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US mulls changes to controversial Afghan night raids

The Obama administration is considering several options for modifying controversial night raids in Afghanistan to help secure a bilateral agreement outlining the future US presence there, a US official said on Monday.

world Updated: Mar 20, 2012 10:08 IST

The Obama administration is considering several options for modifying controversial night raids in Afghanistan to help secure a bilateral agreement outlining the future US presence there, a US official said on Monday.

The United States hopes it can wrap up a long-delayed strategic partnership agreement with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai ahead of a summit in Chicago in May, where Nato nations are expected to outline their path out of the more than 10-year Afghan war.

Earlier this month, the two countries signed an agreement on the transfer of a major US-run prison to Afghan authority, leaving military raids of Afghan homes conducted at night as the final sticking point for reaching a deal.

That piece of good news for the Obama administration was sandwiched between a series of setbacks for the US effort in Afghanistan, including Afghans' outcry over the burning of copies of the Koran on a Nato base and the killings last week of 16 Afghan civilians, reportedly by a US soldier.

Captain John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said that no decisions have been made in discussions about the US-Afghan strategic partnership agreement.

"Discussions with the Afghans continue on this issue ... No final arrangements have been settled," Kirby said.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration was discussing options with the Afghans including a warrant-based approach or possibly allowing local judges to review the raids before they occurred.

A US offer to give Afghan authorities greater control of the night raids - long one of Afghans' major complaints about the foreign military presence - was first reported in the Wall Street Journal.

The bilateral agreement is expected to authorize in principle a US military presence in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014, when most foreign combat troops are expected to be gone and Afghan forces are due to be in charge.

The details of that military presence, which will be focused on counter-terrorism and advising local forces, would likely be nailed down in a separate 'status of forces' agreement.

Over ten years after the Taliban government was toppled in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States and its allies continue to face major challenges in Afghanistan, including a resilient insurgency, a wobbly local government, and an uncertain future for Western support for Afghan security forces.