Obama Vows Full Force of Law for Afghan Shooting Suspect

Posted March 13th, 2012 at 11:50 am (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed that the U.S. soldier suspected of going on a shooting spree that killed 16 Afghan civilians Sunday will face the full force of the law.

He told reporters at the White House Tuesday that the United States takes the incident, in his words, “as seriously as if it was our own citizens and our own children who were murdered.”

At the same time, Mr. Obama said he has extraordinary confidence in U.S. military leaders and service members stationed in Afghanistan. He also repeated that despite the killings and public outrage, there will be no hasty U.S. retreat from the country.

Meanwhile, the New York Times on Tuesday quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying the Obama administration was considering whether to further reduce the level of American forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013.

The newspaper reported that senior White House officials have been considering an accelerated U.S. withdrawal for weeks, especially in light of the violence resulting from the burning of Qurans last month by U.S. soldiers and Sunday's killings in Kandahar.

Mr. Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. will “responsibly” draw down its forces by the end of 2014, the deadline by which the U.S. and its allies plan to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan.

In violence Tuesday, suspected militants fired on an Afghan government delegation visiting one of the villages where the U.S. soldier allegedly murdered 16 civilians.

The attack in Kandahar province killed an Afghan soldier and wounded at least one policeman. No group has claimed responsibility for the shooting, but the Taliban has sworn revenge and vowed to behead Americans.

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

U.S. and Afghan officials say Sunday's incident took place when a U.S. soldier walked off his base 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 Afghan parliament condemned the killings, urging the U.S. government to punish the culprits and put them on trial in a public court.

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. 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.”