Dispute Over Detention Policy Delays Night Raids Agreement


The U.S. and Afghanistan are close to reaching a deal that would give Kabul greater control over night raids — the controversial signature tactic of the U.S.-led kill/capture campaign in the country — and allow the two governments to move ahead in negotiating a broader strategic-partnership agreement.

Night raids, during which U.S. and Afghan forces search private residences for suspected insurgents based on intelligence, have long strained relations between the two countries.  Though the U.S. military touts the operations as the most effective means of putting pressure on the Taliban with the fewest civilian casualties, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for their end, describing them as an affront on the sanctity of Afghan homes and warning that they further fuel the insurgency. In recent years, botched raids and harrowing accounts from Afghan citizens have sparked protests on the ground.

The forthcoming deal would require that a warrant be issued by an Afghan court within 48 hours of a night raid to detain any suspects, U.S. and Afghan officials said. It would also require that Afghan units lead the raids. U.S. officials say Afghan units are already involved in leading most night raids. In the above clip from our film Kill/Capture, then-General David Petraeus explains how Afghan forces lead the “call-out” in the raids.

“There will be some kind of support role by the United States, but we will be in charge of all dimensions of the operations,” Shaida Mohammad Abdali, deputy national security adviser to President Karzai and a member of the Afghan negotiating team, told The Wall Street Journal.

But U.S. intelligence would still guide much of the raids, and most would include American or NATO forces “for the foreseeable future,” American officials said.

The deal is pending because of a “last-minute dispute” as the two sides negotiate whether U.S. or Afghans would detain suspects from the night raids. According to The New York Times:

American officials have pushed to retain custody of the detainees for a limited time so they could be interrogated, the officials said. The interrogations are an important source of intelligence that American officials said they were not yet ready to give up.

Neither Afghan nor American officials would say how long the Americans wanted to keep the detainees. It also was not clear where American forces would hold them, since the United States agreed last month to hand over its main prison here to Afghan authorities within six months.

Critics warn that the lack of public scrutiny around night raids detentions process can lead to abuses.

A September 2011 report by the Open Society Foundations (PDF) found that ”night raids have frequently resulted in the detention of those who are not combatants under international law, with those suspected of providing shelter or food, or having incidental information about insurgent activities subjected to night raids.” It further criticized “indiscriminate detention practices,” documenting examples of when forces arrested all fighting-aged males present in a house or carried out “large-scale, on-site detentions of all males in a village.”

An Afghan official told The Times the agreement could be struck before the end of the week, which would allow the two sides to negotiate the broader strategic partnership before a NATO summit in Chicago in May.

The Afghan and U.S. governments had been close to reaching a deal on night raids earlier last month, but the bloody shooting spree allegedly carried out by Army Staff Sgt. Rober Bales last month in Panjwai district put the Americans in a vulnerable negotiating position. “The threshold for agreements with Karzai may have gone way up,” one senior U.S. official told the Journal about the March 11 massacre.

Seventeen civilians, including nine children, were killed in the rampage. Panjwai residents told Al Jazeera English that the Afghans “showed no resistance” during the attack because they were accustomed to night raids.

“We have learned that our houses will be searched at night, and we just cooperate,” one resident said.

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