KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Foreign troops in Afghanistan can no longer search homes after nightfall unless Afghan security forces are present.
New orders from the top military commander in Afghanistan also require Afghan authorities to help plan and execute any raids after dark.
U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal gave his orders to coalition troops earlier this year, but the directive had remained classified until NATO released excerpts on Friday.
The Canadian military says it has already been doing what McChrystal is now asking of other coalition troops.
McChrystal’s orders say that while night raids are effective in rooting out Taliban fighters, they can also backfire on coalition troops by angering Afghans.
“Despite their effectiveness and operational value, night raids come at a steep cost in terms of the perceptions of the Afghan people,” the directive says.
“The myths, distortions and propaganda arising out of night raids often have little to do with the reality — few Afghans have been directly affected by night raids, but nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant.”
Night-time searches became a top concern among Afghans after McChrystal limited the use of air strikes last year, which were responsible for the bulk of civilian deaths.
Afghans perceive the night raids as extremely intrusive and an affront to a man’s ability to protect his home.
“In the Afghan culture, a man’s home is more than just his residence,” the directive says.
“It represents his family and protecting it is closely intertwined with his honour. He has been conditioned to respond aggressively in defence of his home and his guests whenever he perceives his home or honour is threatened. In a similar situation, most of us would do the same.”
The Taliban have exploited this anger to their advantage, the directive adds.
“If we do not conduct ourselves appropriately during night raids, we cede credibility to insurgents who can exploit our insensitivities in a persuasion campaign,” it says.
“It would be a tragic irony if operations we conduct to protect the population by ridding villages of insurgents are distorted to convince Afghans that we are unfeeling intruders.”
Under McChrystal’s new rules, Afghan security forces “should be the first force seen and the first voices heard by the occupants of any compound entered.”
The Afghan forces are to lead all searches, and women can only be searched by women.
Receipts have to be issued and compensation offered for any property that’s damaged or seized.
The Canadian military says McChrystal’s orders are not new as far as the Canadian Forces are concerned.
“For the four years we’ve been working in Kandahar, there is nothing different. This is the way we’ve been doing business,” said Col. Simon Hetherington, acting commander of Canada’s Task Force Kandahar.
“It’s to standardize and really heighten the awareness across all the NATO troops here that respecting the population, respecting cultural sensitivities is the way that we’re going to achieve the effect of protecting the population and gaining their respect as well.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been calling for an end to night-time raids on homes.
“We believe that the war on terror is not in the Afghan villages and homes,” Karzai told a security conference in Munich last month.