By ANNE FLAHERTY and LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The decade-long war in Afghanistan has spiraled into a series of U.S. missteps and violent outbreaks that have left few ardent political supporters.
After NATO detained a U.S. soldier Sunday for allegedly killing sleeping Afghan villagers, Republicans and Democrats alike pointed to the stress on troops after years of fighting and reiterated calls to leave by the end of 2014 as promised, if not sooner.
Afghanistan, once the must-fight war for America, is becoming a public relations headache for the nation's leaders, especially for President Barack Obama.
And there's recognition of that problem on both sides.
"It's just not a good situation," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "Our troops are under such tremendous pressure in Afghanistan. It's a war like no other war we've been involved in. ... We're moving out, as the president said. I think it's the right thing to do."
Many Republicans —who as a party fought against a quick exodus in Iraq and criticized Obama's 2008 presidential campaign promise to end the war — are now reluctant to embrace a continued commitment in Afghanistan.
In the wake of the shootings and the recent burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. military base, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said Monday, "Given all of these additional problems, we have to either make a decision to make a full commitment, which this president has not done, or we have to decide to get out and probably get out sooner" than 2014. Santorum spoke on NBC's "Today" show.
"There's something profoundly wrong with the way we're approaching the whole region, and I think it's going to get substantially worse, not better," said GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. "I think that we're risking the lives of young men and women in a mission that may, frankly, not be doable."
American voters appear frustrated as well. In results from a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday, 55 percent of respondents said they think most Afghans oppose what the United States is trying to do there. And 60 percent said the war in Afghanistan has been "not worth fighting."
The latest incident in Afghanistan was disturbing: At 3 a.m. Sunday, an wwAmerican staff sergeant from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., allegedly wandered 500 yards from a special operations base in the southern Kandahar province and began shooting villagers as they slept. As many as 16 Afghans were killed, including nine children, before the shooter apparently returned to base and turned himself in.
One eyewitness described the body of a young boy, apparently wearing red pajamas, lying lifeless in the back of a minibus. That and other searing images, including an AP photographer's confirmation of burned bodies at the scene, easily eclipsed Friday's upbeat announcement that the U.S. and Afghanistan had agreed on the transfer of Afghan detainees to Afghan control.
Obama and top U.S. officials quickly condemned the attack and offered their condolences to families of the victims. Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Afghan President Hamid Karzai, both vowing to hold any perpetrators accountable.
Their statements stopped short of a full apology but appeared to want to ward off any retaliatory attacks, like those seen recently after U.S. officials acknowledged the burning of Muslim holy books at an air base in Afghanistan. Six U.S. service members were killed in attacks immediately following that revelation, including two American officers who were assassinated while working inside a heavily protected Afghan ministry.
"This deeply appalling incident in no way represents the values of (U.S. and coalition troops) or the abiding respect we feel for the Afghan people," Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said Sunday. "Nor does it impugn or diminish the spirit of cooperation and partnership we have worked so hard to foster with the Afghan National Security Forces."