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Afghanistan's President Karzai: Get US troops out of our villages

The President of Afghanistan is asking the U.S. to hand over all security responsibilities by 2013. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET: Afghanistan's president on Thursday called for U.S. and other foreign forces in Afghanistan to leave villages in the country and move to larger bases instead, according to Hamid Karzai's office.

In a statement -- which comes amid the ongoing controversy over the killing of 16 Afghan civilians in Panjwai, Kandahar province, allegedly by a lone U.S. soldier -- Karzai's office said he had made the request to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and said that "Afghan Security forces currently have the ability to secure the villages around the country."


The statement also said that NATO-led foreign forces needed to have "complete respect for their religion and the Afghan culture. No foreign troops should enter Afghans homes. And they should pay more attention on reconstruction and financial support for our country."

The American soldier accused of gunning down 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, has been flown out of Afghanistan to Kuwait. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

"Karzai said that both sides should work on accelerating the process and that they should hand over all the security responsibilities in 2013 instead of 2014," it added.

"We demand that the process move quickly and they transfer authority into Afghan hands," it added.

In a near-simultaneous announcement, the Afghan Taliban said it was suspending nascent peace talks with the United States seen as a strong chance to end the country's decade-long conflict, blaming "shaky, erratic and vague" U.S. statements.

The White House denied Taliban accusations and insisted that Washington had been consistent in its message.

"We support an Afghan-led process toward reconciliation. There is no likely resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan without a political resolution," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

At the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. is still "prepared to continue these discussions," but will "have to see where this goes now," NBC News reported. "We still feel that if there is a process that can be supported that we ought to do that ... Our only goal is to get Afghans to sit down together," she said.

Nuland said the process so far has had a "lot of ups and downs."

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visits with troops on Wednesday at Forward Operating Base Shukvani, Afghanistan.

Gavin Sundwall, U.S. Embassy spokesman in Kabul, echoed the comments, NBC News said.

On Karzai’s statement, he also said, “The transition to Afghan security lead is already under way,” NBC News reported. “About half of all Afghans currently live in areas where Afghan security forces are taking responsibility.”

He said NATO will decide the next phase of transition including the shift of coalition forces to a support role in 2013.

'Cruel and brutal'
The announcement from Karzai's office said Panetta had "once again paid his condolences to the Afghan President and to the people of Afghanistan on the behalf of his government and his people for the Panjwai incident."

Karzai described the killings of the 16 people, including women and children, as "a cruel and brutal action."

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"The President also added that this incident has lost their trust with Afghans," the statement said.

The soldier accused of carrying out the Panjwai shooting was based at a small special forces compound similar to others around the country that underpin NATO's counter-insurgency strategy.

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The killings on Sunday have raised questions about Western strategy in Afghanistan and intensified calls for the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.

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Panetta discussed the massacre with Karzai at his heavily guarded palace and faced demands from the Afghan leader that any trial be transparent.

"I assured him first and foremost that I shared his regrets about what took place. I again pledged to him that we are proceeding with a full investigation here and that we will bring the individual involved to justice. He accepted that," Panetta told reporters before leaving Afghanistan.

It appears highly unlikely that the staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians will be returned to Afghanistan for court martial. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

Taliban suspends peace talks
The Afghan Taliban, which describes itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, said it had decided to suspend peace talks after opening a diplomatic office in Qatar earlier this year to enable talks to go ahead.

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"It seems that the invading Americans and their stooge regime took advantage of these measures of Islamic Emirate and sought to achieve other malicious objectives and therefore are postponing the core issues and are wasting time," the Taliban said.

"So the Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from today onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time," it added.

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The austere Islamist movement said it was fully prepared to continue its "long-term Jihadi strategies" as the traditional summer fighting months approached, following a harsh winter which had dulled fighting in several volatile provinces.

In the latest attack, a roadside bomb killed 13 Afghan civilians, including women and children, and wounded two on Thursday in the south of the country, provincial officials said.

More than 3,000 civilians were killed in the war in Afghanistan in 2011, the fifth year in a row the number has risen, according to the United Nations.

NBC News and Reuters contributed to this report.

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