Surge in Night Raids Fuels Afghan Anger

KABUL, Afghanistan—Ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan, security is at its worst level since the fall of the Taliban. U.S. and NATO forces argue that night raids are their best tool against insurgents, but a new report by the Open Society Foundations and The Liaison Office finds that the cost of the raids outweighs the benefits.

Though international forces have improved the conduct of raids, the report, The Cost of Kill/Capture: Impact of Night Raids on Afghan Civilians, found that Afghan recognition of these efforts has been undercut by the increased number of raids.

“International forces have made big improvements in the last year, reducing civilian casualties and improving accuracy. However, many more civilians are now subjected to night raids, which cause lasting harm even when no casualties result.” said Erica Gaston, a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations and co-author of the report.

An estimated 12 to 20 night raids now occur per night, resulting in thousands of detentions per year, many of whom are non-combatants. Mass detention operations, holding entire villages for questioning on site for prolonged periods of time, may violate international prohibitions against indiscriminate detention, the report found.

Civilians feel caught between the warring parties, and often blame international forces. As one man from Nangarhar, interviewed in the report said, “They claim to be against terrorists, but what they are doing is terrorism. It spreads terror. It creates more violence.” Weak accountability mechanisms where civilian casualties and mistaken detention occur and a failure to explore alternatives to night raids further increase anger over the raids.

The public resentment generated by night raids obscures good faith efforts by international forces to reduce civilian casualties and improve security, and is a stumbling block to a long-term U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership. International forces argue that night raids are invaluable because they disrupt insurgent networks, but the report suggests this is outweighed by the human and strategic costs. 

“In the last two years, as the rate of night raids has risen, insurgent attacks have increased dramatically. Afghan civilians are bearing the brunt of the surge in raids, without seeing security improvements,” Gaston said.