While a weekend U.S.-Afghan agreement that will allow Afghan forces to head up all Special Operations night raid missions has been heralded by most as a step toward Afghan independence, the move is raising key objections by a few.
The deal, brokered Sunday, would allow Afghan judges more authority to oversee the raids and limit the power to search houses to Afghan troops. It also limits the ability of U.S. forces to interrogate detainees and gives approval power and review for all U.S. “special operations” in the country to an Afghan military panel.
In a statement released by International Security Assistance Force, the U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander, Marine Gen. John Allen, lauded the agreement.
“The Afghan special operations units have developed at extraordinary speed and are manned by courageous and capable operators,” he said. “…Today, we are one important step closer to our shared goal of a secure and sovereign Afghanistan.”
For the minority, the deal raises red flags in its broadness and its timing.
Following an incident March 23 in which U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly killed 17 Afghans in their village during the night, forces are tensed for any retaliatory enemy attacks. Coalition fatalities shot up to 39 in March from 24 in February, though neither represents a huge departure from monthly casualty averages over the last two years. There have been nine fatalities among U.S. troops and allies so far in April.
Conservative blogger Stephen Green was dismissive at his site, Vodkapundit.
“Not that it matters, not that anyone is surprised, but the Taliban just won,” he wrote.
A retired soldier and blogger at popular military news site This Ain’t Hell had a more personal take.
Jonn Lilyea, founder of the conservative site and former Desert Storm-era infantry platoon sergeant, said he worried for the safety of troops by involving Afghan courts, on account of well-documented corruption within the Afghan government and the prospect of information leaks to the enemy.
“Given the fact that the Afghan government leaks like a sieve to the Taliban, I’m sure that the productivity and usefulness of these raids can only increase (that’s sarcasm, if you didn’t recognize it),” he wrote. “We can also expect that every night raid will be an ambush.”
Lilyea told Human Events that he had friends and former leaders stationed in Afghanistan, and his interest in the issue was personal.
“All it takes is one law clerk and those raids become ambushes against our forces,” he said.
With top U.S. officials publishing clear timelines for a phased Afghanistan departure, Lilyea said it made sense for Afghan forces to build alliances with the Taliban.
“(Afghan troops are) not going to be loyal to us as much as they’re going to be loyal to the Taliban, because they’re going to be there longer,” he said.
Defense officials downplayed any risk to troops in their announcements about the U.S.-Afghan agreement, saying that nearly 40 percent of night operations are now Afghan-led already, and more than 97 percent involve both U.S. and Afghan forces.
It’s not clear, however, what leadership of raids has meant until now, and if that definition is changing with the new memorandum of understanding.