A surge in the number of controversial NATO night raids in Afghanistan has caused a “tremendous backlash” among Afghans and is endangering civilian lives, a new study said yesterday.
The US-led coalition force carries out raids under cover of dark to pick off insurgents alongside a counter-insurgency campaign aimed at coaxing the population away from supporting the Taliban.
However, any gains made against the insurgency come “at a high cost,” alienating locals and undoing work to win hearts and minds, the study by billionaire philanthropist George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office said.
“Touted gains have come at a high cost. The escalation in raids has taken the battlefield more directly into Afghan homes, sparking tremendous backlash among the Afghan population,” the 38-page report said.
A lack of transparency and accountability had also “reinforced Afghan perceptions that international military use night raids to kill, harass and intimidate civilians with impunity,” it said.
The report said the number of night raids had increased fivefold between February 2009 and December last year, with an average of 19 raids per night across the country, with foreign combat troops aiming to leave the country in 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has often led public criticism of the raids for causing many civilian casualties in the 10-year war in Afghanistan since US-led troops brought down the Taliban regime, sparking a Taliban-led insurgency.
International military commanders say night raids are an essential part of the fight to target dangerous insurgents and that they do all they can to limit civilian casualties.
The report said that NATO “tactical directives” and “operational guidance” had significantly reduced civilian casualties.
However, “many of these improvements have been undermined or overshadowed by the surge in night raids,” the report said.
“In many cases, non-combatants appear to be subjected to night raids due to their proximity to insurgent activities, or incidental information about insurgent groups, rather than due to their actual conduct or status.”
There are about 140,000 foreign, mainly US troops, serving in Afghanistan to help Karzai’s Western-backed government defeat the Taliban.
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