The killing of 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, allegedly by a rogue U.S. military serviceman, is not likely to lead to any significant changes in the planned troop drawdown of Western forces by 2014, going by statements made by top administration officials here.
In comments to the media at the United Nations Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as describing the killings as “inexplicable,” and noting that “This terrible incident does not change our steadfast dedication to protecting the Afghan people and to doing everything we can to build a strong and stable Afghanistan.”
The incident on Saturday, in which a U.S. soldier left his base in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province and allegedly sprayed the residents of an adjoining village compound with bullets, has led to angry protests in several parts of the country.
On Tuesday a memorial service for the victims of the attacks came under fire from reported Taliban fighters who were said to be targeting senior officials in the Afghan government and military in attendance.
Even as protests continued unabated, Pentagon and White House officials hinted that they viewed the shooting as an isolated event, and Ms. Clinton argued, “I hope that everyone understands in Afghanistan and around the world that the U.S. is committed to seeing Afghanistan continue its move toward a stable, secure, prosperous, democratic state.”
The strongest remarks however came from Secretary of State Leon Panetta, who said to media during a trip to Kyrgyzstan that the soldier, if found responsible for the shootings, may face the death penalty. The Guardian reported that when asked whether the death penalty could be considered in this case, Mr. Panetta replied, “My understanding is that in these instances that could be a consideration.”
Describing the events around the time of the shooting Mr. Panetta said, “He went out in the early morning and went to these homes and fired on these families. And then at some point after that, came back to the forward operating base and basically turned himself in, told individuals what had happened." The Secretary said that he suspected that the soldier had then confessed.
While media reports suggested that the soldier was a 38-year-old father of two, his name has not been made public yet.