NATO's Afghan night raids come with high civilian cost

Thu Feb 24, 2011 6:28am EST
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By Emma Graham-Harrison

SURKH ROD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A few minutes and a few bullets were enough to turn Abdullah from an 11th grade student with dreams of becoming a translator to the despairing head of a family of more than a dozen.

His father and oldest brother were shot dead last August at the start of a midnight assault by NATO-led troops on their house in Afghanistan's east. Abdullah himself was hooded, handcuffed and flown to prison, where he was detained for questioning and then released.

They were casualties of a night raid, a controversial tactic that has been stepped up dramatically since General David Petraeus took over running the Afghan war last year, despite strong opposition led by President Hamid Karzai.

There were nearly 20 each night over the past three months, according to a senior NATO official who requested anonymity.

Petraeus says the pressure on suspected insurgents and their networks has brought a new dynamic to a near-decade-old war. Critics argue it is fuelling violence because poor intelligence means dozens of innocent people are killed or detained.

Although more than 80 percent of recent raids ended without a shot being fired, violence escalates fast when it does break out, with 600 people killed on operations in the three-month period.

Eastern Jalalabad city, which shares the Taliban's Pashto language and culture but has traditionally been a government stronghold, is one area where raids appear to have been rising fast, although NATO declined to comment on the location of raids.

"There didn't used to be any night search operations. It is a peaceful district, so there was no need," said Haji Abdulwahed Ahmadzai, a member of the local shura, or council, for Surkh Rod district where Abdullah lives.   Continued...