A report this week that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is lifting former President Hamid Karzai's ban on night raids by troops against Afghan homes will surprise no one more than it will members of the elite Crisis Response Units (CRU) of the Afghan National Police, or the news team that followed one of the units during a night raid on a home in Parwan in August of last year. Either the CRU staged the whole thing, or the ban never really existed.
It will also be news to Brig. Gen. Gordana Garasic, the gender adviser for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) — when she recently announced that Afghan forces had agreed to give female CRU officers their own all-female facility, Garasic noted that they had been conducting raids with their male counterparts. According to the ISAF press release (which has since been removed from their website), those raids took place during both the daytime and the nighttime. And if they're happening at night, they are targeting someone's home.
Even acting Minister of Interior Mohammad Umer Daudzai, who the CRU work for, has acknowledged that the ban wasn't really a ban.
"Former President Hamid Karzai had not completely banned these raids," Daudzai said two weeks ago, responding to questions about the reinstatement of the raids at a meeting with military experts and civil society activists, according to Tolo News. "Karzai had just instructed more accuracy while conducting these raids."
Karzai hated the night raids. He denounced them regularly, insisting that they stop at least as far back as 2010, when he remarked in an interview with the Washington Post, "The raids are a problem always. They have to go away. This is a continuing disagreement between us."
It was this continuing disagreement that prevented Karzai from signing the Bilateral Security Agreement, despite assurances in a letter from President Barack Obama in November of 2013 that the United States would "make every effort to respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes" — a reference to coalition plans to continue the night raids.
Karzai eventually deferred the signing of the BSA to his successor, dodging the decision and frustrating the Americans. He never banned night raids outright, but stricter regulations around all special operations did go into effect in April of 2012, when a memorandum of understanding signed by the Afghans and the Americans meant that Afghan forces would now lead operations on Afghan homes. The memo stipulated that Afghan special operations forces, including units like the CRU, "can enter private compounds, residential houses, and other areas for the purposes of search and arrest, in accordance with Afghan laws, with support from US Forces only as required or requested." That text was the last official agreement or edict on night raids by Karzai.
Contrary to the recent reports, there was no ban on night raids, partial or otherwise, put into place by Karzai in 2013. He seemed more concerned with air strikes at the time. That February, Karzai banned all Afghan forces from requesting air support from foreign military forces in residential areas. For all his belligerence in the later years of his administration, it's difficult to blame Karzai on this point. An alarming number of civilian deaths resulted from coalition air strikes. While such losses might seem an unfortunate side effect of a counterinsurgency, they are not the kind of thing the leader of a sovereign nation should be willing to let slide.
Since calling them "night raids" tends to offend people who might get their doors kicked in, the military no longer uses the term. In March 2012, during the run-up to the memorandum of understanding on night raids, Gen. John Allen, the commander of all coalition forces in Afghanistan at the time, testified before Congress and was asked about the disagreement with the Afghan government over night raids. His responses only made reference to what he called "night operations." Perhaps "Afghans getting their doors blown off in the middle of the night" was just too descriptive
Whether the partial/full ban on night raids/operations has been lifted, no one seems to have told President Ghani's office. Ghani has been assessing the restrictions imposed on Afghan security forces by Karzai, and is determining whether any changes need to be made. After Daudzai's comments on the 11th, the president's office released a statement saying that "no night operations have been authorized." The new president has yet to comment on reports that the ban was lifted, but stating that no such operations have been authorized only adds to the confusion surrounding the "ban."
It is unclear whether Ghani has issued new authorizations regarding the execution of raids on homes. What is clear is that Ghani is more than willing to give the Americans the kind of leeway they've been wanting for the last few years to pursue terrorist targets. His rapid signing of the BSA and his consideration of lifting prior restrictions is a significant shift from his predecessor that will mean an increase in American special operations support of their Afghan counterparts.
Ghani is keenly aware that the fate of aid dollars rests on his next moves, and seems inclined to do everything in his power to help the US as it fights al Qaeda and the Taliban — even if that apparently means lifting the night raids ban-that-wasn't.
Follow Gary Owen on Twitter: @ElSnarkistani