ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Tackling one of the most problematic sources of friction in Washington’s tenuous relationship with Kabul, Afghanistan, the U.S. signed an agreement with Afghan leaders that gives Kabul legal oversight of nighttime raids carried out by U.S. troops — an effective tactic against Taliban insurgents but deeply unpopular with Afghan citizens.
The pact was hailed at a signing ceremony in Kabul as an important steppingstone toward an overarching strategic agreement that will govern the relationship between the two countries after U.S. troops withdraw at the end of 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai had called for an end to the U.S. night raids, and discord over the controversial tactic had threatened to derail momentum toward the broader pact, which Afghan and U.S. leaders would like to wrap up in time for a planned NATO summit in Chicago in May.
“Today we are one important step closer to our shared goal of a secure and sovereign Afghanistan,” said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who along with Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak signed the night raids pact in Kabul.
Afghans have harshly criticized night raids carried out by U.S. forces, calling them an affront to Afghans’ culture and way of life. U.S. military leaders, however, have deemed them an extremely effective tactic to root out Taliban insurgents and commanders. The raids were just one source of tension in a difficult U.S.-Afghan partnership that has rapidly deteriorated with the killings of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier in Kandahar province last month, and the accidental burning of a Koran at a U.S. air base in Afghanistan in February.
Under the agreement reached Sunday, a special panel made up of members of Afghan security officials will authorize all future night raids. Afghan special operations forces will take the lead in night raid operations, with U.S. troops taking on a supporting role. Only Afghan troops will be allowed to search private homes and compounds, and U.S. forces cannot enter the homes unless their Afghan counterparts request them to do so, according to the pact.
The U.S. also agreed to continue to provide the training and logistics to increase the size of Afghan special operations forces and to provide them intelligence services in support of future raids.
--Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad, Pakistan, and special correspondent Hashmat Baktash in Kabul, Afghanistan
Photo: Gen. John Allen, center left, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Afghan Minister for Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak sign a memorendum of understanding Sunday in Kabul. Credit: S. Sabawoon / EPA