KABUL — A new directive from NATO's top commander in Afghanistan orders coalition forces to avoid night raids when possible, but to bring Afghan troops with them if they must enter homes after dark.
The coalition released details of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's new policy Friday — changes that are meant to cut down on the storm of complaints from Afghan people.
Though McChrystal's order falls short of the complete ban on night raids sought by President Hamid Karzai, it does reflect new sensitivities by NATO at a time when the coalition is pursuing a strategy of gaining Afghan public trust in a bid to rout Taliban extremists.
McChrystal had issued the order in late January — as reported by The Associated Press last week — and portions of the classified directive were made public Friday by his headquarters. It follows the NATO commander's move to limit the use of airstrikes last year that were responsible for the bulk of civilian deaths.
"Despite their effectiveness and operational value, night raids come at a steep cost in terms of the perceptions of the Afghan people," according to excerpts of his directive.
"In the Afghan culture, a man's home is more than just his residence. ... Even when there is no damage or injuries, Afghans can feel deeply violated and dishonored, making winning their support that much more difficult," it said.
The directive tells troops "to explore all other feasible options before effecting a night raid."
However, if night raids are conducted, Afghan security forces "should be the first force seen and the first voices heard by the occupants of any compound entered."
The order requires that Afghan troops must be included in the planning and execution of all night raids, and that Afghan government representatives must be notified in advance. When possible, community elders also need to be consulted.
It also said that all searches during the raid must be led and accomplished primarily by Afghan forces, including the search of women by women. Compensation for property seized or damaged must also be made — reiterating a practice already in place.
Tensions have risen over civilian deaths and injuries caused during NATO operations as additional coalition troops have poured into Afghanistan as part of a bid to try and turn the tide against the resurgent Taliban.
But even as NATO mounts a massive ongoing offensive against militants in southern Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents continued to mount their attacks in the rest of the country.
In the capital, Karzai met with India's Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and expressed his regret and condolences for the Feb. 26 attacks in Kabul, claimed by the Taliban, that killed 16 people, including six Indians, Karzai's office said Friday. Menon invited the Afghan leader to India and reaffirmed India's commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan.
The Afghan government has blamed the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for the attacks. At least 56 others were wounded, when a car bomb exploded and gunmen wearing suicide vests hidden under burqas stormed residential hotels popular with foreigners.
In the latest violence, NATO said one of its service members was killed Friday by a bomb strike in southern Afghanistan. The military coalition said the death was connected to the ongoing offensive in the southern town of Marjah, bringing the total of NATO troop deaths in the operation to 15.
Buried explosives left behind by the Taliban in their former stronghold continue to threaten Marjah residents trickling back after fleeing the fighting, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned Friday.
The improvised mines make it dangerous for medical staff to move around the town to evacuate sick and wounded people, and several clinics remain closed, said Reto Stocker, the head of the Red Cross delegation in Kabul.
Thousand of families have still not returned home after the fighting, the Red Cross said. When they do, the civilian toll will likely go up as people fall victim to roadside bombs laid to slow the advance of international and Afghan troops.
"Sadly, there will almost certainly be casualties, as improvised mines and unexploded homemade bombs do not differentiate between a military vehicle and a boy on a bicycle," Stocker said.
NATO, which took pains to limit civilian casualties in Marjah, estimates that 16 noncombants have died because of allied actions since the offensive began three weeks ago. Human rights groups have estimated a few dozen civilians overall have been killed. (AP)