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Civilian safety must be prioritized during Afghan night raids

WASHINGTON, DC— Afghan forces must prioritize the safety and well-being of civilians during and after night raid operations said civilian victims advocacy group CIVIC, following Sunday’s agreement transferring the military lead on night raids from international forces to the Afghan defense ministry.

International forces in Afghanistan have increased the use of night raids in recent years. These counterterrorism operations entail night-time searches of Afghan homes to capture or (less frequently) kill suspected Taliban, al Qaeda and other anti-government groups. The US and its allies argue night raids are one of their most effective tools. However, the operations have created a culture of fear and anger, as Afghans feel the practice is both culturally insensitive and targets civilians without any links to terrorism or the insurgency, including the erroneous detention of civilians.

“International forces learned hard lessons about the negative impact of civilian harm on their mission and have figured out ways to reduce civilian casualties. Still, night raids can be some of most hostile military operations, posing risks to civilians that Afghan forces may not be prepared to mitigate,” said Michael Shaikh, CIVIC’s director of country operations.

CIVIC is currently working in Afghanistan, assessing Afghan National Security Forces’ (ANSF) preparedness to protect civilians after NATO and its allies scheduled withdrawal in 2014.  The night operations, previously led by the US, have been a continual source of tension between the US and Afghan government, as well as highly controversial among the Afghan public, since nearly the beginning of the war.   

“Hopefully ISAF has taken its mentoring role seriously in these negotiations and agreed to Afghan-led night raids with the confidence that civilian protection would not only be possible, but also a priority with the Afghan forces,” said Shaikh.

However, according to CIVIC, the Afghan force's demonstrated lack of capabilities with respect to civilian harm may make these raids more costly, both in terms of lives and property, without an immediate investment in civilian protection policies and trainings. Among other things, this includes the establishment of cell to track and mitigate harm caused to civilians during ANSF operations.

“Whether led by international or Afghan forces, night raids aren’t going anywhere. Now that Afghans are in the lead, the questions are: do they have the mindset and the training to keep civilians safe while leading these operations? Will they treat civilians humanely and release them quickly if they’re mistakenly picked up?” asked Shaikh.


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