The staff sergeant accused in the massacre has been flown out of the country and is now in a detention center in Kuwait. Many Afghans, including some members of parliament, have called on the US to hand the alleged assassin over to the Afghan government for trial and execution, but it appears that even President Karzai realizes that won’t happen. Instead, Karzai has said that trial in America would be acceptable, provided the process was transparent and open to media.
As tensions have risen as a result of the massacre, NATO has adopted new measures to reduce the risk of attacks by Afghan soldiers on coalition troops. The Pentagon released data that record 45 such attacks since 2007, the vast majority taking place in the last two years. The aftermath of the Koran burnings when six Americans were murdered by Afghan soldiers, has led to the alliance formulating new rules that are designed to lessen the chance that such attacks will occur again.
Among the measures to be implemented: embedding counterintelligence officers in training schools for Afghan soldiers in order to spot recruits who are behaving suspiciously; increasing the number of Afghan intelligence officers; and making sure the troops are paid regularly and are granted regular leave.
Speaking for NATO, Oana Lungescu said, “The plan will strengthen security measures, revise and improve the vetting, screening and monitoring of Afghan forces and crucially improve cultural awareness on both sides … to bridge the gap that can tragically lead to violence.” Such measures would not have prevented the incident at the airport, nor is it likely that the plan would deter an Afghan soldier who might feel they were acting to protect Islam, as some of the murderers of American troops evidently believed. Instead, the measures are designed to prevent Taliban infiltration of the Afghan army and police — a problem that has arisen several times in recent years.
The violence on both sides was a topic of conversation between President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron, who met in Washington on Wednesday to plan strategy over the next year when American forces will be reduced by 23,000 to about 68,000 and the British will also reduce their commitment. The two countries, who have the most troops in Afghanistan, have vowed to stick to the withdrawal schedule set by President Obama last year.
But the two leaders announced in a joint press conference that they would speed up handing security responsibilities over to the Afghan army and police next year in advance of the total withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014. This would mean that by mid-2013, NATO forces would be confined to mostly a support role.
President Obama promised that this does not mean that NATO would abandon Afghanistan. “We are going to complete this mission and we are going to do it responsibly. And NATO will maintain an enduring commitment, so that Afghanistan never again becomes a haven for al-Qaida to attack our countries.” Prime Minister Cameron added, “We can help ensure that Afghanistan is capable of delivering its own security without the need for large numbers of foreign troops.” Referring to the Gallup poll and other similar surveys, the president acknowledged the war weariness but said, “the vast majority” of Americans and Britons “understand why we went there.”
Both leaders also reiterated their support for a political solution in Afghanistan, which means continued negotiations with the Taliban. The goal, said Obama, is not to create a “perfect Afghanistan,” but rather to nurture a climate where the Afghans can stand on their own.
It is clear that the president is determined to stick to his withdrawal plan — not lengthening it or shortening it — despite recent incidents that have called into question American involvement in nation building in Afghanistan. The apparent attack at the airport on Wednesday, as well as the massacre of Afghan civilians, will not affect the current parameters of the mission. What kind of country America and its NATO allies leave in 2014, however, is still open to question.
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