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Swimming In A Sea Of Night Raids
Posted by on July 9th, 2011

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

The New York Times headline says "Night Raids Curbing Taliban, but Afghans Cite Civilian Toll". What the paper seems to have missed is that the Taliban aren't foreigners. The U.S. military can cite its own secret figures and secret investigations all it wants to "show" that night raids are an effective counter-terrorism tool but – since the Taliban are not a threat to the United States and the Afghan government wants the raids to stop – it is obvious that Afghan sovereignty and the rule of law are being treated as a joke.

The method of the raids, especially the forced entry of houses and invasion of women’s quarters, let alone killing of women, is deeply offensive culturally to Afghans. Although coalition forces say most raids are conducted using a “soft knock” — calling by loudspeaker for people to come out — there are still numerous accounts of forced entry and cases of men being shot in their beds next to their wives.

The raids and attendant sweeping arrests have become the primary complaint of rural communities, human rights officials say. When Lt. Col. Aziz Ahmad took up a new job as police chief of Shah Joy District in the southeastern province of Zabul, townspeople asked immediately what he could do to stop the night raids.

Reports of innocents arrested and beaten, of wives killed, even of pregnant woman butchered to remove the evidence, abound. Even if only one in five raids is mistargeted then the understandable outrage generated has knock-on effects that soon outweigh any possible military benefits. Effects like this today:

An Afghan guard opened fire and shot dead two NATO troops accompanying a reconstruction convoy traveling in a northern province today.  The shooting took place in the Darah district of Panjshir province, about 62 miles north of the capital, Kabul, according to provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh.  The police chief said the guard, who goes by the name Amanullah, was standing outside his home when the convoy passed by. He stopped the convoy, started arguing with the NATO troops and then opened fire, Jangalbagh said. A third coalition service member was wounded in the shooting.  Jangalbagh said another NATO service member fired back and killed Amanullah.

…More than 70 people have been killed incidents involving Afghan security forces, or attackers disguised as security personnel, who have turned their weapons against Afghan or NATO troops since September 2007.  Such incidents have become more common over time. Out of about 25 attacks, nearly half took place in 2011.

Or like this:

According to United Nations and Afghan government estimates, night raids caused more than half of the nearly 600 civilian deaths attributable to coalition forces in 2009.

Those raids, which also violate the sanctity of the Afghan home, have become the primary Afghan grievance against the U.S. military. As long ago as May 2007, Carlotta Gall and David Sanger described in the New York Times how night raids had provoked an entire village in Herat province to become so angry with the U.S. military that men began carrying out military operations against it.

Or like this:

A quiet city in the north of Afghanistan ignited today after yet another NATO night raid reportedly tore another family apart. Thousands of people took to the streets, again chanting, "Death to America!" as they pelted Karzai's billboards with mud and stones. They attacked police. They attacked the local NATO outpost. At least a dozen people were killed in the clash, which showed local rage directed at every level of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency strategy, from the local security forces, to our corrupt and feckless local "partners" in the Karzai government, to the U.S. itself.

As experts like Matt Aikins, Giles Dorronsoro, Antonio Giustozzi, Anatol Lieven, Nir Rosen and Alex Strick van Linschoten put it, in their open letter to Obama last December:

What was supposed to be a population-centred strategy is now a full-scale military campaign causing civilian casualties and destruction of property. Night raids have become the main weapon to eliminate suspected Taliban, but much of the Afghan population sees these methods as illegitimate. Due to the violence of the military operations, we are losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Pashtun countryside, with a direct effect on the sustainability of the war. These measures, beyond their debatable military results, foster grievance. … The losses of the insurgency are compensated by new recruits who are often more radical than their predecessors.

The military campaign is suppressing, locally and temporarily, the symptoms of the disease, but fails to offer a cure.

In fact, the end result of all these night raids, as opposed to negotiating a peace settlement, seems to be to perpetuate a war that is not in Afghanistan's interest and no longer, by a long chalk, in anyone's interests in the U.S. other than careerist generals and DoD budgeteers. 

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