Deal Reached on Contested Afghan Night Raids

040812night 101st Combat Aviation Brigade CH-47 Chinook helcopter door gunners survey the ground during a night flight June 26, 2009 in southern Afghanistan. (Photo: Staff Sgt. Sadie Bleistein)

Kabul, Afghanistan – Afghanistan and the United States signed an agreement on Sunday on night military raids that would hand responsibility for carrying out the operations to Afghan forces but allow continued American involvement.

The agreement clears the way for the two countries to move ahead with a more comprehensive long-term partnership agreement, Afghan and American officials.

The signing of a memorandum of understanding on the night raids between Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan minister of defense, and General John R. Allen, the American commander, was hailed by the men as an indication of both Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the growing abilities of its special operation forces.

“This is an important step in strengthening the sovereignty of Afghanistan,” Mr. Wardak said, adding that it was “a national goal” and “a wish of the Afghan people” that raids be conducted and controlled by Afghans.

General Allen said the signing meant that the two countries were “ready to look forward to a successful summit in Chicago in the wake of the signing of the strategic partnership agreement.”

The strategic partnership agreement commits the United States to another decade of involvement in the country in areas like economic development and education.

The meeting in Chicago is a NATO summit at which countries involved in the war are expected to commit to continuing financial contributions to Afghanistan as well as committing to train and equip the forces.

The deal on night raids was the second of two contentious issues that the two countries resolved to solve ahead of work on the broader pact. The other issue involved the handover to the Afghans of the main United States detention facility in Parwan. That memorandum of understanding was signed on March 8.

President Hamid Karzai has long been at odds with the American military over the raids, which the Americans have described as a crucial tool in the fight against insurgents. The raids until recently were primarily conducted by American special operations forces.

Afghan families, however, have objected strenuously to the raids which they say violate cultural norms, humiliate them and expose their women to the eyes of strangers. Mr. Karzai, who renewed calls for an end to the raids after an American soldier was charged with 17 counts of murder in the shootings of Afghan civilians on March 11, has insisted that control over the raids is a matter of sovereignty.

“This is what the president has wanted for years,” a presidential spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said of the agreement.

Plans to complete the deal were expected earlier this week, but a last-minute glitch over how long the Americans could hold detainees for questioning after the completion of a raid tied up the final agreement. The impasse was broken over the last two days.