JEFFREY BROWN: The U.S. mission in Afghanistan ran into yet more trouble today. Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced he wants American forces to pull back to their bases after mass killings last weekend.
Karzai’s call was the most direct fallout from Sunday’s massacre of 16 Afghans, allegedly by an American soldier stationed at a small outpost near Kandahar. In a statement, he said: “International security forces have to be taken out of Afghan village outposts and return to bases immediately.” The Afghan president also said he wants NATO to hand over all security duties to Afghan forces in 2013, a year early.
That came just a day after President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron had reaffirmed the existing timetable.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I don’t anticipate, at this stage, that we’re going to be making any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have.
JEFFREY BROWN: Karzai issued his statement after a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who ended a two-day trip to Afghanistan.
Later, a spokesman for Panetta played down Karzai’s comments. He said they were consistent with plans to withdraw most foreign troops by the end of 2014.
Panetta characterized his meeting with the Afghan leader this way.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: In the discussions that I just completed with President Karzai and also with other Afghan leaders, we really did focus on a strategy for the future and what needs to be accomplished as we move towards the end of 2014 and then, beyond 2014, the missions that we need to focus on to maintain an enduring presence.
JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, there was more on the Afghan who stole a truck and breached security yesterday as Panetta arrived. Pentagon officials now believe the incident was more serious than first thought, and directed at high-level officials greeting Panetta on an airport ramp.
It remains unclear if Panetta himself was a target. The driver died today of burns suffered when he tried to ignite gasoline in the vehicle. Before leaving the country, Panetta also promised a full investigation of Sunday’s massacre.
But Afghan lawmakers voiced outrage today, after the accused staff sergeant, still not publicly identified, was flown out of Afghanistan.
ABDUL KHALIQ BALAKARZAI, parliament member (through translator): This killer has been taken to Kuwait. It is not acceptable for us, and we condemn this. America has not done the right thing. He should have been put in prison in here and put on trial here in Afghanistan.
JEFFREY BROWN: Also today, the Taliban announced it was pulling out of talks with the United States. The militant group blamed — quote — “shaky, erratic and vague statements from American officials.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney denied there had been inconsistent American statements. Carney and other American officials stressed again today that, ultimately, any reconciliation process must be an Afghan-led and completed project.