The Times (UK) breaks the story:
Nato ‘covered up’ botched night raid in Afghanistan that killed fiveOne man who witnessed the Paktia raid told an AP reporter he saw "U.S. special forces" surrounding the compound.
Jerome Starkey - The Times
KHATABA, PAKTIA, Mar 13 - A night raid carried out by US and Afghan gunmen led to the deaths of two pregnant women, a teenage girl and two local officials in an atrocity which Nato then tried to cover up, survivors have told The Times.
The operation on Friday, February 12, was a botched pre-dawn assault on a policeman’s home a few miles outside Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, eastern Afghanistan. In a statement after the raid titled “Joint force operating in Gardez makes gruesome discovery”, Nato claimed that the force had found the women’s bodies “tied up, gagged and killed” in a room.
A Times investigation suggests that Nato’s claims are either wilfully false or, at best, misleading. More than a dozen survivors, officials, police chiefs and a religious leader interviewed at and around the scene of the attack maintain that the perpetrators were US and Afghan gunmen. The identity and status of the soldiers is unknown...
Nato said that the troops were part of a joint “Afghan-international” force but, despite new rules requiring them to leave leaflets identifying their unit, the family said they left nothing. Local US forces denied any involvement...
Nato’s original statement said: “Several insurgents engaged the joint force in a firefight and were killed.” The family maintain that no one threw so much as a stone. Rear Admiral Greg Smith, Nato’s director of communications in Kabul, denied that there had been any attempt at a cover-up...
“I don’t know if they fired any rounds,” he said. “If you have got an individual stepping out of a compound, and if your assault force is there, that is often the trigger to neutralise the individual. You don’t have to be fired upon to fire back.” (link)
Reading the above piece carefully, one notes that NATO didn't say it was their own "Afghan-international" force, at least as it is worded in the article. Despite the American denial, the unit could be a US special forces operation, either under NATO or otherwise. Although the U.S. military recently put more of its special forces units in Afghanistan under NATO command, there are still some who operate outside that command.
In any case, it is not the first time that evidence has suggested that US special forces have committed an atrocity. In November of 2007, residents of Toube village in Helmand province alleged that foreign troops, accompanied by Afghan soldiers, killed over a dozen civilians, including babies, in a commando-style night raid. In October, 2008, locals in Balkh province described a raid by Afghan and foreign special forces in which the foreigners beat civilians while the Afghans looted. A NATO spokesperson confirmed the attack and said NATO forces provided supplies for the operation.
And the Americans aren't the only ones in on such dastardly deeds. In 2008, the CBC reported that American, British and Canadian JTF-2 special forces have conducted "hunt and kill" raids in Afghanistan. Note that such a mode of operation would constitute a targeted assassination, which is illegal under international law.
We have also seen that CIA-trained Afghan special forces, which are not under Afghan command, have been used in the fight against the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the drug industry in Afghanistan.
Finally, here's an AP summary of the new NATO guidelines for night raids:
KABUL, Mar 5 (AP) - A new directive from NATO's top commander in Afghanistan orders coalition forces to avoid night raids when possible, but to bring Afghan troops with them if they must enter homes after dark...
[I]f night raids are conducted, Afghan security forces "should be the first force seen and the first voices heard by the occupants of any compound entered."
The order requires that Afghan troops must be included in the planning and execution of all night raids, and that Afghan government representatives must be notified in advance. When possible, community elders also need to be consulted. (link)