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In Afghanistan war, a kinder, gentler night raid?

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has issued new rules designed to make night raids less invasive, as part of the broader Afghanistan war strategy to win over the population. Some soldiers say it’s hamstringing their ability to nab Taliban militants.

By Iason AthanasiadisCorrespondent / April 20, 2010

US and Afghan National Army soldiers enter the front door of a suspected house during a night raid in search of Taliban insurgents in Razbeg village in Ghazni Province, in this 2007 file photo.

Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Newscom/File


Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan

“Open this gate! We are from the Afghan National Army!”

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It was the midnight call that Afghan villagers have learned to dread, though this night raid would turn out less aggressive than usual.

Following a tipoff that a compound housed Taliban bombmakers, night vision-enabled Afghan and American troops stalked the sandy lanes of Kuhak village, part of the lush Arghandab Valley in southern Kandahar Province. Overhead an American surveillance drone hovered, relaying images to a nearby control room of men carrying boxes and scurrying across the courtyard.

Ten minutes passed. The soldiers waited outside the gate.

By the time the residents opened it, the only people inside were a one-legged man, two women, and several children.

The 20 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne’s B Company searched the compound but, lacking a bomb-sniffing dog, their search for explosives was inconclusive. They apologized to the family, handed out some blankets as a gesture of aid, and walked back to their base.

IN PICTURES: Fighting at night

Taming the night raid

New restrictions on night raids handed down in March by Gen. Stanley McChrystal –­ part of a broader strategy to prioritize protecting civilians over killing insurgents ­– are meant to make the surprise searches less invasive, but may also be hampering their effectiveness.

According to the new regulations, Afghan security forces must in the front of every raid, ritually impure animals – such as dogs – are banned, and village elders must be warned “wherever possible.” Soldiers can only barge into compounds after exhausting other options and have proof that the inhabitants inside are not cooperating.

US soldiers, however, have complained that Afghan security forces are at best lax and often brutal; dogs are essential in sniffing out explosives; and village elders sometimes end up tipping off the Taliban. This gives insurgent fighters a head start to mask their bombmaking activities or blend into the population.

“They make it really hard to fight because they¹re very restrictive,” says Sgt. Christopher Gerhart of the 82nd Airborne, referring to the new rules. “For us to legally go into a house, we’d have to coordinate Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police escorts, allowing the bad guys time to disappear.”