Sunday's alleged massacre of 16 Afghan villagers by a rogue U.S. Army sergeant is already having deadly repercussions: An Afghan soldier was killed Monday when Taliban militants opened fire on an Afghan government delegation visiting the area where the murders occurred. Sadly, this is just the latest in a series of unfortunate events that have undermined America's relationship with Afghanistan's government — and its people — ahead of the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces in 2014. Here, a concise recap of where things went wrong in the last few years:
Protests break out in Afghanistan after a U.S. pastor, Terry Jones, announces that his Florida congregation would burn a Koran to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Two people are killed and a half dozen injured when protests against Jones turn violent in Afghanistan. After facing relentless pounding in the media, Jones relents, calling off the event.
Afghan officials react angrily to U.S. diplomatic cables posted online by WikiLeaks. In one cable, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry says Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal, who is widely respected among foreign leaders, had called Afghan President Hamid Karzai "an extremely weak man." Zakhilwal adamantly denies the claim, charging that the cable is "extremely unprofessional" and "extremely undiplomatic." Zakhilwal warns that it has eroded trust between the Afghan government and the U.S. embassy.
An investigation by Rolling Stone sheds fresh light on murders of Afghan civilians allegedly carried out by a "kill team" of U.S. soldiers. The 8,000-word article provides gory details of the charges against soldiers from the 5th Starker Brigade, 3rd Platoon, as well as actions allegedly taken by their superiors to cover up murderous violence. Four service members are ultimately convicted on charges connected to the deliberate killing of three Afghan civilians during patrols in 2010.
Jones quietly goes through with his Koran burning. The event is largely ignored in the U.S. media, but Jones posts a video online that infuriates audiences in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. Rioting breaks out in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Twenty-two people are killed, including seven United Nations workers and four guards. Jones insists that the deaths aren't his fault.
One of the top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, Major Gen. Peter Fuller, is relieved of his duties after disparaging Karzai. In an interview with Politico, Fuller says the Afghan leader is "isolated from reality," and that he and other members of his government have failed to appreciate the sacrifices that America has made to support them. Fuller is particularly critical of a statement by Karzai suggesting he would side with Pakistan if it went to war against the U.S. "You've got to be kidding me — I'm sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you're telling me, 'I don't really care?'"
Video surfaces online showing a group of four uniformed U.S. Marine snipers urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. "Have a great day, buddy," one of the Marines says. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calls the video "utterly deplorable" and launches an investigation. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the scene is "completely inhuman."
Riots break out after workers at a U.S.-run prison reveal that American soldiers put Korans and other religious materials in a pit and set them on fire. The Pentagon says the Muslim holy books were burned by mistake after being taken away from captured insurgents who were using them to pass messages to each other. The damage, however, is done. Several rioters are killed and two American officers working in the closely guarded Afghan Interior Ministry are murdered, shot at point-blank range, prompting the U.S. military to pull advisers out of Afghan ministries. Several Afghan lawmakers call for an immediate U.S. withdrawal.
The U.S. faces a renewed backlash following the killing of 16 Afghan villagers, including women and children, in their homes while they slept. GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich says the crisis is just the latest piece of evidence showing that the Western mission in Afghanistan is no longer "doable." Obama administration officials reportedly consider whether the reaction to the murders, which Karzai calls unforgivable, would make it wise to speed up the handover of security duties to Afghan forces, now set for 2014. But officially, the Pentagon says the timetable will remain unchanged.
Sources: Associated Press (2), Politico, Reuters
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