- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2012

Afghanistan’s government wants to control all special operations and night raids currently led by U.S. and NATO forces, but it will not demand that Americans involved in criminal activity be tried in Afghan courts.

U.S. and Afghan officials started negotiations Thursday in Kabul to reach an agreement on the issue of night raids, the last hurdle on the path to a U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his government is “taking a magnifying glass” to the draft agreement.

NATO officials insist the night raids have disrupted terrorist networks, but Afghans say the raids are culturally insensitive and generate ill will toward the U.S.

Afghan officials, who spoke on background citing the sensitive nature of discussions, said they have not been taken into confidence by the U.S. or NATO forces conducting the night raids.

As a compromise, it has been proposed that judicial warrants be required from Afghan courts for night raids.

Afghan officials want to relegate U.S. and NATO forces to a supporting role, providing logistical assistance in the form of helicopters and intelligence. Afghan forces already have a lead role in about 60 percent of the raids.

Afghan officials also are seeking veto power on the raids if they consider the targets to be low-level terrorists or perceive a high risk of collateral damage.

The meetings in Kabul were “positive and constructive” and will continue Friday, said Janan Mosazai, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

Earlier this month, U.S. and Afghan officials signed an agreement transferring the U.S. detention facility at Bagram to the control of the Afghan Defense Ministry.

U.S. and Afghan officials are optimistic that President Obama and Mr. Karzai will be able to sign the strategic partnership agreement before a NATO summit on Afghanistan in Chicago in May.

The negotiations are taking place amid deep anger in Afghanistan over recent incidents involving U.S. troops.

Mr. Karzai emphasized the importance of protecting his country’s sovereignty in a speech at the graduation ceremony for the Afghan military academy.

The Afghan president is very concerned about issues regarding sovereignty, said Ahmed Rashid, a prominent Pakistani journalist and author.

“He is very hurt, for example, that the Taliban call him a puppet of the Americans,” Mr. Rashid told an audience at the Brookings Institution.

The Taliban broke off exploratory peace talks with the U.S. last week over a delay by Washington to act on the militants’ demand that five high-value prisoners be released from the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Afghan government supports the transfer of the prisoners to Qatar; however, it says the men must not be detained once in Qatar, but only their movements restricted.

“Our position is that if the United States decides to transfer the Afghan detainees in Guantanamo to Qatar so that they can reunite with their families, and if that is what the detainees agree to, which they have, then the Afghan government has no problem with that,” said Mr. Mosazai, the Afghan government spokesman.

The detainees are unlikely to be released this year, said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“The Afghan Taliban prisoners are held in Guantanamo, which is the toxic dark hole of American foreign policy that no American politician will be able to touch, certainly not in an election year, and find a way to get those five prisoners out,” he said at the Brookings Institution.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message railed against the Karzai government’s supporters.

“They are more despicable than the infidels,” said al-Zawahiri, who assumed the mantle of al Qaeda’s leader following the death of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. commando raid in Pakistan in May.

Al Qaeda uses the term infidels to describe non-Muslims and foreigners.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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