US to sign Afghan night raids deal
The Afghan government has reached a key deal with the US to govern controversial night raids by American forces.
A memorandum of understanding on "Afghanisation of special operations on Afghan soil" will be signed later by Defence Minister Gen Abdul Rahim Wardak and the commander of US forces, Gen John Allen, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Details were not immediately released, but the name of the memorandum suggests that it will apply to a range of quick-strike raids in villages, not just night-time operations.
US officials declined to comment on the deal before it was signed.
Night raids have been a constant source of tension between the Afghan government and US military. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called previously for all international night raids to cease, saying that they are provocative when carried out by foreign troops. The US military has said such operations are key to capturing Taliban commanders.
Officials briefed on negotiations have said that the deal is likely to involve a compromise in which Afghan military units would take a larger role in planning and carrying out the raids, and an Afghan judge or panel would have a say, if not full veto, over the operations.
The agreement would be a key step toward finalising a long-term partnership to govern US forces in Afghanistan after the majority of combat forces leave in 2014. The long-term pact is seen as important for assuring the Afghan people that they will not be abandoned by their international allies.
"It opens the way for the signing of the strategic partnership agreement which we hope our two presidents will be able to sign in the near future," said Janan Mosazai, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. Both US and Afghan officials have said that they expect to sign the full partnership deal in time for a Nato summit in Chicago in May. The issue over the conduct of night raids had been a major sticking point.
The night raids deal follows an earlier memorandum signed on the transfer of authority over detentions to the Afghans - another issue that had threatened to derail the strategic partnership talks.