By Carlo Munoz and Jeremy Herb - 04/09/12 09:46 PM EDT
Afghanistan’s government won’t have veto power over U.S. special forces missions under a new deal struck Sunday between Washington and Kabul, according to the Pentagon.
“It's not about the U.S. ceding responsibilities to the Afghans," Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters Monday.
The U.S. and Afghan governments signed an agreement Sunday on the conduct of overnight raids in Afghanistan.
But Kirby said Afghan President Hamid Karzai will not hold “a veto” over future U.S. special operations missions conducted in Southwest Asia.
The deal requires U.S. and Afghan forces to obtain a warrant from an Afghan panel composed of military and intelligence officials before carrying out a night raid.
American commanders would be consulted before any decision on an operation, but the ultimate decision would rest with Afghan leaders as "defined by the terms of the memorandum," Kirby said.
American and NATO commanders in Afghanistan have long credited the use of night raids as an important tool in taking out key elements of the Afghan insurgency.
Combined with airstrikes by CIA-operated drones, the raids have been credited with capturing or killing many key leaders within the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terror groups fighting in Afghanistan.
The use of night raids have infuriated Afghan locals, claiming U.S. and NATO forces target individuals with no ties to the Taliban or Afghan insurgency.
The raids have also been a sore spot for the Karzai administration, which sees the operations as an affront to Afghan sovereignty.
U.S. military leaders, including Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, praised the deal as a key step toward shifting all security operations to the Afghans by 2014. That is the date when all U.S. troops are scheduled to leave the country.
The U.S.-Afghan deal puts the rules governing how and when night raids are carried out "under the rubric of Afghan law," Kirby said Monday.
However, questions remain whether Afghan oversight or the warrant requirement would hamstring future counterterrorism missions executed by U.S. special forces.
In response, Kirby said the deal just officially codified what U.S. and Afghan forces had been doing in the field since last December.
Since then, all night raids have been led by Afghan special operations forces, Kirby said. U.S. special forces have only provided intelligence and logistical support for those missions, he added.
"In practical terms, not much has changed," Kirby told reporters.
He would not comment on whether top-tier U.S. special operations units — like those attached to Joint Special Operations Command — working independently of Afghan forces would be subjected to the new rules.
If those units are carrying out missions that fall under the deal, such as searching an Afghan home or capturing a suspected terrorist, the rules would apply, according to Kirby.
However, a loophole in the Afghan constitution does allow night raids to happen even if a warrant has not been issued by the Afghan courts.
Under Afghan law, there is a "warrantless search and detention clause" that can be used if the target of a night raid is a time-sensitive one, according to Kirby.
The constitutional clause still requires a warrant to be issued, but it can be obtained after the raid has been completed, he explained.
That said, Kirby said, the clause "won't be taken advantage of" by American and coalition forces and each raid will be executed "according to the law."