In Kandahar, as elsewhere in Afghanistan, popular anger at foreign troops was undoubtedly stoked by the inevitable killing and detention of the innocent people that accompanies SOF night raids.
According to the figures released by Petraeus, for every targeted individual killed or captured in the raids, three non-targeted individuals were killed and another four were detained.
Based on past cases of false reporting by SOF units, a large proportion of the 1,031 killed in the raids and identified as “insurgents” were simply neighbours who had come out of their homes with guns when they heard the raiders.
Gen. McChrystal referred to that chronic problem in a statement on his directive on night raids last March. “Instinctive responses” by an Afghan man to “defend his home and family are sometimes interpreted as insurgent acts, with tragic results,” McChyrstal said.
SOF units have routinely reported those killed under such circumstances as insurgents rather than as innocent civilians.
When an SOF unit raided the home of a low-level commander in Laghman province on Jan. 26, 2009, 13 men came out of nearby homes. They were all killed and later included in the tally of Taliban reported killed in the raid.
The problem of false reporting was brought to light most dramatically after a botched SOF raid in Gardez Feb. 12, when two men who emerged from buildings in the compound targeted by an SOF unit were shot and killed. Within hours of the raid, ISAF issued a statement describing the two men as “insurgents”.
That falsehood was later revealed only because the two men happened to be a police official and a government prosecutor. In the same incident, the SOF unit accidentally killed three women, two of whom were pregnant, but reported to headquarters that the women had been found tied up.
McChrystal defended the SOF unit against charges by eyewitnesses that its members had tried to cover up the killing, even after the head of the Afghan interior ministry investigation of the incident publicly declared that the testimony was credible.
The figure of 1,355 insurgents “captured” in the raids given out by the International Security Assistance Force is also highly misleading. In response to an IPS query about the figure, ISAF public affairs officer Maj. Sunset R. Belinsky confirmed that the figure “reflects insurgents or suspected insurgents captured during operations”.
In fact, the vast majority were simply swept up because they happened to be present in a house or compound targeted in a raid.
An ISAF press release Sep. 8 illustrates how such a larger number was accumulated. In a raid on the compound of a suspected “insurgent commander” in Paktika province Sep. 7, the SOF unit ordered all occupants to leave the compound and detained “several suspected insurgents” after “initial questioning”.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan have never released figures on what proportion of Afghans detained as suspected insurgents were eventually released because of lack of evidence. Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, who reviewed U.S. detainee policies in early 2009, was reported by The Guardian Oct. 14, 2009 to have concluded that two-thirds of the detainees still being held by the U.S. military as Taliban insurgents were innocent.