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McChrystal: Troops’ Conduct in ‘Night Raids’ Must Show Respect for Afghans

In some quarters, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s order to his troops in Afghanistan to protect civilians first represents a dangerous exposure to battlefield risk, particularly as he’s restricted offensive airstrikes and instructed his troops to stop fighting insurgents who retreat into population centers. To counterinsurgents, McChrystal is putting the mission first, since the mission is to protect the population, which requires treating any violence or humiliation experienced by civilians as a strategic threat. McChrystal’s latest move will probably entrench the judgment of both camps.

Today McChrystal’s command released a new guidance for “night raids,” in which troops hunting insurgents enter the houses of Afghan civilians. While stressing that the raids are “essential” and will continue, the commanding general in Afghanistan writes that “nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant,” far out of proportion with the number of Afghans the raids affect. Accordingly, McChrystal instructs his troops to avoid the raids whenever possible, and when they are unavoidable, to include Afghan soldiers or police in every raid — as well as in planning them. “If possible, local elders should be incorporated into the process,” McChrystal writes, “to ensure that the actual facts are related to the local populace.” Local leaders are to be informed of the raids. Only women soldiers are to search Afghan women. Any property damaged or confiscated must be reported to local leaders through the provision of “detailed receipts.”

“When properly executed, night raids remain a viable and advantageous option,” McChrystal writes in a public version of the new night raid guidance. “But 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 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.

“Ultimately, the Afghan people will decide the outcome of this conflict, and only with their support can we win.”

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