KABUL, Afghanistan -- Once again, NATO officials and Afghan villagers are telling dramatically different stories about a night raid: an attack in which U.S. and Afghan forces swooped down on a residential compound in the hours before dawn searching for insurgents.
Early Tuesday, the target was a compound in the district of Qarghayi, in Laghman province, east of the capital, Kabul. Two men were killed.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force identified the pair as insurgents; Afghan officials and neighbors said they were fighting-age men who were trying to defend their home against unknown invaders.
For years now, night raids have been an extraordinarily fraught topic between the Afghan government and its Western patrons. The issue threatened to hold up a sweeping security pact between Washington and Kabul that sets the terms for a U.S. presence after NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014. The accord has been envisioned as a centerpiece of an alliance summit to take place later this month in Chicago.
American negotiators broke the deadlock by promising that Afghan officials would have more say beforehand over when and how such raids occurred. But strikes on residential compounds, even when described as “Afghan-led,” remain a source of considerable tension.
Afghans and human rights groups say night raids violate cultural norms -- including taboos on outsiders seeing the family’s women -- and also pose an undue risk to civilians because confusion and darkness can lead to deadly mistaken shootings. Western military officials, however, say the operations are one of the most effective means of capturing and killing insurgent leaders.
In the strike early Tuesday, a statement from the NATO force said the raid’s target was a Taliban leader who had been organizing the emplacement of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, meant to kill and maim coalition troops. The alliance's International Security Assistance Force said the wanted man and another male opened fire as coalition troops closed in.
Villagers, echoing a narrative often told of such nighttime raids, said the unexpected arrival of the U.S. and Afghan forces at about 2 a.m. set off a firefight. Most rural Afghan households keep weapons at hand to stave off bandits.
The killings triggered a demonstration by angry villagers. Hundreds rallied, carrying the bodies of the slain men.
“The people killed … were not linked with insurgents,” said Mukaram Khan Nasiri, a lawmaker from Laghman. “They were innocent. We know them.”
He said the two men killed were brothers and that one was a member of the local council. Those detained included an elderly man and several teenagers, Nasiri said.
-- Laura King and Aimal Yaqubi
Photo: Afghans protest the killing of two civilians during a joint Afghan-NATO raid early Tuesday. Credit: Abdul Mueed / EPA.