KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan and the United States have reached an agreement to curb night raids on Afghan homes, giving Kabul veto power over the operations despised by most local people and control over treatment of any detainees, Afghan officials said on Sunday.
Night raids on suspected militants have helped fan rising anti-Western sentiment ahead of a withdrawal by most Western combat troops to be completed by 2014, but are backed by NATO commanders as a key anti-insurgent tactic.
Their conduct had been one of the biggest hurdles in negotiations on a broader strategic pact to underpin a future U.S. presence in the country, likely including advisers and special forces soldiers to help safeguard stability.
The deal, which has taken months of negotiation, will be signed later on Sunday by Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak and NATO's top commander in the country, U.S. Marine General John Allen, according to the Afghan government.
Under the deal, Afghan authorities will have control over prisoners taken in night raids and will decide whether to allow U.S. interrogators access to detainees, a senior government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
U.S. troops would continue to take part in operations, but a new elite force of Afghan commandos would lead raids with American forces along to give advice and support.
"From now on all night raids will be conducted by the afghan national army, police and intelligence in close coordination with afghan judicial bodies," Afghan Defence Minister Wardak told a news conference.
He said the United States had promised to provide all necessary equipment and technical advice to Afghan special operations forces.
Many Afghans, in complaints backed by President Hamid Karzai, say the raids violate their privacy, especially that of women in conservative areas, where support for the Afghan Taliban is strongest.
A joint US/Afghan committee will decide which raids to carry out and an Afghan judge must then review its recommendation and decide whether to issue a warrant, the official said.
Analysts have said such changes may hamper operations and reduce their impact.
Any loss in the effectiveness of night raids is likely to worry NATO commanders rushing to improve security ahead of the pullout in 2014, but a backlash by Afghans against civilian deaths means foreign troops have little wriggle room.
There is also growing sensitivity over the presence of foreign troops after a series on incidents, including the massacre of 17 Afghan villagers for which a U.S. soldier was charged, and the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base.
The two countries last month signed a deal transferring a major U.S.-run prison to Afghan authority, leaving military raids of Afghan homes as the primary sticking point to achieving a broader strategic partnership deal.
Jawed Ludin, the deputy foreign minister and top negotiator in talks on the strategic deal, said on Saturday both sides had failed to communicate the benefits of the pact and dampen anxiety that foreigners were preparing to abandon the country.
The United States has been pressing to wrap up the long-delayed strategic partnership deal with Afghanistan ahead of a NATO summit in Chicago in May while at the same time trying to draw the Taliban and other insurgents into peace talks.
Ludin said when the night raids deal was concluded, work would start immediately on the wider security pact, which will require a vote of approval in the fractious Afghan parliament.
(Additional reporting by Jack Kimball; Editing by Rob Taylor and Ron Popeski)
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