Most American special operations raids in Afghanistan were halted for two weeks in February because of concerns over civilian casualties, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Citing unnamed military officials, the Times reported that the temporary halt was ordered by U.S. commanders after a series of nighttime raids killed women and children — adding to mounting criticism from the Afghan government and public.
The order included all commando missions except those "against the highest-ranking leaders of the Taliban and al Qaeda," the Times reported.
The decision was an indication "of just how worried military officials are that the fallout from civilian casualties is putting in peril the overall American mission in Afghanistan, including an effort to drain the Taliban of popular support," the Times said.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have risen by nearly 40 percent compared to 2007, though recent reports by international organizations — including the United Nations — say most of those casualties are now caused by Taliban attacks.
The stand down was ordered by Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, chief of the Joint Special Operations Command, officials said. The raids have since been resumed.
A spokesman for Gen. David McKiernan, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, was quoted by the Times as saying that McKiernan "takes the issue of civilian casualties very seriously, but he did not direct the pause in operations."
Separately, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. aired Monday, McKiernan said there were areas in the north, east and west of the country where NATO and Afghan forces were winning the war.
"But there are other areas — large areas in the southern part of Afghanistan especially, but in parts of the east — where we are not winning," McKiernan said, according to a transcript of the interview.
"More has to happen along multiple lines of operation in order for anybody by any metric to say that the Afghans are winning or the efforts of the coalition are winning."
In the south, the challenge is "that we don’t have enough of a persistent security presence in all the areas that allow the other lines of operation — better governance — to develop in that area."
President Barack Obama has ordered an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan this summer, and his administration has launched several reviews over the strategy and conduct of the war.