US officials react to killing of Afghan civilians by an American soldier

US officials are scrambling to understand the reported killing of more than a dozen Afghan civilians by an American soldier. A new poll shows most Americans don't think the war is worth the costs.

Allauddin Khan/AP
Afghan soldiers walk past a US Army soldier outside of a military base in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday. A US service member from the base killed more than a dozen people in a shooting, including nine children and three women.

American officials were scrambling Sunday to understand the reported killing of more than a dozen Afghan civilians by an American soldier.

In a statement Sunday, President Obama said he is “deeply saddened” by the killing of villagers, most of them women and children.

"This incident is tragic and shocking, and does not represent the exceptional character of our military and the respect that the United States has for the people of Afghanistan," Obama said in a statement. "I offer my condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, and to the people of Afghanistan, who have endured too much violence and suffering.”

According to reports from the area, a soldier (identified initially as a US army staff sergeant acting alone) left his base in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province at about 3 a.m. local time, walking to a village where he entered three homes and started shooting. He then returned to his base, where he was taken into custody.

"I gave President Karzai my assurances that we will bring those responsible to justice," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement. "We will spare no effort in getting the facts as quickly as possible, and we will hold any perpetrator who is responsible for this violence fully accountable under the law."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had called the attack on civilian villagers an “inhuman and intentional act” and an “assassination.”

IN PHOTOS: Afghanistan fighting continues 

The Taliban lost no time in condemning the Panjway killings,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “describing them as ‘genocide’ that resulted from a U.S. night raid.”

 "The so-called American peacekeepers have once again quenched their thirst with the blood of innocent Afghan civilians," the Taliban statement said.

The incident comes at a troubled time for US-led efforts to reduce the influence of Taliban insurgents and secure peace in Afghanistan. Just two days earlier, four Afghan civilians were killed when NATO helicopters fired on those thought to be Taliban insurgents.

Reaction to the recent “inadvertent” burning of Muslim holy books taken from Taliban prisoners by US soldiers has led to violent protests that killed some 30 people as well as the killing of six US service members.

The latest attack on civilians – apparently wanton and no accident, as most such civilian deaths have been – increases the pressure to withdraw American forces there ahead of the 2014 timeframe.

"I think that we have to reassess the entire region," Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Sunday on television news shows. "I think we're risking the lives of young men and women in a mission that frankly may not be doable."

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll out Sunday reflects this feeling across the American public.

“Overall views of the war in Afghanistan are in the pits,” the Washington Post reported in its analysis of the new poll. “Sixty percent of Americans see the war as not worth its costs, nearly double the 35 percent saying the decade-long effort has warranted the expense and lost lives…. Also for the first time, more Republicans ‘strongly’ see the war as not worth fighting as see it as strongly justifying its costs.”

Overall, 54 percent of all Americans want to pull out US troops from Afghanistan even if the Afghan army is not adequately trained to carry on the fight, the poll finds.
“One key driver – across party lines – is a broadly held view that most Afghans are not supportive of U.S. efforts there,” the Washington Post reported Sunday. “Just 30 percent of Americans sense that most Afghans endorse what the United States is trying to do.”

IN PHOTOS: Afghanistan fighting continues 

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