By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky., Nov. 17, 2010 - Nighttime raids in Afghanistan are conducted only under strict guidelines and approval authorities, with stringent attention paid to preventing civilian casualties, the commander of the last combat brigade deployed to Afghanistan as part of the surge there told reporters here via teleconference from Afghanistan's Paktika province yesterday.
"We take incredible steps to mitigate civilian casualties," Army Col. Sean M. Jenkins, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, said from his headquarters at Forward Operating Base Sharana.
Combat troops gather as much intelligence as possible before launching raids, including studying their targets closely to ascertain exactly how many people are inside a residence, Jenkins said. Whenever possible during nighttime operations, he said, they prefer to isolate their intended targets and wait until sunrise to close in on them.
In cases when an operation can't wait the light of day, Jenkins said, the troops conduct "call outs," attempting to get the enemy to come out of a building so they don't have to enter it and risk endangering noncombatants. Failing that, he said, Afghan security forces -- not U.S. troops -- always are the first to enter an Afghan home.
Jenkins and his military commanders emphasized the tactical edge nighttime operations give combat troops equipped with night-vision goggles and other gear that enables them to operate effectively at night. They emphasized that the enemy must not be allowed to perceive any particular location or time of day or night as "safe."
Jenkins called this strategy critical to successes his "Currahee" soldiers have accomplished since arriving in Afghanistan two months ago. Partnering with the Afghan National Army, they have captured 19 mid-level anti-coalition militant leaders and more than 56 militants, he reported.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has spoken out recently against the visibility of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, particularly night raids conducted by special operators. During an interview in the Nov. 14 Washington Post, Karzai claimed that such raids are causing the Afghan people's patience to wear thin and swaying them to support the Taliban.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton immediately defended the raids, emphasizing their effectiveness and the fact that they have been carried out with Afghan government involvement and conducted with Afghan security forces.
"We believe that the use of intelligence-driven, precision-targeted operations against high-value insurgents and their networks is a key component of our comprehensive civilian-military operations," Clinton said. "There is no question that they are having a significant impact on the insurgent leadership and the networks that they operate."
These operations "are in the best interest of the Afghan people, the Afghan government and the [International Security Assistance Force] troops who are working with their Afghan counterparts to secure the country," Clinton said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates downplayed any perceived rift between Karzai and the United States during yesterday's Wall Street Journal CEO Council conference.
"I think President Karzai is reflecting the impatience of a country that's been at war for 30 years," Gates said. "We will continue to partner with him through this conflict."
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