It's difficult to interpret the widely-touted deal between the U.S. and Afghanistan over night raids in any way other than as a political gift to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. On Sunday night, the U.S. signed an agreement saying that night raids can only be approved by an "all-Afghan body called the Afghan Operational Coordination Group." The issue over who controls the unpopular night raids is hugely contentious in Afghanistan as numerous civilians have been killed during night sweeps. However, as reporters have gotten their hands on the agreement, it appears to offer Karzai an applause line for speeches rather than significant changes in the way raids are carried out.
For one, U.S.-led night raids aren't actually coming to an end, contrary to earlier reports. In interviews with military officials, Wired's Spencer Ackerman finds that the agreement carries a number of asterisks and caveats. "The restrictions only apply to missions where there’s a reasonable chance of taking Afghans prisoner or 'search[ing] a residential house or compound,'" writes Ackerman, citing a statement from Navy Capt. John Kirby. "So if special operations forces are targeting an insurgent as he travels, or planning to ambush a Taliban camp not suspected of being located inside a civilian’s home, no warrants are required."
Beyond that, even raids on Afghan homes can be carried out without warrants. Kirby said if subjects are considered "an immediate threat," a warrantless search and detention can be launched and the U.S. merely needs to get approval afterward. "Those situations are supposed to be the exception, not the rule, Kirby said," according to Ackerman.
So what's the big hoo-ha over this deal anyway? Reporting from Kabul, Time's John Wendle speaks with an Afghan rights activists who puts the agreement in a different light. "[This is] nothing more from President Karzai than a populist gesture to show the Afghan people that he's standing against the international forces — that he is not a puppet but a President." And indeed, Karzai has taken advantage of the limelight, touting the issue everywhere he goes according to reports from the region.
“In accordance with this agreement we assure people that not only the foreigners will not enter people’s houses, but also the Afghan government will not harm anyone and that human rights will not be violated,” Karzai said. According to Ackerman's analysis there's no way Karzai can guarantee that. Regardless, the leader goes on. “Afghan sovereignty was consolidated (by the agreement) and the Afghan government has taken the lead," he said.
Nobody said a withdrawal from Afghanistan would be easy. It appears the night raid deal takes into account the political and military situation on the ground. While the U.S. may continue to carry out raids in special circumstances, Karzai can say he stuck up for his constituents in dealings with the U.S. The question is: What happens to Karzai's popularity if another raid goes wrong?