The United States has agreed to give control of most special operations to the Afghan army, including the controversial “night-time raids” that have strained relations between the two countries for years. Many observers agree that the night raids have been the most effective weapon against the Taliban during the course of the war. The fact that the US no longer has control over these operations could mean that actionable intelligence would be wasted because of delays brought about by the Afghan army taking too much time to decide on a course of action.
The deal comes on the heels of another agreement signed last month that hands the management of the sprawling Bagram prison and its 3,000 prisoners over to the Afghan government. The two pacts clear the way for a comprehensive treaty on the long-term strategic partnership sought by the United States that would govern American policy after all combat troops are withdrawn in 2014. Washington would like that deal in place before the NATO summit in May.
Despite reservations by many US Afghan commanders, the agreement will give the Afghan army veto power over any suggested night-time raids, while allowing Afghan special forces to be “first through the door” when the raids are executed. Decisions on the raids will be made by an as yet unnamed board made up of “an inter-ministry Afghan command center with representatives of the Defense and Interior ministries as well as the National Directorate of Security,” according to the New York Times. An Afghan judge will have to sign off on a warrant for any raid, but not until a court is “capable of issuing timely and operationally secure judicial authorizations.” It is believed that some warrants may be granted after the raid is completed, but within 48 hours of their authorization.
American forces will still be responsible for most logistical aspects of the raids, including intelligence, transportation, and fire support in case air power or artillery is called for. One controversial provision of the deal is that all prisoners captured during the raids will be in Afghan military custody. The US will only be able to interrogate them if the Afghans ask them.
The pact encompasses most special operations, except for those conducted by the CIA, and other unspecified unilateral US combat actions.
The agreement removes a sore point in US-Afghanistan relations. President Hamid Karzai has been complaining for years about night-time raids that have terrified Afghan civilians as soldiers break into their homes in the middle of the night seeking Taliban commanders and fighters. While casualties are rare, there is nothing that enrages the locals like the killing of civilians in their own home. There have also been cultural concerns and bitter resentment, as the soldiers not only violate the sanctity of the domicile, but also Afghan traditions regarding the hiding of women from strangers, especially men. For Karzai, there was also the question of Afghan sovereignty being ignored in these raids, largely carried out with no consultation with his government. Although the US claims that lately, most of these raids have been conducted with Afghans in the lead, that practice has now been formalized with the advent of the agreement.
US Commander in Afghanistan Marine General John Allen hailed the pact as being “one step closer to the establishment of the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership. Most importantly, today we are one step closer to our shared goal and vision of a secure and sovereign Afghanistan.” Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said, “This is an important step in strengthening the sovereignty of Afghanistan,” adding that it was “a national goal” and “a wish of the Afghan people” that raids be conducted and controlled by Afghans.”
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