Afghans angry that shooting suspect flown out of country

The US military says it is standard procedure to move the suspect, but many Afghans are demanding the US soldier accused of killing 16 villagers in Kandahar face justice in the country.

Rahmat Gul/AP
Afghans burn an effigy depicting U.S. President Barack Obama, following Sunday's killing of civilians in Panjwai, Kandahar by a U.S. soldier, during a protest in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, March 13.

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The US soldier accused of killing 16 villagers in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province was flown to Kuwait, prompting fresh outrage among Afghans who wanted to see him stand trial in the country. The move also potentially jeopardizes a US-Afghanistan agreement to keep advisers in the country after the troop withdrawal.

Unaware that the soldier had already been taken out of the country, hundreds of Afghans took to the streets in the nearby province of Zabul to demand his trial in Afghanistan, The Washington Post reports. Kandahar lawmaker Mohammed Nayem Hamidzai told the Post that news of the soldier’s departure would likely spur “fresh outrage.”

US military spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings said the Afghan government knew of US plans to take the suspect out of the country and called it “routine standard operating procedure” when preparing to try someone in the military justice system, The Washington Post reports. No charges have yet been filed.

The soldier is accused of walking off his base in southern Afghanistan and into a village in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar on March 11, and shooting the victims in their homes. Afterward, he turned himself in, and was held by the US military in Afghanistan until he was flown out to Kuwait.

"This is really about being able to ensure that we can execute this investigation and the judicial proceedings fairly and properly," said Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the second most senior US commander in Afghanistan, according to Reuters.

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The Christian Science Monitor reported that US troops in Afghanistan fall under the Military Technical Agreement, “which ensures that any US service member accused of wrongdoing will be held accountable by US military law and proceedings.” The question of who handles the court hearing and assigns the punishment has long been a controversial issue in Afghanistan, as it was in Iraq.

The Afghan government has previously agreed to go along with the Military Technical Agreement, but local pushback to the arrangement and demands that international coalition troops stand trial in Afghan courts are growing, the Monitor reports.

“I’m sure that the government will start talking to the foreigners about the prosecution of the foreign soldiers in Afghanistan after this incident. The Afghan government looks serious about it now,” says Rohullah Qarizada, head of Afghanistan’s Bar Association. “In the past, foreign soldiers committed crimes and the Afghan government could not prosecute them. Now I believe the Afghan government learned from the past and it will talk to the Americans about it.”

Shekiba Hashimi, a member of parliament from Kandahar and part of the team investigating the incident, warned that removing the suspect from the country would only exacerbate local anger. “If he is not tried and punished in the country, people will rise up against the Americans,” she told Reuters.

The Taliban have threatened to behead US personnel in the country in retaliation for the shooting, and insurgents have attacked Afghan officials who are investigating the incident. Earlier this week, Afghans called on President Hamid Karzai to reject an agreement that would allow US advisers to remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal date of 2014, Reuters reports.

Negotiations were difficult even before the shooting and now many Afghan lawmakers are telling Mr. Karzai to refuse to sign the agreement unless the suspect is tried in the country, the Associated Press reports.

Abdul Khaliq Balakarzai, another Kandahar lawmaker, said President Hamid Karzai should respond to the U.S. decision to move the soldier by refusing to sign the strategic partnership agreement. "If the trial was in Afghanistan, the people would see that America doesn't like this soldier and wants to punish him," said Balakarzai. "But unfortunately America ignored our demand."

Despite this, the overall reaction to the shooting has been much more subdued than the reaction to last month’s Quran burning by US troops. The Afghan government has worked to persuade Afghans not to protest, according to AP.

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