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Afghan Killings Provoke More Discussion of US Mission

Luis Ramirez

The recent shooting of Afghan civilians allegedly by a U.S. soldier is provoking more discussion about the future of America's mission in Afghanistan. The shooting and other recent incidents involving U.S. forces are prompting calls for a reexamination of Washington's exit strategy.

Anti-American demonstrations in Afghanistan are a contrast from a decade ago, when many Afghans welcomed U.S. troops and the end of Taliban rule.

But soon, the United States concentrated its efforts on Iraq and, some say, neglected Afghanistan.  And the conflict has become the longest war in American history.  

Dan Wagner, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, his first one early in the war.

“There was a sense of optimism.  There was a sense of possibility.  We had just gotten started there, really, and we began to make some inroads in terms of building infrastructure and governance, so there was a sense of possibility,” Wagner said.  

That optimism faded as the war continued and Afghan welcomes turned to protests, most notably after incidents such as the recent inadvertent burning of the Quran by U.S. forces and an American soldier's alleged shooting rampage.  

Wagner says he saw Afghan attitudes toward U.S. forces change.

“The difference in what happened in 2011, in my most recent tour when I was dealing with the local population, is more pessimism. I would say [there was] more uncertainty and skepticism about our long-term commitment and what their future was going to be,” Wagner said.

For U.S. infantrymen in Afghanistan, mistrust and resentment among the local population means a nightmare scenario on the front, where some U.S. troops report it is often difficult to tell who is a friend and who is an enemy.  

The stresses of a long, complicated war have prompted calls by some U.S. politicians for an early withdrawal.  Some have pointed to the stress on U.S. forces as a possible contributor to incidents such as the recent shooting rampage.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has gone to Afghanistan and denounced the soldier’s apparent rampage.  He also pledged that there will be no change in America's fundamental strategy to transfer security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

Washington says that overall the effort has been successful, with more than half of Afghanistan now under government control.

President Barack Obama said recently that although the U.S. is not speeding up the withdrawal, it is not ruling out possible adjustments to the plan.

“Meanwhile, we will continue the work of devastating the al-Qaida leadership and denying them a safe haven,” Obama said.

After its pullout in 2014, the United States says it will support the Afghan government mostly with special operations forces and drones.

It is part of a new strategy that includes staying engaged with the Afghan leadership, but with a less visible presence.

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