Afghan President Hamid Karzai expresses concern, Friday, over the manner in which the US is handling the investigation into the recent massacre of 16 Afghan civilians.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday that he was at "the end of the rope" with the United States, which he accused of not fully cooperating with an investigation into the massacre of 16 Afghan villagers. Karzai also questioned whether only one soldier could have been involved.
A series of blunders by the United States, including the killings in Kandahar province on Sunday and the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base last month, has strained already tense relations between the countries.
"This has been going on for too long. You have heard me before. It is by all means the end of the rope here," Karzai told reporters at the heavily fortified presidential palace.
Flanked by senior officials, Karzai listened to village elders and the families of victims of the massacre, and dressed somberly in black for the start of an expected two days of talks to discuss the killings.
Some at the meeting shouted, some demanded answers, but all said they wanted any soldiers involved punished.
"I don't want any compensation. I don't want money, I don't want a trip to Mecca, I don't want a house. I want nothing. But what I absolutely want is the punishment of the Americans. This is my demand, my demand, my demand and my demand," said one villager, whose brother was killed in the nighttime slaughter.
Furious Afghans and lawmakers have demanded that the soldier responsible be tried in Afghanistan, but despite those calls, the U.S. staff sergeant was flown out on Wednesday to Kuwait. He reported was on his way to the United States on Friday.
"The army chief has just reported that the Afghan investigation team did not receive the cooperation that they expected from the United States. Therefore these are all questions that we'll be raising, and raising very loudly, and raising very clearly," Karzai said.
Karzai appeared to back the belief of the villagers, and many other Afghans including the country's parliament, that one gunman acting alone could not have killed so many people, and in different locations some distance apart.
"They believe it's not possible for one person to do that. In (one) family, in four rooms people were killed, women and children were killed, and they were all brought together in one room and then put on fire. That one man cannot do," Karzai said.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, has been deployed three times to Iraq where officials say he suffered a traumatic head injury. NBC's Miguel Almaguer reports.
Karzai also is now insisting that U.S. forces retreat from rural areas immediately and let Afghans take the lead in security next year. But the White House and the Pentagon said Friday that nothing would collapse the war plan, even after the massacre, the inadvertent Quran burnings by U.S. soldiers and the deaths of seven American servicemen at the hands of their allies.
President Barack Obama called Karzai on Friday seeking clarification on the demand concerning U.S. troops in rural areas, and White House press secretary Jay Carney said the leaders agreed to keep discussing the matter, which is at the heart of the military strategy.
"I think that the two men were very much on the same page" about gradually handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces, with U.S. and other international troops switching to a support role throughout Afghanistan sometime in 2013, Carney said. A final transition to Afghan control is supposed to happen by the end of 2014.
Polls have shown that up to 60 percent of Americans say it's time to end the war in Afghanistan. And that's not lost on the administration.
"The Afghan people are tired of war," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, just back from Afghanistan, acknowledged on Friday. "The American people share some of that tiredness after 10 years of war, as well. All of that's understandable."
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