KABUL -- Afghan officials have announced that Afghanistan and the United States have signed a deal putting Afghan forces in charge of controversial night raids.
The memorandum was signed on April 8 in front of reporters in Kabul by Afghanistan's Defense Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak and the U.S. commander of NATO-led forces, General John Allen.
Under the agreement, U.S. forces will play a supporting role in the raids.
Wardak described the document as a "fundamental step toward Afghan national sovereignty."
Wardak indicated that, from now on, all special operations would be carried out by a designated Afghan unit made up of troops from the defense and interior ministries as well as the national security directorate. This unit should work in coordination with Afghanistan's justice and judiciary institutions.
"As of today, only the Afghan Special Operation unit's forces have the right to inspect private houses and compounds," Wardak said.
Wardak maintained that the U.S. "has made a commitment to provide all required facilities and to boost the capabilities of the Afghan Special Operations unit."
Second Major 'Milestone'
Allen said the memorandum was "the second important milestone in less than 30 days on the way to Afghan sovereignty" following an agreement transferring control of detainees to Afghan authorities.
"The Afghan forces, not foreign forces, are now [leading the] two most critical aspects of maintaining Afghan security," he said. "[These are] capturing the terrorists that threaten innocent Afghan civilians, and keeping those terrorists behind bars, where they belong.
Night raids have long been a sore point in U.S.-Afghan relations. Many Afghans complain that the foreign-led raids violate privacy and disrespect women, causing widespread resentment among people.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for an end to the raids, saying such operations are provocative when carried out by foreigners.
The U.S. military, however, has said the raids are essential for capturing Taliban and Al-Qaeda commanders.
The agreement on night raids is part of a long-term strategic pact Kabul and Washington are currently negotiating.
The pact will govern U.S. forces once most foreign combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014.
With reporting by AFP and AP