The Anatomy of a Night Raid

by Joshua Foust on 3/4/2011 · 2 comments

CJ Chivers continues writing amazing copy from Afghanistan. This time, he covers a night raid in Ghazni.

Talk now turns to the fine points of the rules. Who does the prohibition really cover? The American military? What about he Afghan police? Can’t they search?

‘Yeah they can,” a sergeant says “The A.N.P. can.”

This speaks to a common perception that “an Afghan face,” even the Afghan attached to it is clearly subordinate to the American unit leading the operation, provides a way around the rules.

The sergeant advances this line. “They A.N.P is here. It’s their face.”

“Hey, we can go,” he says. He asks for the interpreter, and prepares to give the order. “Zahid?”

“Yes sir,” the interpreter answers.

Lieutenant Sprenger is unmoved. “Nah, we’re good,” he says. “Tell him to stand down. We’ll hit it next time we’re down here.”

Now, at 2:15, the plot deepens. The sergeant is frustrated. He marshals the facts. The door is locked by a heavy chain and padlock from the outside, and there are recent tire tread-marks in front of it.

“Everybody’s covering for them like there is nobody living here,” the sergeant says, and swears. He shines his light on dust at his feet. “Fresh tracks.”

There’s really no way to excerpt this, or the video he posts. You must read it, and watch it. But Chivers is getting at a fundamental paradox of how we operate in the field. “Lying is a staple of civilian-military interactions in the field in Afghanistan,” he writes, by way of explaining how difficult it is to sift through all the competing rules and constraints on taking decisive action. Figuring out the truth is damned tough, and I don’t envy any of the soldiers who are forced to do so on a daily basis.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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TJM March 4, 2011 at 8:07 pm

At risk of sounding like I’m comparing Iraq to Afghanistan (I’m not) – this sounds just like the routine uncertainty we faced when training Iraqi Army troops, gathering intelligence from Iraqis, and making judgment calls about whether to act upon information of unknown accuracy. In other words, Afghanistan is not Iraq, but war is war.

Boris Sizemore March 4, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Honestly, this is a pretty run of the mill situation. Absolutely average and not a real challenge to solve. The Lieutenant was right on. Good decision and not even a tough one at that. It was not a Night Raid.

A. They had a battlefield tip, or battlefield information of some activity at an apparently empty house. The house was locked from the outside though showing signs of some recent activity.

B. Given the local tactical situation and or reports of enemy activity and the amount of friendly forces available, a decision must be made.

IF…The Lieutenant deems this a valuable lead or potential enemy location active or not he can decide to seal off the building till morning and then go into the search mode, after the ANP has announced to any potential inhabitants a command for all to come out and giving them sufficient time. There is no apparent current threat from the site or location.

Probably, the Lieutenant has seen this all before. You probably get one of these tips every week or several days as you get familiar with an area. Some are good, some are rumours and some are malicious done by angry neighbors. Each case must be weighed against a number of other factors.

In this case, he choose to move on and given his knowledge of the situation probably made the right call. The building is not going away.

IF there was a strong suspicion waiting till day is just as well, but implies another operation, more forces in place, local security and more planning. But totally doable under the rules cited. This is not a tough or abnormal challenge, just part of the daily balancing act friendly forces have in each and every area of operation.

Chivers out of Kabul is not used to these situations. They are daily occurences in patrol settings. The Lieutenant made a great call and that is why at least this unit is learning to adapt to the struggle faced and mold it, as opposed to over reaction which was part and parcel of the Assassination regime imposed over the past year by Petraeus.

Also, the title of the entire piece is wrong. This was not a “night raid” (though I guess Chivers got very excited). It was a simple mission to pass out the curfew notices, talk a bit to the population and see what was going on at that particular time and place. A raid would imply a totally different set of circumstance and a clear enemy target. Not the case here.

Well handled by the 101st, most of whom will be leaving in a few months, just as they are getting proficient in the AO.

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