Panetta: Death Penalty Possible For Soldier in Afghan Massacre
As US officials debated the possibility of reducing the American presence in Afghanistan by an additional 23,000 troops by 2013, militants launched an attack on Afghan officials visiting the site where a US soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday. An Afghan soldier and three militants were killed according to police in Kandahar. Two of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brothers were in the delegation, which is now heading back to Kandahar from the village of Panjwai where the killings occurred. Witnesses reported “bullets coming like rain” for ten minutes, says Al Jazeera.
In the eastern city of Jahalabad, some 400 students took to the streets chanting “Death to America – Death to Obama” and burning an effigy of the US President.
The violence and demonstrations portend more of the same. According to Al Jazeera, the Taliban in Afghanistan “threatened on Tuesday to behead US troops in revenge for the killings.” Abdul Rahim Ayoubi, a member of the Afghan parliament from Kandahar, said that many local residents were still deciding how to respond and that “once they decide, there will be no army, no force that can stop them.”
Eleven of those killed by the US soldier were all from one family. 60-year-old Abdul Samad had considered his home in Panjwai near an American military base to be safe, says the New York Times. Once a “believer in the offensive against the Taliban,” Samad — after seeing the wounded and burned bodies of his wife, four daughters between the ages of 2 and 6, four sons between 8 and 12 and two other relatives — wants the Americans out of his country.
President Obama has promised a full investigation of the killings. A weekend poll said that most Americans favor an early withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and do not think the war is worth the cost; Obama has still expressed concerns about “a rush for the exits” from Afghanistan where some 130,000 combat troops from the US and its NATO allies are to be stationed until 2014. The US currently has just under 90,000 troops in Afghanistan with 22,000 scheduled to return to the US in September. There is yet no timetable for the remaining 68,000 troops to leave, though Obama has said they will be withdrawn “at a steady pace.”
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also said that the soldier, who is now in custody after turning himself in following the shootings on Sunday, will be tried under the US military legal code and could face the death penalty.
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