried out last year. In 90 percent of the operations, no shots were fired and civilian casualties rarely occurred, according to Allen.
Brigadier-General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the NATO-led ISAF, said last week that “every policeman in this world” would answer the same way if asked: “When do you want to arrest a dangerous criminal, at lunchtime on the marketplace or at night in bed?” ISAF referred inquiries on the deal to the US embassy in Kabul, where a spokesman declined to confirm an agreement, saying: “If the foreign ministry has invited you to a ceremony, I’m sure there will be one.”