That carefully crafted sentence means that the only night raids covered by the MOU are those that the SOF commander responsible for U.S. night raids decides to bring to the Afghan government. Those raids carried out by U.S. units without consultation with the Afghan government fall outside the MOU. Coverage of the MOU by major news media suggesting that the participation of U.S. SOF units would depend on the Afghan government simply ignored that provision in the text.
But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters flatly on April 9 that Karzai would not have a veto over night raids. "It's not about the U.S. ceding responsibility to the Afghans," he said. Kirby would not comment on whether those SOF units which operated independently of Afghan units would be affected by the MOU, thus confirming by implication that they would not.
Kirby explained that the agreement had merely "codified" what had already been done since December 2011, which was that Afghan Special Forces were in the lead on most night raids. That meant that they would undertake searches within the compound. The U.S. forces have continued, however, to capture or kill Afghans in those raids.
The disparity between the reality of the agreement and the optics created by administration press briefings recalls Obama's declarations in 2009 and 2010 on the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq and an end to the U.S. war there, and the reality that combat units remained in Iraq and continued to fight long after the Sept. 1, 2010, deadline Obama had set for withdrawal had passed. Fifty-eight U.S. servicemen were killed in Iraq after that deadline in 2010 and 2011.
But there is a fundamental difference between the two exercises in shaping media coverage and public perceptions: the Iraq withdrawal agreement of 2008 made it politically difficult, if not impossible, for the Iraqi government to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (when U.S. troops finally left).
In the case of Afghanistan, however, the agreements just signed impose no such constraints on the U.S. military. And although Obama is touting a policy of ending U.S. war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military and the Pentagon have publicly said they expect to maintain thousands of SOF troops in Afghanistan for many years after 2014.
Obama had hoped to lure the Taliban leadership into peace talks that would make it easier to sell the idea that he is getting out of Afghanistan while continuing the war. But the Taliban didn't cooperate.
Obama's Kabul speech could not threaten that U.S. SOF units will continue to hunt them down in their homes until they agree to make peace with Karzai. That would have given away the secret still hidden in the U.S.-Afghan "Enduring Strategic Partnership" agreement.
But Obama must assume that the Taliban understand what the U.S. public does not: U.S. night raids will continue well beyond 2014, despite the fact that they ensure enduring hatred of U.S. and NATO troops.
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