Inside Story America

What will Afghan anger mean for US policies?

Following the killing of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier, we ask whether US war strategy can remain intact.

It was allegedly an early Sunday morning rampage by a US army staff sergeant who left his base and killed 16 nearby villagers – all of them civilians and nine of them children.

The incident was met with anger in Afghanistan, and some Afghans are now calling for an earlier than planned US troop withdrawal. There are also demands that Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, reject a planned strategic pact with the US for the time after the 2014 troop withdrawal.

The anger this time is exceptional, this is a very exceptional incident. I don’t think President Obama or the US government can go with business as usual. There has to be some action that gives the Afghan people some comfort that this incident was dealt with and that the US government is actually a responsible government.

– Waheed Omer,  a former spokesperson for President Karzai

But the White House says the war strategy remains intact. Barack Obama, the US president, says he is committed to winding down the war “responsibly” and a decision on troop numbers is not anticipated before a NATO summit in Chicago in May.

On Tuesday, hundreds of demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans, and the Taliban said they will revenge the “inhumane crime”.

Also on Tuesday, Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan delegation while they were visiting the site of the murders. One Afghan soldier was killed and two other men were wounded. The group that was targeted included two of Karzai’s brothers.

Nevertheless, Obama insists that the Pentagon’s plans for a withdrawal in 2014 are still on track.

He said: “We have a strategy that will allow us to responsibly wind down this war. We are steadily transitioning to the Afghans who are moving into the lead and that’s going to allow us to bring our troops home. Already we’re scheduled to remove 23,000 troops by the end of this summer, following the 10,000 that we withdrew last year. Meanwhile, we will continue the work of devastating al-Qaeda’s leadership and denying them a safe haven.”

Panicking into a quick withdrawal is not a solution.”

– Masood Aziz, a former Afghan diplomat

The White House says this incident will not change US policies, but will it change Afghan attitudes towards Washington’s attempts to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014? And how will the rising anger on Afghanistan’s streets impact any future agreement between the US and Afghanistan?

To discuss this, Inside Story Americas is joined by: Mark Jacobson, a former deputy NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan who advised General Petraeus; Masood Aziz, a former senior adviser to the ambassador of Afghanistan in the US; and Lieutenant Colonel Tony Schaffer, a former intelligence officer with the US army who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies.

“I think we need to reconsider the whole region. We need to understand that our being in the middle of countries like Afghanistan is probably counter-productive. We’re not prepared to be ruthless enough to force them to change and yet we’re clearly an alien presence.”

Newt Gingrich, Republican presidential candidate


  • Protests erupt in Afghanistan over the killing of 16 civilians in the Kandahar province
  • One US soldier is in American custody over the deaths
  • The Pentagon rejected an Afghan parliament demand to put him on trial in Afghanistan
  • A preliminary US report says the accused soldier acted alone
  • Obama says a full investigation is being conducted into the attack
  • The incident happened just weeks after outrage over Quran burnings
  • Obama says the incident will not change the plan to withdraw US troops by 2014
  • Analysts say it could impact the US role in Afghanistan after 2014
  • The US wants to reach a deal on the role of its advisers and special forces after 2014
  • Leaders from both governments have been trying to push the Strategic Partnership Agreement for a year