The US and Afghanistan signed a deal on Sunday that gives Afghans authority over raids of Afghan homes, resolving one of the most contentious issues between the two allies.
The majority of these raids are nighttime operations in which US and Afghan troops descend without warning on homes or residential compounds searching for insurgents.
The raids are widely resented by Afghans, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for a halt to all night raids by international forces.
He said for months that they must stop before he would sign a much-anticipated pact governing the long-term US presence in Afghanistan.
Both countries have said that they wanted that deal signed before the NATO summit in May, so the night raids agreement announced on Sunday makes hitting that deadline possible.
Karzai has argued that night raids by international troops make civilian casualties more likely and that US soldiers are disrespectful in the way they conduct the operations.
The US military has said such operations are essential for intelligence gathering and for capturing Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders.
The deal on Sunday appeared to be a compromise: A panel of Afghan security officials get the authority to decide what raids will take place, but US forces will still play a large part in operations, including entering Afghan homes if needed.
The US also now has an Afghan partner that will be held equally accountable if there are civilian casualties or allegations of mistreatment.
The resolution of this dispute is a key step toward finalizing the long-term “strategic partnership” to govern US forces in Afghanistan after the majority of combat forces leave in 2014. The long-term pact is seen as important for assuring the Afghan people that they will not be abandoned by their international allies.
The memorandum was signed in front of reporters by Afghan Minister of Defense General Abdul Rahim Wardak and US Commander General John Allen.
“This is a landmark day in [the] rule of law,” Allen told reporters.
Afghans are now “in the lead on two of the most important issues: capturing the terrorists and ensuring they remain behind bars,” he said.
Washington said that the -foreigner-dominated raids that Karzai so frequently condemns are already a rarity. More than 97 percent of night operations are combined operations involving Afghan forces and almost 40 percent of night operations are now Afghan-led.
According to the document, all “special operations” will have to be reviewed and approved by a panel from the Afghan military, government and intelligence services. The definition of a “special operation” is left vague, but appears to apply to night raids as well as other operations that involve going into Afghan homes.
Since the document only governs certain types of raids, it leaves open the possibility of other types of unilateral US operations that do not involve going into homes. US officials declined to comment on whether there were US operations that did not fall under this agreement. For example, the CIA conducts operations in Afghanistan outside of the military’s purview, and it is not clear whether they would be affected.
Any disagreements would be resolved by a joint US-Afghan committee including the Afghan defense minister and the US forces commander, the agreement said. It did not indicate how this committee would make decisions.