American Forces Press Service
March 5, 2010 - The commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan has issued new rules governing night raids, acknowledging that although they can have value militarily, they also can foster ill will toward international forces on the part of the Afghan people.
In a written statement, International Security Assistance Force officials released unclassified portions of Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's new guidance "to ensure a broader awareness of [its] intent and scope."
"We are in a war of perceptions," the new guidance says. "Our forces operate far from home with selfless courage, admirable intentions, and impressive precision and effects. But ultimately, how the Afghan people judge our conduct and perceive our intentions will be decisive factors in their decision to support their nation's struggle against the insurgency. We must remember that their protection, their respect, and their support are the critical objectives for everything we do. And that reality must govern how we operate."
The guidance notes that operations conducted at night are "an essential component of our campaign, delivering often decisive effects in disrupting and defeating some of the most dangerous insurgent groups" and reduce the potential for civilian casualties.
"That said," the guidance continues, "in the Afghan culture, a man's home is more than just his residence. It represents his family, and protecting it is closely intertwined with his honor. He has been conditioned to respond aggressively in defense of his home and his guests whenever he perceives his home or honor is threatened. In a similar situation, most of us would do the same."
That reaction is compounded when forces invade a home at night, particularly when women are present, the guidance points out. "Instinctive responses to defend his home and family are sometimes interpreted as insurgent acts, with tragic result," it says. "Even when there is no damage or injuries, Afghans can feel deeply violated and dishonored, making winning their support that much more difficult."
In the new guidance, McChrystal says that despite their effectiveness and value, night raids have a steep cost in perceptions. "The myths, distortions and propaganda arising out of night raids often have little to do with the reality -- few Afghans have been directly affected by night raids, but nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant," McChrystal says in the new directive. "Night raids must be conducted with even greater care, additional constraints, and standardization throughout Afghanistan."
Under the new rules, commanders must first explore all other feasible options before conducting night raids on compounds and homes. Afghans must be in the lead wherever possible, and whenever possible, the operations must be coordinated with Afghan government officials, Afghan security forces and local elders.
"When properly executed, night raids remain a viable and advantageous option. But if we do not conduct ourselves appropriately during night raids, we cede credibility to insurgents who can exploit our insensitivities in a persuasion campaign," the guidance says. "It would be a tragic irony if operations we conduct to protect the population by ridding villages of insurgents are distorted to convince Afghans that we are unfeeling intruders."
Other requirements include:
-- Afghan security forces must be included in all night raids, and must be in the operations planning process at the earliest possible time;
-- Afghan government representatives must be notified before any night operation begins;
-- Afghan security forces should be the first force seen and the first voices heard by the occupants of any compound entered;
-- All searches will be led and accomplished primarily by Afghan forces and conducted with regard for the dignity of occupants, including searches of females by females; and,
-- Property seized or damaged must be recorded, and detailed receipts with a point of contact must be provided to local elders or other leaders within the compound, and instructions on how to claim compensation must be provided if damage occurs.
(From an International Security Assistance Force news release.)