KABUL (Reuters) - The growing use of “night raids” by NATO-led and Afghan forces to kill or capture insurgents is one of the most controversial strategies in the Afghan war.
U.S. General David Petraeus says the pressure on suspected insurgents and their networks has given new impetus to a near decade-old war. Critics argue the raids fuel violence because dozens of innocents are killed or detained.
Here are some facts and figures about the raids, which are likely to increase as fighting picks up with the spring thaw.
* General Stanley McChrystal was considering cutting back on night raids until he was removed from his post last June. His successor as commander of NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has instead stepped up a tactic that worked well battling the insurgency in Iraq.
* Foreign forces carried out about 1,700 night raids in the 90 days to February 18, or around 19 a day, said a NATO official, who added weather affected operations.
* This could mean a faster pace in spring.
* The winter rate was already an increase from the previous three months. In the 90 days to November 11, foreign forces carried out about 17 night raids a day, according NATO.
* Over the 90-day winter period, around 600 people were killed and 1,900 people were detained but “not many” are still in detention, the official said. He declined to give details.
* This suggests a greater restraint on opening fire. During the 90-day period to November 11, 368 insurgent leaders were killed or captured, and 968 lower-level leaders were killed.
* ISAF says more than 80 percent of night raids are conducted without a single shot being fired, they only move on reliable information and “invariably get the guy they are after.”
* But things do still go wrong sometimes. Last year around 8 percent of civilians killed or wounded by ISAF were victims of night raids, their data shows. This would be around 37 people but is still lower than estimates from other sources.
* Search and seizure operations -- mostly night raids -- killed 41 civilians in 13 raids documented in the first half of 2010, according to a U.N. human rights report in August.
* Other problems include serious injury, death of valuable livestock and destruction of property.
* Coalition officials say the raids disrupt Taliban and Haqqani insurgents, limit their freedom of movement at night and are picking apart their leadership structure and damaging morale.
* The raids are part of guidance laid out by Petraeus last August: “Get our teeth into the insurgents and don’t let go.”
* Afghans accuse troops of abusing residents, destroying property, insulting women, and acting on bad intelligence or based on personal vendettas.
* Afghans also complain that they often do not know which security forces carry out the raids, cannot get compensation for death or damages and do not know where detainees are taken.
* A report by the Open Society Institute and Afghanistan’s Liaison Office on 2009 raids said detainees often were turned over to Afghan security forces, which are plagued by corruption and allegations of torture and other mistreatment.
* Afghan forces now usually -- though not always -- accompany U.S. troops when they enter Afghan houses.
* Afghan officials are informed of all raids in advance. Foreign troops can chose which official to contact, but it must be someone with a degree of authority
* Troops are required to leave contact details to trace the detained, and receipts for property damaged or confiscated.
* There is a “soft knock” rule -- that people in targeted houses should be called out by loudspeaker, and troops only open fire if they are shot at first.
* Women are separated from the men, foreign male troops keep a distance and when searched it is usually by female teams instead of by men, although women cannot go on all raids.
KARZAI‘S CRITICISM AND REACTION
* Karzai said in an interview with The Washington Post late last year that he wanted the U.S. military to end night raids.
* U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended targeting “high-value insurgents” as a key part of U.S. operations and Petraeus also warned Afghan officials that Karzai’s criticism of U.S. strategy seriously undermined the war effort.
(Editing by Paul Tait and Miral Fahmy)
Sources: Reuters, Officials at the International Security Assistance Foce, United Nations reports on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict