Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are taking issue with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s call for an end to U.S. Special Forces night raids in his country.
“Every night raid has Afghan partners. We try to make sure they’re the first to go through the door,” Graham said Thursday during a committee hearing on several nominees for Defense Department positions.
Graham conceded the night raids against alleged Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters “have been problematic for the Afghan people” and that in the past they were “creating more enemies than we were making friends.”
But he said that had been changing and under the current system “they are well coordinated with the Afghan legal system.” Before a raid takes place, “a cell of Afghans get to vote as to whether or not we go and take this target down.” Both Afghan and U.S. Special Forces take part.
When the units call out for someone to surrender before a raid, an Afghan does it. Women accompany the teams “to deal with the sensitivity of interrogating a woman,” Graham added.
Karzai’s statement Wednesday, which appeared to tie agreement on a future American military presence in Afghanistan to ending U.S. night raids, also drew critical response from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the panel chairman, and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the ranking Republican member.
Levin said the raids have “removed literally thousands of insurgents from the battlefield without any shots being fired.” McCain got Michael Sheehan, nominated to be assistant secretary of Defense for special operations, to admit that there had been a reduction in the civilian casualties associated with the raids. He said the key to reducing Afghan complaints to have local security forces take on the primary role in the raids.
Sheehan later said while Afghan special forces working with American counterparts “have demonstrated a greatly increased capacity” to run “some night operations,” they are not “ready to really step up fully to the plate.”
Graham said the raids have provided a significant number of the 2,800 prisoners now held at the new American-constructed prison at Bagram Air Field. Ending such U.S. detention of Afghans was another part of Karzai’s Wednesday speech.
“Nothing would please me more to transfer the 2,800 prisoners we have in American law-of-war detention to Afghan control,” Graham said. But he described how the Afghans had no legal system capable of receiving them. He said today at Bagram Afghan judges carry on trials but at 50 a month they are falling behind because “we’re capturing 150 a month.”
“We’re trying to create a new way forward under Afghan law to hold people as a threat to the state with ample due process,” Graham said. He said he shared Karzai’s goal but added, “We’re just not there yet.”