Obama expresses condolences for Afghan shootings
“I am deeply saddened by the reported killing and wounding of Afghan civilians,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan.”
An American soldier opened fire on villagers near his base in southern Afghanistan Sunday, killing 16, said Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who called it an “assassination” and furiously demanded an explanation from Washington. Nine children and three women were among the dead.
Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, spoke similarly Sunday, expressing his “deepest condolences” to the Afghan people and pledging that “anyone who is found to have committed wrongdoing is held fully accountable.”
U.S. officials said the service member was being detained in Kandahar and that the military was treating at least five wounded. One U.S. official said the soldier, an Army staff sergeant, was thought to have acted alone and that initial reports indicated he returned to the base after the shooting and surrendered.
One official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the shooter is a soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, assigned to support a special-operations unit of either Green Berets or Navy SEALs engaged in a village-stability operation.
The killing spree deepened a crisis between U.S. forces and their Afghan hosts over Americans burning Muslim holy books on a base in Afghanistan. The burnings sparked weeks of violent protests and attacks that left about 30 dead. Six U.S. service members have been killed by their Afghan colleagues since the Koran burnings came to light, but the violence had just started to subside.
“This is an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven,” Mr. Karzai said in a statement. He said he has demanded repeatedly that the U.S. stop killing Afghan civilians.
Mr. Obama called Mr. Karzai on Sunday “to express his shock and sadness at the reported killing and wounding of Afghan civilians,” the White House said. The White House press secretary’s office added that during the call, Mr. Obama “reaffirmed our deep respect for the Afghan people and the bonds between our two countries.”
Mr. Obama learned of the shootings Sunday morning from senior national security staff and received a briefing before calling Mr. Karzai, said deputy National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
The violence over the Koran burnings spurred calls in the U.S. for a faster exit strategy from the 10-year-old Afghanistan war. Mr. Obama said recently that “now is the time for us to transition.” But he also said he had no plan to change the timetable that has Afghans taking control of security countrywide by the end of 2014.
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” said he thinks U.S. involvement in the region around Afghanistan may be risking the lives of young troops in a mission that “may not be doable.”
The tensions between the two countries appeared to be easing as recently as Friday, when the U.S. and Afghan governments signed a memorandum of understanding about the transfer of Afghan detainees to Afghan control — a key step toward an eventual strategic partnership to govern U.S. forces in the country.
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