David Petraeus’ favorite tool for cowing populations into quiescence, the night raid, has led yet again to deaths NATO characterizes as insurgents but Afghans say are civilians. In this case, four were killed in an overnight raid Tuesday night, two men and two women. A crowd of two to three thousand took to the streets in Taloqan and there were multiple deaths when police opened fire on the crowd.
Reuters, in its story, is careful to note the difference between what Afghan civilians say and what NATO says in identifying those killed in the raid:
Local police and residents say the four people killed in the raid late on Tuesday night in Taloqan were civilians. NATO-led forces said those killed in the raid were armed insurgents.
Via Dawn, AFP also covers the raid:
The troubles erupted after Nato-led forces said they killed four insurgents including two armed women in an overnight raid in the town.
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the raid targeted the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group that operates from bases including in Afghanistan.
But the protesters claimed those killed during the Nato raid were civilians.
The Reuters article goes into more detail on the NATO claim the women killed were insurgents:
In male-dominated Afghanistan, female fighters are very rarely found among insurgent ranks, and the few who have been identified are mostly foreigners. A NATO spokesman said he did not know the nationalities of the dead women.
Notably, it wasn’t just foreign troops who were the objects of the protest:
In Taloqan, demonstrators threw stones and handfuls of mud at a billboard of Karzai and also chanted “death to Karzai.”
Even though Afghan President Hamid Karzai has publicly spoken out against night raids repeatedly, it appears that he now is getting some of the blame when it is believed that civilians have been killed. If Karzai is going to be targeted by large protests each time there is a disputed night raid, this could well change the dynamic going forward.
It will be very interesting to watch for further details as they emerge from this raid. Karzai would seem to be in a position to make an even stronger protest than he has in the past, so the wording and nature of his response will bear watching. Also, NATO must overcome the barrier Reuters points out that Afghan women almost never join the armed insurgency, and we already have a statement from NATO claiming the women were armed. Aruguing in NATO’s favor is the mention that the group targeted comes from Uzebekistan, so it is possible the women were not from Afghanistan. Recall in this context also that just over a year ago, US special operations forces actually dug their bullets out of the bodies of women they killed in a raid (see video above for more coverage of that raid). NATO will need to provide credible evidence that the women killed were indeed insurgents, and they will have to do this in the context of a history of tampering with evidence in previous raids gone bad.