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March 11, 2012

US: No Change in Afghan Strategy After Shooting Spree

by Dan Robinson

As the U.S. military investigates the shooting deaths of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly by a U.S. soldier, the White House is emphasizing the importance of pressing ahead with President Barack Obama's overall strategy and timetable in Afghanistan.

The house-to-house shooting spree, allegedly by a U.S. Army staff sergeant, was the latest blow to an already fragile U.S.-Afghanistan relationship.

In his telephone call on Sunday to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, President Obama called the incident tragic and shocking, adding that it did not represent the "exceptional character" of the U.S. military or the "respect that the U.S. has for the people of Afghanistan."

Watch a related report by Luis Ramirez

The incident came only a few weeks after apparently accidental burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan.  The deadly demonstrations that followed resulted in the shooting deaths of six U.S. soldiers by Afghan counterparts.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday referred to the U.S. military's investigation.  After the Quran burning incident last month, President Obama apologized to Afghanistan's people.  And Carney said America's overall strategy remains on track.

"I am sure there will be discussions ongoing between U.S. military leaders as well as civilian leaders in Afghanistan and the Afghan government in the wake of this incident.  But our strategic objectives have not changed and they will not change," Carney said.

Carney said the situation in Afghanistan is difficult, with significant challenges for U.S. troops.  But, he said, U.S. and NATO forces are there to enhance American security interests by disrupting, dismantling and ultimately defeating al-Qaida.

The United States and its NATO partners have set 2014 as the target date for ending their combat mission in Afghanistan, while seeking to turn over security responsibilities to Afghan government forces more quickly before then.

Asked whether President Obama is concerned that the latest incident places Americans in Afghanistan in jeopardy, Carney said Mr. Obama is always very concerned about the welfare and well-being of U.S. civilians and members of the military.

Pentagon spokesman George Little called the shooting incident "deplorable," but said such incidents are isolated.  He said the United States will pursue what he called "accountability actions" to the fullest extent, but stressed continuity in the Afghan war effort.

"The reality is that our fundamental strategy is not changing.  There has been a series of troubling incidents recently, but no one should think that we are steering away from our partnership with the Afghan people, from our partnership with the Afghan national security forces, and from our commitment to prosecute the war effort," Little said.

The shooting rampage came as a Washington Post-ABC News public opinion survey found that 55 percent of Americans say they believe most Afghans oppose U.S. objectives there, with 54 percent favoring a U.S. withdrawal, even before Afghan forces are self-sufficient.

Under an order President Obama gave last year, about 33,000 U.S. troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year.