Kabul not ready to accept US response to murders

Kabul not ready to accept US response to murders

Kabul not ready to accept US response to murders

US President Obama talks on a phone with Afghanistan’s President Karzai from his vehicle. Obama said he was ‘deeply saddened’ by the killing of Afghan civilians by a US soldier and that the incident did not reflect the US respect for the Afghan people. REUTERS photo

U.S. President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to clarify the administration’s commitment to establishing the facts as quickly as possible and to holding anyone responsible fully accountable, after 16 Afghan civilians were killed by an American soldier March 11. Despite this attempt to reconcile the situation, the Afghan Parliament said it had run out of patience and the Taliban has vowed revenge.

In the phone call, Obama “extended his condolences to the people of Afghanistan, and made clear his administration’s commitment to establish the facts as quickly as possible and to hold fully accountable anyone responsible,” the White House said. Obama had earlier issued a statement saying that “this incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military.” Panetta also assured Karzai that a “full investigation” was underway.

The shooting spree erupted early March 11, when a U.S. soldier walked out of his base in southern Kandahar province and opened fire on men, women and children in a rampage that has raised new questions about the long-term viability of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

The incident has deepened a crisis between U.S. forces and their Afghan hosts that arose over Americans burning Qurans on a base in Afghanistan last month. The burnings sparked weeks of violent protests and attacks that left some 30 dead.

‘Intentional killings’

“This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians, and it cannot be forgiven,” Karzai said in a statement. He added that he had repeatedly demanded the U.S. stop killing Afghan civilians. The Afghan Parliament issued a statement, saying “The Wolesi Jirga (parliament) announces once again that Afghans have run out of patience with the arbitrary actions of foreign forces.” It also demanded that the U.S. soldier should be put on public trial in Afghanistan.

A government official said the incident could hurt Washington’s efforts to reach a strategic pact with Kabul to allow a long-term U.S. presence in the country.

The partnership agreement will be the framework for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014. “This could delay the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement,” the Afghan government official said. Meanwhile, the Taliban vowed revenge, and U.S. officials warned of possible reprisal attacks. The group said in a statement on their website that “sick-minded American savages” committed the “blood-soaked and inhumane crime.” The militant group promised the families of the victims that it would take revenge “for every single martyr with the help of Allah.” The U.S. Embassy in Kabul also issued an emergency statement on its website: “The U.S. Embassy in Kabul alerts U.S. citizens in Afghanistan that as a result of a tragic shooting incident in Kandahar province involving a U.S. service member, there is a risk of anti-American feelings and protests in coming days, especially in the eastern and southern provinces.”

Merkel’s visit

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a one-day trip yesterday to visit German troops in northern Afghanistan and offered President Hamid Karzai her condolences.

Merkel arrived in Mazar-e-Sharif early yesterday. She spoke with Karzai by phone from Mazar-e-Sharif and offered her “personal condolences.” She also assured him that the NATO-led security force in Afghanistan will do everything to clear up what happened, the spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. Germany has some 4,800 troops in the NATO-led force in northern Afghanistan.