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Soldier's killing spree: Is end of Afghanistan war near? (+video)

Widespread Afghan outrage could force the US to accelerate plans to bring the Afghanistan war to a close. But that hasn't happened yet, and military officials are wary of a quick withdrawal.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / March 13, 2012

An Afghan soldier carries a rocket propelled grenade on his shoulder as he walk towards the site where militants opened fire on a delegation of senior Afghan officials in Panjwai, Afghanistan, Tuesday.

Allauddin Khan/AP

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Washington

Pentagon officials have been adamant that the vicious shooting spree of a US soldier who killed 16 Afghan civilians this week – mostly women and children – will not affect the US military’s way forward in Afghanistan.

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the US, Nato and Afghanistan must all stick to their strategy in the Afghan war. He called the shooting rampage by a US soldier the sort of 'terrible event' that happens in every war.

“War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They’ve taken place in any war,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday. “But we cannot allow these events to undermine our strategy or the mission that we’re involved in.”

But will the Pentagon have a choice? The intensity of the public reaction to the killings – either in Afghanistan or America – could determine whether the US military will be forced to make a change in strategy, says retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who was commander of US forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

“A lot is going to depend on the Afghan perceptions of this event – and secondly, the US and international perceptions of this event,” says General Barno.

The White House is mulling the possibility of stepping up its timeline for withdrawal. The shooting Sunday “makes me more determined to make sure we’re getting our troops home,” President Obama told a CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh. “It’s time. It’s been a decade and, frankly, now that we’ve gotten [Osama] bin Laden, now that we’ve weakened Al Qaeda, we’re in a stronger position to transition than we would have been two or three years ago.”

Obama administration officials face a balancing act in the months to come. While they will want to emphasize achievements on the ground, they will also be eager to transition security control to Afghan forces in pursuit of a graceful exit.

Yet US military officials remain reluctant to drawdown forces. One White House proposal reportedly on the table would have 10,000 US troops leaving by year’s end, and another 10,000 by mid-2013. The mid-2013 date, however, concerns commanders on the ground, who have made it clear that they don’t like giving up troops before the end of the fighting season, which runs from spring until autumn. 

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