Can We Win Hearts and Minds While Night Raids Continue?


In case you haven’t seen it yet, Anand Gopal, who has reported from Afghanistan for the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor, has just written a disturbing and important piece for Tom Dispatch on night raids and “black” prison sites in Afghanistan.
The piece also appears on The Nation‘s site.
The use of night raids by ISAF and non-ISAF American forces are among the most controversial aspects of the war effort in Afghanistan, because they sometimes result in the deaths or imprisonment of innocent Afghans.
And while NATO has recently put in place new rules for night raids that are intended to prevent accidental deaths and cause less anger among Afghans, the raids will likely continue. As Gopal points out, many of the raids are carried out by American Special Operations Forces, who operate outside of NATO command and often with little oversight.
And even as we have already shut down secret prisons around the world and move toward closing Guantanamo Bay, detainees in Afghanistan lack the rights to challenge their imprisonment and stories of secret prisons where abuses occur continue to surface.
Gopal notes that while the detention situation has improved and become more transparent since President Obama took office, allegations of mistreatment and disappearances to secret prisons continue. But more than the immediate anger and confusion caused by night raids and abuses, Gopal notes the long-term effects of these abrasive counterterrorism tactics:

If night raids and detentions are an unavoidable part of modern counterinsurgency warfare, then so is the resentment they breed. “We were all happy when the Americans first came. We thought they would bring peace and stability,” says former detainee Rehmatullah. “But now most people in my village want them to leave.” A year after Rehmatullah was released, his nephew was taken. Two months later, some other villagers were grabbed.
It has become a predictable pattern: Taliban forces ambush American convoys as they pass through the village, and then retreat into the thick fruit orchards that cover the area. The Americans then return at night to pick up suspects. In the last two years, 16 people have been taken and 10 killed in night raids in this single village of about 300, according to villagers. In the same period, they say, the insurgents killed one local and did not take anyone hostage.
The people of this village therefore have begun to fear the night raids more than the Taliban. There are now nights when Rehmatullah’s children hear the distant thrum of a helicopter and rush into his room. He consoles them, but admits he needs solace himself. “I know I should be too old for it,” he says, “but this war has made me afraid of the dark.”

Even as we improve our counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan, practices continue that could permanently hamper our ability to gain the popular support needed to push back the Taliban. And even if these practices were stopped tomorrow, I fear that the memory of past mistakes and horrors will not fade from the minds of the people whose support we so desperately need.
— Andrew Lebovich


7 comments on “Can We Win Hearts and Minds While Night Raids Continue?

  1. Don Bacon says:

    nadine, it’s not only me who has an impulse to be nice to people we have “liberated.”
    General McChrystal acknowledges that our predicament in Afghanistan is fundamentally a political one. It will be resolved only when Afghans believe that the government in Kabul can provide basic services, especially security, better than the Taliban can, and when citizens no longer feel compelled to rely on the Taliban for a crude outline of law and order.
    Creating such an environment depends on establishing security for the civilian population. McChrystal places fresh emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians and winning their support, and states that the military must be more focused on the Afghan people rather than on “seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces.”
    Unfortunately, boys being boys, it’s not being done.
    28 January 2010 BBC
    British Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has defended the behaviour of foreign troops in Afghanistan in response to questions from local BBC listeners. Afghans accused international forces, including British army personnel, of ignoring cultural and religious sensitivities during operations.
    A Helmand man said the Taliban, by contrast, treated him with respect. “When the Taliban come to my house they knock on the door, they request politely to stay, they drink tea or have something to eat, they ask about the wellbeing of myself and my family and then they go away,” one Helmand listener wrote.
    “When foreign troops come to my house they bang and kick the door, they shout at every person, they point guns at even kids and women, they break every lock without asking for the key, look at us like we are from Mars, and leave us upset.” Listeners accused foreign troops of “entering our houses at night and killing” civilians, and failing to understand local culture and religion.


  2. nadine says:

    Don, it all depends on something I don’t think I know: the quality of the information that the raiders have. If you keep raiding the wrong people, it’s bad. If you keep raiding the Taliban, it’s good.
    You seem to have an impulse to be nice to everybody. You can’t be nice to the Taliban and win hearts and minds. These are guys who will routinely threaten to kill people just for talking to you – and mean it. You have to demonstrate that you can protect people from the Taliban. You do that by killing and arresting Taliban fighters.
    Reporters are quick to believe and report protestations of innocence. I am no longer quick to believe reporters.


  3. Don Bacon says:

    I suppose that it’s difficult to know what a house raid is like without actually experiencing it, but I imagine it’s not pleasant. First the door is kicked in,
    and then the people are traumatized to some degree.
    This happens a night, which exacerbates the frightening aspects of it.
    In Iraq a large number of MAMs (military aged males) were swept up in these raids. They were thrown to the floor, their wrists were zip-locked behind them, they were then tossed into a US military vehicle and carted off to prison, there to be held without charges. That would definitely be undesirable.
    These young men, eventually totaling nearly ten thousand souls, were definitely not won over, a fact that has contributed hugely to the occupation resistance over the years. When finally released, would they merely forgive and forget? Would I? Would you?
    By all reports the situation is now similar in Afghanistan. Why wouldn’t it be? I think we can safely assume that this is not the way to win hearts and minds.


  4. nadine says:

    “Can We Win Hearts and Minds While Night Raids Continue?” by your own description, this is a stupid way to phrase the question. It’s not whether you conduct raids, it’s whether you seize the right people or not. If you want people to talk to you, you have to protect them from those will kill them if they talk to you.
    This reporter may believe that Special Forces seized the wrong people, but I would need to see some evidence that the reporter is a better judge than the Special Forces. Relatives will claim the prisoner’s innocence whether he is in fact innocent or not.


  5. ... says:

    the usa war machine can try to put back together a broken vase all it wants… something else is required, but that would not benefit this same war machine would it?


  6. Don Bacon says:

    “As Gopal points out, many of the raids are carried out by American Special Operations Forces, who operate outside of NATO command and often with little oversight.”
    from Jeremy Scahill, The Nation:
    During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” said Colonel Wilkerson. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”
    Gen. Stanley McChrystal headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions,” Col. Wilkerson, an aide to Colin Powell, said.
    Gen. Stanley McChrystal is currently the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    JSOC is now commanded by VADM William H. McRaven, who has SEAL experience. Apparently JSOC is still a force unto themselves, and recent reports have them enlisting the assistance of Blackwater in their dirty deeds.
    Who gives JSOC directions now that Cheney has left?


  7. Carroll says:

    Do To List:
    Call your rep about:
    Getting out of Afghan.
    Why TARP money is being used to give Fla a high speed rail system.
    Why spending freeze in effect for USA domestic programs and not our foreign military aid to Israel, Jordon and etc., etc., ect..
    Whatever else pisses you off.
    Call and thank these 54 in congress for their letter to Obama about stopping the seige of Gaza
    Raul Grijalva
    Lois Capps
    Sam Farr
    Bob Filner
    Barbara Lee
    Loretta Sanchez
    Pete Stark
    Michael Honda
    Lynn Woolsey
    Jackie Speier
    Diane Watson
    George Miller
    Jim Himes
    Andre Carson
    Bruce Braley
    John Yarmuth
    Elijah Cummings
    Donna Edwards
    Michael Capuano
    William Delahunt
    Jim McGovern
    John Tierney
    John Olver
    Stephen Lynch J
    ohn Conyers
    John Dingell
    Carolyn Kilpatrick
    Keith Ellison
    Betty McCollum
    James Oberstar
    Donald Payne
    Rush Holt
    Bill Pascrell
    Yvette Clarke
    Maurice Hinchey
    Paul Tonko
    Eric Massa
    David Price
    Mary Jo Kilroy
    Marcy Kaptur
    Earl Blumenauer
    Peter DeFazio
    Chaka Fattah
    Joe Sestak
    Peter Welch
    Jim Moran
    Jim McDermott
    Adam Smith
    Jay Inslee
    Brian Baird
    Nick Rahall
    Tammy Baldwin
    Gwen Moore
    Glenn Nye
    You can use the toll fee number to congress to reach all their offices.


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