Story of a raid: US night operations anger Afghans
PUL-I-ALAM, Afghanistan (AP) — The American soldiers stormed into the Afghan family's compound in the middle of the night, kicking in doors and shouting. They ordered everyone into the yard, bound their hands, covered their heads and interrogated them for hours before taking away three men who had done nothing wrong.
At least that's the way the Afghans tell it.
NATO has a different account of the raid: A force led by Afghans was searching for a Taliban leader and got a tip from residents that three insurgents were living in the compound. The force struck at night when the suspects were likely to be home and took all three away for further questioning. The troops were as respectful as they could be, given that they had to make sure no one started shooting at them.
This happens in Afghanistan nearly every night. Sometimes the men turn out to be bombmakers or fighters, sometimes ordinary civilians. But in every case there are angry family members who feel violated or mistreated.
The U.S. will likely rely more and more on night raids as it shifts to a strategy of using special operators and drones to track down and kill Taliban leaders following President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday that 30,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by next summer.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly condemned night operations as unnecessary and humiliating.
Accounts of what happened at the Khosrawi family compound in eastern Logar province on June 8 show why night raids continue to be such a flash point, and why NATO may never be able to conduct them without making enemies.
This much everyone agrees on: Two of the men taken in the raid were released five days later. The third, a teenager, is still being held.
Relatives say even if all of them are eventually freed, they will still feel wronged.
"Even if he is a criminal, is it really necessary to charge into a man's house in the middle of the night when he is there with his children?" asked Samad Shah Khosrawi, a cousin of the detained men who works at the electric company in Kabul and has been trying to enlist powerful government allies to free the remaining detainee.
Nineteen-year-old Nooryalai Khosrawi, the older brother of the detained teenager, spoke to The Associated Press in Kabul a few days after the raid. He gave the following account:
The four families that live in the Khosrawi compound — 25 people in all — went to sleep in their separate houses as usual. Sometime in the middle of the night, soldiers started jumping over the property wall and into the yard.
Nooryalai Khosrawi said he woke up when a soldier broke down the door to his room. When he opened his eyes a man was standing over him with a gun.
The soldiers took everyone outside into the courtyard, tied their wrists and put hoods over their heads. Nooryalai Khosrawi's youngest brother started sobbing. He pushed him to the ground to stop the crying. He was afraid it would antagonize the soldiers.
The Americans took people to the corner of the compound one by one to ask them questions.
"They asked me, 'What did you do today and where did you go?' I said I went to school and back home," Nooryalai Khosrawi said. The Americans accused him of rigging one of the compound's motorcycles with explosives. He said it wasn't true.
Soldiers told him they had reports from elders in Sorayak village that insurgents were in the compound. He said the reports were wrong.
Although NATO says it conducts night raids only in partnership with Afghan forces and said numerous Afghan security forces were involved in the raid, Nooryalai Khosrawi said he saw only two Afghans in the force — and both were translators. The rest were American soldiers.
The Logar provincial police chief said only one Afghan security force member was involved in the operation, the district police commander.
"In special operations like this there are not a huge number of troops so we only sent one police representative," Ghulam Sakhi Rog Lewandi said in an interview in the provincial capital of Pul-i-Alam. He said he did not know how many U.S. troops were involved.
When they finished the questioning after two or three hours, the soldiers took the three men away with them, along with seven mobile phones they had confiscated. No one knew where they were going or if they'd see the captives again, Nooryalai Khosrawi said.
A NATO statement on the raid said that Afghan and international security forces went into the district in search of a Taliban leader who had overseen attacks against Afghan government officials and directed a bomb-making cell.
"The individuals were detained after the Afghan-led security force searched a suspected compound and questioned residents. The information provided led to their detention and the men were transported with the security force for additional questioning. No civilians were harmed during the night operation," NATO said.
Asked for further details on why the men were taken, a spokesman for the international coalition said such information was classified for security reasons.
"As a matter of security, we don't discuss what information led to their detention. The information obtained during initial questioning led to their detention and they were taken for further questioning," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jason Haag.
The next day, the family tried to find out where the men had been taken and what they were accused of. Village elders went to the governor's office to petition for their release.
Samad Shah Khosrawi, the cousin, said the elders were told that the men had been wrongly arrested and that the governor was working for their release. The governor's spokesman told the AP the same day that the governor was working on the request but could not make any judgment on their guilt. Gov. Atiqullah Ludin told the AP just hours later that he had not been informed of the raid.
The elders also went to the provincial council. The council's spokesman told the AP that he had notified the unit which coordinates between Afghan and international forces, and that this unit was going to track down the detainees. A spokesman for the unit told the AP that he had not received any information from the provincial council about a raid.
In Kabul, Samad Shah Khosrawi started asking anyone he knew in the government how he could track down his cousins and what he could to for their release. The two older men are shopkeepers, the younger is a student, he says he told them. They aren't Taliban. The Khosrawi family are ethnic Tajiks — a group less likely to be recruited into the insurgency than Pashtuns.
No one went to the police. Lewandi, the Logar police chief, said this likely meant the community knew they were guilty.
Samad Shah Khosrawi, the Kabul cousin, said no one in Sorayak has trusted the police since two years ago when police opened fire on villagers who went to try to help officers wounded when their vehicle struck a bomb.
"Three bullets killed my cousin's son," he said.
On June 13 — five days after the raid — the family got a call: The two older men had been released to Afghan intelligence officers and then freed altogether.
Bashir Ahmad Khosrawi was one of the men who was taken. A 35-year-old shopkeeper, he said in a phone call after he was freed that he didn't know why he was taken.
He said he was held for four days by U.S. forces in a cell in Logar. His brother Sayed Agha Khosrawi was in the next cell.
The soldiers showed Ahmad photos they had taken of his family and asked who the people were. They showed him a map and asked him to point out specific villages. They went through the numbers in the mobile phones and asked who everyone was. They tested his hands for gunpowder residue.
"They thought we had someone from the enemy in our houses. I told them we were sleeping and you barged in at midnight and searched my whole house," he said. "They were trying to find some proof. But they couldn't find any proof."
He said he was treated well — no one so much as tapped him on his shoulder. Soldiers were friendly and asked after his health.
He was upset that they didn't return the captured mobile phones when they released him. But he said he wasn't going to go back and ask for them.
"We are just so happy to be free. We don't care about the mobiles," Bashir Ahmad Khosrawi said.
The men's release was a cause for celebration in Sorayak. People kept coming over to tell them that they thought the two brothers had disappeared for good.
They've yet to have any news of Noorzai Khosrawi, 16, who they assume must still be in the custody of U.S. forces.
"If he's innocent, he'll be released," said Lewandi, the police chief.
"I just want them to show me some proof," said Samad Shah Khosrawi. "If he is guilty of something, then fine, let them cut his throat."
Associated Press Writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.
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