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Afghan forces take charge of controversial night raids
US and Afghan officials agreed on Sunday to put Afghan security in charge of night raids by special forces on insurgent hideouts. The raids have triggered anger among locals and been a source of rising tensions between Kabul and Washington.
AFP - Afghanistan and the United States signed a deal on special forces operations in the insurgency-wracked country Sunday putting Afghans in charge of controversial night raids.
Night operations by international special forces against insurgent hideouts have triggered popular anger and been a 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.
At a signature ceremony in Kabul, Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said: "The signing of this document is a fundamental step towards Afghan national sovereignty."
"From today, the operations have been Afghanised or Afghan-led."
General John Allen, the US commander of NATO-led forces, described it as the "second important milestone in less than 30 days towards Afghan sovereignty", after an agreement transferring control of detainees to Afghan authorities.
The document means "Afghan Special Operations units will lead the way", US forces in Afghanistan said in a statement.
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.
Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP that the agreement went into effect immediately and "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," he said.
"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, and 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".
She said the details of the agreement would be key, adding 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."
US officials hope a strategic partnership agreement governing relations between Kabul and Washington after 2014 will be signed in time for a NATO summit in May in Chicago.
Gavin Sundwall, spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul, said that with the earlier deal on detainees, the US hoped the latest agreement "prepares the way for finishing a strategic partnership with the government and people of Afghanistan."
US military officers envisage a follow-on force of around 15,000 personnel in Afghanistan, focusing on air power, logistics, training, intelligence and counter-terrorism.
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 International Security Assistance Force (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?"