- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

President Obama on Tuesday called the alleged shooting deaths of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier “outrageous” and a case of “murder,” but said the incident would not deter the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

“The United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered,” Mr. Obama said at the White House, recounting his phone conversation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “We’re heartbroken over the loss of innocent life. The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and is unacceptable. It’s not who we are as a country.”

A U.S. Army soldier allegedly went on a rampage near his base in Afghanistan over the weekend, killing the civilians in three homes. Among the dead were nine children. The soldier is in custody, but the shootings have inflamed already tense relations between the two nations over the U.S. military’s presence and mission.

Saying the incident “does not represent our military,” Mr. Obama said he has directed the Pentagon “to make sure that we spare no effort in conducting a full investigation.”

“I can assure the American people and the Afghan people that we will follow the facts wherever they lead us and we will make sure that anybody who was involved is held fully accountable with the full force of the law,” Mr. Obama said.

He said he will consult with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who arrived in Washington for an official state visit Tuesday, about “the way forward” for coalition forces in Afghanistan. The U.S. is scheduled to withdraw all of its troops by the end of 2014.

“We have a strategy that will allow us to responsibly wind down this war,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re steadily transitioning to the Afghans who are moving into the lead. That’s going to allow us to bring our troops home.”

The U.S. withdrew 10,000 troops last year, and is scheduled to bring home another 23,000 by the end of this summer, the president said.

“We will continue the work of devastating al Qaeda’s leadership and denying them a safe haven,” Mr. Obama said. “There’s no question that we face a difficult challenge in Afghanistan. But I am confident that we can continue the work of meeting our objectives, protecting our country and responsibly bringing this war to a close.”