KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday demanded an immediate halt to Nato-led night raids after the military insisted the operations will continue despite the recent death of a pregnant woman.
Karzai has led public criticism of the controversial raids, saying they endanger lives and harass local communities, and repeatedly called on US-led international forces to stop entering Afghan homes.
The latest spat comes after the pregnant wife of an anti-drugs official was killed during a raid in the eastern Paktia province in the early hours of Saturday when Nato-led forces returned gunfire coming from a compound.
Nato has defended the operations as the safest way of targeting insurgent leaders, insisting they will continue but with the increasing involvement of Afghan special forces.
“The president of Afghanistan wants an immediate halt to the night raids and house searches of Afghans,” presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi said.
“He doesn't want any foreigner to go to the homes of Afghans and search their homes.”
A loya jirga meeting of Afghan elders last month made halting the raids a condition of a strategic partnership document being negotiated with Washington.
The agreement will govern the relationship between American troops and the Afghan government after the scheduled withdrawal of combat troops in 2014.
“What Nato officials say is in total contradiction to the decisions of the loya jirga, to the demands of the Afghan people...and it is in total contradiction to what the president of Afghanistan wants,” Faizi said.
“One of the main reasons that we have not been able to agree on a strategic partnership is the problem of night raids on Afghan houses.”
He said the Afghan government would have no problem with the raids if they were “100 per cent conducted by Afghans”.
“We don't want the war on terrorism to be fought inside people's houses,” he added.
The spokesman for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, said in 85 per cent of night raids no shot is fired and they cause less than one per cent of civilian casualties.
“Night operations remain the safest form of operations conducted to take insurgent leaders off the battlefield,” he said Monday.
Jacobson said it was in everybody's interests to “Afghanise” the night raids as quickly as possible, that numbers of Afghan special forces were being increased, and that Afghan troops were involved in almost all such operations.
The raid on Saturday targeted a leader of the Taliban-linked Haqqani militant network, Nato said, but the Paktia provincial governor described it as an “arbitrary operation”.
The provincial anti-drugs chief was detained but has since been released. A suspected insurgent remains in custody.
On Saturday, two wounded women were evacuated after they were found in a room where the shooting had come from and one of them, the pregnant wife of the anti-narcotics chief Hafeezullah, later died of a gunshot wound.
Several of the man's sisters and daughters were also injured in the raid, he was quoted as saying.
According to the United Nations, the number of civilians killed in violence in Afghanistan rose by 15 per cent in the first six months of this year to 1,462, with insurgents blamed for 80 per cent of the killings.
There are around 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan fighting a decade-long Taliban insurgency alongside Afghan government forces.