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New Night Raid Policy: Afghan Hearts And Minds

In another effort to blunt Afghan anger over casualties, Afghanistan theater commander General Stanley McChrystal has announced NATO's new night raids operational policy. The main change is to include Afghan forces in every night raid and put them to the front whenever possible. In short, put an Afghan face on the kind of operations the Aghan public criticizes most - night raids in villages.

General McChrystal said night raids are effective in the fight against the Taliban, but must be conducted with "greater care" to ease the anger they have caused among the Afghan people.

The order says NATO troops should avoid night raids when possible. It says if international forces have to enter residences after dark, Afghan forces should be in the lead wherever possible.

The Afghan government must also be alerted ahead of time.

Night raids have emerged as a leading concern among the Afghan public after resulting in the deaths of civilians.

The move is a natural reaction by our forces in a kind of conflict - counterinsurgency (COIN) - where ultimate victory is decided by the indigenous population, not purely strength of arms and battlefield success.

It is also a reaction to Afghan President Hamid Karzai who, purely seeking populist political gain, has called for an end to all night raids. While this is a non-starter right out of the gate - it is a safe bet that the vast majority of high-level captures have occurred at night (KSM, for instance) - it does not mean that public sentiment can be ignored.

It is another hindering change in the Afghanistan rules of engagement (RoE), but such things are necessary to blunt Afghan domestic criticism and thwart Taliban propaganda operations.

Criticism of such changes is often wide and loud here at home. And while the debate is healthy and the concerns for the safety of our men and women genuinely placed, keep in mind that our forces must keep one eye on the enemy seeking to kill them and the other on the indigenous population that will ultimately determine victory or defeat in Afghanistan.

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