WikiLeaks Cables: Karzai Pushed Nato to End Afghanistan Night Raids
Forces warned they would be reduced to the status of the hated Soviet invaders of the 1980s if attacks continued
Night raids have recently become a major area of contention between Karzai and Nato. The Afghan president told the Washington Post last month that he wanted an end to the "kill or capture" missions.
The cables show he has been privately asking the Americans to change their tactics for almost two years. In a memo of February 2009 Karzai asked the US under-secretary of defence policy Michele Flournoy for a limit on night raids. Since then the number of raids has increased fivefold.In several cables state department officials working in Afghanistan's provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) passed on reports from the field about the growing resentment towards night raids and warnings by locals that the US would inevitably come to be seen in the same light as the Soviet Union, which occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.
One cable dated January 2009 warns of popular "outrage" against US activities in the south-east province of Zabul and says that "without 'error free' coalition operations" the coalition and government will lose public support.
At least six such operations in December 2008 angered locals, including one that apparently forced 200 families to flee their homes.
In an operation the following January that led to five deaths and three suspected insurgents being captured the local elders of Jaldak were so furious that "they refused to bury the bodies and threatened to display them on Highway 1" – an inflammatory step given the Islamic requirement to bury the dead immediately.
Foreign efforts to calm local feelings were met with limited success. Local elders told Nato forces that the operations were strengthening the Talban. "When coalition operations hurt innocent civilians 'the Taliban wins'. They suggested 'the Taliban is laughing at the coalition' and the Afghan government every time a civilian is killed."
The following month the PRT reported with even greater urgency that just one more "special operation with casualties could tip the balance in Zabul towards anti-coalition forces".
"If coalition forces (CF) disregard the clear warnings and specific requests for co-operation they risk endangering all of their stabilisation and reconstruction efforts, and creating a more hostile environment as the US plans on increasing troops in the province."
The heightened concern was prompted by a raid on a compound that the Americans regarded as having successfully killed and captured militants prompted a demonstration the following day by more than 300 locals, a rally a few days later attracted 800 people.
On 9 February a delegation of tribal elders told the provincial reconstruction team that unless the night raids stopped they would withdraw their support.
"We will close our shops, block the streets, move to the mountains and fight you the way we fought the Soviets," they were reported to have said.
Although the issue of night raids is a regular theme in minutes of meetings between Karzai and top American officials, the Afghan president rarely seems to believe that the Americans are taking his concerns seriously.
In one meeting in January 2009 with David Petraeus, who at the time was chief of US Central Command, Karzai makes his dissatisfaction known about a US plan that 100 Afghans should be provided to work with the Americans on special forces raids.
"Karzai argued that 100 Afghans would not give Afghanistan meaningful control over the operation but would force them to take responsibility when a mistake was made," the cable said.
He also questioned the quality of the intelligence used by special forces: "President Karzai asked if we really knew who we were fighting. Petraeus was categorical that we had confidence in our intelligence and believed we knew who the enemy was."
The president said the use of dogs in house searches was "unacceptable in the Afghan culture and was used by the Taliban propaganda to undermine support for the coalition and the government".
But by publicly criticising night raids the Afghan president inadvertently made the situation worse. In the wake of the mass demonstrations in Zabul the governor of the province told the US that "President Karzai's anti-coalition rhetoric makes it hard for him, Karzai's appointee, to counter Taliban propaganda in the media".