REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO officials have clashed once again on the issue of nighttime raids by Western forces, this time over an incident that left a pregnant Afghan woman dead.
A spokesman for the NATO force, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, said Monday that the commander of Western troops in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, had met with Karzai over the weekend to express “deep condolences” over the woman’s death in Paktia province.
The precise circumstances of the raid early Saturday remained unclear.
Afghan officials in Paktia’s provincial capital, Gardez, said the woman was killed when U.S. and Afghan forces surrounded and then entered the home of the provincial head of counter-narcotics operations, an official named Hafizullah. He was arrested along with two of his sons, said Rohullah Samon, a spokesman for the Paktia governor.
The slain woman was Hafizullah’s wife, who was eight months pregnant, Samon said, adding that four other female family members were injured.
Jacobson did not say whether Hafizullah was suspected of collusion with insurgents or some illicit activity involving drugs, but defended nighttime raids as the “safest form of operation conducted to take insurgent leaders off the battlefield.” In most such raids, no shots are fired, he said, adding that the woman was killed in shooting that broke out after NATO forces came under fire from inside the compound.
Karzai and other senior Afghan officials have repeatedly denounced night raids. Most Afghans regard a home invasion by foreign troops as a grave cultural insult, and human rights groups say darkness and confusion -- and the attendant possibility of a firefight if those inside believe they are under attack by robbers or clan rivals -- pose a significant danger to civilians in raided residential compounds, including women and children.
Karzai has made a cessation of U.S.-led night raids a condition of a long-term military pact with Washington, a so-called strategic partnership agreement, which would govern the relationship between American troops and the Afghan government after 2014, when NATO’s main combat mission is to end.
The issue has emerged as a key sticking point in negotiations, which have gone on for months.
U.S. officials say the process of making all such raids Afghan-led is already underway, but they have not ruled out continuing American participation in strikes such as the Saturday mission. Commanders who have worked with the Afghan police and army acknowledge they still need considerable training to carry out specialized commando operations on their own.
-- Laura King
Photo: In this photograph taken in 2007, U.S. and Afghan soldiers enter a house during a night raid in search of Taliban insurgents in Ghazni province. Credit: Nicolas Asfouri / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images