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US prepares to give up night raids in Afghanistan

Published time: March 20, 2012 16:09
Edited time: March 20, 2012 20:11
U.S. Army soldiers from the Alpha Company 2nd battalion 27th infantry regiment, Task Forces Bronco, participate in an exercise to simulate a night time mission in the FOB Bostick at Naray district in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan. (Reuters / Nikola Solic)

U.S. Army soldiers from the Alpha Company 2nd battalion 27th infantry regiment, Task Forces Bronco, participate in an exercise to simulate a night time mission in the FOB Bostick at Naray district in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan. (Reuters / Nikola Solic)

Night raids became the most hated and intimidating tactic used by US forces against civilians in Afghanistan. Even still, the military sees it as the most effective anti-terrorist tool.

Those nights might be coming to end, however, as the Obama administration mulls ceding the tactic after this month’s massacre in Kandahar.

The latest development out of Washington suggests that US President Barack Obama is willing make serious changes to the surprise night raids carried out by American troops in Afghanistan. While viewed as instrumental in outing Taliban insurgency, the Afghans have chastised the notorious night raids since the start of the war and, as America readies an eventual end to their operation, the topic is thought to be the last sticking point in negotiations over an exit strategy from Afghanistan.

In recent weeks a series of scandals overseas have left America scrambling for options in regards to ending its war in Afghanistan, a game plan that has already been altered several times as of late and expected to be over during 2014. The catastrophe in Kandahar earlier this month that left 16 civilians dead may be the final nail in the coffin for a war now close to its eleventh year. So far in 2012, the Pentagon has pushed for an earlier end to an offensive role in Afghanistan and signed away the rights to a prison in Bagram to the native Afghans. As incidents continue to surmount, though, condolences are being ignored and consolations are running dry. If America follows through by altering its protocol for night raids, the United States’ next option might very well be throwing in the towel.

An US official tells Reuters this week that America is weighing one of its most valuable anti-insurgent tactics, night raids, in exchange for calming tensions overseas after this month’s massacre. The special ops night raids have been a heated topic of debate since they began and remain the last issue up for discussion before the US formally withdraws itself from the offensive overseas.

In February, The New York Times wrote that the US was considering increasing its special ops presence in Afghanistan after its combat troops are sent packing, but ongoing incidents such as the Kandahar massacre are leaving few options for America if they want to end the war without much more bloodshed on either side.

A year ago at this time, the US was conducting around ten night raids per night, which is largely believed to have blasted away what was left of American support overseas as the war approached the decade-mark. “If one of the messages of the United States is to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, then these night raids are totally against this,” Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, told the Time last year. “People are becoming more and more against the international presence in Afghanistan.”

Reuters has confirmed from a US official that the White House and the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai are in talks over the future of the night raids, but relayed the message on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations. For now, both sides are thought to be in discussion for a way to continue the night raids, but by receiving authorization from the Afghan government before doing so.

Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim says this week that a deal between his country and the States could be in the works, but if the US wants to continue operations overseas, it must do so "based on the national interest of Afghanistan" and in accordance with Afghan law.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed to Reuters that "Discussions with the Afghans continue on this issue,” but added that “No final arrangements have been settled.”

Late last week it was leaked that Robert Bales was the American staff sergeant believed to be responsible for an outburst in Kandahar Province earlier this month that left more than a dozen civilians dead. Following revelations a month earlier that troops at the US Air Force Base in Bagram had discarded charred copies of the Quaran, tensions between the US and Afghanistan are perhaps at their worst now after over a decade of fighting. Under the most recent plans confirmed by the Pentagon, the US hopes to end all combat operations overseas during 2013.