Night raids dog Nato's Afghan operation

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Taliban fighters in Afghanistan
Image caption,
No-one in Nato thinks there can be a purely military victory over the Taliban

Silent but fuming, a group of men stood around outside a mud-walled compound in a village on the outskirts of Kabul.

Inside, two small boys were screaming, overcome with grief.

The head of the family had been shot dead by an American soldier in a night raid.

Standing amid bloody sheets and pointing to a bullet hole through the window, the family said he had been murdered in his bed.


A US military spokesman told BBC News the man had posed a threat, coming out of his house with a shotgun.

The Americans had been supporting an Afghan police operation, helping officers arrest a suspect. A few hours later the suspect was released. It had all been a mistake, but people blamed the Americans.

"They came here to give us security," said one of the men. "They'll force us to take to the mountains again to fight them."

Afghans are angry about night raids and civilian casualties in general.

Image caption,
Nato hopes Afghanistan is slowly becoming more peaceful

Ill feeling about both issues tends to make people view the international forces as occupiers - and that increases support for the Taliban.

So a central plank of Nato's strategy is to make this an Afghan war, take foreign troops off the streets and put Afghan forces into the front line.

A massive effort to recruit new members of the police and army is under way - incredibly, the Afghan training effort is the biggest single item in the Pentagon's budget.

Will these forces be up to the job?

On a recent trip to Helmand province, the BBC filmed police officers smoking cannabis on duty. Not all policemen are like that - but many are.

And there is still a very high desertion rate in both the police and the army. In one army unit we visited, 46% of the men were absent without leave. The Americans are trying to fill a bucket with holes in it.

There are some highly trained Afghan units - but even the best do not yet have the capabilities of the US forces, who will continue to carry out night raids.

In the past month there have been 293 raids by Nato special forces.

A senior source told BBC News that had resulted in 75 "enemy" killed and 521 detained, of whom 129 had been "priority targets".

Nato commanders believe they are taking out the whole "middle management" of the Taliban, as one put it.

People were reluctant to step forward to fill these positions, one senior officer said, and they were beginning to see signs of fatigue.

But the very success of these raids could also be bringing forward a newer and more radial generation of Taliban leaders.

As US officers often tell you in the field, the enemy has a vote too.

I have watched US marines in the field very efficiently killing Taliban insurgents.

But you can kill a great many Taliban and still not prevail.

Combat operations

According to some estimates, five years ago, there were perhaps 10,000 Taliban - now the figure is thought to be 25,000, or even 30,000.

No-one in Nato thinks there can be a purely military victory over the Taliban.

That is why there has been such effort put into getting peace talks started, though so far that has been unsuccessful.

The lead role in combat operations will start to be handed to Afghans in July.

That is only happening in a few areas - but by the end of 2014, it is supposed to be the whole country.

The hope of Nato officers is that, by then, the level of violence will have been reduced sufficiently for the Afghan forces to be able to deal with it on their own.

Meanwhile, a Taliban summer offensive is expected - that will be the first big test of Nato's transition strategy.

Everyone will be watching very carefully to see how the Afghan forces perform.

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