Panetta: Civilian Shooting Deaths Will Not Undermine US-Afghan Relations

Posted March 14th, 2012 at 8:20 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says recent violence in Afghanistan — including a deadly shooting spree allegedly by a U.S. soldier — will not deter the United States from carrying out its mission in the country.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Wednesday Panetta met with Afghan provincial officials while touring Afghanistan. Panetta's visit, which was planned weeks in advance, comes just days after the U.S. soldier allegedly murdered 16 civilians outside Kandahar and follows weeks of deadly Afghan protests that erupted after revelations that U.S. soldiers had improperly disposed of Qurans.

Little said Panetta told the provincial leaders that such incidents do not represent the Afghan people, Afghan security forces, or U.S. and coalition forces — “the vast majority of whom,” he said, are trying to do “the right thing.”

Meanwhile, officials say Afghans investigating Sunday's shooting have been shown surveillance video of the accused soldier surrendering at his base. They say the footage was released in an effort to dispel rumors that more than one shooter was involved in the incident.

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said Wednesday that his government has been assured that U.S. authorities will take “appropriate action,” punishing those responsible to the “maximum extent” possible.

A day earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States takes the incident as seriously as if it were its own citizens who were murdered. He also insisted that despite the public outrage, there will be no hasty U.S. retreat from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, in violence Wednesday, a roadside bomb killed eight civilians in Helmand province. Earlier, in neighboring Kandahar province, a motorcycle bomb killed one Afghan security officer and wounded at least two other people.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Taliban had vowed to avenge the recent murder of Afghan civilians. On Tuesday, Taliban militants opened fire on a memorial service for the 16 slain villagers in Kandahar, killing an Afghan soldier and wounding a policeman.