Friday, January 22, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) | The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan plans to tighten the rules on night raids, the Associated Press has learned, in a new step to curb public anger over perceived violations against civilians.

Such raids have emerged as the No. 1 complaint among Afghans after Gen. Stanley McChrystal curbed the use of air strikes and other weaponry last year.

NATO spokesman Rear Adm. Gregory Smith told the AP a new directive would be issued soon to set down new rules for night raids.

“It addresses the issue that’s probably the most socially irritating thing that we do and that is entering people’s homes at night,” he said Wednesday. He would not elaborate pending a formal announcement.

The U.S.-led force has become increasingly sensitive to complaints by Afghan civilians as part of a renewed effort to win support among the public and lure people away from the Taliban. Last year, Gen. McChrystal curbed the use of air power and heavy weapons if civilians could be put at risk.

Adm. Smith said complaints about civilian deaths from air strikes had dropped sharply after Gen. McChrystal’s order last year but Afghans are “not seeing enough difference in our nighttime operations.”

He acknowledged the possible tactical difficulties but said the problem needed to be addressed in the effort to win the confidence of Afghan civilians and keep them from supporting the Taliban.

“We’re not going to be in a position to stop all that activity,” he said but suggested more operations could be carried out during the day in less dangerous areas.

The U.N. said this month the percentage of civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces had declined over last year. The U.N. blamed the Taliban for most civilian deaths.

Nonetheless, complaints persist that civilians are mistakenly targeted.

On Thursday, about 500 angry demonstrators chanted slogans against the United States and the Afghan government after four people were killed in a raid the night before in a village southwest of Kabul. NATO said the four killed were insurgents but villagers insisted they were civilians.

Witnesses said foreign troops descended the Qara Bagh district of Ghazni province in helicopters and stormed two houses at about 10 p.m. Wednesday. They killed a father and his two sons along with a neighbor even though they weren’t armed, according to Musa Jalali and other residents of the Baram village.

NATO denied any civilians were harmed in the action. It said the raid was a joint operation with Afghan forces targeting a high-level Taliban commander who has organized attacks against Afghan and NATO troops and helped smuggle foreign fighters in the area.

One of those killed was a young man estimated to be about 15 years old who grabbed the weapons of a service member, NATO said, adding one insurgent was detained during the operation.

“They had no weapons, no grenades, not even one single bullet was found in their home,” Abdul Samad, the victims’ relative, told Associated Press Television News. “All those killed were innocent people.”

Provincial police chief Khial Baz Shirzai also said the four killed in Wednesday’s raid were insurgents.

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