U.S. President Barack Obama says there will be no hasty retreat from Afghanistan after the shooting deaths of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by a U.S. soldier.
In an interview with KABC television in Los Angeles Monday, Mr. Obama cautioned against what he calls a “rush to the exits” which he says could lead to more chaos and disaster.
He said U.S. troops are on a path to leave Afghanistan responsibly by 2014. He said he expressed his condolences for the civilian killings to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and said U.S. authorities will bring the full weight of the law on the alleged gunman.
U.S. and Afghan officials say a U.S. soldier walked off his base Sunday and shot and killed civilians in their homes in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar. Many of the victims were children. Villagers say he set some of the bodies on fire.
The Taliban said it will avenge the death of every Afghan 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 Monday said they have “run out of patience” with the lack of oversight of foreign soldiers.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the United Nations, 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.”
The Pentagon says a full investigation is underway.
NATO officials say the suspect is a U.S. Army staff sergeant who acted alone and turned himself in. The Pentagon has not released his name. But a U.S. official has told news agencies that he is a 38 year-old father of two and recently suffered a head injury in a vehicle accident while on duty in Iraq.
Specialists in U.S. military law say that if a series of investigations finds sufficient legal evidence, the Army sergeant will be charged and will face a court martial.
Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, says there is no chance the suspect will be turned over to the Afghan court system. Fidell says he is likely to remain in U.S. military custody and may be held outside of Afghanistan.