KANDAHAR - Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan confirmed his forces raid the homes of suspected Taliban militants after nightfall, a controversial practice that some say stokes anger and resentment among ordinary Afghans against foreign troops.
Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of Task Force Kandahar, said yesterday that while he is "philosophically against such raids," the nighttime incursions are necessary in the coalition's battle against a persistent insurgency.
"There's nothing worse than busting into somebody's house in the middle of the night," he said.
"However, in the cases where we actually go into a compound, it's either in self-defence or it's as a result of a long string of intelligence gathering that has led us to a certain compound.
"And invariably when it comes time to execute the raid, there are no innocent civilians there - there are just bad guys."
Thompson made the remarks in response to a scathing report released yesterday by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which said lethal air strikes and "abusive" overnight raids by coalition forces threaten to turn Afghans against foreign military forces.
The 55-page report warns that bombings by U.S. and NATO aircraft, along with incursions into civilian houses after dark, could undermine seven years of trying to win over the Afghan people.
"Afghan families experienced their family members killed or injured, their houses or other property destroyed, or homes invaded at night without any perceived justification or legal authorization," the report says.
"They often did not know who perpetrated the acts against the family or why. To their knowledge and perception, those who perpetrated the acts were never punished nor prevented from repeating them," the report says.
The night raids frequently involve "abusive behaviour and violent breaking and entry," which the report says stokes almost as much anger toward coalition forces as the air strikes.
"Afghans in these regions generally know stories of friends or family members who have been awakened in the middle of the night to be tied up, and often abused by a group of armed men," it says. "Whether individual stories are true or are hearsay is difficult to verify. Nonetheless the prevalence of the stories ... suggest these night raids do occur and with some regularity."
The commission released the report in Kabul, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai was attending a memorial ceremony across town for three Afghans killed in an overnight raid by U.S. forces.
The American military has said its forces killed three "known individuals with Al Qaeda links" during a Dec. 17 raid after the "insurgents" tried to fire on U.S. troops first.
But Afghan officials insist Amir Hassan, 40, his wife and their 14-year-old nephew were innocent civilians. Karzai has called on the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to investigate their deaths.
The commission's report says night raids occur more frequently in Kandahar province, the Taliban hotbed where the bulk of Canada's roughly 2,700 troops are stationed, than other areas of Afghanistan.
The report documents four night raids: two in Kandahar, and one each in the provinces of Kabul and Nangarhar.
A common pattern observed during the raids was for armed men to "separate the men from the women in the household, tie up the men, and often take one or more of the men with them when they left."
The commission says there have been other incidents where the men were simply shot on sight.
"While night searches may in several cases provide significant military intelligence and/or result in the capture of legitimate targets, there are also several cases in which there is significant evidence suggesting that the targeted individuals were not in any way linked to insurgent activities," the report says.
However, the report did not find evidence of "any systematic patterns of intimidation."