Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Strangers at the door: Afghanistan’s deadly night raids

April 6, 2010


NATO has admitted that its forces were responsible for the deaths of five Afghan civilians including three women during a botched night-time raid in eastern Afghanistan in February. Two of the women were pregnant, one a mother of 10, the other had six children.

The alliance initially said troops had found the women already killed, bound and gagged, when they entered the compound in Gardez in Paktia province, but later acknowledged that was untrue. NATO is now looking at allegations by Afghan investigators that U.S. Special Forces involved in the raid tampered with evidence at the scene to cover the blunder.

It was another of Afghanistan’s deadly night raids gone wrong, which have so alienated Afghans, and where the risk of killing civilians is perhaps greater than with air strikes.  The New York-based  Open Society Institute in a report released in February said while casualties linked to air strikes had fallen as part of the new counter-insurgency strategy to protect the population, there has been no noticeable decrease in the dreaded practice of night raids. Indeed night raids are taking place in previously unaffected areas such as Kunduz in the north where a resurgent Taliban have mounted a strong challenge to German forces based there.

Night raids are when military forces, usually a mixed group of internationals and Afghans, force entry into an Afghan home in the middle of the night, search the premises and usually detain one or more men of the family. Reports of abuse — punching, slapping, or other mistreatment — during these raids are frequent, says Erica Gaston, a human rights lawyer and one of the report’s authors.

In some cases, people said they witnessed detainees being gun butted or kicked, sometimes while handcuffed. Former detainees and other witnesses to night raids reported international forces breaking dishes, destroying furniture, and setting vehicles on fire. Because many compounds house dozens of people, this property destruction was widely viewed as unnecessary and drew complaints from non-targeted residents in the house and their communities, the Open Society report says.

According to the UN, at least 98 civilians were killed in these incidents in 2009. In terms of creating enemies, you couldn’t do it better than attacking people in their homes at night, Gaston says. “It’s hard to do worse than breaking into some one’s house at night, taking actions that are viewed as violating the women of the household, and hauling family members to unknown detention sites for weeks to months.”

While attacking homes at night, rather than daytime, may add an element of surprise and reduce the risk to pro-government forces, it dramatically increases the chances of indiscriminate use of force against innocent women, children, and men in the house.

Something similar seems to have happened in the latest botched raid in Gardez. Here’s a London Times account of the raid and the allegations of cover-up first written by the newspaper.  Here’s the New York Times story.

The conclusion, broadly is, that you tend to lose more than you gain from these raids, the Open Society report says. Just because Afghan forces are involved in the raid or even sometimes leading the operation, it does not absolve the foreign forces. In the eyes of the Afghans whose homes have been violated, it is the foreign forces who are ultimately responsible, the report said. Secondly, often, these raids are based on flawed intelligence as it happened in Gardez when coalition forces went in believing an insurgent was hiding there. As it turned out, there wasn’t any hostile activity going on; just a large family celebrating the Western equivalent of a baby shower.

It’s the sort of thing that becomes branded onto people’s memories, leaving an irremovable scar. What is happening in Afghanistan cam be compared to the people’s narrative in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Kashmiris still talk of Indian army crackdowns on villages when males above the age of 15 were taken away in raids often conducted just before dawn. They are still trying to win hearts and minds there, more than 20 years into the conflict.


Leave alone winning of heart and mind thing, it just increases the number of Taliban, who later on blow themselves with shattering the foreign forces into pieces.

Posted by Khan | Report as abusive

And the insurgents win hearts and mind by blowing up the populace…now don’t you think that may leave an “irremovable scar” as well?

‘Punching, slapping” and “breaking dishes”…..really. Do you think these same victims complain when the Taliban come to their village and behead people for listening to music and stone women for getting an education? Just because these people are now allowed to voice complaints without fear of NATO retaliation, they need to think about the alternative.

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive

Just another in a series of posts that are negative toward the NATO/ US Troops. Look, nobody enjoys war. War has casualties. People make mistakes. We get that from the constant barrage of Bush haters who slam the war effort, make it impossible for the troops to do their job and hate the U.S. so much that they have to slam every mistake they make. But where are the positive stories? Like… “It’s a tough and slow process, but we are making progress on removing the Taliban and Al Qaeda from these areas” or “More successful raid brings more Afgan’s into taking control of their country helping themselves to self sustaining levels”. Where are THESE stories? Why is it ALWAYS a slam against the troops, the effort and the effect? If we had this kind of Moron media in WW II, we would be speaking German. The way things are, y’all better get ready to bow to mecca 5 times a day.

Posted by Xynot | Report as abusive

We need to get out of Afghanistan.


Why do you not publish the stories of the Afghan and other ANSF Soldiers being killed and wounded by the suicide bombers and the IEDs. Instead you publish rantings of Anti Afghan forces thinking that they are the thoughts of the good Afghan people. Reporters go into villages and speak to those who will speak to them (Talban). Not the ones who want to but are afraid to. You think you know the rights and wrongs. If you listen to the felons in American prisons you will here the same “we are inocent and treated like animals”

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

well duh. how many good guys go around busting into people’s houses at night ten freaking thousand miles away from their own homes… for what? goons of the empire is all… henchmen for the king… you cant get into heaven killing families for your crown… and all of these people making excuses for these armed humanoids flying their choppers here there and killing anything that strikes their fancy…

Posted by monte | Report as abusive


No body boast about what Taliban were doing and are doing, nor villagers should be happy when they got beheading or whatever you think. But what Thing invite you to go in competition with Taliban’s brutality? So you recomend that ISAF should do more than Taliban or at par what Taliban were doing, by dropping bombs on civilians, by raiding their homes, by killing their children and women. Your perception shows that you consider it legitimate action, and dont grasp what i meant earlier that these things are counter productive and have enormous potential to turn non-combatant of the state into combatant. If you are happy about this vicious cycle then go viking for decades.

Posted by Khan | Report as abusive

@ Xynot:
If you think that you will eliminate Taliban by raiding homes or other acts then i would not hesitate to put yuou under certain category.
And now dont come as rescuer of the world. We pray Mecca or what, are better keep us away from being invaders for the sacke of economic greed or something world game power,due to which millions have been anhiliated. Everytime I feel happy to know that certain areas come under governmetn control, but my hapiness shortlived after few days. At least we should develop courage to voice against evil in whatever shape it is.I hoping that Amercian civil society can play more vital role in abandoning this war crap.

Posted by Khan | Report as abusive

Taliban never raiding homes or other acts, their are resistant who fought they invaders and their country, everytime the U.S troops engaged an operation in afganistan soil, there’s a civilian massacre, why,they not liked,it is genocide and must be stoped.

Posted by Ahmed | Report as abusive

The US marines should be renamed to “Night zombies” and their c-in-chief as Frankenstein. During night they have the satanic power at their disposal, whereas, during the daylight they take the human form. The talabans or the eagles of Afghanistan do not sleep in their homes and this represents a different situation for the night intruders. Afghanistan has always been a hospitable land for the foreign armies and did provide them with a burial place at no cost. The noose around the invaders is tightening now that kyrgistan has got rid of the President who allowed a base for the US forces. Mr Karzai has to say the final word but the Pakhtoon Govt. in the neighbouring country Pakistan has to decide whether they are for the Pashtoons or against them?

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

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