Night raids deal could test way forward in Afghanistan

Night raids deal could test way forward in Afghanistan

In a best-case scenario, this week’s agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan could be the rare international accord that kills at least two birds with one stone.

If it doesn’t work as advertised, the deal could only prolong or even worsen longstanding tensions between Washington and Kabul.

The “memorandum of understanding” signed Sunday tackles one of the top, longstanding priorities of Afghan President Hamid Karzai – the nighttime special operations raids that have taken a heavy toll on insurgents and al Qaeda fighters, but which also have injured and killed Afghan civilians.

American officials hope it will give domestic political cover for Karzai’s fragile government and hand primary responsibility for some missions to Afghanistan’s homegrown forces. But at the same time, the Pentagon hopes it leaves the U.S. and its allies a free enough hand to operate as they see fit.  Walking this tightrope, and using it as a template for more such agreements, will be one of the signature challenges for the remainder of the war.

“This memorandum is a microcosm of where we want to get to across the country with the military-to-military relationship we have with the Afghans,” said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a top DoD spokesman. “This is all about transition.”

Kirby, speaking from Kabul, told reporters at the Pentagon by phone Monday that the new agreement mostly codified practices that had already been in effect. The Afghan government now owns these specific special operations — it identifies targets, plans the missions, and technically leads the way. But the agreement leaves many loopholes, and that tension – between the appearance and reality of Afghan power – could cause new tension in Afghanistan.

Under the memorandum, an Afghan “Operational Coordination Group” must give its blessing to “Afghan-led” special operations in which the U.S. acts in a “support role,” targeting terror suspects or requiring the search of a “house or private compound.”

Even this requirement is flexible, though: Kirby said the agreement permits Afghan and U.S. teams to conduct an urgent raid, if necessary, and then get approval within 48 hours afterward.

“I don’t want you to take from this that it’s something people are going to take advantage of,” he said. “They want — and we want — to support them in keeping this in support of Afghan law.”

Afghan commandoes have already taken over “the lead” in much of the special operations covered by the agreement, Kirby said. They have run more than 350 such operations since December. In 270 of them, “they got the man they were after.” Troops fired shots in 31 of the raids, he said. “This is a very capable force and they’ve done a very, very good job.”

But those statistics only address the operations as defined by the agreement, not all of Afghan, U.S. or international special operations across Afghanistan. The deal does not address American special mission units such as Navy SEALs or Army Rangers, and Kirby would not discuss them as part of DoD’s standing policy not to talk about special operations forces.

So the limitations of the night raids agreement were clear: American-led or unilateral spec ops missions apparently may continue, and the other members of the International Security Assistance Force – for example, the United Kingdom – were not party to the deal.

The next big developments could be the reactions in Kabul and Washington. If Afghans accept the night raids agreement despite the latitude it gives the U.S., it could become the template for more such agreements as the American presence winds down. Likewise with potential Obama administration skeptics in the U.S.

The perception of a foreign “veto” over American operations, however, has long proven incendiary with Republicans – it was an issue in this year’s GOP primary and the cause of a Senate hearing dustup between Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions. As negotiations took place before the night raids deal was announced, lawmakers made clear they were leery of the idea that foreign officials could stop American military operations.

Karzai, meanwhile, is anxious to quell grumblings about his legitimacy. Taliban insurgents reject his government as a U.S. puppet, one that accommodates the “invaders” or “occupiers,” and Sunday’s night raids deal could be interpreted as mere window dressing given the openings it continues to afford American special operations.

The true test may not come until or unless more Afghan civilians are killed in the night raids that Karzai detests. He could use his newfound power to squelch them altogether, but if Afghans were killed in a unilateral American raid, it would belie the limitations of the deal his government wrought with ISAF commander Gen. John Allen.

Another unanswered question Monday was how soon the Afghan government could set up the new institutions and procedures the agreement says must be in effect for it to oversee the night raids. Kirby referred questions about the timetable to the Afghan government.

So although the memorandum was signed Sunday, it wasn’t clear when the changes it portends would actually take effect.

Join the Conversation

I wouldn’t trust the dumb afghans period. Half in Afghan army service are sympathetic or full blown Taliban members. I never trust a government who has there troops enter service w/o checks then shoots GIs in the back.

As long as who we want dead is dying I really don’t care what happens with the people of Afghanistan.

The American press has gotten this story completely wrong…the US Army owns the night. It is a huge assymetric advantage, especially in Afghanistan, a nation where the enemy has no competence at all in night fighting — that differs big time from the Vietnamese who were good and rugged night fighters. This is the one area where our technological edge is greatest. So what does Karzai do ? Force the United States to give this advantage away. I think it is a fine thing if Afghan government commandos are trained to this level, and can do much of the job themselves — but do these guys really think it matters whether Americans or Afghans in uniform make the mistakes in a night raid ? Who would you trust to be more careful and precise in action ? I certainly agree with TMB that the process is warped by politics, and just asking to open security holes that will comprise the sucess of these operations.

If it doesn’t work as advertised, the deal could only prolong or even worsen longstanding tensions between Washington and Kabul.

It will work as advertised. Terrorists will rule the night and Americans will continue to get shot in the back.

Who is the ringleader of this circus?

Karzai is an idiot. He wants American money — period. As soon as the U.S. pulls out Karzai will be telling the Taliban he has been their friend all along


Once again, we allow the stuipd, arrogant, and under-handed politicians control the tactical options for the military. Did we learn nothing from Vietnam? This is STUPID! PERIOD! Effectively, it takes away the ability of the US leaders to control the behavior of afgans under their leadership. They are NOT ready to take on this type of position. In addition, it is an obvious ploy from the Taliban because the US OWNS the NIGHT! We are WIPING them out, and they want relief, which is the WORST possible option! We need to allow the MILITARY to define their tactics and remove politics to the extent possible. I realize that SOME input and communication is required, but the politicians should never do ANYTHING without getting accurate input from the military and responding in the BEST interest of our fighters, NOT their politics or the demands of terrorists!!!

You are fully correct, Sir. As I’ve held for years, these are more of the same defeatist, rules of engagement, and political-correct bunk, as ordered by civilians, and liberal-fringe, brass hats. To add sense to insanity: “Why spend billions & years to perfect a light-years-ahead, precision, Super Force Par Excellance, if one nut-case, loose cannon, can be used to shut-down an entire, highly-efficient, sector of the system.” Heck, replace the long arms w/ US M1873 Springfields. Sporting only one shot, less civilians endangered, with the muzzle flashes, you’d never shoot them at night, and save many coins on ammo. One parallel from the Viet-Nam disaster still rings true, then & now: Both DC regimes being rotten, corrupt, & clueless. We may net ‘victory’, (another banned word), as Russia would use us for final closure, China has just ‘begun’ to experience the long-overdue, internal ‘unpleasantness’, and Obama needs to find a win (?).… ‘somewhere’. However, the American public may reach a limit on the blood & treasure, of yet another, undeclared, tempest! Cavhorse;.….two wars.

I think we’ve given them plenty of chances, they will never change. How much longer are we supposed to stay there to “fix” their country? Either tell Karzai to go pound sand and we go all out and finish the job or we leave and let Karzai do it himself since he is so smart.

Great. Buy Karzai political cover with the American lives that will be lost due to Afghan porous intelligence. Way– to-go obama administration! Thanks a lot.


NOTE: Comments are limited to 2500 characters and spaces.

By commenting on this topic you agree to the terms and conditions of our User Agreement

AdChoices | Like us on , follow us on and join us on Google+
© 2015 Military Advantage
A Monster Company.