[Afghan News] March 12, 2012 - 03-13-2012, 05:14 PM
CNN By the CNN Wire Staff March 12, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - The Afghan Taliban said Monday that its fighters would exact revenge for 16 people left dead after an American soldier went on a house-to-house shooting rampage in two villages a day earlier.
Describing U.S. forces as "sick minded American savages," the Taliban said in a statement on its website that it would mete out punishment for the "barbaric actions." The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement, has battled the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan for a decade.
U.S. officials have expressed shock and sadness over the attack, while Afghan leaders have angrily condemned it. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan called it an "unforgivable" crime, noting that nine of the dead were children.
The killings have fueled fears of intensified ire directed at international forces in the country following deadly riots over the burning of Qurans by U.S. troops late last month.
The soldier, an army staff sergeant, acted alone and turned himself in after opening fire on civilians, according to officials from NATO's International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. He is now in U.S. custody as investigators try to establish what motivated him.
The attacker's mental stability and medical history are among "the things the investigators are looking at," said Capt. John Kirby, an ISAF spokesman.
"This was a soldier who had been in the army some time, had deployed before." Kirby said. "This the wasn't his first deployment. But with respect to specific motives, we just can't say right now."
U.S. President Barack Obama called the killings "tragic and shocking," and offered his condolences to the Afghan people in a phone call to Karzai, the White House said.
But his comments appeared unlikely to soothe the outrage among Afghans.
"The Afghan people can withstand a lot of pain," said Prince Ali Seraj, the head of the National Coalition for Dialogue with the Tribes of Afghanistan. "They can withstand collateral damage. They can withstand night raids. But murder is something that they totally abhor, and when that happens, they really want justice."
The killings took place in the district of Panjwai, about 25 km (15 miles) southwest of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's major city, according to Karzai's office. The dead included four men, three women and nine children, it said, while five people were wounded.
The wounded Afghans were being treated in one of ISAF's facilities. The allied command did not give its own estimate of casualties.
There were no military operations in the area, either on the ground or in the air, at the time, according to two senior ISAF officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
A U.S. military official said that the suspect is from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. The official said the soldier is assigned to a Special Forces unit.
Afghan troops spotted the soldier leaving his combat outpost around 3 a.m. Sunday and notified their American counterparts, according to ISAF. The U.S. military did an immediate headcount, found the soldier was missing and dispatched a patrol to go look for him. The patrol met him as he returned and took him into custody.
In a statement issued by the White House, Obama said the U.S. military will "get the facts as quickly as possible and to hold accountable anyone responsible."
White House response to shooting spree
He said the attack "does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan."
In a separate statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he was "shocked and saddened" by the attack and said the suspect was "clearly acting outside his chain of command."
But Seraj, a member of Afghanistan's former royal family, said the killings are likely to play into the hands of the Taliban.
"They are really going to milk this for all it's worth," Seraj said, adding, "This is playing right into their program of psychological warfare against the Afghan people."
Seraj called for a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation into the killings, saying Afghans will want to see "quick and decisive justice."
Kandahar and the surrounding region is the home of the Taliban, and eight of the 69 coalition troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year died in the province.
Kirby said that although the attack Sunday was "very, very tragic," it wasn't "having a major effect across the country with respect to the mission our troops are doing every day."
Taliban link attack to Quran burning
The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001, following al Qaeda's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people. The invasion quickly toppled the Taliban, which ruled most of Afghanistan and had allowed al Qaeda to operate from its territory. But the militia soon regrouped and launched an insurgent campaign against the allied forces and a new government led by Karzai.
The No. 1 U.S. target in the conflict, al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, was killed in a commando raid in neighboring Pakistan in May 2011. American and allied combat troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by 2014, and Karzai has been increasingly critical of the allied force.
Tensions ramped up dramatically in February, after a group of U.S. soldiers burned copies of the Quran, Islam's holy book, that had been seized from inmates at the American-run prison at Bagram Air Base. American officials from Obama down called the burning an accident and apologized for it, but riots left dozens dead, including six American troops. Hundreds more Afghans were wounded.
The war has cost the lives of nearly 1,900 Americans and just under 1,000 more allied troops to date.
Amid the uproar over the attack, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany arrived in Afghanistan on Monday.
Merkel is spending a day visiting German troops in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, according to the German government's press office.
CNN's Sara Sidner, John Dear and Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.
U.S. fears reprisals after Afghan shooting rampage
Reuters By Ahmad Nadem and Ahmad Haroon Mon Mar 12, 2012
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - U.S. officials warned on Monday of possible reprisal attacks after 16 Afghan villagers, mostly children and women, were killed in a likely "rogue" shooting by a U.S. soldier that weakens the West's tenuous grip on a decade-old war.
Washington has rushed to distance the shootings, blamed on a lone U.S. soldier, from the efforts of the 90,000-strong U.S. force in Afghanistan, but the rampage in southern Kandahar province is certain to inflame anti-Western anger once again.
It comes less than three weeks after U.S. troops inadvertently burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, at the main NATO base in Afghanistan, sparking widespread protests in which 30 people were killed.
"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," the embassy said in an emergency statement on its website.
Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, toppled by U.S.-backed forces in late 2001. Southern and eastern provinces have seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war, increasingly unpopular among Americans and their European allies.
Early on Monday, the embassy said on its Twitter feed restrictions had been placed on the movements of all embassy personnel in the south.
A sharp increase in attacks on U.S. troops by Afghan forces followed the Koran burning. Sunday's incident in Kandahar was one of the worst of its kind, witnesses describing it as a "night-time massacre" that killed nine children and three women.
Villagers in three houses were attacked and many civilians were wounded, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
Deeply saddened, U.S. President Barack Obama called Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, promising to establish the facts quickly and "to hold fully accountable anyone responsible.
"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," Obama said in a statement.
However, such incidents fuel anti-Western sentiment among Afghans and are quickly exploited by the insurgents. The Afghan Taliban said it would take revenge.
The burning of copies of Koran at Bagram air base touched off widespread anger among Afghan officials, security forces and civilians alike. It also shows the challenges that remain as foreign forces prepare to withdraw combat troops and hand security responsibility to Afghans by the end of 2014.
Sunday's attack may also harden a growing consensus in Washington about what can be accomplished in Afghanistan even after a troop surge meant to turn the war around.
The bill for the war has already exceeded $500 billion and more than 1,900 U.S. troops have been killed, with the total number of foreign troops killed approaching 3,000.
"These killings only serve to reinforce the mindset that the whole war is broken and that there's little we can do about it beyond trying to cut our losses and leave," said Joshua Foust, a security expert with the American Security Project.
Karzai, whose relationship with his Western backers is fraught at the best of times, seethed. Civilian casualties caused by U.S. and other Western forces have long been a major cause of friction between Washington and Kabul.
He condemned the rampage as "intentional murders" and demanded an explanation. Karzai's office released a statement quoting a villager as saying "American soldiers woke my family up and shot them in the face".
There were conflicting accounts of how many U.S. soldiers were involved, with witness accounts saying there were several.
Officials from the U.S. Embassy, ISAF and from Washington said it appeared there was only one. An ISAF spokesman said the lone U.S. soldier "walked back to the base and turned himself in to U.S. forces this morning", adding there had been no military operations in the area.
The soldier in custody was described by one U.S. official in Washington as a staff sergeant who was married with three children. The sergeant had served three tours in Iraq but was on his first deployment in Afghanistan, the official said.
Neighbours and relatives of the dead said they saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrive at their village in Panjwai district, about 35 km from the provincial capital Kandahar City, at about 2 a.m. They said the soldiers entered homes and opened fire.
However, Afghan Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Asadullah Khalid said a U.S. soldier burst into three homes near his base in the middle of the night, killing a total of 16 people, including 11 people in the first house.
Villager Haji Samad said his children and grandchildren were among 11 relatives killed.
"They (Americans) poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them," a weeping Samad told Reuters at the scene, with blood splattered on the walls of his home.
Neighbours said they had awoken to crackling gunfire from American soldiers, who they described as laughing and drunk.
"Their bodies were riddled with bullets," said Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where the killings took place.
A senior U.S. defence official in Washington rejected such accounts. "Based on the preliminary information we have this account is flatly wrong," the official said. "We believe one U.S. service member acted alone, not a group of U.S. soldiers."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also called Karzai to offer his condolences. "I condemn such violence and am shocked and saddened that a U.S. service member is alleged to be involved, clearly acting outside his chain of command," Panetta said.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul, and Missy Ryan and Alister Bull in Washington; Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Ron Popeski)
U.S. Warns Of Reprisals As Taliban Vows Revenge For Kandahar Massacre
March 12, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
NATO-led forces in Afghanistan have been placed on alert and the Taliban has vowed revenge in the aftermath of a shooting rampage by a U.S. soldier that left 16 Afghan villagers dead.
U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, and said he was "shocked" and "deeply saddened." He promised to hold accountable anyone responsible for the March 11 predawn rampage in southern Kandahar Province.
Obama told Karzai that the shooting spree does not reflect the respect the United States has for the Afghan people.
Karzai has described the shootings as the "intentional killing of innocent civilians" and said they cannot be forgiven.
The unnamed U.S. soldier -- reportedly a staff sergeant -- is said to have walked off his base before dawn on March 11 and gone house-to-house in the Alekozai village of Kandahar's Panjwai district.
Nine children and three women were among the dead.
In addition to killing 16 people, he is reported to have burned the bodies of some of the victims.
The Associated Press quoted U.S. officials as saying the soldier who carried out the shooting had served three tours in Iraq and was on his first deployment in Afghanistan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured Karzai by telephone that a full investigation is under way.
Afghanistan's parliament has demanded that the United States punish the culprits and put them on public trial.
Calling U.S. soldiers "sick-minded," the Taliban has vowed to avenge the massacre.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has warned American personnel in Afghanistan to be on guard against possible reprisal attacks.
In a statement, the Taliban promised the families of the victims that it would take revenge "for every single martyr with the help of Allah."
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen added his voice to those expressing shock and sadness over the killings. In a written statement, the NATO chief offered condolences to family members of the victims, backed an investigation, and said NATO remains committed to working with its Afghan partners to build a “strong and stable Afghanistan.”
ISAF spokesman General Carsten Jacobsen denied claims by some residents of Kandahar's Panjwai district that more than one soldier was involved in the killing spree. Some reports have quoted Afghan villagers as saying they believe more than one soldier could have been responsible.
"We were shocked and saddened to hear of the shooting incident yesterday in Kandahar Province," Jacobsen said. "ISAF offers its profound regret and deepest condolences to the victims and their families. We pledge to all the noble people of Afghanistan our commitment to a rapid and thorough investigation."
Afghanistan's parliament on March 12 demanded the United States “punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan." It said the Afghan people had “run out of patience with the arbitrary actions of foreign forces."
The incident comes as the U.S. and Afghan governments were reportedly moving closer to agreeing on a new strategic pact covering the long-term presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan following the planned withdrawal of foreign combat forces at the end of 2014.
Afghan parliament member Shagul Rezai has warned that the shooting could impact those negotiations.
"This kind of incident will have a negative impact and will create distrust between the people and coalition forces," she said. "And, of course, it will have a negative impact on the ongoing negotiations with regards to [the U.S.-Afghan] strategic partnership [agreement]."
The killings also follow a wave of unrest that erupted after the burning of Korans by U.S. personnel at the Bagram military base near Kabul. The February 20 burning -- which U.S. officials said was a mistake -- sparked six days of violent anti-American protests in which more than 30 people were killed, including six U.S. soldiers.
With AFP, dpa, and Reuters reports
Recent atrocities should prompt U.S. to rethink Afghan strategy
by Yu Zhixiao
BEIJING, March 12 (Xinhua) -- A series of atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers, including the recent slaughter of 16 Afghan civilians, have drastically strained bilateral ties, and shows that the United States must urgently review its strategy and policies in the volatile Central Asian country.
The world's biggest power has fought an expensive war in Afghanistan for over a decade, which has cost it 500 billion U.S. dollars and 2,000 lives. Many say it is fighting a losing battle due to vehement Taliban resurgence.
To add insult to injury, the U.S. military is increasingly losing whatever moral support it has previously enjoyed among the Afghans, as U.S. soldiers have repeatedly committed severe offenses or violence against the civilians.
In the early hours of Sunday, a U.S. sergeant left a military base in the southern Kandahar province and went on a killing spree in a nearby village. He murdered 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, in cold blood.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called it an "unforgivable action" and demanded an "explanation" from Washington, while his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama expressed his "shock and sadness" over the deed and promised to bring the perpetrator to justice.
The incident came at the heels of U.S. soldiers' burning of the Quran at a military base in Afghanistan in February, which sparked violent Afghan protests and the killing of six U.S. soldiers as revenge by Afghans.
In January, a video surfaced showing four U.S. marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters. The deed was regarded as blasphemy by Afghans and triggered outrage in the country.
The incidents show that some U.S. servicemen harbor resentment against the Afghan people, are insensitive to Afghans' religious beliefs, culture and customs, and lack basic respect toward their human dignity.
Clearly, the condescension and cold-bloodedness shown by some U.S. soldiers toward Afghans are detrimental to the U.S. anti-terrorist efforts in the country.
Obviously, the U.S. military has failed to impart a code of conduct to its soldiers in this regard and to discipline them for violation. Only if U.S. soldiers are taught to respect Afghans can they hope to secure their support.
U.S. authorities have vowed to bring stability and prosperity to the unrest-torn country and have invested a tremendous amount of funds and personnel for that end, but acts such as the recent killing of Afghan civilians will greatly undermine U.S. efforts and only lead to distrust and outrage toward Americans.
The incidents should also serve as a chance for the United States to seriously reflect upon its overall strategy and policies regarding Afghanistan.
Although 130,000 NATO troops, including 90,000 Americans, are deployed in Afghanistan, the Taliban movement, which was almost wiped out on Afghan soil in the U.S.-led war in late 2001, has made a strong comeback in recent years.
It seems that the Taliban fighters are poised to launch a major campaign after 2014, the deadline of NATO troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Some Taliban militants have vowed that they have time on their side and will rise to power again one day.
This has cast a huge shadow on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, and raised doubts among many Americans about whether it is worthwhile to fight such a costly war.
U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said Sunday that "there's something profoundly wrong with the way we're approaching the whole region, and I think it's going to get substantially worse, not better. And I think that we're risking the lives of young men and women in a mission that may frankly not be doable."
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday said 55 percent of U.S. respondents said they think most Afghans oppose what the United States is trying to do there, and 60 percent said the war in Afghanistan has been "not worth fighting."
Apparently, the U.S. government and military are between a rock and a hard place in Afghanistan.
Afghan, US Long-term Agreement Signed by May: Karzai
TOLOnews.com Sunday, 11 March 2012
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday that the Afghan-US Strategic Partnership Agreement would be signed by the time of the Chicago conference on Afghanistan in May.
Karzai also said the agreement would be reached once there is "an end of foreign troop's night raids", reiterating his condition for the agreement, while speaking at a ceremony commemorating International Women's Day - normally celebrated on March 8 - in Kabul.
The talks between the two sovereign states over the terms of the agreement have been ongoing for 1.5 years.
Karzai added that the US and its allied nations would continue to assist the country with as much as $4.1 billion annually after 2014 when the foreign troops will withdraw from Afghanistan, the bulk of which will be used for defence.
"This is our agreement, that the US and its friends will provide $4.1 billion annually to our Afghan National Army and our police after 2014 when our national security forces take over the security responsibility of the country," he said.
The comment comes in light of growing concerns about a likely reduction in the size of the Afghan National Security Forces after Nato ends its combat operations in Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
The Afghan army and police force is forecast to grow to 350,000 personnel by the time international troops withdraw, but some Nato defence ministers recently suggested the number could fall to 230,000 to reduce costs.
The US is currently spending about $12 billion a year on training the Afghan security forces.
In Assessing the Damage, Fears of an Emboldened Taliban
New York Times By DAVID E. SANGER News Analysis March 11, 2012
WASHINGTON = The outrage from the back-to-back episodes of the Koran burning and the killing on Sunday of at least 16 Afghan civilians imperils what the Obama administration once saw as an orderly plan for 2012: to speed the training of Afghan forces so that they can take the lead in combat missions, all while drawing the Taliban into negotiations to end more than a decade of constant war.
President Obama and his aides had once hoped that by now they would have cemented the narrative that the Taliban were a spent force being pounded into peace negotiations and recognizing that they could never retake control of the country.
But in conversations on Sunday, both in Washington and Kabul, some American military and civilian officials acknowledged that the events would embolden the hard-liners within the Taliban, who oppose negotiations with a force that is leaving the country anyway and who want to use the next two years to appeal to the understandable national allergy to foreign occupation.
“The fear,” one American military official said, “is that all these incidents, taken together, play into the Taliban’s account of how we treat the Afghan religion and people. And while we all know that’s a false account — think how many the Taliban have killed, and never once taken responsibility — it’s a very hard perception to combat.”
The United States discovered as much in Iraq, where in 2005 American Marines killed 26 unarmed Iraqis, many of them women and children, in Haditha — a remote city in Anbar Province. That episode helped contribute to what became some of the worst months of the war. No one is predicting the same result from the Afghan case, in part because the United States has made it abundantly clear that it is leaving, save for some kind of smaller “enduring presence” it plans to have to keep the peace.
As recently as last week, testifying before the Senate, Adm. James G. Stavridis, the overall commander of NATO forces, declared, “I believe we will have an enduring partnership between NATO and the Republic of Afghanistan” beyond 2014.
The speed with which Washington reacted to the news of the killings on Sunday — an attack that was said to be carried out by a single American soldier — underscored the depth of the concern that such an agreement could become harder and harder to sell to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president. Mr. Karzai has long faced accusations of being a lap dog to the Americans.
Both Mr. Obama and the defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, called Mr. Karzai, promising a full investigation and offering deep regrets and an assurance that anyone involved in the killings would be held to account. Mr. Panetta added in a statement that “we are steadfast in our resolve to work hand in hand with our Afghan partners to accomplish the missions and goals on which we have been working together for so long.”
And at the White House, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Benjamin J. Rhodes, acknowledged in an interview Sunday that such events were “heart-wrenching, very difficult moments, and they take a lot of time and effort for both sides to move beyond.” But he added that the United States had learned during the Koran burning that “if you respond appropriately, you can actually build trust with the Afghans.”
Mr. Rhodes noted, for example, that shortly after the Koran burning and the retaliation, in which several Americans were killed, the two countries reached an agreement on the transfer of detainees to Afghan control over the next few months, an effort to show “that we are serious about a steady handover of all authority.”
But to many Americans — even onetime supporters of the Afghan mission in both parties — these episodes and the inevitable reaction they prompt only underscore the need to hurry to the exits in a war whose outcome, some military officials say, now seems less certain than at any time since Mr. Obama took office.
While it may take weeks or months to determine the motives of the killer in this case, military officials have said in recent days that these are the kinds of episodes that happen when a military force has been at constant war, with many repeat rotations in battle zones.
While some Republican presidential candidates — notably Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts — have criticized Mr. Obama for committing to leave Afghanistan before the Taliban are defeated, a growing number seem to be joining Democrats who say there is little more the United States can do.
“I think it’s very likely that we have lost — tragically lost the lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we’re going to discover is not doable,” Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who has struck perhaps the most negative tone on the war of any of Mr. Obama’s potential rivals, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
In words quite close to what some Democrats have told the White House, Mr. Gingrich added: “Look at the things that are going on around the region and then ask yourself, ‘Is this, in fact, a harder, deeper problem that is not going to be susceptible to military force, at least not military forces in the scale we are prepared to do?’ ”
As a practical matter, there are two major concerns that grow out of these episodes, and that make some in the administration wonder whether Mr. Obama’s speeded-up pullout plan should be hurried up even more.
The first has to do with the training mission. After the Koran burning, there were fears in the military that it would become harder for American or NATO military trainers to move freely among an Afghan Army force of 350,000 troops, most of whom are poorly trained. Fearing for their own safety, the trainers will bring along larger security details, to assure they do not fall under attack.
In fact, American counterinsurgency experts said on Sunday that the shootings could well have a devastating impact on the painstaking efforts by American Green Berets and other troops over the past year to win the trust of Afghan villagers.
“It takes months and months to build the trust of the local populations, and then something like this happens and it’s gone, literally overnight,” said Seth G. Jones, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation who worked in Panjwai, where the attack took place, in 2009 and 2010 as an adviser to the military’s Special Operations Command.
But the second concern is even harder to assess: that the Taliban will conclude that events like this will, in the end, only increase the pressure on the United States to get out quickly. So far, the efforts to bring the Taliban to the table in Qatar, where Ambassador Marc Grossman and other American diplomats are seeking to arrange talks, have gone painfully slowly.
The first steps — a confidence-building prisoner exchange that would require moving some detainees from the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar — have taken months. It is episodes like this, one American official said, “that create an instant windfall for the Taliban,” at just the moment that the United States is trying to persuade them that their cause is all but lost.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
US Officials Worry Afghan Killings Will Fuel Anti-American Sentiment
VOA News March 12, 2012 Brian Padden | Islamabad
Afghan and NATO authorities are continuing to investigate the actions of a U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians and then setting many of the bodies on fire on Sunday. While no major protests over the incident occurred on Monday, authorities worry it could further fuel public opposition to foreign troops.
Villagers who witnessed the attack in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province say they saw a U.S. soldier shooting the victims, many of whom where women and children, as they slept. Some of the bodies were also partially burned indicating that the perpetrator set them on fire.
One man who lost his family explained to reporters what happened.
He says as he started to fire a dog ran toward him and he shot the dog, then he entered the house, rounded all family members in one room and martyred all of them.
President Karzai called the attack, “an assassination, an intentional killing of innocent civilians and cannot be forgiven.” President Barack Obama called the attack "tragic and shocking" and not representative of "the exceptional character of the U.S. military.
Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, says the shootings in Kandahar are being investigated as a murder, and not part of any military operation. “Those who suffered as innocent citizens of Kandahar are not civilian casualties from military activity, they are victims,” he stated.
U.S. officials identified an army staff sergeant as the shooter and said he acted alone. But some villagers and Afghan officials are skeptical that one soldier could have amassed such a death toll on his own, and others may haven been involved.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also raised doubts in a statement in which he at first confirmed that a single U.S. gunman was responsible but later referred to “American forces” entering houses.
There is great concern that the incident could fuel public outrage similar to last month’s inadvertent burning of Qurans at an American military base. That led to a week of violent protests, as well as attacks against U.S. forces and the killing of two American officers in the interior ministry. Afghans have spread rumors that Sunday’s attacks were retribution for those deaths.
General Jacobson said there is no evidence that the Kandahar attack was linked to any past attacks against U.S. soldiers, but did not disclose the soldier’s possible motive. He urged the public to allow investigators to do their work and not engage in speculation.
“Beliefs and rumors are always a bad guidance. And we have seen and heard enough beliefs and rumors yesterday, as the story becomes clearer and clearer to us at this moment and has to become clearer in coming days,” Jacobson said.
The Taliban released a statement that vowed revenge for the killings.
The shooting comes as U.S. and Afghan authorities negotiate the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces. The two sides already signed off on a deal to transfer full control of an American detention facility to Afghanistan in six months, and now hope to develop a broader strategic partnership agreement before the May meeting of NATO in Chicago. That agreement is expected to define the U.S role in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of most of its 98,000 combat soldiers in 2014.
Afghan massacre hits hopes of smooth exit
Financial Times By Matthew Green March 11, 2012
Kabul - The murder of 16 men, women and children by a US soldier marks a uniquely brutal episode in a saga of dashed hopes and mistrust that has darkened western hopes of a smooth exit from Afghanistan.
That a serviceman could wander off his base to enter nearby homes and methodically shoot the occupants sent a shockwave through a country where even accidental killings of civilians by Nato troops can trigger furious protests.
For US generals in Kabul, still reeling from the outrage sparked by the burnings of Korans at Bagram air base last month, the massacre perpetrated by a rogue soldier, apparently in the throes of a breakdown, presented an entirely new kind of crisis.
The US military said they had detained the shooter and offered hasty expressions of regret for the loss of life in a village in Panjwai district, a former Taliban stronghold in the southern Kandahar province.
But the killings fanned the coals of anger in Afghanistan, where six US soldiers were murdered and more than 25 Afghans killed in a surge of anti-western protests triggered by the Koran desecrations in February.
“People are tired and they don’t know who to ask for justice,” said Haji Agha Saheb, a prominent elder from Panjwai.
The scene of the killing could hardly have been more damaging, striking at the heart of a campaign by US troops to win over the population in the Taliban’s former heartland of Kandahar.
“People are very angry,” said Sami Mahdi, director of news at 1TV, a Kabul channel. “They think it’s maybe a revenge attack for the killing of US soldiers during the Koran burnings.”
The murder was only the latest in a series of self-inflicted wounds suffered by the Nato-led force that have laid bare the weak spots in the west’s plan for winding down its role in the decade-old war by the end of 2014.
The growing gulf between foreign forces and the Afghans they have been deployed to protect has raised fresh questions over a plan that is predicated on building trust between Afghan soldiers and their western mentors.
The latest string of setbacks began in November, when a US air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border, unleashing a wave of anti-American anger in Pakistan and prompting the government to close supply routes to Nato forces. Images of US marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters that circulated on the internet in January were greeted with disgust.
The anger triggered by the murder spree in Panjwai will stir fears of fresh reprisals against Nato troops in Afghanistan, where a growing number of incidents of Afghan army and police officers turning their weapons on their allies has exposed the chasm that sometimes divides Afghans and their partners.
A chill ran through the western mission in Kabul last month when two US officers were shot dead in a supposedly secure command centre in the interior ministry during the Koran protests.
The Nato-led force temporarily withdrew several hundred advisers from Afghan ministries – underscoring the potential for one incident to have far-reaching consequences in the uncertain atmosphere in the capital.
In spite of gains made in pushing back the Taliban from southern strongholds during the Obama administration’s troop surge, the latest reversals have fed a perception that the US mission in Afghanistan is foundering, sapping confidence in the war among western publics and regional powers.
“It’s very likely that we have tragically lost lives and suffered injuries to a considerable number of young Americans on a mission that we’re going to discover is not do-able,” Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential candidate, told Fox News. “I don’t think we have the willpower or the capacity to do the things you have to do to fundamentally change the region,” Mr Gingrich added, speaking to CBS.
Meanwhile, Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, told CNN: “I think that we’re on the right track to get out of Afghanistan just as soon as we can.”
The murders will also sharpen the dilemma faced by Hamid Karzai, Afghan president, as he seeks to balance the competing imperative of appeasing resentment of foreign forces among his ethnic Pashtun community and maintaining the support of war-weary allies.
Anger at night raids by US special forces on insurgents sheltering in Pashtun homes has emerged as the biggest sticking point in fraught negotiations between Mr Karzai and Washington over the terms of a long-term security pact. The murders could further complicate the talks if anti-American sentiment snowballs.
“This killing of civilians is a clear sign that the war is against the people of Afghanistan,” said Haji Azim, a Kandahar resident.”If there are terrorists and Taliban in Afghanistan, then they have been created by the Americans.”
Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington
Afghan MPs call for public trial of US forces involved in Afghan massacre
Press TV March 12, 2012
Afghan lawmakers have called for the public trial of the American troops involved in the recent massacre of 17 civilians, including women and children.
"We seriously demand and expect that the government of the United States punish the culprits and try them in a public trial before the people of Afghanistan," the lawmakers said in a Monday statement.
They also condemned as "brutal and inhuman" the massacre that has triggered angry calls for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
On Sunday, a US soldier opened fire on Afghan civilians inside their homes, killing at least 17 and injuring several others in the district of Panjwaii in southern Kandahar Province.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the bloodshed, calling it an unforgiveable act.
"When Afghan people are killed deliberately by US forces, this action is murder and terror and an unforgivable action," Karzai said in a statement.
"The government and the people of Afghanistan demand an explanation from the United States government of this incident," he added.
US President Barack Obama only expressed condolences over the massacre and claimed he would hold accountable anyone responsible for the "tragic and shocking" incident.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been a major source of tension between Kabul and Washington.
The US-led invasion of Afghanistan was launched in 2001. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but insecurity continues to rise across the country despite the presence of tens of thousands of US-led troops.
Afghanistan suspect's base has history of controversies
Stars and Stripes newspaper once called it 'the most troubled base in the military'
AP By GENE JOHNSON, MANUEL VALDES 11/03/2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - A soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers Sunday comes from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, one of the largest military installations in the U.S. — and one that has seen its share of controversies and violence in the past few year
The base, home to about 100,000 military and civilian personnel, has suffered a spate of suicides among soldiers back from war. The Army is investigating whether doctors at Lewis-McChord's Madigan Army Medical Center were urged to consider the cost of providing benefits when reviewing diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Most famously, four Lewis-McChord soldiers were convicted in the deliberate thrill killings of three Afghan civilians in 2010.
The military newspaper Stars and Stripes called it "the most troubled base in the military" that year.
"It's another blow to this community," said Spc. Jared Richardson, an engineer, as he stood outside a barbershop near the base Sunday. "This is definitely something we don't need."
Catherine Caruso, a spokeswoman for Lewis-McChord, said she could not comment on reports that the soldier involved in Sunday's shooting was based there. A U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the AP that the shooter was a conventional soldier assigned to support a special operations unit of either Green Berets or Navy SEALs engaged in a village stability operation.
It wasn't immediately clear if the soldier was with Lewis-McChord's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which sent about 2,500 soldiers to Afghanistan in December for a yearlong deployment. The brigade had deployed to Iraq three times since 2003; this is its first deployment to Afghanistan.
Lewis-McChord, a sprawling complex of red brick buildings, training fields and forests, is about 45 miles south of Seattle and has grown quickly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Officials there have said that any community the size of the base is bound to have its problems, and its reputation has been tarred by "a small number of highly visible but isolated episodes" that don't accurately reflect the remarkable accomplishments of its service members, including their work overseas and the creation of new programs to support returning soldiers.
The controversies have indeed been highly visible.
Killings, suicides In 2010, a dozen soldiers from the base were arrested on a slew of charges that ranged from using drugs, beating up a whistleblower in their unit, and deliberately killing three Afghan civilians during patrols in Kandahar Province. Prosecutors at Lewis-McChord won convictions against four of the five who were charged in the killings.
After the first killing, the father of one of the soldiers called Lewis-McChord to report it — and to say that more killings were planned. The staff sergeant who took the call didn't report it to anyone else, saying he didn't have the authority to begin an investigation in a war zone. By the time the suspects were arrested months later, two more civilians were dead.
Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, of Billings, Mont., the highest ranking defendant, was sentenced to life in prison. At his seven-day court martial at Lewis-McChord, Gibbs acknowledged cutting fingers off corpses and yanking out a victim's tooth to keep as war trophies, "like keeping the antlers off a deer you'd shoot."
There have been other episodes of violence involving the base's soldiers or former soldiers. A former soldier shot and injured a Salt Lake City police officer in 2010; he died when police returned fire.
On Jan. 1, a 24-year-old Iraq war veteran shot and killed a Mount Rainier National Park ranger before succumbing to the cold and drowning in a creek.
Last year, Lewis-McChord saw more suicides than ever before — 12, up from 9 in each of the prior two years. The Army has seen more suicides at bases across the country since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.
The toll at Lewis-McChord rose despite new efforts to counsel soldiers when they come home from war, including the creation of a suicide-prevention office.
In the past five years, about 300 patients at Madigan Army Medical Center at the base had their PTSD diagnoses reversed by a forensic psychiatry team, The Seattle Times reported this month. The Army is reviewing whether those doctors were influenced by how much a PTSD diagnosis can cost, in terms of a pension and other benefits.
Johnson reported from Seattle
Interview: Veteran Diplomat Thomas Ruttig On Implications Of Afghan Massacre
March 12, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
What are the implications of the weekend killings of 16 Afghan civilians by a rogue U.S. soldier in southern Afghanistan? RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique asked Thomas Ruttig, a former UN and European diplomat and the director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
RFE/RL: This incident comes on the heels of recent violent Afghan protests over the burning of copies of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, at a NATO base. How important is this incident in defining the broader relations between Afghanistan and NATO?
Thomas Ruttig: Of course, it is politically significant but not, in the first place, for the relations between the U.S. and the Afghan government. That is what most of the media say. It is more significant for the relations between the U.S. and the Afghan population.
It is the Afghan population, which as General [John] Allen, the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) commander yesterday reiterated, they are there to protect. But they are not protecting them if they cannot prevent things like these killings from happening.
RFE/RL: Afghan lawmakers and officials are demanding that the perpetrator of these killings be tried in an Afghan court. How do you look at such demands?
Ruttig: I can understand that Afghan parliamentarians are angry and demand a trial. They have seen too often that U.S. soldiers who have been involved in attacks on Afghans have not been convicted. But on the other hand, I also do not have trust in the Afghan judicial system. So that's a populist demand, and I don't think it will happen. I don't think it should happen. But I understand fully that people in Afghanistan might demand that.
RFE/RL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently made encouraging remarks about the possibility of a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Washington, saying it should be signed soon. Do you think this incident undermines prospects for this agreement?
Ruttig: The incident itself will not make certain negotiations about the agreement itself easier because it strengthens the hand of Karzai. But I even would go as far [as to] say that at the moment, we should not even link it to each other. It is just an incident which should be taken as itself and should be dealt with and we should think about what it signifies and what can be done to prevent these things from happening.
RFE/RL: During the past decade we have seen many incidents of Afghan civilian casualties. What needs to happen to stop them now?
Ruttig: Civilian casualties can only be prevented by a fundamental change of the approach of the military and of the politicians in the West because they are setting the framework for the military. The whole Afghanistan issue is still taken as a military problem. There are still attempts to solve it militarily and this will produce incidents like that.
Americans Believe Afghan War Not Worth Costs, New Poll Finds
VOA News March 12, 2012
An ABC News - Washington Post poll indicates that 60 percent of U.S. citizens believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth its costs. The survey found that only 35 percent of Americans believe the decade-long effort has warranted its expense and loss of life.
For the first time in five years, Republicans polled are evenly divided on whether the war has justified its price.
The poll indicates 54 percent of all Americans want the U.S. to pull its troops from Afghanistan, even if the Afghan army is not adequately trained to carry on the fight. But the survey finds about 6 in 10 Democrats and independents back this position, while just 4 in 10 Republicans do.
Meanwhile, only 30 percent of Americans believe that most Afghans support U.S. efforts in their country.
The United States and its NATO allies plan to pull out their troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and hand over security operations to the Afghan army.
Gingrich Calls for U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan
Wall Street Journal By Gary Fields March 11, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Sunday the U.S. should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, calling the mission “undoable.”
In some of his strongest language about the role of the U.S. in Afghanistan, Mr. Gingrich said on “Fox News Sunday” he had reached the conclusion “frankly about the entire region that is much more pessimistic than Washington’s official position.”
“I think we’re risking the lives of young men and women in a mission that frankly may not be doable,” he said.
His comments came hours after a U.S. soldier went on a shooting spree killing at least 16 Afghan civilians and wounding several more, an incident that threatens to increase already strained tensions between Washington and Kabul. The accidental burning of Qurans touched off days of violence across Afghanistan with six U.S. troops killed by Afghan security personnel in an eight-day period.
Mr. Gingrich said the shooting must be investigated and “we have to indicate clearly and convince the people of Afghanistan that justice will be done and that we’re not going to tolerate that kind of thing.” He added that the families of the victims should be compensated “for the tragic loss.”
Mr. Gingrich said how the U.S. responds can serve as a clear example of the difference between the U.S. and the Taliban and al Qaeda, who target civilians. “We have to live up to our standards and our values,” he said.
The shooting incident was roundly condemned by American officials, although some differed with Mr. Gingrich on what should happen next. The GOP primary has seen unusual splits on national security, with Ron Paul on one end of the scale pledging an isolationist policy, and Mitt Romney on the other promising to build up the U.S. Navy and maintain American military superiority.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said the incident was “tragic” but he thought the U.S. could “win this thing. We can get it right.”
Mr. Graham, speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” said his recommendation to the public is to listen to Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “The surge of forces has really put the Taliban on the defensive.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, addressing the incident Sunday during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, said a soldier “went into a couple of homes and just killed people at random.”
“Our hearts go out to these innocent people,” said Mr. Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “Our troops are under such tremendous pressure in Afghanistan. It’s a war like no other war we’ve been involved in. But no one can condone or make any suggestion that what he did was right because it was absolutely wrong.”
Mr. Reid said he believes the U.S. is making progress in drawing down troop levels. “I think we’re going to find out that hopefully we can get out of there as scheduled and things will be stabilized when we do that,” Mr. Reid said.
Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association chairman, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” the U.S. military has done great work in more than a decade of fighting the “global war on terror,” but added that “one incident like this in the minds of the civilian population who we’re trying to win their hearts and minds, as well as the battle against the terrorists in Afghanistan, can change the equation.”
Amid anger over Afghan killings, U.S. faces growing public weariness about war
Washington Post By Craig Whitlock and Jon Cohen Monday, March 12, 2012
The massacre of at least 16 Afghan civilians, apparently by an American soldier, forced the Obama administration Sunday to confront yet another nightmare from the war zone and fresh evidence that patience back home is increasingly wearing thin.
A majority of Americans — 55 percent — believe that most Afghans are opposed to what the United States is trying to accomplish in that country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. About as many Americans — 54 percent — want the U.S. military to withdraw even before it can train the Afghan army to be self-sufficient, a pillar of President Obama’s war strategy.
While most Democrats and independents soured on the war a long time ago, the poll found that Republicans, for the first time, are evenly split on whether the ¬decade-long war is worth fighting.
The divide was reflected in Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s call Sunday to withdraw. “I think we’re risking the lives of young men and women in a mission that, frankly, may not be doable,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” Among Republican candidates, that view puts Gingrich closer to the position of Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), who has long called for an end to the war.
In contrast, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) have staked out the opposite position, criticizing Obama for pledging to withdraw U.S. combat troops by the end of 2014. They have said that declaring a firm timetable for ending the war is a sign of weakness and puts American troops at risk.
Obama generally receives high marks from voters for his handling of national security, especially since May, when he ordered the daring helicopter raid on Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. But news from the Afghanistan front has been uniformly poor in recent weeks, raising the question of whether what had been seen as a political strength for the president could turn into a liability as the November election nears.
‘The worst thing’
In Washington, U.S. officials huddled in the White House and the Pentagon to put together plans for dealing with the repercussions of Sunday’s killings. Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta placed separate calls to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to condemn the shooting rampage and offer condolences.
Notably, however, neither offered an outright apology, in contrast with the U.S. reaction last month after American soldiers — in an apparent mistake — burned copies of the Koran and other Islamic religious texts, touching off deadly protests across Afghanistan. Republicans have previously accused Obama of being too quick to apologize to Karzai and the Afghan people.
In separate public statements, Obama, Panetta and Marine Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, signaled that the United States was committed to its partnership with Karzai’s government and gave no hint that they were reconsidering their overall war strategy.
Their comments echoed messages they delivered this year in the aftermath of the Koran burnings, the fratricidal killings of U.S. troops by their Afghan partners and the release of an Internet video that showed Marines urinating on Afghan corpses.
Given the gravity of the latest killings and the rapid sequence in which the other incidents have occurred, U.S. officials acknowledged that they didn’t know whether they could count on the same approach to work this time.
A senior U.S. official said the administration is “not freaking out yet . . . but you’d have to be under a rock not to think this is the worst thing that could have happened.”
“It plays to the absolute worst fears and stereotypes” Afghans hold of U.S. involvement, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s the type of boogeyman Karzai has always raised, but we’ve never had an incident like this.”
A cloud over negotiations
The shooting occurred just two days after the administration hailed progress on the long-delayed strategic-partnership agreement it is trying to negotiate with Karzai, a key part of U.S. military plans to retain a counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan after the final withdrawal of coalition combat troops at the end of 2014.
After many months of negotiations and demands from Karzai, one of two outstanding issues was settled Friday, an agreement on the transfer of detention facilities to Afghan control. U.S. officials were optimistic that the other — whether U.S. Special Operations troops can continue conducting night raids in a bid to surprise and arrest suspected militants in their homes — would be settled by a NATO summit in May, when the alliance wants to draw up final withdrawal plans.
“This makes the absolute worst case for us and our continuing involvement” in Afghanistan, the administration official said. “It’s just awful.”
Overall, 60 percent of Americans believe the war has not been worth the loss in life and expense, according to the Post-ABC News poll, which was conducted Wednesday through Saturday, before Sunday’s attack in Kandahar province. There has been consistent majority opposition to the war for nearly two years.
Staff writers Matthew DeLong and Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.
Merkel Says 2014 German Pullout From Afghanistan Not Certain
March 12, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it is not yet clear whether German troops will actually be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2014, as is currently planned by NATO-led forces.
Speaking during a visit to German troops in Afghanistan's northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, Merkel said she and others support the 2014 withdrawal schedule but that a withdrawal then was not yet entirely certain.
The chancellor's comments come amid continued violence and instability in many areas of Afghanistan.
The Taliban has threatened revenge after a U.S. soldier killed 16 people on March 11 in a rampage in Kandahar Province.
Merkel expressed shock over the incident, calling it “a dreadful act."
Germany currently has some 5,000 troops serving in Afghanistan with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Merkel last visited Afghanistan in 2010.
With AFP and dpa reporting
Taliban's Move to Open 'Islamic Emirate Embassy' in Qatar Unacceptable
Fars News Agency March 12, 2012
TEHRAN (FNA)- A prominent member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council said that his country will not accept the opening of a political office for the Taliban in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar under the title of "Islamic Emirate Embassy".
"The opening of Taliban's office in Qatar under the name of the embassy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is against Afghanistan's national interests and is never acceptable," Advisor to the International Relations Commission of Afghanistan's High Peace Council Mohammad Ismail Qassemyar told FNA in Kabul on Monday.
As regards the upcoming visit to Qatar by an Afghan delegation, Qassemyar said that the Kabul government expects the delegation to prepare the grounds for peace talks among Afghans and assure that the Taliban office would not run counter to Afghanistan's national interests politically and legally.
Afghanistan's foreign minister will head a delegation to Qatar in the near future and the delegation will also include members of the peace council.
Earlier in January, Taliban announced that they had struck a deal to open a political office in Qatar that could allow for direct negotiations.
Some analysts are skeptical of the prospects for meaningful peace negotiations with the Taliban.
A senior Afghan political figure stressed the failure of the so-called peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar as well as Saudi Arabia's efforts in pushing the Taliban leadership ahead, and underlined that the Taliban has maintained its belligerent nature and aspirations and is the same group as it was before 2001.
"The growing number of suicide attacks shows that the Taliban has the same 'Islamic Emirate' in mind and is seeking to overthrow the existing system," Afghan opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah said in an interview with FNA last month.
"That is what it had sought before 2001 (when it was ousted from power)," the former Afghan foreign minister stated, adding that the group enjoys the same supporters as it had before.
He rejected the necessity for the establishment of a Taliban office in Doha or any other place outside Afghanistan.
Abdullah further stressed the necessity for negotiations with Taliban for the establishment of peace, and added, "We want negotiations with Taliban under the supervision of the United Nations and on Afghan soil."
Afghanistan: dash for the exit
Barack Obama will not be judged as kindly by history in Afghanistan as he was over his withdrawal from Iraq
Guardian.co.uk Editorial Sunday 11 March 2012
There is every indication that the end of Britain's fourth war in Afghanistan will be as politically driven as its disastrous entry was. The Helmand that British troops leave behind after 2014 will be as far from David Cameron's mind as Basra was from Gordon Brown's in 2007. It was not a defeat, Mr Brown said defensively at the time. Well, it certainly was not mission accomplished and our impending withdrawal from Afghanistan is not looking any better. In the meantime, British and US commanders have to ask themselves a question: what are foreign troops doing on the front line other than to prolong the misery? A week which started with the deaths of six British soldiers, ended when a US soldier went on a shooting spree killing 16 Afghan civilians, among them nine children and three women.
The reactions to the latest shootings were instructive. Nato officials referred to the deaths of civilians, not their killings, and said they were not part of an authorised Isaf military action. Hamid Karzai called the shootings "intentional murders" and demanded an explanation from the US. This is not the first time that US soldiers have gone on shooting sprees in this area. Four soldiers from a Stryker brigade are in prision for the killings in 2010 of three unarmed men in Maiwand district. They were accused of being part of a "kill team" murdering civilians for sport and dropping weapons near their bodies to make them appear as if they had been combatants. This year alone, a video showing US marines urinating on the bodies of the men they had killed caused outrage, and US troops burning copies of the Qur'an sparked nationwide protests in which 30 died and six US service members were killed by their Afghan colleagues. Further, the area where the latest killings happened is crucial to the US mission of subdu
ing the Taliban in its rural strongholds. Panjwai, southwest of Kandahar City, is no less than the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
All the signs are that the fighting will intensify in the run-up to 2014. General Sir David Richards, the head of the armed forces, said that Britain would hold its nerve in Afghanistan in the wake of the six deaths. But to achieve what? The International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a recent report, Afghanistan to 2015 and Beyond, that foreign troops would leave behind massive corruption, a huge increase in heroin production and a country reliant on foreign aid for years to come. This report highlights the unvarnished complexity of finishing what we blundered into. Stability, it says, depends on drawing the wider Pashtun community into the ruling coalition, while increasing the capabilities of the state and balancing the interests of neighbours and regional powers. To achieve any of these three objectives – as over 2,000 Afghan civilians were killed last year, the fifth successive year-on-year increase – might be regarded as ambitious. To achieve all of them must be regarded as near to impossible.
Barack Obama will not be judged as kindly by history in Afghanistan as he was over his withdrawal from Iraq. He escalated the fighting with the troop surge. He continues with night raids and drone attacks to kill the very Taliban commanders whose presence is needed to keep the peace, if it comes. He continues to prop up a regime in Kabul which is a byword for corruption. The Afghan state continues to fail its citizens, which is one reason why the Taliban is allowed to run a parallel state in large parts of the country.
Talks are in their infancy. The Taliban said that substantive discussions will only begin after the release of its top commanders held in Guantánamo Bay. But even if that hurdle is crossed, the gap in positions looms large. Hillary Clinton in her testimony to the House foreign relations committee said the Taliban would have to renounce violence, abandon al-Qaida and abide by the constitution of Afghanistan. Mullah Omar wants it rewritten to include him as the country's supreme leader. Should we be keeping our nerve, or examining our conscience?
UK's Hague faces suit over Pakistan drone strikes
Reuters By Peter Griffiths Sun Mar 11, 2012
LONDON - Lawyers for the family of a man killed in a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan said they would begin legal action against Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday, accusing him of complicity in strikes they say broke international laws.
London law firm Leigh Day & Co said it had "credible, unchallenged" evidence that Hague oversaw a policy of passing British intelligence to U.S. forces planning attacks against militants in Pakistan. It plans to issue formal proceedings against Hague at the High Court in London on behalf of Noor Khan, whose father was died in a drone attack last year.
Malik Daud Khan was part of a local "jirga", or council of elders holding a meeting in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan when a missile fired from the drone hit the group, the law firm said.
Attacks by pilotless U.S. aircraft have become a key weapon in President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan and officials say they have helped to weaken al Qaeda's leadership in the region.
However, the attacks have become a source of friction between Washington and Islamabad and have angered many Pakistanis who see them as a breach of their sovereignty and the cause of frequent civilian deaths.
Leigh Day & Co will argue that those involved in armed attacks can only claim immunity from criminal law if they are "lawful combatants" taking part in an "international armed conflict".
Khan's lawyers will say that staff working at UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in southwest England, Britain's main intelligence monitoring centre, may have broken the law. As civilians, they are not classed as combatants and could be prosecuted, the law firm said.
They will also say that Pakistan is not involved in an international conflict.
"There is credible, unchallenged evidence that (Hague) is operating a policy of passing intelligence to officials or agents of the U.S. government and that he considers such a policy to be in 'strict accordance' with the law," Richard Stein, head of human rights at Leigh Day, said in a statement.
"If this is the case, the Secretary of State has misunderstood one or more of the principles of international law governing immunity for those involved in armed attacks on behalf of a state."
A Foreign Office spokesman said it did not comment on ongoing legal proceedings. Asked whether Britain helps the United States in drone attacks, the spokesman added: "We don't comment on intelligence matters".
A key ally of Washington in neighboring Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, Britain has around 9,500 soldiers in the country. The deaths of six British soldiers in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday brought the British death toll to more than 400.
(Reporting by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Ben Harding)
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