Afghanistan and the United States have struck a deal on special forces operations in the insurgency-wracked country that will see controversial night raids led by Afghans, Kabul said on Sunday.
Kabul's foreign ministry invited journalists to a signing ceremony for the agreement later Sunday, and President Hamid Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP: "After the signing of this document all night raids become Afghan-led."
"The foreign forces, the US forces, will have a supporting role in the night raids, for instance intelligence sharing."
Night raids by international special forces against insurgent hideouts have triggered popular anger and long been a source of friction with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has denounced the NATO operations as reckless.
But Western military commanders stress that they are extremely useful in the war against Taliban insurgents, who have been fighting Karzai and his Western allies for more than a decade.
The deal is expected to pave the way for a strategic partnership agreement governing the future of US forces beyond 2014, when the bulk of the 130,000 NATO troops are due to withdraw.
Faizi told AFP: "There will be a joint body comprising Afghan and US/NATO forces. When there's a need for a night raid this body will decide and the final decision will be made by Afghans.
"When Afghans approve the operation, the operation will be executed and Afghans will determine whether there is a need for the foreigners to take part.
"If there's a need, the foreigners will provide a supporting role like air support or other modern technology."
A warrant would also have to be issued by Afghan legal authorities, he said.
Faizi's comments are very similar to the details provided by US officials last week, who said a deal was taking shape to put Afghans in the lead for the raids.
The final sticking points, they said, were over how long US forces would be allowed to detain suspects picked up in the raids. It was not immediately clear how those questions had been resolved.
The two sides have already signed a deal on transferring Afghan detainees to Kabul's custody and the special operations agreement should remove the last obstacle to final negotiations on a long-term strategic partnership pact.
US officials hope that pact will be signed in time for a NATO summit in May in Chicago. US military officers envisage a follow-on force of roughly 15,000, focusing on air power, logistics, training, intelligence and counter-terrorism.
Kabul's foreign ministry said the night raids agreement -- covering all special operations on Afghan soil -- would be signed later Sunday by Afghanistan's defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and General John Allen, the US commander of ISAF.
Allen told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that 2,200 night raids were carried out last year. In 90 percent of the operations, no shots were fired and civilian casualties rarely occurred, according to Allen.
Brigadier-General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said last week that "every policeman in this world" would answer the same way if asked: "When do you want to arrest a dangerous criminal, at lunchtime on the marketplace or at night in bed?"
ISAF referred inquiries on the deal to the US embassy in Kabul, where a spokesman declined to confirm an agreement, saying: "If the foreign ministry has invited you to a ceremony, I'm sure there will be one."© ANP/AFP