Success of Afghanistan kill/capture raids exaggerated?

A recent report argues that the success of the NATO-led International Stability Assistance Force’s (ISAF) targeted night raids (or kill/capture raids), which have been a major tactic of ISAF’s in recent years, may have been played up so as to make the Afghan mission appear more successful. 

The report, written by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn for the Afghanistan Analysts Network, points out that the overall numbers of kills and captures of Taliban leaders claimed by ISAF have been greater than the numbers found within ISAF’s daily press releases.  The report also examines the precision of the raids and the nature of the “leaders” targeted.

What the authors found was that for every “leader” killed, 8 others died, bringing into question just how precise the targeted raids are. In addition, the report argued that the term “leader” was intentionally used by ISAF to exaggerate the importance within the Taliban of the individuals captured in the raids. According to the authors, ISAF’s definition of a Taliban leader is “so broad as to be meaningless,” with many such “leaders” just being owners of homes who allowed Taliban members to stay there for short periods. Thus, the authors argue, ISAF’s leader kill/capture numbers are a faulty measure of success for the mission.

In response to the report, ISAF spokesman Col. Gary Kolbe stated that the press release numbers differed from the aggregate claims because the press releases were not as comprehensive as official reports. He also defended ISAF’s definition of a Taliban leader as anyone who leads any number of people within the organization, be it fewer than 10 or hundreds.

The conclusions of the Afghanistan Analysts Network report are similar to those of another recent report, which found that the night raids were “alienating the population and undermining the international coalition’s aims in Afghanistan” (Julian Borger, “Nato success against Taliban in Afghanistan ‘may be exaggerated’,” Guardian, 13 October 2011):

“The raids are a far blunter weapon than we have been led to believe, and they have an indiscriminate impact,” said Erica Gaston, a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations and co-author of the report.

“The number one complaint we hear across the country is that all the men in a place where there is a night raid are detained, even if they just have tangential connections to the insurgents, that they gave them food or are related to them. And these raids dominate popular perceptions of the international forces, and of the Kabul government.”

U.S. Department of Defense photo

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