'Tough questions' await Defense officials over Afghan night-raids deal

Lawmakers plan to grill Pentagon officials behind closed doors over the Defense Department's (DOD) new deal with Afghanistan governing U.S. special operations in the country. 

DOD plans to brief House and Senate defense staff over the next few weeks on the agreement, which hands oversight of controversial night raids to the Afghan government. 


"This is something that defense officials can expect tough questions about when Congress gets back," according to one House staffer. 

It is unclear whether the congressional defense committees plan to hold hearings on the new U.S.-Afghan pact once those briefings wrap up.

The House and Senate authorization panels are putting the final touches on their versions of the fiscal 2013 defense spending plan. 

House subcommittee members plan to have their version complete by the end of April. The full House committee will roll out its final draft of the plan in early May.

Washington and Kabul inked the night-raids deal on Sunday, during the two-week congressional recess. 

On Tuesday, defense leaders from both countries praised the agreement as a key step toward transitioning all security operations to the Afghans in the next two years.

"There's no doubt we are in a critical juncture," said Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Wardak of the U.S. mission before his meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday. "But after years of struggle, tomorrow's goal is in sight," he added. 

The deal puts Afghan special forces units, known as Kandaks, in the lead of operations with the support of U.S. forces.

It also requires U.S. and Afghan forces to obtain a warrant from an Afghan panel composed of military and intelligence officials before carrying out any night raid.

American commanders would be consulted before any decision on an operation as part of the deal. 

But the ultimate decision would rest with Afghan leaders as "defined by the terms of the memorandum," DOD spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters on Monday. 

Weeks earlier, U.S. and coalition forces officially handed over control of all terror detainee operations in the country. That deal was finalized April 2. 

However, questions remain whether Afghan oversight or the warrant requirement would hamstring future counterterrorism missions executed by U.S. special forces.

The deal is also unclear 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.

Congressional lawmakers will ask for answers to these questions, among others, in the coming weeks. 

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 leaders within the Taliban, al Qaeda and other terror groups fighting in Afghanistan.

The use of night raids has infuriated Afghan locals, who claim 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 Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration, which sees the operations as an affront to Afghan sovereignty.