KABUL: NATO said Monday that US-led forces in Afghanistan will continue night raids, despite renewed objections from Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a pregnant woman was killed during an operation.
Afghan special forces will increasingly take the lead in such operations, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson said, without giving a precise timetable.
Night-time raids are one of the most contentious issues in Afghanistan. Karzai has led public criticism, saying they endanger lives and harass local communities, and called on international forces to stop entering Afghan homes.
His latest objection came after the pregnant wife of the provincial anti-drugs chief, Hafeezullah, was killed while he was detained during an operation early Saturday in eastern Paktia province.
General John Allen, the US commander in Afghanistan, offered his "condolences" over the death during a meeting with the president on Sunday and the counter-narcotics chief has now been released, Jacobson said.
A suspected Haqqani militant leader who was the target of the operation remains in custody while a third man has also been released.
"Night operations remain the safest form of operations conducted to take insurgent leaders off the battlefield," Jacobson said.
"In 85 percent of night operations not a single shot is fired, and they cause less than one percent of civilian casualties."
But he said it was "in everybody's interests" to "Afghanise" the night raids as quickly as possible, that numbers of Afghan special forces were being increased, and that Afghan troops were involved in almost all such operations.
"President Karzai has asked foreign troops to restrain from entering Afghan houses and this is exactly the process where 'Afghanisation' sets in," he said.
"Speeding up Afghanisation is in everybody's interests... but we need time to train the special forces."
Fears have been raised that increasing Afghan involvement could in fact lead to more civilian casualties, but Jacobson insisted local special forces were trained, equipped and performing like "the best in the world".
ISAF said Saturday that during the operation, someone in the house began shooting and the soldiers returned fire.
Two wounded women were evacuated after they were found in the room where the shooting had come from and one of them later died of a gunshot wound.
"Around 1:00 am the NATO-led ISAF forces killed my wife, who was seven months pregnant," Hafeezullah, who goes by only one name, told AFP.
"They injured two of my sisters, aged 45 and 55, and also injured my two daughters aged 10 and 14.
"We asked them why they were doing such an operation at my home and they told us they were searching for an insurgent commander."
According to the United Nations, the number of civilians killed in violence in Afghanistan rose by 15 percent in the first six months of this year to 1,462, with insurgents blamed for 80 percent of the killings. AGENCIES