Obama Vows Full Accountability for Afghan Killings

Posted March 13th, 2012 at 7:20 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama says he is determined to ensure there is full accountability for the killing of 16 Afghan civilians Sunday, allegedly at the hands of a U.S. Army sergeant.

He told reporters at the White House Tuesday that the United States takes the incident “as seriously as if it were our own citizens and own children who were murdered.” He said the killing of innocent civilians “is outrageous and unacceptable” and does not represent “who we are as a country” or represent the U.S. military.

Mr. Obama said he met Tuesday with the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, and the top commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Lieutenant General John Allen. The president said he has extraordinary confidence in U.S. military leaders and service members stationed there. He repeated that despite the killings and public outrage, there will be no hasty U.S. retreat from the country.

President Obama noted that a total of 33,000 troops will be withdrawn by the end of the year. Currently, there are about 91,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, with another 34,000 to 37,000 NATO forces.

The president said that although there is no doubt the United States and its allies face a difficult challenge, the work of devastating al-Qaida's leadership and denying the terror group safe haven will continue.

In violence Tuesday, Taliban militants attacked a memorial service in southern Kandahar province for the 16 villagers shot dead Sunday, killing an Afghan soldier and wounding a policeman.

The assailants struck as members of a delegation from Kabul, including two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers and provincial government officials, attended the service.

The Taliban had vowed to avenge the massacre of the 16 Afghans, many of them women and children.

In the eastern city of Jalalabad, hundreds of university students protested in the first significant public demonstration against Sunday's killings. Many of the marchers chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Obama.”

U.S. officials had warned the incident could lead to a surge in anti-American violence in Afghanistan. But, so far, the response has been muted compared with the public outrage following last month's inadvertent burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base near Kabul. That led to a week of deadly protests and attacks against U.S. forces.

U.S. and Afghan officials say Sunday's carnage took place when a U.S. soldier walked off his base and shot and killed civilians in their homes in the Panjwai district of Kandahar. Many of the victims were children. Villagers say he set some of the bodies on fire.

Specialists in U.S. military law say that if a series of investigations finds sufficient legal evidence, the Army sergeant will be charged and face a court martial. He could face the death penalty.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Tuesday that the military needs to learn from these “tragic events” and “do everything possible to make sure that they don't happen again.”


AP feed: (English) Barack Obama, US President:

“Over the weekend, as many of you know, there was a tragic incident in which a number of Afghan civilians were killed. What I've made (sic) to President Karzai when I spoke to him is that the United States takes this as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered. We're heartbroken over the loss of innocent life. The killing of innocent civilians is outrageous and it's unacceptable. It's not who we are as a country, and it does not represent our military. And for that reason I've 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.”

(English) Barack Obama, US President:

“Today I'll be meeting with (British) Prime Minister (David) Cameron, who's part of our broad coalition serving in Afghanistan, and we'll have an opportunity to consult about the way forward as we prepare for the NATO summit in Chicago later this spring. Make no mistake, we have a strategy that will allow us to responsibly wind down this war. We are steadily transitioning to the Afghans who are moving into the lead and that's going to allow us to bring our troops home. Already we are scheduled to remove 23,000 troops by the end of this summer, following the 10,000 that we withdrew last year. Meanwhile, we will continue the work of devastating al-Qaida's leadership and denying them a safe haven.”

(English) Barack Obama, US President:

“There is no question that we face a difficult challenge in Afghanistan, but I am confident that we can continue meeting the work of our objectives, protecting our country and responsibly bringing this war to a close.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta:

“War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They've taken place in any war. They're terrible events, and this is not the first of those events, and it probably won't be the last.”

“We need to learn from these tragic events, and we need to do everything possible to make sure that they don't happen again. But having said that, it's important that we push on and that we bring this war to a responsible end and achieve the mission that all of us are embarked on.”

AP feed: (Pashto) Abdul Samad, who lost 10 members of his family in the attack:

“In one of the rooms they have martyred four, in another they have martyred two, in the other they have martyred four and then all the bodies were brought together and were burnt. I am asking these elders Karzai, the minister, whoever is the elder that the culprits should be handed over to Afghanistan and put on trial in Afghanistan.”

(Pashto) General Shir Mohammad Karimi, Afghan Army Chief of Staff:

“Innocent people have been killed and this individual, who has done it, has committed a crime. It is a crime. Now we are looking into why this individual carried out this action.”