The issue of nighttime raids, during which Afghan and foreign forces conduct searches of homes and compounds of local people, have always been controversial. President Karzai has many times lambasted the NATO-led forces for the raids, saying the raids lead to civilian casualties, violate the privacy of Afghans and trample what is the prized possession of Afghans: the unique sense of Afghan pride and dignity.
Conducting nighttime searches of suspected Taliban commanders' homes and compounds, especially in Southern Afghanistan, has long been a favorite and effective counter-insurgency tool in the hands of foreign and Afghan security forces. The nighttime raids have been effective in capturing or killing the Taliban leaders throughout Afghanistan; this is an undeniable fact. Now, an American think tank, the famous Open Society Foundation founded by even more famous George Soros, has called the nighttime raids a "losing tactic", and has called for a major re-think on the strategy and its implications.
The report, published by the Foundation and named, "The Cost of Kill/Capture: Impact of the Night Raid Surge on Afghan Civilians", blames the nighttime raids for causing rising anger and massive backlash among Afghan communities mainly in the South and East.
The report also argues that the gains made on the battlefield by eliminating or neutralizing Taliban leaders are to a large extent reversed by the resulting backlash and discontent among local communities, which work to derail the much-purported "winning the hearts and minds" campaign by Afghan and foreign forces. Further, the raids cause strains in political relations with the government of Afghanistan in Kabul and local governments in districts and provincial capitals.
While this report deserves due attention and contains some valuable recommendations for the military policy makers, its calls for suspending the raids altogether cannot be justified. This is mainly because nighttime raids are a very important part of the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
According to available reports, for example, for a 3 months period between September and November 2010, in more than 1500 nighttime raids conducted in Afghanistan, more than 360 Taliban leaders were either captured or killed.
With the start of the new fighting season in the spring of this year, the Afghan and foreign security forces have stepped up their counter-insurgency campaign throughout the South of the country in line with the broader American-Afghan strategy to break the back of the Taliban insurgency in the run-up to 2014. According to reports, currently, as many as 40 nighttime raids are being conducted by Afghan and foreign forces with Afghans always accompanying their foreign counterparts and taking active part in operations.
On closer investigation, calling the nighttime raids a "losing tactic", in the report by the Open Society Foundation, is not a correct assessment of the situation. This is mainly because the purported harms of the nighttime raids are vastly insignificant in front of the valuable security gains that are made by conducting these raids.
In the first place, creation of a sense of discontent, anger and backlash among those communities that are affected by the raids is very limited compared to the security that wider sections of Afghan population come to enjoy as a result of the killing and capturing of Taliban commanders. If we recognize eliminating the Taliban commanders and breaking the Taliban's war machine as the over-arching priority and objective, angering a few thousand Afghans in a nation of 30 million is not significant. It is immaterial.
The nighttime raids are an integral part of the strategy adopted by the Afghan and foreign security forces to deal with the larger resurgence of Taliban. The intelligence input obtained by these nighttime raids is extremely valuable for finding out Taliban and militant networks and cells. In addition, these raids often target local leaders and commanders of Taliban, whose neutralization is of immense value for the larger fight against the insurgency.
The extent of success achieved over the past one year in calming down the growing Taliban insurgency in the South is directly attributable to the rise in the number and frequency of nighttime raids. The raids' usefulness is appreciated in eliminating some very important Taliban commanders and gathering valuable intelligence about Taliban's networks and their plans of attack. Killing and capturing of more than 360 Taliban leaders in a three-months period is in itself a testimony to the broad success of these raids.
In 2010 and throughout the current year, there have been major improvements in the way these raids are conducted by Afghan and foreign forces. In the first place, Afghan Security Forces including Afghan Special Forces teams are now included in all the nighttime raids.
This makes redundant all the whining and complaining about "invading foreign troops". Secondly, there have been marked improvement in the way targets are selected; intelligence inputs have been improved so that innocent people are much less affected.
All the talks about copies of Holy Quran being desecrated are outright lies. President Karzai had some reasons to be angry about the nighttime raids until these raids were carried out only by foreign forces and the methods used were heavy-handed and callous.
He had many times demanded that only Afghan forces should conduct such operations and that within the Afghan law. Now that the Afghan Security Forces under his command are conducting these raids for the purpose of defeating his government's enemies, his further complaints, if any, will amount to sheer duplicity.
Therefore, there are no grounds on which these raids can be dubbed as a "losing tactic" in the way done by the Open Society Foundation report. As said, the utility of these raids is compulsory to the success of the anti-Taliban war in Afghanistan.
For sure, there is plenty of room for improvement so that the current low-intensity discontent because of the raids is further lowered. A greater reliance on Afghan forces; targeting only combatants during the raids and abstaining from harassing innocuous people based on their familial or tribal linkages with Taliban insurgents are some of the solutions as put forward by the Open Society Foundation report.
For the war against the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan to bear results, people throughout Afghanistan must cooperate with security forces. It, of course includes, nighttime operations.