WASHINGTON, March 6 (UPI) -- Night raids in Afghanistan targeting top insurgents are now led by Afghan forces, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command said in Senate testimony.
Night raids by coalition forces in the past had been criticized by Afghans, blaming them for some of the civilian deaths in the country.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Navy Adm. William McRaven said night raids target high-value insurgents, often after coalition and Afghan troops have tracked them for days or weeks, the Defense Department said on its Web site.
McRaven said they are an essential tactic as the insurgents "generally bed down," making it easier to target them. Night operations also are safer for the villagers than daytime operations as fewer of them are out during nights.
The admiral said ensuring Afghan troops are now "the first forces through the door" while leading night raids has helped the situation and calm people's anxiety.
McRaven said the special operations forces also help strengthen the Afghan police in local villages. He said the program is set to grow to 30,000 Afghan police in the next few years from the current 11,000, and that such forces already have started coming together for form mutual defense.
"One village is actually coming to the aid of another village when they're being attacked or harassed," he said.
"That's why it's very important to continue with [the projects] so they can get from Point A to Point B, see what the other village is doing, create trade with that village ... [and] be the safety and security for that village, and vice versa," McRaven said.