McChrystal orders troops to avoid night raids
KABUL — NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan are under new orders to refrain from night raids whenever it’s not absolutely merited, according to a new directive released Friday by the coalition commander in Afghanistan.
The order by Gen. Stanley McChrystal does not ban night raids, which he acknowledged were a critical tool for disrupting insurgent groups, but it called on soldiers to use restraint and critical judgment and requires that any raids be undertaken in conjunction with Afghan forces.
The new directive is in keeping with McChrystal’s counterinsurgency doctrine that to win in Afghanistan, coalition and government forces have to gain the trust of a wary population enraged by civilian casualties in the nine-year war.
But in an interview with Stars and Stripes on Friday , McChrystal said he also recognized that this and similar directives that have asked soldiers to use restraint in fighting insurgents within populated areas can be frustrating to troops in hostile areas.
“I have a sacred responsibility to take care of our servicemembers and I take that extraordinarily seriously,” McChrystal said. “But I also have a responsibility to accomplish this mission and those two sometimes seem in opposition.
“I think if you take the wider view, the requirement to accomplish the mission and the requirement to protect our force come in alignment because for us to be effective here we have to have the support of the people,” he added. “You cannot win otherwise. And so you have to do effective counterinsurgency. You have to have the support of the people. You have to limit use of force. You have to connect with the people. You have to convince them you are here to protect and respect them. If you don’t do those, you are just dead in the water.”
Earlier this week, McChrystal visited soldiers in Zari province after a young sergeant e-mailed him to say they had taken a lot of casualties and that in order to understand what they were dealing with, he’d have to come see it for himself. The general went there to answer their questions, and joined them on patrol, he said.
“I do understand that in the near-term, it’s an extraordinary battle that young sergeant faced,” McChrystal said. “If he’s in a close fight with insurgent elements, you are not going to win their hearts and minds in the near-term. So you’ve got to do this mature balance.”
Ultimately, the trust of the population will be the greatest source of protection for the soldiers, he said. Then they won’t have to live on outposts behind Hesco barriers and ride in mine-resistant vehicles.
“It’s very tough,” he added.
The new order requires that Afghan government representatives be notified ahead of any night operation, and that Afghan security forces should be the first force seen and the first voices heard by the occupants of any compound entered.
In excerpts from the classified directive released by his headquarters, McChrystal said the effectiveness of night raids had to be weighed against the perceptions of the Afghan people.
“When properly executed, night raids remain a viable and advantageous option,” he said in the directive. “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.”
“In the Afghan culture, a man’s home is more than just his residence,” he added. “It represents his family and protecting it is closely intertwined with his honor. He has been conditioned to respond aggressively ... whenever he perceives his home or honor is threatened. In a similar situation, most of us would do the same.”