The White House says the United States will not change its strategy or objectives in Afghanistan following the shooting of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. soldier.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday Washington remains committed to dismantling al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Carney said he does not believe that “this incident will change the timetable of a strategy that was designed and is being implemented in a way to allow for the withdrawal of U.S. forces and to allow for the transfer of lead security authority over to the Afghans.”
The Taliban said Monday it would avenge the death of every Afghan who was killed by what it called “American savages.”
The Afghan parliament condemned the killings, urging the U.S. government to punish the culprits and put them on trial in a public court. Afghan lawmakers said Monday they have “run out of patience” with the lack of oversight of foreign soldiers.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of talks at the United Nations about Syria, expressed shock at the massacre. She condemned the attack, saying, “this is not who we are and the United States is committed to seeing that those responsible are held accountable.”
ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson said Monday the recent incidents are of grave concern.
“From ISAF’s point of view, of course, these incidents and in particular, the short distance between the incidents that we have seen in the recent weeks, are a burden and are of concern for ISAF.”
U.S. and Afghan officials say the U.S. soldier walked off his base before dawn Sunday and attacked homes in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province, shooting and killing civilians, including many children. Villagers say he set some of the bodies on fire.
U.S. forces stepped up security a day later, as the American embassy warned U.S. citizens in Afghanistan of the possibility of reprisals.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded an explanation for attack and said the act was “an intentional killing of innocent civilians that cannot be forgiven.”
U.S. President Barack Obama called the Afghan leader Sunday to extend his condolences to the Afghan people. He also issued a statement, saying the “tragic and shocking” incident “does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.” Mr. Obama said he stands behind Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s call for a quick investigation and his commitment to hold accountable anyone responsible.
NATO officials say the suspect, identified as a U.S. Army staff sergeant from a unit based in Washington state, was acting alone and turned himself in following the shooting rampage. But some villagers and Afghan officials are skeptical that one soldier could have amassed such a death toll on his own, and others may have been involved.
U.S. military officials said the detained sergeant was married with children and had served three tours in Iraq but was on his first Afghan deployment.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan to meet with German soldiers deployed in the north. She telephoned President Karzai to express her “deepest condolences” for the incident.
Germany is the third largest contributor of troops to the NATO force in Afghanistan, with some 5,000 soldiers in the country.