The Afghan government and the U.S. signed a deal Sunday giving Afghanistan authority over military raids in Afghan homes, resolving an issue that had threatened to derail a larger pact governing a U.S. presence in the country for decades to come.
The most common form of these raids are nighttime operations in which U.S. and Afghan troops descend without warning on homes searching for insurgents, barging into homes and bedrooms. They are widely resented by Afghans.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai had called repeatedly to halt all night raids by international forces, saying that they make civilian casualties more likely and that international troops are disrespectful in the way they conduct the operations. The U.S. military has said such operations are essential for intelligence gathering and for capturing Taliban and al-Qaida commanders.
Sunday's deal appeared to be a compromise: a panel of Afghan security officials get authority to decide what raids will take place and U.S. forces still get to play a large part in operations, including entering Afghan homes when needed. The Americans also now have an Afghan partner that will be held equally to account if there are civilian casualties or allegations of mistreatment.
Karzai had originally ruled out any type of night raid and his willingness to accept them in any form indicates that he is willing to sacrifice some of his political capital with other Afghans to prevent the agreement with the U.S. from falling apart.
The resolution of this dispute is a key step toward finalizing a long-term "strategic partnership" to govern U.S. 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.
The memorandum was signed in front of reporters by Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak and the commander of U.S. forces, Gen. John Allen.
"This is a landmark day in [the] rule of law," Allen told reporters. He said that Afghans are now "in the lead on two of the most important issues: capturing the terrorists and ensuring they remain behind bars."
"This is another important step in strengthening the sovereignty of Afghanistan," Wardak said.