A mass homicide allegedly perpetrated by a U.S. Army sergeant in Afghanistan will not alter President Obama's strategy for the decade-old war, the White House insisted Monday amid calls from analysts to double down on planning for a faster withdrawal.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama's strategy of beating down al Qaeda while preventing the Taliban from regaining control, in place since 2009, is not tied to "any single event." Nor will the killing of 16 Afghan civilians by a 38-year-old American staff sergeant alter the president's "strategic imperative" of defeating and dismantling al Qaeda while also preventing it from again operating from Afghan soil, Carney said. President Obama and Defense Secertary Leon Panetta spoke Sunday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to express Washington's condolences.
Taliban leaders have publicly condemned the mass murder of civilians, and have vowed revenge. The incident comes just a few weeks after U.S. forces allegedly burned Korans and other holy Muslim texts by mistake. That incident prompted Afghan soldiers and an apparent Taliban agent to kill four American solders, while thousands of angry Afghans took to the streets in sometimes-violent protests.
The Pentagon announced Monday it is investigating the most recent incident, which reportedly involved a soldier from a Stryker brigade based at Fort Lewis in Washington state. The commander in chief expects "accountability" at the end of that probe, Carney said.
Obama has U.S. forces on pace to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. He already has implemented a partial drawdown that will see about 60,000 American troops there this fall; about 80,000 are there now.
Carney several times noted Obama and other NATO leaders will discuss their collective Afghan strategy--including the pace of the pull out--in May during a major forum in Chicago.
Several defense analysts took to social media on Sunday to say the mass homicide likely will not put a major damper on ongoing U.S.-Afghan talks about the transition of security and decision-making to indigenous forces and officials. But, they agreed, the incidents make the talks all the more important.
To that end, Carney noted in the days following the Koran burning, officials from both nations got back to work negotiating a detainee-transfer accord that was announced on Friday.
"The president understands the impact a decade of was has had on our armed forces," as well as their families and the U.S. economy, Carney said.
"We need to face the fact that the tragic killing of Afghan civilians by a U.S. solider only highlights the growing problem the U.S faces in creating any kind of strategy for Afghanistan that can survive engagement with reality," says Anthony Cordesman, a Pentagon adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Cordesman says Obama administration officials should "look beyond the latest incident, and focus on the broader patterns in U.S.-Afghan relations." Specifically, Washington should "realize that its current strategy is becoming a facade that can only make things worse."
U.S. officials should either acknowledge they are "headed toward an exit strategy" or come up with yet another strategy for Afghanistan that sets in motion "a real transition strategy based on credible goals, credible resources, and doing things the Afghan way," Cordesman says.
The killings are expected to hinder U.S.-Afghan relations and complicate Obama's efforts to end the war in 2014, according to the influential Council on Foreign Relations.
"They could set back already heated strategic partnership talks between U.S. and Afghan officials to define the U.S. presence and role in the country after the withdrawal of combat troops; one sticking point that remains is U.S. night raids on Afghan houses," according to the council.